Egyptian Aak 2015 – Week 5 ( Jan26 – Feb 1)

Sinai attacks

(Funerals have been taking place for those killed in the Sinai attacks – Photo via BBC)

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 Poll

  • Baseera poll: 79% to vote in parliamentary elections, 35% approve Islamists’ candidacy

Video

 Tweet of the Week

Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

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Egyptian Courts Take on FGM, But Can They Uproot the Practice Altogether?

I wrote this piece for the Harvard Journal of Middle East Politics and policy, hope you enjoy it.

FGM

(Victim of FGM, 13-year-old Egyptian girl Suhair al-Bataa- Photo via AP)

In a landmark verdict handed down last Monday, an Egyptian doctor was convicted of the manslaughter of 13-year-old Suhair al-Bataa, who died during an illegal female genital mutilation (FGM) procedure. Dr. Raslan Fadl was initially acquitted in November 2014, triggering a wave of anger among activists and women’s rights advocates. The new verdict provides a glimmer of hope in the fight against the retrogressive practice, which originated in ancient Egypt. Nevertheless, the depth of the challenge should not be underestimated. FGM remains popular in Egypt, despite a 2008 ban on all its forms. Fadl’s conviction, though another step in the right direction, does not mean that the ugly practice will disappear anytime soon. More needs to be done to change mindsets, not just among families, but also among medical practitioners.

Interviewed by The Guardian following his initial acquittal, Fadl admitted he had removed a “wart” from Sohair’s pubic area, but claimed his incision was minor and that the girl died from an allergic reaction to penicillin. According to the report, there was little outrage in Fadl’s village, where both FGM and the doctor enjoy strong support. “I’m very happy for him,” said one young woman waiting in Fadl’s clinic. “It wasn’t his fault.”

The doctor’s response and the local support he continues to enjoy sums up the challenges Egypt faces in combating FGM. According to a report by the Orchid Project, up to 77% of FGM in Egypt is conducted in a medical environment or by a medical professional. There are three reasons that motivate some doctors to defy the FGM ban.

First, the Egyptian government did not restrict FGM until 1996, when it passed a partial ban on the practice. It failed to enforce this ban until 2007, when the death of 12-year-old Budour Ahmad Shaker provoked a public outcry, leading to the ban’s amendment in 2008. These ill-conceived policies have proven difficult to reverse.

Second, medicine, like any other profession, counts Islamists among its practitioners, whose attitudes towards FGM range from staunch support to refusal to condemn the practice. Although the Quran contains no explicit basis for the procedure, its supporters claim it was widely practiced during the Prophet’s time and sanctioned by senior Islamic jurists such as Abu-Hanifa and Ibn-Malik. Any dissenting religious edict by the government or al-Azhar, the prestigious Egyptian center of Islamic thought, is often dismissed as politically motivated.

While at university, I once witnessed an alarming debate between a student in favor of FGM and a psychiatry professor who supported its ban. While the professor calmly cited the negative physical and psychological effects of the practice on women, the student, rather than trying to counter with possible benefits, cited religious fatwas (Islamic verdicts) in its favor. The student was not alone in his beliefs; I have met several doctors who, ignoring medical reason, justify FGM on the basis of their own religious convictions.

Lastly, FGM survives because it is good business in a society in which many doctors are underpaid. Support for FGM is not limited to Muslim Brotherhood or Salafi followers; many conservative Egyptians seek out doctors willing to perform the procedure. Struggling to preserve their conservative values in the age of the Internet, many Egyptians see FGM as a means to protect their girls’ sexual purity and prospects for marriage. Demand for the procedure is especially strong in rural areas, where Egyptians tend to follow more conservative local preachers over the Cairo-based al-Azhar scholars. Some doctors justify the procedure by convincing themselves that if they refuse to conduct it, families will find non-professionals willing to do so at greater risk to the children.

Female genital mutilation is thus the tragic outcome of an unhealthy relationship between Egyptian policy, medicine, religion, economics and culture. Legal enforcement of the ban is crucial, but a multi-faceted approach is needed to tackle its many angles. Independent, credible religious institutions must support the ban. A robust debate on the issue is needed within the medical and rural communities – one that will confront those who defy the ban without forcing them underground. Our girls deserve a future free from backwardness and mutilation.

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

Egyptian Aak 2015 – Week 4 ( Jan 19 – 25)

Shimaa Death 2

(Photo of  activist Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh  shot  in Cairo on Saturday)

(Via Youm 7 newspaper)

Main Headlines

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 Tuesday 

 Wednesday

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Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

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El-Sisi and Human Rights in Egypt

 

Sisi

(Photo via Reuters)

In a change of tune, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi acknowledged on Tuesday that Egypt’s police committed human rights abuses after the overthrow of his predecessor, but said they were expected given the “exceptional” security threats faced by the country.

Here is my brief interview with Radio France Internationale on why El- Sisi has changed his tune and what we should expect from him.

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

Egyptian Aak 2015 – Week 3 ( Jan 12 – 18)

Faten Hamama

(Egypt’s best known actress. May 27, 1931 – January 17, 2015)

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Tuesday

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Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

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Muslims and Charlie Hebdo

Charlie Hebdo

( Photo via Twitter)

A depiction of the Prophet Mohammed crying and holding a “Je suis Charlie” sign under the words, “Tout Est Pardonné” (“All is forgiven.”) on the new cover of the French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo is ironically, probably a correct reflection of the Prophet’s mindset, rather than the angry sensationalism expressed by many Muslims.

 Anyone that has studied the early history of Islam would learn how the Prophet initially struggled over many years to spread Islam in his native city of Mecca. He was even mocked and belittled by some of his own relatives. In the year 619, during his visit to Taif, a city 70 miles southeast of Mecca, he also failed to win over hearts and minds, and instead the residents of Taif pelted him with rocks. The Prophet’s response was not vengeance, but quiet prayers and humility, even later in life when he conquered both Taif and Mecca.

 As such, the story of Taif is perhaps a lesson for Muslims today as they struggle to handle Charlie Hebdo and its defiance after radical Islamists stormed the magazine’s headquarters in Paris last week killing twelve of its journalists. Tarek Osman rightly pointed out how most large Islamic institutions have condemned the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, but none have embraced the “Je Suis Charlie” campaign.

 In fact, the new edition of Charlie Hebdo has triggered angry reactions across the Middle East. This inability to support Charlie Hebdo, or grasp its defiance does not just stem from Islam’s theological position on blasphemy, but reflects how Muslims perceive the evolution of their own history. Muslims were taught how Islam turned a page following the Prophet’s trip to Taif, and rapidly became a victorious and dominant empire where even non-believers respected Muslims. This alleged respect is what some Muslims are demanding now from Charlie Hebdo and the Western world in general. This concept of respect, however, is fundamentally flawed.

 First, hurling insults against Islam is not something new, it started with the rise of Islam, and as early as in the account of Taif, and continued throughout medieval times, albeit quietly. The larger problem is the inability of Muslims to swallow the fact that in a modern global world, criticism and mocking behavior cannot really be sequestered. In fact, technology and interconnectedness can make it as glaring and direct as in the old days in Mecca and Taif.

 “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” This quote was written in 1391 as an expression of the views of the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaiologos. Today, the only difference is technology that enables mockery and insults to spread beyond the confinement of closed doors or national borders. As recently as 2006, Pope Benedict XVI dared to recite this old quote.

 Second, while some contemporary Muslims advocate a concept of mutual respect between Muslims and non-Muslims, in actuality many of them do not practice such respect. For example, for a devout Christian, describing Jesus, as “just a Prophet” is offensive, yet Muslims have no problem bluntly highlighting their own concept of Jesus to Christians as if this was proper. Some Muslims also claim that other holy books were forged and do not tell the true stories of the Prophets. In Egypt, a derogatory way to describe Coptic Christians is to label them as “blue bone,” indicating a devious and untrustworthy character. Further, the demonization of Jews, especially following the creation of Israel, is common in the Arab and Muslim world. Films and soap operas in the Arab World compete to portray Jews as evil plotters. Egypt’s ex-president Morsi once described Jews as “descendants of apes and pigs.”

 Third, while Muslims demand respect, some of them clearly pervert this concept of respect when they misguidedly equate offensive cartoons with crimes such as butchery, crucifixion, slavery, and other revolting practices committed on daily basis by radical groups like ISIS in Syria and Iraq. The “both are bad” cliché is dangerous because it absolves Muslims from any responsibility to fight the growing radicalism growing from within their faith by equating it with satire.

 What they can’t see is that satire, even if vile and offensive, is not as harmful to the prophet as the crimes that are committed daily under his name. As Nadim Koteich has written, “The truth is that what the killers did in Paris has only reinforced the images drawn by the artists of Charlie Hebdo.” Furthermore, our alleged sensitivities to satire has acted as an indirect PR campaign that has helped Charlie Hebdo gain a worldwide audience and a distribution of paper copies to millions around the globe.

 Fourth, Muslims seems shocked by the alleged disrespect of Charlie Hebdo fail to see how their threats will only provoke defiance. The Turkish PM claims that Turkey will not allow Mohammed to be insulted are nothing more than a political gesture to his faithful supporters. In reality, no one can stop satire. On Twitter, British journalist Piers Morgan tweeted, “The brilliant new cover of Charlie Hebdo. I suggest the entire world re-tweets this.” Subsequently, his tweet was indeed re-tweeted twenty-four thousand times. While Turkey can certainly ban the publication of such cartoons in Turkey, they cannot prevent the rest of the world from perusing such content.

 Perhaps the Prophet is now watching us from a distance. Off course, we can only imagine what he is thinking, but it is doubtful that he is proud of his followers’ inability to restrain their anger or learn from his graceful handling of past ordeals in Mecca and Taif. In fact, the “Tout est pardonné” theme fits well with what Muslim scholars taught us about the Prophet. It was his forgiving nature that earned him respect and admiration. The Prophet did not force respect; he earned it. Anger, blame, and victimhood are certainly not the right tools. It is time for Muslims to put the proper tools in place and use them to earn respect.

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

Egyptian Aak 2015 – Week 2 ( Jan 5- 11)

Fahmy's finacee

(Message from the fiancée of Al-Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy)

(Courtesy France 24’s Sonia  Dridi)

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Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

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Egypt and the Jewish Rabbi Abu-Hasira

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Yacoub or Jacob Abu Hasira. (photo:Wikimedia Commons)

Egypt – A court in Alexandria has canceled an annual Jewish festival commemorating the birthday of Abu-Hasira, a leading 19th-century Moroccan Rabbi (1805-1880). The festival was due to take place on January 9 and 10 in the village of Demittwah, near the city of Damanhur, in the Nile Delta’s region of Behira. The court stated that the festival “violates public order and morals” and that “the Jews have not had any particular impact on Egyptian civilization.” The court also ordered the shrine to be erased from Egypt’s antiquities records. The verdict is an inevitable outcome of a long journey of ignorance, misconceptions, and politicization of religious matters that has its roots in the Arab-Israeli conflict. This trend was skillfully maintained during Mubarak’s Egypt and continued to unfold, despite his departure from power.

 Ignorance as the State’s policy

 Following the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, Jewish groups demanded officially organized trips for them to celebrate the festival. Mubarak’s regime opted for a dual approach to the Jewish request. On the one hand, it approved the visits, but insisted on a media blackout of the festival. Mubarak’s elitist Culture Minister, Farouk Hosny, did little to highlight the history or background of the shrine to the Egyptian public. This was hardly surprising considering how years of hostility between the Arabs and Jews have erased any Jewish traditions from Egyptian memory. I watched a video of the celebration, posted by prominent blogger Zeinobia. It showed rituals known to be practiced in any Jewish celebration, but understandably different to Egyptian customs. The residents of the small village of Demittwah must have been taken aback to suddenly see an alien group of foreigners with different dress codes and cultural traditions descending on them. Hostility was inevitable.

 The security solution

 When it came to facing the public and trying to explain its decisions, the Mubarak regime showed a marked reticence. Indeed, on controversial issues such as the annual Jewish festival commemorating the birthday of Abu Hasira in Demittwah, the regime opted not for open disclosure but for invasive security measures that angered the locals. Every year, before the start of the festival, residents of Demittwah have woken up to a large number of security personnel searching their homes and clearing the way to the Abu-Hasira shrine. In one report, a villager described how, under Mubarak’s regime, residents of the village had to endure house arrest during the festival until the departure of the Jews from the village. The security force’s mishandling of the Jewish visits to the area and their aggressive tactics to quell local resentment were clearly counter-productive. It aggravated local tension and popularized calls to cancel the Jewish celebrations.

 Egypt’s legal system

 The recent verdict to ban the festival is not the first. In 2001, the Administrative Court in Alexandria ruled for the cancelation of the festival and banned Jews from holding it. Later, in 2004, the high administrative court in Alexandria approved the banning of the festival and canceled the decision to include the cemetery among the monuments of Egypt. It is unclear what happened after those earlier court orders, but apparently the Egyptian authorities somehow decided to defy the ruling, further igniting local hostilities. Moreover, and in defiance of basic universal court proceedings, none of those cases have invited members of the local Jewish community to explain the rituals conducted at the shrine, in order to decide, in a fairer way, whether “it violates public order and morals.”

 The first time I heard about Abu-Hasira was in the late 90s. It was also the first time I met a Jew in my life. She was a blind, elderly British lady, who proudly explained the many reasons she loved Egypt; Abu-Hasira was one of them. Who is Abu-Hasira? I asked. She sounded very surprised, but politely explained.

 It took me years to gather more information about this mystical figure revered by Jews, but ignored by the country in which he was buried. I used to find his name intriguing, as Abu-Hasira in Egyptian Arabic means “the man with the matt.” Later I read that he had once nearly drowned in the Mediterranean but had clung to a matt and survived. The Arabic name did little to mellow local hostility to the man and his disputed festival, in stark contrast to an earlier bygone era of tolerance. In 1945 Abu-Hasira’s grave in Egypt became a shrine, with the approval of the governorate of Behira. Both Jews and Muslims revered the man with the matt, who eventually fell ill, died, and was buried in Egypt.

 In his book, “In an antique land,” Indian writer Amitav Gosh describes his visit to the shrine of Abu-Hasira in the 1990s. He found a compound heavily guarded by “soldiers.” Amitav Gosh used an interesting term in his book – “the partition of the past,” which is a perfect way to describe the current controversy surrounding the Abu-Hasira festival. In our quest to detach ourselves from the official peace deal with Israel, we decided to suspend a rich part of our culture, tradition, and history and allowed it to vanish from our conscious memory. This tragic partition of the past is neither healthy nor productive for a nation that considers history its favorite asset.

Posted in Best Read, Egypt, Israel, Middle East, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Egyptian Aak 2015 – Week 1 ( Dec 29- Jan 4)

Amal Clooney

( Amal Clooney, photo via Thanassis Stavrakis/Pool/Getty)

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Interview

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Finally, here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

Happy New Year 2015

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Egyptian Aak 2014 – Week 52 ( Dec 22- 28 )

Yara Salem

(Activist Sanaa Seif, and rights activist and lawyer Yara Sallam (Photo: Courtesy of Free Sanaa Facebook page)

Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

 Friday

Saturday

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 Good Reports

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Photo Gallery:  

Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

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