Egyptian Aak 2014 – Week 47 ( Nov 17 – 23)

 

Al-Jazeera Staff

(Peter Greste’s parents appeal to Egypt’s Sisi, via BBC)

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Interview

  • France 24 interview with President Sisi. Sonia Dridi

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Finally, here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

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Political Islam and Erdogan’s Wonderland

Erdogan photo

(Photo via Reuters)

Muslim sailors reached the American continent 314 years before Columbus.” The recent remarks by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have left many surprised and baffled, but the Turkish president’s controversial comments are not new. Just a month ago, Erdogan caused another uproar when he told students at Istanbul’s Marmara University that new “Lawrence of Arabias” are tearing up the Middle East. These two incidents have offered some interesting insights not only on how the Turkish president views the world, but also on how intellectual shallowness is used by political Islam to cover the weakness of its core ideology.

 There is a tendency among political Islamists to hype up past glories and evade critical reviews of historical failures. Islamists have used such shallow views of the past to cover up the weaker aspects of their ideology.

 Although the Turkish president has certainly been the first politician to bluntly assert it, the claim that Muslims discovered America is not new; I actually heard it in Egypt years ago. Many Islamists have propagated this claim without checking its historical accuracy. The reasons behind the passionate insistence that Muslims sailed to America before others have nothing to do with history or accuracy. Glorifying the history of Islam has always been a tool Islamists have used to undermine the supremacy of Western renaissance and claim ownership of earlier science and discoveries.

 President Erdogan embarrassingly, however, did not bother to elaborate on the Muslims’ achievements after they allegedly discovered America, if indeed it happened. This is probably because, deep inside, Erdogan understands that this claimed discovery was ineffective. Those alleged Muslim sailors clearly failed to connect the old world with the new world and also failed to build a prominent local civilization that could defend itself from outside enemies. On the contrary, Columbus’s success established a new era in history with tremendous, palpable impacts. The Turkish president, like many modern-day Islamists, indulges in nostalgia about alleged triumphs in the past, but is not willing to dig deeper into their ultimate effectiveness or failure.

 For the Islamists, history is not a tool for knowledge, but a tool to cement their ideology in the minds of voters. “We were here first,” is a powerful claim when preaching, “Islam is the solution.” The link is clear in Islamists’ minds. They believe early Muslims were more successful because of their devout adherence to the Islamic faith; therefore, in their minds, returning to the faith is the key to success for modern-day Muslims. A powerful message in a region plagued with tyranny and oppression.

 The inability of Islamists to articulate how faith can play a positive role in developing their contemporary states, without being abused in fulfilling narrow political interests is the ultimate reason behind their modern failures. Their shallow reading of history prevents them from learning from past experiences. If Moorish Spain is their preferred example of medieval success, Islamists conveniently ignore how the success of Moorish Muslims was due mainly to their sheer liberalism; not their piety. Indeed, their conquest of Spain was driven by religious reasons, but they soon abandoned dogma, and adopted tolerance and rationalism as their main slogans. Their faith, in the golden days, was mainly spiritual, and not literalistic ___ a pivotal reason behind their success.

 Erdogan’s remarks on Lawrence of Arabia are also interesting. “Our empire was better than yours” is one of his favorite themes. The Turkish president compared the current outside meddling in the region with the activities of British officer T. E. Lawrence, who encouraged an Arab Revolt against the Ottomans during World War I. This is just another myopic view that focuses on one factor out of many in a complex web of events that led to past decline and defeat. Outside meddling has contributed significantly to the Middle East’s tragic state of affairs; nonetheless, it has never been the only or main reason behind the struggle. The Turkish president’s assertion that modern days Western meddlers are tearing up the Middle East is a clear refusal to accept the domestic reasons behind the ills of the region. Blaming Lawrence, not ISIS’s Baghdadi, is the same wrong approach that led the Ottomans to ignore the valid reasons behind the Arabs’ descent against the Ottoman Empire and focus instead on British colonialism. His approach also ignores the ideological roots of radicalism, another uncomfortable aspect that political Islam prefers to avoid.

 From America to Lawrence of Arabia, Erdogan tries to use history and faith as a fleece to protect his fans from facing the contemporary challenges of the region. Unfortunately for him, his fleece is not sufficiently well lined to face the thunderous winter of the modern-day Middle East. Therefore, unless the Turkish president is willing to dig deep, and build a solid project not based on sensationalism, his appeal will always be limited to his core dogmatic followers.

Posted in Islam, Middle East, Politics, Turkey | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Egyptian Aak 2014 – Week 46 ( Nov 10- 16)

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Also “worth reading” this counter- argument: Faiza Abou el-Naga’s appointment is the right choice for Egypt Abdel Latif El-Menawy

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Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

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Jerusalem: Historical Illiteracy And Political Exploitation.

Juresalem

( Photo via Facebook)

While handing me Karen Armstrong’s bookA History of Jerusalem,” my Jordanian colleague said, “Start from the eighth chapter, the earlier chapters are irrelevant.” Like many Arabs, my colleague has never been interested in the early history of the holy city. He said, “Why should we be? The modern history is more relevant to the city.”

 The perpetual turmoil in the city comes from all sides choosing to have a selective memory. Arabs want to ignore the city’s ancient history, which is largely a Jewish history. This Arab indifference is equally matched by Jewish bias against the Arab and Muslim history of the city. In other words, both choose to consider ____ and twist ____ half the story of the holy site and ignore the other half. Historical illiteracy does not help in any political fight; in fact it only creates strife.

This mindset on both sides of selectivity and indifference fuels the current tension regarding sanctuary at the Al-Aqsa mosque versus the right of Jews to pray inside the Temple Mount. Ironically, both sides cover and report the recent tension in the Temple Mount in a similar, selective way. Israeli media reported on October 29th how a prominent U.S.-born right-wing activist, who campaigned for greater Jewish access to the Temple Mount was seriously wounded in a Jerusalem shooting. Meanwhile Arabic and Turkish media stressed later clashes on November 5th between Israeli police, settlers and Palestinians at the al-Aqsa mosque.

 Tracing a logical, accurate sequence of events in any news related to Jerusalem is always a difficult task. Nonetheless, the basic story here is that Jewish religious groups see the compound as their holy site, and want to lift the ban forbidding Jewish prayer inside. In contrast, Palestinian inhabitants see this group as invaders who want to disrupt the sanctuary of the holy Muslim site. This is a recipe for an explosive environment that can flare up at any time.

 The Arab and Muslim responses to Israeli ambitions towards the Temple Mount is rather alarming. It is mainly emotional, and lacks a clear strategy or future plan for any type of resolution. It is understandable how images of the Quran thrown on the floor of the Al-Aqsa Mosque have angered many. It is also understandable that it triggered widespread condemnation from Muslim countries, including Turkey. President Erdogan described the Israeli actions as barbaric, a response that may appeal to the Turkish’s president domestic audience, but will hardly trouble Israel. Jordan’s recall of its envoy to Israel was more effective and forced Netanyahu to work harder to calm the situation within Israel. There is an urgent need, however, for a broader approach to the religious as well as the political side of the dispute.

First, it is rather pointless for Arabs and Muslims to deny the ancient history of the Temple Mount. It is not up to us to decide where Jews should have their holy site. If Jews view the Temple Mount compound as holy to them, so be it. Acknowledging the religious importance of the site to the Jews would be a smart move, as it will strip right-wing Israelis from their fundamental portrayal of Arabs as thieves of history.

 In addition, although Muslims label the Western wall of the Temple Mount as the “Buraq wall,” where the Prophet Mohamed landed during his night visit to the city, there is no need to ignore the ancient history of the wall. Jews believe it is the remaining part of their destroyed Temple. The Prophet did not build the wall, it existed before him, and there are many reliable historical sources that prove how Jews used to pray at that site, even after the destruction of the Temple, and well before the rise of Islam.

 On the other hand, Israelis needs to remember that their ancient history was not a perfect example of religious tolerance. Following their return from exile in Babylon, Jews excluded foreign wives and children from the membership of Israel, a harsh reminder how the holy city was in many occasions, a city of intolerance, just as in her current, modern time.

 Second, acknowledging history does not necessarily mean conceding to demands for prayers at the holy site. Arabs should highlight to the world their part of the story. The Romans destroyed the second Temple hundreds of years before the Arab conquest of the city ___ a fact that Arabs should continue to elaborate and emphasize to the world after showing empathy and sympathy to Jewish claim. Christian rulers, whether in the Byzantine or crusader era, were much more unkind to the Jews than Muslims. According to the Jewish virtual library, the whole Temple Mount area was badly desecrated and was only cleared and restored after Muslim conquest.

 Third, while it is smart to acknowledge the ancient Jewish history of the compound, it is also crucial to highlight the current misery of Jerusalem and the failure to achieve peace. East Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, has technically been occupied land since 1967. Israel bars Palestinians below the age of 50 from praying in al-Aqsa. Security barriers in the West Bank prevent more Palestinians from reaching the holy compound. How can Israelis expect Palestinians to be more understanding while they live under such occupation? Arabs should remind the world how under their rule, the great Jewish scholar Maimonides visited the Temple Mount in 1165. That was an era of harmony and peace, unlike today’s tension and injustice. Israel must understand that the political deadlock compounds tension and does not leave any room for religious tolerance. Peace would strip radicals on both sides from abusing religion for political gains.

 As such, I did not follow my colleague’s advice, and started reading the book as it should be read, from page one. It was an eye-opener. As Armstrong poignantly pointed out, “the history of Jerusalem reminds us that nothing ___ not even mortal hatred ___ is permanent.”

Posted in Best Read, Uncategorized | 16 Comments

Egyptian Aak 2014 – Week 45 ( Nov 3- 9)

 

Egypt? Greece ? Cyprus

(Leaders of Egypt, Greece, and Cyprus meet in Cairo, photo via AP)

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Finally, here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

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Egyptian Aak 2014 – Week 44 ( Oct 27- Nov 2)

egypt-gaza_3089711b

(A house was blown up during a military operation to create a buffer zone in Rafah)

(via AFP)

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Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

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An Anatomy of Sisi’s Liberals

Sisi's liberals

( Photo via AFP)

Initially published in Fikra Forum

Many self-proclaimed liberals in Egypt supported the military’s intervention in July 2013 that led to President Muhammad Morsi’s ouster. Their stance has baffled many Western observers, who wonder how anyone with liberal values can support an oppressive coup that removed a democratically elected president. There is no easy answer to this question, but an examination of Egypt’s contemporary evolution may explain the state of mind and perplexing behavior of the liberals who have coalesced around Egypt’s new president, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.

The concept of the Egyptian military as a “liberal force” originated during the rule of Muhammad Ali Pasha, the founder of contemporary Egypt. Historically, themilitary was always run by foreign warriors, known as the Mamluks. They continued to exist under the Ottoman Empire. However, they posed a threat to Muhammad Ali, the ambitious ruler of Egypt. Ali declared independence from the Ottomans, got rid of the Mamluks, and strategically decided to incorporate native Egyptian peasants into the ranks of his modern and professional military force. For Egyptians, the idea that our loyal men are fighting for our country prompted a deep trust in the military as the savior of Egypt that remains to this day.

On the civilian side, although Egypt experienced an enlightenment movement in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was not entirely successful. Not only did it face strong opposition from conservatives, but it was also marred by cowardice and ideological incoherence. For example, prominent nationalists and strong advocates for a modern, independent country opposed feminism. For them, the views of Egyptian feminists such as Qassim Amin regarding women’s rights were unsuitable for Egypt. In other words, they wanted an Egypt free of colonialism, but tolerant of oppressive attitudes toward women. This cherry-picking of modernity was the first step in creating a deformed liberal movement in Egypt.

Furthermore, these liberals failed to support one another in times of crisis. Very few stood by iconic Egyptian writer Taha Hussein after he wrote On Pre-Islamic Poetry, in which he challenged the authenticity of some of the stories in the Quran. Hussein was virtually left alone to defend himself against a barrage of criticism. Although no legal action was taken against him, he lost his position at Cairo University; other liberal intellectuals faced similar experiences later on.

Hussein’s experience taught liberals to embrace a softer approach to publicize their ideas, favoring mediums such as fiction, cinema, and the arts. The aim was to change society’s subconscious rather than conscious behavior, while avoiding confrontation with traditionalists and religious scholars. It worked, but only just. While Egyptians enjoyed their liberal movies, they were not necessarily happy to reciprocate them in real life. The gap between the cinema and ordinary Egyptian life in the 1930s and 1940s, therefore, was very wide.

While liberals focused on forging a progressive Egyptian identity as a pillar of the state, the Muslim Brotherhood aimed to undermine their mission. By claiming to defend Islam from a “liberal assault,” the Muslim Brotherhood succeeded in gaining empathy and sympathy from certain sections of Egyptian society. Although some analysts argue that the Muslim Brotherhood did contribute significantly to Egypt’s overall identity, I believe that Egyptians share only some of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamist values. The volatile dynamics of Egypt’s political and social arenas have prevented many Egyptians from reflecting deeply on this unharmonious, perhaps even contradictory, mix of conservatism and liberalism.

The 1952 revolution was a crucial milestone in the liberal-conservative standoff. On the one hand, President Gamal Abdul Nasser needed the liberals to help forge his political ideology that blended elements of classic liberalism with basic Islamic ones. On the other hand, the liberals needed Nasser’s authoritarianism in their battle against the Muslim Brotherhood, as they lacked the intellectual prowess to confront the ills of political Islam. Nasser therefore served as a patron who could help them evade an intellectual confrontation with the Islamists, while subtly fighting the Islamists at the same time.

Nasser’s reign was crucial in marginalizing the Muslim Brotherhood, while allowing a newly engineered identity to dominate Egyptian politics and society. Many Egyptians welcomed this new identity; the liberals embraced the concept of the “liberal military” and it seeped into the nation’s collective psyche. The cinematic productions of the 1950s and 1960s are glaring examples of this glorification of the military and its soldiers.

Unlike Nasser, President Hosni Mubarak drew scant affection from Egyptian liberals. Mubarak had abandoned Nasser’s contract with the liberals as part of his survival strategy. He uprooted many of them from various positions, particularly in the Ministry of Culture, a move that greatly minimized their influence on the younger generations. Moreover, Mubarak reduced the military into a shadowy, albeit rich, institution that was remembered in the context of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.

Mubarak also allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to empty the liberal core of Egypt’s identity and expand their shadowy, conservative one instead. They were allowed to import the social mores and customs from other Islamic countries into the fabric of Egyptian society. Mubarak nonetheless set a clear directive to the Brothers: they were not to pierce the liberal veneer of the state. But it was finally penetrated after the 2011 uprising and Morsi’s subsequent election, a move that rattled both the liberals and the generals alike.

It is hard to identify Egyptian liberals’ true feelings about the military. They probably feel an eclectic mix of genuine respect and trust tied to dystopian thoughts. The marriage between the liberals and the generals grew weak under Mubarak, but was rekindled by Morsi’s overt Islamism. Inadvertently, Morsi made both understand the need to join together to survive. After the 2013 coup, the military succeeded in restoring its image as the patron of Egypt’s classical liberal values, allowing the liberals to defeat the Islamists without exposing the discrepancies in their beliefs.

Sisi’s liberals are the inevitable product of Egypt’s incomplete, contemporary evolution. Their manners, behaviors, and beliefs are stark examples of what has gone wrong in Egypt over the past 150 years. It is true that the military establishment is less conservative and more authentically Egyptian than the Muslim Brotherhood. But to define the military as a liberal force is wrong. There are plenty of ways to explain Sisi’s popularity among the public, but liberalism is certainly not one of them.

Posted in Best Read, Diary of Aak, Egypt, Middle East, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Egyptian Aak 2014 – Week 43 ( Oct 20- 26)

Funeral 2

(Funeral of Egyptian soldiers killed in Sinai on Friday, via Ahram online)

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  • 51 Reasons to fall in love with Egypt. Hannah Jewell

Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt.

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Egyptian Aak 2014 – Week 42 (Oct 13- 19)

Kerry with Egypt special forces

(John Kerry with Egyptian special forces  via Egypt” Youm 7 newspaper) 

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Plus:

Finally, here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt.

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Kobani: A Victim Of Our Sins

Kobane1_2

(Photo via Mother Jones)

The city of Kobani is falling in front of our eyes. The black flags of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have been slowly spreading above the buildings of this unfortunate Kurdish town in northern Syria. Sooner or later the resistance of the Kurdish fighters that are currently heroically trying to defend Kobani will crumble against an avalanche of medieval barbarism from ISIS, which is doubly fortified with modern weaponry. The tragedy of Kobani may seem irrelevant in the wider context of the turbulent Middle East, however, it highlights clearly the flawed thinking process of many in the Arab world, and alarmingly also in Turkey.

 Selective outrage

 Compare the muted response to the beheading of female Kurdish fighters, or the rape and forced marriages of Yazidi women by ISIS fighters to the loud, angry responses that have ___ rightly___ erupted following the recent Israeli aggression in Gaza. The baffling silence is even more problematic when both Muslim regimes and the public, unanimously agree that ISIS does not represent Islam and that its sick actions are non-Islamic. Imagine if Israel beheaded three female Palestinian suicide bombers? The reactions would probably exceed any expectations, from flooding the streets of Western cities with thousands of protestors to even violent attacks against Israeli targets around the globe. Understandable? Yes the innocent loss of lives and siege of Gaza are despicable, but why not the same depth of anger for Kurds? The answers lies within our selfish duplicity, we care only about fellow Arabs, but we rail against others when they do not care about us.

 Lack of empathy to minorities

 The reasons behind our selectivity and bias lies deep in the post-colonial nationalism and Islamism that has spread throughout the Middle East since the mid part of the twentieth century. Arabism advocated a one united Arab world, a melting pot that ethnic minorities must embrace. Islamists, on the other hand, advocated the “Ummah,” a utopian Muslim union that other religious groups must submit to it. In the search for these elusive collective identities, minorities (whether ethnic or religious) were often viewed with suspicion. Any desire for separatism or federalism was considered as an assault against the common vision.

 When Saddam Hussein shelled Kurds with chemical weapons in Halabja, there were Arab apologists who portrayed Kurds as agents of foreign powers that partly contributed to their own misery. It was the same with the Syrian Kurds, who are portrayed, particularly in Turkish pro-government media, as terrorists, or supporters of the Assad regime. This continues despite the Kurds having a long record of rebelling against Assad since 2004. This dehumanization of minorities, like the Kurds, is an attempt to temper responsibilities toward any atrocities conducted under the names of our religion or our States.

 Narrow self-interests

 Flirting with Islamist groups has a long history in the Middle East. Time and time again, regimes and leaders have wrongly assumed that it is easy and cost-free to use Islamists as a cheap tool to fulfill their goals and ambitions. Time and time again, this assumption has proven to be very costly and bloody. Sadat in Egypt released many Islamists from prison in a tactical move in his fight against Nasserism. Then they later turned against him and assassinated him in 1981. Recently, Arab Gulf States like Qatar and Saudi Arabia saw the Arab Spring as an opportunity to remove hostile regimes like Assad in Syria. They naively assumed that funding radical Jihadists would finish Assad. It did not work, because the Gulf Sheiks underestimated the depth of support that Iran and Hezbollah were willing to give to the Assad regime. Instead of defeating Assad, Qatar and others helped creating radical monsters such as ISIS. Kobani is just one of many tragic repercussions of the endemic political myopia that deluded autocrats into playing with the fire of radicalism. The role of Qatar is now exposed, but the young Emir of Qatar is fortunate, he is still enjoying his luxurious palace in Doha, unlike poor Syrians (Kurds and Arabs) sleeping in rough tents as refugees in Turkey, which is a result of his reckless decisions.

 Wishful thinking

 Erdogan’s Turkey is as guilty as many in the Arab world of all the above hypocrisies. His overt anger about Gaza and the coup in Egypt contradicts his dismissive attitude to the plight of Kurds in Kobani. Until recently, Turkey ___ despite formal denial ___ has given tacit support to anti-Assad groups including the ISIS. The Turkish leadership also does not see the fight in Kobani as a tragedy, but as a political opportunity to settle old scores with Kurdish guerrillas like the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK),or at least the group Syrian branch, which Turkey considers a terrorist group.

Nonetheless, Ankara’s biggest mistake is its assumption that toppling the Assad regime will end radicalism and solve the tragedy of Syria. That was probably a valid argument in early 2012, before the radicalization and fragmentation of the Syrian revolution, but it is not valid now. The collapse of the Syrian regime now will only trigger more infighting between anti-Assad militias and groups. The post-Assad bloodbath can easily make all the previous atrocities seem mild. Even if this scenario does not happen, a debilitated, drained Syria will be a new, ugly version of Libya without oil, with unimaginable implications on Turkey‘s national security. Such a version of Syria will not just inherit the necessary responsibilities for its allies, nor handle Assad’s remnants, or even address Hezbollah’s revenge. Has Erdogan even given any thought about the day after Assad? Probably not. He is so fixated about defeating the Syrian president that he cannot see beyond it.

 The key success of ISIS does not lie in its brutality or barbarism, but in its deep understanding of the above ills found in both Arabs and Turks. They fully understand that selective anger will shelter them from massive outrage, and how the indifference to minorities will allow them to exploits Kurds with impunity. ISIS is the parasite that thrives on the ills, selfishness and political myopia of the Middle East. Make no mistake: ISIS understands both Arabs and Turks better than they understand themselves.

 

Post Script:

My interview with BBC World Service about the above piece.

Posted in Best Read, Middle East, Syria, Turkey | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments