"We cannot bring about the political reform we seek given the economic situation and we cannot realise social justice without a strong economy that increases gross domestic product, creates new jobs and increases individual wealth."Economic reform before political reform. This is exactly what he said throughout the 1990s, which are now considered as a period during which democratization decreased, not increased. As George W. Bush likes to say, fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice, er... There will be more coverage of the NDP convention tomorrow, including a look at how opposition groups from Islamists to leftists are rallying together to denounce the NDP's fake reform, and more.
In the now blacklisted book, "The Responsibility for the Failure of the Islamic State," author Gamal al-Banna suggests ways for Muslim minorities in Europe and elsewhere to integrate into non-Islamic societies. He argues that it would be permissible for women to cover their hair with a hat, rather than a head scarf, and recommends men use an early Islamic tradition of temporary marriages, legal in the Shiite sect, to avoid intercourse outside of wedlock.
. . .
This is not the first time Banna has raised the ire of Al Azhar. Only a few years ago, he published a three volume work entitled "Towards a New Jurisprudence" that called for total reevaluation of Islamic law. He is also the brother of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood from which most present day militant Islamic movements take their inspiration. Gamal al-Banna, however, has much more moderate views of the religion than his sibling.
"We must open the doors for the freedom of thought without any restrictions at all," Banna says. "Even if one wants to deny the existence of God."Al Banna, of course, is the brother of Hassan Al Banna, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in the late 1920s. The Muslim Brotherhood is the first modern Islamist movement, and has been for most of the past hundred years one of the leading political forces in Egypt. Its influence has also extended to elsewhere in the Arab world, from benign Islamist parties such as Jordan's to more militaristic movements like Hamas in Palestine. Generally, it shuns terrorism, but supports it in Palestine where it sees it as a war of national liberation. The Brotherhood is much further to the right than Gamal Al Banna's thinking, who is often grouped with a few other reformist thinkers as "leftist Islamists" because of his moderation and emphasis on social issues. In a sense, Al Banna's precursors were the early Islamic reformers like Jamal Al Din Af Afghani and Muhammad Abdou who were, on the whole, much more moderate than the Muslim Brothers. One of the tragedies of the political situation in most Arab countries in that these people have had little opportunity to make their voice heard, as they tend to be squeezed out of the political discourse between secular regime parties and organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood, which is on the right -wing of a much broader tendency to look for Islam for political guidance. People like Al Banna, who in the past has felt comfortable supporting both leftist and liberal figures (he is for instance a supporter of Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who is interviewed in the CSM article and is a leading pro-US liberal in Egypt), are being silenced by fundamentalist Islamists, the stale official Islam of Al Azhar theologians and the decaying Arab regimes. This is why providing them a platform in the West -- like Tariq Ramadan -- is important if their works are to spread.
Surprise, surprise ...
"A year from now, I'll be very surprised if there is not some grand square in Baghdad that is named after President Bush."
Richard PerleFrom the same guy who memorably brought us:
AEI Keynote speech
September 22, 2003
"This is total war. If we just let our vision of the world go forth... our children will sing great songs about us years from now."
Many Muslims believe that the Brotherhood is a noble international movement that supports the true teachings of Islam and unwaveringly defends Muslims who have come under attack around the world, from Chechens to Palestinians to Iraqis. But others view it as an extreme organization that breeds intolerance and militancy.
"They have this idea that Muslims come first, not that humans come first," says Mustafa Saied, 32, a Floridian who left the U.S. Brotherhood in 1998.
While separation of church and state is a bedrock principle of American democracy, the international Brotherhood preaches that religion and politics cannot be separated and that governments eventually should be Islamic. The group also champions martyrdom and jihad, or holy war, as a means of self-defense and has provided the philosophical underpinnings for Muslim militants worldwide.
Many moderate Muslims in America are uncomfortable with the views preached at mosques influenced by the Brotherhood, scholars say. Those experts point to a 2001 study sponsored by four Muslim advocacy and religious groups that found that only a third of U.S. Muslims attend mosques.
Getting back to her review of Galal Amin's Whatever else happened to the Egyptians, I thought it may interest readers to take a look at my own review of Whatever happened to the Egyptians, Amin's first book in this series, which was published in the Cairo Times in December 2000. It's not online, so click below to view the full post.
Egypt's slippery slope
Galal Amin contemplates the progress--or lack thereof--of Egyptian society in a new collection of essays
The new year always seems to be a good time to take stock of one's progress and assess choices made and alternatives forsaken. The end of a century, and indeed a millennium, provides altogether too great a temptation to deny oneself a little self-indulgence, and, why not, a tad of contemplative navel-gazing. This is what the renowned economist Galal Amin, currently professor at the American University in Cairo, offers in this collection of essays tracing the changes in Egyptian society over the past century--one he was a direct witness to for much of its duration.
Most of the essays in Whatever Happened to the Egyptians? were previously published in the Arabic language magazine Al Hilal (The Crescent) in the late 1990s as part of a group discussion among Egypt's leading social commentators. These were subsequently translated, and again updated by Amin to prepare this book, with the addition of two larger analytical essays focused more on his specialty, economics. As such, the essays vary from being chatty, personal and anecdotal to rather serious and, well, tedious pieces in a work that is seemingly geared towards the curious layman rather than the academic. Hence, sparing the reader from a lengthy chapter on the history of Egyptian economists throughout the century would have probably only enhanced this work, and likewise, some of the more technical analysis of economic phenomena could have been toned down in light of the low brow tone of the rest of the book.
In the shorter, more personal articles, Amin often resorts to childhood memories, family anecdotes and other similar stories to illustrate his points. Looking at the changes in the position of women, for instance, he compares the lifetyles and social status of his mother, sisters and daughter, and finds himself astonished at "the degree of intellectual and psychological emancipation that Egyptian women have achieved." Yet he also warns that "one should beware of seeing in all this an unequivocal sign in progress on all fronts, for it is far from certain that women of my daughter's generation are in all respects better off than those of my mother's generation. For all their subservient relationship to their men, women of my mother's generation did enjoy a greater degree of stability and less disruption of family life." In this chapter much like the other ones, Amin glumly concludes that "wider opportunities and greater economic freedom seem to have been obtained at the price of less freedom in other realms of life."
This is the problem with Whatever Happened to the Egyptians? At every turn of his reflections, whether they are on religious fanaticism, weddings or Westernization (each one the topic of one of the book's 14 chapters), Amin evokes some pristine past and compares it to the present. But the present, it seems, is systematically corrupted, degraded--a fall from the paradise lost of his childhood. Although he does evoke some of the social problems of pre-1950s Egypt, the overall impression he gives of the era is one of solid family values, a patriotic people and a society with integrity and pride in itself. Compared with today's Egypt--Egypt being defined largely from a Cairene perspective--this bygone era has decayed into the current, almost intolerable cultural, linguistic, economic and political apathy. It is then no surprise to see Amin ending Whatever Happened to the Egyptians? with the following moribund conclusion: that the changes through which Egypt is going through "could be nothing less than a process of metamorphosis in which everything is gradually being turned into a commodity, the object of a commercial transaction, including man's very soul."
This decline, a malady which Amin attributes essentially to the rise in social mobility combined with the spread of what he calls, borrowing from the British economic historian Karl Polanyi, "market culture," may be irreversible. Not content with decrying a consumerist present, Amin sees little hope for the future. Almost every chapter ends with a recognition that while he is quick to point out what the causes and symptoms of the ills of Egyptian society, he has no cures.
The recurring, grating pessimism in Whatever Happened to the Egyptians?, while in many ways insightful, brings to mind the image of an out-of-touch grandfather complaining to his grandchildren about the general moral decay of society, interspersed with nostalgic vignettes of life in the good old days. Indeed, Amin's complaints with contemporary Egyptian society tend to be conservative ones. While he denounces the current, hypocritical (and apparently unprecedented) religious fanaticism (which he attributes to both large segments being excluded from material success and from the more widespread phenomenon of undeserved financial success), he constantly longs for a time during which there were more certainties and stability to life. What he perceives as the decline of classical Arabic in public discourse--a practice that, in this reviewer's opinion, served more to alienate a large part of the population than anything else--is a cause of much chagrin to Amin, much like the fact that there are a lot more private cars and that public transport standards have plummeted. Another prominent complaint is one against Westernization, which he sees as not only endangering Egypt's national culture but also as necessarily bad, if only because he seems to see the West as bad. Would Amin prefer a return to the days of tarbushed pashas or Nasser's paranoid dictatorship simply because Egypt's cultural production was then of a higher quality and life (retrospectively) simpler?
These criticisms should not take away from the fact that Whatever Happened to the Egyptians? is--aside from the more academic articles--a thoroughly enjoyable read, and one bound to provoke much debate. Many of the changes that Amin highlights are undeniable, even if his interpretation of them is highly impressionistic. In addition to his prognosis, many will also undoubtedly disagree with his sociological analysis of these changes, which he almost entirely attributes to rather traditional interpretations of the class system and a sometimes simplistic theory of social mobility. But perhaps it does not help that Amin occasionally lapses into economic theory, making the book at times an uncomfortable compromise between academia and social commentary.
Whatever Happened to the Egyptians? will hopefully provoke a louder debate on where Egyptian society stands at the turn of the century. One could start with a topical concern that Galal Amin raises in his digressions:
"Thus the Ramadan lantern is rapidly coming to occupy the same position as the Christmas tree in the West, converted from a beautiful religious symbol to an expensive and elaborate ritual around which revolves a great commercial fanfare. Very soon we will see the Ramadan lantern transformed into one of the essential pillars of the holy month of fasting, without which fasting itself may become incomplete and unacceptable. Once this is done, the 'market system' will have won a complete victory over some of the most intimate aspects of everyday life of Muslims, as it had already done in the West."
Food for thought indeed.
En mai 2003, Bush et ses conseillers pensent à fermer la chaîne. Comment ? "Ils allaient intimer l’ordre aux sociétés qui nous louent l’accès aux satellites, Intelsat et Arabsat, de fermer le robinet", raconte ce vieux routier de la chaîne qatarie. Il s’en est suivi un ballet diplomatique. "Nous devons comprendre que trop d’images peuvent tuer la sensibilité des téléspectateurs. Alors, avant de diffuser un enregistrement, pensez à sa valeur journalistique d’abord", ordonne Cheikh Hamed. Depuis ce jour là, la précaution est de mise. La décapitation de Nicholas Berg est censurée, un correspondant permanent est dépêché au Pentagone, des responsables américains, tels Condoleeza Rice et Donald Rumsfeld, sont interviewés sur le plateau à leur demande, etc. Si Al Jazeera met de l’eau dans son vin, cela ne l’empêche pas de maintenir ses choix. Lorsque Mohamed Jasim Al Ali, accusé d’espionnage pro-Saddam a été relevé de ses fonctions de directeur général, il a eu plus tard comme successeur le jeune Waddah Hansal, connu pour son penchant pro-Hamas. Ceci étant dit, les temps changent. Ayant ravi la vedette à tous, lors de la dernière guerre du Golfe, Al Jazeera est obligée de passer à la vitesse supérieure pour ne pas être rattrapée. Certes, ni les départs de 17 journalistes vers Al Arabia, ni la création de la chaîne américaine Al Horra, ne la déstabilisent. Par contre, le projet de la France de lancer une chaîne arabe et celui de la BBC de ressusciter son mort-né, mettent à mal les dirigeants à Doha. Leur parade ? Une chaîne en anglais, en fin d’année 2005, "nullement anti-américaine, ne ciblant pas seulement les musulmans non arabophones, mais taillée pour combler les lacunes des chaînes occidentales", explique le chef du projet, Nigel Parsons. Washington n’est pas trop enthousisaste, mais Cheikh Hamed a promis 20 millions dollars. C’est reparti pour un autre bras de fer.
This comes after a series of other economic reforms announced last week, as previously mentioned.
Arab books became a political issue earlier this year when the Bush administration launched its "greater Middle East initiative" and blamed low output of books for a "knowledge deficit" in the Arab countries. ("Knowledge", in this context, is defined in western terms and automatically excludes such things as memorising the Qur'an or knowing how to milk a goat.)
"The Greater Middle East region, once the cradle of scientific discovery and learning, has largely failed to keep up with today's knowledge-oriented world," the US said in a working paper for the G8 summit. "Arab countries' output of books represents just 1.1% of the world total."
The working paper did not see fit to mention that this figure, which has been much quoted subsequently, is 13 years out of date and almost certainly wrong. It was plucked from an old Unesco report relating to book production in 1991 - probably an untypical year for publishing in the Arab world (and certainly for Iraq and Kuwait) because of the Gulf war.
There is more of that kind of stuff in the article, but I thought his point on the economics of publishing to be even more important, particularly in those countries where a book sold at Western prices would be prohibitive even for the middle class.
While it may be generally true, as the Arab human development report suggests, that creative activity needs "a climate of freedom and cultural pluralism" in order to flourish, this is not by any means the whole story. There are many far more mundane problems that hamper book publishing, too. "For Arabs, buying a book is like buying perfume," said Andre Gaspard, co-founder of Saqi Books, which publishes in both Arabic and English. "A book is a luxury in Lebanon, Syria, Morocco and Egypt."
Book buying also seems to be declining among the young. A bookseller quoted by the Lebanese Daily Star newspaper last week said most of his customers were in the 30 and above age category. "Among those, there is only an elite who would pay a large amount of money to buy a book," he said. "People here would much rather prefer spending such an amount on an outing or a new outfit."
Another bookseller in Beirut suggested high prices drive people to photocopy books rather than buying them. "Lebanese university students never buy books because they can't afford them," he said. A non-fiction book written in English that sells for $20 or £12.99 in the west can be sold in translation in the Middle East for no more than $8, Mr Gaspard said. If the price is higher, people simply won't buy it. This means it is less likely to be an economic proposition for publishers. The paper and printing costs for English and Arabic editions are virtually the same but the Arabic edition, besides having to be sold at a lower price, carries the extra burden of translation costs at around $14 per page.
Some Arab publishers use cheaper production methods but this can result in books that drop to bits or need to have their pages slit apart with a knife. People don't trust badly-produced books, Mr Gaspard said. Some also cut corners by paying their translators as little as possible - not a good policy if the result is gibberish. Mr Gaspard recalls once attending a dinner party where a guest sat scribbling between courses, hurriedly finishing off his Arabic translation of a book on structuralism.
In Egypt for instance, the government-owned and some private publishing companies print low-quality editions of quality books that sell like hot cakes, even though they are often badly edited and badly produced. They are typically sold for about $1-2, compared with $12 minimum for a cheap book you would buy at Amazon. Imported books in the Arab world are particularly expensive when taking into account import fees and custom duties.
A big part of the problem in the arts isn't a lack of talent, but rather than in elsewhere in life here you don't get far without contacts, particularly in the formerly state socialist countries like Egypt where "state intellectuals" monopolize columns and book deals -- take for instance the sycophantic editor of Egypt's government-owned Al Gomhouriyya daily, who regularly is awarded the best book of the year awards for his moronic (and most likely ghost-written) praises of Mubarak. Clearly there are problems with cultural production in the Arab world, but they don't really have to do with civilizational decline a some other crisis than can be solved by "regime change."
Those who use the Arab Human Development Report to find backing for their own agenda should read it more carefully. It's a long book, but they could start with the four-page section on literature and publishing, which I am putting up here (PDF, 108kb).
According to Ben Elyaho, a co-founder of the new party, the expulsion of non-Jews from Israel would "resolve all of Israel's political, economic and social problems".
"Our party calls for cleansing the region extending from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean from the Goyem [derogatory for non-Jews] and thus guaranteeing a Jewish majority of no less than 90% throughout the Land of Israel," he said.
AN Egyptian wedding feast turned to tragedy when the bodyguard of one of the guests accidentally killed him with a celebratory burst of gunfire and then committed suicide.
Mohammed Abu Okail, a member of Egypt's Consultative Council, or senate, was gunned down in the village of Abis, 190km north of Cairo, police said.
When the party was in full swing, bodyguard Ali Suleiman began to let off a traditional volley of gunfire, killing Mr Abu Okail in the process.
On realising what he had done, he let out a hysterical cry of grief and shot himself in the head.
Celebratory gunfire is common throughout the Arab world, and dozens of people are killed in Egypt every year by stray bullets.
"Amendments to the party law would allow opposition figures to join the parties' affairs committee, usually controlled by the NDP and the government, for allowing the opposition to give vote on the committee's decision on establishing a new political party," the sources said.
On the syndicates law amendments, the sources said such amendments would include the cancellation of articles of on imposing syndicate sequestration, holding the syndicates elections at fixed times and the provision to have the vote of two thirds of the syndicate general assembly members to have the elections valid.
Concerning the elections law, the sources said the amendments would stipulate that the Administrative Court is the only body assigned to give opinion on challenges raised against the elections' results and widening the scope of judicial supervision on all elections committees, placing sanctions for any elections' violations and forming a neutral body to monitor the candidates' spending on the electoral propaganda.
For the emergency law, the amendments would stipulate confining the law to only terror cases.This may be positive news, but it still falls short of expectation. In particular, there needs to be a clear statement that any political party can be formed -- it won't matter if there are opposition members on board if there are still too few to change the vote on a new party. As for electoral reform,
All of this comes while Egypt is hosting a pan-Arab meeting of economic policymakers, and of amidst speculation that the NDP conference will be used to outline a new reform program and give more attention to Gamal Mubarak, who has gone from the candidate the army wouldn't stand for to heir apparent (also here) in less than two years.
Not everyone is happy about that, of course. And there is much skepticism about next week's NDP conference. But all this activity has been long-awaited in a country that has been dormant for most of the past decade. It might not be good change, but it's change.
The United States faces a near-impossible dilemma in Iraq. If it withdraws prematurely, it risks leaving behind a weak government unable to cope with the chaos that is the breeding ground of terrorism. By staying in Iraq, the United States undermines the legitimacy of the Iraqi government it wants to support, while US military action produces more recruits for its enemies. The advantage of a strategy aimed at loose federation is that it can create powerful regions and thereby a possible escape from our dilemma. The current strategy, if it can be called that, offers no way out.