Egyptian Aak 2014 – Week 51 ( Dec 15 – 21)

Sun Karnak

The Sun. Equinox. Winter solstice. Karnak. Luxor.

Via Cecilia Udden

Main Headlines

 Monday

 Tuesday

 Wednesday

Thursday

 Friday

 Saturday 

Sunday 

Good Reports

Good Read

 Plus

Poll

Finally, here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

Posted in Diary of Aak, Egypt | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Egyptian Aak 2014 – Week 50 ( Dec 8 – 14)

Main Headlines 

 Monday 

Tuesday

Wednesday

 Thursday

 Friday

 Saturday

 Sunday

Good reports

 Good Read

 Video

Photo Gallery

 Plus:

Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

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It is not about Michele Dunne, it is about Egypt

Dunne

(Michele Dunne via Carnegieendowment.org)

Egyptian authorities denied, pursuant to security instructions, U.S. researcher Michele Dunne entry to Egypt after she arrived at Cairo International Airport. Ms. Dunne is a senior associate in the Middle East program of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and spent 17 years as a specialist in the region for the State Department. According to a report for the New York Times, the Egyptian authorities gave no reason for barring Miss Dunne: “No reason, but, Madame, you cannot access Egypt any more.”

Ms. Dunne is an outspoken critic of the authorities in Egypt after the ousting of ex-president and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi. However, she stated in a tweet that the purpose of her visit to Cairo was to attend a conference organized by the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs (a pro-government organization). Therefore, this restriction barring her from entering Egypt is not just wrong; it is counter-productive for several reasons.

Firstly, if the Egyptian authorities decided to ignore freedom of speech, as much as government supporters have become allergic to the phrase, they should ask a simpler question. Was it worth it? Some may justify the Egyptian authorities’ decision because of how Ms. Dunne, among others, campaign to cut military aid to Egypt. Nonetheless, her efforts have already failed to gain support in the corridor of power in Washington. The long-term spending bill that Congress is expected to adopt this week would allow the State Department to resume military aid to Egypt.

 Second, the barring of Ms. Dunne will empower her argument that the authorities in Egypt cannot tolerate opposing views, and therefore are not worthy of U.S. aid. This argument will portray the Egyptian authorities as vulnerable and insecure to a degree that they fail to tolerate a visit by a researcher armed only with pen; not weapons or bombs. In his blog, Elliott Abrams from The Council of Foreign Relations has described the turning away of Ms.Dunne as “a new low” by the Egyptian government, an example of the negative PR that is triggered by such moves.

 Third, banning Michele Dunne may put other Western scholars off from visiting Egypt, but will not intimidate them, or let them stop writing about the country. This will ultimately widen the gap between the Egyptian-perception and the counter-perception shaped in Western Capitals. Egyptians brag that they do not need Western aid, but in reality they are keen on Western investments and business in Egypt. Last month, President Sisi received a large group of American businessmen in Cairo. Those businessmen will find it increasingly difficult to keep coming back if the Egyptian government continues to read persistent negative analyses written by Western scholars.

 Some government supporters rallied on Twitter, claiming all sort of accusations against Ms. Dunne. Sadly, they seem to miss that it is not about Ms. Dunne’s political stance, but how the Egyptian authorities should deal with it. Egypt should learn to develop the intellectual ability to counter any argument, even from the most ardent opponents of its policy, and provide policy makers and neutral observers with a different perspective. Winning the intellectual battle brings more benefits than barring scholars from entering the country, which portrays Egypt as insecure and paranoid. Some think that the incident with Ms. Dunne will be forgotten soon; however, I doubt it that will be the case.

I never met Ms. Dunne, and in fact I often disagree with many of her views. Nonetheless, I think it is paramount to stand up against such moves that are harmful to Egypt. The country may have a bad record in treating journalists, but it has not banned a scholar for decades, even during the Mubarak era. It is unfortunate to witness a reversal of this policy in “New” Egypt.

Postscript:

Here is a link to Egypt’s Foreign Ministry comment to barring of Ms. Dunne

Posted in Diary of Aak, Egypt, June30, Middle East, Politics | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Egyptian Aak 2014 – Week 49 ( Dec 1-7)

Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

 Wednesday

 Thursday

 Friday

 Saturday

 Sunday

 Best Reports

 Good Read

Photo Essay

Plus

Finally, here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

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Egypt needs a complete de-Mubarakization

Mubarak

( Photo via BBC)

 Initially published in NOW.

29 November, an Egyptian court dismissed murder charges against Egypt’s former president, Hosni Mubarak, in connection with the killing of protesters in the 2011 uprising that ended his nearly three-decade reign.

The verdict was a testimony of what is wrong with the entire country, its leadership, the judicial system, both Islamist and non-Islamist politicians, and, more importantly, its youth. As a child, I viewed Mubarak as the man who had ruined my Cairo neighborhood of Heliopolis. As I grew up, I started to understand that his tenure in power had far-reaching consequences. Mubarak’s rule didn’t just ruin Egypt; he rendered the country incapable of recovering or moving away from his legacy.

The 1981 anniversary of the October 6 War in 1973 was supposed to be the usual annual celebration, but destiny had a different script. President Sadat was assassinated, and with his death the residents of Heliopolis woke to a new reality—their neighbor, Mubarak, was now the new president of Egypt, and his new promotion brought new security measures to the whole area. The Metro line that used to pass near his house had to be redirected. The area became inundated with plainclothes security personnel, an event that changed the lives of Mubarak’s next-door neighbors beyond recognition; even getting in and out of the house became tricky, to say nothing of socializing. Every part of Heliopolis was geared for one task — serving Mubarak. Gradually, and throughout his 30 years of rule, everything else in Egypt was exclusively geared for one task — serving Mubarak.

Arguably, Mubarak was not Egypt’s worst dictator. His style was mellower than Nasser’s and less theatrical than Sadat’s. Nonetheless, his toxic impact stemmed from his determination to spread his own uninspiring character to the country as a whole. As an anti-intellectual, Mubarak focused his efforts on turning Egypt into a shallow, weak, and uninspiring state incapable of producing a competitor that might challenge his authority. He ruled with a distinctive shabbiness that made every aspect of the nation, from politics and education to spirituality and art, tired and uninspired.

During Mubarak’s rule, Islamists focused on the survival of their ideology rather than transforming it into a viable political alternative capable of successful governance. Non–Islamists focused on the survival of their lifestyle amid the rise of Islamism, and couldn’t have cared less about the core principals of classic liberalism they pretended their basic beliefs were. Furthermore, the climate of materialism and corruption Mubarak encouraged reduced art and culture to a mere tool for entertainment, not intellectual depth.

The reaction to Mubarak’s acquittal highlights the impact his toxic legacy has had on post-Mubarak Egypt. A day before the court verdict, some Islamist groups staged an Islamic identity protest, which was supported by the Muslim Brotherhood. Islamists fully understand that playing the identity card at such crucial moments is a divisive move that will alienate many Egyptians. Their goal, however, is not unity, but to enforce the perception of the power of their groups.

Their reaction after the verdict was no more than an angry rant at their non-Islamist nemeses, whom they blame for the acquittal verdict. The non-Islamist response, articulated with shock and anger, has nevertheless been ineffectual. Their knee-jerk reactions have yielded nothing more than a few angry protests following the verdict and a call for separate demonstrations later. Resorting to the well-worn tool of protest signals an inability to create cohesive answers to Egypt’s stagnant politics, or to force the current leadership under President Sisi to embrace serious democratic reforms.

The failure of Egypt to move away from the past and create a better future is testimony of the depth of the cancer Mubarak inflicted on Egypt and the resilient destructiveness of his three decades in power. Both Morsi and Sisi are products of Mubarak’s tenure. Morsi was the Islamist version: weak and lacking charisma, like Mubarak he focused solely on the survival and dominance of his group, instead of guarding the vulnerable transition toward genuine, inclusive democracy.

Sisi’s rise also stems from Mubarak’s legacy. Thirty years of uncharismatic rule has made the smallest hint of charisma very appealing to ordinary Egyptians, even if it is underpinned by sheer ruthlessness.

Mubarak’s verdict in itself is meaningless. Egyptians already issued their verdict in January 2011 when they poured spontaneously into Tahrir Square demanding Mubarak’s departure. Their chanting of “irhal,” or “leave,” was more powerful than any court verdict. Mubarak will forever remain guilty even if all the courts on Earth acquit him. Last week’s court ruling, in reality, was a verdict against Egypt. It simply shows how crippled and confused Egypt still is.

Sisi the strong man has inherited some of Mubarak’s greyish traits. He won’t pursue action against Mubarak, but plans instead to issue a decree that bans “insulting” the 25 January 25. His conflicting messages will be resented by those both anti and pro-Mubarak. Surely the president of Egypt understands that Mubarak’s supporters insult the 25 January revolution on a daily basis. The way in which Sisi intends to handle Mubarak’s supporters is a tough challenge that may shape his tenure in power.

Egypt does not need judicial and security reforms alone: Egypt’s mindset and way of thinking needs a complete de-Mubarakization. Both Islamists and non-Islamists alike should stop pointing fingers and making cross-accusations. Both should steer clear of opportunism and divisive politics.

The battle to salvage Egypt may take generations. We have to start from scratch by teaching our youth basic political values such as strategies for inclusiveness and leadership skills. The next parliamentary election would be a good start, if only the political parties are willing to fight for the demands of the 25 January revolution; bread, freedom and justice.

Posted in Egypt, Middle East, Politics | 2 Comments

Egyptian Aak 2014 – Week 48 ( Nov 24 – 30)

 

Muabark's lawyer(Mubarak’s lawyer following the acquittal verdict)

(Photo via al-Masry al-Youm ) 

Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

 Thursday

 Friday

 Saturday

 Sunday

 Good Reports

Mubarak’s trial:

Others:

Good Read (not many this week

Photo Gallery

Plus:

  • Sabah, enduring star in Arab world entertainment, dies at 87. William Yardley
  • Life of iconic singer and actress Sabah

Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

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

 

Al-Jazeera Staff

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

Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

 Good Reports

 Good Read

Interview

  • France 24 interview with President Sisi. Sonia Dridi

Plus

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 Best Read, Islam, Middle East, Politics, Turkey | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

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

Main Headlines

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

 Saturday

 Sunday

Good Reports

Good Read

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

Plus

Photo Gallery

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