FaithWorld

from John Lloyd:

The vacuum on the Nile

Egypt now lives in a political and constitutional vacuum. The present military rulers have dissolved the sole national level representative assembly, the Shura Council, and rescinded the constitution. Both, to be sure, were self-interested creations of the Muslim Brotherhood administration. But nothing has been put in their place.

There is only the military and its choice as president, the constitutional lawyer Adly Mansour. Nothing else remains. But if further tragedy -- perhaps, as Russian President Vladimir Putin forecast, a civil war -- is to be averted, the vacuum must soon be filled.

Putin may be right. The killing of at least 51 supporters of the Brotherhood in incidents around a barracks of the presidential guard on Sunday raises the stakes, and the temperature. The military’s contempt for the Brotherhood, whose government they had sworn to serve, is now very evident, as is their assumption of a right to dispose of the country’s politics, and to enforce order by fear.

The will-he/won’t-he struggle over the appointment of Mohamed ElBaradei as prime minister illuminates one of the major underlying crises in a country of many overlapping crises. He is a figure acceptable to, indeed a hero of, liberals and secularists. But his long service abroad, largely for the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, which he headed for twelve years, inspires suspicion and even hatred among the Islamist parties.

The largest of these, the Salafist Nour party -- which won 111 of the 498 parliamentary seats in the 2011 elections -- says that if ElBaradei heads the new government, Nour will end any collaboration with the military in its transition. ElBaradei himself has said that Islamist participation is necessary for the transition.

from The Great Debate:

What just happened in Egypt?

It was not supposed to turn out this way: Only a year after Egyptians freely elected Mohamed Mursi as their president for a four-year term, he was removed by a military decree. This sets in motion a “road map” for a new transitional period leading to another experiment akin to the period following the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

The ambivalence was hard to miss. The sheikh of Al-Azhar Mosque, Egypt’s storied and influential institution, was there to lend legitimacy to the military decree. But his words told the story. He was compelled by sharia, he said, to choose the lesser of two evils in supporting early elections. But the ambivalence of the thousands of liberals who joined together in the protests at Tahrir Square and other public squares was even greater.

Many had chanted only months ago against military rule. Some had even voted for Mursi because they felt that his opponent Ahmad Shafik was Mubarak’s man. This is not where they wanted to be -- but here they were in the millions with some of Shafik’s supporters. Most are not jubilant; they are relieved but worried.

from John Lloyd:

Egypt’s repeat search for democracy

I’ve spent the past few days walking beside and watching the largely youthful demonstrators in Egypt, and I’ve been struck with admiration that’s quickly drowned in despair. I admire them for the way they’ve rejected the creeping authoritarianism of an incompetent Muslim Brotherhood government whose only accomplishment is inserting its members or sympathizers into every part of Egyptian life that it could.

But my despair is greater than my admiration. There is no good outcome to the Egyptian “second revolution,” as the opposition wishes it to be called. The army has taken control, and may -- as it says it wishes -- hold the ring only until a temporary constitution is agreed upon and another election called. The Muslim Brotherhood, whose government is led by President Mohamed Mursi, may, with reluctance, acquiesce in this -- though  many of its member are furious over the coup, as they rightly call it. The opposition forces may abstain from ramming what they will see as a “victory” too hard down the Brothers’ throats. These “mays” are, as this is written, be unlikely when set against various degrees of escalating conflict. But they are possible.

Yet even if all of that were to move from the conditional to the actual, the outcome would still not be good. Hatred, or at least deep distrust, between the Brotherhood and the opposition groups has increased since the weekend, as deaths -- often the outcome of attacks on the Brothers’ offices -- mount. These feelings are now absolute.

from The Great Debate:

The key to understanding the ‘Arab Spring’

The United States has been unable to develop a clear national policy about the Arab Spring largely because Washington does not fully understand what’s happening in the Middle East.

The term, “Arab Spring” is itself misleading. The changes over the past 20 months have produced a fundamental transformation of the region – but not in the way most outside observers anticipated: They reflect the replacement of the dominant Arab national identity by a more Islamic identity.

This change has been evolving for more than 40 years and did not begin in January 2011 with the demonstrations across the Middle East.

from David Rohde:

The Islamist Spring

TUNIS – Like it or not, this is the year of the Islamist.

Fourteen months after popular uprisings toppled dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, Islamist political parties – religiously conservative groups that oppose the use of violence – have swept interim elections, started rewriting constitutions and become the odds-on favorites to win general elections.

Western hopes that more liberal parties would fare well have been dashed. Secular Arab groups are divided, perceived as elitist or enjoy tepid popular support.

But instead of the political process moving forward, a toxic political dynamic is emerging. Aggressive tactics by hardline Muslims generally known as Salafists are sowing division. Moderate Islamists are moving cautiously, speaking vaguely and trying to hold their diverse political parties together. And some Arab liberals are painting dark conspiracy theories.

Seeds of Arab Spring sown in Islam’s past, Turkish author says

(Mustafa Akyol at the Council on Foreign Relations 'Religion and the Open Society' Symposium In New York March 25, 2008 in this publicity photo released to Reuters July 13, 2011/Council on Foreign Relations)

Eight year-old Mustafa Akyol was looking at a book in his grandfather’s library when he saw something that shocked him: a passage advising parents to beat impious children. Now, Akyol is a journalist in Turkey, and he hopes the Arab Spring shows a different side of Islam: one where there is no conflict between Islam and political freedom.

His new book, “Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty,” which is being released in the United States on July 18, aims to tell people that there is a long history of freedom in the Islamic world. “The fact that so many Arab countries have been run by dictators fostered the myth that it’s the only type of government that those countries can produce,” Akyol told Reuters. “The current uprisings are showing that this is wrong.”

Mideast Christians struggle to hope in Arab Spring, some see no spring at all

(A Muslim holding the Koran (top L) and a Coptic Christian holding a cross in Cairo's Tahrir Square during the period of interfaith unity on February 6, 2011/Dylan Martinez)

Middle East Christians are struggling to keep hope alive with Arab Spring democracy movements promising more political freedom but threatening religious strife that could decimate their dwindling ranks. Scenes of Egyptian Muslims and Christians protesting side by side in Cairo’s Tahrir Square five months ago marked the high point of the euphoric phase when a new era seemed possible for religious minorities chafing under Islamic majority rule.

Since then, violent attacks on churches by Salafists — a radical Islamist movement once held in check by the region’s now weakened or toppled authoritarian regimes — have convinced Christians their lot has not really improved and could get worse.

Will the Arab Spring bring U.S.-style “culture wars” to the Middle East?

(From left: Olivier Roy, Cardinal Angelo Scola and Martino Diez of the Oasis Foundation at the conference on San Servolo island, Venice, June 20, 2011/Giorgia Dalle Ore/Oasis)

Where is the Arab Spring leading the Middle East? What will be the longer-term outcome of the popular protests that have shaken the region since the beginning of this year? Of course, it’s still too early to say with any certainty, even in countries such as Tunisia and Egypt that succeeded in toppling their authoritarian regimes. Some trends have emerged, however, and they’re on the agenda at a conference in Venice I’m attending entitled “Medio Oriente verso dove?” (Where is the Middle East heading?). The host is the Oasis Foundation, a group chaired by Cardinal Angelo Scola, the Roman Catholic patriarch of this historic city, and guests include Christian and Muslim religious leaders and academics from the Middle East and Europe.

In one of the most interesting — and hotly debated — presentations, the French Islam specialist Olivier Roy described the Arab Spring as “a break with the culture and ideologies that dominated the Arab world from the 1950s until recently.” It marks a clear change in the demographic, political and religious paradigms operating there, he said. The old dichotomy of the authoritarian regime or the Islamist state has broken down, he argued, and Islam is taking on a new role in the political process. In the end, the region — or at least the states where the Arab Spring brings real change — could see democratic politics marked not by major efforts to establish an Islamic state but by Muslim “culture war” controversies not unlike the way hot-button issues such as abortion and gay marriage emerge in U.S. political debates.

EU assures religious leaders it backs freedom of belief in Middle East

(European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek (L), European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (C) and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy (R) hold a news conference after a meeting with religious leaders in Brussels May 30, 2011/Yves Herman)

European Union leaders assured senior religious figures on Monday they would defend the freedom of belief in the Middle East as part of their support for the spread of democracy in the Arab world. European Commission President Jose Barroso told about 20 Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist leaders at an annual consultation in Brussels that the EU aimed to promote democracy and human rights both in Europe and in its neighbouring countries.

Several of the Christian representatives present expressed concern about religious freedom in the mostly Muslim Arab world, which has seen more freedom of speech in recent months but also more violent attacks on Christian minorities in some countries.