Tag Archives: Hosni Mubarak

Arab Discrimination against Christians Must Stop

By Michael Curtis

Now is the winter of Christian discontent in Arab Middle Eastern countries. In all those countries, Christians have been suffering a sad fate: killings; torture; rape; abduction; forced conversion to Islam; seizure of homes and property; and bombings of churches, Christian institutions, and schools, and Christian businesses. All too many well-meaning individuals and group have swallowed the fallacious Palestinian Narrative of Victimhood in the contemporary Middle East and fail to recognize that the Christians living there are the real victims.

It was fitting that Pope Francis on December 26, 2013 urged people to speak out about the discrimination and violence that Christians were suffering; “injustice must be denounced and eliminated.” For some time the puzzling question has been why human rights groups, non-governmental organizations, and mainstream Western churches have been so completely or relatively silent on the issue of the persecution of Christians, individuals, and groups rooted in their societies and loyal to them.

On December 10, 1948 the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 18 states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.” In the Arab countries today, this worthy principle does not apply to Christians or to Jews. The world is aware that since 1948 Jews have almost completely departed from those countries and only a small number remain. It is less aware that Christian communities, many living in fear, have also been leaving or fleeing or forced to leave their countries. With 12.8 million (3.8% of the total population) estimated in the whole Middle East region, those communities now constitute less than 1% of the world’s Christian population.

Even the figures reported in the mainstream Western media of Christians in Arab countries are wildly overstated. The Pew Research Center report of December 2011, corrected February 2013, on Global Christianity provides what appears to be an objective statistical summary of present reality. Taking just three of the countries in the report, the estimates are as follows. Egypt has a Christian population of 4.2 million (5.3% of the population) ; Syria has 1.0 million (5.2%); and Iraq 270,000 (0.9%). Of these 43.5% are Catholics, 43% are Orthodox, and 13.5% are Protestant.

These figures have to be put into the context of the history of the Middle East. The Christians suffering today are the descendants of the oldest Christian communities in the world. In the early years of Islamic rule, Christian scholars and doctors played a considerable role in the life of Middle East countries. Monks translated medical, scientific, and philosophical texts into Arabic. But for four centuries, until the early 16th century, Christians were persecuted and massacred. Under the Ottoman Empire from that point on Christians, as well as Jews, were treated as second-class citizens.

Persecution of Christians in the Islamic Middle East has intensified in recent years, and the fear now is that Christianity may be becoming extinct in the area where it has existed for two millennia. They are criticized, absurdly, as Crusaders, or as colonialists associated with the West, or as infidels. The exception, and the only country in the area where Christians possess full religious rights and can exercise them, and have increased both in absolute number and proportion of the population, is Israel. There they have grown from 34,000 to 158,000. In contrast, the number of church buildings in Iraq, once 300, is now 57. The 1987 census in Iraq, the last one taken officially, counted 1.4 million Christians; it is now about one-fifth that number.

It is a poignant commentary that this Christmas period should have witnessed attacks and outbreaks of hostility against Christians. These were particularly violent in Iraq where the Assyrians, whose descendants are now part of the Assyrian Church of the East, are said to have adopted Christianity in the first century, and where the Chaldean Catholic Church dates back to the 16th century. Most of the Christians today are Chaldeans, some of whom still speak the old language of Aramaic; they are Eastern rite Catholics who recognize the Pope’s authority but remain autonomous from Rome.

Iraq already has been the scene of killing of the Archbishop of Mosul in 2008, the kidnappings of clerics in 2005 and 2006, and attack on a Catholic Church in Baghdad in 2010 and an outdoor market that killed 58 people. An Islamist group affiliated with al-Qaeda termed the 2010 attack as involving a “legitimate target.” In Christmas 2013 there were further senseless terrorists actions, especially against Christians. These included three bombings in Christian areas, including a car bombing in the Dora section of Baghdad as worshippers were leaving the Christian service; 38 were reported killed.

Egypt is embroiled in its internal hostilities between the military group now in control and the forces of the Muslim Brotherhood and armed jihadists and supporters of the deposed President Mohamed Morsi, that have killed hundreds of people and led to the imprisonment of thousands. Though Egyptian Coptic Christians are not central to this conflict, they have been persecuted. It is true that Copts were largely sympathetic to the overthrow of Morsi. It was perhaps also impolitic for the Coptic Pope Tawadros II to appear on television with General Abdel Sisi, who removed Morsi from office. Yet these did not justify the savage attacks by Islamists against the Orthodox Christian Copts.

Since the 2011 ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, more than a hundred Christians have been kidnapped. So far in 2013, the Islamist violence in Egypt resulted in more than 200 churches attacked and 43 totally destroyed. In addition, discrimination and violence has been frequently exercised against homes and businesses of Christians who feel imperiled. One Coptic Church in Minya province that had stood for a hundred years was burned. The Church of the Archangel Michael, outside of Cairo, was burned in August 2013.

Resolutions and calls for action in Middle East affairs are now frequent. Perhaps the call that is most urgent today is for the protection of Christians who should be accorded equality in law and culture in Arab and Muslim countries in the Middle East. The mainstream churches and the groups purportedly interested in human rights ought to heed the plea of Pope Francis.

Michael Curtis is author of Jews, Antisemitism, and the Middle East.

#Egypt: Sharia and the new constitution

While the ultraconservative Salafist Nour Party lost the battle over Egypt’s new constitution, it is likely they will survive politically, and could even take the lead in the Islamist movement
Egypt’s new draft constitution provides better protection for fundamental freedoms and human and minority rights as well as for women and youth, and gives special attention to socio-economic rights, such as education and health.

However, a major issue, among many others, attracted attention throughout the process of drafting of the constitution: the place of Islam and Sharia law in public life.

As expected and already shown in the first draft submitted by the 10-Member Committee of experts on constitutional law, the text prepared by the 50-Member Committee has been stripped of all references to Sharia, inserted by the Islamists, the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists, in the 2012 Constitution, and emphasised the “civil” character of the state. This process provoked a bitter debate between liberals — who dominated the committee — and the only representative of the Salafists, the member of Al-Nour Party, supported from time to time by Al-Azhar Institution, represented by three members on the committee.

But the balance of power within the 50-Member Committee, given the general political context after the fall of the regime of the Muslim Brotherhood, did not allow Nour Party to assert its ultraconservative views. The party’s representative was beaten in almost all issues of “Islamic identity” that he defended.

This was particularly the case when the controversial Article 219, introduced under Nour Party pressure in 2012, which gave a strict definition of the “principles of Sharia,” was eliminated from the draft constitution. According to Article 2, the principles of Sharia are “the main source of legislation.” The attempt of Nour Party to introduce, after the abolition of Article 219, a definition of “the principles of Sharia” in the preamble of the new draft constitution also failed.

The new text thus returns to the formula of the 1971 Constitution, in effect under former presidents Hosni Mubarak and Anwar Sadat, which merely mentions the principles of Sharia as “the main source of legislation” without giving them a particular definition, leaving their interpretation to the High Constitutional Court (HCC). Deleted Article 219 limited the powers of interpretation of the HCC, considered as too liberal by Islamists.

The 2012 Constitution also granted Al-Azhar a say, though not mandatory on legislators, on issues related to Sharia. This situation generated fears of the expansion of the role of the religious institution in political and public space, and even, for some, the establishment of a theocracy. This provision is deleted from the new draft constitution, with the agreement of Al-Azhar, which does not want to intervene in the thorny issues of politics.

In the same vein, Article 76 of the 2012 Constitution has been deleted. It provided that a crime may be inferred directly from the text of the constitution, without explicit mention in the penal code. Legal experts interpreted this provision as paving the way for the application by courts of punishments under Sharia law, without the need for prior legislation on specific categories of crime.

The inclusion in the preamble to the draft constitution of the formula “civilian government” is another indication of the de-Islamisation of the national charter. The term “civilian” was neither in the 1971 Constitution nor, a fortiori, in that of 2012.

After the unfortunate experience of the Muslim Brotherhood in power, the liberals, supported by representatives of the three Egyptian Churches — the Coptic, Catholic and Anglican — insisted on introducing this term to cut short any attempt to Islamise the state in the future. This desire to emphasise the civilian character of the state gave rise to an intense debate with the Salafists, which had been joined by Al-Azhar. Nour Party was opposed to any inclusion of the term “civil,” as for them it reflects Western and secular values. The liberals wanted initially to use the formula of “civil state,” which was rejected by Nour Party and Al-Azhar, because for them it could mean a “secular state.” The compromise formula was, finally, “the establishment of a democratic and modern state,” with a ”civil government.”

On another level, the draft constitution prohibits in Article 74 the establishment of political parties on religious or sectarian bases. It thus returns to the formula of the 1971 Constitution. However, the question of religious parties remains. These parties, 11 in total, were created after the popular uprising of 25 January 2011, under the constitutional declaration of March 2011, promulgated by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which also prohibited the establishment of religious parties. The latter, to circumvent the difficulty, avoided making clear reference in their statutes and programmes to their religious nature, but their action and discourse betrayed this dimension. The political context of March 2011 is certainly not that of December 2013, at least for what is left of the Muslim Brotherhood and its political party, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), currently frozen.

It is likely that the Salafist Nour Party, the second political force after the FJP in the last parliament, which was dissolved, will survive this prohibition. It is the only Islamist party that agreed to the roadmap announced by the army following the dismissal of Mohamed Morsi 3 July. It also participated in the drafting process of the constitution and refrained from withdrawing from the 50-Member Committee despite the setbacks it suffered, when virtually all of its demands were rejected. The party called on its supporters to vote “Yes” for the draft constitution in the upcoming referendum in January.

This position can be explained by the fact that Nour Party is aware that the wind has turned and that the Islamists have lost the dominance they gained after the fall of Mubarak. Its leadership is both realistic and ambitious. It certainly lost the battle of the constitution, given the new balance of power established after the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood, but taking into account the weak anchor of liberal parties in the electorate, it keeps the hope and the ambition of inheriting the dominant position of the FJP in parliament and in political life.

Two Great Fissures in the Global Jihad

By James Lewis

The Muslim world is always ready to fragment, following the traditional Bedouin saying, “I against my brother, my brothers and I against my cousins, then my cousins and I against strangers“. This is the war logic of the desert, and it appears everywhere in Muslim history. In Libya, NATO and the United States foolishly knocked over Gadaffi’s tribal federation that ruled that country for decades, so that Libya today is back to civil war between tribes, families, terrorist gangs, and brothers. Most Muslim nations still preserve the primacy of brothers and cousins, because in case of trouble — and there is always trouble — brothers and cousins keep people alive.

When Obama pushed Hosni Mubarak out of power in Egypt in 2011 and promoted the Muslim Brotherhood instead, he imagined that there would be an “organic revolution,” whatever that means. For Obama, who as an ideologue is always surprised by reality, “organic” means something like “authentic.” Obama supports Muslims, as he has clearly said, because they are more “authentic” than the Egyptian Army, the basis for the 30-year Egypt-Israeli peace treaty. Mentally fixated leftists cannot imagine that the army can be an authentic institution. But General Anwar Sadat was the hero of the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, and was assassinated for it. General Hosni Mubarak kept the treaty going for three decades. General Al Sisi in Egypt today stands for modernism against the throwbacks of the Muslim Brotherhood, the ones Obama is still in love with.

In fact, in the Muslim world, armies have been the biggest modernizing force in Turkey, Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan, and Syria. A rational policy for the Muslim world would therefore strengthen armies, educate them, encourage modern thinking in science and technology, and turn them into centers for genuine progress, including political progress.

This is not so unusual. General de Gaulle in France stabilized the mad gyrations of French civilian governments in the 1960s. Chile’s much-abused General Pinochet, for all his sins, also instituted the most successful free-market reforms in Latin America, turning Chile into a model of economic progress that Obama would do well to emulate. South Korea has a similar history, as do the Phillipines, Spain, and Indonesia. Armies encourage national identity, not local, family, tribal, and religious sectarianism.

Obama’s ignorance and neglect of these elementary points have now caused the Muslim world to fissure along the oldest and most destructive lines: Religion, ethnic identity, tribalism, theological heresies.

The biggest split is between Sunnis and Shi’ites, people whose deadly warfare goes back 13 centuries.

The second emerging split is between theocracy and modernism.

For example, Syria and Iraq are breaking down along religious lines.

Analyst Clare Lopez writes:

“News reports out of Syria are airing graphic footage of extensive interior damage to the historic Khalid Ibn Al-Walid Mosque in Homs. Syrian government troops, backed by Hizballah fighters, captured the mosque from Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces on July 27, 2013 … the mosque assault … was intended to incite intra-Islamic sectarian rage from the Sunni rebels.

(This) is reminiscent of the February 22, 2006 bombing of the great golden-domed Shi’ite Askaria Mosque in Samarra, Iraq, by al-Qa’eda elements, under the command of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. That carefully-calculated outrage is credited with igniting a savage multi-year civil war in Iraq, which, tragically, appears to be breaking out anew…”

Iran is the most militant Shi’ite power in centuries. Sunni nations like Saudi Arabia and Egypt are seeing their American defense umbrella crumbling, so that they are preparing to face, not tiny Israel, but the fast-growing threat of the Shi’ite Crescent.

In Turkey, the cautiously reactionary regime of Erdogan is promoting something called “neo-Ottomanism,” a word that sends shivers up the backs of Balkan and Mediterranean nations that remember the sadistic and murderous reign of the Ottoman Turks.

The great divisions are between religious sects that have hated each other for 13 centuries. Liberals can’t imagine that, because they think religion is dead. But Europe’s political parties are still split by ancient religious differences going back to the Reformation. Just because liberal atheists cannot imagine religious war, religious warriors can still imagine atheists. Atheists deserve death by Shari’ah law, while Christians and Jews only deserve misery and oppression.

Equally important is the deep Muslim split between modernists and medieval reactionaries. Westerners may not see that, because modernist Muslims everywhere feel intimidated. They can be killed for expressing their beliefs. But think back to the Green Revolution in Iran which Obama ignored several years ago, and you may remember bare-armed young people on the streets of Iran, heroically demonstrating against the cruel and barbaric regime. Their bare arms in the heat of Tehran symbolized their rejection of the throwback regime of Khomeiniism.

In Egypt, Obama backed the reactionary Muslim Brotherhood, only to trigger a rebellion of modernist forces. Television presenters in Cairo burst into tears and angry rants when Morsi was overthrown. Their well-being and modern lifestyles depend upon knocking down the Muslim Brotherhood that Obama admires so much. They are right; they have seen the worst of Islamic reactionaries, and they do not want them.

Modernism comes up for every Muslim who can turn on the television or surf the web. It is spreading because science and technology are spreading, and secretly, it is undermining the Dark Ages of the Muslim priesthood. People named Mohammed are being indoctrinated in ancient madrassahs against the modern world, but they are also beginning to do first-rate science, and those two belief systems are not compatible. The modern world is now invading even the most medieval minds

Because of the suicidal stupidity of Western liberals, reactionary Muslims who oppress and kill women have been raised to power in Europe, America, and the Middle East. This is ignorant and suicidal, and ordinary people are finally beginning to understand the malignant perversity of their corrupt political elites.