FaithWorld

Arab revolts set to transform Middle East

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(Bahraini anti-government protesters in central Manama, February 16, 2011/Hamad I Mohammed)

The astonishing popular protests against Arab autocrats that have churned the region for three months are the authentic birth pangs of a new Middle East. Israel’s American-backed attempts to bomb Hezbollah and south Lebanon into submission in 2006 did not change the region, as Condoleezza Rice predicted it would. Nor did the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq three years earlier, which former President George W. Bush touted as introducing democracy to the Arab world, have much effect.

The change now is coming from within — and from below. Ordinary people taking to the streets swept away the presidents of Egypt and Tunisia. The leaders of Libya and Yemen are fighting for survival. Arab leaders almost everywhere else are trying to fend off real or potential challenges with a mix of repression and concessions.

“The rulers are running scared, with good reason — the people have terrified them,” said Rashid Khalidi, professor of Arab studies at Columbia University in New York. “The spectre of popular power haunts the dictators and monarchs.”

The region’s mostly Muslim citizens are at last proving they are no exception to the democratic trends that have transformed eastern Europe, Latin America and much of Africa and Asia in recent decades. The pro-democracy movement will reshape the Arab world as powerfully as the ideologies of Arab nationalism, socialism, communism and political Islam in the last 150 years, argues Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Endowment’s Middle East Center in Beirut.

Egyptian clerics protest at graft in Islamic religious bodies

(Imams shout as they demand that Religious Affairs (Awqaf) Minister Hamdy Zaqzouq maintain an Islamic identity in a post-Mubarak Egypt by making Islam the main source of law in addition to demands to remove the state security apparatus and increase public salaries, in front of the ministry in Cairo March 1, 2011. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh  (EGYPT - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS RELIGION))

(Imams protest at the Religious Affairs (Awqaf) Ministry in Cairo March 1, 2011S/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Egyptian clerics and employees of state Islamic religious bodies are demanding an end to what they say is rampant corruption by senior officials who manage religious endowments. No official figures exist for the sums donated to Egypt’s top Islamic institutions to help manage and build mosques and pay imams, but independent estimates suggest they run to the equivalent of hundreds of millions of dollars.

The bodies have been under state control for more than three decades and their reputation among many Egyptians has declined as part of broader discontent at the failings of government. Last month’s popular revolt that ended President Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade rule was the cue for an anti-corruption drive targeting senior officials in the former regime.

Egyptian Islamists won’t cap ambitions forever, Brotherhood leader says

brotherhood banner

(Egyptians walk under a banner by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood calling for a "yes" vote in a referendum on constitutional changes in Cairo March 18, 2011/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

The Muslim Brotherhood is not planning to seek power in Egypt’s elections this year but says it will not limit its political ambitions forever and wants secular parties to get organised to foster true competition.

“Everyone must act so we can reach the point where we become like the rest of the countries in the world, with three or four strong parties,” said Mohamed el-Beltagi, a Brotherhood leader.

Egypt’s al-Azhar shuns Western action in Libya

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(A man prays at the Al-Azhar mosque in old Cairo August 18, 2010/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Egypt’s highest Islamic authority, al-Azhar, has condemned Western military “aggression” in Libya but said it supported what it called the legitimate demands of the Libyan people’s revolution.

Azhar, one of the oldest seats of Sunni Islamic learning, warned the United States and Britain against “dividing Libya and destroying its natural and human wealth, as happened in Iraq,” the state Al Ahram newspaper said on Wednesday .

Many Egyptian Christians voted ‘no’ on constitution, fearing Islamists

egypt referendum

(Pope Shenouda (L), head of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church, casts his vote during a national referendum, at a school in Cairo March 19, 2011/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

Many Egyptian Christians say they voted to reject proposed constitutional amendments in a referendum on Saturday because they fear hasty elections to follow may open the door for Islamist groups to rise to power. It turned out they were in the minority — 77% of those voting supported the proposed changes.

Parliamentary elections should take place in late September followed by presidential elections in December, giving scant time for new parties to organise, including ones representing the aspirations of Christians. Foremost among these aspirations is the creation of a civil state where religion is not a basis for legislation.

In free Egypt, Islamic Jihad leader says the time for the gun is over

Abboud al-Zumar

(Abboud al-Zumar in an interview with Reuters in his home after his release from Liman Tora Prison at Helwan, south of Cairo, March 17, 2011/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

Abboud al-Zumar went to jail 30 years ago for his role in killing Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Now a free man, he believes democracy will prevent Islamists from ever again taking up the gun against the state.

Zumar was a prisoner for as long as Sadat’s successor, Hosni Mubarak, was president. His release with other leading Islamists jailed for militancy is a sign of dramatic change in Egypt in the five weeks since Mubarak was swept from power by mass protests. Zumar, 64, was a founding member of the Islamic Jihad group which gunned down Sadat during a military parade in 1981. He was released along with his cousin, Tarek al-Zumar, who had also spent three decades in jail on similar charges.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood wants quick constitutional amendments

brotherhood

(Khairat el Shater at Tahrir Square in Cairo March 4, 2011/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

Egypt needs to start functioning again and prevent army rule from dragging on too long, the Muslim Brotherhood said, calling for the swift implementation of constitutional amendments to restart political life.

A month after a popular uprising forced President Hosni Mubarak from office, politicians from across the spectrum have begun to debate whether a new constitution is needed to breathe life into political institutions.

The Muslim Brotherhood can rally support quickly and would benefit from a quick election. It says it would take too long to draw up a new constitution that included all parties’ desires, so amending the current one is the only way forward.

Egypt’s Grand Mufti prays with generals, urges Muslim-Christian unity

interfaith tahrir

(A rally to demonstrate unity between Muslims and Christians at Tahrir Square in Cairo March 11, 2011/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Egypt’s problems will melt under “the sunshine of freedom”, Grand Mufti Sheikh Ali Gomaa said in a sermon attended by the ruling military council on Friday when thousands gathered across the country to condemn sectarian violence. He prayed for God to bestow strength on the military which has been governing Egypt since Hosni Mubarak was forced from power on Feb. 11 by an uprising demanding political reform and an end to autocratic rule.

Addressing the sectarian violence that broke out in Cairo this week, killing 13 people, Gomaa said attacks on Christians were un-Islamic. Thousands of Egyptians, both Muslim and Christian, gathered after Friday prayers to call for unity and to condemn the arson attack that ignited the sectarian tension. Thirteen people were killed in clashes between Muslims in Christians in Cairo on Tuesday night after the arson attack on a church. Activists have described the violence as a threat to the revolution.

Egyptian Copts hold funeral after Christian-Muslim strife kills 13

copt coffins

(Egyptian Coptic Christians gather for funeral of seven victims of sectarian clashes, at Samaan el-Kharaz Church in Cairo March 10, 2011/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Thousands of Egyptian Christians attended an emotional funeral service on Thursday for people killed in the worst Christian-Muslim violence since Hosni Mubarak was toppled from power. Six coffins lay by a church altar during the ceremony, victims of the violence on Tuesday in which 13 people were killed and 140 wounded. A seventh coffin arrived later. Some held aloft signs with slogans that included: “No to sectarianism, no to murder,” and “Farewell to the martyrs of Christ.”

“We will sacrifice our souls and our blood for the cross,” a crowd of mourners chanted at the end of the service as they poured out of the Samaan al-Kharaz Church, built in a cave above the Cairo slum of Manshiet Nasr.  It was not clear how many of the dead from Tuesday’s violence were Christian and how many Muslim.

In free Egypt, Salafists regroup and speak out

cairo mosques

(Cairo mosques on a foggy cold day, December 11, 2010/Amr Abdallah Dalsh )

Islamists who suffered some of the toughest oppression of President Hosni Mubarak’s era are speaking out and regrouping for the first time in years, making the most of freedoms they have not enjoyed since the 1970s.  Egypt’s Salafists are resurfacing, from groups that once took up arms against Mubarak’s administration, such as the Gama’a al-Islamiya, to others only involved in peaceful preaching to advance their fundamentalist vision of Islam.

The Gama’a al-Islamiya’s return to prominence worries some Egyptians. The name hit world headlines in 1997 when its followers massacred foreign tourists at a temple in Luxor, ignoring a truce to which its leadership is still committed.

In the wave of freedom that has swept Egypt since Mubarak was toppled, the Salafists have returned to the mosques from which they were banned. Clerics who have been out of the public eye for years are reappearing from Assiut to Alexandria. They hope to take their place in a new Egypt where Islamists are assuming a more assertive role: the mainstream Muslim Brotherhood is becoming ever more vocal in stating its views on what the new military-led government should be doing.