Before converting Hagia Sophia, look at the mosque-cathedral of Cordoba

Inside Hagia Sophia

( Inside Hagia Sophia during my last visit to Istanbul)

Initially published in Hurriyet News Daily

The mosque-cathedral of Cordoba and the Hagia Sophia of Istanbul – both magnificent buildings – were victims of the geopolitical standoff of medieval times and the egos of the new conquerors who wanted to certify their victories and assert their religious superiority. Both were later converted to museums in gestures that reflect modern maturity and increasing harmony between the eternal faiths of Christianity and Islam. Regressive politics, however, still challenges the essence of wisdom. In Turkey, there are increasing calls to convert the Hagia Sophia into a mosque. One way to address the advocates of conversion is to ask them to look west toward Cordoba, which provides a similar, yet opposite history.

The endless modifications to the Cordoba Mosque since King Ferdinand III of Castile conquered it in 1236 are still evident. With its spectacular gilded prayer niche or “mihrab,” the mosque is a stunning representation of the Moorish, Islamicate architecture that was later overshadowed by a Renaissance cathedral imposed on it. The cathedral itself is beautiful, but it looks oddly out of place within the endless marble columns of the mosque. The final outcome of the amalgamation of the two is clear evidence of the futility of the exercise. It evokes a deep sense of despair at the shortsightedness of humans when dogma overrides wisdom.

Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia evokes a similar feeling, but there are subtle differences. Again, this spectacular architectural beauty of Byzantine and Ottoman architecture also symbolizes a historical chapter punctuated by dogma and ego. However, to the credit of the Ottomans, they managed to harmonize their converted mosque in color and structure with the original elements of the church. Therefore, the final product is simply an artistic masterpiece that is less odd and more serene and welcoming to visitors.

Nonetheless, it is pointless to argue about the circumstances that led to the conversions of these two architectural hybrids. It is better to accept them as unique oddities. After all, we cannot change history; we can only learn from it. That is precisely what Turkey did in 1935, when it officially reopened Hagia Sophia as a museum. Regardless of the motive behind it, the move signaled not only a sense of Turkish reconciliation with its ancient past, but also a message of confidence in its Islam, which is no longer threatened by outside Christian enemies.

Sadly, Turkish Islamists, supported by many inside the ruling AKP party, do not share this notion of reconciliation and confidence. They have their own grievances against the “Kemalist secular Republic,” in what they perceive as an attack on Ottoman heritage. Hagia Sophia is at the heart of their campaign. The Anatolia Youth Association has collected 15 million signatures to petition for it to be turned back into a mosque.

Words conquer, and conquest is used casually and conveniently to describe what is usually a biased assessment of historical events. Many Islamists prefer the word conquest, believing it captures a positive, glorious act that was devoid of devastation of the existing civilian population. Within that frame of mind, the invasion of Constantinople is a “conquest,” or, in Turkish/Arabic, Fetih. Other similar acts by opposite forces, such as the Christian recapture of Andalusia, are portrayed in a more negative light. This biased assessment of history feeds a sense of victimhood that encourages political irrationality. Maybe the Turkish Islamists should visit Cordoba to have a taste of how “conquer” can elicit different, sad emotions. Maybe they could also contemplate how they would feel if the Spanish authorities decided to allow Christian prayers again in the mosque. Turning both monuments into museums is the best way to turn the page of a bitter and bloody past that defied the essence of the two faiths, which both advocate mercy and compassion.

Secularism/Islamism

As Kadri Gürsel has written, the Kemalist secular Republic gave birth to three main issues of victimhood: The headscarf ban, the restriction on religious high schools and the transformation of Hagia Sophia into a museum. Although Islamists have had a valid argument regarding the headscarf ban – and they rightly reversed it recently – Hagia Sophia is a completely different matter. The issue here is not freedom of choice, as in the scarf ban, or religious oppression, it is simply about resurrecting ego. Islamists claim that without praying in Hagia Sophia, the conquest is incomplete. Such ridiculous thinking conveys a deep and unfounded sense of insecurity from citizens of a nation that was never colonized by foreign forces. Reviving Muslim prayers five times a day in Hagia Sophia or even in the Christian Vatican for that matter will never cure this insecurity. Political Islamists will always be insecure, as long as they view anyone who differs from them as an enemy that is trying to undermine their rule.

King Charles V, who commissioned the Cordoba church, subsequently voiced his displeasure at the result. “They have taken something unique in all of the world and destroyed it to build something you can find in any city,” he said, and his quote is still valid today. It is time to uncouple Islam from Islamism. The Prophet Muhammad never advocated luxurious mosques or fancy buildings. His simplicity was one of his main virtues. Political diggers who are after score settling may indeed win in Turkey and convert Hagia Sophia to a mosque, but they will probably end up with the same sentiment King Charles V felt – very displeased. The great Hagia Sophia will be just another mosque that “can be found in any city.” Shortsightedness may win its moment in Turkey, but it will only be carved in history as a hollow victory for political greed.

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Egyptian Aak 2014 – Week 23 ( June2 – June 8)

Sisi's family 2(Egypt’s First Lady, via Daily News Egypt)

Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

 Saturday 

 Sunday

 Good Reports

Plus:                                                

 Video

 Interview

 Good read

Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

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Egypt and Political Satire

nervana111:

I wrote this piece last October, and I think it is valid today:
No one should be exempted from mocking, even the beloved man in uniform, no matter how worshipped he is.

Originally posted on Nervana:

Will political satire survive in Egypt? Since January 2011, satirist Bassem Youssef has become Egypt’s most popular comedian. He has poked fun at nearly every one of Egypt’s political elite, and his merciless, biting jokes about ex-president Morsi’s poor performance and bad English have earned him million of fans – and many enemies. Last April, he was briefly arrested for “insulting the president, denigrating Islam and disturbing the peace,” a move that created a global outcry, and even a tense Twitter exchange between the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and the Egyptian presidency.

 Now Mr. Youssef is back after a four-month hiatus, and in his show last Friday he poked “equal fun” at the nationwide fan frenzy that has grown around Egypt’s Defense Minister, General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, in recent months. Mr. Youssef imitated the general’s soft- spoken words and alluded to his rumored political ambition. It did not take long…

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Egyptian Aak 2014 – Week 22 ( May 26- June 1)

 

Sisi mania

( An Egyptian TV presenter wearing Sisi’s necklace, via Amro Ali )

Main Headlines

 Monday

 Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

 Good Report

 Plus 

 Good Read 

Photo gallery

 Video

Finally, here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

Posted in Diary of Aak, Egypt, June30 | 1 Comment

Turkey’s economic resilience tested as post-Gezi tensions linger

nervana111:

In light of today’s violence in Turkey, this is a very interesting read by Yavuz Baydar that is worth reading.

Originally posted on TEMPORAL:

One year after the Gezi Park protests began, Turkey has yet to calm investors’ fears of political risks at home, while external risks such as US Federal Reserve (Fed) monetary stimulus tapering, add to the threat of losing the image it has held for the last decade of being a reliable investment market with sustainable growth. 

The government’s inability to manage the Gezi crisis and attributing almost all market-related problems to protests at home revealed how unprepared it was to contain the damage from the even bigger international market troubles waiting to strike. An alarm bell for emerging markets, the Fed first indicated that it would stop its bond purchases on May 22 of last year, roughly a week before Gezi erupted. Market experts argue that, shocked at the extent of the protests, the government chose to use Gezi as an excuse to buy time while global market troubles were…

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Egyptian Aak 2014- Week 21 (May 19- 25)

 

Niqabi Sisi

(A group of Salafi Nour Party’s female members hold posters of Sisi- via FaceBook)

Main Headlines

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

 Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sunday 

 Good Reports

Good read

Interview

 Photo Gallery

 Plus:

Poll:

Finally, here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

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Egypt’s Fight Against a Boycott

Sabahi photo

(Presidential candidate Sabahi, photo via Twitter)

Initially published in the Atlantic Council’s Egypt Source

Smart lyrics that portray Egypt as a united people from various governorates are part of a catchy song sung by Emirati cultural ambassador Hussein Al-Jassmi’s urging Egyptians to vote in the 2014 presidential elections. The song features a “call for the Upper Egyptian, your cousins in Port Said, and the youth of Alexandria” to vote. This song is part of a new charm offensive by many Egyptian media outlets to encourage the public to vote in the name of patriotism, less than three days before the election. Jassmi’s song, produced by private Egyptian satellite channel CBC, is just one example of this offensive, which aims to counterattack any active boycott campaign and to prevent what the authorities fear most ___ a passive boycott.

Active Boycotting

The goal of the Muslim Brotherhood is to “dent the legitimacy of the election” but whether they will succeed is doubtful. The best estimation of the number of core Brotherhood members is six million – those voters who endorsed Morsi in the first round of the 2012 presidential election. However, the recent Pew research poll shows a clear decline in the Brotherhood’s popularity, and many who voted for Morsi, particularly in the runoff, have changed their minds over the past two turbulent years. Even if we dismiss the Pew poll and assume that the Brotherhood’s base supporters are still intact, this represents just six million out of more than 50 million registered voters, a small percentage that makes the impact of a boycott and any claim of success dubious, to say the least. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see the effect of the Brotherhood’s call for a boycott in the southern and western regions of Egypt, which are traditionally Islamist strongholds. The regional political map of Egypt may not have changed much, but could be reliable in assessing the impact of the active boycott on this election.

On the other hand, the Brotherhood is not alone; there are other groups calling for voters to boycott the election. Both the revolutionary April 6 movement and the Strong Egypt Party, led by ex-Brotherhood member Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, have both called for a boycott. It is difficult to assess their impact on the ground, however. Both boycotted January’s constitutional referendum and there was no evidence to prove they had significant influence over voter opinion. The Strong Egypt Party, in particular, is relatively new and beyond the 2012 presidential elections, Abul Fotouh’s supporters have not been tested. Following Abul Fotouh’s disappointing performance in the elections, the party’s first crucial test will be the upcoming parliamentary elections, which, of course, will only take place if he decides to participate.

Passive Boycott

On the other hand, there is the possibility of a passive boycott, which can come about from indifference. In January 2014, 20 million Egyptians voted in the constitutional referendum, a turnout of 38 percent, a reasonable figure as far as referendums in Egypt is concerned. However, this also means over 30 million voters stayed home. If we deduct active boycotters ___ no more than 10 million by any generous estimation ____ then at least 20 million Egyptians did not vote, likely due to apathy. For many Egyptians, the results of the upcoming elections are a foregone conclusion, as ex-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is expected to win regardless of the turnout. Therefore, many will ask why they should bother standing in long queues in Egypt’s baking heat if the result is already known. This is the question the interim authority in Egypt dreads and has tried to address.

Accordingly, there has been a new ‘get-out-the-vote’ campaign to prompt Egyptians to vote, with many of the ads explicitly stating that voting is necessary in order to prove to the outside world that most Egyptians have embraced the roadmap.. The joyful tunes of new and old patriotic songs have always had an impact on the Egyptian public. For authorities, a victory for Sisi is not enough; they need a turnout to provide crucial legitimacy to the roadmap that followed Morsi’s ousting.

Although leftist candidate, Hamdeen Sabbahi is clearly viewed as the underdog in this election, the percentage of passive boycotters will depend on his ability to mobilize some of the apathetic voters and convince them their votes count, a task as difficult as his quest to win a respectable percentage of the vote. Many election observers in Egypt dismiss Sabbahi’s chances completely; however, again, the recent Pew research poll estimates Sisi’s popularity as being only 54 percent, an alarmingly low percentage that may indicate Sabbahi’s chances may not be as slim as some predict.

Can the expat votes give us a clue?

The answer in short is no. According to the election committee, 318,033 expatriates have cast their ballots, a slightly higher number than the 301,720 who voted in the run-off vote of the 2012 presidential poll. However, a closer look indicates that this increase was offset by the cancelation of the mail-in vote in this election, and the fact that Egyptians who are temporarily abroad were allowed to cast their votes without prior registration. The vote was also extended for an extra 24 hours this time. Moreover, Egyptians abroad are not truly representative of public opinion in Egypt. There is a big gap in the level of education and economic standards between Egyptians inside and outside Egypt, which can make extrapolation of the results unreliable. A look at the distribution of votes among expats in the first round of the 2012 presidential poll shows Shafiq scoring the lowest, but ending up ahead of the total vote, together with Morsi.

Thus far, in all his interviews, Sisi has emphasized the importance of the turnout in the presidential election. He understands, more than anyone else, that his legitimacy relies on the public voluntarily heading to the polling stations and voting, even if they nullify their ballots. That is why Jessmi’s cheerful song, which may sound silly to outsiders, is actually crucial, among other patriotic tunes, at this stage. The election campaign officially ends on Friday, but patriotic songs can go on throughout the voting process. The task is to achieve a decent turnout, but the ideal goal is to ensure at least the 50 percent turnout that was recorded in the second round of the 2012 election. It is unclear whether this goal will be achieved, but it is pointless to predict it.

Posted in Diary of Aak, Egypt, June30 | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Egyptian Aak 2014- Week 20 (April 12-18)

Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

 Friday

Saturday

Sunday

 Good report

Interview

Good Read

Graph

 Plus:

Also

Finally, here are Jayson Casper’s prayersfor Egypt

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

Insult to injury in Turkey in the aftermath of the Soma Tragedy

Originally posted on Human Rights in Turkey:

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If the “woman in the red dress” has become the central image of the Gezi protests, it seems likely that images of Yusuf Yerkel, an aide to Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, brutally kicking a demonstrator will become one of the key symbols of the Soma mining disaster and the government’s subsequent response.

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Don’t discount Sabahi in Egypt’s presidential race

Sabahi-Sisi photo

( Photo via South China Morning Post )

This piece is published in Al-Monitor

Egypt’s presidential campaign has formally started, and political talk shows have become the new frontier for candidates Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Hamdeen Sabahi to flex their muscles and charm the public. Although it’s hard to assess the real impact of these talk show interviews on viewers, they have clearly highlighted crucial aspects of the candidates’ manifestoes, personalities and styles. Contrary to earlier assumptions, the performance of both candidates in TV interviews has changed the perceptions of some and raised alarm bells for others. Overall, they have increased the prospect of a competitive election. Many who considered Sabahi’s candidacy a meaningless exercise are now asking themselves whether he can in fact gain enough support. However, a question mark hangs over the percentage of votes Sabahi can win.

In Egypt’s fluid and occasionally stormy political scene, the benchmark for assessing the potential performance of presidential candidates has drifted dramatically since the 2012 election scene, and even from January’s constitutional referendum. Ultimately, the TV interviews have exposed a few myths and provided the Egyptian public with two clear choices:

Continue reading here

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