Should it be Cairo?

Supposedly, Obama wants to give_a_speech  in an Islamic capital during his first 100 days:

See? It’s got to be Cairo. Egypt is perfect. It’s certainly Muslim enough, populous enough and relevant enough. It’s an American ally, but there are enough tensions in the relationship that the choice will feel bold. The country has plenty of democracy problems, so Mr. Obama can speak directly to the need for a better democratic model there. It has got the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist organization that has been embraced by a wide spectrum of the Islamic world, including the disenfranchised and the disaffected.

1) I agree that if the idea is to repair US-Muslim relations than the speech has to be in a city that is seen as having some Islamic relevance but also matters politically.  Cairo is one of the few that fits that requirement. 

2) On the other hand, its unclear whether, politically, Egyptians, from both the regime and the opposition would actually want the US President to visit.  US-Egypt relations is very sensitive and I suspect, though few would say it explicitly, most parties would rather avoid having the US President visit.  There is a reason the US President hasn’t visited Cairo since….. when?  Did Clinton ever actually visit Cairo?  Was Jimmy Carter the last?  And no visiting the isolated conference center at Sharm Al-Shaikh doesn’t count as visiting Egypt.

Response to Sayyid Imam post at Jihadica

Will at Jihadica disagreed with some of the stuff I wrote in previous posts.  My view is that Sayyid Imam’s new book will have no impact on Jihadist groups throughout the region so CT people should not spent much time focusing on them.    Will seems more optimistic and says lets wait and see. 

 1)   Jihad is a serious business…..

Rob at Media Shack has posted a summary of a discussion on al-`Arabiyya’s “Death Industry.”  Of interest to him (and me) is Montasir Zayat’s assessment of Sayyid Imam’s latest book (Zayat only read the first one and a half chapters).  Here’s Rob’s take:

In Zayat’s view, what’s being printed now in Al-Masri Al-Youm is a disgrace and jeopardizes the reputation of the entire Revisions process.   No Jihadists or even Muslims anywhere will treat them seriously.

Rob agrees with this sentiment.   But that’s not exactly what Zayat says.  Zayat does say the book is a disgrace, but he’s also pessimistic that anything can move Jihadis, no matter how refined.  Here he is in the same interview responding to the host’s question of which man, Imam or Zawahiri, has more popularity:

Dr. Sayyid Imam has an abundance of Sharia knowledge and he certainly had these beliefs before he was imprisoned.  He used to say the same things before he was imprisoned and I believe him.  However, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri has charisma and popularity, and he is readily accepted among the youth also.  Many of the youths’ hearts and heads are attached to him.  It is difficult for the words of Sayyid Imam to affect them.

Exactly.  There is nothing Sayyid Imam can say to sway hardcore fans of Zawahiri.  It doesn’t matter how mean or nice he is.

Jihad is a serious, serious business which explains why Sayyid Imam will have no influence.     Jihadists see themselves as answering the most sacred duty of the religion, so for someone to be influential in this enviroment  their behavior or message has to be seen by other Jihadists as being consistent with the religous prestige of Jihad.  Think holiest possible level of holiness: Yom Kippur or  Good Friday holy.  However,  Sayyid Imam’s new book is primarily  an insult-filled personal cat-fight with Zawahiri which will turn off Jihadists.  Furthermore,  the religious methodology is weak and is not going to convince anyone who would take the time to read it.   So its telling when Montasar Al-Zayat says he didn’t even bother to read past the second segment (of 13).   The fundamentally non-serious nature of the book contradicts everything Jihadists values stand for (according to themselves) so they probably aren’t going to read it. 

Secondly, it is incorrect to say that  Zayat, a former Jihadist himself,  is   “pessimistic that anything can move Jihadis, no matter how refined.”   This is not true. He has dedicated his entire life to guiding Egyptian Jihadist groups through the Revisions process over the last ten years and noone in the Arab world is a bigger advocate of the idea that militants can change their approach if given the chance or proper environment.   As he says below:

منتصر الزيات: أنا أريد أن أقول قضية المراجعات هي قضية عمري هي قضية شبابي، هي قضية تقريباً عشرين سنة وأنا كنت أعمل في هذه المساحة من أجل صنع مناخ يسمح بالتقييم وبأن تتصدر الدعوة الإسلامية السلمية وتعود إلى منابرها، من أجل اعتماد استراتيجية جديدة تتلاءم مع طبيعة المرحلة، طالني في هذا ما طالني وقد أديت دوري وأنا مرتاح الضمير، هذه دفعت فيها أنا دفعت فيها شبابي، دفعت فيها سمعتي، دفعت فيها من كرامتي، دفعت فيها اتهامات لاحقتني، وكنت أؤدي عن طيب خاطر لكن..

So if Al-Zayat didn’t even bother to read past part 2 of13 then this tells us something.   

2) Target Audience?

There is nothing Sayyid Imam can say to sway hardcore fans of Zawahiri.  It doesn’t matter how mean or nice he is.  Thus, as I argued yesterday, we shouldn’t be assessing the impact of Imam’s book on Jihadis but rather on neutral pious, educated Arabs, particularly high school and college-age youth, whom Imam considers his primary audience.

I disagree.  Imam’s target audience is people who are already involved in militant activity.   This is the people he is trying to convince.   His arguements entails explaining why using hardcore terrorism to change the system is not worth it and offering some kind of rationale for someone who is involved in that kind of activity to get out of it.  Percentage wise, not more than .00000001 of all Muslims are involved in that kind of activity so the “Neutral pious, educated Arabs” aren’t paying the slightest attention to Imam and have no idea who he is.  

3) Is Sayyid Imam’s new book actually  being covered:

But how do we measure this impact?  Rob says that it is by looking at the discussion of Sayyid Imam’s new book in the mainstream press.  By this measure, he says, it’s a failure because “there has been almost no coverage in the Arabic media.”  I don’t concede the latter assertion–the book was printed in full in Islam Online, al-Masry al-Youm, and al-Sharq al-Awsat and commented on in at least thirteen print news venues.  It is also all over the forums and the Arabic blogosphere.  Still, I agree that it is getting less coverage than Imam’s last book.  Rob says that’s because the tone of the book is bitter and personal.  A simpler explanation is that the subject–Imam turning on Zawahiri–is old news.

There is no evidence to suggest any significant interest in the  Arab world towards Sayyid Imam’s new book.   In 2007 when Sayyid Imam’s original Revisions were published there was  coverage in the Arabic media- though almost solely in Egypt and many big name Egyptian commentators did write op-eds.  Readers can see by looking at Khalil Anani’s blog – go to the lower_left_side.   This time around there was NOTHING.  It was totally ignored.  What is the message we can take?  That Arabs don’t think this is important.   

And these 13 comments were all in the context of people saying how it was a disgrace or embarrassing.  Neither IslamOnline nor Al-Masri Al-Youm, which both “ran” the Revisions, even bothered to have one of their writers wrote a piece analyzing it.   The sense amongst Arab commentators on this issue is that SayyidImam is not an important  or influential character in radical Islamist movements. 

4) So then how to measure quantitatively?   Will suggests looking at: 

  • Mainstream Muslim discussion forums
  • News discussion forums (al-Jazeera, etc)
  • Personal blogs

If we accept that this is a way of measuring the significance of Sayyid Imam’s new book, where are the specific examples?   There are none that I am aware of.  Where is this issue being discussed in any place of note?

Two Must Read Posts on Egypt

1) Yesterday, I posted on the Sheikh of Al-Azhar’s Shake with Shimon Peres and the controversy it is arousing.  Read a good post by an Egyptian providing a better explanation of why this is something people in the region are angry about.

2)  Inanities has one of the best  posts I’ve ever read on Egypt.  Its ostensibly about the Cairo Film Festival but is really a critique of Egyptian society and its about as accurate as one can get.