TAG | Egypt
QENA, Egypt—Five weeks after the fall of the Egyptian regime, Ayman Anwar Mitri’s apartment was torched. When he showed up to investigate, he was bundled inside by bearded Islamists. Mr. Mitri is a member of the Christian Coptic minority that accounts for one-tenth of the country’s 83 million people. The Islamists accused him of having rented the apartment—by then unoccupied—to loose Muslim women. Inside the burnt apartment, they beat him with the charred remains of his furniture. Then, one of them produced a box cutter and performed what he considered an appropriate punishment under Islam: He amputated Mr. Mitri’s right ear. When they were beating me, they kept saying: ‘We won’t leave any Christians in this country,’” Mr. Mitri recalled in a recent interview, two months after the March attack. Blood dripped through a plastic tube from his unhealed wound to a plastic container. “Here, there is a war against the Copts,” he said.
His attackers, who were never arrested or prosecuted, follow the ultrafundamentalist Salafi strain of Islam that promotes an austere, Saudi-inspired worldview. Before President Hosni Mubarak was toppled on Feb. 11, the Salafis mostly confined themselves to preaching. Since then, they’ve entered the political arena, drawing crowds and swaying government decisions. Salafi militants also have blocked roads, burned churches and killed Copts.
Read the whole thing….
Crossposted in the Corner:
This report from yesterday’s New York Times does not bode well. Here’s a key extract:
Cairo: In post-revolutionary Egypt, where hope and confusion collide in the daily struggle to build a new nation, religion has emerged as a powerful political force, following an uprising that was based on secular ideals. The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group once banned by the state, is at the forefront, transformed into a tacit partner with the military government that many fear will thwart fundamental changes.
It is also clear that the young, educated secular activists who initially propelled the nonideological revolution are no longer the driving political force — at least not at the moment.
As the best organized and most extensive opposition movement in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood was expected to have an edge in the contest for influence. But what surprises many is its link to a military that vilified it.
“There is evidence the Brotherhood struck some kind of a deal with the military early on,” said Elijah Zarwan, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group. “It makes sense if you are the military — you want stability and people off the street. The Brotherhood is one address where you can go to get 100,000 people off the street.”
It is possible to understand the interim government’s motives, but Egypt’s military is playing a dangerous game. One of the characteristics of the Mubarak regime was the amount of space he ceded to religious hardliners in the religious and cultural spheres, a terrible mistake that did nothing other than store up trouble for the future. Now it seems that the retreat will begin from the political arena as well.
Egyptian voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum on constitutional changes on Sunday that will usher in rapid elections, with the results underscoring the strength of established political organizations, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, and the weakness of emerging liberal groups.
More than 14.1 million voters, or 77.2 percent, approved the constitutional amendments; 4 million, or 22.8 percent, voted against them. The turnout of 41 percent among the 45 million eligible voters broke all records for recent elections, according to the Egyptian government.
The Muslim Brotherhood and remnant elements of the National Democratic Party, which dominated Egyptian politics for decades, were the main supporters of the referendum. They argued that the election timetable would ensure a swift return to civilian rule.
Members of the liberal wing of Egyptian politics mostly opposed the measure, saying that they lacked time to form effective political organizations. They said early elections would benefit the Brotherhood and the old governing party, which they warned would seek to write a constitution that centralizes power, much like the old one.
He and many other opponents of the referendum said religious organizations had spread false rumors, suggesting that voting against the referendum would threaten Article 2 of the Constitution, which cites Islamic law as the main basis for Egyptian law.
“I saw one sign that said, ‘If you vote no you are a follower of America and Baradei, and if you vote yes you are a follower of God,’ ” he said. “The idea is that Muslims will vote yes and Copts and atheists will vote no.”
Most “no” votes emerged from Cairo and Alexandria, Mr. Shukrallah noted, whereas support flowed in heavily from the provinces.
“The revolution was a revolution of the big cities,” he said. “The provinces are just not there. The secular values that drove the revolution have not reached them.”
Cross-Posted on the Corner:
It’s a week or two old now, but the warning that runs through this article from the London Spectator is still worth pondering:
Here’s an extract:
As a hint of what might be in store for Egypt, consider the city of Alexandria. Once it was a cosmopolitan summer resort famous for its secular, carefree atmosphere. Now it is about the least fun place to live in North Africa. All Muslim women in the city are veiled, among the young often for fear of otherwise being labelled a whore; and violence between local Christians and Muslims is commonplace (23 Christians were killed by a bomb planted in a Coptic Orthodox church on New Year’s day). Most bars have stopped serving alcohol. The only women to be found on the beaches, even in the height of summer, are those taking care of their kids — and they are invariably covered from head-to-toe in black.
Just another reminder of the mistake that Mubarak (alas no Ataturk) made in ceding so much of the religious and cultural arena to the clerics…
And then there’s this:
It is a great mistake to assume that democracy is an enemy of Islamism. When the gift of democracy is unwrapped in the Arab world, Islamists frequently spring out of the box. The jihadis may be despised by most Muslims, but often in Arab countries only about 20 to 40 per cent of the population vote. It is by no means impossible for the Islamists to secure a majority from the minority, because their supporters are the most fanatical. Whatever the theory of democratisation in the Arab world, the history is clear. Where democracy, however tentatively, has already been introduced, it is the Islamists who have come to power.
Food for thought.
Cross-posted over at the Corner.
Google executive Wael Ghonim, who emerged as a leading voice in Egypt’s uprising, was barred from the stage in Tahrir Square on Friday by security guards, an AFP photographer said. Ghonim tried to take the stage in Tahrir, the epicentre of anti-regime protests that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, but men who appeared to be guarding influential Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi barred him from doing so.
Ghonim, who was angered by the episode, then left the square with his face hidden by an Egyptian flag.
One incident, one report, nevertheless…
A long post at Discover Blogs where I outline what I perceive to be the fallacies and misrepresentations in the media today about the Egyptian democratic revolution. In particular, I think terms like “secular” and “Islamist” are being used in a very irresponsible fashion.
I’m old enough to remember the “babe revolution” of 2005. How’d that work out? I know that most of my contemporaries are closely following events in Egypt while I’m busy running genetic analyses. Today a friend started IMing me about whatever is happening now in Egypt. I really can’t follow the latest zig or zag, and simply responded, “Talk to me about this in 10 years.” My friend laughed, but that that’s a major issue here: people get caught up in revolutionary fervor as if hope and a dream can actually effect long term change. They can not. You need some major preconditions for a liberal democratic society to be robust to the natural shocks of the world in which we live. I wish the Egyptians well, but what is happening now in Lebanon is a predictable outcome of the structural realities of the religious demography of that nation, and its persistent and chronic sectarianism. The details may differ (e.g., the current alliance between a Maronite faction with the Shia), but the general framework has been invariant for decades. Egyptians will remain Egyptians, even if democracy dawns. And that, unfortunately, is a problem.
At Discover I report some of the attitudes in Muslim nations in relation to particular crimes or infractions against social mores:
|Support for harsh punishments (affirm action)|
|Stone adulterers||Whip & amputate hands of robbers||Death penalty for apostates|
Almost no one in the “American Taliban” would support these harsh actions as punishment for crimes. And yet the majority of Egyptians do support these barbaric laws. It is correct that a very small minority of radical American Protestants do agree with the majority of Egyptians. They’re Christian Reconstructionists. This is why I say that when one speaks of “moderate” Muslims, one may still be characterizing an individual with very conservative beliefs. It may simply be that “moderate” individuals flinch from such medieval and barbaric punishments.
There is now some concern about the power and role of the Muslim Brotherhood within Egyptian society. But the Muslim Brotherhood are no cabal of wizards with magical powers of persuasion. They reflect deep-seated attitudes spread widely in the Egyptian populace. Even if the Muslim Brotherhood does not take pride of place within a reconstructed political order, deeply retrograde religious mores will probably become even more prominent in Egyptian public life. Vox populi, vox dei.
In a long and interesting post over at the London Spectator Alex Massie thinks aloud over where the Egyptian revolution might be going. Agree or disagree, it’s all worth reading, but this caught my eye:
At the moment the protests and the grievances do not seem to show any support for turning Egypt into a religious state. Rather it’s a matter of economics and opportunity.
“Any” is too strong a word. Nevertheless while Alex is surely right that it is “economics” that are the underlying cause of the current uprising, that is no reason for those concerned about the rise of another Islamic republic to relax. History tells us that economic failure (compounded in this region by a massive increase in the population) can often open a door through which fanatics can come pouring in. In 1917 Lenin’s most effective slogan was “peace, land and bread”. That whole dictatorship of the proletariat thing was for (a little) later…