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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

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

Endowments Ministry to annex all mosques | Mada Masr - 0 views

  • The minister of religious endowments instructed officials to bring all mosques under the umbrella of the ministry in a directive Tuesday, he told the state-owned Middle East Agency. The minister, Mokhtar Gomaa, told the administration of the ministry’s regional offices to bring all mosques under their control. Most of Egypt’s 150,000 mosques are already under the administration of the Endowments Ministry. Part of this directive stipulates that an imam and a preacher must be appointed to each mosque. Many preachers have ignored a directive to unify Friday sermons under topics dictated by the ministry.
  • Gomaa has said that his ministry’s job is to separate mosques from politics and to restore them as places of worship. This has been implemented by closing small neighborhood mosques known as zawyas. Mosques that are less than 80 square meters in size are now banned. The ministry has also implemented new restrictions on who can become a preacher. Some 55,000 imams had their licenses revoked as a result.
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

Tunisian Ruling Party Feels Heat After Egyptian Coup - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Mid... - 0 views

  • “France knows that Islam and democracy are compatible.” While Hollande did say “Islam” and not “Islamism,” it was nevertheless the closest thing to an endorsement of Tunisia's Ennahda party to come from any French politician.
  • if the Tunisian Tamarod movement has not seen immediate support from the street, they have received a major political partner: Tunisia's most important opposition coalition, Nidaa Tounes. The coalition — which scores alongside Ennahda at the top of opinion polls — issued a press release on July 4 in which it made the same demands as Tamarod, the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly and new elections.
  • Mabrouka Mbarek, a left-leaning deputy at the Constituent Assembly from the Congress for the Republic Party, expressed her outrage at Essebsi's position. “This is unacceptable and dangerous. For Essebsi to say this shows that he has no clue what democracy is, and is not fit to be in government,”
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  • “The Egyptian example is present in the mind of Ennahda right now,” said Mohamed Bennour, the spokesman for the Ettakatol Party in an interview at the party's annual congress on July 7. He went on to say that the events in Egypt could play a “catalyzing” role in Tunisia. “I think the people will move if Ennahda ever makes big mistakes. I think that Ennahda is conscious now of not making mistakes in the current period.”
  • The biggest bone of contention in Tunisian politics right now is the finalization of the country's constitution, and in particular two articles — Articles 6 and 141 — which secularists say leave the door open for a higher degree of influence of Islamic law. Article 6 says that the state is the “protector” of “al moqadiset”  — “the holy things" — which could mean a ban on insulting any religious symbols, mosques or even imams, a much stricter blasphemy law than anything Tunisia currently has. Article 141 says that no amendments can be made to the constitution which are not in accordance with “Islam as the religion of the state,” a vague wording that some — including the Ettakatol Party — think could imply that Sharia should be the basis for future constitutional changes. “Article 141 refers the origin of the law to the Quran and Sharia, and that is very dangerous because it can be interpreted by certain judges as being the law, Sharia as law,” said Bennour. However, Bennour and others within the socialist Ettakatol Party felt that Ennahda would cede on these controversial points in light of recent events.
  • While the rest of Tunisia prepares to slow down with the reduced hours of the holy month of Ramadan [due to start on July 9], the Constituent Assembly has announced it will continue to work, with a session in the morning and another after the breaking of fast at night. Perhaps the dire example of Egypt will push Tunisia's parliament to put aside differences and advance their country to the next phase of democracy.
Ed Webb

What Does Morsi's Ouster Mean for Turkey? - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 0 views

  • Why is the Turkish government on such high alert? How can the coup in Cairo affect Turkey? Is Turkey fearing the collapse of the “model” that was once seen as a source of inspiration for the region?
  • “The impression I get from the second Tahrir uprising by Arab nationalists and liberals — which toppled the Brotherhood — and the West’s non-committal attitude, is that the global establishment has given up on the moderate Islam project. This will certainly reflect on Turkey. Turkey may easily experience a gradual decrease in the easy credits it was acquiring by saying, ‘I represent moderate Islam. I will rehabilitate the region.’ This loss of stature will not only be seen in economic but also in political, diplomatic and military arenas.
  • “Egypt can’t affect Turkey directly in the short run. But should the AKP exhibit displeasure and fully identify with the Brotherhood, we will be affected. I am afraid such a perception already exists. The AKP has ideological affinity and institutional links with the Brotherhood. But Turkey is not Egypt. They have diverse political processes. If the AKP exaggerates its reactions, all the forces that intend to mobilize against the AKP might take action. “Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had an ambition to shape an Egypt-Turkey axis. This is now totally off the agenda. This is a serious weakness for Turkey and its political vision for the region. Egypt was the center of gravity for a Sunni bloc based on the Brotherhood. There is now a serious gap.
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  • “Obviously the moderate Islam project has been badly bruised. That is the prevailing perception. The moderate Islam project was an outcome of the Arab Spring. It was a general picture nourished by Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey. Now the pixels of that photo are blurred. It is sad, but it is the reality.
  • You are a political party. You are governing a country. You are not a civil society outfit. If you are going to deal with everything from a morality angle, then go and set up an NGO. Those ruling countries have heavy responsibilities. They have to think of the interests of millions of people. They have to be cool-headed and build their policies on realism and balances of power.
Ed Webb

Don't Blame Islam for the Failure of Egypt's Democracy - Bloomberg - 0 views

  • Why has democratic constitutionalism worked relatively well in one North African Arab country while it has crashed and burned in another? And what will the answer tell us about the future of democracy in the Arabic-speaking world, from Libya to Syria and beyond?
  • During his decades in exile, Ghannouchi wrote extensively about the compatibility of Islam and democracy, and developed a relatively liberal vision of how Islam and the state should interact. Skeptics then claimed that Ghannouchi’s views were a cover for a more radical agenda; and some Tunisian secularists still think so. But the evidence thus far is sharply to the contrary. When Islamists called for inserting a reference to Shariah into the Tunisian constitution -- usually the sine qua non for any Islamic political party -- Ghannouchi took seriously the opposition from secularists. In a dramatic showdown with members of his own party’s leadership, he reportedly threatened to resign unless they dropped the measure.
  • Ghannouchi’s position is straightforward: He wants Tunisians to adopt Islamic values, but piety means nothing if imposed by coercion. Islam, he believes, will succeed in persuading people to adopt its truths more effectively if they don’t have its teachings shoved down their throats.
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  • willingness to share governing responsibility is probably the single-most-salient factor separating Tunisia’s relative success from Egypt’s disaster
  • Democracy requires parties to learn to work together and take account of one another’s interests. Those out of power must believe they will eventually be re-elected, and those in power must know they, too, will cycle out. That alone creates incentives to treat the opposition with political consideration and moral respect.
Ed Webb

Drowning in Sectarianism - 0 views

  • the problem has become so acute that the Associated Press last week published a kind of "beginner's guide" for Westerners to the explosion of Sunni-Shiite hatred throughout the region. It drew on the work of no less than 10 of its regional correspondents, and yet it barely scratched the surface. And, of course, beneath Sunni-Shiite tensions bubble dozens of other fault lines in the shuddering Middle Eastern landscape
  • Obviously we’re not really seeing the revival of religious and political arguments more than 1,000 years old. If the hatreds were really this deep, endemic and theological, no amount of dictatorship could have suppressed them in the past.   No. This is power-politics pure and simple, in its most savage and bestial form.
  • It's about authority, and the battle for social and political dominance in the context and opportunity of a sudden and yawning vacuum.   The formula is simple enough. People are most powerfully motivated by fear and hatred, which relentlessly feed off of each other. So, political legitimacy and the development of a constituency for power is most quickly and easily acquired and consolidated by promoting fear and hatred of the other. And it doesn't matter whom.
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  • It's easy to point to the Salafists, because they are often the most obnoxious and vicious in their rhetoric and well-funded by their official and private Gulf backers.   But there are no clean hands.   The Muslim Brothers agree with them on many matters of intolerance, especially against Shiites.   Some Iranian and other Shiite leaders in the region return the affection in full, with catalogues of anti-Sunni calumnies. Many backers of Bashar al-Assad, often themselves sectarians, paint all Syrian rebels as flesh-eating al-Qaeda Sunni monsters.   Disaffected Christian communities, particularly in exile, seethe with undisguised and irrational rage. Israel is seeing a rapid rise to prominence of racist, annexationist Jewish chauvinists, unabashed backers of a separate and distinctly unequal “Greater Israel,” and practitioners of "price tag" violence.   In the absence of local, national and regional order, hate-mongers deliberately set in motion the process of demonization in their own narrow, parochial interests.
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