Egyptian Aak 2017- Week 21 (May 22-28)

APTOPIX Egypt

Relatives of Coptic Christians surround their coffins, during their funeral service- via AP

Top Headlines

  • Gunmen in Egypt Force Coptic Christian Pilgrims From Buses and Kill at least 28
  • ISIS claims responsibility for deadly shooting on Coptic Christians in Egypt
  • Egypt launches airstrikes in Libya in response to a deadly attack on Coptic Christians
  • US Embassy in Egypt warns of ‘potential threat’ from terrorist organization
  • Egypt blocks 21 websites for ‘terrorism’ and ‘fake news’
  • Egypt orders detention of potential presidential candidate in 2018 elections- he later was released on bail
  • Egypt’s Sisi rejects Bashir accusations, says not conspiring against Sudan

 Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

  • Egypt prosecutors order detention of opposition leader tipped to challenge president in next election
  • Egypt’s Sisi says ‘nobody is above the law’ in battle to reclaim land stolen from the state
  • Macron expresses interest in Sisi’s invitation to visit Egypt

Wednesday

 Thursday

Friday

Saturday 

Sunday

Statement

Good Reports

Good Read

From Twitter

Photo Gallery:

Interview

  • Aya Hijazi on her surprising meeting with President Trump after release from Egypt prison. Rhana Natour

Plus

 

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Egypt’s Come-to-Jesus Moment

This is fantastic read by Maged Atiya on Egypt. Please read…

salamamoussa

Copts_FuneralSamuel Tadros, a chronicler of modern Egypt and its Copts, opens his new op-ed for the New York Times with a passionate and moody warning from a friend:  “At this rate Copts will be extinct in 100 years. They will die, leave, convert or get killed”. Many Copts disagreed with this sentiment, both privately and publicly. There seems to be a serene faith that it is God’s plan for Egypt to remain a Christian country, and that no evil human plot can contradict that. In a 2013 review of Tadros’s book “Motherland lost” this blogger noted  “more painful than contemplating how Copts might fare when shorn of Egypt is the thought of how Egypt might fare when shorn of the Copts”. This still holds true. The very act of exterminating Christianity from Egypt will so painful, so wrenching, certainly for Copts, but more so for…

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Iran’s election: False hopes of a moderate path

Iran elections photo

( Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei –via The Guardian) 

Last Friday, Iranians voted in the country’s presidential election, favoring current President Hassan Rouhani with 56.9% of the votes, defeating his hardliner rival Raisi, who scored only 38.5. Reformist candidates have also swept municipal elections in the Iranian capital, taking all 21 seats in Tehran. Following his victory, Rouhani pledged to open Iran to the world and deliver the freedom its people have yearned for. Rouhani’s re-election, however, will not inch the Islamic Republic towards a future moderate path.

The Islamic Republic has three major advantages over its Arab neighbours: It has no foreign patron; has never faced a humiliating military defeat; and its isolation has lowered the expectations of its citizens.

Iran has no foreign patron that demands or expects a softer stance. In fact, since the Mullahs ousted the late Shah of Iran, they have focused on being patrons of Shia minorities in the region. Moreover, being a patron in such a tough neighbourhood like the Middle East is itself a barrier to moderation. Those Shia followers will not stay loyal to the Mullahs if they sense any weakness in the Iranian handling of regional foes. Unlike the Saudis, who built their clout through spectacular summits and grooming global partnerships, the Mullahs prefer to work underground through complex webs of kinship and loyal groups. Breaking this complex network is almost suicidal for Tehran.

Never having faced a trauma such as defeat at the hands of Israel, the attributes of compromise and negotiation are virtually absent from the Mullahs’ psyche. Iran has the luxury of not having a direct border with Israel, which offers the Mullahs the opportunity of low cost, indirect skirmishes via its favourite proxy, the Lebanese group Hezbollah, but never a direct confrontation. Therefore, realistically, except for successful military airstrikes on Iran, which is, for geographical and political reasons, almost impossible, the Mullahs have no reason to abandon the country’s strategic pillars, namely its aggressive anti-Israel/American stance. Why should they?

Furthermore, although the Iranian leadership is keen to comply with its obligations stated in last year’s nuclear deal, to break the harsh sanctions imposed on the country, the Mullahs are not keen to embrace a full economic liberalization policy. Having watched its Arab neighbours, particularly Egypt, the Iranian regime fully understands how the open-door economic policies adopted by Egypt’s President Sadat in the Seventies eventually triggered huge social changes, increasing citizens’ expectations and demands, and igniting political and human rights aspirations. All are red lines for the Mullahs. Iranian citizens, on the other hand, after decades of harsh sanctions, are conditioned to be grateful for the little their masters offer. Isolation lowers the ceiling of expectations and mellows bolder demands.

In any election, the Mullahs are willing to offer the Iranians two shades of grey, one dark and one slightly lighter. However, the rulers in Tehran are not prepared to offer their people a bolder shade that opens the country completely to the global competitive market.

In short, as Karim Sadjadpour has written, four decades of Iranian presidential elections have had little impact on Iran’s major domestic and foreign policies. The Mullahs are skilled at tricking others to die fighting enemies of the Islamic Republic, but they are unwilling to commit suicide themselves. In its handling of both its citizens and international community, the Iranian regime prefers to construct well-managed waterways, while avoiding opening any floodgates. Such a state of affairs tempers any expectations that await the second term of Iran’s Rouhani.

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Egyptian Aak 2017- Week 20 (May 15-21)

Top Headlines

  • Trump praises Sisi, says he hopes to visit Egypt
  • Sisi: Timing not right to declare my stance on 2018 presidential elections
  • In surprise move, Egypt central bank hikes key interests rate
  • Egypt refers 48 to court in connection with three bombings of Coptic churches.
  • Egypt prosecution investigates escape of Mubarak era interior minister
  • North Sinai’s second largest tribe al-Sawarka declares war against Sinai Province
  • Egyptian party Future of a Nation suspends Islamic cleric over “Christian unbelievers” remark

 Main Headlines

 Monday

 Tuesday

  • North Sinai’s second largest tribe al-Sawarka declares war against Sinai Province
  • IS mourns Palestinian member killed in Sinai
  • Sudan’s president said he will remain patient with Egypt even though “it has illegally occupied a disputed region

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

Good reports

Good Read

From Twitter

Photo Gallery

Plus

Finally here are Jason Casper’s prayers for Egypt

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The dismal state of some of Egypt’s Islamic scholars

Scholar Salem Abdel Galil

Muslim scholar Salem Abdel Galil – Photo via Egypt today

Sheikh Salem Abdel Galil, a prominent Egyptian Muslim scholar and former deputy minister for proselytization at Egypt’s Ministry of Religious Endowments, sparked a far-reaching controversy this week after he described Christians as unbelievers. He made the comment while explaining a Quranic verse during an episode of his TV program, Muslims Ask. Following the incident, Abdel Galil has been barred from preaching and is scheduled to appear before a court, accused of slandering a religion

The whole episode may seem relatively innocent in a region where radical groups like ISIS regularly butcher people, including Christians. Abdel Galil’s views, however, shed light on the opaque relationship between some mainstream religious teachings and the prevailing ills of our societies bred by sectarianism and radicalism.

Sheikh Abdel Galil described Christians as “unbelievers” and their beliefs as “corrupted,’ because they do not believe Mohamed is a Prophet. He also criticised Muslim scholars who disagree with his views, as misleading Christians, claiming that Christians should not believe those scholars, and should stop thinking God will accept them as faithful in the afterlife. He also stressed that describing Christians as such is not an incitement to violence against Christians, adding that Christians are “kind” and “human,” and should be treated fairly.

What Sheikh Abdel Galil has said is not new. Other Muslim scholars have defined those who reject the Prophet Mohamed, including followers of other monotheistic religions, as non-believers, on the basis that any religious community considers those who reject their faith as infidels. He later apologised if he had offended Christians’ feelings, but maintained his views on their infidelity. Despite his apology, his views are problematic for various reasons:

For a start, scholars like Sheikh Abdel Galil consider accusations of infidelity as an exclusive right of Muslims, not others. These scholars are clearly displaying they have a one-track mind that expects the followers of other monotheistic faiths, such as Judaism and Christianity, to accept that their beliefs are “corrupted.” At the same time, these scholars believe such monotheistic faiths should not defend their own faith, attack Islam, or label it as equally “corrupted.” Those scholars cannot understand how their views open the door to others to shower Muslims with similar invective, and create a climate in which hatred and bigotry thrive.

Secondly, Sheikh Abdel Galil’s insistence that Christians need Muslim scholars to validate their faith is not just absurd, but it is audacious too. It reflects an arrogant sense of dominance and power over non-Muslims, who are only treated kindly out of generosity, not out of equal position. He also seems to have no sense of time scale. Islam appeared nearly six centuries after Christianity. The idea that Christians would abandon their belief in the divinity of Jesus, just because another prophet appeared hundreds of years after is, at best, very naïve.

Thirdly, Sheikh Abdel Galil fails to understand how the slippery road initiated by his teaching could vindicate radicalism. He thinks his patronizing words, such as “Christians should be treated fairly” are enough to stop the hatred against them, or enough to deter radical youth from butchering others under the pretext that they are infidels. His insensitivity to the plight of Egyptian Christians, especially after Palm Sunday’s bombing, is remarkable. When confronted with that point during a different TV interview, he was dismissive, claiming that radicals also targeted him ___ as if that somehow makes his insensitivity more acceptable.

In short, scholars like Abdel Galil have recklessly reduced the differences between mainstream Islam and radical groups such as ISIS into tactical, not ideological, ones. Both Abdel Galil and ISIS see Christians and Jews as unbelievers or infidels; they only differ from ISIS on how those unbelievers should be treated. Such recklessness indirectly vindicates ISIS, and pushes non-Muslims to flee the Middle East.

Scholars such as Abdel Galil seems to be stuck in a medieval nostalgia and conquest mode, behaving as if Islam is still the new faith that once swept the Middle East dominating Christianity and Judaism. Such a mindset appeals to the comfort zone of some Muslim scholars. It helps them glamorize Islam from a position of superiority, instead of pitching the case for Islam in a competitive modern environment, in which followers of all religions respect one another. This conquest mode, unfortunately, is the soft interlock linking some mainstream teachings with radical ideologies.

In contrast, other Muslim scholars have moved away from such medieval nostalgia, and view Islam from a progressive stance that matches current realities. For example, Dr. Abdalla El Naggar, a member of the Islamic Research Centre, said that religion aims to unite people and it is not permissible for anyone to invalidate the faith of another because, in the end, God is the only Judge of all of us.

The stark difference between Abdel Galil and Naggar defines the struggle for the soul of Islam in today’s challenging times. It is time for our scholars to abandon their obsession with blasphemy. Many challenges face Muslims today; the faith of others is not one of them. The era of medieval dominance of one faith over others has gone. We must not allow religion to be used as a time machine enacting harmful regressive ideas that can only ruin our current fragile societies.

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Egyptian Aak 2017- Week 19 ( May 8- 14)

Top Headlines

  • IMF reaches staff level agreement for second loan installment to Egypt
  • Thomas Cook cancels hundreds of flights to Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt on Foreign Office guidance
  • Egypt’s Sisi receives an invite to upcoming Riyadah Trump summit
  • Egyptian armed forces foils attempt to smuggle arms through Libyan border
  • Egyptian Muslim Cleric who called Christians ‘unbelievers’ to face trial for contempt of religion
  • Egypt ‘uncovers 3700 year-old burial chamber of a Pharoah’s daughter
  • Mubarak-era interior minister Habib al-Adly escapes arrest  

Main Headlines

 Monday

 Tuesday

 Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

Good Reports

  • Where does the government stand in implementing terms of IMF loan agreement? Osman El-Sharnoubi
  • Nabil Saber: A displaced Copt killed over a stamp. Basma Mostafa
  • Egypt sees recent archaeological findings as a blessing for a struggling economy. Sudarsan Raghavan

Good Read

  • Do it, Mr. President!.. and don’t run for a second term. Mai Azzam
  • The IMF is neither the problem nor the solution. Amr Adly

Twitter

Study

 Plus

Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

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What is wrong with Egypt’s Al-Azhar?

Azhar El-Tayeeb

Grand Imam of al-Azhar ( Photo via Al-Azhar)

Last Friday, the head of Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, Ahmed Hosny, was sacked after only three months in the position, after labelling Muslim reformer and TV host Islam Al-Beheiry an apostate. This may seem good news in a country where accusations of blasphemy are showered casually on anyone who dares to challenge the orthodox interpretation of Islamic texts. However, the incident is just one episode in an on-going battle to modernize religious thought in Egypt, and it is unclear whether progressiveness can prevail over orthodoxy within Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s oldest seat of learning.

This sacking is another chapter in the confrontation between Islam Beheiry and Al-Azhar. Beheiry is a controversial figure in Egypt, mainly because of his candid views and biting criticism of what he describes as the unchallenged Islamic heritage passed on since medieval times, which is still used to justify many regressive practices.

In 2015, the privately owned Egyptian satellite channel Al-Qaherah wal Nas decided to pull Beheiry’s program after Al-Azhar filed a lawsuit demanding its cancellation. The decision also followed the airing of a long, heated TV debate between Islam Beheiry and two mainstream Islamic scholars (one from Al-Azhar) on another TV channel (CBC TV), in which various contentious issues regarding Islamic theology were discussed for the first time on such a forum. Later, in December 2015, Beheiry was sentenced to one year in prison on charges of religious contempt. In November 2016, Egyptian President Sisi pardoned Islam Beheiry, among others. Beheiry is now free to say what he likes.

Many sceptical observers, however, fear that the sacking of the head of Al-Azhar University, Ahmed Hosny, is just a tactical move from an institution that is increasingly feeling the pressure of people outraged by its perceived soft stance toward ISIS, particularly following ISIS’s recent attacks on Palm Sunday. Compounding this anger is Al-Azhar’s tough stance against reformers such as Beheiry.

In his latest article, Egyptian writer Osama Ibrahim Saraya aptly describes how the core problem with Al-Azhar is twofold: The first is the sanctification of many medieval and modern scholars and explanations of Islamic texts without genuine renewal that is consistent with the evolving reality of our world. Saraya contends that hard-core orthodox scholars have transformed Islam from a monotheistic religion into one full of idols that should not be criticized or challenged. The second part of the problem is that while current scholars are unwilling to excommunicate anyone, including barbarians such as ISIS men, they happily accuse anyone daring to interpret Islamic theology in a modern way of blasphemy.

Saraya expresses the hope that the Hosny episode will signal a new beginning of confronting the uncompromising and medieval interpretations of Islamic texts.

I doubt it.

Ahmed Hosny is possibly a scapegoat for an institution that is willing to sacrifice the reputation of one of its senior members instead of accepting responsibility for tainting its own prestige and power. Modernising Al-Azhar is a colossal task that requires a total revolution of Al-Azhar’s outlook and way of teaching. The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, however, is savvy and clever, but not revolutionary.

Nonetheless, I hope I am wrong. The early founders of Islam happily welcomed challenges from ordinary Muslim men and women, and were willing to change their views. It is worth remembering how a woman dared to challenge Caliph Umar, the fiercest Caliph, by reminding him of a verse in the Quran he ignored. Caliph Umar conceded and told the woman his famous quote: “You have better knowledge than Umar,” a quote radical scholars emphatically dismiss. Nonetheless, I hope the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar acknowledges the story, and embarks on the serious task of modernizing Sunni Islam’s oldest seat of learning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Egyptian Aak 2017- Week 18 ( May 1-7)

Top Headlines

  • Gunmen kill three Egypt policemen in Cairo
  • Egypt’s Al-Azhar university replaces head in apostasy row
  • Cairo court cancels release order on bail for Brotherhood businessman Hassan Malek
  • Islamic State leader in Egypt tells Muslims to avoid Christian gatherings
  • Egypt: 4,000-Year-Old Funerary Garden Discovered in Luxor
  • Archaeologists and conservation experts are meeting in Cairo to discuss moving King Tut’s throne, chests and bed.

 Main Headlines

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

  • Egypt court orders release of a senior leader and financier of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood Hassan Malik
  • Egypt approves proposal to grant foreigners 1-year residency at $100,000
  • Egypt to receive final $1 billion tranche of World Bank loan

 Friday

 Saturday

Sunday

 Good reports

Good Read

  • De-securitizing counterterrorism in the Sinai Peninsula. Sahar Aziz
  • Riding a tiger of radical Islam: Why the US must back Egypt’s Sisi. Cliff Smith
  • Overpopulation, religion and fatwas on demand in Egypt. Karoline Kamel

Twitter

Plus

  • 4,000-Year-Old Funerary Garden Discovered in Luxor

Video

  • Civil society organizations are battling the state for survival.

Finally, here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

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Egypt’s Islamists and Pope Francis

 

Islamists and Pope photo

A photo circulated on social media accuses Pope Francis is known for his radicalism, hatred to Islam, and supports Zionism

“The Pope of Terrorism” ____ a hashtag used by Islamists on Twitter to comment on Pope Francis’s recent visit to Egypt. Despite his clear message of tolerance, fraternity, and co-existence, and his commitment to forge closer Muslim-Christian ties, political Islamists view the Catholic Pope as the enemy, showering him with hatred and unfounded accusations. While the Pope hoped his trip could help peace and inter-religious dialogue, and spoke unambiguously in support of dignity and rights for all, his words, however, fell on deaf ears among Islamists.

In addition to the hashtag, where Islamists vented their hatred against the Pope, accusing him of radicalism and hatred towards Islam, writers on a Muslim Brotherhood news portal, fj-p.com, wrote against the Pope. One of them, Rania Qenawy, described the visit as a legitimization the coup and a farewell to human rights. Another writer, Younis Hamzaway, accused the “Christian West”, collectively, to be the reason behind global terrorism. Another pro-Islamist outlet Rasd described the Pope mass, as a ‘military mass”. In addition, politician Amr Adel, once a leader in a supposedly ‘moderate’ Islamist Wasat Party; now has joined an anti-Sisi front named “Egypt Revolutionary Council,” describing the Pope’s visit to Egypt on Mekamelin TV, a Muslim brotherhood Turkey-based TV station as a part of a “Catholic-Orthodox plan to take over the region.” He added: “The regime in Egypt relies on propping up minorities against the Sunni Muslim majority.”

A lot of people must be scratching their heads, trying to figure out why a much-respected global figure like Pope Francis, who campaign relentlessly for peace and love, could be accused of such dreadful accusations. The answer is a deep-seated, multi-layer, hatred toward Christians.

First: Ingrained anti-Christian feeling

As I wrote before, Islamism indoctrinates followers to behave and think as an oppressed minority, unfairly targeted by others, while portraying the real minorities, such as Copts, as powerful, privileged, well-connected groups. The dwindling numbers of Eastern Christians with relentless ISIS attacks against them have failed to dampen the deep-seated hatred and mistrust towards Christians. The scene of Pope Francis united with other Popes of the East (The Coptic Pope, the Patriarch of Constantinople, and others), would be perceived in the Islamists’ twisted minds as a conspiracy against them.

Second: An effort to strike a cord with ordinary Muslims in Egypt

Feeling isolated since the ousting of ex-president Morsi, political Islamists seize any opportunity to appeal to the pious majority of Egyptian Muslims. Airing Christian mass on prime time is a rare occasion in Egypt. It happens only twice a year, with the Coptic mass, aired on TV late at night, in Christmas and Easter. As 25 thousand Christians joined the Pope in rare primetime public midday mass in Cairo, Islamists sniffed a golden opportunity to paint their nemesis Sisi as the Patron of Christians; not Muslims, hoping this would win them more hearts and minds.

Third: Deflection of accusations

For years, Western observers have viewed non-violent Islamism as benign ideology with no negative impact on Western societies. This view has changed recently. Many have openly accused non-violent Islamist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, of being incubators or carrying medium for radicalization. In response, Islamists have adopted a defiant approach that involves denial and counterattacks as defensive tactics. Labelling the Pope Francis as the “the Pope of terrorism,” is a striking example.

In an ideology that mixes religion with politics, it is almost impossible to view outsiders, such as Pope Francis, as one with good intentions. The ideology that thrives on invoking insecurity, introversion, and fear, would never see calls for peace and love as genuine or sincere. In their denigration of the Pope, Islamists have only exposed the darkness of their thoughts, and obsolescence of their ideology.

 

 

 

 

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Egyptian Aak 2017- Week 17 (April 24-30)

Pope ad Al-Azhar BBC

Pope Francis with Al-Azhar Grand Imam – via BBC

Top Headlines

  • Pope Francis visits Egypt to promote “unity and fraternity”
  • Egypt’s Coptic pope signs agreement with Pope Francis on baptism recognition
  • A Swiss court ordered Egyptian naturalgas companies to pay Israel $2 billion in fines for breach of previous contract
  • IMF delegation to review Egypt’s austerity program
  • Province of Sinai claims responsibility for attack targeting Tarabin tribesmen
  • Cairo slams US senate hearing suggesting a ‘review’ of aid to Egypt

 Main Headlines

Monday

 Tuesday

Wednesday

 Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

Good Reports

Good Read

  • Pope Francis scores on multiple fronts as visit to Egypt ends. Gerard O’Connell

From Twitter

Plus

Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

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