FaithWorld

Sidelining Islamists holds risks for Egypt

egypt elex (Photo: Police carry away ballot boxes after polls closed at Mahalla El Kubra, north of Cairo November 28, 2010/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has been pushed to the sidelines of mainstream politics after an election it said was rigged, a step that may empower radicals who say an Islamic state can only be achieved by force.

The Islamist group that held a fifth of seats in the outgoing parliament cannot be certain to retain any seats after Sunday’s first round of voting, which Egyptian monitors said was littered with abuses. The group may now withdraw from the race.

President Hosni Mubarak’s party is assured of victory. But reducing the Brotherhood’s presence to a rump — at best — looks like a heavyhanded show of strength by authorities nervous about dissent before Egypt’s presidential vote next year.

Quashing the government’s Islamist critics in the assembly shuts one more valve for Egyptians to vent frustrations about the ruling party’s monopoly on power and surging prices hurting the numerous poor people among a populace of 79 million.

“The current government policy is essentially quite dangerous and may ultimately backfire,” said IHS Global Insight analyst Sara Hassan. “A younger more radicalised generation of Islamists allied with the group’s hardliners may question this strategy (of non-violence by the Brotherhood), and in their frustration seek other options,” she said.

Muslim group aims to reverse Swiss minaret ban

ch 1 (Photo: A referendum campaign poster supporting the minaret ban, in Zurich October 26, 2009/Arnd Wiegmann)

A Swiss Islamic group has said it was launching a popular initiative to reverse a ban on building new minarets in the Alpine state, saying voters would decide differently if the matter came up for referendum again. Last year, 57.5 percent of Swiss voters approved a ban on the construction of new minarets, drawing international condemnation. The government had rejected the initiative as violating the constitution.

The plan to reverse the minaret ban comes a day after a majority of Swiss voted to back expulsion of foreigners convicted of serious crimes, the latest sign of growing hostility to immigration.

The text of the proposed initiative will state that the ban on building minarets is to be stricken from the constitution, the Central Islamic Council of Switzerland said on Monday. “Today we can clearly say that accepting the ban has brought neither the voters nor this country any profit,” said Nicolas Blancho, president of the group. “This (new referendum) will also show that we respect democracy and stick to local law.”

“The Jury is Out”: WikiLeaks shows U.S. trying to understand Islam in Turkey

turkey 3 (Photo: A commuter ferry sails past the Blue Mosque in Istanbul September 4, 2010/Osman Orsal)

The WikiLeaks documents from the U.S. embassy in Ankara show several attempts by American diplomats to understand the role of Islam and the Islamic world in the political stand of the governing AK Party of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. Their efforts can be summarised in a subtitle of a cable in 2007 purporting to show “the truth behind the AKP’s “secret Islamic agenda.” It said simply: The Jury is Out.”

Following are some interesting excerpts, with links to the full documents:

20 Jan 2010 — WHAT LIES BENEATH ANKARA’S NEW FOREIGN POLICY

1. (C) There is much talk in chanceries and in the international media these days about Turkey’s new, highly activist foreign policy …  The ruling AKP foreign policy is driven by both a desire to be more independently activist, and by a more Islamic orientation…

turkey 52. (C) Does all this mean that the country is becoming more focused on the Islamist world and its Muslim tradition in its foreign policy? Absolutely. Does it mean that it is “abandoning” or wants to abandon its traditional Western orientation and willingness to cooperate with us? Absolutely not. At the end of the day we will have to live with a Turkey whose population is propelling much of what we see …  Turkey will remain a complicated blend of world class “Western” institutions, competencies, and orientation, and Middle Eastern culture and religion.

Pakistan Pres. Zardari barred from pardoning Christian woman

bibi 1 (Photo: Pprotesters demand the release of Asia Bibi at a Karachi rally, November 25, 2010/Akhtar Soomro)

A Pakistani court has barred President Asif Ali Zardari from pardoning a Christian woman sentenced to death on charges of insulting Islam, in a case that has sparked criticism over the country’s blasphemy law. Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old mother of four, requested a pardon from the president after a lower court sentenced her to death on Nov 8 in a case stemming from a village dispute.

The Lahore High Court barred Zardari on Monday from pardoning Bibi in a petition filed by Shahid Iqbal, a Pakistani citizen. Iqbal’s lawyer Allah Bux Laghari told Reuters a pardon was illegal as the court was already hearing an appeal against her sentence.

“We believe it is the court’s duty to evaluate the evidence against her, not individuals, and if she is found innocent, she should be freed,” he said.

Russia’s Islamist rebels mull language switch to Arabic or Turkish

grozny (Photo: Workers clean blood from the sidewalk outside the parliament building in Grozny October 19, 2010 following a suicide attack there that killed four people/Kazbek Basayev)

Militants waging an Islamist insurgency in Russia’s mainly Muslim North Caucasus region have proposed using either Arabic or a Turkic language as a lingua franca for their affairs. The insurgents now communicate with each other largely in Russian, also the main language of the dozen or so Islamist web sites they are affiliated with, and of their video addresses.

The insurgency leader, Chechen rebel Doku Umarov, suggested earlier this month that a “state” language be formed for the self-styled Caucasus Emirate, a grouping of Muslim republics including Chechnya and Dagestan that want to quit Russia.

Arabic was proposed due to its status as “the language of Islam,” while a Turkic group language was suggested due to the historical and linguistic links of dozens of languages spoken in the North Caucasus. Last week a member of the Caucasus Emirate, Abu Zaid, posted a long appeal on kavkazcenter.com in favor of Arabic as a state language for the Caucasus Emirate, calling it “the international language of jihad.”

Egyptian opposition voters face pitfalls, Muslim Brotherhood cries foul

egypt 1 (Photo: Posters of candidates of the banned Muslim Brotherhood in Alexandria, 27 Nov 2010/Goran Tomasevic)

It seemed too good to be true when Amira Antar walked into the polling station to vote for Egypt’s Islamist opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, unimpeded by security forces or hired thugs. She quickly found out it was. After she made her choice, the polling station supervisor unfolded Antar’s ballot, ticked the candidate of President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling party and put her now spoiled paper in the box.

“I was standing at the door and I saw what he did and honestly my heart broke. I don’t know what to do or who to complain to. I don’t think I’m going to vote again,” said the 22-year-old, voting for the first time in a parliamentary poll. The Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned but allowed to run candidates as independents, says the vote is marred by mass violations including ballot stuffing and bullying. The government says it has ensured a free and fair election.

Events took a different turn at Sayeda Zainab school in Mahalla El Kubra where Muslim Brotherhood voters scuffled with security men trying to keep them out of the polling station. “Where is the democracy they promised us? Where is the free and fair election?” asked a frustated Abdel Hay Ismail, 50.  Read the full story by Dina Zayed here.

Beard guide and song ban among Salafist books barred in Algeria

algeria salafi 2

(Photo: Customs officers inspect books purchased at an Islamic book fair in Algiers, searching for Salafist books, October 29, 2010/Zohra Bensemra)

Concerned by the growing influence of the ultra-conservative Salafist branch of Islam, Algeria has this year been cracking down on the import and distribution of Salafist literature. Salafist publications, most printed in Saudi Arabia, are still available in some specialist bookstores. See our feature on this crackdown here.

Following is a selection of titles on sale in a bookshop in Rouiba, an eastern suburb of the Algerian capital.

Egyptian TV preacher to fight Islamist extremism in Yemen

khaled (Photo: Egyptian preacher Amr Khaled preaches in Aden November 24, 2010/Khaled Abdullah)

Yemen has enlisted the help of the popular Egyptian television preacher Amr Khaled to help it dislodge militant Islamists’ foothold within its conservative population. The impoverished Arabian Peninsula state, already juggling conflicts in its north and south, is struggling to combat a resurgent wing of al-Qaeda that experts say exploits Yemen’s instability to launch attacks in the region and beyond.

Yemen security forces have launched several military campaigns, including air raids and blockades of cities, to root out suspected al Qaeda militants in Yemen’s south.

Khaled, who CBS television has called “the Billy Graham of Islam,” is a charismatic and moderate populist Muslim preacher known for wooing crowds of upper-middle class Egyptian youths in a high-pitched voice. He’s often described as a “televangelist” or — putting it more Islamically — “telemufti.”

Support for UN vote against defaming religion wanes

ungaA U.N. General Assembly committee has once again voted to condemn the “vilification of religion” but support narrowed for a measure that Western powers say is a threat to freedom of expression. The non-binding resolution, championed by Islamic states and opposed by Western countries, passed by only 12 votes on Tuesday in the General Assembly’s Third Committee, which focuses on human rights, 76-64 with 42 abstentions. (Photo: United Nations General Assembly  in New York September 24, 2010/Keith Bedford)

Opponents noted that support had fallen and opposition increased since last year, when the Third Committee vote was 81-55 with 43 abstentions. The 192-nation General Assembly is expected to formally adopt the measure next month.

The resolution was amended from versions passed in previous years in an attempt to secure support from Western nations. Instead of defamation of religion, it speaks of “vilification.” It also condemned acts of violence and intimidation due to “Islamophobia, Judeophobia and Christianophobia.” Last year’s resolution, as in previous years, focused on Islam and did not mention Judaism and Christianity.

Saudi Arabia less rigid with Muslims during haj

haj (Photo: Haj pilgrims arrive to cast stones at pillars symbolising Satan in Mena, November 16, 2010/Mohammed Salem)

Saudi Arabia’s religious police keep such a low profile during the haj, it’s hard to imagine that you are in Islam’s holiest city.

The kingdom, where Islam first emerged around 1,400 years ago, applies a strict form of Sunni Islamic sharia law that imposes gender segregation, forces shops to close during prayer times and prohibits women from driving.

But in Mecca, the enforcement of many of these rules is relaxed during the haj, a duty for every able-bodied Muslim. And with the government investing billion of dollars in recent years to make pilgrimage safer and more comfortable, many pilgrims end up going home as goodwill ambassadors for the country.