FaithWorld

Concern about Islamists masks wide differences among them

holding up korans

(Hamas supporters hold up copies of the Koran at a protest in Gaza City December 26, 2010/Mohammed Salem)

Part of the problem trying to figure out what Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood or Tunisia’s Ennahda party would do if they got into any future power structure in their countries is knowing what kind of Islamists they are. The label “Islamist” pops up frequently these days, in comments and warnings and (yes) news reports, but the term is so broad that it even covers groups that oppose each other. Just as the Muslim world is not a bloc, the Islamist world is not a bloc.

I sketched out a rough spectrum of Islamists in an analysis today entitled  Concern about Islamists masks wide differences. This topic is vast and our story length limits keep the analysis down to the bare bones. But the overall point should be clear that any analysis of what these specific parties might do that ignores their diversity starts off on the wrong foot and risks ending up with the wrong conclusions. MB posters

(Electoral posters of candidates of the banned Muslim Brotherhood in Alexandria on November 27, 2010 for the 2010 parliamentary electionS/ Goran Tomasevic)

While reading and talking to experts about Islamism these days, I either had the television on (zapping between BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera English) or listened to radio stations like BBC and NPR. When the Muslim Brotherhood came up, there were often suggestions — explicit or implicit — that it would seize power in a Leninist-style coup or whip up the masses to install a theocracy  in a replay of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. Experienced generals sometimes  end up fighting the last war. Clever analysts can reach for the wrong historical parallel to the situation they’re tying to explain. Could it be that reflexes like these are clouding our view of what the Brotherhood and Ennahda actually are?

Can Arabs learn from Turkish model of Islam and democracy?

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(Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, December 2, 2008/Umit Bektas)

If President Hosni Mubarak bows to the clamor of the street and goes, Egyptians and other Arabs seeking to turn a page on autocratic government may look at Turkey for some clues on marrying Islam and democracy.

Relatively stable, with a vibrant economy and ruled by a conservative and pragmatic government led by former Islamists, Turkey has often been cited as a model Muslim democracy and a linchpin of Western influence in the region.

Egyptians want more Islam in politics, according to Pew poll

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(Anti-Mubarak graffiti in Cairo's Tahrir Square February 1, 2011. The Arabic writing reads "Down with Mubarak."/Yannis Behrakis )

With so much speculation about what role the Muslim Brotherhood might play in any future political system in Egypt, it’s worth looking at some opinion polling data to see what they say they think about the role of Islam in politics.  One recent poll says they want a bigger role for Islam in politics, they want democracy and they reject Islamist radicals such as Osama bin Laden.  Respondents also showed quite high levels of support for traditional Islamic punishments such as stoning for adulterers, cutting off thieves’ hands and death for apostates from Islam.

Whether and how the views mirrored in these results get turned into policy naturally depends on many factors, so this poll the Pew Research Center published in December cannot be any kind of projection of what to expect. Still, it provides at least some data on what Egyptians may want to see from a future government.

Copts say Egypt regime change trumps Islamist fears

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(Egyptians rally at Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo February 1, 2011/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

For Rafik, a member of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, the myth that President Hosni Mubarak is the community’s best defense against Islamist militants was shattered by an Alexandria church bombing on New Year’s Day. He and other Copts continued to demonstrate alongside at least 1 million Egyptians on Tuesday, saying their desire to end Mubarak’s three-decade rule was for now more pressing than any fears that a change of power might empower Islamist groups.

“After (the Alexandria) bombing the Copts for the first time started to demonstrate against Mubarak. He was telling us that ‘When I’m in power, you’re safe.’ Well, obviously, when he’s in power, we’re not safe,” the 33-year-old dentist said as he stood amid thousands of protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Egypt’s Islamists well placed for any post-Mubarak phase

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(Anti-Mubarak protest at Tahrir Square in Cairo February 1, 2011/Suhaib Salem)

The Muslim Brotherhood, one of the Arab world’s oldest Islamist movements and Egypt’s largest opposition group, is well placed to play a prominent role as President Hosni Mubarak’s rule teeters on the brink of collapse.

The movement is active in the protest movement massing in Cairo, Alexandria and other cities on Tuesday in an attempt to persuade Mubarak that after 30 years it is time to go.

But decades of severe repression have taught the Brotherhood to move cautiously, and the movement is anxious to preserve the impression that the protesters are part of a broad-based movement of which the Islamists are just one part.

Italy blocks EU religious persecution text ignoring Christians

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(Christians protest against what they say is the failure of authorities to protect them, in Cairo January 3, 2011/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)

The European Union failed to agree on a statement against the persecution of religious minorities on Monday after Italy objected to the omission of any reference to the protection of Christians. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said a draft proposed at a meeting of EU foreign ministers expressing concern about increasing numbers of attacks on places of worship and pilgrims showed an “excess of secularism”.

“The final text didn’t include any mention of Christians, as if we were talking of something else, so I asked the text to be withdrawn, so in fact it has been withdrawn,” he told reporters.

Guestview: Unrest in Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood

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(Protesters at a demonstration in Cairo January 29, 2011/Asmaa Waguih)

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone.  Jonathan Wright is a longtime Reuters correspondent in the Middle East who is now a translator and blogger based in Cairo.

By Jonathan Wright

As in the case of Tunisia, a succession of commentators have remarked on the small role the Muslim Brotherhood appears to have played in the unrest in Egypt. One of the latest I have seen came from Michael Collins Dunn, the editor of the Middle East Institute“Do you see any beards? Well, maybe a few beard-and-mustache looks of some young hipsters, but not the beard-without-mustache ‘uniform’ we associate with the Muslim Brothers,” he writes.

I think Dunn is mistaken here on several counts. For a start, Muslim Brothers come in many guises, and the ‘beard-without-mustache’ look is hardly a Brotherhood uniform. He may be confusing Muslim Brothers with salafis, while the two groups are quite distinct, though with some overlap. From my own experience on the streets (see my earlier reports on my blog), I believe people are underestimating the level of participation by members of the Brotherhood, though I will readily concede that they have not taken part at full strength and at a level which reflects their demographic weight.

Major Muslim TV preacher Amr Khaled heads for Cairo

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One of the world’s most influential Muslim television preachers said on Friday that he was traveling back to his native Egypt, which is in turmoil amid mass protests against President Hosni Mubarak.

Amr Khaled, whose TV shows promoting Islam are widely viewed throughout the Middle East, told Reuters he was leaving the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland to head for Cairo. He would not say whether he would join the protests.

“My message to all Egyptians now is that our country is precious and the future needs a government that listens and respects young people,” he said in a telephone interview.

Top Sunni Islam authority al-Azhar halts dialogue with Vatican

al-azharThe highest authority of Sunni Islam, the Islamic University of al-Azhar in Cairo, has frozen all dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church over what it called Pope Benedict’s repeated insults towards Islam. Benedict this month condemned attacks on churches that killed dozens of people in Egypt, Iraq and Nigeria, saying they showed the need to adopt effective measures to protect religious minorities. (Photo: Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, July 13, 2006/Suhaib Salem)

His remarks followed a New Year bombing outside a church in the Egyptian city of Alexandria that left 23 people dead and dozens injured and prompted demonstrations by both Christians and Muslims against sectarian violence. The pope urged Christian communities to persevere in a non-violent manner in the face of what he described as “a strategy of violence that has Christians as a target”.

Al-Azhar’s Islamic Research Council “reviewed in an emergency meeting on Thursday the repeatedly insulting remarks issued by the Vatican Pope towards Islam and his statement that Muslims are discriminating against others who live with them in the Middle East,” al-Azhar said in a statement. “The council decided to freeze dialogue between al-Azhar and the Vatican for an indefinite period,” it added.

Egypt sentences Muslim to death for Coptic shooting

coptic (Photo: Riot police stand guard near the Orthodox church in Alexandria, Egypt bombed during Orthodox Christmas Mass, January 6, 2011/Asmaa Waguih)

An Egyptian state security court on Sunday sentenced a Muslim man to death for killing six Coptic Christians and a Muslim police officer in a drive-by shooting on Coptic Christmas Eve in January 2010.

Mohamed Ahmed Hussein, 39, known as Hamam Kamouni, had been charged with the “premeditated murder” of the Christians and the police officer and with “intimidating citizens” in Nagaa Hamady in southern Egypt after mass on the eve of Coptic Christmas.

The judge said Hussein’s sentence would be sent to the Grand Mufti for confirmation, a reference to Egypt’s top religious authority who is called on to confirm death sentences.