Egyptian cinema and glamorizing violence

It is a pleasure and honour to join many liberal voices writing in the new Al-Hurra digital Arabic platform.  Here is, with permission, an english version of my first piece, which you can read it in Arabic here

Omar Sherif film Alhurra

Film “There isa man in our house” – Photo via Al-Hurra

Fans of black and white Arabic movies adore the classic masterpiece, “There is a man in our house.” The well-crafted drama featuring a top cast of Egyptian stars, including actor Omar Sharif, tells the story of a young radical leader, Ibrahim Hamdy, who seeks refuge in the house of an apolitical Egyptian family after assassinating the Egyptian Prime Minister. This movie has succeeded in captivating hearts and minds across the Arab world.

Yet it is surreal and deeply disturbing to see a film that glamorizes political assassination being broadcast regularly on various Egyptian TV channels, while their news tickers simultaneously announce news of current terror attacks, together with slogans such as “no to terrorism” on TV screens nationwide.

How can we reject today’s political assassinations, while enjoying movies that portray former political crimes in a positive light? The answer lies in our malfunctioning moral compass that sets a fluctuating course between acceptance and rejection of violent acts, depending on the circumstances.

Based on Ihsan Abdel Kodous’s novel, “There is a man in our house,” the film is based loosely on the true story of a young radical Islamist student, Abdel Meguid Ahmed Hassan, who assassinated Prime Minister Mohamed Fahmy El-Nokrashy in 1948. By adding different narratives and melodramatic events, the film avoided any referencce to political Islam as an ideology. Instead, it portrayed the main hero and his friends as young revolutionaries; not very religious, not even fasting during Ramadan.

In 2015, a similar assassination was ordered by a nameless group of Muslim Brotherhood youth; members of the group went on to murder Egypt’s top prosecutor, Hesham Barakat. That was not the only case. Since the ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood’s President Morsi in 2013, Egypt has faced a relentless wave of violence. New radical Islamist terror groups, such as the group that killed Prosecutor Barakat, and others, particularly Hasm, Liwaa al-Thawra, are loosely affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, and have claimed responsibility for scores of attacks on policemen, judges, and army cadres.

The current wave of terror attacks has triggered an inevitable comparison with attacks committed by Islamists in the past, particularly the assassination of Judge Ahmed al-Khazindar and Prime Minister Mohamed Fahmy El-Nokrashy in 1948. This comparison, however, fails to see the contradiction between the resentment toward violent political Islam and our political dramas’ portrayal of political assassinations committed by Islamists in the pre-Nasser era.

Produced in 1961, after the honey moon between Nasser and the Muslim Brotherhood ended, “There is a man in our house” is a prime example of how Nasser’s battle against Islamism, even after the Brotherhood’s failed assassination attempt against him in 1954, did not stop his regime from cherry picking some Islamist concepts such as resistance and martyrdom, and portraying them as justified and understandable against “traitors.”

Ibrahim, the main protagonist in the film, who serves as judge and executioner, describes the prime minister as a traitor who deserves death, and kills him without hesitation. Today’s youth who join radical violent groups see themselves as aspiring heroes looking for moments of glory. It is as if they are subconsciously making their own movies, hoping to be another Omar Sharif, or Ibrahim, who dies as “a martyr” in the film’s final scene.

Nasser’s era of violence was not necessarily viewed as bad in itself, provided it was used against opponents such as the Pashas, the British, and the Israelis. In fact, violence was considered treasonable only when it was used against the ruling regime.

This dualism is arguably the most confusing act that blurred the collective moral conscience of successive generations in the Arab world. In addition, leaders, politicians, and artists have cursed the Islamists, but happily borrowed their slogans and concepts, such as martyrdom and resistance, polluting the collective psyche of society with those ideas.

Therefore, if we are really serious about counter-terrorism, we first have to stop linking our acceptance and rejection of terror with circumstances, and totally reject violence as a tool to achieve political goals. We also have to end the decades-old politicization of cinema and the arts, and their abuse as tools to serve ruling regimes. That does not mean we should ban our beloved black and white movies. On the contrary, one can admire the cinematic qualities of classical movies, while simultaneously admitting that politicizing Egyptian cinema is myopic and harmful.

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This Week in Egypt 2017: Week 34 ( Aug 14-20)

Top Headlines

  • Italy to return its ambassador to Cairo, ending standoff over murdered student
  • US military will take part in a joint military exercise with Egypt for the first time since the toppling of Mubarak in 2011
  • Hamas commander killed in ISIS suicide bombing at Rafah crossing
  • Calls for gender equality in inheritance is ‘against Islamic teachings,’ says Egypt’s Al-Azhar
  • Striking Mahalla workers suspend 2-week strike after company pledges to provide response to their demands
  • German-backed Arabic website blocked is blocked by Egypt
  • Daily News Egypt to be taken over by state run newspaper
  • Student allegedly detained by Egypt’s army forces appears in new ISIS video

 

Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday 

Saturday

Sunday 

Good Reports

  • Israel pushes security ties while Cairo and Amman embassies sit empty. Akiva Eldar
  • Egypt could help Israel get rid of its gas excess. The Economist
  • Why was an Italian graduate student tortured and murdered in Egypt? And an Italian response to the piece: No ‘explosive’ evidence on Regeni.

Good Read

  • A beauty queen help Israel’s Egyptian community find its voice. Haisam Hassenein

Interview

 From Twitter

 

Plus

  • Archaeologists discover three ancient tombs in Egypt

Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

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Twitter Thread: Terror in Barcelona

Here is a collection of tweets about the latest terror attack in Barcelona. It includes a very insightful twitter thread by The New York Times Correspondent Rukmini Callimachi.

Posted in Terrorism, Twitter Thread | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

This Week in Egypt 2017: Week 33 (Aug 7-13)

Top Headlines 

  • Two passenger trains have collided in northern Egypt, killing at least 36 people
  • Head of Egypt’s railway department resigns after deadly train collision
  • ISIS has claimed responsibility for an attack on a patrol car that killed four Egyptian policemen in North Sinai
  • Egypt’s budget deficit fell to the lowest level in five years
  • Strike continues at Mahalla factory as workers negotiate with officials

 

train crash 2017

Photo via BBC

Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday 

Saturday

Sunday 

Best Reports

Good Read

From Twitter

Movie Review

Plus

Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

 

 

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Twitter Thread: Jenan Moussa on ISIS wives and Yazidi slaves

On the third anniversary of ‘Islamic State’ attack on the Yazidi community in Iraq, this Twitter thread by the amazing journalist Jenan Moussa is painful, albeit a must read .

 

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This Week in Egypt: Week 31 (July 31-Aug 6)

Top Headlines

  • Egypt dismisses Qatari allegations of using membership to ‘achieve political purposes’
  • Egypt’s foreign-currency reserves jumped to a record in July, as investor confidence surged
  • Egypt names new head of stock exchange
  • Egypt and Russia broker truce between Syrian regime and opposition in northern Homs
  • Egypt’s military destroys smuggling tunnel crossing the Egyptian border in North Sinai
  • Tensions with Sudan continue as Egypt’s foreign minister visits Khartoum
  • Egyptian court postpones Morsi trial in “Hamas espionage” case to 10 September
  • 160 Egyptian villages to be free of FGM by 2022

 Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

Good Reports

From Twitter

Poll

Interview

 Video

  • Workers at tourist-popular Fayed discuss the impact of Egypt’s economic issues on the season

 Plus

Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

 

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Al-Azhar’s Farcical Fatwa Kiosks

 

 

Al-Azhar kiosk

“Fatwa Kiosk” – photo via Al-Fajr newspaper

 

Egypt’s Al-Azhar Islamic Research Academy has opened a number of kiosks in one of Cairo’s main underground metro stations to allow commuters to “seek guidance on Islamic issues.” According to Mohi El-Din Afifi, secretary-general of the academy, the initiative aims to “counter the extremist ideologies and misguided fatwas provided by extremist groups.”

The move has become a highly controversial issue among Egyptians. While some see it as a good idea to provide reliable “fatwas” (religious edicts), others perceive it as a sign of growing overt religiosity in society.

At Cairo’s downtown Al Shohada metro station, a female Muslim journalist from al-Fajr newspaper, pretending to be an atheist, spent two hours in the “Fatwa Kiosk” to hear the Al-Azhar clerics’ fatwas.

Although she was wearing an ordinary Egyptian-style hijab, the Al-Azhar scholar commented first on her necklace (an ankh, the old Egyptian Pharaonic key of life). “It looks like a cross, so you better not wear it, otherwise people may think you are Christian.”

The disguised journalist had a long conversation with the Al-Azhar scholars on many controversial issues, particularly concerning women’s rights in Islam, its inheritance, menstruation, the right not to wear the hijab. The scholars insisted on orthodox Islamic views that portray menstruation as an impurity and stated that women have to inherit half of the men, because these edicts are mentioned in the Quran and cannot be changed. One scholar then told the journalist, “You [women] really want to go head-to-head with men?”

More alarming, however, is the manner in which the scholars insisted on other regressive edicts, even though they did not come from the Quran. For example, they insisted that a brother has the right to stop his sister from wearing tight cloth, and prevent her from leaving the house if she is not wearing her headscarf. The scholars also insisted that in cases of adultery, it is mainly the woman’s fault, “Because when a woman abandons her honour, she can seduce many men.”

On the political level, the scholars insisted that the right to protest is only allowed with government permission, according to Egypt’s protest law. If no permission has been granted, protests are forbidden, “because saboteurs may infiltrate the protestors.” They also described a handshake with a Christian as “a moral, but not a physical impurity, that does not need ablution before prayer.” How kind!

In their “Fatwa kiosks,” Al-Azhar’s scholars probably thought they handled the disguised atheist journalist kindly. They indeed debated in a polite, civilised manner. Other Salafi scholars would probably be less patient and more aggressive. Nonetheless, this reporter’s experience sums up what is wrong, not only with the Fatwa Kiosks, but also with Al-Azhar’s overall Islamic doctrine. Egypt’s top religious institution is far from its announced goal of modernizing Islamic thought, and is still clinging to hard-core orthodox interpretations that enshrine inequality; even misogyny in society. It is naive to assume that their Fatwa Kiosks will stop radicalism.

Based on its current stance, Al-Azhar comes across as a softer version of regressive Islam that appeases autocratic rulers and rejects violence, but shares the wider pillars of backwardness with other radical groups. Such perceptions will not discourage the youth from radicalization; it will make Jihadi groups be perceived as more genuine and authentic.

With many Al-Azhar-affiliated scholars on Egypt’s newly established national council for combating terrorism, one can only wonder how they will combat terrorism while empowering misogyny and inequality.

 

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This Week in Egypt: Week 30- 2017 ( July 24-30)

Top Headlines

  • An Egyptian tank crew saved up to 50 people from a car bomb packed with explosives
  • Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain will allow Qatari planes to use air corridors in emergencies
  • Qatar turns down new LNG deals with Egypt
  • Egyptian in Red Sea knife attack supported the Islamic state
  • Egypt established a national council to fight terrorism
  • Czech woman injured in Egypt knife attack dies
  • Number of websites blocked in Egypt reaches 127
  • Egypt’s butterfly Farida Osman celebrates first ever World Championship medal

Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

  • Egypt will not compromise on reconciliation conditions for Qatar
  • Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain release new Qatar-linked ‘terrorist entities, individuals’ list
  • Number of websites blocked in Egypt reaches 127
  • An Egyptian court sentences 43 defendants to life in prison for several violent incidents committed in 2011
  • Egypt and EU ratify partnership priorities for 2017-2022
  • Egyptian army says 40 terrorist are killed in North Sinai

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

  • Egypt’s butterfly Farida Osman celebrates first ever World Championship medal
  • An Egyptian court court issues preliminary death sentences against 8 for 2013c violence, ransacking police station
  • Egypt’s prosecution launches investigation into Friday’s hour-long Cairo Airport power cut
  • Negotiations on Ethiopian dam are ongoing: Egypt’s irrigation minister
  • Egypt deports 100 undocumented Sudanese residents
  • Iraq bans Egyptian vegetable and fruit exports

Sunday

Good Reports

  • Terrorists in Sinai up their game up their game. Amr Mostafa
  • Zamalek Metro drilling puts historic school buildings at risk. Taha Sakr
  • Hobby Lobby under investigation over sale of 5th‑century Bible fragment. Bel trew
  • What a drag: Egypt’s smokers feel burn of price hikes. Menna Farouk

Good Read

Video Report

Twitter

Plus

Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

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This Week in Egypt: Week 29-2017 (July 18-23)

Top Headlines

  • Egypt urges Israel to immediately stop violence in Jerusalem
  • Largest Military Base in the Middle East Opens in Egypt
  • Egypt, Saudi Arabia deny revising 13 demands for Qatar
  • Egypt ends visa-free entry for Qataris
  • 8 suspected Hasm militants were killed in Egypt shootout

 Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

  • Moody says IMF review is ‘credit positive’ for Egypt
  • Egypt’s Sisi inaugurates the largest military base in the Middle East west of Alexandria
  • Egypt court sentences 28 to death over the 2015 killing of Egypt’s top prosecutor
  • Egypt and Jordan seek to persuade Israel to remove Temple Mount metal detectors

Sunday

Good Reports

  • Egypt faces water insecurity as Ethiopian mega-dam starts filling. Climate Home
  • Egypt-backed power-sharing deal between former foes taking shape in Gaza. Fares Akram and Mohamed Daraghmeh
  • Copts and Egypt’s national game. Mai Shams El-Din
  • Anger on Warraq Island after government demolishes homes demolishes homes. Zeinab El-Gundy and Passant Gemeay
  • Fatwa on the go: Egypt’s Al-Azhar sets up shop in Cairo metro. Shahira Amin
  • Egypt’s poorest risk death for promise of work in Libya. Mahmoud Mourad

Interview

From Twitter

Plus

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

Jerusalem and the death of hope

Jerusalem-Reuters-5

Photo via Reuters

 

Tension has erupted again in Jerusalem. Six people have lost their lives; three Palestinians in street clashes with Israeli security forces in Jerusalem, and three Israelis in a stabbing attack at a West Bank settlement last Friday. On the surface, this latest bloodshed is due to a dispute about new Israeli security measures at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif complex. Israel installed new electronic gates at the entrance of the complex, and the Palestinians are against it. This latest escalation of conflict, unfortunately, reflects something much deeper: the death of hope for both Palestinians and Israelis.

Last month, the Times of Israel published a review article about the recent Hebrew book Milkud 67, or Catch-67, written by Israeli philosopher Micah Goodman. Goodman argued that there is no solution to the conflict; hence, he asks the Israeli left to abandon its dream of achieving peace with the Palestinians, and the Israeli right to abandon its goal of permanent control of the West Bank. Instead, he suggests “reorganising the conflict” by minimizing the occupation, but still leaving Israel in control. Goodman suggests a practical deal in which the Palestinians are granted 80% independence with a settlement freeze, but without recognizing Israel or giving up the right of return. Meanwhile, Israel maintains control of the crucial 20% of the West Bank, mostly in the Jordanian valley.

The current violence in Jerusalem indicates that Goodman is partially right, but also partially wrong. He is right that there are currently no feasible solutions for the conflict, but his suggested action plan is wrong. The violence erupted because the Palestinians, similar to Goodman, have also lost hope in resolving the conflict. Thus, the actual problem is that the Palestinians do not see how many Israelis share in their desperation. Instead, they see the Israelis as people with a grand plan, working to slowly change the reality of the West Bank and Jerusalem in their favour. With that mindset, Palestinians view the metal gates installed at Haram al-Sharif’s complex as a symbol of a hidden political move aimed to rob them of their holiest of holy places.

Importantly, the current violence proves that Goodman’s suggested plan of “reorganising the conflict” will not work. Goodman’s solution fails to consider how irresponsible irrationalism is the root of the problem in Israel and Palestine. Goodman places the Palestinians into one basket, but in reality, they are divided roughly into Islamist and non-Islamist camps. Ever since the second intifada, the Islamist camp has engineered most of the violent attacks, and will continue to do so as long as partial solutions like Goodman’s continue to be offered.

The three Arab Israelis who killed two Israeli officers near the Temple Mount, triggering the current episode of violence in Jerusalem, came from the northern town of Umm al-Fahm, the heartland of Islamism in Israel. Islamists understand the Israelis well, and they know how to manipulate their responses. Their formula is simple: provoke the Israelis and trigger an excessive security crackdown that will ultimately lead to widespread anger among Palestinians.

Violent emotionalism is largely an Islamist phenomenon. Islamists use religious symbols like the Al-Aqsa mosque to serve their own agenda in the region. While Friday’s day of rage in Jerusalem gained support from every corner of Arabia, the frenzied incitement from Islamist media outlets such as Al-Jazeera could easily be prevented. One of Al-Jazeera’s videos even has mocked Arabs who condemned the violent attacks against Israelis. It was also no coincidence that Qatar Emir, a patron of Islamism in the region, opted to deliver an emotional speech mentioning Jerusalem on the same day as protests in the holy city.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s violent Islamist group Hasm issued a statement claiming that Jerusalem will not be liberated until Cairo is liberated. The Muslim Brotherhood leader Gamal Heshmat shared the same sentiment on his Facebook page: “liquidation of the MB is prelude to liquidation of the Palestinian issue, but neither will happen, God willing.” Igniting tension in the Holy Land is a clear strategy in the Islamist playbook to raise their sinking popularity in the Arab world.

Israel, however, could have prevented the current futile cycle of violence by foiling the Islamist agenda. The lack of political coordination between Israel and neighbouring Arab states like Jordan and Egypt is striking. Jordan has always had a direct role in protecting the Haram al-Sharif complex. In fact, the Jordanian-Israeli peace agreement includes a clause reaffirming Jordan’s role. Why didn’t Israel involve Jordan in the installation of the new security gates? Would it not have been better to gain the support of the Jordanians and Egyptians in any new security arrangement? Unless Israel cooperates with and offers non-Islamist Arabs a substantial role in running Islamic religious sites, the current emotionalism will continue to thrive.

In short, unfortunately, violence will continue to erupt in the Holy Land until both Israelis and Palestinians learn from past mistakes and acknowledge the desperation on both sides. Israel has to realise that the current status quo is unsustainable, and that hasty security measures only serve the Islamist agenda. Arabs and Palestinians have to stop being seduced by Islamist emotionalism and understand that uncontrolled rage without a political plan is doomed to failure. Unfortunately, at this moment, hope has been suffocated by the current status quo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Egypt, Israel, Middle East, Palestine | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments