Who gave those to you?

Here is  very interesting story from Egypt’s Al-Masryoon newspaper on Mohamed Hussaneyn Heikal (for more on his background see this post from mregypt).  

Basically, Heikal was one of the most important Arab voices of the 1950s and 1960s (close ally of Nasser) and still has a huge following throughout the region.   As a sign of his popularity,  he has how own_show on Al-Jazeera which consists of nothing but him giving lectures on Arab history (usually that he was involved in).  Due to his position of influence during this period, Heikal obtained a tremendous amount of primary source documents related to Egyptian foreign policy and there are usually the subject of his show.  For example, he will pull out a letter  that Eisenhower sent to Nasser (which Heikal stores in his house) and then talk about it for an hour.  

Some people in Egypt, however,  wonder whether Heikal has the right to do this.  For one, there’s the question of whether a private citizen should be permitted to own so many primary source documents or whether they are the rightful property of the state.  Secondly, there’s a question of whether Heikal has the right to talk about what might be classified information on the air.  According to this article,  an NDP person is calling for an investigation into both of these questions.  Heikal  does not talk about current Egyptian politics on the air nor is he especially critical of the Government, so I don’t think its a question of domestic politics.

Stuff to check out

1)  America’s Finest:   Except for  Lou_Dobbs, most  major American TV stations are mediocre and unserious in their coverage of important news — unless we now consider Tweeter updates as “serious and critical.”   There is, however, one huge exception to this trend.  Check out this clip and see what I’m talking about.  I learned more from this 8 minute clip about the financial crisis than I have from watching CNN for months. 

2) A Pattern?:   This didn’t get  much coverage but there was a  third potentially violent incident in Egypt about a week ago.  

3)  Universal Culture:   If you are Saudi Arabia you are supposed to “own” the Gulf.   So when you tie little upstart Qatar in a football match that’s embarrassing.  Its the same feeling us Notre Dame Fighting Irish fans have when we lose to Boston College.  So watch this Youtube_clip of a Saudi prince going into the locker room and chewing the team out.  He basically says “this was totally unacceptable…your passing sucked, the attack was pathetic, the midfielder looked like he was sleeping” but not only that “you represent the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and this was a disgrace – so get it together.”

Who says Saudi culture is  different than American?   Delete_the_F-words and this could be an Arab Bob Knight.

The Akon Disaster — UPDATED

A couple weeks back I wondered why Iron Maiden wouldn’t come to  Cairo .   Probably for the same reason that the Akon Concert in Cairo was a disaster.   Unless a Western-style concert culture exists, acts like this are hard to make work in places like Egypt.  From Sandmonkey:

So, here I am, preparing for my trip back to Cairo, when people start sending me messages and e-mails about The Akon concert in the Cairo Opera. Now, I didn’t know he was singing in Cairo to begin with, let alone fathom the concept of whose bright idea was it that this man should be allowed to sing in the Egyptian Opera..but whatever. My people are silly, and they do irrational shit like allow Akon into the Opera House. Anyway..

The news is however that the concert was a very rare breed of disaster, which makes my heart just sing a little bit. The man was slated to show up at 9 M, but showed up at 1 am instead; The people who paid 1000 LE per VIP ticket ended up being sent to the Hospital because the VIP Lounge collapsed before the show even begun; He shows up finally all drunk, sings for half an hour, and then attempts to do some crowd surfing(very bad idea), and then he starts calling for help in his mic because the crowd apparently kidnaps him and take him all the way to the parking lot and then put him on a car, which he ends up destroying and then ends the concert… Yeah… Sounds like a great time.

UPDATE: Inanities has a hilarious, must-read  account of the concert, including pictures of the madness.  Somebody get whoever Inanities is a job at the New York Times…..

Traffic Week: On Automotive Darwinism

If you’ve lived in the West long enough, you’re sure to have participated at some point or other in conversations about who’s traveled to the scariest driving country. This usually comes up as something of a feat of strength along the lines of: “I survived a taxi ride in Cairo, I can survive any kind of driving”, the challenge to which is typically: “Cairo? Oh, but I’ve seen how they drive in Dakar, and Beijing, that’s even worse.” The barometer of comparison is of course, Western driving culture.

I unfortunately don’t escape this pattern. I’m typically in a bit of an automotive shock when I travel from a country where drivers respect the rules of the road to one where anarchy seems to reign ( I use the word anarchy here with the due dose of sarcasm- of course there is some kind of system of rules in these countries, it’s just not a Western one). In most Western cities for example, you would never see a taxi driver passing a cigarette to another taxi driver while they’re both rolling next to each other at 50 km/hour on a busy motorway. And until I had witnessed that from the backseat of the cigarette-soliciting taxi in Cairo, I had never even wondered whether this was legal or not. Two Fridays ago in Beirut, I had the rare privilege of being driven in an armour-plated 4×4 which belonged to a public official. Although I was childishly relishing the experience, I kept snapping out of it every 25 seconds by the gasping fear that the vehicle was about to collide with oncoming cars as it whizzed in and out of lanes without signalling and that it would then roll over and off the road, tumbling down the mountain to the bottom of the valley where I would find my untimely death.

To be sure, driving behaviour in Lebanon in 2009 is leagues ahead of what it was in the 1980’s, when road chaos was just one victim of the breakdown of central authority because of the war. Back then, traffic lights were as decorative as the uncollected litter and indeed did not work at all. Today traffic lights do show their alternating colours, and Lebanese traffic police have begun to pull cars over and hand out tickets for violations. But the frenzied manoeuvring, whenever possible (ie when there’s no police being visible and looking menacing), is very similar to what it was back then.  So when a relative of mine a few days ago realized there’s no traffic police standing at the intersection, she most certainly seized the opportunity to keep speeding right through despite a red light.

What is wrong with driving in these countries? Is reckless driving symptomatic of a wider societal malaise? Is it merely a behavioural illustration of populaces that are less inclined temperamentally to respect order and defer to rules? Is there such a thing as “automotive” Darwinism with some cultures being “automotively civilized” and others being “automotively developing”?  While my life was flashing before my eyes at a rate of twice a minute in that 4×4 two weeks ago, I thought: the reason people drive this way, is because they can get away with it. A Lebanese will drive on the dotted line separating the lanes on a Beirut motorway, but you better believe that when that same person is driving one week later in Paris, or London, or Montreal, he most certainly will not. Why? Because either a) he will get ticketed within 2 attempts of doing something which is expressly prohibited by the law, or b) he will hear from his entourage of their experiences being ticketed for prohibited behaviour. To be very honest, when I’m driving in Europe or North America, the only reason I stop at a red light despite the fact that it might be past midnight and the intersection completely deserted, is because of the fear that a police car might be hiding behind a tree waiting to catch me, and also, because of the memory of being caught before. The knowledge that a sanction is very likely and prohibitively expensive is a very powerful deterrent. The perfect illustration of this can be found in this BBC video showing a car gingerly going up a one-way street, while a traffic policeman is busy yawning and stretching his arms above his head. When you watch that video, don’t focus on the car. Focus on the policeman. Because the problem I’m discussing doesn’t lie in a refusal to comply, it lies in the negligence to enforce. Anyone who dares say that reckless driving in these countries is “part of the culture” is only looking at the car in the BBC video, instead of looking at the yawning policeman. That policeman is yawning instead of ticketing because he is inadequately trained. Obviously the police academy did not spend enough time teaching him the importance of his public appearance, his maintenance, his ethical duties to stop and punish every single traffic violator, in short, how to fulfill the tasks for which he was posted to that location. The yawning policeman is also probably overworked: this video could very well have been filmed in August instead of February, when the desert sun pounds your head like a ton of lead, making you not only miss cars going the wrong way, but possibly also  elephants re-enacting a choreography from Fame. Many taxi drivers in Egypt are accountants, teachers, pharmacists, who supplement their income by working extra shifts driving a cab. If the traffic policeman is as overworked and underpaid as the taxi drivers are, his motivation to properly do his work is probably as low as his chair.

In Lebanon, while cars are being pulled over and fines are being slapped on motorists, it’s probably not frequently enough and for amounts that will hurt the wallet enough to prevent a repeat offense. Ghassan Rahbani, a member of the younger generation of Rahbani brothers (the famous musical duo who composed Fairouz’s songs), was on a talk show recently. He told a story of being stuck in traffic and honking his horn out of frustration. The police pulled him over and fined him 5,000 LL (about US $3). He asked the policeman if he had change for a 10,000 LL note, which the policeman did not. So Ghassan gave him the 10,000 LL note and honked a second time. This story got a lot of laughs on the show, but it illustrates how the fines are not taken seriously enough to correct the at-fault behaviour because the amounts are so ridiculously small. Similarly, my relative who burned the red light wasn’t scared of doing so because she had never been caught and fined before. She didn’t have the memory of a stinging punishment to stop her from committing an offense. Driving in Lebanon has improved because a concerted effort has been made and continues to be made to control and regulate the driving culture and implement a universal respect for the rules of the road. But until this is done with enough uniformity, without any impunity, and with fines that are important enough to act as deterrents, motorists will still think they can get away with it.

So, the moral of this post is: let’s stop talking about reckless driving, let’s stop suggesting that people from the Middle East or other developing countries are genetically predisposed to becoming bad drivers, let’s stop talking about Egyptian motorists being “under a lot of pressure” and Lebanese motorists still suffering the post-traumatic stress symptoms of the war. Because these same people travel every year to Europe, North America, Australia, where they drive just as soundly as any John Smith or Franz Schweizer. Let’s start talking instead about inadequate and insufficient enforcement. And by enforcement, I should make clear that we should not only look to policemen, but beyond them as well. The policeman is only as good as the police academy training he got, and the training can only be up to a standard that is allowed by the funding from the responsible authorities. And let’s not forget, the policeman does not write the laws, he only upholds them. Ultimately, it’s the Ministry of Justice and Parliament who should be legislating with enough sophistication and concern for the health and safety of motorists to develop an automotively developing country. And they should back that up with sufficient willingness to enforce their legislation to cause a trickle down effect that will wake up the yawning policemen of the Middle East.

Blast in Cairo

From Daily News Egypt:

CAIRO: Seventeen people were wounded, including 11 French tourists, three Germans and three Egyptians when a bomb went off in the tourist district of Al Hussein, near the popular Khan Al Khalili market in the heart of Cairo at around 7 pm.

A conflicting report by Reuters, however, claims that four people had died, two of them tourists, but their nationality has not been disclosed. The report said that eleven people were also wounded, six seriously.

The Daily News Egypt correspondent present at the scene shortly after, said that at around 8:10 pm another explosion was heard, but that it did not incur any casualties.

No smoke was visible.

By then at least 1000 riot policemen had filled the area, which was sealed off completely.

Read CNN here and BBC here

I know nothing except what I read at DNE but here’s my preliminary thoughts:  This is consistent with the kind of random violence that commentators have been predicting for a while now and is not likely connected to any organized groups.   The militant Jihadi groups of the 1980s and 1990s have been broken up by the state and, for the most part,  made their own decisions to give up violence.  The other group that comes to mind is Al-Qaeda but they are not thought to have a presence in Egypt.  However, this does not mean violence has disappeared.  Given the horrible socio-economic conditions in Egypt, there are enough reasons why Egyptians would be so pissed off at the world that they resort to violence.   But its random acts, commited by individuals with no connections to organized militant groups (because they don’t exist anymore in Egypt).  Both Ibrahim Eissa and Hussam Tamem have been saying for a while now and based solely on the information that’s available, I think this is what is happening here.  We should probably not read too much into this incident; Unless a pattern starts emerging, its probably not significant. 

Of course, if there are any new developments, expect to read about them here at MediaShack.

Why No Stop in Cairo?

Iron Maiden, a  great band,  is  playing_Dubai February 13th.   I know for a fact, however,  that there are a lot of angry  rock  fans in the Arab world, especially Egypt,  who are wondering why Iron Maiden’s  Mid-East tour consist of just one city — Dubai — that doesn’t really qualify as “Middle Eastern.”     I just had a conversation with Mr Egypt, a rock fan and an Egyptian nationalist, and he’s more than a little annoyed that little upstart noaveuxe riche Dubai gets an Iron Maiden show while his country, the region’s cultural capital, gets nothing. 

This raises an interesting question — what prevents Iron Maiden, and in general other big rock acts, from playing Cairo or even a more expansive regional schedule?   After all,  big names have played Egypt in the past:  The Scorpions and Skakira have made appearances in recent years  and the Greatful Dead, one of the most popular rock acts ever,  did   three_epic_concerts in Cairo  back in ’78’.    So what’s the problem here?  

1)  The anti-Devil worshipping factor?    This was my initial assumption.   Egyptians have many positive qualities but they also have a tendency (generally speaking)  to be annoyingly judgemental of those who look differently.  They might not say it, but when many people see someone with long- hair and tattoos they are thinking “deviant, devil worshipping godless freak.”    Back in 1997, for example, 100_heavy_metal and rock music fans were arrested  on suspicions of satanic worship and many  politicians jumped on the soapbox talking about how much this was an affront to local morals. 

There is a debate within Islam about what kind of music, if any, is permitted.  Many Islamic scholars say its never permitted.  Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, a moderate,   says  it ok as long as it has an Islamic message, meaning he considers almost all Arab pop music (ie Nancy Ajram, Amr Diab)  as problematic.   I’m not sure we could say Iron Maiden’s music has an Islamic message, but if you listen   closely to the lyrics of their classic_song, alot of Egyptians could at least  sympathize.    After all, it’s not as if they are Marlyn_Manson.

And Mark Levine makes a great point in his awesome book:   Unlike in the 1990s, today,  the Brotherhood is more concerned about making allies against government oppression, so they’re not going to make a big show about what kind of music people listen to. 

2)  Or is it a question of Business? 

I think this is the main reason no good rock acts come to Cairo.  It comes down to business and a lack of infrastructure.  After all, Iron Maiden is a band which draws crowds of 300,000 — in South America.  But once you’ve reached that stature you don’t go places unless your guaranteed of a certain degree of success but  Egypt just doesn’t have the appropriate music facilities for these kinds of acts.   Big name Arab singers don’t make the bulk of their money from touring  and perform much more low-key concerts on 1 or 2 k seat auditoriums. 

Second, I doubt concert organizers could guarantee the sale of 15-20 k tickets in Egypt, probably the minimum necessary to make it worthwhile.  Yeah, the  Egyptians who frequent the Harley Davidson shop in Zamalek would probably attend.  I definitely would if I was in Cairo.  I would be the first person in line to buy tickets.   Mr Egypt would probably be the second.  But this is a pretty small bunch, so, if I was in charge of scheduling Iron Maiden’s concerts, and my job depended on picking places that would sell enough tickets to make a profit, I would probably skip Cairo.

What is he talking about?

I still am confused after reading Egyptian author Alaa Aswany’s Sunday editorial in The New York Times:

PRESIDENT OBAMA is clearly trying to reach out to the Muslim world. I watched his Inaugural Address on television, and was most struck by the line: “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers.” He gave his first televised interview from the White House to Al Arabiya, an Arabic-language television channel.  But have these efforts reached the streets of Cairo?

Quite frankly, this is one of the stupidest articles I’ve read about the Arab reaction towards Obama and the American elections!  I was ready to stop reading by the time I got to the second sentence when Aswany expressed astonishment that Obama said the US is a nation of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Non-believers, as if this is something extraordinary that’s not happening in Germany or India for instance.  Or as if Egyptians and Arabs  don’t already know this about the US. 

I know that I’m disappointing many of those working on improving  the US image in the Arab world, but seriously if you reread that article you’ll notice how silly it is.

In Cairo, which is seven hours ahead of Washington, some people I know stayed up practically all night waiting for the election results. When Mr. Obama won, newspapers here described Nubians — southerners whose dark skin stands out in Cairo — dancing in victory.

Ok,  if we believe Aswany’s account the poor, illiterate, underprivileged and politically and socially oppressed Nubians (even more than the rest of the Egyptian society) rose up dancing in joyous victory that Obama won.  I wish Aswany would inform us which papers said this nonsense because I read them all and  this is the first I’ve heard of the Bedouins dancing in the streets when Obama won.  Nor did I see any talk in the Egyptian papers about a feeling of happiness that filled the Egyptian society that would be solved just because Obama got elected. 

But Aswany didn’t stop there and went on to talk about  “our”  supposed admiration for Obama.

Our admiration for Mr. Obama is grounded in what he represents: fairness. He is the product of a just, democratic system that respects equal opportunity for education and work. This system allowed a black man, after centuries of racial discrimination, to become president.  This fairness is precisely what we are missing in Egypt.   That is why the image of President-elect Obama meeting with his predecessors in the White House was so touching…We saw Mr. Obama as a symbol of this justice. We welcomed him with almost total enthusiasm ….

 These empty statements  leads me to recall the Angry Arab when he says ” you have the right to be stupid, but please don’t speak on behalf of (the Egyptians) as you are being stupid.”  I can only raise one question here: ” What does the average Egyptian possibly know to favor or admire with Obama?  Can anyone present a reason to tell us why would they care to know who is Obama in the first place? They have nothing against him for sure, but the point is why would they be keen to know who he is?  How would that effect them?

Although Aswany points out that Obama ignored  Gaza, he thinks that “we”  are still enthusiastic for him, because, according to him, the “Egyptians still think that this one-of-a-kind American president can do great things.”  Frankly,  this piece looks like a primary student learning how to write a composition. I think even if an Egyptian  child read that last part he would just ask him one simple innocent question “why would the American president do great things for you?” Although I think he answered that question when he said it’s because he embodies the great American values. I just wonder what values is he talking about? And the Egyptians just left all their problems to learn about these values? And above all to know how they are embodied in Obama?

Mr Egypt is an Egyptian who lives in Cairo.

Don’t Fear the Ikhwan Part Two

Why does the Muslim Brotherhood get so much bad press?     Top Egyptian journalist  Ibrahim Eissa, editor of  Egypt’s Al-Dostor newspaper, has a two part series this week on  what he calls an irrational and baseless fear of the Brotherhood reaching power.   Why does everyone talk about the MB reaching power as if it is an  imminent threat to Egyptian society, he asks in the Monday article  ( see my post  here).   Remember, Eissa is a fierce critic of the Mubarak regime and is trying to show that the NDP manipulates this fear for its own purposes.    Trying to undermine this arguement, on Tuesday, he  made the  case that the Muslim Brotherhood will never come to power in Egypt.   

 I translate/paraphrase the Tuesday article called “Ikhwano-Phobia” and then have some commentary below:


Egypt suffers from a local version of the Islamo-phobia that is found in the US and Europe.  Here it is called Ikhwan-Phobia (Ikhwan= Brotherhood in Arabic).   This irrational and totally unwarranted fear of the Ikhwan reaching power is widely present amongst government people, Coptic Christians and intelectuals.   Such fear, however, is totally unwarranted because, as I will show today, the Muslim Brotherhood will never reach power in Egypt due to the nature of Egyptian state, its people, and the Ikhwan itself. 

The Brotherhood itself is a closed organiztion, and not a party open to wider membership that cultivates members from the cradle to the grave.  To become influential you have to have risen through their ranks, not to be an especially talented thinker.   Its by nature a conservative organization which prioritizes survial and is not going to do anything that threats the organization.  Trying to sieze power is the kind of adventure that would threaten the very existence of the organization.  Moreover, the MB doesn’t possess the revolutionary nature of the Islamic Group (Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyaa). 

Some of you might say look at how Islamists came to power in Gaza and Turkey.  First, look at how the MB won a majority of seats in Al-Sharqiya province, that didn’t mean they could win a majority overall.  Gaza is a similar situation.  And the Islamists in Turkey are based on a formula that is vastly different from the Brotherhood. 

The nature of the Egyptian state further makes an Ikhwan rise to power impossible.  Our state is a cumbersome bureacracy that is not susceptive to Revolution or dramatic and fundamental change.  The 1952 Revolution, for example, was not a real Revolution but a coup d’etat.  Egyptians change and are changed very slowly.   The borig nature of our state, which is not susceptible to pressure from mass popular movements,  prevents any dramatic change. 

And this leads us to the nature of the Egyptian people themselves.   Sure, the average Egyptian is very religous and you hear him talk in a way that suggests that he wants Islamic Rule.  But Egyptian religiosity is very superficial and not susceptible to mass religous mobilization.  This is a people that like to pray conspicously at work but as soon as he is done praying he opens his hand to take a little bribe…. The Egyptian people are fundamentally cautious by nature and not the kind that embrace adventures of actions that might rock the boat. 

This brings us to the results of the 2005 elections which are the best evidence that the Ikhwan will never govern Egypt.  Giving it their best shot, the Brothers only won 20% of the seats.  So basically they got 1/5 of the 1/5 of the Egyptians who actually voted.   Sure, there was electoral fraud and maybe they could have won more but not a majority and certainly not an ascension to power.   Remember- this is the same Ikhwan couldn’t even beat the Wafd pre-1952.  Their support has more to do with NDP corruption. 

 Commentary
1)  Not a Revolutionary people.  In my experience in Egypt, which is pretty extensive, I would agree with Eissa that Egyptian are fundamentally cautious and not the type that goes out on a limb.  This is not a people that are going to “sweep” anyone into power….  Eissa surprised me, however,  with his attack on Egyptian religiosity which I think is a gross generalization. 

2)  Why the fear?  Eissa is correct that there is an irrational fear of the Ikwan and its not just in Egypt.  Last December, at a family Christmas party, I was talking to my neighbor, a lawyer in his mid-50s who doesn’t follow the Middle East beyond what he reads in the newspaper.  He told me that he wants to visit Egypt but one of his co-workers of Egyptian descent told him that he had to go soon because it won’t be possible in a few years after the Ikhwan seizes power and bans all foreign tourists.  I politely told him this is ridiculous and totally incorrect.  I see nothing with the Ikhwan that leads me to believe that their ascension to power would be a serious threat to the public welfare in Egypt.  It probably would not be great for US interests, at least in the short term.  The Ikhwan is going to be more socialist and far less likely to toe the US line on foreign policy issues, such as Israel-Palestine and Counter-Terrorism.  They would be something similar to what we are seeing with Chavez in Egypt. 

3)  Parliament= not important.  People in the US focus too much on the significance of the Brotherhood’s 2005 election victory as if it has enourmous implications in te Egyptian political arena.  It really doesn’t because the Egyptian Parliament is pretty much a rubber-stamp.   Furthermore,  Eissa should have mentioned that the Ikhwan’s younger generation actually wants out of politics because they feel its a waste of time and is distracting the Brotherhood from other, more important fields.  Even Sheikh Al-Qaradawi said the Brothers were wasting their time in politics in a  September  interview with Egypt’s Al-Masri Al-Youm newspaper:

* ولكنك تعيب علي الإخوان المسلمين من حين لآخر.. وأذكر عنك انتقادك لهم لاستغراقهم في العمل السياسي الذي يستهلك جل طاقتهم وإغفالهم العمل الاجتماعي؟

– نعم، فهم لم يعدوا العدة ليندمجوا في الشعب كما يجب، ولا فهموا احتياجات الشارع كما ينبغي.. وانشغلوا بالسياسة.. وانتقادي لهم من باب التقويم، وأنا والحمد لله لا أميل للمغالاة ولا أرضي بالتفريط ولا بالتشدد.

The Ikhwanis who want to play politics are the older generation ( those who came of age in 1970s)  whereas those  in their 20s and 30s agree with Skeikh Al-Qardawi and want to quit politics and focus on Da’wa, education, upbringing etc.  This is an important point that is overlooked in the Western debate about the so-called Islamist threat.  

4)  Islamist movements= 30 years on the march.    Eissa might be right that the Brothers aren’t coming to power any time soon, but does NOT mean a failure of the Islamist movement as it is  sometimes_claimed in the West.   The MB  can not be viewed as a Western-style political party.  Their basic goal is to reform the society by returning it to its Islamic foundations and there are several ways to do this.  Politics is only one of them.  Not succeeding in politics doesn’t mean failure, it just means failure in one of their tools.  Its important to recognize that Islamist movements have been on a forward march since at least the 1970s.

‘Why does everyone hate the Brotherhood?’

Ibrahim Eissa, a fierce critic of the Mubarak regime and the editor of Egypt’s Al-Dostor newspaper, has a very interesting set of articles on the  hysteria surrounding the possibility of the  Muslim Brotherhood taking power in Egypt.  Why do so many prominent voices disparage them and act as if their taking power would represent as serious threat to the public welfare?  What has the Ikhwan ever done to deserve such negative PR?  And more importantly, what evidence is there that suggests any imminent possibility of the Ikhwan actually taking power?

My translation/ summary:
“I heard an Egyptian businessman say that he was going to liquidate all of his assets if the Muslim Brotherhood took power.  I wondered what caused him to have such fear  since the Ikhwan has never reached power, in fact the only thing they have reached is Tora Prison. … A government person once complained to me that “you want to government to permit free elections and avoid intervention so that the Brotherhood wins and takes over the country.”    I replied ” Isn’t this an acknowledgement that the NDP’s platform has failed and has so little popular support that they need to manipulate elections to keep the MB from taking over?”   This wasn’t the first time I heard from high-level NDP officials that they need to manipulate elections for the interests of “the people.”   Everyone in Egypt, from the Government to the Opposition, even the people themselves, seems to think they have a unique understanding of what the people want.  As if  the the people are little kids who can’t think for themselves. … This is also the story that Gamal Mubarak and his allies sell to the US and the West to justify their interference in elections.

The Coptic Christians are equally frightened of the Ikhwan.  Notice how the Church maintains a silence on most issues, except for one occasion — when an MB candidate is running for office.  In this case, they break their silence and call on people to vote against him. … Coptic fear is manipulated by State Security who spread rumors such as  that the MB is trying to convert unmarried Christian women to Islam. 

There is also strong anti-Ikhwan  sentiments  from certain Intellectuals despite the fact that they are snobs who don’t “meet with the masses except in their elevators of buildings,” nor do they even know their neighbor’s names.  Yet, they still feel qualified to talk, in the name of the people, about the dangers of Egypt becoming a “theocratic” state.  (Of course the masses don’t know what a theocracy means). 

What’s strange/ unfortunate  is that these rumors reached their high-point during the Israeli aggression on Gaza whose people began to pay the price for being governed by a Palestinian branch of the Brotherhood.  All of this talk about the danger of the Ikhwan reaching power in Egypt leads people to lose their judgement and to believe that what Israel is doing is only a natural attack against Hamas terrorism.  As a result, the Palestinian Resistance pays the political price of this local hatred of the Ikhwan and leads to a preference for Ramallah- based forces which are a tool of Israel. 

Given this anti-Ikhwani hysteria, now we are compelled to take a serious look at the question “Is it possible that the MB can actually reach power in Egypt?’  Tomorrow, God willing, I will try and answer this question.  But I want you to remember that he Brotherhood has been around for 81 years and never reached power.    Tomorrow,   I will tell you the end of the story-  that the Brothers will never reach power in Egypt, either through elections or by force.”

Commentary
Expect part two tomorrow along with my thoughts.

Ok, so what would you do?

A major theme  in the Egyptian press (which contrary to public perception in the US is actually pretty free)  is that the Government has “misplayed” its hand vis a vis Israel-Palestine.  The critique goes something like this:  

 “instead of sticking up for Arab interests, the government has supposedly “sold-out” to the US and Israel.  Or it doesn’t work hard enough to resist US-Zionist imperial designs on Palestine and if Mubarak had played his cards better, the Palestinians wouldn’t be in the sorry position they are now in Gaza.”     

Here’s a typical piece from an English-language Egyptian blogger called Baheya: 

Like many others, I’ve been watching in disbelief as the Egyptian government enables the Israeli destruction of Gaza. This time, Hosni Mubarak and his foreign policy muwazafeen have entirely thrown in their lot with Israel and the U.S., blaming Hamas, admitting that they can’t lift a finger without Israeli permission, and hoping that Israel will get the job done this time and extinguish Hamas once and for all. But as obscene and repugnant as his current stance is, Mubarak’s behaviour is of a piece with his foreign policy posture since he succeeded Sadat. That posture is based on a simple formula: “realism”, which translates into equating his interests with those of Israel and the United States, in exchange for scraps of economic rent; and revamped authoritarianism, which translates into repressing anyone who dares to challenge his realism and imagine alternatives…..

 In my view,  this  criticism is  based on the Egyptian tendency to wildly exaggerate their country’s influence in the international arena.  “Mother of the world” (as Egyptians call their country) may have been a regional power during the era of traditional Arab-Israel wars, but when that period ended (with Camp David), so did serious Egyptian influence over the peace process.  It was inevitable.  Egypt has no other cards to play besides the threat of war, being the largest Arab military.  Now, its a poor, drastically overpopulated third-world country.  Its not a case of Mubarak misplaying his cards, but of Egypt having very limited cards to play with in the first place. 

Its easy to write op-eds calling the government a sell-out but none of these critics provide an alternative.   I’m waiting for Egypt’s  arm-chair diplomatic corps  to provide any serious ideas about how they would play their cards differently, especially considering Hamas can’t bring itself to make basic commitments to negotiations and recognition of Israel,  instead of just lobbing insults at Mubarak and Co. 

UPDATE: For a good solid English-language defense of the Egyptian approach read this post by the former Egyptian ambassador to Washington.

UPDATE II:  Here’s the  transcript of a 1/13 Al-Jazeera ‘Whats Behind the News” debate between two Egyptian journalists from Al-Ahram, one supports the government policy and one opposes.  The supporter raises the key point:   as long as Hamas refuses to make clear it supports the peace process  and can’t bring itself to say its goal does not include the liberation of ALL of Palestine, it is NOT in Egypt’s interests to work with it. So how do Egypt’s critics of Mubarak’s policy respond to this point:   Why should Egypt work with a group that is advocating an approach that runs fundamentally counter to its interests?

Heikal on Gaza

On Sunday, I posted that I think that Hamas would come out stronger from the Israeli attack on Gaza.   On January 7th,  Muhammed Hassanein Heikal,  in a  long_interview  on Al Jazeera,  apparently agrees on that.   For American readers  Heikal (read an English bio here) is by far the most important, famous and respected journalist in the Arab world.   He was the Editor- in- Chief of the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram  from 1957- 1974 which during his tenure was often refered to as the New York Times of the Arab world.  As a sign of his popularity, Heikal has his own show on Al-Jazeera ( With_Heikal) where he gives lectures on recent Arab history, discussing the information he acquired during his working days, the things that brought  him a new and unprecedented following in the Arab world.

For some context:  Heikal was very close to Gamal Abdel Nasser.  He was and still is a Nasserist and a believer in pan-Arabism as well as a strong critic of the change in direction towards the US that happened with Anwar Al-Sadat  (see Autumn_of_Fury for more on that point).   Many people in Egypt still believe in the pan-Arabism of Nasser so Heikal is expressing a point of view in this interview that has widespread support. 

Heikal tackled 3 main points in this interview: the situation in Gaza, the Egyptian position, and the regional status.

Inside Gaza.  Heikal believes that what’s happening in Gaza right now is not because of Hamas, rather it is a scheme to impose the US-Israeli settlement for the situation in the region, adding that the timing was not randomly chosen. Since Hamas won in the 2006 parliamentary  elections, the US and Israel were facing a stalemate in the region and that’s why Israel started to besiege Hamas and finally interfering militarily.  According to Heikal, the timing was perfectly chosen, the US is living a transitional period, the Israeli parliamentary elections is immanent, thus its an opportunity to regain the Israeli deterrence capabilities.  Heikal added that Obama knew about the attack, clarifying that if the attack succeeded Iran would be next.  Hiekal, however, said that the biggest mistake Hamas has done was its religious discourse, Palestine is Arab national cause and not a religious one.

The Egyptian side. Heikal expressed his bewilderment from the Egyptian position from whats happening in Gaza, he believed that the Egyptian interference in Gaza should’ve been 2 sided; the first, is protecting the Egyptian national security, the second, is aiding the Palestinians. What happened was Egypt helped Israel to gain more security and political ground at the expense of the Egyptian national security. The situation in Gaza represents a test for the Egyptian leadership and its ability to influence any part of the Middle East, and currently it seems that it is losing its soft powers. The point is the military superiority of Israel could mainly be balanced through the Egyptian extension regionally, which is a privilege that Israel do not possess. In his opinion, Egypt would gain absolutely nothing from clashing with Syria, or Hezbollah or Iran, he added that Egypt should maintain a very good relationship with Hamas and all those who represent the line of resistance, basically this line would never threaten Egypt it actually protects the Egyptian national security.

Regionally. Heikal described the Arab role as being very lame, he thinks that depending on the UNSC would bring them nothing because the US is in a transitional period and would never take a position that would harm Israel. However, he thought that Nasrallah’s speech shouldn’t be interpreted the way it happened, and he said that his speech is derived from his belief in the Egyptian role and history in the region, and his belief in the deep sentiments the Egyptian people hold for the Palestinians. Heikal warned from deploying international forces on the borders with Gaza which threatens the Palestinian cause, this issue is one of Egypt’s cards that it should not give up, adding to that the giving up the control of the Rafah-crossing is a threat to the Egyptian national security.

Would Hamas come out stronger?

No doubt about the unity of the Arab public opinion behind Hamas.  However, with the current bombardment of the Gaza strip this attitude might be questionable.  Rob’s thoughts about the military dimension  of Hamas vs. Israel were good but lets put them in a bigger picture.

First,  while Hamas leaders knew that Israel was looking for a chance to hit, noone expected this scale for sure. Its important to notice that for several years now Gaza represented a headache for Israel, weapons smuggled easily there, adjacent to Egypt, suicide bombers…and so forth.   So my point here is that Israel wanted to destroy the infrastructure of Gaza.   In my opinion the operation is not crushing Hamas, its more about crushing Gaza which every now and then begets a problem that disturbed Israel. The only problem Israel faced was the timing, it was necessarily that the attack be justified internationally, and what’s bettter than the expiration  of the ceasefire?

Second, its very important to define what victory means in this war? Again, this is not a traditional warfare, Israel here is setting  an intangible target: to eliminate Hamas from the political and the diplomatic landscape.   However, its very difficult to believe that for 2 reasons:

1-The nature of the campaign is too immense to believe that it just wants to eliminate Hamas.    For instance; how would one explain  the use of the Air Force to destroy a group of street fighters basically, or a militia? I think a logical decision would be using a group of the Special forces to kill the top leaders (of this group that seems to be the chief impediment to the peace talks) .  Wouldn’t this be enough to make Hamas disappear from the landscape for a couple of years minimum? Israel already has enough intelligence to perform such an operation.

2- I think Hamas could claim victory (after all the fighting stops ) if it had one member holding the organization together, even if the Israeli attack lasted for 2 months which I highly doubt.   If one member of Hamas afterwards said that Hamas government still stands and it is the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, what do we call that?

Third, although the ground operation seems highly expected, the IDF has to take into account many considerations about how it should proceed, becauseThe Gazan mud will make it harder for tanks and armored personnel carriers to maneuver, and Hamas has clearly been preparing its defense for months. Thus any ground operation will entail many casualties” something that worries the Israeli government. The main point why Israel would risk failure there is that it adopts the same strategy it adopted against Hezbollah; an all-out-war and final-battle.  The  bottom line here is that many Palestinians find such a war acceptable, so even if Israel eradicated Hamas, reestablishing the movement or the emergence of an even more extreme replacement would not take much time. 

On the regional level, the scene shows a huge resentment against the Arab regimes:  my friend at the National was right when he differentiated between the line of negotiators and rejectionists in  Arab world. The main point would never be Hamas’ victory or loss, but the tendency for more use of force. I think crushing Hamas is more critical to the governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia than Israel. Regardless of  who is in power,  Israel depends mainly on military superiority against the Arab regimes whether Fatah is in power or Hamas is.  So creating a security situation and bolstering its deterrence is a decisive elements in its relationship with any regional party.   As for the Arab regimes it is critical to point out that Hamas did not only pose a new preferable alternative  in dealing with Israel, but also  poses a pattern for defying authority and this was reflected on the kind of rage that existed in Egypt in specific. What’s happening now brought the conflict between Hamas and Egypt into the open which could influence the developments in Egypt. Strikingly,  what’s happening now is that Hamas is enjoying” across-the-border support from Palestinian factions and gains electoral popularity at Fatah’s expense” which means that the moderate voices in Fatah are leaning towards joining their counterparts.   When that happens Hamas would so popular that Abbas would not be able to refuse a unity government.

Inside the Arab states it seems that the ability to channel and quench the crowd’s rage is declining, the demonstrations that took place in Egypt were not seen for long ago, and the populist discourse contains speech of mockery and disdain, the government used to confront it violently.

……
Rob jumping in here: 

Mr Egypt mentioned above that “if Israel eradicated Hamas, reestablishing the movement or the emergence of an even more extreme replacement would not take much time.”   This is an important  point- this might sound shocking to some in the US, but Hamas, in the big picture of Islamist movements,  is actually  moderate.   Put it this way, it would take you hours, if not days, to find ten normal people in Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, or for that matter maybe anywhere in the Islamic world who don’t agree, in principle, with Hamas’  right to use violence against Israel, including the use of suicide bombers.   In fact,  every single major Islamic religous scholar would agree that their use of suicide bombers is Islamically acceptabe given the military power inbalance between Israel and the Palestinians.   And on pure theology , Hamas is  moderate, basically adhering to Qaradawi-style Islamic Centralism.     So what’s my point here?  I want to highlight a good  post by  Matt at the Wonk Room:

A number of writers have noted the possibility of Hamas being politically strengthened by Israel’s bombing of Gaza, just as Hezbollah were strengthened by Israel’s 2006 bombing of Lebanon. This would obviously be a bad outcome, but it’s important to understand that it would not be the worst. A much worse outcome would be that the bombings weaken Hamas while strengthening Salafist elements in Gaza, who consider Hamas a bunch of timid, half-stepping sellouts.

I highly recomend reading the rest of the post.  Matt is correct: there are worse outcomes than a strengthened Hamas.

The decline of the Egyptian Bar Scene

An interesting article  in the International Herald Tribune writes about the decline of the Cairo bar scene:

Armed with a bottle of Egyptian brandy and a bowl of steaming chickpeas, Hatem Fouad keeps watch each night over a historic slice of Cairo that is in danger of dying: the bars that once flourished amid the sweeping boulevards and graceful roundabouts of the city’s European-style city center.

The former police officer is part of a cadre of older Egyptian men who frequent drinking holes and belly dancing cabarets chronicled by the Nobel Prize-winning author Naguib Mahfouz in the 1940s and popular with Cairo’s artists and intellectuals until the late 1970s.

Many of these establishments have fallen into disrepair and disrepute as Egyptians grow more observant of Islam, with its prohibition on alcohol, and the country’s elite migrates away from the traffic-choked streets of the now crumbling central city.

“They were part of an Egypt that doesn’t exist anymore,” said Alaa al-Aswany, who immortalized the remnants of the Cairo bar scene in his best-selling 2002 novel “The Yacoubian Building.” He was talking about the heyday of the bar and nightclub era – when anyone from King Farouk, Egypt’s last monarch, to the British playwright-composer Noel Coward, might show up in a Cairo club.

There  has been a movement, led by non-Egyptians,  to rejuvenate the Cairo downtown bar-scene over the last couple years (mentioned in the story).  However, I’m ambivalent about whether this is something that should be encouraged.  The overwhelming majority of Egyptians are opposed to bars and alcohol consumption, and, contrary to what Alaa Aswanty implies or outright says,  this is not a matter of Islamic fundamentalism.   So I don’t see anything particularly intolerant or backwards about discouraging the presence of bars, especially in working class downtown neighborhoods. 

See this Egyptian Chronicles post for an Egyptian perspective.   I agree with Zeinab.  Alaa Aswany likes to look back nostalgically at the good old days (ie before Nasser) as if this  period represented the heyday of progress and tolerance.  I suspect  that, statistically, the amount of Egyptians who drank alcohol before the Revolution (and similarly the % that rejected it) and those who do now is very similar- very, very small.   Both pre-Rev and post-Rev the overwhelming majority of Egyptians did not drink alcoholwhich they consider prohibited according to the basic rules of Islam.    The difference is that  before 1952 , Egypt was dominated by foreign, non-local rule and customs which made it more socially acceptable for the small number of Muslims who drank, to do it openly.  Once the foreigners were kicked out,  its only natural that Egypt return to its native culture, which for 90% of the population, is clearly inconsistent with a bar culture.

….

Aswany says resistance to bars in downtown Cairo is a sign of Islamic fundamentalism.  I disagree and think its the other way around.  The presence of bars, something clearly inconsistent with Islamic values,  is what causes Islamic fundamentalism.  Fundamentalism is a return to what are pure Islamic values.  From 700 through the 1800s, there were no bars whatsoever in Egypt.  Only with foreign (non-Muslim) colonialism did they appear.   The imposition of something so clearly un-Islamic, is what causes the society’s desire to return to what is clearly Islamic.   So I do not necessarily  believe it is a sign of backwardness and negative fundamentalism for Egyptian society to have emptied Cairo out of its bar scene.

….

Why is the  narrative (especially the framing in the fundamentalist context) always   defined by AlaaAswany .  Why is he the official spokesperson for Egyptian cultural mores?  Sure he is very accessible so maybe its easier as a reporter to get ahold of him. but his politicaland social views are not shared by large percentages of Egyptians.   I am certain that intellectuals such as Rafiq Habib, Fahmy Huwedi, Hussuam Tamem, all more established and influential inside Egypt,  would also have different takes on this story.  They certainly wouldn’t see cutting back on bars as some kind of regressive return to fundamentalism.

Iran vs Egypt

Yesterday, the lead op-ed in  Al-Quds Al-Arabi’s   savaged Egyptian foreign policy, in particular the recent comments of Foreign Minister Ahmed Abu Al-Ghait. 

This is a big theme that (American)  people need to be aware of:  Egypt’s role as a regional power has seriously declined.  Why is this?  The vast majority of the analysts in the Arabic press blame it on its blind support of the US.  Ie its too close to the US.   This is something to keep in mind when we talk about repairing US-Arab or US-Islamic relations:   Most in the region, especially Egypt, are calling for their governments to distance themselves from the US, not necessarily to develop closer relations. 

Here’s my paraphrased summary: 

Recently, the Egyptian government has escalated its campaign against Iran.   Just yesterday, FH Abu Ghait accused the Iranians of trying to control the Middle East by trying to exploit the Palestinian cause.  According to the FM, the Iranians talk about the Palestine cause but do nothing of note to actually help it.    

Abu Ghait’s anger illustrates two points:
1) The rise of Iranian power which coincides with the decline of Egyptian
2) Iranian support for the Palestinian resistance vs Egypt’s new role as an extension of US foreign policy

…..
“Iran controls the Middle East because Egypt withdrew from it…  Under previous Egyptian governments, Egypt invested millions of dollars and sacrified its best and brightest (ie people that died in Arab-Israeli wars)  in support of the Palestinian cause and in order to strengthen its regional position.   But the current government has wasted all of these investments in its blind pursuit of US policy and a fraudulent peace which benefits the Egyptians first and foremost. 

Iran is not to blame for this situation.  Its the Arab governments, with Egypt in particular who work hand in with the Israelis and US.  And the FM is wrong when he says that Iran presents only empty propaganda to the Israelis.  The great 2006 victory vs Israeli aggression wouldn’t have been possible without the aid of Iranian rockets. 

When Egypt returns to its role as protector of Arab interestes, and distances itself from blind support of US and Israeli policy, and actually helps its Arab brothers defend against Israeli agression, then Iran will no longer control the Middle East. 

Commentary
For some context, Al-Quds Al-Arabi is virulently anti-US foreign policy, so one is unlikely to find this kind of harshness in Asharq Al-Awsat or even Al-Hayat (all three being London based regional papers) .  However, the sentiment expressed here in widely felt in Egypt.  Fahmy Huwedi,   Egypt’s most respected commentator, repeats this theme constantly in his 6 or 7 weekly columns in Cairo’s Al-Dostor newspaper.  I would add that the Egyptian street would strongly agreed with this analysis from Al-Quds.

“The Death Industry” on the Revisions

Al-Arabiya (The Saudi counterweight to Al-Jazeera) has a special program called “The Death Industry” which is part of the Saudi counter-propaganda campaign against Al-Qaeda.  The show’s basic purpose is to slander Al-Qaeda style Jihadists.  This week’s episode (see the transcript  here)covered a variety of topics related to Ayman Zawahiri such as 1) why is he releasing so many tapes 2) why did he call Barrack Obama a “house slave” and lastly 3) the implications of Sayyid Imam’s latest Revisions. 

For those who aren’t familiar with Sayyid Imam, he is a former leader of the Egyptian Jihad Group and is currently  publishing a series of anti-Al Qaeda Revisions in a leading Egyptian newspaper.   Read  Jihadica’s translations of the book here.   For a long analysis of the book’s potential implications  on Jihadist groups check out this recent piece from The NATIONAL.

 The show hosted two well known commentators, Egypt’s Montasar Al- Zayat and Jordan’s Mohamed Abu Rumman.   Some background on Zayat: A former militant in the Islamic Group, he spent the 80s in jail,  wrote a book about his former relationship with Zawahiri,  and served as a mediator between the (Egyptian) state and Militant groups in the late 1990s as they made their transition away from violence.  Today he is the lawyer for the Islamic Group and he is a major advocate of the Revisions process.   This is his “life mission” as he says here (below) he has spent 20 years of his life trying to work towards providing the atmosphere where militants could reevaluate their approach and move towards the peaceful Islamic call:

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..

 Zayat, like most ex-Egyptian militants involved in the Revisions process is disgusted by the contents of Sayyid Imam’s new book.  Asked “what are the essential points?”

ريما صالحة: أعود معكم مشاهدينا لنتابع طبعاً ما تبقى من هذا النقاش في حلقة الليلة من صناعة الموت، أستاذ منتصر الزيات ما النقاط المستخلصة أنت تراها من رد الدكتور فضل على الظواهري

منتصر الزيات: صدقوني أنا لم أقرأ ما كتبه الدكتور فضل، أنا ربما طالعته الحلقة الأولى ولم أتم الحلقة الثانية ومن وقتها لم أقرأ ما يكتبه الأخ العزيز الدكتور سيد إمام..

He replies, in disgust :  “I didnt even get past the beginning of the second segment”  (there are so far 12).   Not only that but Zayat wants nothing to do with this latest round- He is thouroughly disgusted and refused to even comment on them: 

 أن تتحول المراجعات إلى اتهامات متبادلة وإلى اتهامات بالعمالة وإلى هذا الذي نراه ونقرأه ونسمعه أنا لست طرفاً في هذه المراجعات، ولا أعرف عنها شيئاً ولا أحب أن أكون فيها ولا أحب أن أتحدث عنها لأنها ببساطة شديدة تجهض فكرة المراجعات.

I’m not a translator but Zayat says above something like:  “I am not a part of these Revisions, I have no idea where this came from.  I don’t want any part of them and don’t even want to comment on them because to put it simply they are tainting/undermining the whole idea of the Revisions.” 

In the eyes of former militants such as Zayat, the value of the Revisions process is that instead of having potential militants turn to the previous works that have been used to justify violence, there will now also be available, serious well-thought out Islamic reevaluations by ex-militants of the former violent approach that people can turn to.  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.  I should add that Abu Rumman essentially agreed with Zayat’s analysis, though not having a personal connection to the process, he wasn’t nearly as dramatic.

UPDATE: I should also add an important point:  Two weeks after Sayyid Imam’s latest book started, there has been almost no coverage in the Arabic media.  Last year, when his first Revisions came out, all of the big name Egyptian commentators sounded off.  This time around, literally nothing, which probably tells us something about how serious these Revisions should be taken.

President Mubarak’s Surprise Visit to Sudan

Egypt’s President made an unannounced visit to Sudan today, the first time since 2003, meeting with President Bashir in Khartoum, and then making the first ever visit by an Egyptian President to Juba in the South.    It’s hard to exaggerate how important Sudan is to Egyptian security:  If Egypt is a house, Sudan is the foundation through which all of the essential electrical circuits (the Nile)  originate from.  Therefore, a lack of  order  in Sudan is a direct security threat to Egypt and for this reason Cairo is opposed to any ICC attempt to arrest President Bashir as this would jeopardize the 2005 Peace Treaty with the South, and may even make things worse in Darfur. 

On another note, the Egyptian government has been criticized by Egyptian columnists for abrogating its duty as a regional power and not being involved in Darfur.   “We’ve gotta act like the regional power we are and stop letting little Qatar get all the glory” goes the arguement (See this  post).    Today’s high-level by a delegation that included the President, the Foreign Minister and Omar Suleiman, head of the Mukhaberet, seems to be a pretty decisive response to that criticism.

Is Pope Shenuda Violating the Concept of Citizenship?

  A few days ago Ibrahim Eissa, editor of Egypt’s  Al-Dostor newspaper, had an interesting op-ed  questioning whether Pope Shenuda, leader of the Egyptian Christians, was violating the concept of citizenship with his (alleged)  interference in political affairs.  Is he a Pope or a Zaim ( political leader)?  asked Eissa.

Background
The Copts consist of at least 7 million of Egypt’s 78 million and generally adhere to the principle of secularism and citizenship, in the sense that they try to play down religious differences under the law.  They know that numerically they can never compete with the Muslims, so for the most part they espouse secular citizenship.   This is understandable as some Islamist parties, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, argue as part of their official platform that neither Copts or women should be eligible to run for President.  

Pope Shenuda (mid-80s) , the leader of the Coptic Church since the early 1970s has been in Ohio for the last couple months receiving medical treatment.  Upon his return to Cairo he was greeted at the airport by an official government delegation.  Eissa article addresses this.

The Article
Its great that Pope Shenuda is greeted like this… but its evidence that the Egyptian state is distancing itself from the principle of citizenship.  This was clearly a political delegation.  The Pope is being treated as political leader of the Copts and not as their religious symbol (which Eissa views is a mistake)

Before anyone misunderstands, let me reiterate my deep respect for the Pope.  I only wish Egyptian Muslims had a leader they could love and respect so much, instead of the state appointed clerics who lack any legitimacy or credibility.

However, this doesn’t prevent me from saying that Pope Shenuda has turned the Coptic Church into his personal monopoly.  Coptics have transformed from people of his Church to citizens of his church.  Notice how delegations were sent to his Hospital bed in Ohio, not to discuss trivial religious affairs, but things much more important.  ..Notice how everyone was saying “wait till the Pope returns” before we can settle these affairs.   It goes to the extent that we don’t know if he is the Coptic religious guide or political guide.

This is a dangerous game and a violation of the principle of Citizenship that Copts and Muslims both call for.  And the NDP plays right along in their treatment of Pope Shenuda.    Note the recent announcement of a major Bishop that he and most of the Church leadership would be supporting Gamal Mubarak in future presidential elections is a  clear intervention in politics. 

Closing the article:  “Thanks be to God that the Pope has gotten better, but now we call on him to open the doors of the Church to let the Copts act as citizens of the state and not as citizens of the Coptic Church.”

Commentary
As a non-Egyptian its not my place to comment on what “should” or “should not” be happening in Egypt. 

But Eissa brings up a lot of good points, and it does seem that the Pope’s behavior and especially the recent endorsement of Gamal Mubarak by a major Bishop is not consistent with the principle of citizenship or secular separation of religion and state that the Copts often call for.

Muslim Brotherhood and Blogging

Jeffrey Fleischman has an interesting article in the LA Times  on blogging by the younger generation of the Muslim Brotherhood.    This is an important trend because Mr Egypt has been telling me to look into it now for several weeks.   What a coincidence, Hassam Tamem, also has an article on the same exact topic at IslamOnline.  For some context, Tamem is either the best or one of the best commentators on the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.  He is a MUST-LISTEN-TO VOICE.