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Ed Webb

Coexistence, Sectarianism and Racism - An Interview with Ussama Makdisi - MERIP - 0 views

  • What is the ecumenical frame and how does it revise Orientalist understandings of sectarianism?
  • My book seeks to offer a critical and empathetic story of coexistence without defensiveness—that is, to write a history that neither glorifies the Arab past nor denigrates the present and that explores the grim significance of sectarian tensions in the modern Middle East without being seduced by their sensationalism
  • I wanted to understand how they sought to imagine and build a world greater than the sum of their religious or ethnic parts—commitments that remain evident, if one is prepared to recognize them, in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt and beyond. I call this modern iteration of coexistence the “ecumenical frame” to underscore the modern active attempt on the part of individuals and communities in the region to both recognize the salience of religious pluralism and yet also to try and transcend sectarian difference into a secular, unifying political community
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  • a project of modern coexistence that not only had to be imagined and designed, but also built
  • to trace how an extraordinary idea of Muslim and Christian and Jewish civic and political community rooted in secular equality went from unimaginability to ubiquity in the course of a single century, and nowhere more so than in the Arab East after 1860
  • subject to conflicting interpretations that valorized “real” religion and demonized sectarianism, often in contradictory and conservative modes, but also in more liberal and even radical ways
  • The Orientalist view of sectarianism frequently analogizes sect as “like race” and, furthermore, it assumes that sectarian differences are inherent cultural and political differences similar to race. What do you think is the relationship of sect to race?  How should race figure in the story of coexistence you relate?
  • the Orientalists idealize the West in order to Orientalize the East. Second, as you suggest, this view transforms religious pluralism in the Middle East into a structure of age-old monolithic antagonistic communities so that one can speak of medieval and modern Maronites, Jews, Muslims and so on as if these have been unchanging communities and as if all ideological diversity in the Middle East ultimately is reducible to religion and religious community
  • The religious sect is conflated with the political sect; the secular is understood to be a thin veneer that conceals the allegedly “real” and unchanging religious essence of the Middle East. This view is dangerous, misleading and tendentious.
  • both race and sect urgently need to be historicized and contextualized—race belongs to US (and Western) political vocabulary; sect to Arab political vocabulary. Both the notion of age-old sects and that of immutable races are ideological fictions that have been manipulated to serve power
  • US scholars Barbara J. Fields and Karen E. Fields have suggested we think of “racecraft” rather than “race relations” to underscore the ideological fundament of racist thinking that appears totally natural to its proponents. As I allude to in my book, so too might we think of “sectcraft” rather than sectarian or communal relations, both to underscore the ideological aspect of sectarianism and to emphasize the amount of work that goes into making sectarianism appear to be inherent, inevitable and unchangeable
  • many scholars gravitate toward using categories and experiences that emerge in the US context and apply them, sometimes indiscriminately and often very problematically, to other parts of the world. I think it is important at some level to respect the fact that in the modern Middle East, progressive scholars and laypeople, men and women belonging to different religious communities, have throughout the twentieth century typically described and conceptualized their struggles against injustice and tyranny as struggles against sectarianism and colonialism, but not necessarily as a struggle against racism.
  • Tribalism, communalism and sectarianism all refer to parallel formations in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East respectively that assume an unchanging essence that separates members of a single sovereignty or putative sovereignty. They are all static ideological interpretations of pluralism, and have all, to a greater or lesser degree, been massively influenced and even in many ways formally classified and invented by Western colonial powers
  • the national polities of the post-Ottoman period in the Arab East were established by European colonial powers. These European powers massively distorted the ecumenical trajectory evident in the late Ottoman Arab East. First, they broke up the region into dependent and weak states, and second, they divided the region along explicitly sectarian lines
  • the colonial dimension is crucial, and it clearly separates the US and the European period of nationalization from that of the colonized Middle East
  • why the investment in and privileging of certain epistemic categories of domination as opposed to others? The question of migrant labor illustrates how race and class and geography and history are intertwined in very specific ways—the Middle Eastern cases (whether the Gulf or in Lebanon) are indeed different from that of the history of migrant labor in the United States, which has always been implicated in settler colonialism.
  • One key difference, of course, between modern Western colonialism and early modern Islamic empires is that the latter, like their early modern Christian counterparts, did not pretend to uphold liberal representation, political equality or self-determination. So, temporality is one essential difference: ethnic, racist or sectarian discrimination in the Islamic empires was not justified or imagined as a benevolent burden to uplift others into an ostensibly equal level of civilization. There was no pretense of a colonial tutelage to help natives achieve independence in the fullness of time
  • In the Ottoman Islamic empire, there were indeed professions of Islamic superiority, notions of ethnic, tribal and religious discrimination, forms of bondage and slavery, and myriad chauvinisms and prejudices tied to kinship, geography, language, culture and ethnicity and so on, but not a notion of biological racism or the obsession with racial segregation and miscegenation that has been the hallmark of modern Western colonialism
  • a new and distinctive defensiveness among leading Muslim Arab intellectuals—that is, their need to defend Islam and Islamic society from missionary and colonial assault whilst also embracing or reconciling themselves to compatriotship with Arab Christians and Jews. This defensiveness persists
  • the great problem of scholars and governments in the West who have long instrumentalized and Orientalized discrimination against non-Muslims to suggest that there is some peculiar problem with Islam and Muslims
  • I think that scholars of gender and women’s history have a lot to teach us in this regard: that is Arab, Turkish, Iranian and other scholars who have explored the long history of gender discrimination—who have defied the fundamentalists—without succumbing to racist Orientalism or self-loathing
  • really historicize! It really is an effective antidote in the face of those who peddle in chauvinism, racism, sectarianism, tribalism and communalism
Ed Webb

As Discontent Grows in Syria, Assad Struggles to Retain Support of Alawites - 0 views

  • Though the choreographed optics are intended to placate the community, pictures of Assad meeting with the distressed and offering shallow assurances are unlikely to offset the sight of cataclysmic flames devouring their homes. In a video shared on Twitter, an Alawite man films a fire surrounding his home. He sarcastically thanks the state for enabling its spread “because it’s irrelevant if we live or die.” In another video, a group of Alawites is seen criticizing government officials for their indifference, including a minister, whom they claim arrived for a photo op then subsequently drove off to avoid answering questions. The demographic’s small size and geographic concentration guarantees that word of such transgressions spreads quickly. The author’s Alawite sources on the coast echo these frustrations and claim they are widespread. They angrily questioned why neither the state nor its Iranian and Russian allies had assisted, especially given the proximity of the latter’s airbase at Khmeimim to the coastal mountains. 
  • On Oct. 9, state media’s Alikhbaria broadcast a video depicting a handful of Syrian soldiers struggling to put out small fires. Owing to severe water shortages, the troops were forced to use tree branches in lieu of hoses or buckets of water. The video was later shared on Twitter, where it elicited a mixture of mockery and condemnation from opponents of the regime. However, Alawite overrepresentation in the military means that these visuals denote a sense of loss and despair to the community.
  • The armed forces make up a key pillar of Alawite identity and have for nearly a century constituted their main institutional vehicle for attaining upward social mobility and prestige. The community’s loss of more than one third of their men of military age fighting for the regime against an overwhelmingly Sunni armed opposition has further entrenched this interdependence
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  • Conversations within the community center on the divide between the elites and the impoverished Alawites who are commonly linked to the discourse of sacrifice. Economic implosion and the decimation of the Syrian pound have effectively thrust a formerly comfortable middle class into poverty. Whereas Alawites are disproportionately represented in the public sector, the average state salary – a meager 50,000 SYP ($21) per month – means that the vast majority live well below the poverty line, as the average family, according to a Syrian newspaper, requires 700,000 SYP ($304) per month in order to live comfortably. 
  • In October alone, the price of gasoline increased twice, while the cost of diesel – used for residential heat and cooking, in addition to operating bakeries and fueling Syria’s cheapest mode of transportation, microbuses – more than doubled. Basic necessities have become virtually unaffordable.
  • Many of the communities impacted by the fires are subsistence farmers that depend on the profits accrued from harvesting crops such as olives, citrus, and tobacco. They commonly require a mixture of short- and long-term loans from the state’s Agricultural Cooperative Bank. Yet systemic corruption, mismanagement, and a collapsed economy have depleted state coffers, making it unlikely that the regime will compensate those whose homes and livelihoods have been destroyed.
  • in an interview with pro-regime radio station Sham FM, a resident of Alawite al-Fakhoura asserts the funds are being distributed by local officials in a nepotistic fashion. This example illustrates that, in the improbable case that Assad secures the necessary finances, his regime cannot prevent its clientelist networks from capturing them
  • diffusion of power since 2011 has led to unprecedented corruption amid the rise of relatively autonomous war profiteers, from militias to businessmen
  • Outside of individual members hailing from a class of intellectuals, artists, and political dissidents, few Alawites actively joined the uprising in 2011. Those who did generally partook in cross-confessional protests that stressed national unity.
  • In August 2015, the president’s cousin, Suleiman al-Assad, shot and killed a decorated Syrian Air Force colonel in Latakia City in a bout of road rage. According to the colonel’s brother, Suleiman had disparaged the Syrian military before killing the officer. Protests calling for Suleiman’s execution ensued in the Alawite neighborhood of Al-Zira’a. The debasing of the army – viewed as the only buffer between Alawites and a vengeful, sectarian opposition – by a privileged member of the ruling class struck a political nerve.
  • The spread of parasitic pro-regime militias operating with impunity and their disregard for breadlines, gas queues, and ration restrictions, in addition to their harassment of people desperately awaiting their turn, has contributed to an atmosphere in which fights break out. In Latakia and Hama, these fights have reportedly resulted in a few deaths.
  • time-tested tactic of externalizing blame and deflecting responsibility is currently being sustained by several exogenous factors. These include the presence of Turkish and American troops on Syrian soil and their support for rival armed actors, the sporadic persistence of Israeli strikes, and the implementation of U.S. sanctions through the Caesar Act, which collectively breathe life into the regime’s otherwise exhausted rhetoric
  • People considering organizing widespread civil disobedience are deterred by the specter of pre-emptive detention by the dreaded mukhabarat. The regime’s periodic security reshuffling further blurs the ability to identify potentially dangerous agents within their own community, magnifying the perceived threat posed by the omnipresence of informants.
  • the regime’s inability to check its repressive impulses could lead to a situation in which Alawites related to members of the officer corps are arrested and tortured – or worse, disappeared – for public critiques of the government, causing backlash from its own coercive forces
  • the deterioration of living standards could ultimately lead to a breaking point. 
  • Any organized dissent would require the support of its rank-and-file soldiers, most of whom share similar, if not identical, grievances with the wider community, and could thus be sympathetic. This could potentially cause a schism within the Alawite community as familial allegiances are weighed against loyalty to the Assad dynasty and its regime, particularly if ordered to repress protests in Alawite areas.
  • The only conceivable scenario in which Assad’s departure can occur at the hands of the Alawites while salvaging the state and avoiding further regional instability would be through a palace coup led by disgruntled officers and backed by Russia. However, the likelihood that Russia could simply replace or abandon Assad, its growing frustrations notwithstanding, is low, not least due to lack of an alternative.
  • Iranian entrenchment, both within the formal institutions of the regime and the state’s security landscape more broadly, continues to exploit Assad’s tenuous authority in order to obstruct Russian attempts to monopolize patronage.
  • Iran is a force for regime continuity. By creating a parallel network of control that bypasses the state, Iran has thus far been able to reproduce its influence, particularly through its ongoing relations with a patchwork of non-state militias, while resisting Russian efforts at vertically integrating these actors into the formal structures of a centralized Syrian state
  • the regime played the leading role in engineering facts on the ground critical to corroborating the false binary at the heart of its survival: Either accept the stability and security of the state – however perilous – or test the genocidal dispositions of the “jihadist” opposition.
  • This idea – that the president is innocent despite being surrounded by villains – is not uncommon among the Alawites.
  • Apart from the Turkish-backed factions in the north, the threat of Sunni reprisals occupies less of an immediate concern to most Alawites than their ability to secure food, shelter, and transportation amid a shattered economy and unstable currency
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

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

Lebanon and Iraq Want to Overthrow Sectarianism - 0 views

  • In Iraq, the protesters mostly consisted of angry young working-class men, and they were quickly confronted with violence. In Lebanon, meanwhile, the protests have been marked by that country’s unmistakable sense of style and festive spirit, and the initiators have mostly been from the upper social classes. In downtown Beirut this past weekend, the sea of protesters included a woman in white-rimmed retro sunglasses with her dog named Pucci and a young man waving a Lebanese flag while lying in an inflatable kiddie pool. Yet despite the stark contrast between the protests, the rebels in both countries are in fact very similar. They are confronting many of the same political problems and are making essentially the same demand. They want the downfall of their countries’ existing self-serving elites, and big changes to the sectarian constitutional systems that enabled them
  • if austerity measures were a trigger, the protesters now have much bigger complaints on their minds
  • Iraqi protesters share the Lebanese view of their ruling elite as corrupt and inefficient (although they have also learned their government is quicker to resort to violence to restore order)
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  • Politicians give whatever work there is to their henchmen, not to us
  • Many of the politicians in Lebanon and Iraq are the direct material beneficiaries of sectarian systems instituted after conflicts in both countries.
  • Wealth and national resources were carved up along sectarian lines, with no party having an interest in upsetting the status quo.
  • After the 2003 U.S. invasion, Iraq borrowed from Lebanon to build its own muhasasa taifa, or balanced sectarianism. Power is likewise shared between the ruling elite of Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. As a result, while elections can shift the balance of power, they do little to change the faces of those who wield it, from whichever sect or faction
  • such division of power has reduced sectarian conflict but failed at making government efficient or transparent
  • one side of the protests is that they are against any political parties that are religious or ideologically charged
  • At least two generations of Iraqis have been scarred by sectarianism, beginning with Saddam Hussein’s killings of Shiites in Iraq, the subsequent revenge by the Shiite militias on Sunnis, and then the formation of the Islamic State. They are not just exhausted from the chaos unleashed by sectarian rivalries, but also disdainful of them. The most recent Iraqi protests were held mainly in Shiite cities and against a Shiite-dominated government.
  • In Lebanon, meanwhile, the protests comprise different sects, ages, sexes, and ideologies. However, perhaps most notable were the protests by Shiites in the south of the country against the Amal Movement, historically the dominant Shiite political party. The streets of Tyre resonated with curses aimed at Nabih Berri—Amal’s leader, the Shiite speaker of the parliament, and a Hezbollah ally.
  • In both countries, Shiite militias backed by Iran have come to play a dominant role in government in recent years: Hezbollah in Lebanon, and groups that belong to the Popular Mobilization Forces, the irregular army raised to fight the Islamic State, in Iraq
  • many Lebanese feel that Hezbollah can no longer claim the moral ground it once claimed for itself as a political outsider, now that it’s clearly a part of the faulty system
  • In last year’s elections, a new movement of independent, nonsectarian “civil society” candidates stepped up, and though only one succeeded in winning a seat, amid claims they are too disparate and divided to succeed, they are still determined to try again
  • For now, however, the very act of protest offers a sense of possibility. “It’s very beautiful,” said Azab, “when you feel that you managed to defeat all your fears and say what you want out loud.”
Ed Webb

Protests in Lebanon and Iraq Show That Iran Is Losing the Middle East Through Bad Gover... - 0 views

  • For the Shiite communities in Iraq and Lebanon, Tehran and its proxies have failed to translate military and political victories into a socioeconomic vision; simply put, Iran’s resistance narrative did not put food on the table.
  • Today, Iran seems to be winning the long game. Its proxy in Lebanon prevailed in last year’s parliamentary elections. In Syria, Iran managed to save its ally, President Bashar al-Assad. In the past several years, Iran has also gained a lot more power in Baghdad through its proxies, including the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the Shiite militias created to fight the Islamic State.
  • Hezbollah’s costly involvement in the Syrian war and pressure from U.S. sanctions on Iran have forced the party to cut salaries and services, widening the gap between the rich and the poor within its own community. Meanwhile, the party also drafted mostly Shiites from poor neighborhoods to go fight in Syria, while its officials benefited from the war riches, causing much resentment.
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  • all these victories failed to translate into public well-being. Iran might have benefited, but Shiites in Lebanon got more isolated than ever. That is why it is so meaningful that the Shiite community, by joining the protests, is now attempting to claim its Lebanese identity rather than the religious one that has, so far, failed it
  • tens of thousands of Iraqis in Baghdad and other Shiite-majority parts of southern Iraq came out in protest over the failures of the Iraqi political class to provide basic services and reduce unemployment and corruption. The crackdown was swift and aggressive, resulting in the deaths of more than 100 protesters. Reuters published a story more than a week into the protests confirming that Iran-backed militias had deployed snipers on Baghdad rooftops to deliberately kill protesters
  • Some Sunnis and Kurds in Iraq have expressed support for the Shiite protesters but have hesitated to get involved in order to avoid having the protesters labeled as members of the Islamic State, an excuse that Iran has used in both Iraq and Syria to attack uprisings.
  • Hezbollah will try not repeat the Iraqi PMF’s mistake of responding with violence. That’s why its military units have been training a number of non-Hezbollah members to join what it calls the Lebanese Resistance Brigades. The role of these brigades is precisely to deal with domestic challenges and allow Hezbollah to deny responsibility. Already, in an attempt to create a counter-revolution, hundreds of young men carrying the flags of Amal and Hezbollah attacked the protesters in a number of cities. So far, the Lebanese Army has stopped them from getting too close to the protests, but they have managed to physically hurt and terrorize people outside Beirut, mainly in Shiite towns and cities
  • Shiism does not belong to Iran
Ed Webb

How Lebanon is setting the standard for a new social contract in the Middle East - 0 views

  • What sets the protest apart is its cross-sectarian nature. Lebanon is turning away from the past and toward a new social contract. There is much risk and uncertainty — but there is also excitement — revealed by brave protesters who have put country above sect, and who have made the region, and the world, take notice.
  • Lebanon has a population of nearly 6.8 million, with an estimated 42% under 24 years of age. The official unemployment rate of about 6% is not high, by regional standards, but with almost no economic growth (a projected 0.2% rate in 2019, following just 0.3% last year), the good jobs are fewer and fewer for young graduates. Lebanon’s deficit and debt are approaching 155% of the gross domestic product, among the worst ratios in the world.
  • orruption and side deals inhibit the government from delivering even reliable trash collection — in contrast to the protesters, who have made a point of keeping the streets clean after the demonstrations
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  • Lebanon did its time with its own bloody 15-year sectarian regional war, and still was able to recover and re-establish its cosmopolitan flair. There is a lot to build on. The failures and dashed expectations of the uprisings in Egypt and Syria, which quickly fell prey to regional and ideological agendas and violence, and Lebanon’s own tragic past, could make it an incubator for a new approach to governance that would allow Lebanon to realize its potential, rather than fall victim to the rhetoric and false promise of what was once known as the Arab Spring
  • The catch for Lebanon, as it has been for Egypt, is that most International Monetary Fund-based recommendations to address bloated and corrupt public ministries require downsizing and reductions in subsidies — such as electricity and gasoline — and an expanded tax base — the very things that trigger the protests of those already on the economic margins.
  • the short-term urgency of meeting the demands of the street need to be combined with a long-term plan for structural reform. This could be accomplished via a new government, quickly formed, or by getting the buy-in of those demanding change by adding new faces and technocrats to those vital ministries that manage economy and infrastructure and are widely associated with corruption and inefficiency
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

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

I found out what happened when a mother took her son to be kneecapped in Nort... - 0 views

  • The resulting film, A Mother Brings Her Son to Be Shot, will receive its international premiere this weekend in Copenhagen, at CPH:DOX, one of the most prestigious documentary festivals in the world, where it has been nominated for an award. The Oscar-winning director Joshua Oppenheimer is now executive producer. The international interest is in disappointing contrast with the UK. The documentary premiered at the London film festival last year but as yet, no UK broadcaster has committed to screening it, despite mounting concerns that Brexit could reawaken old divisions.
  • Some of the people I met during the making of my film are just waiting for an excuse to return to the Troubles. They have not yet recovered from the conflict, nor accepted that the political process requires them to “move on”. They continue to nurse grievances, they plot, they openly carry arms, indeed they yearn for bigger and better weapons. They miss the drama of war, and the identity it gave them. Their children have grown up with this. None of this suits the narrative that the Good Friday agreement brought peace to Northern Ireland. The agreement was a vital achievement for all involved, and should be protected, but some sections of the community still feel that they lack support and believe the peace process has not provided for them. This state of mind is widespread within Northern Ireland. More people have taken their own lives there in the last 20 years than were killed during the Troubles.
Ed Webb

'The Insult,' Lebanon's first Oscar-nominated film, examines a country's deepest wounds... - 0 views

  • The film follows Yasser, a Palestinian construction worker who becomes embroiled in conflict with Toni, a right-wing Lebanese Christian, over a leaking water pipe. When Yasser confronts Toni about his grievances, Toni hurls back an insult that strikes sharply at the heart of the Palestinian struggle. The film examines the many forms our personal truths can take, how they collide, and the consequences of words in a polarized world.
  • It could happen like that in Lebanon. You could have a very silly incident that could develop into a national case.
  • we were fought because some people thought that we’re opening old wounds, and then all the people felt that, you know, we were defaming the Palestinians. Other people said we were attacking the Christians. Anytime you make a movie that is a bit sensitive — this one is a little bit more than a bit sensitive — people go up in arms. You know, they look at the film and then they immediately start projecting themselves and projecting their prejudices against it
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  • The subject came out of something I lived through, growing up in a war. Something that my co-screenwriter Joelle also lived through. It’s not like we read a book or based it on a TV interview on CNN. It’s something that we lived through, all the dynamics that you saw in the film, we are very familiar with it. You know, the Palestinian point of view, the Christian point of view. These are things that are so familiar to us. You know it’s this thing that we grew up eating and drinking and living. We were stopped at checkpoints, we hid under the bombs, we lived in shelters in Beirut in the 70s and the 80s and the 90s
  • We could have been such a lighthouse in the midst of all these other places around because we’re so interesting. Lebanon so interesting. But it’s sad that it does not fully use its potential. You know Christians, Muslims, Shiites, Sunni, liberal, it has all the potential of making a very, very interesting place
  • I had a lot of prejudice towards the Christians growing up. Like incredible. My parents were very left wing pro-Palestinian. And anybody from the Christian camp, from East Beirut, was considered a traitor, the enemy. And then you meet people from East Beirut, Christians, who were part of the Christian camp, and then you sit down and they work on your movie and and then you go have a drink and then you suddenly say, “Their story’s like mine, they suffered as much as [me].”
  • “The Insult” is about reexamining the other side. The woman who co-wrote the film with me who became my wife — we wrote four films together — she comes from the Christian camp. I come from [Muslim] West Beirut. She wrote all the scenes of the Palestinian. And I wrote the scenes of the Christians. We swapped.
  • every screening we do in the states, in Los Angeles in Telluride, in Toronto people were like so emotional about it. And then they said, “We totally identified because of what’s going on in the States today. We are living in America at a period where it feels like this entire society is tearing apart a bit.” And they look at the film and suddenly it’s speaking to them, even though that was not the intention.
  • Sometimes the country needs to go through a tear in order to heal better.
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

Sierra Leone arrests pastor who blamed Islam for 'every terrorist act in history' | Glo... - 0 views

  • A Nigerian pastor has been arrested in Sierra Leone after recordings of a sermon targeting Muslims went viral on social media, sparking widespread outrage. In an address to his congregation on Saturday, Victor Ajisafe, founder and leader of one of the country’s largest churches, called Islam a “violent religion of lies and deceit” and said Muslims have been responsible for “every terrorist act in the history of the world”. Sierra Leone’s population is roughly 78% Muslim, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center estimate.
  • met with immediate and near-universal condemnation by both Muslim and Christian Sierra Leoneans
  • An initial press release from the social welfare ministry said Ajisafe was being held for his own protection. Kamara said Ajisafe would be held until a charge against him could be determined.
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  • All six branches of Ajisafe’s Sanctuary Praise Church, one of Sierra Leone’s largest Evangelical communities, have been indefinitely shut down by the social welfare ministry pending further investigations. Police have been dispatched to each location to prevent anyone from entering after CID officials claimed that “credible information” indicated the existence of a plot to burn down the church’s Freetown headquarters.
  • who says just because some hateful comments were said that suddenly every Muslim in the country is going to jump for an opportunity to destroy the man? By assuming so, the government is just reinforcing that stupid narrative about Muslims the pastor put out in the first place
  • Members of the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone have condemned Ajisafe’s statements. The council’s secretary general, Reverend Dr Usman Jesse Fornah, said Sierra Leone’s Christians have lived “a peaceful coexistence with Muslims and want it to continue”. The organisation’s president, Sheikh Abu Bakarr Conteh, emphasised Islam’s peaceful nature and urged his followers to forgive Ajisafe and refrain from passing judgement on their Christian neighbours.
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.
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