Egyptian Aak 2016 – Week 2 ( Jan 11- 17)

 

Top Headlines

  • Egypt extends state of emergency in North Sinai until April. Tuesday
  • Egypt’s Cabinet has approved a draft law criminalizing the use of “terrorist” symbols. Wednesday
  • Egypt extends participation in Yemen conflict for up to one year. Thursday
  • As Jan 25 looms, more activists arrested today, police also raid news site Masr al-Arabiya. Friday
  • Admin court turns down denaturalization suit against Wael Ghoneim. Sunday

 

 

I participated in Januray 25

 

 

I participated in January revolution’ tops Twitter trends in Egypt. Via Ahram

Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

 Wednesday

 Thursday

 Friday

 Saturday

 Sunday

 Good Reports

Good Read

From Twitter

Travel

  • Quick budget getaways: 36 hours in Luxor

 Plus:

Photo Gallery

Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

 

 

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Suleiman Khater: Egypt’s Fake Hero

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Iranian stamp honouring Suleiman Khater for killing Israelis

 

Sinai October 1985 — Egyptian conscript Suleiman Khater killed 7 Israeli civilians, including 4 children, during their vacation in Ras Burqa, in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. In December 1985, Khater was tried in a military court and was sentenced to life in prison. A few days later, on January 8, 1986—30 years ago—Khater was found dead in his prison hospital room.

On his death anniversary, the Egyptian Committee Against Normalization with Israel organized a protest at the Press Syndicate to commemorate the 30th anniversary of his death. Indeed, some inside Egypt and in the wider Middle East have considered Khater a hero. How can someone who killed children be labeled as a “hero” by anyone? The answer lies within the mess of the region, which seems obsessed with inventing fake heroes.

Khater is the Egyptian version of Samir Kuntar, Hezbollah’s man who killed an Israeli baby. However, Kuntar was exposed when he sided with Assad against the Syrian revolution, while Egypt’s Khater died in mysterious circumstances that fueled more suspicions about his case.

In the Middle East, the manufacture of heroes needs few ingredients. First, the psyche: The crime happened only 6 years after the signing of the Peace Accords between Egypt and Israel. This peace was President Sadat’s project, but was not particularly popular. Many Egyptians continued to view Israel as an enemy who should not be trusted. In other words, if any incident involved an Egyptian soldier versus any sort of Israelis, then the Israelis must be the “aggressors.”

Second, the players: Among Egyptians, two groups tend to be the top rejectionists of the peace treaty with Israel: the socialists and the Islamists. Both have been keen to find a hero who can provide an illusion of victory of any sort in order to boost their popularity among the public. The incident also happened at the peak of Khomeini’s tenure in Iran. Glamorizing a Sunni Arab soldier was the perfect tactic to serve the mullahs’ regional goals, particularly amidst its brutal war with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. The Islamic Republic was focused on winning more hearts and minds among Arabs in order to portray itself as a friend, not a foe. The Iranian regime issued a stamp “in honor of the martyrdom of Sulayman Khater, hero of Sinai,” and an avenue in Tehran was named after him.

Ironically, the Islamic Revolution Document Centre that labeled Khater in its report as a “martyr” acknowledged that the Israelis were tourists, but it failed to mention the age of the children. The document further mentioned his answers to the court: “The investigator asked, Why did not you fire warning shots in the air? And Suleiman answered, they had worn swimsuits and one of the women undressed to tempt me.”

It is frankly pathetic that anyone who reads these answers could still consider Khater a hero. His answers were simply embarrassing; even by the Iranian standards of heroism, considering the graceful behavior of their top martyrs like the Prophet’s cousin Ali and his son Hussein.

Third, the Egyptian leadership: Mubarak, who ruled Egypt after Sadat, was never a man to appreciate frankness, accountability, or fact checking. The entire management of the case bore the fingerprints of Mubarak’s toxic mix of deliberate silence and behind-the-door dealings. The official newspapers stayed silent and refrained from mentioning that most of the victims were women and children. Opposition newspapers in Egypt were allowed to publish simply fabricated news about the victims. On the other hand, Mubarak agreed to pay $500,000 in compensation3 to the families of the Israeli victims as part of the deal between Egypt and Israel to return the Taba heights to the Egyptian sovereignty. Egypt also made a formal statement to the family of each victim “expressing its acceptance of responsibility, its regret, and its condolences.

Moreover, the mysterious death of Khater—which some recent reports have suggested was a murder, not a suicide as the Egyptian officials claim—also fits Mubarak’s style. Yes, Mubarak turned a blind eye to the creation of a fake hero, but he (most probably) would never allow this hero to exist in real life.

In his mind, Mubarak saw himself as achieving a winning formula by allowing the Islamists to have their myth, the Israelis to have their compensation while the real killer was punished—albeit allegedly illegally. However, Mubarak’s win–win formula, like all his policies, has had its long-term negative impacts.

Mubarak has squandered an opportunity for truth and accountability and created a climate of distrust that still haunts Egypt today. If facts about victims were shared with the public, Egyptians would have never praised the likes of Khater.

As a result of Mubarak’s toxic legacy, the case of Suleiman Khater is still haunting Egypt today. The 30th anniversary of his death is now used by the anti-coup leaders in their preparations for the 5th anniversary of the 2011 revolution. Khater is now depicted as one of Egypt’s “real patriotic soldiers” who truly defended the country against the “Zionists,” unlike “Sisi’s men”. Youth who were not even born at the time of the incident are convinced that the Islamist’s story is true. Socialist leader Hamden Sabahy has recently praised Khater as a hero.

Indulging in myths has become one of Egypt’s and the Middle East’s gravest illnesses. Fake heroes have become a convenient way to score political points and create false perceptions. Khater’s heroism is the product of the ugliness of the political Islam and the misguided dogma of the Arab socialists.

Of course, Khater’s supporters have every right to know the truth about his death. Yet I challenge them to mention the age of his victims—a conveniently omitted fact that has been formally documented in the compensation deal to their families. Four children, aged 10 to 13, cannot be spies. We Egyptians should be proud of our soldiers, who fought honorably in 1973 war, and are fighting terrorism now in Sinai. The likes of Khater, however, are not an appropriate representation of Egypt. A killer of four children should not be considered a hero.

 

 

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Egyptian Aak 2016 – Week 1 ( Jan 4-10)

Top Headlines 

  • Egypt convenes parliament for the first time in three years. Sunday
  • Egyptian court upholds Mubarak jail sentence. Saturday
  • Three knifemen storm a hotel in Hurghada. Friday
  • ISIS-affiliated group claims responsibility for an attack on Giza hotel. Friday  
  • President Sisi attended Coptic Christmas mass for the second straight year. Thursday

 

Egypt's parliament

The first session of Egypt’s parliament was supposed to be procedural but there were heated moments. Photo via BBC 

Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

 Wednesday

 Thursday

Friday

 Saturday

Sunday

Good Reports

Good Read

Also my piece on Mohamed Sheka, the young Egyptian behind the Hurghada attack

From Twitter

 

 

Video

 Plus

Finally, here are Jason Casper’s prayers for Egypt

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Mohamed Sheka: The Young Egyptian Behind the Hurghada Attack

A group of knifemen stormed a hotel in Egypt’s Hurghada on Friday evening, injuring a number of foreign tourists before security forces killed one of the assailants and injured the other, ending the attack. The police said the dead assailant’s name was Mohamed Hassan, born in 1994. According to Egyptian Streets, Mohamed was a 21-year-old student and resident of Giza. Albawaba news, as well as some Egyptians on Facebook and Twitter accounts claim that he is a member of the Ultra football fan group, where he was known as Mohamed Sheka and pointed to this Facebook page as his personal page.

According to Egypt’s Ahram, it is still unclear what motivated Sheka to stab three European tourists inside the Bella Vista hotel on the Red Sea. Some in Egypt, including many Islamists and anti-Sisi, are portraying the incident in Hurghada as “a quarrel” between youth that went wrong, not a terrorist attack. The Hotel’s statement, however, according to Ahram, asserted that the attackers carried a “fake gun” and “knives.”

Regardless of the truth behind what happened in Hurghada, Mohamed’s alleged Facebook page portrays a very disturbing profile of Mohamed. His post reflects a young guy completely brainwashed by the ideology of radical political Islam. Mohamed there asserted his loathing of Christians and his refusal to greet them at Christmas. He alleged that stories about the Prophet’s forgiveness of the infidels are doubtful and not strongly sourced. On several occasions he quoted Ibn Taymiyyahs, a medieval Islamic theologian who inspired both Saudi’s Wahhabi doctrine and radical Salafi ideologies.

 

Herghada terror FB

 

Perhaps the most disturbing post from Mohamed was one with the French flag saying “Ahsan” or “good for you”, an Egyptian term used when gloating about someone else’s misery. He was also upset by how some of the anti-coup supporters, including Yemen’s Nobel laureate Tawakool Kerman and Egypt’s ex-Mofti Ali Gomaa, labeled the victims of the Paris attacks as martyrs.

Elephants

In another post, he cheered a photo of an Ethiopian elephant enjoying the Nile water while an Egyptian elephant is struggling for water, insinuating pleasure with Egypt’s possible water shortage due to the building of the Ethiopian dam.

Sheka was suspicious even of the Islamism of Turkey’s Erdogan, and predicted that Erdogan will never declare Turkey, in his words, to be an Islamic Emirate. On women, he advocated the coverage of the face, claiming that covering the hair with the hijab is not enough!

In sum, regardless of the truth behind what happened in Hurghada, there is no doubt that Mohamed Sheka was a radicalized youth full of hate toward his country and the Western world, even rejecting any lenient explanations of Islamic texts. Sheka is now dead; the question, however, is how many of our youth are radicalized like him? And how can Egypt reverse such a disturbing phenomenon? I am not sure there are any easy answers to those questions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On Copts of Egypt: A Personal Journey

Cairo ___ many years ago, my primary school teacher took me aside and gave me a stern ultimatum. Either cut my links with one of my friends, “C,” or my school performance would be affected. In my teacher’s view, “C” was a bad influence, and was distracting me away from my studies. “You have to fulfill your mother’s aspirations, there is a world ahead of you, so do not let this girl ruin it for you.”

“C” was a Coptic girl and my first-ever close friend. Many in my school were surprised that we even got on with each other. I was loud and bubbly; she was shy and diffident. But what we shared was hard for outsiders to understand___ empathy. Both of us were daughters of widows who were hard-working single mothers. We pined for our lost fathers, and felt a huge sense of responsibility to make progress at school. We wanted to at least please our respective mothers and reward them for their hard work. Our joined daily journey to and from school was a chance for both of us to share our fears, anxieties, and hopes for the future. What we shared transcended religions with their differences and taught me how rituals should not override human bonds.

Although I do not remember my teacher’s exact words, I remember how I was left without a doubt in my mind, that the main problem with “C” was her faith, which my teacher somehow saw as a threat. To my surprise and dismay, just few days after my teacher’s ultimatum, my friend told me with a grim face, how she would stay away “to avoid causing me any trouble.” I will never forget her sad look. We did not say much. No questions, no explanation, and just hugged each other for one last time. The next day, for the first time, we stood apart at the morning assembly. It was simply painful. Later, I started to hear from other Muslim girls that Christians are bad and their holy book was “fabricated” years after Christ.

In secondary school, wary of my traumatic past experience, my new teachers pleasantly surprised me. All of them were fair to students regardless of faith. Furthermore, it was also a great relief to see several other mixed friendships between Muslims and Christian girls, without interference from any of the teachers. Nonetheless, I noticed another disturbing trend, but this time from students. Some Muslim girls actually liked their Christian friends, to such a degree that they wanted them to abandon Christianity. It did not work and instead intense debates erupted about whether Jesus is just a prophet or the Son of God. All debates were short-term and ended indecisively, but this had long-term impacts. It pushed Christian girls slowly away from mixed friendships with Muslims, to more Christian-only friendships.

At medical school, the default lines became clearer. Islamist groups had started to appear, and they actively encouraged Muslim students to cut their friendships with Christians. Christians also congregated together. Islamists were firmly in control of the university’s mosque, openly bullying Muslim girls not wearing the Hijab, or warnings of “God’s punishment” for having Christian friends. There were exceptions of course, in particular among students of the elite. Islamist groups considered students from a modest background as a safe bet, and deliberately ignored the rich elite, possibly because of their powerful links inside and outside the university. In other words, during those times Islamists focused on expanding horizontally within society, rather than vertically to the upper echelons.

At a formal level, Christians never scored top in exams, even the most brilliant among them were not allowed to be at the top in their rankings. Subtle sectarianism haunted me even in simple administrative tasks. I once went with my Christian friend to get formal copies of our graduation certificate. The lady officer looked at both of us with contempt that she struggled to hide. She gave me a delivery date in two days, then sneered at my friend while telling her to come back in two weeks. It was embarrassing to say the least, and even awkward when my friend was the one comforting me, and telling me that she did not mind waiting.

Sectarian tension did not stay soft and subtle. Occasional episodes of violence flared up and many lost their lives. During Mubarak’s tenure, Egyptian authorities did not put any effort into tackling the deep roots of sectarianism in Egypt. It wanted instead to manage the crisis, rather than cure the illness. At the end of the day, it failed to do either, and the hatred continued to yield more violence and more ugliness. This was happening not just among Muslims, but a few Christians also who similarly fueled the hatred and bigotry.

Thus far, very few in Egypt are willing to acknowledge how sectarianism is deeply embedded in the society. A prevailing view among pundits and Egypt’s observers suggests that sectarianism is linked to authoritarianism. This is only partly true. Hatred of Copts is older than the current Pope. This existed before his support of Sisi and the ousting of Morsi.

There is a deeper resistance within society to even the minor efforts by authorities to be fair to Copts. In May 2015, Egyptian President al-Sisi’s decision to build a church bearing the names of the 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians who were beheaded by the Islamic State in Libya, was not being well received by members of the local community. Clashes erupted between Muslims and Christians in a dispute over building the church, resulting in 12 wounded and seven arrested.

Clinging to political reasons sometimes is used to deliberately obscure the deep social and cultural roots that have fomented sectarian hatred for decades, a cocktail of reasons from deep ignorance of the Christian faith, to rejecting early 20th century multicultural Egypt, with its equality and diversity.

Changing mindsets, attitudes and behaviors needs courage, intellectuality, and devotion. There are some smart attempts. Director Amr Salama’s film,“Excuse my French” brought tears to my eyes. His story of sectarianism in schools resurrected my childhood memories, albeit with a different story. It was cleverly produced to address sectarianism in a creative way and was different than other dull, insincere, shallow productions ___ but more efforts are needed. Fighting sectarianism needs extensive social reforms and contribution from everyone.

Egypt’s sectarianism may look mild in a region where beheading and medieval barbarism are widely practiced. Nonetheless, what initiated in Egypt in the later part of the 20th century has set the foundation for the brutal versions of sectarianism that have erupted in the region. It is about time for Egypt to reverse what it started and spread a more positive approach. It is imperative to create a better era for our kids so that they can have friendships without prejudice or bigotry.

President Sisi’s visit to the Coptic Cathedral and addressing of the attendees was a nice gesture, but his mention of diversity and the need to accept other religions and customs is more crucial. It is important for him to put his words into actions and initiate more positive social changes in Egypt. Egyptians should not just accept diversity, but should also come to see it as something positive.

 

 

Posted in Best Read, Diary of Aak, Egypt, Islam, Middle East | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments

Egyptian Aak: Dec 28-2015/ Jan 4-2016

 

My apology for late posting of my weekly compilation, as I took few days break to celebrate the New Year. Here is a light compilation of the last few days of 2015 and the beginning of 2016.

 Wish you all a happy and prosperous 2016.

 Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday 

 Thursday

 2016 Happy New Year

 Friday

 Saturday

 Sunday

Good Read

From Twitter

 

 

Infographic

  • Egypt’s economy in numbers in 2015

 Plus

  • Mahmoud, imprisoned for wearing anti-torture shirt in Egypt, turns 20
  • King ‪#Amenhotep III statue accidently recovered in Edfu
  • Baby survives after being thrown out of hospital window in Egypt’s Gharbiya

 Photo Gallery

Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

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How to enslave a woman – An #ISIL Fatwa (Ruling) Translation

Yesterday, I wrote about Nadia Murad, the Yazidi girl who was captured and raped by ISIS. For more perspective about her ordeal and thousands of other innocent girls, the Muslim world must be aware of how those thugs abuse Islam. Here is their Fatwa on how to enslave a woman. It is painful to read, but it is about time to confront reality.

Link via Zaid Benjamin

 

 

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Yazidi girl Nadia Murad visits Egypt

Nadia Murad photo

Nadia Murad Basee Taha, the 21-year old Yazidi woman brutally tortured and raped by ISIS fighters in Iraq, has embarked on a very tricky mission: to confront the Muslim world with the crimes of ISIS. She is visiting Egypt to raise awareness of the atrocities committed by the Islamic State.

Murad was living in Kocho, a village near northern Iraq, with her mother, brothers and sisters. On August 15, 2014, ISIS fighters stormed her village; they executed six of her brothers and then took her to the Iraqi city of Mosul, where they “distributed” her and many others to be enslaved by the fighters “They took us to Mosul with more than 150 other Yazidi families. In a building, there were thousands of Yazidi families and children who were exchanged as ‘gifts’,” she said.

Murad testified at the U.N. Security Council (watch the whole video here) and gave several interviews to various outlets in which she spoke about the gruesome details of her brutal ordeal under ISIS and how she was held as a sex slave for three months. One cannot even begin to imagine how this young girl has coped with her trauma and be able to recite the details of her torture again and again. Her tenacity and determination are simply breathtaking.

In Egypt, Nadia is seeking support from the Islamic World; she wants Islamic authorities to stand “firmly and clearly” against ISIS. She said that she was hoping to meet with scholars from Al-Azhar to provide them with information about the atrocities and crimes committed by ISIS in the name of Islam. Nadia gave a lecture in Cairo University, where she received an honour award. She also spoke at Ain-Shams University.

 

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Egypt’s president Sisi also met Nadia Murad, who “reassured” her that Al-Azhar is working to correct teachings about Islam in order to confront extremism; he also confirmed that Islamic civilization has historically protected all citizens of different religions and ethnic groups. Their meeting was only covered by official and local Egyptian media and by many of Sisi’s supporters on social media, but was largely ignored by Western media.

 

Sisi and nadia murad

 

Sisi’s meeting with Nadia may be just a PR stunt, a part of his “war on terror” policy. It could also be part of his subtle push on Islamist bodies to respond to his previous call last January to reform religious discourse. In a speech last week marking the birth of the Prophet Mohamed, Sisi repeated his call for reform and urged Islamic scholars to send Christmas greetings.

There is undoubtedly serious resistance within Egypt’s religious establishment to facing the “controversial” issues of Islamic doctrine like slavery. It is true that Islam has encouraged freeing slaves, but it never actually abolished slavery as a practice; the Prophet Mohamed owned slaves. Palaces of caliphs and kings were full of slaves, many of whom were prisoners of wars. Some slaves were promoted and became military leaders or even kings. Queen Shagart el-Dur of Egypt was originally a slave.

In the modern era, slavery has been formally abolished in Muslim countries and many have assumed that the practice has become culturally unacceptable; hence, the topic faded from religious discussion. No one, however, predicted the rise of ruthless and regressive groups like ISIS that would resurrect this medieval practice, and in such a barbaric and ruthless way.

The case of Nadia Murad is a stark reminder of the religious side of the ISIS doctrine—a systematically twisted and literal interpretation of Islamic texts to justify barbarity. Her campaign in Egypt is crucial, as it forces religious scholars to face uncomfortable questions about theology that they would rather avoid.

Al-Azhar is considered the highest authority in Sunni Islamic thought and broader Islamic jurisprudence. There is a tendency, however, within Al-Azhar’s scholars to issue strong statements strongly condemning ISIS’ actions and assert how those actions “ have no relation to Islam,” while dismissing ISIS’s interpretation of tricky topics like slavery as “ “ignorance” or “twists” of religious texts. Yet they fail to provide a way to prevent those “alleged twists” from happening in reality.

Many Egyptians were not aware of the gruesome, repugnant details of ISIS atrocities against Yazidi. Some anti-coup elements allowed their contempt for Sisi to override their humanity. For example, the Islamist thinker and historian Mohamed El-Gawady wrote on Twitter: “First coup leader to meet with a Satan worshipper.”

Nonetheless, the shock and disgust with ISIS’ atrocities were palpable on many Egyptian FB pages.

Reformation of Islamic thought and challenging medieval ideas will not come naturally to religious scholars in Egypt. Even an autocratic leader like Sisi may not succeed in pushing a reform agenda on an institution like Al-Azhar in a country chronically struggling with structural flaws and poor educational standards. Today, TV presenter and Islamic researcher Islam Beheiry, who dared to say that ISIS relies on interpretations of traditional Islamic literature in their activities, has been sentenced to one year in jail. His case highlights the huge resistance within the Islamic authorities to any challenging views or modern interpretations of Islam.

 

Public pressure, not political pressure, is the only way that religious scholars can be made to confront their own demons and stop the current stagnation of Islamic thoughts. The attention to the case of Nadia Murad in Egypt may be a small step in her rocky road to challenge medievalism, but it is a step in the right direction. Murad should tour more Muslim countries and continue to knock on the doors of timid Muslim scholars until the radical ideology of ISIS is properly cleansed from Muslim societies.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Best Read, Diary of Aak, Egypt, Middle East | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Egyptian Aak 2015 – Week 52 ( Dec 22- 27)

Top Headlines

  • Egypt hires consultancy to check airport security after Russia crash. Tuesday
  • Israel approves natural gas exports to Egypt. Friday
  • Nine police, army generals among 11 newly appointed governors. Saturday
  • Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia say committed to reaching understandings on Nile Dam. Sunday

Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

 Thursday

 Friday

 Saturday

 Sunday

 Good Reports

Good Read

Interview

  • 26-year-old female MP has big plans for South Sinai and Egypt’s new parliament. George Mikhail for Al-Monitor
  • Actor Khalid Abdalla on filmmaking as activism, image of Arabs in cinema. Nourhan Tewfik for Ahram Online

From Twitter

 

Plus:

 

 

 

 

 

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Few Thoughts on Syria’s Zahran Alloush

Alloush photo

Zahran Alloush

Credit Amer Almohibany/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Last Friday, Zahran Alloush, the powerful leader of the Army of Islam, one of the many rebel groups fighting the Assad regime in Syria, was killed in an air strike by Assad forces east of Damascus. The Saudi-backed Army of Islam (Jaish al-Islam) currently controls much of the urban area east of Damascus known as East Ghouta, which has been under blockade and bombardment by government forces for the last four years.

Alloush’s death highlighted how he had become a powerful, albeit controversial leader of one of Syria’s most powerful rebel groups. His complexities are often difficult to grasp. On the one hand, both Islamist and moderate non-Islamist anti-Assad allied groups in Syria have mourned his killing, labeling Alloush as a martyr. On the other hand, both Assad supporters and the anti-Assad extremist ISIS group cheered his death. Alloush had in fact fought both Assad and ISIS; hence earning the hatred of both.

Both pundits and Syria observers have been divided in their views about Alloush. The assessments varied from labeling him as moderate, to non-radical Salafi Islamist, to a radical-al-Qaeda inspired Jihadi. It is as if all the shades of grey had been congregated into one man.

To understand Alloush, it is better to start with his own words. Just two weeks ago, the Daily Beast interviewed Alloush. Scrolling through the interview, it is clear how Alloush wanted to portray himself as a solid political leader, willing to listen to others, and determined to fight both Assad and extreme radical groups like the Islamic State (ISIS). However, his answers on ideology and commitment to democracy were a bit ambiguous.

When asked about Islamic Sharia law, he avoided highlighting his personal views, instead, he said that his group does not “intervene in the judiciary body” in his controlled area. Alloush also said, “We do not see ourselves as Islamic. We are Muslims.” In reality, however, Alloush was indeed an Islamist and was a Salafi preacher before the eruption of the Syrian war. He might not have subscribed to the Salafi Jihadi doctrine, but he was not just a “Muslim.” Additionally, Alloush praised the Al-radical Islamist Al-Qaeda Al-Nusra Front, which contradicts his own denial of Islamism. As for ISIS, another radical group, it is true that Alloush relentlessly fought the Islamic State and drove it out from several neighborhoods. These actions however seemed more rooted in a turf war, rather than being politically or ideology related, as asserted by Aron Lund, editor of Syria in Crisis in Joshua Landis’s Syria Comment Blog.

Further, regarding his commitment to democracy, Alloush initially asserted in an interview in 2014, “We will not let democracy be imposed upon Syria.” However, in the Daily Beast interview, Alloush tried to soften his stance while still blaming the West, “When I criticized democracy, I was referring to the manipulation of people through lies covered by attractive colors.” “Western double standards are also applied to democracy. While democracy is used to serve people’s interests in the West, democracy is manipulated in our countries to bring villains to rule as agents for outside powers.”

On the ground, Alloush brought some stability inside his controlled area inside the besieged Eastern Ghouta enclave, but his methods to achieve stability, as Aron Lund wrote, were not pretty. According to Lund, Alloush was accused of stuffing the local administration with cronies and family members to assure that no one could threaten his grip on power, of monopolizing access to the outside world through a system of tunnels, of selling aid and food at inflated prices, and of suppressing dissent with brutal means, including torture and assassination.

Additional question marks also surfaced about Alloush after the 2013 kidnapping of Razan Zeitouneh and three other well-known secular human rights activists in Douma, an area under his strong influence. The families of the kidnapped noted that men under his command had previously threatened the activists. In a Daily Beast interview, however, Alloush denied the accusations, “The case of Razan Zeitouneh has been used to demonize Jaysh al-Islam by many sides. Most people do not know that Jaysh al-Islam facilitated Zeitouneh’s entrance into eastern Ghouta. He added, “Why would we bring her in and then kidnap her? It is illogical.” Whichever the case may be, what actually happened to Zeitouneh and the other activists gives us a glimpse of a dim future for non-Islamist activists in an Islamist dominant society.

Another alarming side of Alloush was highlighted by Ann Bernard in her New York Times profile. Bernard wrote how Alloush had enemies and critics among fellow opponents of the Assad regime, “Some insurgents have long accused him of making lucrative deals with the government or hoarding Saudi-supplied arms rather than using them to help overmatched insurgents in other areas around Damascus.”

Alloush’s life and death sums up the ugliness and complexities of the Syrian tragedy that has no doubt been triggered by the ruthless regime of Assad. Alloush was neither an angel nor the devil. Bachar El-Halabi, a Lebanese researcher told me that when it comes to Syria, we have to admit that the Islamists, with their different arrays of ideologies, will represent a big chunk of the future. He added, “They are a reality that was forged throughout years of conflict.” El-Haalabi believes, however, that after Assad there won’t be a single Assad–like figure running the show, “which is why people like Alloush get some sympathy from anti-Assad activists.”

The debate about Alloush is a good example of how the “window” of politically acceptable options can be pushed to accept the likes of Alloush as a mainstream option. In a country with several shades of Islamism, all competing to win and dominate the scene, new groups become ever more extreme, making less extreme groups seem relatively “moderate” in comparison. In reality, Alloush did not belong to the darkest shades of Islamism, but it is also not necessarily accurate to label his Islamism as “moderate.” We need to refrain from using extreme radicalism as the benchmark for moderation. Alloush was politically moderate rather than ideologically moderate.

At the end of the day, Alloush symbolized how clarity in Syria died a long time ago with the endless human tragedies that have plagued this war-torn country. It is understandable to see Syrians divided in their views. However, to save Syria, it is crucial for outsiders, mediators, and independent observers to have a clearer vision and independent benchmarks about what is political moderation and ideological moderation. After five years of abhorrent bloodshed, Syria cannot afford further confusion or wishful thinking.

Post Script

For more insight on Alloush and his group Army of Islam, read this piece by Hassan Hassan, which is also published today.

Posted in Best Read, Islam, Middle East, Politics, Syria | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments