FaithWorld

Battle for alcohol in Muslim Russia is deadly business

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(Men drink vodka in a car in Ingushetia's largest town Nazran, January 30, 2011/Diana Markosian)

A masked guard clad in camouflage pokes his AK-47 rifle into the shoulder of a vodka-guzzling client in a hotel bar in Russia’s Muslim Ingushetia region, and orders him to leave immediately. The state-employed security guard then leads the man and his coterie of quiet revelers out of the dimly lit bar.

“We heard reports rebels are on the prowl again and we want to prevent any damage,” said the guard, who wished to remain anonymous.

At least a dozen places selling alcohol in the North Caucasus were attacked with grenades, bombs and gunfire over the last year as armed Islamists bent on installing sharia law have stepped up their battle against those who fancy a tipple. Last week saw the latest fatal attack in the town of Khasavyurt in Dagestan, near the border with Chechnya, where a bomb ripped through an alcohol-serving cafe, killing four.

Islamist rebels later said in a statement that “the owners were repeatedly warned but they were arrogant”.

Islamists emerge as powerful force in the new Tunisia

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(Supporters welcome home Rachid Ghannouchi at the airport in Tunis January 30, 2011. The sign reads: "No fear of Islam"/Louafi Larbi)

They are at pains to assure Tunisians this is no Islamic revolution. They do not seek the presidency. They will run alongside other groups in the democracy that replaces Zine al-Abdine Ben Ali’s police state.

Tunisia’s main Islamist group may not have played any role in the revolution that toppled Ben Ali after 23 years, but any doubt that Ennahda would emerge as one of the largest players was dispelled with the return of its leader Rachid Ghannouchi.

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.

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.

Factbox: Who is Tunisia’s Islamist leader Rachid Ghannouchi?

Rachid Ghannouchi, the head of Tunisia’s main Islamist Ennahda movement returns on Sunday to the country from which he was exiled 22 years ago.

Below are some facts on Ghannouchi and his party Ennahda. Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi (C) welcomed on arrival in Tunis January 30, 2011/Louafi Larbi

Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi (C) welcomed on arrival in Tunis January 30, 2011/Louafi Larbi

* Ghannouchi is a respected Muslim scholar who went into exile in London in 1989. Now 69, Ghannouchi is widely considered to be a moderate who believes that Islam and democracy are compatible.

Tunisian Islamists show strength at chief’s return

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(Photo: Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi (C, with red scarf) is welcomed by supporters upon his arrival in Tunis January 30, 2011/Louafi Larbi)

Thousands of Tunisians turned out on Sunday to welcome home an Islamist leader whose return from 22 years of exile indicated that his party would emerge as a major force in Tunisia after the ousting of its president.

The reception for Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the Ennahda party, at Tunis airport was the biggest showing by the Islamists in two decades, during which thousands of them were jailed or exiled by president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

Analysis: What role for the Islamists in the new Tunisia?

tunisia flag (Photo: Shadows of protesters on the Tunisian flag, in Tunis January 15, 2011/Zohra Bensemra)

For years they were jailed or exiled. They were excluded from elections, banned from politics, and played no visible role in Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution. But in the brave new world of multi-party politics, moderate Islamists could attract more followers than their secular rivals like to admit.

And the downfall of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s police state may leave Tunisia open to infiltration by extremists from neighboring Algeria, where war between authorities and Islamists has killed 200,000 people in the last two decades.

“The Islamist movement was the most oppressed of all the opposition movements under Ben Ali. Its followers are also much greater in number than those of the secular opposition,” said Salah Jourchi, a Tunisian expert on Islamic movements. “Its effect could be large.”

Tunisia revolt makes Islamist threat ring hollow

rcd (Photo: Tunisian protester with political demands on a banner that reads

“No to a government born of corruption” “Ben Ali is in Saudi Arabia and the government is the same (hasn’t changed)” in Arabic and “RCD, clear out!” in French. The RCD is the party of former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.  In Tunis January 18, 2011/Zohra Bensemra)

The absence of Islamist slogans from Tunisia’s pro-democracy revolt punches a hole in the argument of many Arab autocrats that they are the bulwark stopping religious radicals sweeping to power.

Ousted strongman Zine el Abidine Ben Ali spent much of his 23-year rule crushing Islamist opposition groups who opposed his government’s brand of strict secularism: after Sept. 11 2001, he was an enthusiastic backer of Washington’s “war on terror”.

But the evidence of the past week is that the protest slogans that rang out before his fall demanded not an imposition of Islamic sharia law but fair elections and free speech.

Tunisian Islamist leader says he’ll return from exile

tunis (Photo: Protesters in Tunis January 14, 2011/Zohra Bensemra)

The leader of a banned Tunisian Islamist movement has said he would return in the next few days from exile in London after Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who ran the country for 23 years, was forced out.

Tunisian authorities outlawed the Ennahda, or Renaissance, movement in the early 1990s after accusing it of a violent plot to overthrow secular rule. But the movement said it is non-violent and the victim of government repression.

“I am going to go back very soon,” Rached Ghannouchi told Reuters in an telephone interview at the weekend. “I haven’t decided when yet, but possibly in the days to come.”