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Egypt’s Power Struggle and the Fate of Christians

Monday, July 16th, 2012

In defiance of Egypt’s top generals and highest court, Muslim Brotherhood President-elect Mohammed Morsi reopened parliament last Tuesday. In only his third week in office, Morsi’s rapid-fire pursuit to broaden the Brotherhood’s power openly challenged the country’s ruling military council. Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority fears that the restoration of parliament, which will grant greater powers to Islamists, will be used to institute Sharia law and stifle religious freedom.

Egypt’s lower chamber, the People’s Assembly, convened on July 10, after a ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court on June 14 ordering the parliament’s dissolution. Saad el-Katatni, the assembly’s speaker, told lawmakers the session was being held to seek a “second opinion” by an appellate court in an effort to reinstate the Islamist-dominated legislature. The court, however, did not accede to the chamber’s request; it upheld its earlier ruling that the parliament had been elected unconstitutionally and that its dissolution was “final and binding.”

If the parliament were to be reinstated, the Muslim Brotherhood—which holds nearly half the seats in the Islamist-dominated assembly—would head both the legislature and the presidency. Yet, a Brotherhood-controlled civilian government appears to be what Egypt’s ruling generals fear most. Only a week prior to Morsi’s announcement as president, the military announced a constitutional declaration on June 17 that expands its control over civilian politicians and strips the head of state of most of his powers. Morsi’s move to defy the court ruling by reconvening parliament was not only considered to be illegal by the military council, but also a direct challenge to the establishment’s authority.

In a warning to the president, the military said it would support the country’s “legitimacy, constitution and law” by upholding the court’s ruling.”[This is] language that means [the military] will not stand by and watch the rulings of the country’s top court ignored or breached,” the Christian Science Monitor reported.

Despite the military’s grip on power, Bret Stephens, an editor of The Wall Street Journalargues that Egypt has already been “lost” to Islamists and that a radical future, similar to what was seen in Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, lingers on the horizon. “Egypt under the Brotherhood will seek to arm Hamas and remilitarize the Sinai. By degrees, it will seek to extract concessions from the U.S. as the price of its good behavior. By degrees, it will make radical alliances in the Middle East and beyond.”

Daniel Pipes, President of the Middle East Forum, argues the contrary, however, saying that the military, not the Brotherhood, has the ultimate power in Egypt. “Not only was the [presidential] election symbolic, but it was also illusory, in that the military leadership scripted it,” Pipes wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Times. “[Mohammed Morsi's] job is undefined. A military coup could brush him aside… Mohamed Tantawi is the real ruler of Egypt. Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), field marshal, and minister of defense, he serves not only as the commander-in-chief but also as the effective head of all three of Egypt’s branches of government… The [military] exploits the Muslim Brotherhood and other proxies as its civilian fronts, a role they are happy to play, as it has permitted the Islamists to garner an outsized percentage of the parliamentary vote and then to win the presidency.”

Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, who make up 10 percent of the population, hope that Pipes is right; they are fearful that if the Brotherhood gains leverage over the military, the country could quickly transform into an Islamic state.

“There is a Brotherhood strategy to work toward building an Islamic country,” Yousef Sidhom, editor of the weekly Watani newspaper and a Coptic Church official, told The Associated Press. He added that the Brotherhood will withhold government positions from Christians, tax non-Muslims, and base education around Islam.

The Brotherhood will not likely accede to pressure by the military: its members vowed to “fight in the courts and the streets to reinstate the Parliament,” according to The New York Times. Prior to the reconvening of parliament, the Brotherhood’s Secretary-General, Mahmoud Hussein, called for a “million-man march” to “regain the parliament,” and denounced the military’s hold on power. A few hundred protestors supporting the Brotherhood responded to the call in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Monday, chanting, “We love you Morsi,” and “Down with military rule.”

Rubin Reports: A First Look at Egypt’s New Constitution Shows a Careful Ambiguity On Islamic Rule

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

http://rubinreports.blogspot.co.il/

Although it isn’t official, the first two articles of Egypt’s new Constitution have been reportedly drafted by the committee of parliamentarians charged with that task. Article 1 defines Egypt as part of the Arab and Muslim nation, a compromise between acceptance of the country as a normal nation-state and its identity as either a purely Arab nationalist or Islamist entity.

Similarly, Article 2, according to Mohamed Emara, head of the committee responsible for drafting this section, says:

“Islam is the religion of the state, and Arabic is its official language, and the principles of Islamic Sharia are the main source for legislation. Christians and Jews shall resort to legislation derived from their own religions.”

There is some ambiguity here as to whether Egypt would thus be a Sharia state. On one hand, Islamic law is not made the sole source of legislation, while the word “principles” might mean that the interpretation will be loose, principles and not all of the details. Bourhamy says that this merely shows that Egypt isn’t a secular state.

On the other hand, though, both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis accepted this formulation which, since they want a Sharia state, apparently feel does not block their goal from being reached. Moreover, precisely what “principles” means will be defined not by some governmental organ but by the al-Azhar mosque university. While the leaders of that institution are more moderate than the Brotherhood and Salafis, presumably President Muhammad al-Mursi will replace them at some point with his own people.

The Arabic word used to define “democracy” was “shura.”  This is a term often used in Muslim countries because it is found in the Koran. It might be translated as “consultative,” since the ruler (in this case, al-Mursi) can consult with the parliament. This might be taken to imply that its decisions are not binding. Also that the parliament does not have a free hand in passing laws since—it is implied—no law can be passed that conflicts with Sharia law.

Non-Islamists can argue that there is no harm in the word but it should be noted that the idea for using this term was suggested by a Salafist.

The bottom line is that there is an ambiguity which Western observers and anti-Islamist Egyptians can say means that the country will not be a Sharia state, while Islamists can maintain their own view. The key point, of course, is not the wording as such but who gets to interpret it down the road.

Finally, Christians, it is implied, will be governed by their own religious laws. But this is a peculiar formulation. If Egypt is not governed by Sharia law then why would Christians need to be exempt from it? If this provision is restricted only to matters of personal status (principally marriage, divorce, and inheritance) then Christians would mostly be living under Sharia law in any state court. And what does this constitutional provision mean for example regarding the status of women, where Egyptian law has granted more rights than Sharia would do? Another important issue will be the appointment of future judges since many of the current magistrates oppose Sharia law as that of the state.

If there is an Islamist president and parliament who pass laws that correspond only to Sharia and who appoint Islamist judges and al-Azhar  shaykhs then Egypt will be a Sharia state. No doubt though the Constitution will be interpreted by many Western observers of proof that the Brotherhood and Salafists have moderated.

Mordechai Kedar: Jordan and Radical Islam

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

Since December 2010, when the phenomenon known as the “Arab Spring” began in Tunisia, there has been one slogan that passes, like a leitmotif, through each Arab domain: “The people want to overthrow the regime.” This slogan is on all the posters used in the demonstrations, on the walls of buildings, on flyers that are handed out in the streets; the spokesmen of the various opposition groups and the demonstrating throngs cried it out hoarsely and repeated it again and again, as an unvarying mantra. This slogan may have been the most obvious rhetorical feature of public discourse in the Arab world over the past year and a half, because it signified the events that led to the collapse of the regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and apparently in Syria as well. The intensity and strength of the use of this slogan was an indication of the height of the flames singeing the feet of the seats of government in these states.

Jordan has managed until now to remain untouched by these problems, and King Abdullah II knew how to navigate matters of the kingdom in a way that the waves of the revolution washing over the rest of the Arab world did not yet wash over his kingdom. In an article I wrote four months ago, I dealt with the problem that the Jordanian monarchy has with the Palestinian majority in Jordan. But in the past few weeks – mainly since the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco – a different sort of problem is now becoming apparent: the problem of radical political Islam.

This problem is not new, because radical Islamist groups have existed in Jordan for many years, however the monarchy knew how to put them in their place using a combination of the carrot and the stick: prison and torture on one hand, while permitting political and public activities on the other. But the political activity of the Jordanian opposition was always placed within the administrative frameworks of the state, meaning the monarchy made sure that their influence remained marginal. The principal framework is the law of elections, which undergoes basic and frequent changes, in order to make sure that the results of the “democratic” elections will create a feeling of openness, pluralism and legitimacy, but at the same time preserve the status quo and prevent too great a change to the balance of political power.

Elections in Jordan have always been a source of tension between the regime and the political bodies for three main reasons: a) the natural public expectation that the elections would result in an effective parliament, one that will have genuine authorities, but this has never happened, because the laws of parliament can not contradict the decisions of the king and certainly can not remove him from his throne; b) the elections are supposed to reflect the attitudes of the population and its cross section of political opinion and social and cultural attitudes, and this doesn’t happen either; c) parliament represents mainly the traditional trends and interests of the Bedouin tribes which are a minority among the population, and marginalizes other groups, including those with modern viewpoints.

Approximately two weeks ago parliament passed a new law dealing with elections that raised the number of representatives from 120 to 140 and determined that every voter would be able to choose two representatives: one from his local area and one from a national list, which is limited to only 17 seats. The significance of this apportionment is that local tribes will continue to have more political weight and the general, national ideological lists will have less weight. The increase in the number of seats intended for women from 12 to 15 arouses much criticism from all directions: the modernists and women’s organizations want more seats, while the Islamists want a smaller number of seats allocated to women. The election law has not yet been enacted because the king has still not approved it, and apparently will not approve it because of public opposition.

However this hasn’t succeeded in silencing the opposition: last Friday huge demonstrations were held in several Jordanian cities, demanding constitutional changes that would reflect the will of the street to allow the election of a parliament with real authorities and to establish a fair and effective government. These demonstrations streamed into the streets after Friday prayers, apparently under the influence of the sermons delivered by the clerics. We saw this phenomenon in Egypt in January of 2011, and in Syria during March and April of 2011 – the mosque and Friday sermons serve as the match that ignites the barrel of gunpowder, filled with the rage of the public and the will of the people to radically change the corrupt and illegitimate regime. The miserable economic situation in Jordan adds fuel to the fire, and strengthens the feeling of marginalization felt by more than a few sectors.

Zaki Bani Irshid, the general supervisor of the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Jordan, said during a demonstration: “The time has come for us in Jordan to also be happy like the Egyptian people are happy,” while Ali Abu al-Sukkar, head of the Shura Council, the council of the “Islamic Action Front,” that represents the Muslim Brotherhood, said openly and brazenly to the media: “Just as the will of the Egyptian people was victorious, thus the will of the Jordanian people will be victorious and the aspirations to see real reforms will be realized. Today, the voice of the Jordanian citizen echoes throughout all districts, as he emphasized that he will not be put off, nor will he accept partial solutions, trickery or manipulation regarding the public’s expectations to see real improvement in governmental systems.”

The message conveyed in these words is that just as in Egypt the public succeeded to overthrow Mubarak and to set up a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood at the head of the pyramid of power, tso it must be in Jordan. There can not be a clearer or sharper message than this. The interesting thing about this demonstration is that leftist groups also took part in it, and this too is reminiscent of Egypt, because in the first phase of the demonstrations in Egypt, all of the groups who opposed Mubarak were united.

Slogans that were heard in the demonstrations were also interesting: people called the parliament (majlis al-nuab – House of Representatives) the pejorative “majlis al-doab” (House of the Worms), and there were signs saying: “Start the Countdown,” “Victory to the Will of the People,” “Congratulations to Egypt,” “Where is the Corrupt One? the Reforms Will Sweep You Away,” “The Cost of Living is not Reasonable,” “The Prices are on Fire and the Citizen is Worried.” The king, recognizing the danger inherent in Friday demonstrations with slogans and signs of this sort, froze the election law and sent it back to the House of Representatives to increase the number of seats for the national lists at the expense of the local ones, and thus “threw a bone” to the demonstrators.

Security forces that accompanied the demonstration were not armed, however their presence in full uniform was conspicuous. The message that they sent was that as long as the demonstrations stay within the accepted norms they will be permitted to continue. Against this backdrop it is important to note that for a long time in Jordan there has been sharp criticism against the cruelty with which the security forces act towards groups of radical Islamists, who call themselves “Salafia Jihadia,” and whose goal it is to fight with the force of jihad to return Muslim society to the good times, pure values, and proper rulers that it had in the seventh century.

A 16-year-old youth, Layth al-Kalaulah, who apparently participated in the demonstration against the regime last weekend, was caught by an arm of the security force and underwent investigation under torture that included putting out burning cigarettes on his body. He is a resident of the city al-Salt, in the Jordan Valley, where there is activity of the Salafia Jihadia, and he was apparently a member of this group. This is not the first instance in which Jordanian security forces are accused of torture: In recent years the UN and a number of human rights organizations published reports on the use of systematic torture in Jordanian prisons on those who opposed the regime. Confessions were extracted from them illegally, and those responsible for the torture are not usually brought to justice.

It must also be noted that in Egypt a grievous event happened a number of months before the demonstrations broke out in January 2011, in which a youth in Alexandria was tortured to death, which caused a stream of thousands of demonstrators to crowd into the streets. In the opinion of observers, this event strengthened the negative feeling of the population towards the regime, because photographs of the youth “before” and “after” were circulated in the various media and reached the masses. In Syria too, in the beginning of the events in March 2011, photographs of children and youths who had been tortured by the regime were distributed via the social networks, and these photographs poured oil on the fire of the demonstrations.

Al Jazeera, which broadcast live coverage of the demonstrations in Jordan last Friday, finished the report with this sentence: “The people want to reform the regime,” which is clearly a variation of the sentence “The people want to topple the regime.” In this way, almost overtly, Al Jazeera exploits the internal tensions in Jordan and tries to ignite the domestic front in this state as well, after the great success that this Qatari channel has already scored in setting afire the streets of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya Yemen and Syria. The king will need great wisdom to be able to stand up against the rising waves of opposition, from within as well as from the direction of Al Jazeera, the jihadi channel of the Emirate of Qatar, whose rulers suffer from severe megalomania.

Originally published at http://israelagainstterror.blogspot.co.il/2012/07/mordechai-kedar-jordan-and-radical.html

Hungarian House Speaker to Elie Wiesel: Writers Will Be Writers

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

Hungary’s House Speaker László Kövér has replied to Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, who recently renounced a Hungarian state honor in protest at what he sees as the government toleration of rising anti-Semitic sentiment, the Budapest Times reported.

Kövér defended Hungarian writer József Nyírõ, who was a member of parliament for the wartime fascist Arrow Cross Party, which collaborated in the extermination of Hungarian Jews at Nazi Germany’s bidding. Nyírõ was recently made compulsory reading in Hungarian schools.

“When passing judgement on creative minds, it is primarily their creation that should be considered, and double standards in that must not be applied,” Kövér wrote. The founding member of the ruling centre-right Fidesz party described Nyírõ’s political activities as “negligible but doubtlessly and tragically mistaken”.

According to the BT, Wiesel acknowledged Kövér’s reply but declared it unsatisfactory. Kövér failed to address Wiesel’s concerns about a growing cult around the inter-war regent Miklós Horthy, who led Hungary into the Second World War as an ally of Nazi Germany.

Muslim Brotherhood Candidate Wins Egyptian Presidential Elections

Monday, June 18th, 2012

Although results from Cairo give establishment candidate Shafiq a 58 percent lead in the capital, winning Cairo will not be enough to put Shafiq ahead of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mursi in 27 governorates.

If these results stand, Mursi will have won Egypt’s first post-uprising elections with 51.89 per cent of the vote, succeeding toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak.

Downtown Cairo is filled with the sounds of horns and chants as Mursi supporters are descending on Tahrir Square.

Official results will be announced by the Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission on Thursday, June 21, and the ruling military council will “hand over power” on 30 June.

As the vote count began on Sunday, a decree from the ruling military council assigned only limited powers to the new head of state, and reclaimed for the military council the legislative rights of the Islamist-led parliament, after the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) dissolved parliament last week.

Both Liberal and Islamist opponents denounced this as a “military coup.”

The Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi was in weekend a run-off election against Ahmed Shafik, former prime minister under the deposed and ailing Hosni Mubarak.

“The results posted by the Mursi campaign on their website, which show Mursi in the lead, reflect to a large degree the results tallied by the electoral committee,” the member, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.

Other officials contacted by Reuters refused to comment on the Brotherhood’s claim.

“The election commission has nothing to do with the announced results,” committee member Mohamed Momtaz said, while a second member, Osama Salama said: “We are still conducting the tally process.”

Rubin Reports: Egypt – Things to Think About as We Await the Presidential Election Outcome

Sunday, June 17th, 2012

http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.co.il/2012/06/egypt-things-to-think-about-as-we-await.html

While one can certainly sympathize with the idea of letting an elected parliament being allowed to take office, that’s not necessarily such a clear call in strategic terms. The parliament–which will write the constitution and thus define the powers of the president–is almost 75 percent rabidly anti-American and antisemitic. (I don’t write that last word lightly but it is quite accurate.) Imagine if this situation had arisen in Iran in 1979 with the Iranian military refusing to turn over power to the forces led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Would it have been wise for Washington to demand that this be done as soon as possible?

Yet here is Defense Secretary Leon Panetta calling on Egypt’s military in a manner that “highlighted the need to move forward expeditiously with Egypt’s political transition, including conducting new legislative elections as soon as possible.” Senator Patrick J. Leahy has called for withholding U.S. aid to Egypt, saying, “I would not want to see the U.S. government write checks for contracts with Egypt’s military under the present uncertain circumstances.”

What circumstances are more appropriate for sending U.S. arms and money? When the Muslim Brotherhood dominates parliament, the presidency, has written a constitution mandating Sharia law, and follows a policy of death to America and death to Israel? Who are you going to cheer for if Islamists rebel against the regime?

Maybe now is a good moment for the U.S. government to remain quiet.

Is there a precedent for this? Yes. After the Algerian government abrogated elections that it knew Islamists were going to win in 1991, the U.S. governments of George Bush and Bill Clinton generally shut up about it and let the French take the lead in helping the military government, which won the civil war. In contrast, in 2007, a misguided “democratic” impulse let President George W. Bush to stand aside and let Hamas compete in Palestinian elections even though its refusal to accept the Oslo peace process disqualified that radical Islamist group. Today, the Gaza Strip lives under repressive Islamist rule. The regime there has already launched one failed and costly war against Israel and it is only a matter of time until it starts round two.

While Egyptian Brotherhood leaders claim to be moderate when they talk to Western audiences, that has nothing to do with what they say to each other or to Egyptians. In May at El-Mahalla El-Kubra, at a rally attended by Brotherhood presidential candidate Muhammad al-Mursi, the main speaker, Sifwat Hijazi, said that when the Brotherhood took power:

“Our capital won’t be Mecca or Medina, but Jerusalem, millions of shahids [martyrs] will march on the city. The whole world should know — and we say it clearly — our goal is Jerusalem, we shall pray in Jerusalem, and, if not, we shall die as martyrs on its ruins.”

Another speaker added,“Tomorrow Mursi will liberate Gaza.” A singer sang: “The Jews will not be able to sleep, come, lovers of martyrs, you’re all Hamas. Take on arms, and prepare for prayer.”

Just words? Sure, like the words of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Iranian spiritual guide Khomeini, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat and many more. The Western mass media, academic experts, and government officials may assure you that the Muslim Brotherhood is really a moderate group and that worrying about what it will do in power is silly. Pay no attention. The Brotherhood daily makes clear what it believes and intends to do.

So does it make sense for a U.S. government to take up the doctrine of “neo-conservative” naivete and demand a Brotherhood victory over the army in Egypt? A proper U.S. government would — and I apologize for the “amoral” requirements of realpolitik — secretly be backing the military to keep the Brotherhood out of power. We now know that President Harry Truman’s administration did certain things to ensure Communist parties didn’t win power in France and Italy which would not meet contemporary “ethical” standards of electoral results over American national security interests. Thank goodness for that!

‘First Jewish Leader of the Labour Party’ Enjoys Yiddish, Chicken Soup, But No Marxism

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

“I am not religious. But I am Jewish. My relationship with my Jewishness is complex. But whose isn’t?” writes the leader of the Labour Party and of the opposition in parliament, Ed Miliband, in the New Statesman.

Miliband is painfully aware of his heritage: “As children we were only dimly aware of it but we caught glimpses. When I was seven, my family went to visit my grandmother in Tel Aviv. Pointing at a black-and-white photograph, I demanded to know who was ‘that man in the picture.’ I remember being taken swiftly out of the room and then being told quietly that he was my grandfather David, who had died in Poland long before I was born. It was only some years later that I realized my mum’s father had died in a concentration camp, murdered by the Nazis for being Jewish.”

Edward Samuel Miliband graduated from Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and the London School of Economics. He started out as a television journalist and then as researcher for the Labour Party. He became a confidant of Chancellor Gordon Brown and was appointed Chairman of the Treasury’s Council of Economic Advisers.

When Gordon Brown became prime minister, he made Miliband his Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, followed by an appointment to Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. In 2010, Miliband was elected Leader of the Labour Party.

“For me, my Jewishness and my Britishness are intertwined,” the man who may be Britain’s future prime minister writes. “My parents defined themselves not by their Jewishness but by their politics. They assimilated into British life outside the Jewish community. There was no bar mitzvah, no Jewish youth group; sometimes I feel I missed out.”

Still, although he married a non-Jew, Miliband has no doubts about his Jewish roots. “My mum got me into Woody Allen,” he recalls, “my dad taught me Yiddish phrases (there is no better language for idio­matic expressions, some of them unrepeatable). And my grandmother cooked me chicken soup and matzo balls.”

As to the influence his home had on his political thinking, Miliband writes: “I was not indoctrinated with Marxism. Nor was I brought up with religion. But I was given a sense that the world could be a better, fairer and different place. And we all have a duty in our own way and our own time to seek to make it so.”

Conservative Benjamin Disraeli (elected 1837) was the first Jewish leader of a political party, and first Jewish prime minister of the United Kingdom.

Sir Julius Vogel was the eighth premier of New Zealand from 1873 to 1875 and again in 1876. Current prime minister of New Zealand John Key and former prime minister Francis Bell are of Jewish extraction, both from the mothers’ side.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/yoris-daily-news-clips/first-jewish-leader-of-the-labour-party-enjoys-yiddish-chicken-soup-but-no-marxism/2012/05/24/

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