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Ed Webb

Egypt's millennials turn to Sufism - 0 views

  • “There has definitely been a Sufi revival in Egypt, and it is especially pronounced in bourgeois, urban milieus, particularly circles of young, highly educated people; but I think it goes across class and political lines,”
  • the mainstream Islamic revival prior to 2011 marginalized Sufis, although he did find that small numbers of “intellectual, politically left” individuals were becoming interested in Sufism. Another significant segment of the larger population was drawn to what Islamic Studies scholar Mark Sedgwick calls “eclectic Sufism,” a broader interpretation influenced by the kind of “New Age” ideas seen in the novels of Turkish writer Elif Shafak or in concerts where Sufi chanting, performed by the likes of Ahmed Al Tuni, is modernized through loudspeakers and modern-day musical instruments.
  • “a growing understanding that you could be both against ex-President Hosni Mubarak and against the Muslim Brotherhood” became prominent, making way for an “experimental openness.” Many who had previously flirted with Salafi ideology became more open to Sufism, and “even on the street level, these divides became more difficult to cross.”
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  • there has been “a conscious regime support for Sufism" and "there is a lot more Sufi-leaning content now integrated into the educational curriculum at Al-Azhar. … The Egyptian government and the Sufi orders have a shared enemy” in the Muslim Brotherhood
  • "Sufism isn’t something new; it has always been a cornerstone of Islam. Our religion is not the didactic interpretation of haughtiness and politicized discourse. … Tasawwuf teaches modesty, brings us closer to God and pertains to the true spiritual and ethical essence of Islam. … The religion that the media perpetuates is a parallel religion, claiming it is Islam, but it’s not truly it.”
  • During a typical Thursday evening of chanting and "dhikr," or “remembrance,” at Radwan’s, fellow “fuqara’” (which literally means “poor,” taken to mean seekers in search of richer spiritual fulfillment) are mostly acquaintances of her's and her family’s. Many are young professionals in their 20s and 30s, younger students and teenagers accompanied by their parents or siblings — this younger group seems keener on the practice than its chaperones — as well as a handful of her mother’s older peers
  • millennials may have become more spiritual — in the sense of seeking Tasawwuf — as a reaction to the spread of Wahhabi and Salafi influences during the past few decades
  • Historically, Sufism was undeniable until Wahhabi teachings became more widespread and condemned [Sufi practices such as] visiting the burial places of Sayyidna al-Hussein and so forth as the practice of apostates
Ed Webb

Fears grow of rift between Saudi king and crown prince | World news | The Guardian - 0 views

  • in late February when the king, 83, visited Egypt and was warned by his advisers he was at risk of a potential move against him, according to a detailed account from a source. His entourage was so alarmed at the possible threat to his authority that a new security team, comprised of more than 30 hand-picked loyalists from the interior ministry, was flown to Egypt to replace the existing team.
  • The friction in the father-son relationship was underlined, the source said, when the prince was not among those sent to welcome the king home.
  • The crown prince, who was designated “deputy king” during the Egypt trip, as is customary, signed off two major personnel changes while the king was away. They included the appointment of a female ambassador to the US, Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan, and that of his full brother, Khalid bin Salman, to the ministry of defence. The latter appointment has further centralised power in one branch of the ruling family.
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  • Royal appointments are almost always announced in the name of the king, but the 23 February decrees were signed by the “deputy king”. One expert said the title of deputy king had not been used in this way for decades.
  • Prince Mohammed angered people last month when he walked on top of the Kaaba in Mecca, the holiest site in Islam, provoking complaints to the king by some religious scholars that the move had been inappropriate
  • Supporters of the king have been pushing him to get more involved in decision-making, to prevent the crown prince from taking more power.
  • the king and his team learned about the reshuffle via television
  • The prince and king have also been at odds on significant foreign policy matters, the source said, including the handling of prisoners of war in Yemen, and the Saudi response to protests in Sudan and Algeria.
  • While the king is not a reformer, he is said to have supported freer coverage of the protests in Algeria in the Saudi press.
Ed Webb

Russia Promotes Politically Pacifist Islam - The Atlantic - 0 views

  • Moscow’s focus on promoting politically pacifist Islam, which has coincided with an aggressive push by certain Arab countries to combat Islamism
  • Russian emissary for this effort is Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic
  • An early example of the Russian-Arab religious alliance was an international conference of Islamic scholars held in the Chechen capital, Grozny, by Kadyrov in September 2016
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  • co-organized by religious leaders with close ties to the governments in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates—two countries widely perceived to be particularly hostile to political Islam
  • In October 2017, during a meeting with Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz reportedly discussed Islamic proselytization in Russia. Saudi and Russian officials told Theodore Karasik, a Russia expert in Washington, that the king agreed to pull the plug on mosque funding and proselytization. (Last February, Riyadh made a similar move when it gave up control of Belgium’s largest mosque, notorious as a breeding ground for extremism.)
  • Russia’s Islamic outreach became more visible, at least in the Middle East, in 2016, precisely when anti-Muslim sentiments in Western countries appeared on the rise, and Russian trolls and bots were spewing anti-Muslim rhetoric on American political forums
  • while theological schisms remain vast between the views of Kadyrov and his Saudi hosts, the Russian-Saudi relationship is strong
  • Russia may also be attempting to counter the widespread perception that Moscow is hostile to Islam (because of the lingering legacy of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan) or to Sunni Islam in particular (because the country is associated with Iran and its proxies)
  • Moscow’s desire to distinguish itself from the United States
  • Over the summer, Kadyrov was welcomed like royalty in Saudi Arabia. Saudi authorities let him inside Prophet Mohammed’s room, which is closed to all but special guests
  • “Ramzan Kadyrov has made it one of his top priorities in recent years to build friendships throughout the Middle East, in particular the Gulf. Kadyrov portrays Chechnya as essentially an independent Islamic state,” says Neil Hauer, a Georgia-based political analyst on Syria, Russia, and the Caucasus. “Kadyrov also offers Arab and Gulf leaders … his experience in crushing a domestic Islamist insurgency.”
  • Several countries in the Middle East and North Africa are working together more closely than ever to suppress extremism and steer local populations to a new understanding of street protests as a tool of jihadists and an obstacle to social peace
  • The U.S. and other Western countries may not accept the principle that Islamists and Salafis are as dangerous as militant jihadis. Russia, by promoting a particular brand of Islamic moderation in unison with Arab powers, could cement its position in the region more deeply than through economic and military means alone
Ed Webb

How Copt football players face discrimination in Egypt's national game - Al Arabiya Eng... - 0 views

  • “There are approximately ten million Christians out of Egypt’s ninety million citizens, yet Egypt’s Olympic mission to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics, which comprised 122 players, did not include a single Copt. Egypt’s 2012 London delegation also did not include any Copts. Additionally, not a single Egyptian Christian player, coach or trainer can be found on any club in the country’s premier league,” stated the complaint, adding that over the past four decades only a few Coptic athletes were included in official sports competitions.
  • For Coptic MP Emad Gad, the academy offers a solution to the problems Christians suffer not only in sports but in general. “Copts are being treated with suspicion all the time by average citizens while the state considers them a security file that needs to be handled with caution,” he said. “That is why they decided to stay away from anything state-affiliated including mainstream football clubs.”
  • The name of Christian footballer Hani Ramzi is always mentioned to refute allegations of discrimination. “For years, nobody was aware I was Christian and it never mattered,” said Ramzi. “I do not deny that some players are sectarian, but this is extremely rare and we do not want to generalize. I spent 20 years in football in Egypt and never had a problem.” Ramzi argued that many Christian families are reluctant to send their children for tests in the clubs for fear they would be rejected for their religion, especially if this is obvious from their names.
Ed Webb

Police Arrest Student and Venue Owner Organizing an Egypt Gay Concert - 0 views

  • Egyptian police recently arrested a student in the Giza district of Kerdasa for “debauchery” after allegedly organizing a concert for gay people. The Egypt gay concert never happened. Now the student and one other man face legal charges.
  • Egypt’s recent and massive anti-LGBT crackdown began by targeting a musical event when  police arrested several young people who waved a rainbow flag at a Cairo concert in September 2017. The concert was that of Mashrou’ Leila, a Lebanese band whose name means “A Night Project” in Arabic. Mashrou’ Leila’s lead singer, Hamed Sinno, is openly gay.
  • Since homosexuality is not criminalized in Egypt, people are often arrested and charged with vague crimes like “debauchery,” “immorality” and “blasphemy.”
Ed Webb

"It Started With Conversations - And Then They Started Hitting Each Other" - 0 views

  • Inside the prisons of Egypt and other Arab and Muslim countries, a ferocious competition has erupted between radical militants and more established political Islamists over fresh recruits. ISIS is often muscling out more peaceful groups for influence and loyalists among the mostly young men tossed into cramped cells for months or years.
  • Some inmates are subjected to torture and deprivation, despite having committed no or minimal crimes, fueling anger that researchers have long feared breeds extremism in Arab jails.
  • The political dynamics inside Arab detention centers have ramifications far beyond the prison walls. Jails in the Middle East have long forged radical extremists, including the Egyptian intellectual godfather of Islamic extremism, Sayyid Qutb, and the founder of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, as well as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian ex-convict whose al-Qaeda in Iraq later morphed into ISIS. Alleged ISIS supporters find prisons to be fertile soil, especially in brutal Arab regimes like Egypt. There are numerous signs ISIS has begun using prisons that are intended to confine them and limit their activities to expand their influence and even plan operations. Egyptian authorities and activists believe former prisoners recruited by ISIS in jail were behind suicide bombings of churches in Cairo in December and on Palm Sunday this year in Alexandria and Tanta.
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  • “Many of the prisoners were already very angry after the coup and eager to fight,” said Yasser Khalil, an Egyptian journalist who has extensively covered prisons. “Telling them them they will go to heaven and get virgins just makes it that much more attractive. They say, ‘Yes, you have a Christian neighbor and he is lovely. But the Coptic Church supports the state, and thus they should be killed.’”
  • Reports have emerged of ISIS recruiters being locked up in prisons all the way from Algeria to Russia’s Caucasus region, Tajikistan, and Indonesia.
  • many warn that ISIS’s nihilism is overpowering the Brotherhood’s appeals. “This is the year of disappointment and disillusion when there’s no hope for the Islamist factions to get out of prison any time soon,”
  • Refusing legal counsel is one trait that distinguishes ISIS prisoners from other inmates, including alleged al-Qaeda supporters. “He used to love life. He used to be keen on getting out of jail. But not anymore.”
  • “ISIS says, ‘We tried democracy and we ended up in jail,’” Abdullah recalled. “‘It was the army that introduced the gun. Why is Sisi in power? He has guns.’”
  • “His mission was to get closer to the poor and the simple people and convince them that if they joined the Islamic State they would have power, money, and women,” he said, “and heaven in the afterlife.”
  • Ahmed Abdullah, the liberal activist, had had enough. He approached some wealthy businessmen inside the prison and arranged for them to bribe guards to allow in some books. He launched a reading group using Arabic translations of world literature and philosophy. They read Franz Kafka to understand the nightmarish nature of Egypt’s bureaucracy, George Orwell as an illustration of brutal authoritarianism, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau as an introduction to democratic governance and the social contract. To his delight the other prisoners were receptive; even some of the Islamists would attend the talks.Suddenly, security forces stormed in and seized the books, loudly accusing Abdullah, who is a professor of engineering at a university in Cairo, of poisoning the minds of the inmates. He was transferred to a dank solitary confinement cell, without a towel or blanket. After three days he was released from jail. He said authorities must have calculated he was more trouble inside prison than outside.“When we have a chance to compete we win,” said Abdullah, smoking flavored shisha at a cafe in central Cairo. “The inmates were really excited with what we had to say. But it turns out our government considers secular activists more dangerous than the Muslim Brotherhood, or ISIS.”
  • Many of Egypt’s estimated 40,000 prisoners are being held in makeshift jailhouses, interior ministry compounds and military camps that don’t have the capacity for separating inmates. One former prisoner described watching as another inmate was recruited by an ISIS supporter while sitting for hours in the van on the way from jail to court. One researcher described a brawl involving Brotherhood and ISIS prisoners during a similar transfer of inmates earlier this year.
  • “ISIS looks down on the Muslim Brotherhood, they consider them infidels, and they point this out to the younger Muslim Brotherhood members,”
  • ISIS targets recruits who have special skills. Gamal Ziada recalled intense competition between the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS over a prisoner who was a student at Cairo’s elite Zewail City of Science and Technology, considered Egypt’s MIT. “ISIS told him, ‘You’re not going to carry a weapon,’” Gamal Ziada said. “‘You’re not going to fight. You will use your brain.’”
  • “He tried to convince me that I was an apostate and that my parents were apostates too, and I have to convince my family to give up the pleasures of the world and return to Allah,” the smuggler said of his 2015 imprisonment. “He used to ask me to share lunch and dinner with him. He was ordering the best Turkish food in town. He was very rich. He told me that I could continue my work in smuggling for the Islamic State and make much more profit than I did with working with refugees.”
  • “Imagine you are in prison — the great challenge is killing time,” said Ghadi, whose father and brother have been jailed. “Before you could read books. When they closed that door the only way to kill time is sharing your thoughts and experiences. The Islamist groups and factions are the great majority of prisoners. Imagine there’s a constant flow of radical ideas into your mind. They talk and listen and talk and listen. You start to give in. You get weak. You lose all rational argument. You are finally ready to absorb radical thoughts and arguments.”
  • Some experts fear ISIS has recruited potential sleeper agents in prison who might later become emboldened to act. Abdou, the researcher, said he interviewed one former inmate who joined ISIS in prison but dropped any Islamist pretenses the moment he walked out of jail, shaving his beard and going back to smoking shisha and lazing about with old friends.
  • ISIS recruitment and violence inside prisons jumped in 2015 when Egyptian authorities began clamping down on allowing books inside jails
Ed Webb

How the Muslim World Lost the Freedom to Choose - Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • Beyond skirts and beaches, the 1960s and 1970s were also a time of vigorous intellectual debate about the role of religion in society. Debates between leftists, secularists, capitalists, Marxists, and Islamists raged across the region, from Egypt to Pakistan. Militant Islamists will dismiss those decades of more progressive, diverse thought and culture as decadent Western imports — the lingering after-effects of colonial influence. But if some of it was certainly emulation, much of it was also indigenous.
  • “Purifying the Land of the Pure.” The book, published last year, charts the slow death of minority rights and pluralism in Pakistan, and what it means for the future of democracy. The result is a sweeping but concise chronicle of how things unraveled. A minority herself, as a Shiite, Ispahani was careful to avoid polemic and opinion by delivering a thorough, methodically researched work. She and her husband, former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani, have both faced death threats for their work and live in self-imposed exile in Washington. In her book, Ispahani tracks the unraveling to within a few years of the independence of Pakistan. The country’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah — a secular Shiite — envisioned a country where “you are free, you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship.” But Ispahani writes that “his hopeful declaration of religious pluralism” remains unfulfilled.
  • The trend toward making Islam a central tenet of life in Pakistan started soon after independence in 1947, a result of Muslim feelings of being victimized by both Hindus and British colonialism in India. By 1973, Islam was declared as the state religion of Pakistan. In 1974, under the ostensibly progressive Prime Minister Zulfiqar Bhutto, parliament declared Ahmadis as non-Muslims. A Muslim movement that started in the late 19th century, Ahmadis follow the teachings of the Quran and consider their founder to be a prophet, upsetting orthodox Muslims who believe Muhammad is the final prophet.
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  • Shiites and their mosques are still regular targets of deadly attacks: Since 2003, an estimated 2,558 Shiites have been killed in sectarian violence.
  • While there was no sudden, overnight transformation, Ispahani nevertheless identifies Zia’s rule as the point of no return. The military ruler Islamized the laws of the country, introducing sharia courts and new Islamic laws known as hudood ordinances, which apply strict Sharia punishments for specific offenses. It was during his time that the blasphemy laws were strengthened, adding life sentences and the death penalty as punishment.
  • Zia’s legacy remains, entrenched in the system and people’s daily lives. Pakistanis under the age of 40 have never experienced any other lifestyle, while the older generations reminisce about a more diverse past — even as they also gloss over some of that past’s shortcomings. But however it came about, Pakistan’s growing intolerance has taken its toll on diversity: Between 1947 and today, minorities went from 25 percent of the population to 3 percent.
  • Ispahani’s book serves as a reminder that something far more profound than miniskirts has been lost in these countries. Washington’s counterterrorism policies, which help curb groups like the Taliban, are a good start, but they often fail to go any further toward restoring basic norms like respect for diversity. That will ultimately depend on the efforts of the local population themselves. Those efforts may be able to draw on the power of nostalgia. When people in Pakistan, Egypt, or Afghanistan rifle through the photo albums of their parents and grandparents and wonder what happened to their country, they see skirts or cleavage — but they desire diversity and freedom of choice
Ed Webb

What's behind calls to close Shiite media outlets in Egypt? - 0 views

  • In October 2016, lawyer Samir Sabri filed a lawsuit before the Second Circuit of the Administrative Judiciary Court, demanding that Shiite media outlets and websites be shut down in Egypt
  • “It is unacceptable and unreasonable to have a media platform in Egypt promoting Shiite ideology. Egypt is an Islamic state and the main source of legislation is Sharia under the constitution, which recognizes Christianity and Judaism to be monotheistic. El-Nafis is one of the news websites inciting against Saudi Arabia, Al-Azhar and the Ministry of Awqaf, where Ahmad Rasem al-Nafis attacks in his articles the Sunnis and Saudi Arabia and calls for professing the Shiite faith.”
  • “The Salafist leaders’ Wahhabism was behind the dissemination of extremism in Syria and Yemen. Shiite channels and websites in Egypt do not advocate extremism or renounce any ideology or doctrine. They call for dealing with the Shiites as Muslims at a time when Salafist movements claim that Shiites are non-Muslims.”
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  • “Shiite channels have been operating for years and have not caused strife or crises that Salafist channels ignite. This is because Shiite channels do not incite to violence and bloodshed and do not declare others to be infidels.”
  • “What is happening is a part of the chaotic media and religious discourse. There are 121 religious channels broadcasting via Nilesat, including more than 60 Shiite channels, some of which explain Shiite ideas in a moderate way," he said. "Others are extremist and incite against the Sunni sect. Sunni channels respond also to such incitement with counterincitement. Thus, all extremist channels — be they Shiite or Sunni — need to be taken down.”
  • “The legal criteria in shutting down any station would be based on its content and on whether or not it is viewed as blasphemy or incitement against any religion or belief."
  • “some Salafist channels, such as al-Hafez and al-Nas, were shut down in 2013.”
  • Human rights activist and lawyer at the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, Ahmed Ezzat, told Deutsche Welle in 2012 that the law does not criminalize embracing or promoting the Shiite faith. Shutting down any Shiite channel or prosecuting any promoter of the Shiite ideology would be based on a broad application of the law against blasphemy of religions, he said.
  • many Shiite channels are not at loggerheads with the state institutions, but rather with some Salafist parties.
Ed Webb

A coup busted? | Mada Masr - 0 views

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    The journalist who wrote this has since been arrested and summoned to the Military Prosecutor on charges of spreading false news. In Egypt it is a crime to publish anything on the military without authorization.
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