Archive for January, 2014

News and Analysis (1/30/14)

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

With no progress in the negotiations, Syria’s will miss next week’s deadline to rid itself of chemical weapons, but the slaughter continues with conventional weapons …

… and the intelligence officials warn a rebel faction intends to make itgs foothold in the country as a base for attacks on the US:

Shakespeare meets Torquemada; A Palestinian prisoner discovers his fellow prisoners demanding he to prove his anti-Israeli creds are actually informants:

“The journalists include the Australian ex-BBC correspondent Peter Greste and Canadian-Egyptian bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy, who has worked for the New York Times.” One of the detainees “recently said their incarceration was ‘an attack not just on me and my … colleagues but on freedom of speech across Egypt” …

… a consequence of “the country … whipping itself into a hyper-nationalist and xenophobic frenzy for months, with popular television talk shows going on at length about the Zionist-American-Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy to destroy Egypt and frequently baying for the blood of both locals and foreigners”:

… while the return of “men like Ahmed Saif who helped run [Mubarak’s] vast patronage network … casts fresh doubts about the stumbling political transition in the biggest Arab state”:

“The head of Turkey’s Association of Judges and Prosecutors (YARSAV) said the Special Authority Courts should have been abolished long ago due to their ‘anti-democratic nature.'” He said they were an AKP “tool to redesign politics,” and their abolition may help AKP “form new alliances and the people that have been harmed by the Cemaat (Gulen’s movement)”:

Iran denies sanctions prompted nuclear talks as it gives the IAEA unprecedented access and hosts a reconciliatory visit from Erdogan:

Angry that “no death sentence has been passed since sharia was introduced in 2000”, Vigilantes hurl stones in a “violent turn in the trial of seven men accused of being homosexual in the ultraconservative Nigerian state of Bauchi. Judge El-Yakubu Aliyu’s white scarf, a symbol of wisdom, was trampled in the dusty ground as he was bundled into a back office for his safety”:

“Sometimes it feels like … as a Muslim woman, you won’t be believed because there is always a narrative that ‘you’re a Muslim woman, you’re brainwashed’. If you are sticking up for [gender separation], you are brainwashed. If you are not sticking up for it then we love you, and we are going to put you on TV and applaud you because you are like us” — Fatima Barkatulla, student:

“Part of what we wanted to do with this series was show that there is a huge diversity of belief and practice within the American Muslim community, that it’s not a monolith. And so you have Kamala, who’s sort of on the more relaxed end of the spectrum, although she is observant”:

“[F]oreign leaders, including the US, have also urged Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki to address the Sunni community’s grievances. A lack of political representation for Sunnis has left them feeling marginalized and created sympathy for Sunni insurgents, including Al Qaeda-linked fighters who took over the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi in Anbar earlier this month”:

 

News and Analysis (1/27/14)

Monday, January 27th, 2014

The “change to a political roadmap that could pave the way for the swift election of army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi” but the change in the “order of elections is likely to deepen tensions in Egypt, which is struggling to cope with waves of political violence” …

… but “[a]s usual in a polarised Egypt, there were competing narratives”  to responsibility for the violence …

… but the government encourages those who rally for Sisi to consolidate his control, while dispersing Islamists and liberals with teargas and birdshot:

“Persuaded” by his “advisers” to give the BBC an interview, the aging inspiration of the “Hizmet” movement, in failing health, denies of involvement in the prosecution of the corruption scandal in Turkey. Did someone else “give the direct order for the net to close in on Mr Erdogan’s allies?” And why did the BBC publish a sanitized version of its report one hour later?

“Jeremy Hodge, a 26 year old from Los Angeles, told The Associated Press on Sunday that he still doesn’t know why he was arrested and held.” He is concerned over the safety of “his roommate, 36-year-old Egyptian filmmaker Hossam Eddin el-Meneai … [who] remains in custody”:

“Just before the constitution vote, Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa appointed a caretaker cabinet…. [T]he new constitution recognizes Islam as the country’s religion … [and] enshrines freedom of conscience and belief, and equality between the sexes”:

“The proposed convoy of aid to Homs … would provide a tangible success for a peace conference beset from the start by low expectations. But the opposition accused the government of ‘stalling’ and said no progress had been made yet. Homs also once more came under mortar attacks from the government”:

The boycott targets “Israeli institutions that colluded with the occupation, including Hebrew University, which illegally built parts of its campus in the occupied territories …to raise awareness of Palestinians’ lack of academic freedom, not only in the occupied territories but also within Israel’s 1948 boundaries”:

US differences with Karzai reflect an underlying disagreement on reconciliation and as to whether the Taliban should have any role in Afghanistan’s future:

A peace agreement is signed, and the government attacks those who would oppose it:

“The attack came after a banner was found hanging outside three Penang churches, including The Assumption, on Sunday. The banner read: “Allah is great, Jesus is the son of Allah.” The churches have lodged complaints with police over the banner”:

News and Analysis (1/24/14)

Friday, January 24th, 2014

The Egyptian junta disgraces itself by charging a respected Egyptian scholar and advocate for freedom with “espionage”:

“[T]his new government wants to totally control the flow of information and wants to limit Egyptians’ exposure to alternative viewpoints, and there’s no Egyptian channel that provides an alternative viewpoint”:

A Palestinian spokesman “said Israel had arrested some naive “boys” and claimed they were al-Qaida to halt American pressure to show more flexibility in peace talks. Israel has demanded it retain a presence in parts of the Palestinian-claimed West Bank after any future peace deal due to security concerns”:

“[A]s a new command, NASOC will need to create military units from scratch, which avoids some of the tensions surrounding the vetting needed under the Leahy Amendment that have impeded bilateral security cooperation as a result of the Nigerian government’s heavy-handed approach to Boko Haram in the North”;

It is very unlikely the Syrian talk will end the civil war, but is access for humanitarian aid to the suffering Syrian people too much to hope for?

 Jenny “used to think that many religious people were only religious because it was expected of them by family and society, at times law” but now her Swedish family’s atheism has challenged Islam’s demand that she respect her parents. “I’ve never seen my mother so angry…. I told my father he could not treat me this way any longer” …

… while on the other side of the fence, an immigrant family is broken up when the parents are detained for weeks without charge for violation of  “laws banning all physical punishment of children”:

“The incident in Du Char Yar Tan, a village in Northern Rakhine state, appears to be the deadliest in a year, and would bring the total number killed nationwide to more than 280, most of them Muslims. Another 250,000 people have fled their homes”:

“[I[n what can only be deemed as phenomenally ironic – Drainville banned the use of “racist” during the Bill 60 hearings now going on in Quebec”:

“The Pentagon reportedly has presented Obama with a plan for 10,000 US troops in Afghanistan after 2014. Below that figure, officials say, imperils the mission. But some analysts say more are needed”:

Emad Shahin’s Statement to Students, Family and Friends

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

[Dr. Emad Shahin is a highly respected scholar of Islam and politics in the modern Muslim world and  a friend to the Minaret of Freedom Institute. His indictment under the Egyptian military junta is actually  shameful self-indictment of the regime itself and we are pleased to be able to print his statement as a guest blog. ]

Statement to my Students, Family and Friends

January 23, 2014

It was with severe shock that I received news that I have been named in a case known as the “Grand Espionage,” which also included former President Mohamed Morsi and senior leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. These claims are baseless and politically motivated.

The indictment listed far-fetched charges that my friends and associates would regard not merely as improbable but as beyond preposterous. The charges include: espionage, leading an illegal organization, providing a banned organization with information and financial support, calling for the suspension of the constitution, preventing state institutions and authorities from performing their functions, harming national unity and social harmony, and causing to change the government by force.

I categorically and emphatically deny all the charges, and I challenge the State Security Prosecutor to present real evidence to substantiate these fabricated charges. I am an academic and have been independent throughout my life. I am an advocate for democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and a fervent supporter of the main objectives of the January 25 Revolution in Egypt, namely freedom, dignity, and social justice.

For the record, I definitively state that I have never been a member of the Society of the Muslim Brothers at any point in my life, and I have never provided it with any financial or material support as alleged in the so-called indictment.

Furthermore, the indictment stated that I was “at large”. This could not have been farther from the truth, as I have never been subpoenaed by any prosecutor even though I have been living in Egypt since 2011. I have openly traveled abroad many times during this period to participate in conferences and attend academic events without ever being stopped or prohibited from leaving or entering the country, especially over the past few months. My workplace, the American University in Cairo, is well known to the authorities. I have never left or changed my place of residence, which is also well known to the government, and I have never been banned from travel or placed on a watch list as I left and entered the country several times during the past month. I appeared on television interviews as an analyst and a commentator to discuss the delicate political situation in Egypt and have always maintained a public presence. I am neither at large nor was I unwilling to appear before any interrogator had I received a formal subpoena and guarantees for fair proceedings, due-process of law, and a fair trial.

Though I have always been a fervent critic of authoritarian rule in Egypt, I have always expressed strong support for peaceful protests to restore democracy and express popular opposition against government repression.

Needless to say I am a well-known academic and intellectual with a long record of teaching and scholarly achievements. I received my PhD from the Johns Hopkins University (SAIS) and have been a faculty member at prominent universities in the US, Egypt, and the Middle East, including the American University in Cairo, Harvard, Georgetown, Notre Dame, George Washington, and Boston Universities. I have produced major scholarly works including being the editor in chief of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics.

I have been critical of the course of political events in Egypt since last summer and can only conclude that such criticism—entirely restricted to word and utterly unconnected to any organized group, faction, or party—is my true offense.  Like many fellow Egyptians, I am supportive of peaceful mobilization in defense of democracy, freedom, equal rights, and inclusion.  I will continue to advocate such values, exercising a right to protest that is enshrined in Egyptian law and, in recent years, deeply engrained in Egyptian practice.

Emad Shahin, Ph.D.
Professor of Public Policy, The American University in Cairo
Henry R. Luce Associate Professor, University of Notre Dame (2009-2012)
Visiting Associate Professor, Harvard University (2006-2009)
Faculty Affiliate, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Belfer Center (2007-2008)
Editor in Chief, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics
Member of the Academic Advisory Board, Center for Christian-Muslim Understanding, Georgetown University
Member of the Editorial Advisory Board, Oxford Research Directions (Since 2011)
Advisory editor, The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World (Oxford University Press, 2009)
Member of the Academic Board, Al-Hadara Center, Cairo, Egypt
Member of Alexandria Library Scientific Board for the Production of “Selections of Modern Islamic Heritage” (Since 2012)
Foreign Reference Member, University of Oslo (since 2007)
Member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council (2008)

News and Analysis (1/22/14)

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

With Iran locked out and a background of hurled claims and counter-claims of terrorism and atrocities and with the principals closed-minded on the main bone of contention (whether either side will allow the other a role in future elections, let alone the transition government), the Syrian talks are off to a rocky start:

“The list of failings in the trial … [includes a]rrests without judicial warrants, allegedly falsified arrest dates in court documents; months of secret detention and solitary confinement with no access to a lawyer; show that the fundamental rights of the defendants have been completely disregarded”:

” Shortly after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that Iran had taken those steps and begun diluting its 20-percent stockpile, modest sanctions relief by the US and European Union kicked in, in accordance with the deal signed on Nov. 24 in Geneva”

State vandalism is an anti-terrorism measure:

“The first Saudi women’s law firm … opened its doors … just months after the first four women lawyers were licensed to practice law as advocates in Saudi Arabia….  This development, largely ignored in the mainstream media in the U.S., is very likely to improve the status of women in Saudi Arabia”:

“Correspondents say the resignations will deepen the deadlock in the interim parliament, which has so far made little progress due to political infighting”:

“Despite growing optimism, both sides warned a peace pact would not immediately end the violence in the south of the predominantly Roman Catholic nation where at least three other armed Islamic groups have opposed the Malaysian-brokered talks and vowed to continue an uprising for a separate Muslim homeland”:

 

News and Anaysis (1/20/14)

Monday, January 20th, 2014

That the violence in Central African Republic, like most religious strife, is due to religious identity rather than religious teachings is underscored by the Christian church that shelters Muslims from the Christian militants intent on slaughtering them:

“The prospects for a Syrian peace conference due to be held in Geneva this week were thrown into doubt Monday after the United Nations unexpectedly invited Iran to attend, prompting a threat from the Syrian opposition to withdraw””

“Deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi was on Sunday ordered to stand trial for insulting the judiciary, legal sources said, alongside 24 others including liberal activists who opposed his Islamist rule but have also been critical of the new army-backed order”:

“The 98.1 percent ‘yes’ vote cannot be seen as an accurate reflection of public opinion in ‘a country as big and as complex and divided as Egypt,’ said Khaled Fahmy, a political analyst who chairs the history department at the American University in Cairo. ‘This is a very alarming figure. … Something has gone very wrong’:

“A Pentagon spokesman said that Iraq will be receiving the extra arms and ammunition ‘very shortly.’ However, Army Col. Steve Warren declined to say whether Washington is considering using U.S. troops to train Iraqi forces”:

“[I]n 1986 the National Fatwa Council ruled that several words, including Allah, could be used by Muslims only…. Two years later, in 1988, the restriction … was passed into law by the Barisan National regime” which “many argue, violates” constitutional equal rights guarantees. “The Federal Court … will hear the case on February 24”:

“[T]he heart of the film … is watching this band of edgy, self-aware, second-generation NY wiseass Muslim comics extend themselves to people in small town America who sometimes have no idea what to do with them…. The lack of irony and guilelessness of the project underscores the simplicity of what is clearly a mission of tolerance”:

“Since the fall of dictator Moammar Gadhafi in Libya’s 2011 civil war, gunmen have killed low-level government employees, activists, clerics and security officials. In worsening security conditions, shootings of higher-ranking officials have become more common. Last week, the deputy minister of electricity was assassinated”:

“Kidnapping of foreigners in Yemen is common, often carried out by disgruntled tribesmen seeking to press the government to free jailed relatives or to improve public services, or by Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda”:

Can Erdogan Survive Turkey’s Corruption Scandal?

Saturday, January 18th, 2014

Can Erdogan Survive Turkey’s Corruption Scandal?

By Namo Abdulla 16/1/2014

Inside America
Inside America

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has proved to have an exceptional ability in crushing his real and perceived enemies.

In 2011, he managed to subdue the country’s powerful military, which had carried out several coups against elected governments in the past.

In 2013, he sent police forces to crack down on tens of thousands of anti-government protesters with relative ease.

But perhaps he has never faced a challenge as big as the ongoing corruption scandal, which has led to the arrests of dozens of people including sons of cabinet ministers.

In response, Erdogan has accused the graft investigation as a conspiracy attempt to remove him from office and taken concrete measures to stop the inquiry. He has purged dozens of high-ranking police officers including at least police chiefs in 15 cities.

The current crisis is new. It’s not the familiar Islamist-secularist conflict that we have seen in Turkey ever since the establishment of the modern nation nearly a century ago.

It’s rather believed to be an internal conflict between the Islamists, pitting Erdogan against the followers of a powerful U.S.-based Islamic preacher named Fethullah Gulen
Does the current crisis threaten Turkey’s stability in an already turbulent region? Where does the U.S. stand on the subject? Is it more in line with Erdogan’s position or that of Fethullah Gullen?

To discuss the subject, I am joined Ilhan Tanir, a Turkish journalist based in Washington DC.

I am also joined Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Presdient of president of the Minaret of Freedom Institute, a Washington-based think-tank on Muslim affairs.

– See more at: http://rudaw.net/english/middleeast/15012014#sthash.0ka6wMKg.dpuf

New and Analysis (1/17/14)

Friday, January 17th, 2014

“It comes as no surprise: the constitution won wide support among Egyptians who backed the army overthrow of President Mohamed Mursi in July, and there was little or no trace of a no campaign as the state presses a campaign on dissent” …

… and now pious Egyptian women may be the new shock troops for democratic reform, for the “Islamist Muslim Brotherhood has for decades provided women with far more opportunities for civic participation and economic security than the secular government did”:

Edina Lekovic … works for the Muslim Public Affairs Council and sits on a regional Islamic advisory board in Southern California. She goes to mosques a lot for meetings and Friday prayers….  She covers her hair and doesn’t mind from men as is Islamic custom. But entering through a different door?”:

The “mother of four with a doctorate from Stanford University, was waiting to board a flight from San Francisco to Hawaii en route to Malaysia in 2005 but was told she was on the no-fly list. She was eventually cleared to fly to Malaysia, but her visa was revoked soon afterward and she could not return to Stanford. She was never told why”:

Defying Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) warning against price-fixing, Malaysia’s ministers want to enforce an ?Anti-Profiteering Act” despite admissions that “factors like demand, supply and weather, as well as the festive season were among the main factors influencing” and government petrol subsidies determine market prices:

“A Mipster is someone who seeks inspiration from the Islamic tradition of divine scriptures, volumes of knowledge, mystical poets, bold prophets, inspirational politicians, esoteric Imams, and our fellow human beings searching for transcendental states of consciousness”:

“Muslims in Central African Republic (CAR) are being “butchered like sheep” by Christian militias, and the deployment of French troops has not improved their safety, according to witness accounts from refugees arriving on evacuation flights to Mali”

“Prosecution at the Netherlands-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon today confirmed that their case rests primarily on a detailed analysis of telephones used by the accused while planning the assassination…. But it leaves open glaring questions”:

Iran says it will let international inspectors into its uranium mine, but “how can we expect Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions if the Israelis won’t come clean?”

“The bill includes life imprisonment for homosexual acts and also makes it a crime not to report gay people. The promotion of homosexuality – even talking about it without condemning the lifestyle – would also be punishable by a prison term.” The death penalty for statutory rape of a minor or “if the perpetrator was HIV… has been dropped”:

News and Analysis (1/15/14)

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

“Parties that control the violence won’t be present at the meeting, and even if they were, conditions for peace aren’t present, given that both rebel factions and the Assad government and its supporters feel they’re locked in an existential struggle”:

The junta hopes a big turnout will lend it legitimacy, but facts such as the fact that opposition to the constitution has been silenced and the details of the text itself make the referendum a disgraceful farce …

… while it boasts “Gaza is next,” believing it can succeed where Israel has failed:

“Former urban planner Yalcin says favoritism “has become the rule” for projects in the old city. He says he was fired after confronting Demir, the district mayor, over corruption in public works”:

That Muslim terrorists featured “in seasons two, four, and six of the television show 24; the Showtime series Sleeper Cell; and a variety of movies, including Syriana, The Kingdom, Rules of Engagement, The Siege, True Lies, and Zero Dark Thirty” won’t stop some politicians from inviting us into their nightmare fantasy world:

“If after 10 years and a war that has cost the US at least $1 trillion the government can’t remember to pay its police (with money entirely provided by the US and other donors) – how many more years and how much money must be spent before it learns how?”

“Al-Qaida loyalists are pursuing a relentless campaign of attacks, mostly aimed at security forces, Shia civilians and Sunnis seen as loyal to the Shia-led government”:

“Quixotic” probably, given the Likud plans to annex the west side of the Jordan Valley, but “Messianic” is over the top:

“The petition came into fruition when middle school students Sumayyah McTaggart, Iman Hazer and Fatimah Dandashi were told by educators to petition the government about an issue they are passionate about, reported Washington, D.C.-based newspaper The Muslim Link“:

“[T]he accused are seen as relatively minor players in the Hariri assassination plot, members of the suspected hit squad rather than the masterminds who ordered his Hariri’s assassination. The tribunal has failed to uncover their identities, even after nine years investigating”:

Four Arab Summers: Diagnoses, Prognoses, and Prescriptions

Monday, January 13th, 2014

PREPRINT OF A PAPER FROM THE IIIT CONFERENCE ON ISLAMIC REFORM MOVEMENTS AFTER THE ARAB SPRING

[This is the first in a series of my notes on the 2013 International Institute of Islamic Thought conference on Islamic Reform Movements After the Arab Spring held in Herndon, VA. It sets the stage for the other papers the presentations and discussions of which will be summarized in the remainder of this series. The official proceedings will be published by IIIT at a later time.]

Four Arab Summers: Diagnoses, Prognoses, and Prescriptions

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D., Minaret of Freedom Institute

In recent years scientific polling has confirmed what knowledgeable scholars have been arguing for decades, that the Muslim people passionately desire democratic reforms and that the resistance to such reform in the Arab world was not rooted in any attachment to their dictators, who were seen as puppets of Western imperialism, but due to a suspicion that Western reforms were aimed more at replacing indigenous culture with a shoddy imitation of Western culture and fostering an increased dependency on the West rather instituting self-government and securing the blessings of liberty.

The abrupt deposition of Ben Ali from Tunisia unleashed a string of rebellions lumped together as the “Arab spring,” the significance of which, and the future of which is hotly debated. Speculation rages as to whether the “Arab spring” has initiated a gradual and irreversible trend towards democratization and liberalization, or forged an opportunity for religious troglodytes to seize power, or simply left the participating societies in a state of chaos from which they cannot emerge without reverting to some supposed historical Oriental despotism.

We examine the turns taken in four cases of the “Arab Spring,” namely, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, and Libya. Despite very different circumstances in place at their outsets, all four cases started as diverse coalitions against the ruling regimes in place. All four provided opportunities for Islamists of varying colors. All have hit bumps in the road of varying severity, from disappointment and assassination in Tunisia to fragmentation and street violence in Egypt, to full blown civil war in Syria, to an overflow of instability to neighboring countries in Libya. We outline the transitions and likely explanations and consider the lessons Islamic movements around the world can draw from them.

Tunisia

Tunisia was the sparkplug that began the movements. It is important to understand the reasons that Tunisia lead the way, as well as the reason for the facility of the deposition of its dictator, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and the relative smoothness of the aftermath in the transitional phase as compared to the other Arab spring countries.

The spark that lit the revolution in Tunisia was the self-immolation of Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi in protest over the corruption that left educated people like himself not merely excluded from appropriate employment, but excluded from any employment whatever unless saddled with humiliating and crippling confiscation of his goods by Municipal officials. The crony capitalism that allowed Westerners to boast that Tunisia was a successful example of modern development was such a great burden on the majority of the nation that it could drive a man like Bouazizi to suicidal act of civil protest.

The explosion of that single act of resistance into a revolution was accelerated by the brutality of the police and security forces against sympathetic demonstrations that ensued. In Tunisia, however, the armed forces were separate from the security forces and the corrupt regime that the latter defended. The Tunisian army saw itself not as protectors of the regime, but of the country from external violence. Nor did they have any powerful place in the economic or political affairs of the nation. Thus, they had no motives to preserve Ben Ali’s grip on power and could honestly advise him to flee the country.

Further, the leadership of the military included an unusually high percentage of officers trained by the U.S.,[1] bequeathing it with a secularity more akin to the American than the French kind, more tolerant of religion in public space. This combined with the sophistication of the Islamist resistance to enable a smooth opportunity for Ennahda to take power in a non-threatening way. Tunisia’s Prime Minister Mohammad Ghanouchi, although an ally of Ben Ali, sought to defuse opposition to the ruling party’s participation in the interim government by promising that he would permanently leave Tunisian politics after organizing free and fair elections within six months.[2] The ploy failed and he resigned days later, and Ennahda was legalized on March 1, 2011. A Constituent Assembly was elected in Tunisia’s first free election since independence in 1956, on October 23, 2011, to provide for a new constitution and to arrange for the interim government until the promised, but now postponed, general elections. Ennahda achieved a plurality of the vote winning 89 of the 217 seats.[3]

Ennahda has shown a willingness to share power, allowing members of two other parties to hold two of the three top positions. The assembly adopted a provisional constitution on December 10, 2011, under which a member of the Congress for the Republic Party was appointed president and Ennahda’s Hamadi Jebali was appointed prime minister.[4] The actual drafting of the constitution began in February 2012, with Ennahda pushing for a parliamentary system and the majority of opposition parties favoring a “semi-presidential” system in which a president and prime minister share power.[5] The draft was recently completed. Rachid Ghannouchi, during his recent visit to the United States repeatedly emphasized that the goal was to achieve consensus constitution, not one that 51% of the electorate would impose on the other 49%.

The transition, still ongoing, has not been without problems, despite its ethnic, linguistic, and religious homogeneity. The rate of unemployment has not improved, for example, and some critics say it has gotten worse.[6] The slow recovery in the economy is not unique to Tunisia, however, as we in the U.S. can attest. More disturbing was the “assassination of leftist, secular politician Chokri Belaid” in February of 2013, which highlighted persistent security problems arising “from three quarters: simple criminal gangs, unruly neighborhood militias, and militant Salafi fundamentalists who act as Ku Klux Klan-style vigilantes against secularists” in the wake of the disbanding of Ben Ali’s secret police.[7] The regular police lack the background and training to effectively deal with the “Salafi” vigilantes “who go around physically assaulting people and disrupting cultural events” of which they do not approve. Ennahda’s tendency to blame the violence on secular “provocation” feeds opposition accusations that Ennahda is complicit in the attacks.[8] Despite the seriousness of problems Tunisia faces, however, they are mild compared to those in the other cases we shall consider. Despite all the problems, a peaceful turnover of power o a transition technocracy in January 2014 pending a vote on a new constitution still leaves the door open for a functioning democratic polity in the future.

Egypt

Egypt is the most influential of the players and the rebellion there was the most surprising. I readily admit that I did not see it coming, not this soon, anyway. What has become apparent with the benefit of hindsight, however, is that the resignation to Egyptian authoritarianism was restricted to the older generation. The revolutionary divide in Egypt is not between religious and secular, not between left and right, nor Christian and Muslim, but between the young and the old.

The deposition of Mubarak in Egypt does not mean, as it did in Tunisia, that the military is now a benign or at least neutral force in the post-deposition struggle. The Egyptian army is less liberal than Tunisia’s, as well as more deeply entrenched in the political and economic structure of the nation. Egypt suffered from the same crony capitalism as Tunisia, but in the case of Egypt the military was a major beneficiary of the corruption, controlling 40% of the wealth. It could not be trusted to be a neutral force in the contention for power. This left the Muslim Brotherhood, the most effectively organized social force outside the army, in the awkward position of either playing ball with the army, leaving itself open to accusation of counter-revolutionary collusion, or of taking a strong stand against the army and leaving itself wide open to its wrath. The Muslim Brotherhood lacks the sophistication of Ennahda, dividing itself not only from the secular, liberal, leftist, and “Salafi” elements, but most importantly from the Egyptian youth, even those within its own ranks who are leaving it in large numbers, antagonized by the “hear and obey” doctrine of the movement that marginalizes what is not only its most dynamic constituency, but the very ones who have the ability to connect with the young people in the other camps.

Among the mistakes that the MB (and for convenience I include the Freedom and Justice Party under that rubric), committed, leaving itself open to the military coup:

  • Initially electing to refuse to participate in the presidential elections and threatening expulsion of anyone who did run
  • Changing their mind about running a candidate and then rather than apologize to Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh for expelling him, choosing to nominate yet another candidate
  • Backing the incompetent but obedient Muhammad Morsi when their first choice Khairat al-Shater was predictably disqualified by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF)
  • Holding general elections before appointing a constitutional assembly leaving the door open for the dismissal of the parliament by SCAF
  • Being less than generous in the power-sharing of the committee to write the constitution, making the opposition feel disenfranchised
  • Rushing a constitution through with no bill of rights in order to avoid SCAF from using oppositional dissatisfaction as an excuse to void the process

Although the constitution was better than the one it replaced, the absence of a bill of rights insured continued alienation of the opposition. The weakness of the secular, liberal, and leftist strains of the opposition is not a source of strength for the Muslim Brotherhood. To the contrary, the fact that their weakness leaves them vulnerable to the “Salafi” right has left the population confused as to how to correct the problem and they returned to the streets as if no progress had been made. Since this paper was delivered, my fears were vindicated by the removal of the elected government and  proposed replacement of the constitution with one even granting the military even more power than its predecessor.

Syria

The Arab spring in Syria began much the same as in Egypt, peaceful on the side of the demonstrators, but quickly turning violent on the side of the regime. This one-sided violence provoked the kind of reaction that nonviolent resistance usually provokes, a gradual erosion of support for the regime with defections from prominent supporters and the emergence of an independent civil society. However, before there could be a critical mass of defections that would force Assad to leave the country, the resistance, apparently with outside encouragement, turned violent. The violence diminished popular support and provided opportunities for terrorist groups, more skilled in violent resistance, to move into the front lines of the opposition. As intelligence support from the West and military aid from the Gulf states became manifest, any incentive for the Russians to pressure the regime in a meaningful way evaporated. With the rise of anti-Shia violence, Iran was pressured to reinforce its support for the regime, despite Shia contempt for the Alawis. The regime played up the role of terrorists and making a show of arms transfer to Hezbollah, crossing an Israeli red line and thus inviting Israeli military action which it no doubt hoped would reinforce Palestinian and leftist support.  Most recently, Hezbollah has actually put “boots on the ground.” Use of tiny quantities of Sarin gas, too small to materially aid whichever side did it, but noticeable enough to provoke the U.S. to assert that its red line has been crossed, has been planted on the battlefield by someone. The U.N. says it cannot identify the perpetrators, but with the U.S. now threatening to arm the rebels if they will fight against their allies with alleged links to al-Qaeda,[9] the old saw “Who benefits?” suggests it was not the regime.

The cumulative effect has been to undermine any hopes of a change of allegiance by the army as had occurred in Tunisia or Egypt. The vast emigration of refugees and the spillover of violence into neighboring states, and the presence of foreign troops are threatening the economy of Jordan, the stability of Lebanon, and the security of Turkey, and providing Israel with the opportunity for military intervention. The open intention of the Gulf states to take advantage of the situation to pressure Iran cements Iranian support for the regime threatening to turn the civil war into a regional war. Because Syria is Russia’s only remaining client in the region, there is a risk that it could turn into a world war.

Libya

The reluctance of the United States to repeat the model it used to intervene in the overthrow of Muammar Ghadhafi in the case of Syria is understandable when one observes the consequences in Libya. In Libya, the Western powers armed the rebels and provided air cover on the same pretext of the regime’s violence against civilians. The Libyan dictator was overthrown, albeit in a most lawless and barbaric manner.[10] The Libyan case differs from all the others because Ghadhafi had deliberately avoided any kind of structured central government, allowing local gangs who idolized him to rule under his inspiration. Thus the victors must now build a modern state from scratch rather than simply take over the handles of power. The society’s divisions among various fault lines (“tensions between the youth movement and the National Transitional Council; between local Libyans and returning members of the Libyan diaspora; between secular groups and religious ones, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood; within militia groups that did the fighting; and among Libya’s tribes and ethnic groups”) have become apparent.[11] Despite a U.S. commitment to take advantage of the current situation to create a Libya friendly to its foreign policy objectives, the 9/11/2012 attacks on its CIA operation in Benghazi is only one example of “[a]ttacks on U.S. personnel and facilities [that] have disrupted U.S. aid programs temporarily.”[12]

Despite a general consensus on the desirability of democratic governance under Islamic principles, Libya has endured violent flare-ups with each (mis)step along the path. After successfully electing a General National Congress (GNC), a vote of no-confidence removed the GNC’s prime minister designate was removed last May “after his proposed cabinet was rejected.”[13] The constitution remains stalled as the GNC elected yet another new head after the most recent assembly president was forced to resign by a law prohibiting senior officials under Gaddafi from holding government positions, even if they participated in his deposition.[14]

The struggles, political and military, reflect a struggle between the would-be central government and “a marginalized ‘periphery’ that can challenge the center’s legitimacy via its use of force and appeal to local loyalties” whose “strength stems from the unique events of the eight-month revolution.”[15] Gulf states that assisted in the revolution “have established spheres of influence in the new Libya” that now strengthen the periphery’s resistance to the center. For example, the “Qataris have funded Islamist militias that are challenging the NTC by resisting steps to co-opt their fighters into an institutionalized army.”[16] A constitution still remains to be written.

The violence is not restricted to within Libya. The spillover into nearby states can be seen in Algeria and Mali (where it has justified a French invasion) and threatens to impact other parts of Africa as well.

Recommendations for Islamic Movements

I see three categories of problems in bringing an “Arab spring” to a successful transition into a liberal Islamic democracy. Some problems are historical. Some have to do with the consequences of excessive foreign intervention into the revolutions themselves. Some have to do with a failure of vision and strategic planning in the transition itself.

The historical problems are the most difficult to deal with, since history cannot be changed and since Arabs have notoriously long memories. I believe that “truth and reconciliation” process modeled on South Africa’s is the only means of dealing with that problem. I realize this will be a hard sell, but truth and reconciliation are both Islamic values.

The excessive foreign intervention is a problem for the diaspora Muslim community to address. We must develop a coherent and intelligent influence within the countries in which we reside to encourage moral leadership while discouraging military intervention.

As for vision and strategic planning, Muslims who wish to effectuate a liberal Islamic democracy must attend carefully to proper procedure and make a deliberate effort of inclusion through locally appropriate methods of checks and balances and guarantees of the autonomy of sub-national collectivities and the rights of all parties even to the level of the individual.[17]

How can Islamic movements can benefit from these lessons? Surely, we already have a model in the sunnah of the Prophet (saws). Truth and reconciliation was what was effected between the tribes of Yathrib. At no time did the Prophet require forgiveness between the parties (although he did encourage it). Each party could still believe that it had been in the right in the past, but they must put the past behind them as they forged the new community for the future. “Speak the truth even against yourselves or nearest of kin” and at the same time “Allah has put affection into your hearts…” Muslims in Egypt cannot reconcile with Christians without admitting to the injustices they have done to them in the past. Ditto for the Alawis as regards other groups in Syria, etc. In South Africa, too, no contrition was required of the former perpetrators of the apartheid system; only that they told the truth.

As far as we Muslims in America are concerned, we should recognize that sixty years ago the Jewish community in this country was where we are now. There is nothing to stop us from uniting and organizing as they have to become an effective political force. The only difference is that as far as foreign policy is concerned (as opposed to civil rights, where our struggle is the same as theirs) we should unite to struggle for justice and peace rather than for special benefits to a favored foreign state.

As to the need for vision and strategy, we American Muslims can help our brothers and sisters in the Arab spring states by taking our show on the road to them and providing their intellectuals with guidance on how good government stems from Islamic values and precedents. These topics have been intelligently dealt with at previous summer institutes here at IIIT. Those lessons need to be shared with the policymakers and activists, especially the young ones, in the Arab world. On behalf of the Minaret of Freedom Institute I declare our eagerness to collaborate on workshops on liberty, markets, civil society, good governance, the importance of inclusion (especially of youth) and truth and reconciliation with anyone who agrees with the conclusions of this paper. That is how can make it through this long hot Arab summer to create prosperous, pious, and free Arab states whose relationship with the West shall be one of friendly independence among equals. I realize some may deem such an end state a fantasy, but I believe Allah has the power to effectuate what he wills, and that He has promised victory to those who join together in truth and in patient perseverance.


[1] C.M. Henry and R. Springbord, “The Tunisian Army: Defending the Beachhead of Democracy in the Arab World,” Huffington Post (1/26/2011) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/clement-m-henry/the-tunisian-army-defendi_b_814254.html. Accessed 5/13/13.

[2] “Tunisian PM Pledges To Quit Politics After Elections,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (1/22/2011) http://www.rferl.org/content/tunisia_pm_quit_politics/2283958.html. Accessed 5/13/13.

[3] “Tunisian Constituent Assembly election, 2011” Wikipedia (5/13/2013) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tunisian_Constituent_Assembly_election,_2011. Accesse 5/13/2013.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] S. Khalil, “Tunisia struggles years after the Arab Spring” BBC (1/15/2013). http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-21010337. Accessed 5/13/13.

[7] J. Cole, “Why Tunisia’s Arab Spring is in Turmoil” (2/9/2013). http://www.juancole.com/2013/02/tunisias-spring-turmoil.html . Accessed 5/13/2013.

[8] Ibid.

[9] P. Sands, “America’s Hidden Agenda in Syria’s War,” The National (5/9/2013)  http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/americas-hidden-agenda-in-syrias-war#full. Accessed 5/15/2013.

[10] P. Bouckaert , “Death of a Dictator: Bloody Vengeance in Sirte,” Human Rights Watch (2012) http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/libya1012webwcover_0_0.pdf. Accessed 5/15/2013.

[11] S. T. Tempelhof and M. Omar, “Stakeholders of Libya’s February 17 Revolution,” USIP (2012) http://www.usip.org/files/resources/SR%20300.pdf. Accessed 5/15/2013.

[12] Ibid.

[13] C.M. Blanchard, “Libya: Transition and U.S. Policy,” Congressional Research Service (10/18/2012). http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL33142.pdf. Accessed 5/15/2013).

[14] Ghaith Shennib, “Libya Assembly Votes in First Berber as New Chief,” Reuters (6/25/2013). http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/25/us-libya-congress-idUSBRE95O0VQ20130625?feedType=RSS. Accessed 6/26/2013).

[15] J. Pack and B. Barfi, “In War’s Wake: The Struggle for Post-Qadhafi Libya,” WINEP Policy Focus #118 (Feb. 2012) http://www.shabablibya.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/PolicyFocus118.pdf. Accessed 5/15/2013.

[16] Ibid.

[17] See I. Ahmad, The Islamic Rules of Order (Beltsville, MD: amana, 2008).