TAG | Egypt
Writing in the Spectator last month (behind the paywall) Aidan Hartley took a look at what is happening to Egypt’s archeological heritage:
[W]ithin a kilometre of the Sphinx, I found the desert honeycombed with deep, freshly dug shafts. The criminals are not archaeologists, so they may be digging in vain, but if Egypt’s authorities can’t prevent treasure–hunters from doing this in the shadow of the last of the Seven Wonders of the World, then it’s a safe bet they’re not doing much to stop it elsewhere.
Some of the desecration is spurred on by religious zeal. Before he was deposed, President Morsi appointed as governor of Luxor a former member of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, the terrorist group that murdered 64 people in the Temple of Hatsheput in 1997. Under his watch, monuments were neglected, while extreme Islamists began demanding the destruction of pre-Islamic monuments such as the Sphinx and pyramids.
One cleric, Sheikh Murgan Salem al-Gohary, said in a television broadcast aired in Egypt: ‘All Muslims are charged with applying the teachings of Islam to remove such idols, as we did in Afghanistan when we destroyed the Buddha statues…’. Before they had a chance to blow up the Sphinx, the military seized power from the Muslim Brotherhood in June — but the looting escalated even further in the bloodshed that followed.
In August, mobs attacked a museum at Mallawi, in Middle Egypt, and looted 1,000 artefacts. They murdered a curator and vandalised what items they could not steal. Monica Hanna, a young Egyptologist who is struggling to rescue her country’s heritage, rushed to the museum and led efforts to save the few exhibits remaining. She was shot at and menaced and when she asked the vandals what they were doing, the youths replied: ‘This is the property of the state. The state is killing Muslims — so we are destroying what the state owns.’
In September, I accompanied Monica to Ansana, an early Christian complex of rock-hewn churches and ruined monasteries along the Nile. Ansana has never been properly studied, and now Islamists are destroying the sites altogether. In one church, we found 4th-century frescos of biblical scenes freshly scratched to pieces. Looters had tried to blow up one church with dynamite, acting on rumours that hoards of gold were hidden beneath the rock. A cemetery Monica said was for Christians martyred under Roman Emperor Diocletian at the end of the 3rd century had been recently desecrated, and we found piles of skulls and skeletons ripped out of tombs and kicked about the desert.
On one mountainside, Monica found a carved monument marking the boundary of the city of Amana, built by the iconoclastic Pharoah Akhenaten over 3,300 years ago. The vandals who defaced this exquisite work had helpfully recorded the date they did it — in February of this year…
Via The Daily Star (Lebanon):
CAIRO: Egyptian police fired tear gas outside Cairo’s Coptic cathedral on Sunday after clashes following funeral prayers for four Christians killed in sectarian clashes.
Black-clad riot police pointed at the main gate of the cathedral and fired the tear gas, television footage showed, as Coptic worshippers sought refuge inside the building. Witnesses said the mourners who were chanting against the ruling Muslim Brotherhood were pelted with stones as they came out of the cathedral.
In a statement, the interior ministry said “a number of mourners began to damage cars in the area which led to confrontations with residents of the area.”
Television footage showed scenes of chaos outside the cathedral in the central Cairo neighbourhood of Abbassiya where Coptic bishops had been calling for peace and calm after the killing of the Christians on Friday. Loud bangs could be heard, as clouds of smoke rose up into the sky and people ran in several directions.
At the service, the congregation chanted against the Muslim Brotherhood of President Mohamed Morsi.
“Leave!” they told Morsi as they held up wooden crosses, television footage showed.
One Muslim was also killed in the clashes which flared on Friday night in Al-Khusus, a poor area in Qalyubia governorate, after a Muslim in his 50s objected to children drawing a swastika on a religious institute.
The man insulted Christians and the cross, and an argument broke out with a young Christian man who was passing by, escalating into a gunbattle between Muslims and Christians in which assault rifles were used. A priest in Al-Khusus, Suryal Yunan, said attackers torched “parts” of an Anglican church.Muslims also set a Christian home ablaze and ransacked a pharmacy owned by a Copt, a police official said. A number of angry Muslim residents tried to surround the town’s Mar Girgis church, but the security presence in the area prevented them from doing so…
For some wider context, the recent article by Robin Harris in Standpoint to which John O’Sullivan referred to here is very well worth reading. It discusses the plight of Christians in the Middle East. This extract seems horribly relevant today:
Half the Middle East’s Christians live in Egypt, where the Copts are some 10 per cent of the population. But that is changing too. There is a massive outflow, mainly to the United States. From the time of Sadat and then increasingly under Mubarak the Copts were under threat. The threat was localised, from vengeful and envious preachers and mobs, but government, in covert relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, failed to protect. Since the Egyptian Revolution the threat is no longer localised. It is felt throughout Egypt; and it also comes from the top. It underpins the state in the new Sharia-based constitution, which President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, in a deal with their Salafist rivals, steamrollered through. The new constitution undermines the political rights of Christians; it threatens Church funds; and it legitimises the brutal campaign waged against those that Islam regards as “converts”. Recently, a Coptic woman, Nadia Mohamed Ali, who was raised a Christian but married a Muslim, sought on her husband’s death to return to her faith and have her and her children’s identification papers changed. In January this year, a court sentenced her to 15 years in prison.
Somehow I think that it will not be too long before there is another exodus from Egypt.
Cross-posted on the Corner:
To comprehend the Egyptian president and grasp how the Muslim Brotherhood shapes its members, it helps to speak with men who knew Morsi during his time with the Islamist organization — and who also have the courage to speak openly about the group. Abdel-Jalil el-Sharnoubi, 38, talks about how dangerous this can be. Last October, after he had spoken about quitting the Brotherhood to Egyptian newspapers and in TV appearances, masked men opened fire on Sharnoubi’s car with submachine guns…
Sharnoubi assumes that cordial moves like the letter to Peres have only one goal: “To secure and expand the dominance of the Brotherhood.” Only recently, the president issued a decree that gave him absolute powers, and Morsi currently controls all three branches of government. “He has secured more power than his predecessor Mubarak ever had.”
Sharnoubi’s vision of a future Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood is horrifying. “They will infiltrate all areas of our society: government offices and ministries, schools and universities, as well as the police and the military. They will eliminate their enemies.”
Isn’t he exaggerating?
“Not in the least,” says Sharnoubi, noting that the Brotherhood is already infiltrating the security apparatus. “The Brotherhood will never give up its power without a fight.”
Not exactly surprising. Not exactly reassuring.
Cross-posted on the Corner:
Jihad Al-Khazen writes in Al Arabiya:
I expected the worst as I watched on television one day the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood Mohammed Badie, who was not elected by anyone, walking in front of President Mohammed Mursi.
The president is the first Egyptian, and must walk in front of everyone. But it is clear that Dr. Mursi continues to consider himself a member of the Guidance Bureau of the group, before being the president of Egypt. Therefore, he is attempting to impose on half of the Egyptians who did not vote for him his religious convictions, rather than a national policy that would accommodate all Egyptians.
I also expected the worst as I saw the draft constitution in the hands of religious groups, without there being a single woman in the drafting committee, as though women, half of the Egyptian people, are minors who need chaperons to hold their hands. In truth, I would have also expected the worst if the liberals, secularists and leftists had drafted the constitution without participation by the Islamists…
Half of the Egyptians took to the streets to protest the power grab, and I followed three major protests where no one was killed. Then when the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters came to confront the protesters, many people were killed or injured…
All of Egypt is paying the price for the Brotherhood’s tenacity, and I do not say the president. Indeed, Dr. Mursi could be just following orders from above, that is to say, the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood who walks ahead of him….
The Muslim Brotherhood waited 80 years to reach power, and when they did, they could not believe it. Thus, the lust for power defeated prudence, and the Muslim Brotherhood sought from day one to mold Egypt in their image and their example, despite the abundance of evidence that half of Egyptians do not want that.
Democracy should be pluralistic, but the religious parties cannot accommodate others…
This should not be a surprise.
A quick footnote to Matt’s excellent post about the Cairo embassy’s comments on “religious incitement”: In addition to being wrongheaded, these little announcements are self-defeating. When you issue such statements, you encourage the view that the government is somehow responsible for the speech you’re condemning. Even if you succeed in calming the crowds — and to judge from what happened yesterday, you shouldn’t expect to achieve even that much — any fringe film that you haven’t anathematized can become the next cause célèbre. And if you think you can keep pumping out statements attacking every one of them, ponder what will happen if a mob decides to riot over the comments of a congressman, or someone else that a diplomat wouldn’t want to officially denounce. Better to embrace free speech from the beginning than to lend support to the idea that your job requires you to sort acceptable expression from bad.
As Mark notes:
The mob of “Islamic rage boys” gets mad about all kinds of stuff — cartoons, dogs, teddy bears. You can never make a long enough list to satisfy them. So you might as well tell them you’re not going to start.
On the other hand, here’s Karzai:
KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday condemned an American-made film that mocks Islam, galvanizing fears among Westerners that the Afghan leader’s denunciation could be read as a go-ahead to stage violent protests. The presidential palace said in a statement that Karzai “strongly and resolutely denounces this desecrating act” and expressed “abhorrence in the face of such an insult.”
… A condemnation from Karzai was thought to have inflamed passions in the spring of 2010, after Jones and his followers staged a Koran-burning. Nearly two weeks elapsed without any reaction in Afghanistan, until Karzai issued a call for Jones’ arrest and prosecution. The next day, April 1, a furious mob descended on the U.N. mission in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, killing seven foreign U.N. workers.
Karzai’s public stance toward the NATO force and his U.S. patrons has been somewhat hostile of late. He issued a strident statement accusing the United States of disregarding Afghan sovereignty after American authorities retained some Taliban and other insurgent suspects when handing the country’s main military detention facility over to Afghan control. And the Afghan leader commemorated Tuesday’s anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by criticizing the West’s conduct of the war in Afghanistan.
And in so doing Karzai insults those who serve and have served in (and, in no small way, for) his country, and desecrates the memory of those who have been killed while doing so.
Comments off · Posted by Andrew Stuttaford in Religion
Back at the time of the Mohammed cartoon troubles, an article published in the embattled Jyllands-Posten included this phrase: “Ytringsfrihed er ytringsfrihed er ytringsfrihed. Der er intet men.” The translation? “Free speech is free speech is free speech. There is no but.”
The appalling attacks in Benghazi and Cairo only underline the importance of repeating that point again and again and again.
Over at Reason, Matt Welch explains:
My government has no business giving a whirl about “hurt[ing] the religious beliefs of others” (a standard both elastic and asymmetrical, virtually begging for a heckler’s veto) . . . The fact is that the First Amendment, no matter how embattled, protects a range of expression unthinkable even in Western Europe. Because of that unique position, and because the U.S. seems doomed to play an outsized diplomatic and military role in the tumultuous Muslim world, it behooves the State Department to constantly explain the vast differences between state-sanctioned and legally protected speech in the so-called Land of the Free. If the U.S. government really was in the business of “firmly reject[ing]” private free-speech acts that “hurt the religious beliefs of others” there would be no time left over for doing anything else.
It’s really not that hard. The values in that film (or “film”) are not our values; our government respects religion, religious expression, and religious pluralism (including and especially that of Muslims, even in the wake of murderous Muslim-led attacks on American soil); and we are not in the business of approving or (for the most part) regulating the private speech of our citizens. To the extent that that message is not sufficient for rioters, the problem is theirs.
Some liberal Tweeters this morning are pointing out that, hey, the Bush administration condemned the Mohammed cartoons, too!, but this mostly goes to illustrate how bipartisan cravenness can be. We know that this issue will keep coming up; maybe it’s about time the American government, and the rest of us, develop a more American response.
As, on 9/11, an Egyptian mob storm the US Embassy on 9/11 in Cairo “offended” by a film about Islam made in America, America’s diplomats cringe and kowtow, and jettison the principle of free speech in favor of religious privilege:
The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.
Back at the time of the Danish cartoon saga, an article published in the embattled Jyllands-Posten included this phrase : “Ytringsfrihed er ytringsfrihed er ytringsfrihed. Der er intet men.” The translation? “Free speech is free speech is free speech. There is no but.”
No there is not.
But don’t tell the US Embassy in Cairo.
What a disgrace,
Cross-posted on the Corner:
Via the Washington Times:
If the pope called for the destruction of all the mosques in Europe, the uproar would be cataclysmic. Pundits would lambaste the church, the White House would rush out a statement of deep concern, and rioters in the Middle East would kill each other in their grief. But when the most influential leader in the Muslim world issues a fatwa to destroy Christian churches, the silence is deafening.
On March 12, Sheik Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, declared that it is “necessary to destroy all the churches of the region.” The ruling came in response to a query from a Kuwaiti delegation over proposed legislation to prevent construction of churches in the emirate. The mufti based his decision on a story that on his deathbed, Muhammad declared, “There are not to be two religions in the [Arabian] Peninsula.” This passage has long been used to justify intolerance in the kingdom. Churches have always been banned in Saudi Arabia, and until recently Jews were not even allowed in the country. Those wishing to worship in the manner of their choosing must do so hidden away in private, and even then the morality police have been known to show up unexpectedly and halt proceedings.
This is not a small-time radical imam trying to stir up his followers with fiery hate speech. This was a considered, deliberate and specific ruling from one of the most important leaders in the Muslim world. It does not just create a religious obligation for those over whom the mufti has direct authority; it is also a signal to others in the Muslim world that destroying churches is not only permitted but mandatory.
It is something of an exaggeration to describe the grand mufti as the “most influential leader in the Muslim world” (and the writer seems to backtrack on that claim a little later), but his views certainly carry a great deal of weight, and, doubtless, Egypt’s Saudi-inspired Salafists will be amongst those paying attention.
That’s yet more bad news for the Copts.
Inspired by Razib’s earlier post, I put this up on the Corner:
CAIRO — Egyptian authorities confirmed Saturday that a political coalition dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, the 84-year-old group that virtually invented political Islam, had won about 47 percent of the seats in the first Parliament elected since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. An alliance of ultraconservative Islamists won the next largest share of seats, about 25 percent.
The tally, with the two groups of Islamists together winning about 70 percent of the seats, indicates the deep cultural conservatism of the Egyptian public, which is expressing its will through free and fair elections for the first time in more than six decades.
This result only goes to underline the mistake made by Mubarak (an American ally now on trial for his life, a fate that must send an interesting message to other leaders in the region still prepared to work alongside the US) in ceding so much of Egypt’s cultural space to the men in the mosque. Turkey’s Ataturk knew better.
Over at Secular Right Razib Khan has an acid response to this news:
Nevertheless I do recall back in the heady days of the Arab Spring some commenters infected by revolutionary fervor would scoff that the purported Islamist sympathies of the people. What this goes to show is that enthusiasm and hope does not translate into reality. If secular liberals in Egypt bow before the principle of popularity, then they accept that it is right and proper that their present their throats to their new overlords. I don’t view this as an apocalypse. It is what it is. But it was predictable.
The Times notes:
A coalition of parties founded by the young leaders of the revolt that unseated Mr. Mubarak won only a few percent of the seats…
Predictable indeed: revolutions have been devouring their children for a long time.
If there is any glimmer of hope, however faint, it lies in the divisions between Muslim Brotherhood and the ultras.
The two groups have described very different visions and appear to be rivals rather than collaborators. The Brotherhood has said it intends to respect personal liberties and will focus on economic and social issues, gradually nudging the culture toward its conservative values. By contrast, the ultraconservatives, known as Salafis, put a higher priority on legislation on Islamic moral issues, like the consumption of alcohol, women’s dress and the contents of popular culture.
Even if we accept the Muslim Brotherhood’s reassurances at face value (a stretch, to put it mildly), something (not least their own history) tells me that it will see the greater threat to its position as coming from the Salafists, and will thus tack strongly in their direction.
I hope I’m wrong.
Cross-posted on the Corner:
CAIRO—Egypt’s secular-minded politicians, facing a greater-than-anticipated drubbing by Islamist parties in the first round of Egypt’s parliamentary elections, began Friday to assess their dwindling prospects for the poll’s final two rounds.