The Linguistics of Kifaya

William Safire on the word Kifaya in his On Language column in the NY Times Magazine:
The word means ''enough.'' The Arabic verbal root is kafa, ''to be satisfied.'' In Hans Wehr's Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, it has the senses of ''sufficient amount'' and ''that which suffices for performing a duty.'' Munther Younes, coordinator of the Arabic program at Cornell, says that verbs derived from the same root are in the Koran, as in the sense of ''it is enough for you to have God as a companion or protector.''
David S. Powers, professor of Islamic history and law at Cornell, says he thinks that the word as used today is in the nature of what linguists call a calque, a borrowing from another language in literal translation (much as English borrowed Ãœbermensch from the German and translated it as superman). ''In politics, in modern culture,'' Powers says, ''we say, 'Enough!' Kifaya is the Arabic equivalent of that. It's a standard word in Arabic now being used in a political context, probably a modern phenomenon. It suggests there may be some creative linguistic development.''
...
In English, enough grew out of enow to become an adjective synonymous with ''sufficient.'' It can also be used as an adverb to disparage, as in Shakespeare's ''An honest fellow enough . . . but he has not so much brain as ear-wax.'' In politics, when Theodore Roosevelt declined nomination for a third term in 1908, The New York Times reported that he'd ''had enough.'' (Teddy later changed his mind.) And the G.O.P. used the slogan ''Had Enough?'' against Harry Truman in the midterm election of 1946 and elected the first Republican Congress since Hoover.
The most powerful use of the word in oratory was delivered in English by a man from the Middle East. At a signing ceremony on the White House lawn in 1993, after a reluctant handshake with the P.L.O.'s Yasir Arafat, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel said: ''We, the soldiers who have returned from battles stained with blood; we who have seen our relatives and friends killed before our eyes . . . we who have fought against you, the Palestinians, we say to you today in a loud and a clear voice: enough of blood and tears. Enough!''
That's the new, emphatic sense that Arabs have given their Arabic kifaya.
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The Brotherhood Protest

Despite my best efforts, I didn't see a single demonstrator yesterday. All the same, what I did see I took as a show of strength for the Muslim Brotherhood. The security measures taken to prevent the demonstration were fairly unprecedented. As has been mentioned here, they closed off Tahrir Square, and all the streets leading to and from the square. The picture posted by Issandr below is of Qasr Al Aini, which is a four lane thoroughfare through downtown Cairo and one of the most heavily travelled streets in the city. Compare the security yesterday with last week's demonstration marking the anniversary of the Iraq war, organized largely by leftists, or with the series of civil-society led anti-Mubarak protests which have become almost regular affairs in recent weeks. It's a striking display of how differently the government regards the threat from the the respective sides. For those interested in the ebb and flow of the Islamists' influence in Egypt, yesterday's demonstration (or attempted demonstration) could be seen as the second recent indicator that the Brotherhood's popularity is not decreasing. It appears they had a fairly decisive victory in the lawyers' syndicate elections earlier this month.
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Pro-Mubarak demonstration

There was a new twist to the anti-Mubarak demonstration in Cairo's Tahrir Square today. Taking a play from the Lebanon playbook, Mubarak supporters staged a pro-Mubarak demonstration right next to the opposition's demonstration. They waved "Long Live Mubarak" signs and chanted "Down with the traitors." They also included a sprinkling of anti-occupation in Iraq and Palestine signs, presumably to boost their street credibility. As usual, both demonstrations were surrounded by overwhelming security. Presumably the pro-Mubarak demonstrators were NDP functionaries of one sort or another. I don't think it's much of a stretch to assume that this was inspired by the competing demonstrations that have occurred in recent weeks in Lebanon.
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Saad Eddin Ibrahim in the WSJ

Saad Eddin Ibrahim has an editorial in today's Wall Street Journal in which he concludes that the recent events in Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine "may well usher in an Arab Spring of freedom, so very long overdue." Here are a few lengthy excerpts.
The surprise decision by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to propose a constitutional amendment, opening up the process of electing the president by direct competitive balloting, may well be a giant step for democracy in Egypt and the Arab World. Western readers used to pluralistic democracy may find it hard to understand what a potentially huge shift this will be in a country used to imposed military rulers for over 50 years.
Many area specialists have long maintained that democratization in the Middle East will not get far until Egypt is fully engaged in the process. And Egypt could not truly set out on a path of democratization without first amending its constitution -- to downsize the pharaonic powers of its president and set limits on his term in office. (Mr. Mubarak is already into his 24th year.) So the announcement is an important first step, one that the regime may assume it will be able to control to its own advantage, but which may not be that easy to contain once people begin to feel empowered. The genie is out of the bottle.
Despite the historical decision, I don't think anybody is expecting a competitive presidential election this September. And, as Saad points out later in his editorial, similar election law changes in Tunisia simply produced sham elections of a different stripe. So even if the opposition could get their act together and field a feasible candidate, there is no guarantee that he would be given a fair shot. But I like Saad's point here that now a greater possibility exists for the regime to lose control over the process. Were a candidate with a measure of popularity to run and lose in elections that were perceived as flawed by the people... well, that's what happened in Ukraine, and it would never have happened had those elections not included multiple candidates.
At any rate, it is not only Egypt that is now embarking on the road of democracy in this troubled region. Turkey at one end of the Middle East and Morocco at the other are already well on the way. The real groundswell this time seems to have come from the close timing and positive outcomes of recent elections in Iraq, Palestine and to a lesser degree in Saudi Arabia. The unprecedented demonstrations against Syrian occupation of Lebanon following the assassination of its former prime minister show no signs of abating, and Egyptian opposition groups have staged increasingly bold marches and other forms of civil disobedience in the last few weeks. The catalyst for their anger was the arrest and detention of opposition leader Ayman Nour at the end of January. That heavy-handed act reinvigorated the homegrown "Kifaya," or Enough, movement against further rule by the Mubarak regime. Suddenly the popular wisdom that Egyptians are passive and afraid to act did not seem to be holding up. An alliance of local, regional and international forces is joining forces against tyranny-as-usual on the banks of the Nile.
Like Issandr, Saad seems to be linking the events in Lebanon with events here in Egypt. What's going on in Lebanon is surely having a ripple effect. When was the last time mass demonstrations toppled an Arab government? As for the Egyptians no longer being passive and afraid to act... perhaps. But certainly the handful of small demonstrations we've seen thus far don't convince me.
We assume that President Mubarak is more serious. As a measure of sincerity, he needs to order the immediate release of the ailing opposition leader Ayman Nour, and take steps to terminate the 24-year-long state of emergency, which effectively prevents political campaigning to take place. We call on him to endorse term limits of no more than two successive five-year terms. Equally needed are confidence-building measures in a free political process that include open and equal access to the media, currently state-controlled. I announced that I would contest this upcoming presidential election as a way of opening debate on these needed reforms, but I would gladly go back to my role as a private citizen once guaranteed a free and open election this fall.
Saad touches the other principal demand of the opposition with regards to constitutional change: term limits. The other sought after change, which he doesn't mention, are greater constraints on the powers of the executive.
If seriously implemented, these steps will transform Mr. Mubarak's lasting legacy to his people. Along with events in Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine, it may well usher in an Arab Spring of freedom, so very long overdue
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Mubarak's decision plays out in the press

As would be expected the new election law was front and center in today's press. Al Ahram ran a special cover page with a rather amusing photo of the President during the conference extending his arms out to the crowd like a gift bearing messiah. There were no less than nine pictures of Mubarak in the first six pages of Al Ahram. The opinion page was filled with praise for the President's decision. The most notable name present was that of Hala Mustafa, the leading liberal from the Al Ahram Center for Strategic and Political Studies. She tempered her praise in the final paragraphs of her column:
It wasn’t a coincidence that, in his historical speech, the President concentrated on the importance of activating the political parties, and on translating that in a practical way by lifting many of the restrictions that have restricted their activities in the past. And this has led to new parties being created with difficulty, being licensed in an unnatural way, by court order. The creation of a new political parties law which the NDP began a few days ago remains an important initiative on the same path of establishing a new soul for Egyptian political life, a soul which was missing for a time, but which now returns and with a force that bids farewell to the old era of unilateral politics of one color and one voice, and opens new horizons to the future. Tomorrow will necessarily be better, more welcoming, and more hopeful, as it is certain now that those steps are the beginning of a new era.
Alright, her praise is only tempered so much, but she hits at what I think will be the most interesting result of this decision. That is, what affect will it have on the opposition in Egypt? Several opposition figures were quoted at length in the press today predicting that the decision will reenergize the impotent political parties in Egypt. The Vice President of the Wafd, Mahmoud Abaza, told Nahdat Misr:
This step has big importance for the future of political parties, as they will now work hard to activate their programs and policies especially since they now have the right to compete for power and the responsibility to rule. The constitutional amendment has gotten rid of the parties concern about their ability to carry out their role in the political street. The citizens had lost their trust in the parties in recent periods, because of the feeling that (the opposition parties) don’t have anything new to offer. The parties hadn’t been working hard to activate their programs considering that the presidency represents the big goal for all the parties and this was a right they hadn’t possessed. This step will have a big impact on the parliamentary elections as well, since the parties will now compete in the elections with a concrete program, and not depending solely on individual personalities.
Abaza's logic, which was echoed by the head of the Nasserist Party, Dia Eddin Dawood, may be sound. However, the opposition in Egypt in recent months has been as united as I remember it being in my time in Egypt. That may be largely because civil society, and not the political parties, have been at the helm. For decades one of the most oft-lamented weaknesses of the Egyptian opposition has been there tendency to weaken each other by squabbling amongst themselves, rather than uniting to take on the larger task at hand. I fear that as the various parties begin to name candidates, and try to rally the Egyptian street, you're going to see the various parties begin to go after each other's candidates-- no longer the picture of unity focused on political reform and the NDP that has characterized the opposition in the past months. What will happen to the Kafaya movement, the civil society bloc which has been driving the opposition recently? If the stipulation remains that presidential candidates will have to have either the backing of a political party or the support of Parliament, then the Kafaya movement, which currently has quite a bit of momentum, may be left out in the cold. Although, Nahdat Misr reported today that:
It is expected that the coming days will witness a broad discussion and a state of emergency inside the political parties, the national forces, and the civil society groups to present their vision for the constitutional changes that the President announced. And the Egyptian organization for change, Kafaya, announced their intentions to present a candidate for the Presidency and Vice-Presidency during the coming days.
The Nasserist weekly, Al Araby, which comes out on Sundays, appears to have stopped the presses to get in coverage of the President's announcement in today's issue. They ran an above the fold screamer which proclaimed that the President’s decision represented “The First victory in the battle for democracy.� Of course it then went on to take much of the credit for the President’s decision, humbly pointing out that, truth be told, Al Araby had led the campaign to change the constitution. (In fairness to Al Araby, it’s not much of an exaggeration). The ever-bold Al Araby then went on to report in a small news blurb on page six that the University of Manufiya, where Mubarak gave the historic speech, had cancelled classes for five days because of the president’s visit. It's an action not entirely compatible with the fifth point of Mubarak’s 10-point reform plan, which stipulates the government's intention to “provide the mechanisms for scientific and technological progress to increase the human investment.� The Al Araby article went on to report that when students showed up demanding to attend classes they clashed with security forces:
Students requested that the gates to the university be opened. And at around 12 in the afternoon security forces clashed violently with the students, and arrested more than 20 students at the university... Ahmed Mahmoud a student in the literature faculty said, 'This doesn’t happen anywhere but in Egypt, since in all the countries of the world the presidents protect the people.' ... Samir Ismail said, 'These procedures are a guarantee of explosive events in light of the political suppression and the persecution that the people are living in, in addition to the current economic crisis.'
Meanwhile Nahdat Misr, quoted the reaction of the Governor of Manufiya to the President's speech:
The President’s visit to Manufiya was a historical opportunity for all the masses and the different segments from among the sons of Manufiya to gather around him, and declare their loyalty to him in front of the whole world.
An interesting side note to this whole story was picked up by Al Misry Al Yom. A cynic might say it indicates the extent of Mubarak’s concern for the Egyptian constitution. Mubarak wrote a letter to Speaker of the Parliament Fathi Surour, in which he informed Surour of his decision to change the election law and instructed him to take up the matter in Parliament. In the letter Mubarak cited Article 198 of the constitution, which he said gives him the right to unilaterally ask parliament to amend the constitution. It's an odd assertion given that the Egyptian constitution contains only 192 articles. Turns out Mubarak meant to cite Article 189. This mistake was confirmed by the full text of the letter as reprinted by Nahdat Misr. Here are some reactions from various Egyptian personalities to the decision, as quoted in today's press. Refaat Said, President of the Tegammu Party: “The decision represents a positive step on the path of resistance towards realizing democracy, but it needs more developments and changes to other sections of the constitution to guarantee the realization of reform.� Mahdi Akef, head of the MB: “The Brotherhood welcomes the decision and considers it a natural start for achieving reform... but the continuation of the emergency law and not abolishing the political parties law, in addition to the arrest and imprisonment of political prisoners will remain an obstacle to reform." Saad Eddin Ibrahim suggested: “A national public dialog, not lasting more than two months, before the Parliament votes on the new amendments, and including all the Egyptian political parties and civil society organizations. In addition to not restricting Presidential candidates to party leaders, or requiring the approval of Parliament to run for the presidency. To ensure the seriousness of candidates, they should be required to have the support of a certain number of citizens, not less than, for example, 100,000." Writer Mahmoud Amin Al Alam makes a good point which was echoed by several activists: "The Egyptian television today has become monopolized by the President. So will the presidential candidates be allowed to use the media, just as President Mubarak does? Will the public spaces be opened to them? He stressed that the problem is not in the content of the law, but rather in the way it is executed.� Doctor Boutros Ghali, head of the National Council for Human Rights said: “This is an important step towards supporting the march of democracy and embodies a good faith response from (the President) to the demands and heartbeat of the Egyptian street. Doctor Ismail Serag Eddin, Director of the Alexandria Library: “The decision reflects the President's concern to realize democracy and his desire for reform."
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Ayman Nour & the struggle inside the NDP

Sorry for my erratic presence of late. I was in the US for a stretch and was a bit overwhelmed upon my return to Egypt, thus had little time to post. Anyway, I missed out on much of the Hizb al Ghad fun, so I'd like to chime in, if a bit late. When Hizb al Ghad was approved by the political parties committee there was much speculation about why it had succeeded where so many others had failed, including Al Ghad itself on a number of occasions. Why had Safwat al-Sherif, head of the Political Parties Committee and hardly a proponent of multi-party democracy in Egypt, suddenly warmed to Nour's venture? One of the more widely circulated, though not very convincing, theories was that there was a deal between Ayman Nour and the regime, wherein Nour agreed not to oppose another term for Mubarak in exchange for a license for his political party. Nour's arrest, the theory goes, was a result of Nour's backtracking on this deal. Other's have portrayed Nour's arrest as the beginning of a clampdown on, and a warning to, an increasingly bold opposition. Accordingly, his arrest has been portrayed as a victory for the NDP old-guard, the aging anti-reform lions embodied by the likes of Safwat al-Sherif and Kamal al-Shazli, and a blow to the progressive, reformists of the Gamal Mubarak wing. Or is just the opposite true? Another theory worth chewing on has been making the rounds, though I have yet to see it written about in the press here. A handful of astute observers with long experience in the ranks of the opposition here are convinced that the rise and fall of Ayman Nour is a result of the internal struggle occurring inside the NDP. However, it’s argued, Nour threatens Safwat al-Sherif far less than he threatens the Gamal Mubarak wing of the NDP, which is playing to position itself as the only viable alternative to succeed Hosni Mubarak. So Safwat al-Sherif approves Hizb al-Ghad, a liberal, pragmatic, reasonably pro-US party with a plan, thus dealing a blow to Gamal Mubarak and gang by providing the very thing they fear the most: an alternative (Remember, Madeleine Albright, during her recent visit here, said that the US would gladly support Egypt’s opposition were there a credible opposition.). Nour's arrest on trumped up charges, they argue, has been the response from Team Gamal. As a sidenote, such reasoning has implications on why we have witnessed a relative increase in political freedoms of late-- anti-Mubarak protests, new political parties, self-declared presidential candidates, etc. The conventional wisdom is that this is because Egypt is caught between pincers, increasing internal discontent and opposition spurred by deteriorating economic circumstances on one side, and post-9/11 US-led foreign pressure to democratize on the other. If we are inclined to accept the above mentioned theory, however, then we should consider a third factor: that the political opening is a product of a measure of instability inside the regime as two factions compete for control. The opposition is allowed greater space because each NDP faction hopes to use the opposition to weaken the other. Perhaps a historical parallel could be drawn with the political tolerance shown by Sadat in his first couple years after succeeding Nasser, before he consolidated power.
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Egypt responds to NY Times

Here's the response to the NY Times editorial from the press counselor of the Egypt Mission to the UN.
Ayman Nour, an opposition party leader, enjoys all privileges as a longtime member of Parliament, including immunity from arrest. He is entitled to his own opinions and is free to discuss his political beliefs. But Parliament lifted this immunity upon request of the attorney general when Mr. Nour was charged with forging signatures on petitions that secured legal status for his party, Tomorrow's Party.
A distinction must be made between detaining an Egyptian citizen for committing a crime and voicing his opposition with the government.
Like any citizen, Mr. Nour must be tried under the judicial process; if found innocent, he will be released.
Freedom of speech is enjoyed by every Egyptian citizen. One is not arrested because of his political convictions.
Magdi R. Shaker, Press Counselor Mission of Egypt to the U.N., New York, Feb. 7, 2005
(thanks Lindsay)
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A columnist's warning to Mubarak

Here are some pickings from a pretty gutsy column by Al Misry Al Yom columnist Magy Mahana. It ran on Sunday. Could Mahana be the next Abdel Halim Qandil?
Will the constitution with its flaws remain governing us for more years to come, with no changes allowed to approach it. And will any call to change it be described as futile as President Mubarak said. Or is changing the constitution possible as the policies secretariat said after President Mubarak’s statement? Or is it as Ibrahim Nafaa wrote in Al Ahram two days ago when he said “Changing the constitution is present, but it is not the end of the road.�
A nice summary of the mixed signals coming down from on high.
The difference between the word futile, which President Mubarak used, and the word present which Ibrhaim Nafaa used, is big. So is changing the constitution futile or present? It is known that the editor in chief of a Al Ahram does not interpret the text, and that the text here is the word of the President, which remains an eminent decree with respect to any editor in chief for a state-owned newspaper. Maybe Ibrahim Nafaa wanted to lessen the impact of the word futile on a shocked public opinion.
When Mahana talks about "interpret the text" (yigtahad al naS) he uses the verb for ijtihad, which generally refers to interpretation of the Koran. The not so subtle implication is that the word of Mubarak is akin to the word of God. But here is where it gets good:
All those following the political scene in past weeks and months observed the tendency of the authorities and its apparatuses to escalate the situation, leaning towards using force to eliminate the differences with the opposition. This reminds some of September 5, 1981, which culminated with the president of the state himself becoming a victim after he lost the compass of leadership. The late President Anwar Al Asadat thought that the security emergency would be guaranteed by realizing the stability that he desired, and by ridding himself of the annoyances of the opposition, if only temporarily. But the cost was high and he lost his life on the anniversary of the great victory.
Increasing self confidence sometimes leads people to make fatal mistakes, and prevents them from seeing the true magnitude of things. So they behave as if they alone decide who comes and goes from power without considering other forces in society and abroad.
This is almost a threat. At the least it is a dark warning. Continue on this path Mr. President and suffer a similar fate to that of your predecessor. The September 5, 1981 event Mahana refers to is Sadat's sudden imprisonment of virtually every opposition figure in Egypt, be they left, right or center. He was assassinated a month later.
...If this state of confusion and fog in the street continues, like that which is present at the pinnacle of power and at the level of the political decision makers, how will we exit from this dilemma? By defining a clear means for the rotation of power and by changing the constitution, and it remains unknown if this is a possibility that is “futile� or “present?�
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Gamal Al Banna in Egypt Today

Noha El-Hennawy has a great story in Egypt Today this month about Gamal Al Banna and the debate around the sanctity of the Sunna in Islam, which I referred to in my previous post.
El-Banna dismisses accusations that he is calling on the faithful to abandon the Sunnah, but insists that the orally transmitted traditions of the Prophet (PBUH) are less binding on Muslims than the Qur’an itself.
“We cannot deny the Sunnah, even though it has been proven that most of the sayings attributed to the Prophet (PBUH) have been made up, were narrated in other people’s words or were transmitted inaccurately. This does not mean that there are no true sayings that set many Islamic fundamental principles; what it does mean is that it’s high time to study the Sunnah in a different way,� El-Banna says.
“The Qur’an never goes into detail,� he continues. “It talks about prayers and almsgiving and pilgrimage, but without specifying details. Does this mean the Qur’an forgot to mention them? Of course not. Had the Qur’an mentioned these details, they would have been eternally binding, which would have prevented the text from being compatible with different ages. In the meantime, we needed to know how to obey God’s commandments.
“For example, when God commanded Muslims to pray, he let the Prophet (PBUH) show us how. The Sunnah, whether it refers to the Prophet’s deeds or saying, is thus binding as long as it is compatible with progress. If it happens to be incompatible with the demands of any age, we must refer back to the Qur’an.�
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The Reformists vs. Al Azhar

The author of the book “The Calls of Prophecy in History�, which Al Azhar recently recommended banning, is bringing a lawsuit against Al Azhar for refusing to publicize a copy of its report on why the book should banned. Walid Toghan, the book’s author, said that Al Azhar rejected his book because it denied the Sunna of the prophet. The book claims that many superstitions were added to the Sunna that should never have been included and that they have nothing to do with Islam. In his book Toghan argues that the Sunna of the prophet, or his teachings and sayings, are not binding on Muslims. He argues that the friends of the prophet should be regarded as humans who make mistakes, and not as saints. He also calls for a revision of Islamic history. Toghan's lawsuit is the first of its kind, as far as I know. Perhaps it will mark the beginning of a new campaign against Al Azhar by intellectuals and reformists. Toghan’s platform is similar to many Islamic reformists. They argue that many of the most problematic tenets of Islam are rooted in the hadith, and not in the Koran. The hadith, or sayings of the prophet, are problematic, they argue, because many of these alleged sayings were fabricated for political aims in the early history of Islam. Also, the weekly Egyptian newspaper Al Qahara has a full page special on three books by proponents of reform in Islam. The three books profiled deal with the subject of the Islamic Caliphate, and argue that the notion of the Caliphate is not present in the Koran or the Sunna. The first of the three books dates back 80 years, illustrating that Islamic reform is not a new idea, or the product of US pressure. Ali Abdel Razeq’s 1924 work “Islam and the Principles of Governance� caused a firestorm of controversy when it was first published. In it Abdel Razeq argued that no where does Islam specify a certain type of government, and that the Koran and the Sunna provide only general principles of government, namely that whatever system is chosen is just. After writing the book Razeq was promptly fired from Al Azhar, fired as a judge of the sharia courts, his book was confiscated and he was accused by Al Azhar of denying that which is known by necessity in religion. The second book discussed is Khalil Abdel Karim’s 1987 book, “In Order to Apply the Sharia... Not to Rule Politically,� (that translation is a bit awkward. In Arabic it’s “L’Tatbiiq Al Sharia... la l’lhokum) in which he stresses that the concept of theocracy is un-Ilsamic. The third book profiled is the 2003 book by Gamal Al Banna, brother of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan Al Banna, called “Islam is a religion and a nation... not a religion and a state.� It makes a similar argument, that the separation of church and state is indeed an Islamic concept. Gamal Al Banna had a book banned by Al Azhar in August 2004 called "The Responsibility for the Failure of the Islamic State." Al Banna claims that the first book banned after the 1952 revolution was his book called "A New Democracy."
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Gamal and voters' rights

Gamal Mubarak has once again positioned himself in the role of defender of the public interests. In the course of responding to contradictory statements about when the presidential referendum would be held, and why parliament had announced that it would be swearing in Mubarak before the referendum, Al Masry Yom quotes Gamal in today’s paper:
Gamal stressed that President Mubarak had not yet made a decision on whether to run for a new term, and that the party will not move on this matter until after the president’s decision which he will announce at the appropriate time. [Gamal] stressed that it is the right of the voter to determine the result of the referendeum and the Parliamentary elections. And he stressed that it is not possible to jump into political reform without the participation of the society.
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The focus on family law in the Sharia

Attention to the issue of divorce in Islamic Sharia seems to be getting more and more attention these days. The issue featured prominently at a conference in Bahrain on violence and discrimination against women in the countries comprising the Gulf Cooperation Council. Conference participant Dina Mamoun submitted a paper about the unequal marital status of women in the Gulf, and argued that “Men obtain divorces in some cases in a reckless way.� It's a response to those who argue that if the "emotional" women had the same right to divorce as the man, then they would be seeking divorce for trivial reasons, thus undermining the institution of marriage. The issue of Islamic Sharia and family law has been getting quite a bit of attention in recent weeks. Here in Egypt there was the Human Rights Watch report on divorce, which was followed by a renewed push from women's groups for a new personal status law. Then the Wafaa Constantin debacle triggered a flurry of articles in the Egyptian press on the legal discrepancies between Copts and Muslims in family law issues such as marriage and divorce.
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Divorce law and Islam

Here's my story for WomensEnews on how the struggle to change Egypt's divorce laws is largely a debate over competing visions of Islam. There are many different angles to a discussion on Egypt's divorce laws. It is a subject that promises to feature prominently in the public debate in coming months. Divorce falls under Egypt's personal status laws, and a new personal status law is due to be presented to Parliament this Spring. In addition, the whole controversy over the Coptic bishop's wife who converted to Islam has renewed the debate about getting rid of the legal distinctions between Copts and Muslims in Egypt's family law. I'll try to follow up with more on this later.
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The Race for the Presidency

This Egyptian presidential election is shaping up to be a real circus, and we're still about 10 months out. Al Sharq Al Awsat reported today that a fourth person, Yissry Al Sayid Mitwali, has announced his intention to run. He's an engineer with no political affiliations from an Alexandria textile factory. It gets better however. Al Hayat's Muhammad Salah reports today that a Web site belonging to the "Peaceful Popular Front to Save Egypt" has launched a campaign urging Amr Moussa, the Arab League's Secretary General, to run for president of Egypt. Moussa has yet to respond. So the candidate count to date includes: Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Nawal Al Saadawi, Muhammad Farid Hassanein, Yissry Al Sayid Mitwalli, and... we're waiting for a response from Amr Moussa. But I wouldn't hold my breath on that last one. I have a suspicion that running for president in Egypt is going to become the chic thing to do in 2005.
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Unclear on the concept

Here's a telling indication of Egyptian democracy. Opposition parties have accused the government of undermining the constitution and the will of the people by announcing that President Hosni Mubarak will perform the constitutional oath of office for his 5th term in front of Parliament this coming September. The slight to democracy lies in the fact that the actual referendum will come later in the year.
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Islamist lawyer names names

Montasser Al Zayat, the Islamist lawyer who defended many members of Al Gamaa Al Islamiya in the 1990s, and reportedly helped broker the 1997 ceasefire with the government, has a new book of memoirs out called "Al Gamaa Al Islamiya... An Inside Look" (الجماعات الإسلامية.. رؤية من الداخل). Yesterday's Al Hayat review of the book says that it includes a detailed and graphic account of the torture that Al Gamaa Al Islamiya leaders were subjected to when they arrested following the assassination of Anwar Al Sadat in 1981. The book names names of those officers who carried out the torture, "some of whom have become stars of the judiciary talking about human rights and asking the regimes to respect human rights." Unfortunately the article doesn't give names, and I haven't read the book yet. But if there are explicit torture accusations against sitting judges, then this sounds like something worth pursuing.
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Criticism for the Pope

I mentioned earlier in the week that I sensed that the Coptic church had not emerged unscathed, from a public opinion perspective, after the recent events involving the bishop's wife who converted to Islam. Here is an article by Gamal Asaad in this week's Al Araby, the opposition weekly belonging to the Nasserist Party. Asaad is a Coptic writer, and I believe he's a former member of Parliament. It is written as an open letter to the Coptic Pope Baba Shenouda. I have translated the best parts below:
The first test of your holiness' reformist thoughts was aimed at exploiting your popularity to achieve a political role for yourself, in addition to your spiritual role. This was clear in your first confrontation with Anwar Al Sadat during the Kanka incident... Your ambitions have remained political, oh holy pope, in that you played a political role, and you have not ceased assuming political representation of the Copts for a single moment.
The Kanka incident occurred six moths after Shenouda was elected Pope in 1971. After a newly built church was destroyed by police, Shenouda ordered priests and bishops to go to the ruins of the church and celebrate mass there even if they risked being shot. Clashes resulted. Asaad goes on to criticize the pope for being the political representative of the Copts, and criticizes the state for consulting the Pope before appointing Coptic members to the Parliament and the Cabinet.
These practices of the absent State are very wrong. This gave the Copts the feeling that the church was an alternative for the State, and that you were their political representative... This caused a dangerous fissure in Egyptian politics, because it isolated the Copts and lead to their lack of participation in public affairs...
The voice of the ex-patriot communities of Copts have become loud. Their pressure has begun to bare fruits via the American intervention in Egyptian affairs concerning Coptic problems. This culminated when the American congress issued the Religious Protection Act... More important than that is the uncountable amounts of money that began to be sent to the church. That money caused the breaking of the relationship between the people and the clergy. The clergy were no longer in need of the people because they had an alternative, foreign money. Let us not forget that time when you said “the day in which the pope extends his hand to the rich Copts has ended.�
With all that, all hope of reforming the church was lost, along with the role of the secularists in the church. The clergy began to take control over everything. No longer was there a role either for the Consultative Council (maglis mili), or for the church committees. The bishops became the controllers of everything, enacting laws that do not fit with the age that we live in, and that do not agree with Christianity, and doing all this without any accountability. And this was the situation inside the church. As for outside of the church, the clear State-neglect off Coptic issues resulted in Copts turning increasingly to the church for representation. This helped create clerics who imagined that they were responsible for the Copts in more than merely religious areas-- in all the affairs of our lives. During this period many religiously incompetent clerics were consecrated.
With all the talk on reform in Islam, we sometimes forget that the Coptic church could use a bit of reform as well. Notice the similarity between the rhetoric of Islamic reform and the rhetoric of Asaad talking here about reform in the Coptic church. The clergy has too much power, interferes in political matters, enacts policies that are out of sync with the age we live in... There are many parallels to be drawn I think. Asaad goes on to criticize the pope for his handling of several recent issues, including the incident of a sex scandal involving a priest, and two recent movies which many Copts objected to. He accuses the Pope of exploiting all these issues to seize more political power.
The big blow came when the priest’s wife converted to Islam. For the first time the church took a stance that was not only incorrect, it was flat wrong. For this lady was not kidnapped, and was not forced to convert to Islam, and did not marry her colleague. The bishops of Buhayra knew all this, before they roused the youth to protest in Cairo...
Rousing the youth, sending them to Cairo, the spreading of lies and of incorrect information, was a means of pressure on the government, and the exploitation of the internal and external political environment. So are these, your holiness, political or religious actions? Where are the church’s Christian values when it protests and insults others? Are you not responsible for the several day long protests staged by the youth? And it did not occur to you, your holiness, that there are Muslims in this country, and that there is a reaction to every action, or is this not possible in moments charged with tension? Did your holinesses not think that if a woman, who converted to Islam of her own free will, was surrendered to the church, that this would provoke a reaction similar to what is happening now with the cases being raised against the security services and Al Azhar? And is all this Coptic anger simply because she is the wife of a bishop? Why not do this with the tens of other cases of wives of non-bishops? Or is the wife of a bishop equivalent to the mother of the Christians as some wrongly think?
As for your entering into politics, this exposes you to many problems, as there is nothing sanctified in politics, and there are no holy politicians. And how is it that you imagine yourself responsible for the Copts in affairs other than religion? And where is the constitutional or legal appropriateness for you to be responsible for the Copts? And what is the role of the State in this? And what is the relationship of the Copts to the state?
I want to say to your holinesses that because of what has happened recently the church and you personally has lost much standing in Muslim public opinion and in the general public opinion. You have lost standing with the regime which remains afraid of America. Are we to believe what is said about the Copts supporting the American pressure on the Muslims? If so, then where is the equality and unity among Egyptians? And is your holiness not accountable for the calls inside the Cathedral for American intervention?
Shenouda's recent defiance fits more with the Pope in his early years. Shenouda was a journalist and a poet before he became a monk. As a monk he was responsible for education, and he began a tradition of delivering weekly lessons. The lessons became popular; thousands of people began coming, making him a powerful force inside the Church. There were two schools among the Coptic clergy at that time. Here is Muhammad Hassanein Heikal describing that division in his book "Autumn of Fury": "One school, led by Shenouda, argued that the Church was an all-embracing institution which could provide a solution to all problems and an answer to all questions, temporal as well as spiritual. The other school, represented by Miskeen, insisted that religion was essentially a matter for the individual conscience, and should have nothing to do with politics." These two schools described by Heikal, are essentially the same two schools that are reflected in Asaad's article above. Of course, when Pope Korollos died in 1971, Shenouda prevailed. He's now quite old (nearing 80 I believe), and many are suggesting that the church's recent hard headedness is somehow a manifestation of succession struggles.
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Mubarak poll splits Muslim Brotherhood

Yesterday's polling of public opinion by Al Misry Al Yom has triggered dissent inside the Muslim Brotherhood. While Egypt’s opposition leaders were near unanimous in taking a defiant stance against Mubarak, Mahdi Akef, leader of Egypt’s most powerful “opposition� force, sang a different tune.
Al Misry Al Yom: Is the Muslim Brotherhood requesting an end to the rule of President Mubarak?
Akef: I am not asking for that because I don't know whether whoever will follow him will be better. The problem is with the regime/system in its entirety. Let me tell you that at least we know President Mubarak. As for what will come after him we don't know him. The regime now is a police, dictatorial single man regime. I don't have any say in the matter. Our problem is with this regime/system, not with President Mubarak personally.
Al Misry: But most of the opposition powers are demanding that Mubarak end his reign?
Akef: There is no opposition in Egypt. And the problem is not President Mubarak. Rather it is the regime that he is overseeing. He is a man that we respect in every way, because he is the guardian of the state (waly al amr), and Islam, in the holy Koran, obliges us to obey him. We want the people to choose and to speak their mind and the Muslim Brotherhood will stand with them.
Al Misry: But the people see the need to change item 167 of the constitution (which deals with how the president is elected)?
Akef: If they truly want that then the MB is with them, but the people do not want that.
Apparently Akef’s statements didn’t please other members of the Muslim Brotherhood. This was the response from members of the Muslim Brotherhood, as printed in Al Misry Al Yom the following day. Essam El Erian: "The demand to change the constitution is something that all the political powers agree on, because choosing the president of the republic from among more than one candidate is a basic condition for healthy democratic elections." Muhammad Abd Al Qadoos, a writer and member of the Muslim Brotherhood: "Every opposition force in Egypt, foremost among them the Muslim Brotherhood, is demanding the elections of a president from among a number of candidates. Given that the supreme guide was requesting something other than that, he was expressing his personal opinion and that is his right... Changing the we elect the president is a condition of reform and a condition of democracy in this country. Elections must be between a number of candidates, so as to ensure that president is elected." Abdel Monem Abdel Maqsoud, lawyer for the Muslim Brotherhood: "The demand to change the constitution to get rid of the single candidate referendum as a means to choose the president is a just demand and we differ with the what the supreme guide said. This is a basic demand of reform." Abu Ala Al Maadi, head of Al Wasat party and a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood had this to say: “The statements of Akef are outside the national consensus, and provoke a number of doubts about the true positions of the MB.� Here is more of the New Years Day poll in Al Misry Al Yom. The headline was: "The politicians and the thinkers have reservations... university youth say No... citizens are between no and yes..."
Thinkers, politicos, and intellectuals rejected a renewal of Mubarak for a number of reasons, among them: not conducting political and constitutional reform, the regime’s slowness in carrying out comprehensive changes and constitutional changes, in addition to the economic crisis that has become worse in recent years.
As for the man on the street and citizens in Cairo and the governorates, they varied between yes and no, but the bigger percentage of them said they did not want Mubarak to be president again. They gave as their reasons the problems and crises confronting the citizens whether on the level of political and civil rights or economic considerations, especially the decrease in income levels and crazy price increases. Meanwhile many citizens said they wanted Mubarak to continue leading the country for various reasons, among them: maintaining stability and security, his long experience in overseeing the affairs of leadership, in addition to his success in dealing with the United States, Israeli and the other dangers that confront the nation.
But the true surprise came inside the fences of Egyptian Universities, as a crushing majority of youth in the universities said a frank “no� to another term for Mubarak. They demanded a change of blood inside the regime, and expressed on their hopes that the future would be better for them, considering that it belongs to them more than others.
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Ukraine effect

I went to the Muhammad Munir concert last night. Munir is among Egypt's most popular singers today. He came on stage wearing a bright orange shirt and an equally absurd orange scarf. A few songs into his set he told the crowd that he was wearing orange "not because I am happy with the Arabs, but because I am happy with Ukraine." Al Misry Al Yom has kicked off the New Year with a rather impressive and courageous man-on-the-street opinion poll on Mubarak. There are no percentage approval ratings like we are used to seeing in our presidential polls, but there are two full inside pages devoted to assorted people, some known and others just average Egyptians, sounding off on Mubarak. I'll translate and post some of the highlights tomorrow when I have more time.
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Washington Post's fatwa on the hijab

I was just reading Jackie Spinner's article in yesterday's Washington Post on the trend among Iraqi girls to wear the hijab so as to avoid standing out in the crowd, and thus becoming targets of kidnappings, shootings, etc... It's a fine article, except for this statement of fact by the author:
Conservative Muslims believe that women should cover their heads to hide their beauty and not tempt the men who see them. Such instructions are spelled out in the Koran, the Islamic holy book.
Spelled out? I don't think so.
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