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Ed Webb

Calls in Egypt for censored social media after arrests of TikTok star, belly dancer - R... - 0 views

  • Egyptian lawmakers have called for stricter surveillance of women on video sharing apps after the arrests of a popular social media influencer and a well-known belly dancer on charges of debauchery and inciting immorality.
  • Instagram and TikTok influencer Haneen Hossam, 20, is under 15 days detention for a post encouraging women to broadcast videos in exchange for money, while dancer Sama el-Masry faces 15 days detention for posting “indecent” photos and videos.
  • “Because of a lack of surveillance some people are exploiting these apps in a manner that violates public morals and Egypt’s customs and traditions,”
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  • In 2018 Egypt adopted a cyber crime law that grants the government full authority to censor the internet and exercise communication surveillance. A media regulation law also allows authorities to block individual social media accounts.
  • Several women in Egypt have previously been accused of “inciting debauchery” by challenging the country’s conservative social norms, including actress Rania Youssef after critics took against her choice of dress for the Cairo Film Festival in 2018.
  • Hossam denied any wrongdoing but Cairo University - where she is studying archaeology - said it would enforce maximum penalties against her which could include expulsion.
  • Egyptian women’s rights campaigner Ghadeer Ahmed blamed the arrests on rising social pressures on women and “corrupt laws”. “[These laws] condemn people for their behaviour that may not conform to imagined social standards for how to be a ‘good citizen’ and a respectful woman,” she wrote in a Tweet.
Ed Webb

Cleared of Landmines for Easter, Jesus' Baptism Site Now C...... | News & Reporting | C... - 1 views

  • For the past nine years, HALO has cleared other sites in the West Bank, coordinating between Palestinians and Israelis. But there are still approximately 35 square miles of landmines in the West Bank
  • As demining progressed at Qasr al-Yahud, Israeli officials expressed optimism that pilgrims to the baptismal site would triple, as each church gained full access to its facilities.
  • COVID-19 is devastating the industry. Closing the borders to tourism may cost $1.7 billion
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  • This may be particularly painful to Palestinians in Bethlehem, where 70 percent of the economy is derived from tourism and 9 out of 10 industry workers are Christians.
Ed Webb

Stopping COVID-19 in Its Tracks: Science Gets the Upper Hand - 0 views

  • Men like Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, and Israeli Health Minister Yaakov Litzman have finally joined much of the world in imposing science-driven degrees of lockdowns, social distancing, and the search for medical cures and protections after initially opting for political expediency or advocacy of traditional healing methods and/or religious precepts.
  • The consequences of science-based approaches for civilizationalists who advocate policies inspired by religion or the supremacy of one religious group over another could go far beyond what should shape public health policies.They could threaten the foundations of their religious support base as well as their discriminatory policies towards religious or ethnic minorities. Israel is a case in point in terms of both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s religious support base as well as his policies towards Israeli nationals of Palestinian descent.With ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhoods and cities emerging as the communities most affected by the coronavirus, some Israeli commentators argue that the pandemic could undermine rabbinical authority on a scale not seen since the Holocaust when large numbers left ultra-orthodoxy after rabbinical advice to remain in Europe proved devastating.
  • “Torah no longer saves from death. The coronavirus has dealt an unimaginable blow to the rabbinical authority – and worldview – that ultra-Orthodox Jews previously regarded as infallible and eternal,”
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  • the return home of some 45,000 Palestinian workers to the West Bank for this week’s Passover holiday is likely to create bottlenecks in both Israel and the Palestinian territory after the Israeli government decided that they would not be allowed to return because of health concerns.The decision threatens to create a labor shortage in Israel, increase economic pressure on an already weakened Palestine Authority, and facilitate the spread of the virus on the West Bank given the administration’s inability to test all returnees
  • “Because the two populations are so intertwined, curbing the virus only in one society is impossible,” said Ofer Zalzberg of the International Crisis Group.It’s a lesson that applies universally, not just to Israelis and Palestinians. That is no truer than in Syrian and Palestinian refugee camps that dot the eastern Mediterranean
  • whether anti-globalists and civilizationalists like it or not, the coronavirus is global and universal. So is the science that will ultimately help get control of the pandemic and eventually stop it in its tracks
Ed Webb

Europe Is Getting Tough on Political Islam - 0 views

  • Europeans are concerned about the growing sway of Islamist groups that seek to push members of local Muslim communities to detach from mainstream society—mostly through preaching but also through various forms of social pressure, intimidation and, occasionally, violence— and resort to alternative legal, educational, and social systems
  • For obvious reasons, terrorist attacks get all the attention from policymakers, security services, and the media. The activities of nonviolent Islamists, on the other hand, tend to be ignored: They are mostly legal, rarely flare up in dramatic incidents, and often bring (sometimes justified, sometimes not) charges of racism and Islamophobia to those who highlight them.
  • These concerns are not new, but what is noteworthy is that they are no longer expressed almost exclusively by those on the right of the political spectrum but, much more frequently than in the past, by politicians and commentators of all political persuasions—not to mention security services.
Ed Webb

Why Muslim-majority countries need secular citizenship and law-making | openDemocracy - 0 views

  • once a political system is based on a religion, it is almost impossible to define the citizens who do not follow that religion as “first class.” In Iran and Iraq, rising legal and political influence of Shiism has led the discrimination against Sunni citizens, and in Pakistan and Egypt the opposite has happened, to a certain extent. Moreover, several Christian and non-Muslim minorities have faced discrimination by various means, including apostasy and blasphemy laws, in Sudan and Malaysia, among other cases.
  • Truly maintaining equal citizenship to all regardless of their religious identities is crucial for Muslim-majority countries to achieve democratization, consolidate the rule of law, and end sectarian and religious tensions.
  • equal citizenship in Muslim-majority countries will empower those who defend rights of Muslim minorities facing persecution and even ethnic cleansing in such cases as China, India, and Myanmar, and experiencing Islamophobia in western countries. By maintaining the rights of their own minorities, Muslim-majority countries may gain stronger moral and legal grounds to defend rights of Muslim minorities at the global level.
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  • Islamic jurisprudence inherently contradicts democratic politics
  • In the twentieth century, secularist rulers adopted secular legal systems in Turkey, Iraq, Tunisia, and several other Muslim-majority cases. These assertive secularist regimes were mostly authoritarian. Therefore, they did not allow the law-making processes to be truly participatory. Secularism appears to be necessary but not sufficient for participatory legislation, too.
  • As my new book Islam, Authoritarianism, and Underdevelopment: A Global and Historical Comparison explains, there existed a certain level of separation between religious and political authorities in the first four centuries of Islamic history.That is why the first systematic book about “Islamic” politics was written as late as the mid-eleventh century. It was Mawardi’s The Ordinances of Government. The book argues that an Islamic government is based on a caliph (an Arab man from the Quraish tribe) to rule all Muslims. The caliph holds the entire political and legal authority and stays in power for life. The caliph delegates his legitimate authority to sultans, governors, and judges.The second book, which systematically defines an Islamic political system, was written in the early fourteenth century. It is Ibn Taymiyya’s Sharia-based Governance in Reforming Both the Ruler and His Flock. Instead of the one-man rule of a caliph, this book emphasizes the alliance between the ulema and the state authorities. Ibn Taymiyya interprets the only phrase in the Quran about authority, “uli’l-amr” (4:59), as referring to the ulema and the rulers (though other scholars have interpreted it differently).
  • To implement Mawardi’s idea of caliphate today would imply to establish an extreme autocracy. Ibn Taymiyya’s ideas are not helpful to solve modern political problems either. In fact, the ulema-state alliance is the source of various problems in many Muslim-majority countries.
  • To maintain a certain level of separation between Islam and legal systems may limit the exploitation of Islam for political purposes.
  • recent Islamization (at the political, legal and ideological levels) has weakened secular fundamentals of citizenship and law-making in many Muslim-majority countries.
Ed Webb

Rethinking secularism : Can Europe integrate its Muslims? | openDemocracy - 0 views

  • In Western Europe, right into the 1990s, and in contrast to India and some Muslim-majority countries for instance, there was a sense across the political spectrum that political secularism was a done deal.
  • By multiculturalism I mean not just the fact of the post-immigration ethno-religious diversity but the presence of a multiculturalist approach to this diversity: the idea that equality must be extended from uniformity of treatment to include respect for difference. This means understanding that the public and the private are interdependent rather than dichotomized as in classical liberalism. This provides the intellectual basis for the public recognition and institutional accommodation of minorities, the reversal of marginalisation and a remaking of national citizenship so that all can have a sense of belonging to it.
  • Liberal political theorists define political secularism as ‘state neutrality’, meaning that the state must not privilege some religions over others but must instead treat them equally and must not identify with any one of them. Multiculturalists contend that a strict policy of non-identification with a particular language, history and culture, however, is impossible for a state to achieve. It is therefore better to interpret state neutrality to mean that connections between state and religion must be inclusive, rather than push religious groups away.
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  • Western Europe may respond, indeed is responding, to Muslim political assertiveness in two opposing ways, based on its response to two controversies that erupted in 1989: the Salman Rushdie affair in the United Kingdom and the headscarf affair in France.
  • too many European governments discourage Muslim self-representation in politics and civil society and prefer to initiate debates about Islam’s relationship to national identity in which Muslims are the objects of discussion rather than participants in it
  • Western Europe will not be able to integrate its growing population of Muslims into its national polities without rethinking political secularism. This will be much easier where moderate secularism and multiculturalism prevail, as opposed to a more radical form of secularism. European nations must oppose radical secularism, antipathy to public religion, and the trampling and alienating effects this tendency is having on religious freedoms and a growing European Muslim population.
  • Just as European citizens and governments must oppose the extreme nationalism that is asserting itself across the continent, they must also turn away from extreme secularism which, apart from in France, is not the Western European way. Affirming its historically moderate secularism, and adapting it to accommodate a multifaith national citizenry, represents Europe’s best chance for finding a way forward.
Ed Webb

What is the 'proper' place of religion? | openDemocracy - 0 views

  • In its more insistently assertive form, the line drawn in the name of secularism is sharp and one which squeezes out religion from the public sphere, reducing and limiting it to a matter of private, individual conscience. An example of this is the assertive sense of laïcité found in France, where there are bans on religious clothing in public schools (especially focussed on the Islamic headscarf) and face covering in public spaces (targeting burqas and niqabs); ‘burkinis’ have also been banned in some areas, and a recent controversy has erupted in relation to Muslim women wearing headscarves when accompanying children on school trips.
  • Other secularisms, such as the forms of moderate secularism of most of the rest of Western Europe, draw a softer line and are more tolerant of religion’s public presence. In many ways religion is not only permitted but also encouraged in the public sphere. This is often through state-religion connections where religious organisations play a significant role in welfare provision in partnership with the state
  • We might say that the secular state in this sense is interested in religion as far as it can serve the state’s purposes, providing services for its citizens that it is unable or unwilling to provide itself. It is not, however, interested in the religious reasons and motivations orienting these groups, and a deeper engagement at this level is either not sought or perhaps deliberately avoided.
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  • at a time when multiculturalism has brought issues of religion and politics back to the foreground, religious literacy is lacking
  • such arrangements may serve to contain the critical voice and positive role religious faiths can play in the public sphere precisely because of their religious orientation, in challenging such things as the misuse of power or excesses of capitalism, for instance, and how this role might contribute towards developing a more equal society
  • a religiously literate secularity is a benefit to everyone
  • such literacy improves rather than detracts from the ability to engage with religion when its societal impact might be negative. A will to understand is surely more powerful here than a will to ignorance. The presence of religious reasons, language and motivations in the public sphere provides a deeper engagement with them, which both enables better understanding between co-citizens of different faiths, denominations and none, as well as a more literate way of challenging them where that is necessary and where it is part of a healthy democratic engagement.
Ed Webb

Iraq's Allawi withdraws his candidacy for prime minister as vacuum looms - 0 views

  • Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Mohammed Allawi withdrew his candidacy for the post on Sunday, accusing political parties of obstructing him, deepening a domestic crisis and threatening an unprecedented power vacuum.
  • parliament failed for the second time in a week to approve his cabinet
  • mass protests and deadlock between lawmakers are delaying Iraq's recovery from years of war
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  • President Barham Salih will begin consultations to choose a new candidate for a new prime minister within 15 days, the state news agency said. But Iraq could end up without a prime minister in the meantime if Abdul Mahdi, who stayed on in a caretaker capacity, also quits on Monday.
  • The protests, which initially demanded jobs and services, quickly turned into calls for the removal of Iraq’s entire ruling elite. Protesters had opposed Allawi because they view him as part of the system they want to bring down.Security forces and powerful militia groups have fatally shot hundreds of mostly unarmed demonstrators. Around 500 people have been killed in unrest since October, most of them protesters, according to a Reuters tally from medics and police.
  • On Sunday, security forces killed one person and wounded 24 at an anti-government protest in Baghdad
Ed Webb

The dark side of consensus in Tunisia: Lessons from 2015-2019 - 0 views

  • Tunisia’s experience has also raised the concern of whether there is such a thing as too much consensus. In this paper, we argue that the extended pursuit of consensus in Tunisia has also had a dark side, constraining its democratic transition. In the name of consensus, the national unity government of 2015-2019 abandoned controversial but necessary issues like transitional justice and security sector reform and could not take bold action on the economy or on the formation of the Constitutional Court
  • the consensus government merely postponed rather than resolved the underlying secular-Islamist tensions
  • Ironically, the extended pursuit of consensus has now made it more difficult to not just form a consensus government but any government at all.
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  • If political parties do not feel comfortable leading the opposition out of fear of repression, then this means democracy is on shaky ground. The presence of consensus can thus be used as an indicator of the lack of democratic consolidation
Ed Webb

Civic Religion and the Secular Jew - 0 views

  • Who would speak alongside President-elect Sanders on the steps of the Capitol Building? Who would deliver the invocations and the benedictions? Would there be more rabbis, or more pastors and priests? Would Sanders be sworn in on a Bible, a Tanakh, something else? Might Sanders, a staunch defender of the separation of church and state, object to the presence of prayer altogether?  The difficulty of answering these questions illustrates just how significant a change from the status quo the election of a secular Jewish president would be. It remains conventional wisdom among pundits and pollsters that America is a deeply religious country, and that any presidential candidate must speak—and speak authentically—about their faith in order to win. The election of Trump—who transparently has no spiritual life to speak of and who has proven utterly incapable of speaking convincingly about matters of faith—should have finally proven this idea false. Yet the expectation has persisted. 
  • there is, paradoxically, something almost unassimilable about Sanders’s secular Jewishness.
  • While Sanders readily admits that he is “not actively involved in organized religion,” it isn’t quite accurate to describe him as “religiously unaffiliated.” That’s because, like many of the conventional frameworks for understanding faith and religious identity in the US, this kind of binary—religiously affiliated vs. unaffiliated—is not adequate for understanding American Jewish life
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  • The binary of theism vs. atheism is likewise unhelpful in understanding Jewish identity.
  • while discussions of Christianity often center around personal faith, it’s not uncommon, even in relatively observant American Jewish communities, for questions of ethics, ritual, and practice to take much greater priority than questions of faith or belief in God
  • Sanders does not belong to a synagogue—and he has this in common with two-thirds of American Jewish adults, according to Pew’s 2013 “Portrait of Jewish Americans.” He is part of an interfaith family, as are 44% of married Jewish adults. (Sanders married Jane O’Meara, a practicing Catholic, in 1988, when the rate of intermarriage was around 41%, but the share of Jews marrying non-Jews has since increased: roughly 60% of Jews who married after 2005 married a non-Jew.) On Israel, the self-described “100% pro-Israel” Sanders is a conventional liberal Zionist: strongly critical of Benjamin Netanyahu, still committed to a two-state solution, and willing to use US government pressure to hold Israel accountable for its actions. Most American Jews hold similar views: the majority feel positively about Israel, disagree with its government’s policies, support a two-state solution, and believe the US should exert pressure on Israel to achieve peace.
  • That so many Jewish institutional leaders, as well as Jewish journalists, have chafed at, second-guessed, or rejected Sanders’s kind of Jewishness says much more about their own disconnection from the great majority of American Jews than it does about Sanders.
  • his particular religious vocabulary—of trauma, solidarity, this-worldly justice—also fits uneasily into the hegemonic, Christianity-inflected form of American religious discourse writ large, which emphasizes notions like personal salvation, faith, and grace
  • Sanders’s secular Jewishness is among the most common forms of Jewish identity in the US, yet it is a religious identity that has never before appeared so prominently on the national political stage. The question of its intelligibility to non-Jews is also the question of the intelligibility of American Jewish life
Ed Webb

Turkish academic offers an intriguing but controversial view of the Muslim world | Ahval - 0 views

  • Kuru postulates that domestic political relations between rulers and the intellectual, economic, and religious classes, and the rearrangement thereof, explains the ascendance of Muslim-ruled areas in the eighth to twelfth centuries, their subsequent decline and the simultaneous dominance of Western Europe beginning in the early modern period. According to Kuru, “In early Islamic history, Islamic scholars’ independence from the state and the economic influence of merchants” created a space for philosophical and intellectual freedom outside of state control. Later political authorities, most notably the Seljuks, would bring the Islamic religious establishment, the ulema, under state control. The Seljuks would also introduce land and tax reforms that curtailed the economic and political influence of the merchant class. Western Europe, in contrast, underwent the opposite political and economic process in the early modern period: political and religious authorities fought and gradually disentangled from one another, universities fostered intellectual growth, and a merchant class emerged and wielded increasing political and economic power.
  • the religion-state entanglement that Kuru sees as the primary force hampering intellectual progress and innovation
  • his major claims – that Islam can be interpreted to support many different political, social, and economic projects, that neither colonial rule nor Islam fully explains the political and social conditions of Muslim-majority countries, and, most crucially, that the ulema’s conservatism and political co-option has made it difficult to counter extreme interpretations of Islamic theology and social organisation.
Ed Webb

Election of patriarch leaves Turkey's Armenians without a voice | Eurasianet - 0 views

  • The Armenian Patriarch – a position established by the Ottomans in 1461 – is the top spiritual and symbolic leader of the Armenians in Turkey. That community was once an integral part of the Ottoman Empire, but following the 1915 genocide it has dwindled to about 60,000, concentrated mostly in Istanbul.
  • In the late Ottoman Empire, Armenians chose their patriarch relatively freely under the “millet” system of self-rule for non-Muslims. But that system was abolished in 1923, following the founding of the Turkish Republic, and since then successive Turkish governments have been able to manage the elections through a variety of interventions. 
  • While in previous elections candidates born in Turkey but serving abroad had been permitted to run for patriarch, this time the Ministry of Interior introduced a new rule: candidates had to be based in Turkey. That effectively blocked 10 candidates from abroad, including Sebuh Shouldjian, a popular cleric based in Armenia
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  • While genocide recognition is often a raison d’être for the Armenian diaspora – most of whom are the descendants of those who fled the 1915 massacres – many of the Armenians who stayed behind see it as a burden. “The recent bill in the U.S. was passed to upset Turkey. It had nothing to do with us,” Nor Zartonk’s Mıhçı said. “When the diaspora pushes for the recognition of the genocide in foreign parliaments, we suffer the backlash here,” said Sesil, the beautician. “Each time this debate is brought onto the international agenda, we fear for our children.”
  • A recent report from the Hrant Dink Foundation, an organization set up following Dink’s death to promote inter-cultural dialogue and tolerance, found that in 2018, Armenians were the second most common target of hate speech in Turkey, after Jews.
  • “There is no question the genocide happened. My grandfather lost his entire family. He told me this story every day, like a tale,” Sesil said. “But why is America putting this on the agenda right now? It happened 100 years ago.”
Ed Webb

Should Lebanon's Christians Join Protests? Viral Sermons A...... | News & Reporting | C... - 0 views

  • As the rocks rained down near the tent of Ras Beirut Baptist Church’s effort to discuss the question, suddenly the faith of the Christians gathered there was put to the test. For the past month, Lebanese evangelicals have debated Scripture, sharing sermons online. One viral effort urges believers to stay away from widespread demonstrations in submission to authority. Another licenses participation in the popular push for justice.
  • Evangelicals, traditionally apolitical, have taken different approaches. Some have rushed to join the demonstrations. They decry that a quarter of the population of the tiny Mediterranean coastal country live in poverty, while the economy teeters on collapse. Others—largely sympathetic—have watched warily. They are offended by vulgar insults directed at politicians, troubled by ongoing roadblocks that paralyze society, and fearful for the return of civil war after three decades of relative peace.
  • “There is an overall consensus—nationally and internationally—that those in authority have not served their people in the last 40 years,” Kashouh told CT. “The only question is the appropriate methods to fight corruption.”
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  • Christians in the Middle East need stable political systems, Skaff said, not the rule of a leaderless majority. The elite, the educated, and the qualified should govern, with rights and freedoms enshrined in law, not popular favor
  • RBBC was one of a dozen tents hosting discussions, and a crowd formed around it shouting “revolution” to answer the motorcyclists’ sectarian chant of “Shiite!” Middle fingers were raised on both sides, as protesters gathered metal tent legs in anticipated self-defense.
Ed Webb

Liberman spawns 'alliance of the underprivileged' - 0 views

  • Israel’s political system is currently ensnared in a dizzying spiral the likes of which it has never known. The unprecedented decision by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to indict an incumbent prime minister on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust has rattled Israeli politics, which was already suffering from deep polarization, and this is just the beginning. In a nationally televised response to Mandelblit’s announcement of the indictments on Nov. 21, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that he is being subjected to an “attempted coup.”
  • Netanyahu, heavily influenced by his legal woes, will push Israel into a third election in less than a year to gin up public support at the ballot box in the hope that his supporters will at least acquit him in the court of public opinion.
  • Yisrael Beitenu leader Avigdor Liberman, whose party holds the deciding votes in the current political deadlock, has not only put him in a bind, but has also created an “alliance of the underprivileged”
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  • Liberman, who under the current constellation has the power to decide who will be Israel’s next prime minister, is seeking to exclude the ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs from power. Thus, these two groups, which would seem to have nothing in common save a possible desire to join forces against Liberman’s onslaught of incitement against them, are striking up a surprising “friendship.”
  • Israel’s Arab and ultra-Orthodox citizens — together constituting at least 30% of the population — are the country’s poorest demographic and the largest beneficiaries of its social welfare services. While Netanyahu and his right-wing allies shower generous budgets on the Jewish West Bank settlements and provide their residents with an array of benefits, members of the Arab Joint List and of the two ultra-Orthodox parties have to work hard to advance legislation that benefits their voters.
  • The first sign of their alliance appeared in the Knesset following Netanyahu’s harsh Nov. 13 speech accusing the 13 lawmakers for the Joint List of supporting and encouraging terrorism. At the start of the Nov. 19 session of the Knesset Finance Committee, Chair Moshe Gafni of the ultra-Orthodox Yahadut HaTorah, thanked his committee colleague Tibi for his ongoing cooperation. “You know how to leverage [this cooperation] for the benefit of the public you represent. You do so with great skill. We see it in the Arab communities too. There is development, and you have played a large role in this, and I thank you for it,” Gafni said. Gafni’s ultra-Orthodox colleague Yinon Azoulai of Shas seconded his assessment, asserting, “With the [Joint] List and Ahmad there always was cooperation, and it is always possible to do more.”
  • “The clear and present danger is the anti-Zionist coalition of the Arab and ultra-Orthodox Knesset members,” Liberman said. “This is truly an anti-Zionist coalition active in both blocs [left and right]. The Joint List is a real fifth column; there is no need to whitewash and hide it. Unfortunately, the ultra-Orthodox community and its political parties, too, are becoming increasingly anti-Zionist, and it’s time to stop this nonsense that only their fringes [are opposed to the State of Israel].”
  • Such cooperation could crush the protective right-wing and ultra-Orthodox bloc of 55 seats that Netanyahu has built and undermine his mantra that the formation of a center-left minority government supported by the Arab parties would be nothing short of a mass national terror attack.
  • Members of the Joint List are all too familiar with being targets of incitement and delegitimization by Netanyahu and others, but for Shas and Yahadut HaTorah, which have tied their fate to that of Netanyahu, this is a new experience. Thanks to Liberman, they too are now illegitimate, just like their Arab Knesset colleagues.
  • The last time Liberman tried to “bury” the Arab parties, he sponsored legislation raising the electoral threshold in 2014 so that only parties winning 3.25% of the vote could send representatives to the Knesset. The move, designed to exclude the small Arab parties, backfired, uniting the ideologically disparate parties into a single list. This forced union then overtook Liberman’s faction. As of the September elections, they are the third biggest Knesset faction, with 13 seats, while Liberman’s party has eight.
  • For the sake of the sacred goal of survival, there is no need for an ideological glue other than shared destiny, as the four Arab parties – Ta’al, Ra’am, Balad and Hadash — realized in uniting against Liberman and forming the Joint List.
Ed Webb

How Mike Pence's Office Meddled in Foreign Aid to Reroute Money to Favored Christian Gr... - 0 views

  • Decisions about U.S. aid are often no longer being governed by career professionals applying a rigorous review of applicants and their capabilities. Over the last two years, political pressure, particularly from the office of Vice President Mike Pence, had seeped into aid deliberations and convinced key decision-makers that unless they fell in line, their jobs could be at stake
  • ProPublica viewed internal emails and conducted interviews with nearly 40 current and former U.S. officials and aid professionals that shed new light on the success of Pence and his allies in influencing the government’s long-standing process for awarding foreign aid.
  • “There are very deliberate procurement guidelines that have developed over a number of years to guard precisely against this kind of behavior,”
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  • USAID regulations state that awards “must be free from political interference or even the appearance of such interference and must be made on the basis of merit, not on the basis of the religious affiliation of a recipient organization, or lack thereof.”
  • In August, as the White House was considering cuts to an array of foreign aid programs, it shielded funding for religious minorities abroad
  • Late in the Obama administration, USAID’s activities in Iraq focused on an effort by the United Nations to restore basic services as soon as cities had been liberated from Islamic State rule. By the end of 2016, the United States had contributed over $115 million to the effort through USAID, and other countries had contributed hundreds of millions of dollars more. U.S. officials credit the U.N.’s work with enabling millions of Iraqis to return to their homes soon after the fighting was done instead of languishing in refugee camps.
  • U.S. officials in Iraq were sensing dissatisfaction among some Iraqi Christians and American religious groups with the U.S. strategy and the U.N.’s work. Trying to head off problems, U.S. officials urged the U.N. in the summer of 2017 to pay special attention to the Nineveh Plains, an ethnically and religiously diverse region of northern Iraq where many of the country’s Christians live. U.N. officials were reluctant, arguing their assistance could go further in dense urban areas like Mosul, as opposed to the Nineveh Plains, a stretch of farmland dotted by small towns and villages.
  • Many career officials at the State Department and USAID supported the broader scope of the U.N.’s work. They acknowledged it wasn’t perfect — it could be slow, and the U.N. was not adept at communicating with local communities — but said the rebuilding had benefited wide swaths of territory that included both Muslims and minority groups.
  • Career officials also expressed concerns at the time that targeting federal funds toward particular minority groups on the basis of religion could be unconstitutional
  • Initially, Pence’s office and political appointees at USAID were focused on helping Christians, with little attention to Yazidis, a small, ancient sect that was targeted in an especially cruel manner by Islamic State militants, said a current official and a former foreign service officer. Over time, career officials “helped educate” political appointees on the extent of the Yazidis’ suffering, in hopes of getting their support for directing some aid at non-Christian groups, the former foreign service officer said. “There was a very ideological focus on Christians, and most of the questions were about Christians,” this person said. “We were trying to get them to focus on others in the minority communities that might need assistance.”
  • While the grant process was being worked out at USAID, Pence blindsided officials in October 2017 when he declared to an influential Christian group in Washington that Trump had ordered diplomats to no longer fund “ineffective” U.N. programs. USAID would now directly help persecuted communities, he said.
  • Mark Green, the head of USAID, expressed discomfort to a colleague about potential interference by Pence into the grant process
  • Pence’s then-chief of staff, Nick Ayers, called Steiger to demand somebody at the agency be punished for the failure to provide aid to Christian groups quickly enough, according to several people familiar with the conversation. Ayers did not respond to requests for comment. Green’s reaction was to remove Maria Longi, a career civil servant and a top official in USAID’s Middle East bureau. Though still on USAID’s payroll, she now teaches national security strategy at the National War College.
  • Concern spread even among Trump appointees that their jobs might be threatened. “What it did instill in the Middle East bureau was fear among the political appointees that they could be thrown out at any time,”
  • Five current or former U.S. officials said involvement in grant decisions by political appointees — particularly by someone as senior as Ferguson — is highly unusual. USAID grants are typically decided by a review committee and a contracting officer, all of whom are career officials.
  • “USAID procurement rules with technical review panels are strict, as they should be, to avoid any political interference on the use of U.S. taxpayer dollars,”
  • Aside from its small size and lack of federal grant experience, Shlama was an unconventional choice for another reason. Last year it received $10,000 in donations from the Clarion Project, a nonprofit organization which researchers at Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative said “advances anti-Muslim content through its web-based and video production platforms.”
  • USAID is now expanding its emphasis on religious minorities far beyond Iraq. In December, a month after his email about White House pressure, Ferguson told USAID mission directors in the Middle East that agency leadership had identified up to $50 million it planned to use in 2019 for “urgent religious freedom and religious persecution challenges,” according to a second email seen by ProPublica. He asked mission directors to submit programming ideas. In a follow-up email in June, also seen by ProPublica, Ferguson wrote that in addition to Iraq, religious and ethnic minority programming was planned for Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia.
Ed Webb

Egypt's Ministry of Religious Endowments boosts its imams' media skills - 0 views

  • Will a one-week training enable Egypt’s imams to sound more reassuring, more emphatic and appear more camera-friendly on television? The Ministry of Religious Endowments certainly hopes so.
  • Courses include teaching the imams how to speak in talk shows, telephone interviews and TV debates. It also teaches them body language for interviews on TV as well as writing sound bites for various types of televised interviews. 
  • the course aims to develop the media skills of the imams so that they can “dominate the religious discourse,” counter extremist views expressed by the Salafists and efficiently debunk false interpretations on religion in TV programs.
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  • In 2017, the parliamentary Committee on Religious Affairs approved a draft law that banned issuing fatwas through the media unless prior authorization had been obtained from Al-Azhar, the country’s top religious institution. The draft still has to go through the General Assembly to become law.
  • The Ministry of Religious Endowments — known locally as Awqaf — objected that the right of authorizations should rest with Al-Azhar, saying that this bypasses the ministry, which should be the appropriate authority to grant permissions. The ministry argued that as all of its imams are graduates of Al-Azhar, they were fully equipped to give this permission.
  • Parliament has shelved the draft law until an agreement is reached between Al-Azhar and Awqaf, which has so far failed to materialize. 
  • According to Hosni Hassan, media professor at Helwan University, the main purpose of the trainings is to ensure that the Friday sermons — delivered by imams of Awqaf — are efficient tools to spread the Egyptian state’s version of Islam and to persuade the public.
  • The state — represented by the Ministry of Religious Endowments — is paying close attention to Friday sermons and religious lessons in mosques so they can become tools of improving social and religious behavior
  • “The rate of extremist fatwas has declined since 2013 after the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood, after the group was designated as a terrorist organization and its sheikhs were arrested,”
  • The ministry announced in 2014 that only preachers licensed by the ministry were allowed to deliver the Friday sermons or teach religious classes in mosques.The ministry organizes a number of exams every year for those wishing to obtain such licenses. In 2015, a new law stipulated that unlicensed preachers who deliver the Friday sermons or teach religious courses in mosques shall be sentenced to imprisonment from three months to a year or pay a fine of 20,000-50,000 pounds ($1,238-3,097).
  • The Ministry of Religious Endowments also issued in 2016 a decision that the imams in the mosques deliver a unified Friday sermon.
Ed Webb

'All of them means all of them': Who are Lebanon's political elite? | Middle East Eye - 0 views

  • From Tripoli to Tyre, and Beirut to Baalbek, Lebanese have been chanting the same slogan: “All of them means all of them.” Since its independence, Lebanon has been ruled by a clique of politicians and political families who have used sectarianism, corruption and clientelism to cling to power and amass incredible wealth. Now protesters are calling for them all to be removed, from Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah to Prime Minister Saad Hariri, with nervous responses from the leaders themselves. Middle East Eye takes a quick look at some of the more prominent figures and parties in the protesters’ sights.
  • The Hariri family was once the darling of Saudi Arabia, but apparently no longer
  • Though Israel was forced out in 2000, Hezbollah’s military capabilities have only increased, and its war against Israel in 2006 and ongoing involvement in the Syrian conflict have divided opinion among the Lebanese. The movement and its allies did well at the ballot box in 2018 and Hezbollah now has two ministers in the cabinet.
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  • The Amal Movement was founded in 1974 by Lebanese-Iranian cleric Musa Sadr to represent Lebanon’s Shia, who had long been marginalised as one of the country’s poorest sections of society. Though originally notable for its efforts to pull Shia Lebanese out of poverty, during the civil war it became one of the country’s most effective militias and controlled large parts of the south.
  • Amal is a close ally of fellow Shia party Hezbollah, and their politicians have run on the same list in elections. However, they occasionally diverge in opinion.
  • Birthed from the resistance movement that followed Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Hezbollah has since become the most powerful political and military force in Lebanon. Iran-backed and Syria-allied, the movement was the only militia to keep its arms at the end of the civil war, as it waged a deadly guerilla war against the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon.
  • Aoun is one of Lebanon’s many leaders who played an active and violent part in the country’s 1975-90 civil war. As head of the army in the war’s latter years, Aoun fought bitter conflicts with the occupying Syrian military and the Lebanese Forces paramilitary headed by his rival, Samir Geagea. In 1989, Aoun found himself besieged in the presidential palace in Baabda, where he now resides as president, and fled Syrian troops to the French embassy, which granted him exile.
  • Hassan Nasrallah lives in hiding due to the constant fear of Israeli assassination.
  • Known as “al-Hakim” (the doctor), Geagea is a medically trained warlord-turned-politician. During the 1975-90 civil war, Geagea was one of the most notorious militia leaders, heading the Christian Lebanese Forces. He was a close ally of Bashir Gemayel, who was assassinated days before being sworn into the presidency in 1982 with Israeli support
  • he was convicted of involvement in a number of assassinations and attempted murders in widely condemned trials. Geagea was kept in a solitary windowless cell for 11 years until his pardon in 2005 following the Syrian pullout
  • The Lebanese Forces, which is an offshoot of the right-wing Kataeb party, is the second-largest Christian party after the FPM. Its three ministers resigned early in the protest movement, and the party has now attempted to join the demonstrators and help block roads, though many protesters have rejected its overtures.
  • Feudal lord and socialist, advocate of de-sectarianising Lebanese politics but also a fierce defender of his Druze sect, Jumblatt is a difficult man to pin down. Often described as Lebanon’s kingmaker, his allegiances have swung several times, a trick that may have helped keep him alive.
  • The Kataeb party has fallen a long way since its civil war heyday. Also known as the Phalangists, the party used to be the dominant Christian party, and was inspired by its founder Pierre Gemayel’s trips to the 1936 Berlin Olympics and Franco’s fascist party in Spain. The Gemayel family has suffered a series of assassinations, most notably president elect Bashir Gemayel in 1982. Bashir’s brother Amin then went on to claim the presidency, and Amin’s son Sami is now heading the party. In recent years however the Kataeb party has struggled to attract votes from its offshoot the Lebanese Forces and the FPM
Ed Webb

Netanyahu camp adds Arab 'extortion' to right-wing playbook - 0 views

  • The document that Netanyahu’s “natural partners” — Shas, Yahadut HaTorah and HaBayit HaYehudi–National Union — were coaxed to sign Oct. 16 is disturbing. The agreement reads, “If, God forbid, a minority government is sworn in with the support of the Joint List, either from outside the coalition or as a part of it, we will not join the government at any stage, we will vote against it in every vote, and we will do everything we can to topple it.” Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked of the New Right declined to sign the agreement. It is especially worth noting the formula used to appeal to the ultra-Orthodox parties. The expression “God forbid” in this context is reserved for natural disasters or other cataclysmic events, which man alone cannot prevent.
  • Zohar asserts that anyone who cooperates with Arab Knesset members is prone to extortion by them, thereby becoming security threats to the State of Israel. In short, a person cooperating could essentially be considered a traitor. Netanyahu and his Likud associates have a long history of inciting against Israeli Arabs in general and Arab Knesset members in particular. This time, however, it looks like his breaking point is a lot more brittle. Unable to form a government, he is prepared to cross every red line imaginable.
  • “Netanyahu will do everything he can to obtain immunity and avoid prison,” Tibi remarked. “At this point, he is unable to form a government, so he is turning to incitement and the delegitimization of the Arab society.”
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  • Since utterances like “Arabs are heading to the polls in droves,” made on election day in 2015, and “election theft,” alleged during the April 2019 elections, are tired clichés by now, it looks like Netanyahu's new approach will be to try to scare Jewish voters with tales of “extortion” by the Arab parties on security matters
Ed Webb

Liberman's secular campaign turns him into kingmaker - 0 views

  • A little over 173,000 people voted for Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party in April, giving it five Knesset seats. In September, the number of people who voted for the party shot up to 310,000. So, after just 3½ months of campaigning, it gained 137,000 new voters and grew to eight seats. These eight seats make it impossible for either bloc — right or left — to form a narrow majority government. That's why, on Oct. 3, the very day that the new Knesset was sworn in, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initiated a meeting with Liberman. He wanted to convince the Yisrael Beitenu leader to join the new government that he was trying to form
  • It seems like Liberman succeeded in selling voters on his formula for change, specifically in matters of religion and state. That is something that most people support, particularly in the political center. What Liberman also offered them was a realistic way to make it happen. He proposed bringing two main parties — the Likud and Blue and White — together, given that there are so few ideological differences between them. Doing this would seem to be the most natural thing in the world. The problem is that the Blue and White party rejects Netanyahu, because of his pending criminal cases, while the Likud insists on bringing its right-wing, ultra-Orthodox bloc along with it.
  • Liberman called for a change to the status quo on matters of religion and state and laid out a path to achieve this, i.e., a unity government without the ultra-Orthodox or the ultra-Orthodox nationalists.
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  • He wants to see a new government made up of the Likud, Blue and White, and his Yisrael Beitenu party only, thereby forcing Netanyahu to sever his sacred alliance with the ultra-Orthodox. In this way, Liberman could advance the changes that he promised. When, about two weeks before the election, the Blue and White party realized that Liberman is stealing many of their votes because of this position, they also started talking about a secular, liberal government. Liberman now claims that this was why he did not have an even bigger victory.
  • most of the party’s new voters supported it because it established itself in their minds as a kind of middle ground with a message of unity, and as a party capable of solving problems of religion and state, such as public transportation on the Sabbath, conversion, the Conscription Law,
  • the second generation of immigrants, who came here when they were very young or who were actually born in Israel, are now suffering because of the Chief Rabbinate, which is forcing them to prove that they are Jewish in order to get married. This is especially insulting to them, given that they fought so hard to preserve their Jewish identities under the Soviet regime.
  • One possible explanation for this movement of voters from the Likud to Yisrael Beitenu could be the characteristics of many such voters — people who immigrated to Israel from Russian-speaking countries, or people whose parents did. In the past, these people voted for the Likud, because their politics traditionally veer (nationalistic) right, but in this election, they internalized Yisrael Beitenu’s campaign message concerning religion and state. Liberman’s focus on these issues is particularly dear to them. The fact that they have to prove to the Rabbinate that they are really Jews before they can get married seems to have clinched the deal.
  • One other group where Liberman was successful was the Druze sector. According to the Globes analysis, Yisrael Beitenu received 10,000 votes from the Druze sector, compared to just 6,000 in April. What is remarkable is that Yisrael Beitenu won these votes even though it supported the Nationality Law, which infuriated Israel’s Druze community. Hamad Amar, a Druze Knesset member for Yisrael Beitenu, told Al-Monitor that these Druze voters were very impressed by the way Liberman stuck to his principles in last May’s coalition negotiations. “They recognized that Liberman sticks to his word and that he is reliable. That is the most important thing for us.”
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