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Ed Webb

Here's what happens when diplomats get involved in religious rhetoric - The Washington ... - 0 views

  • in new research, we show how classifying who constitute “real” Muslims – even when it is used to assert progressive values – can be unpredictable and contingent on the authority of the speaker and perceptions of the audience.
  • While distinguishing a radical few from a peaceful majority seems like it would bolster relationships with Muslim-majority countries and reduce religious tensions at home, statements like these often leave politicians in a minefield as they appear to define the boundaries of legitimate belief for Muslims
  • Such statements constitute a kind of discourse that is hard to neatly distinguish from the practice it rejects
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  • Many leaders in the region, including King Abdullah of Jordan, have worked to reduce accusations of apostasy in public discourse and the violence that often follows. Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, a center of Islamic learning for more than 1,000 years, refused to declare ISIS and other violent actors apostates, arguing that doing so reinforced the cycle of mutual “excommunication.” By contrast, others, including King Mohammed VI of Morocco have actively called terrorists such as ISIS “non-Muslim.”
  • charges of apostasy are a powerful tool for delineating group membership and assigning rights. These accusations become particularly potent — if unpredictable — during moments of institutional change, when uncertainty is high and rivals are jockeying for position in a new constitutional order. Recently, these charges have assumed sectarian overtones, with Sunni groups questioning the legitimacy of Shiite Muslims and Iranian press using the term “takfiri” (apostate or unbeliever) to attack Sunni groups in the region
  • in his denunciation of ISIS as apostate, Kerry joined the group in declaring who is and who is not a Muslim, drawing derision and mockery from Muslims.
  • State-led efforts to articulate an explicitly “moderate Islam,” can spur precisely the kind of extremist competition it seeks to avoid
  • Constant and cyclical accusations and counter-accusations of who is or is not a “real” believer rarely meet their intended goal, especially for those far removed from religious communities themselves. The United States and its allies have primarily focused on how this rhetoric can bolster their legitimacy and win new allies. But evidence from the region suggests that even when mobilized by those deeply versed in Islam, the strategy can backfire. The line between criticizing takfir and engaging in takfir is difficult to spot until one has crossed it.
Ed Webb

Rouhani wins over Qom, for now - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 0 views

  • In the president's second trip to Qom, he sought the clergy’s support for the nuclear negotiations and his economic policies. The trip was noteworthy because Rouhani had to change his plans to visit Khorasan Shomali province. The people of Qom — the majority of whom voted for Rouhani in the presidential election — took to the streets and welcomed Rouhani upon his arrival. Rouhani appeared on stage and succeeded in drawing people’s support. During a public speech, he described himself and his administration as the “children of seminary” and ensured residents and senior clerics that he wouldn’t do anything in opposition to Islam and the interests of Iran. Rouhani then met with grand ayatollahs and senior clerics during meetings scheduled by his Chief of Staff Mohammad Nahavandian and his cultural adviser Hessameddin Ashena. Rouhani’s opponents and hard-liners didn’t stand idly by during his visit. They tried to tarnish the president’s image by spreading rumors that he had given money to workers to attend his welcoming ceremony. They also distributed night letters — or covert leaflets — against him.
  • Rouhani had successful meetings with grand ayatollahs, all of whom supported his policies and approved of his performance in the nuclear talks. Seemingly, they were also pleased with the Rouhani administration's cultural policies, given that we have not heard any condemnations of the Ministry of Culture from senior clerics since Rouhani's return to Tehran. Grand Ayatollah Vahid Khorasani’s compliments of Rouhani were the highlight of the trip. Khorasani, who rarely talks politics and is highly influential in Qom, told Rouhani, “You're one of the best presidents and are faced with overwhelming problems.”
  • Nouri Hamedani said, “The Iranian nuclear negotiators are pious, revolutionary and hardworking.” Likewise, Makarem Shirazi expressed his hope for reaching a conclusion in the nuclear talks
Ed Webb

Iran's Rosh Hashana Twitter diplomacy stirs amazement, disbelief | The Back Channel - 0 views

  • Iran’s new Foreign Minister Javad Zarif joined President Hassan Rouhani in tweeting “Happy Rosh Hashanah” greetings Thursday, on the occasion of the Jewish new year’s holiday, setting off a new wave of amazement, and some disbelief, in both the social media and policy universes.
  • The rare and unusually direct Twitter diplomacy between Iranian leaders and western policy observers “will go down in history,” one Hill staffer, speaking not for attribution, said Thursday, expressing the wider sense of amazement heard from many veteran Iran watchers at the display of tolerance and public diplomacy initiative coming from Tehran. The welcome change in atmospherics has added to hopes for a diplomatic opening created by Rouhani’s election. But it must be accompanied by substantive progress in nuclear negotiations to lead to a broader easing of ties, western analysts and officials said.
Ed Webb

Saudi Arabia and Turkey Falter Over Egypt - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 0 views

  • After a lengthy historical impasse, common strategic, regional and economic interests brought about an unusual partnership between Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Relations were strengthening under the pressure of the Arab uprisings, in which both countries were destined to coordinate their support for the Syrian rebels and counterbalance Iran’s expansion in the region. Yet, in the wake of the Egyptian coup, this partnership appears to be strained as the two countries’ visions collided over the overthrow of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi.
  • it is not clear whether this current impasse will have long-lasting negative consequences for cooperation between the two countries. Saudi Arabia needs Turkey in Syria, while Turkey remains eager to attract more Saudi investment, estimated at more than $1.9 billion
  • The Turkish press' criticism of the Saudi position in Egypt — this time originating with pro-Turkish government sources — replicated what had already been noticeable in the secular or independent press. Turkey is one country in the region where Islamists, secularists, leftists and liberals all concur on a negative image of Saudi Arabia, with each doubting its policies. Perhaps this is only replicated in post-revolution Tunisia.
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  • On the Saudi side, while the Turkish-Saudi partnership is officially celebrated as a great new strategic alliance, the Saudi press occasionally launches attacks that undermine this veneer of cooperation. Accusations that “Sultan Erdogan” longs for the return of the Ottoman caliphate regularly appeared in the Saudi sponsored pan-Arab press. Such attacks are often backed by appeals to Arabism and the historical animosity between Turkey and the Arab people.
  • More ferocious attacks are clothed in religion, with Turkey’s Islamism mocked as an aberration that remains tolerant of alcohol consumption and debauchery in the red light districts of Istanbul. Turkey’s Sufi tradition stands at the opposite end of the dominant Saudi Salafist religious outlook. Its half-hearted appeal to Sharia is contrasted with Saudi commitment to Islamic law. Such attacks echo similar ones that flourished more than a hundred years ago when Wahhabi expansion in Arabia and constant harassment of pilgrimages prompted the Ottoman sultan to reassert his authority over the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Ironically, in 1818 he relied on the Egyptian army under the leadership of Ibrahim Pasha to rid him of this menace and deliver the Saudi rulers and their religious aides to Istanbul where they were executed. While this is history, the memory seems to linger in the minds of religiously-inclined Saudis when they denounce Turkey's version of Islam for its laxity.
  • When you take oil out of the equation, it is unlikely to find a sensible country that would aspire to a Saudi model of governance.
Ed Webb

Is Turkey's Foreign Policy Really Sunni? - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 0 views

  • it would be wrong to believe that bigoted Sunnis in Ankara embarked on an anti-Shiite mission in the Middle East that has left Turkey at odds with central governments in Syria, Iraq, and ultimately in Iran. To the contrary, Ankara has gone to great lengths to avoid the region's sectarianism, but its efforts have not been very fruitful.
  • it would be also wrong to assume that the reality of sectarianism in the Middle East isn't influencing feelings in Ankara and in Turkish society more broadly. The Alawite-Sunni conflict in Syria is creating bitterness between Turkey's Alevis and Sunnis, although violence seems highly improbable. On the other hand, Turkey is indeed beginning to be perceived as a Sunni power in the region.
Ed Webb

Egypt's new leader going to Iran; first presidential visit in decades - Chicago Sun-Times - 0 views

  • “This really signals the first response to a popular demand and a way to increase the margin of maneuver for Egyptian foreign policy in the region,” said political scientist Mustafa Kamel el-Sayyed. “Morsi’s visits ... show that Egypt’s foreign policy is active again in the region.” “This is a way also to tell Gulf countries that Egypt is not going to simply abide by their wishes and accept an inferior position,”
  • Morsi will visit Tehran on Aug. 30 on his way back from China to attend the Non-Aligned Movement Summit, where Egypt will transfer the movement’s rotating leadership to Iran
  • In 2006, Mubarak angered Shiite leaders by saying Shiites across the Middle East were more loyal to Iran than to their own countries. His view was shared by other Arab leaders and officials, including Jordan’s King Abdullah II who warned of a Shiite crescent forming in the region.
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  • While nearly three decades of Mubarak rule left Egyptians inundated with state-spun scenarios of Iranian plots aiming to destabilize the country, many sympathize with Iran’s Islamic revolution and consider Tehran’s defiance of the United States a model to follow. Others seek a foreign policy at the very least more independent of Washington.
  • Aware of the Gulf states’ anxieties over the rise of political Islam in post-Mubarak Egypt, Morsi has focused on courting Saudi Arabia. He visited it twice, once just after he won the presidency, and a second time during the Islamic summit. In an attempt to assuage fears of the Arab uprisings by oil monarchs, he vowed that Egypt does not want to “export its revolution”. He has also asserted commitment to the security of Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab allies, a thinly veiled reference to the tension between them and Iran.
Ed Webb

King Abdullah calls for emergency Muslim summit - The National - 2 views

  • "Saudi Arabia is facing a moment when everybody in Arab world is getting more Islamist. Saudi Arabia is thinking, 'We shouldn't lose this chance. It is coming to our door and our house, so we should open the door. Otherwise, we will give Turkey or Iran a chance.'"
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