On the secular roots of "religious" conflicts

Leave religion out of it - Le Monde diplomatique - English edition

Georges Corm writes:

As European-style secular liberalism and socialist ideology (both of which had spread beyond Europe) have receded, conflicts have become reduced to their anthropological and cultural dimension. Few journalists or academics bother to maintain an analytical framework based on classical political science, taking into account demographic, economic, geographic, social, political, historical and geopolitical factors, as well as the ambitions of leaders, neo-imperial structures and regional powers’ desire for influence.

Conflicts are generally presented in a way that disregards the multiplicity of causes, caricatures the issues, and makes it a matter of “good guys” and “bad guys”. The main players are defined according to their ethnic or religious affiliations, as if opinion and behaviour were homogeneous within these groups.

. . .

Tibet, Xinjiang, the Philippines, the Russian Caucasus, Burma (where we have just discovered a Muslim population in conflict with its Buddhist neighbours), the former Yugoslavia (broken up along sectarian lines between Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbs and Muslim Bosnians), Northern Ireland (Catholics and Protestants) and now Mali: can the conflicts in all these regions really be seen as a clash of religious values? Or are they in fact secular, anchored in a social reality that hardly anyone bothers to analyse, while self-appointed sectarian leaders seize the opportunity to realise their personal ambitions?

In contempt

Human rights organizations and the media in Egypt have reported on a worrying recent spike in "contempt of religion" cases. Most of them involve Coptic Christians, whether it is 25-year-old Albert Saber, who allegedly linked to the Islamophobic porn B movie The Innocence of Muslims on Facebook, or school teacher Bishoy Kamel, who has been sentenced to six years in prison for posting cartoons considered defamatory to Islam and Prophet Mohammed on Facebook and for insulting President Mohamed Morsi and his family. 

Now, according to this report by the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, the charge is being used to settle domestic disputes: after a mother and daughter in Sharqiya got ito a fight about the daughter's unorthodox "ideas and views," the girl accused her mothering of threatening to kill her, and the mother accused the daughter and a male friend, who showed up at the police station to check up on her, of insulting Islam.  

At least the case against an 8-month-pregnant Coptic school teacher in Upper Egypt has been dismissed, after the student who accused her of insulting the Prophet turned out not to have been in class that day. 

Of course insulting religion -- or the president -- has always been a crime in Egypt. Laws that forbid it have been used before to persecute prominent secular intellectuals and artists. What may be new and disturbing about the recent cases is the indiscriminate and arbitrary targeting of regular, anonymous citizens (in the context of who-knows-what very local relations and tensions). 

It's great that President Morsi said in his speech yesterday that: "Any assault on Copts is an assault on me." But the recent cases are an assault on all Egyptians' freedom of expression.

Morsi has also called for an international law against insulting religion. Islamists have long amalgamated Western wars in the Middle East with the idea that Islam needs to be protected from offense domestically, in Muslim-majority countries. And who better to act as its protectors than they? Yet Islamists have a hard time admitting that they have, for political advantage, contributed to an atmosphere of intolerance and belligerance or that there is a double standard in the way Islam, versus all other religions, is protected from contempt.

The Battle for al-Azhar

The Battle for al-Azhar

Hisham Hellyer writes in Foreign Policy of the coming changes in the role of al-Azhar in Islamist-dominated Egypt, after PM Qandil decided not to appoint a Salafist in the position of minister of endowments after al-Azhar staged a revolt over the matter:

"There are difficult times ahead for Al-Azhar's establishment. There appear to be three options for it, the first being the obvious one of sacrificing its independence from the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi movements, and allow the 'Salafizing' of the establishment to take place. As noted above, this has serious implications. The second would be to align with the non-civil forces in the deep state whose aim is to minimize MB and Salafi influence in Egypt, which would also involve sacrificing its independence in the process. The more difficult route would be to chart another course, where it is engaged in critique of both the deep state and the MB. This would be, of course, the path chosen by individual prominent Azharis, such as Sheikh Emad Effat, who was popularly recognized as the 'Sheikh of the Revolution.' He was killed in the midst of clashes with military forces on Cairo's streets in December 2011."

To me these questions are another aspect of the resurgence of corporatism in post-Mubarak Egypt I recently wrote about for The National, with al-Azhar essentially playing the role of the corporation of the ulema. Nathan Brown had written about these issues several months ago in a paper on Post-Revolutionary Al-Azhar for Carnegie.

On "morality police" in Egypt

I did not get a chance to blog about the reports of Islamist morality vigilantism said to have caused the death of a young man in Suez a couple of weeks ago, but below are some links on the story. While it's not clear how widespread the phenomenon is, and there has been some alarmism, I do believe that such events are happening more frequently. I would not look at a conspiracy by the new Islamist president for now, though — this problem has much more to do with the collapse of authority in areas where there the state already has problems to impose itself. No wonder the worst instances of such morality police (but the least reported) is Sinai.

  • No morality police in Egypt: Morsi spokesman - Politics - Egypt - Ahram Online
  • A noisy discourse on sexual harassment : EgyptMonocle
  • Egyptian Youth’s Murder in Suez Puts Islamists on Defensive - Bloomberg
  • Fears of 'morality vigilantism' in Suez - YouTube
  • After Suez murder, questions linger over vigilante 'morality police' | Egypt Independent
  • Egyptian student fatally stabbed by militants - SFGate
  • Hamza Kashgari, social media and the Saudis' dual monarchy

    Hamza KashgariThe National reports that the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia has “issued a fatwa against Twitter, demanding that ‘real Muslims’ avoid it, calling it a ‘platform for trading accusations and for promoting lies’.”

    The pretext for this condemnation of social media is the case of the Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari, who was extradited from Malaysia to the Kingdom after tweeting about the Prophet Muhammad in a manner that the religious authorities deemed blasphemous. If the Saudis wish to make an example, he will be facing blasphemy charges, and possibly death, rather than a lesser (though still absurd) sentencing that would end in him paying a fine. There’s also talk of taking action against anyone who retweeted his messages.

    But considering that thousands of Twitter users called attention to Kashgari’s tweets, literally demanding his head, it’s ironic that the Grand Mufti says Muslims should stay off Twitter, since clearly, many salafis are using, and policing it.

    Read More

    In Translation: Will the real Ibn Taymiyya please stand up?

    This week’s In Translation piece is a departure from the usual focus on commentary on current events in the Arabic press. I chose a piece recommended by As’ad AbuKhalil, aka Angry Arab, that takes a scholarly look at the key inspirations of the Salafi movement, the theologian and thinker Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328 AD), who was born in Harran in what is today Turkey and lived most of his life in what is today Syria. Ibn Taymiyya’s times coincided with the destructive Mongol invasions which razed Baghdad and, from his perspective, must have appeared as an end-times event. He is considered to be a key inspiration inspiration to the Wahhabi and contemporary Salafi movement.

    Angry Arab wrote of this piece:

    This is an interesting discussion of the thought of Ibn Taymiyyah and how it differed from Hanbaliyyah on some theological issues. Ibn Taymiyyah warrants a lot of academic attention (given his influence on today’s Islamists): French Orientalists of the 20th century did pay attention to him but the reason that he is not studied as, say, Sayyid Qutb, is because he left a vast body of literature and access to this text requires a deep understanding of Arabic. He was a dangerous but effective and sophisticated polemicist.

    That’s an important point: a deep understanding of Qu’ranic exegesis necessitates advanced study as a grammatician and even etymologist. For more on Ibn Taymiyya and how the democratization of religion in the Arab world that has given rise to new forms of fundamentalist Islamic thought, I recommend reading As’ad AbuKhalil’s critical essay The Incoherence of Islamic Fundamentalism: Arabic Islamic Thought At The End Of The 20th Century [PDF 2.6MB]. It includes his usual verve against the late Saudi Mufti, Abdel Aziz Bin Baz, who counts among the handful of founders of contemporary Salafism.

    This is a difficult piece, but I thought it might be enlightening not only for the learned (and unorthodox interpretation) the writer gives of Ibn Taymiyya, but also in the second degree as telling of some of the discussions taking place in the quality Arab press in reaction to the electoral success of the Salafis in Egypt and the rising intellectual and spiritual influence of the Salafi movement more generally.

    As always, this translation is possible thanks to Industry Arabic, which provides multi-lingual translation of many different types — media, technical, legal, etc. — and really did a great job on this difficult piece.

     


     

    The other side of Ibn Taymiyya – on the occasion of the political ascent of Salafis and Islamists

    By Abdel Hakim Ajhar, al-Quds al-Arabi, 14 December 2011

    The terms and concepts that have achieved wide circulation with the Arab revolutions – those such as democracy, tyranny, civil society, and citizenship – have no place in the writings of Islamist thinkers before the Nahda period. However, the writings of one such pre-Nahda1 thinker, Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328), contain material that could enable his followers to adopt a different mentality, one that would guide them – with a little effort — to these prevailing concepts of the age.

    The Ibn Taymiyya whom we read about is not the real Ibn Taymiyya: he is a theoretical reproduction and refabrication that has made him into one of the authorities for religious extremists among both his supporters and detractors alike. The real Ibn Taymiyya, on the other hand, the one who needs to be read by Islamists ascending to the political forefront, is one who will help these Islamists adopt a flexible, rationalistic mode of thinking, and perhaps change many of the intellectual assumptions these forces still live by and consider to be fundamental tenets not subject to review.

    Read More

    What does religion have to do with voting in Egypt?

    Dalia Malek send this dispatch from London on the experience of registering to, one day, be able to vote in Egypt's elections.

    After months of protests at Egyptian embassies around the world, SCAF announced that Egyptians abroad would have the right to vote. However, at least in the United Kingdom this has been more challenging than it would seem.

    A delegation went to the Egyptian consulate in London between 18 and 22 November to issue Egyptian IDs, while online registration for voting closed on 19 November. This overlap of dates appears intentional, but in fact, no one with an Egyptian ID issued after 27 September 2011 could register to vote.

    Egyptian IDs and the “new” versions of the Egyptian birth certificates and passports have a serial number (raqam qawmi) that is identified with a citizen’s records, and this is not present on the “old” birth certificate or the “old” passport. Religion is also not written on the passport. Although both of my parents are Egyptian and I have had the old version of the Egyptian birth certificate since I was born, and the old passport since 2007 (valid until 2014), I have chosen not to request an Egyptian ID until now because of the privacy issues.

    Read More

    This Eid, Saturn is ascendant

    Love this story from al-Masri al-Youm:

    Based on Thursday’s headlines, it seems the biggest news story on the third day of Eid concerns the question of whether or not it really is the third day of Eid. Making the front pages of independent dailies Al-Shorouk, Al-Dostour, and Al-Tahrir are reports claiming that millions of Muslims around the world have “broken their fast early by an entire day, based on a sighting of Saturn.” Traditionally, the holy month of Ramadan ends at the sighting of a new moon; a role that, this year, might have gone to Saturn instead.

    “The sighting of a new moon last Monday would have been simply impossible,” Maged Abou Zahra, president of the Jeddah Astronomical Society, states in Al-Shorouk. “Saturn is visible this time of year, and can be easily observed with the naked eye. Either way, the new moon could not have been visible under Monday’s circumstances because the glare from the sun was too strong to observe the moon at that particular moment… this has been confirmed by the most prominent astronomers in the region.”

    The mistake has inspired a wave of jokes and sarcastic tweets, as independent dailies such as Al-Shorouk and Al-Tahrir are quick to point out, Al-Tahrir carrying the headline: “Today is the second of [Islamic month] Shawal and the third of Saturn."

    Oh, the multiple ironies. One is that Saturn is the planet of the goat-horned devil in many mythologies — something that religiously-minded conspiracy theories will be sure to point out. The other is that this stupid tradition of waiting for sightings of the moon, which sometimes yields different beginnings and ends of Ramadan (with Saudi Arabia often setting the pace for others), yet again proves its anachronism. Anyone can get hold of a computer program that will indicate with great precision when the new moon arrives. I would suggest a little bit of science and ijtihad is in order: let the astronomers rather than the imams tell us when the moon is new.

    Tammam: The revolution and religion

    For my money there is no better Egyptian analyst of the religious scene than Hossam Tammam — he's a specialist on Islamists, but what he writes here goes for the Coptic Church too.

    Any discussion of the status of Islamists in a new Egypt makes little sense if it’s based on the same data that was previously used to study religious movements, and if it ignores the fact that Egypt has witnessed a revolution that destroyed many of the old features of its religious scene.

    The revolution was not just directed against the autocratic, repressive and corrupt Egyptian regime, which relied on an alliance of money, power and corruption. It was also directed against the official religious establishment and its discourse that supports this regime, either directly or indirectly.

    The Egyptian revolution has completely reconfigured the religious scene and clarified the public’s position towards religious institutions and discourses in the country. The result has been surprising. No one expected that religious Egyptians are capable of overriding the powers of religious institutions and of challenging religious discourses that they suddenly perceived as part of a corrupt and repressive regime.

    The official religious establishments--both Islamic and Christian--have been the biggest losers in the revolution.

    Personally, I hope this episode gets people to consider their religious leadership and moves them to move to either change church (or for Muslims ignore al-Azhar) and ignoring religious issues when addressing politics.

    Pork, piety and the nature of reality

    Pork rinds, known in the American South and the English North as crackling, are a delicious beer snack consisting essentially of the roasted skin of pigs. In the video below, the Muslim owners of deli in New York receives a consignment of the snack and ponders and whether or not they should sell it. A particularly interesting point is that the pork rinds appear not to contain any pork (indeed most ¢99 renditions of pork rinds consist of salt and flavorings imprinted on a soy wafer). Before this ontological conundrum can be resolved, the package of pork rinds is recalled... and taken to the Jewish deli across the road.

    Sheikh Tantawi, 1928-2010

    Sheikh Muhammad Tantawi

    This morning, Muhammad Tantawi, Sheikh of al-Azhar, passed away in Riyadh from a heart attack. He was one of what may be, symbolically at least, the three most important men in Egypt, along with President Hosni Mubarak and Coptic Pope Shenouda III. All three were about the same age, and ill.

    Tantawi leaves a mixed legacy behind him: overall, the immediate verdict may be that he was too liberal for conservatives, too conservative for liberals, too compliant with the regime for those who want al-Azhar to be independent, and too independent for those in the regime who needed Azharite support to enact policy changes on issues as varied as Palestine, banking and TV game shows. The overall image is of a man besieged on all sides, but adept at fighting bureaucratic battles in the bloated, clerical civil service that al-Azhar has become.

    Tantawi was of the generation of men that have ruled Egypt for at least three decades, and had an incredible influence over twentieth century Egypt. He came of age in the 1940s, and considered himself privileged to have been a young Muslim Brother and benefited from direct contact with the movement's founder, Hassan al-Banna. He shared with al-Banna and many other Brothers at the time a provincial origin, a fierce nationalism and disdain for the cosmopolitanism of Egypt's ruling elite under the monarchy. He would eventually grow into one of the Brotherhood's favorite targets, accused of selling out Sunnism's most hallowed institution of learning to the regime. His record as the state Mufti between 1986 and 1995 was, in the Islamists' eyes, an era of unprecedented politicization of religious institution, and they never forgave him for it (never mind that they were fighting a battle to politicize these institutions against the regime all throughout that time.)

    When Tantawi became Sheikh al-Azhar in 1995, replacing the conservative Gad al-Haqq, he immediately began what would amount to an internal purge. Al-Haqq had promoted the al-Azhar Scholar's Front, a conservative group opposed to the co-optation of al-Azhar, since 1992, in part in reaction to the murder of the leading secularist thinker Farag Fouda, whose martyrdom he feared would boost secularists in the regime. The Scholar's Front had been set up in 1946 as a group of anti-secularist scholars and thinkers to counter the ideas of Taha Hussein. Tantawi immediately broke with the front, and instead leaned on the Islamic Research Academy, seen as marginally more reformist, to sanctify his ideas.

    Sheikh Metwalli ShaarawiThe context of Tantawi's rise in al-Azhar is important. Tantawi's career had been from government post to government post, and he had never distinguished himself as an opponent of the regime. Some saw him as too pliant, including the person who is perhaps Egypt's most influential religious figure of the late twentieth century, Sheikh Metwally Shaarawi. Shaarawi, who died in 1997, was a populist TV preacher whose posters still adorn many shops in lower-income neighborhoods. His influence — in my opinion for the worse, as his brand of religion, while accessible, was often crass and small-minded — cannot be under-estimated, and Tantawi had to deal with it. The story is that Tantawi chose to placate Shaarawi by appointing his son at the head of the Academy. With his help, Tantawi eroded the authority of the Scholars' Front, eventually succeeding in getting the government to withdraw its license. He also pursued some of its leaders — his main critics — in the courts, winning libel trials against them. But he would also clash with Shaarawi Jr.

    Throughout his tenure at al-Azhar, Tantawi would provoke controversies, and he could not always count on the support of the Academy and his fellow Azharites. His detractors accused him of blindly supporting government policies, no matter what Islamic traditions said. For instance, he decreed that banks could charge interest without this being riba (usury), but rather ribh (profit). Later, he would also sanction the mortgage law, allowing Egyptians to borrow to finance home purchases (a major, and many think necessary, reform to avoid other types of loans or only being able to buy property with cash.) Some reformist thinkers, like the "red Sheikh" Khalil Abdel Karim, backed him tentatively because he agreed (but not all the time) that new ijtihad (re-interpretation of Islamic tenets) was necessary.

    Other clashes with conservatives were more esoteric, or mundane. Tantawi was the first Sheikh of al-Azhar to attend conferences hosted by groups such as the Rotary Club, which have long been considered as suspect by many conservatives Muslims who consider them as beachheads for Freemasonry and its deism (and also because of the role Freemason-inspired secret societies played in politics under the monarchy.) He was tut-tutted for approving of TV game shows like "Who wants to be a millionaire?" Most recently, he became controversial for ripping a young girl's niqab of her face and saying no girl should wear the full-face veil. He was also constantly battling influential clerics like Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawy — "Sheikh al-Jazeera" — on women's issues, as for instance when he decreed that women could be eligible for the presidency (an issue the Muslim Brothers still fight over). It was under his tenure that al-Azhar finally, without reservation, condemned Female Genital Mutilation, although his critics say that took longer that it should have.

    Peres and TantawiPerhaps most public was his battle with al-Qaradawy, Islamists, nationalists, and many on the left over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 1996, Tantawi became the first major Sunni figure to oppose suicide bombings in reaction to a particularly bloody attack on Israeli civilians that year. But within weeks, he backtracked in the face of a press campaign against him and called the bomber a "martyr." He battled the Mufti at the time, Sheikh Nasr Farid Wassel, over whether suicide bombings were acceptable. His meetings with Israeli figures, such as Israel's head rabbi or Shimon Peres, made many indignant, particularly after the Oslo process collapsed. It made it worse that he constantly waffled on the issue, pretending not to have recognized Peres. In the context of the war in Gaza and Egypt's shift of policy towards the Palestinians, as well as Peres' bloody past, this was seen as outrageous. The irony is that there has long been a rumor that Tantawi's doctoral thesis, titled "The Children of Israel in the Quran and Sunna", is believed to have been removed from al-Azhar's library because of its un-PC views of Jews.

    It is likely that Tantawi will be remembered for these controversies and his clashes with journalists — he frequently yelled at them and is said to have hit one — as well as his sometimes coarse language. He leaves behind an unreformed al-Azhar — an institution that includes a university and a school system as well as a theological center — whose credibility has hit rock-bottom. This may be because Tantawi was too pliant towards the regime, or because of the growth of various trends in contemporary Islam that reject al-Azhar's centrality. While the Muslim Brothers dream of restoring al-Azhar to its former (imagined?) glories, Salafists and groups like the Quranists would do away with its mediation of religion altogether. The debate over al-Azhar and the trahison des clercs is far from over. Whoever replaces him — perhaps Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, another tentative modernizer — will have much work to repair al-Azhar's standing and its vitality as a place of learning. It will also have to make difficult political decisions, especially on the issue of presidential succession, at a time when clerics are beginning to voice an opinion on the prospect of a Gamal Mubarak presidency.

    Sponsored links:

    By using our 6002-1 certification material and 650-377 exam dumps facility, you can carry prep solutions anywhere along with you. The testking 640-721 study package, testking N10-004 dumps and testking 70-291 exam product are also accessible at reasonable prices.

    Links for Dec.24.09

    LRB · Adam Shatz · Wanting to Be Something Else | Adam Shatz on Orhan Pamuk. ✪ UN gives mud brick huts to Gaza war homeless | I'm not sure Hassan Fathi-style mud brick homes will work in Gaza - doesn't it rain a lot there? This story also does not say whether they are building with mud bricks because the blockade makes other materials unavailable. ✪ Renewed Lebanese drug trade hikes Mideast tensions - Yahoo! News | Return of cannabis and poppy cultivation in the Bekaa (but had it really ever gone away?) ✪ الآراء من الغرب Views from the Occident: 'Ashura Artwork: Part I | Graphic posters from Shia martyrology. ✪ BBC News - Lockheed secures $842m Morocco contract | For a bunch of F-16s. ✪ FT.com / UK - Moussavi sacked as pressure mounts for a trial | Challenger to Ahmedinejad targeted. ✪ Cameron under pressure to explain £100,000 funding linked to Lebanese former arms dealer | Politics | guardian.co.uk | Those European politicians sure love Arab money.
    Read More

    Links for 11.19.09 to 11.24.09

    Middle East Report 253: Beyond Compare by Julie Peteet | On the similarities of the Israeli occupation to Apartheid, its differences, and a call for a new advocacy strategy. ✪ Newsweek Reporter's Ordeal in Iran | Newsweek International | Newsweek.com | Maziar Bahari's story. ✪ The sixth war - The National Newspaper | Greg Johnsen on the Huthi-Saudi-Yemeni war(s), and their socio-political underpinnings. ✪ Daily News Egypt - Shalit Release Imminent, Claim Egyptian And Israeli Press | Heard that before - who will be the spoiler for prisoner exchanges now? ✪ Morocco: Endangered 'Model'? | Human Rights Watch | HRW's Eric Goldstein on Morocco's slide to more and more rights abuses. ✪ MEI - Middle East International | Another new issue. ✪ Saudi Arabia goes to war | Mai Yamani | On Riyadh's attack on Huthis marks the first solo military venture for the Saudi army. ✪ Hey, preacher – leave those kids alone | Ariane Sherine | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk | I'm a rabid atheist and even I think this goes too far. People can choose sooner or later anyway, parents have rights over their kids. But of course religious schools should get no state funding. ✪ Syria's crusade for tourism | Travel | The Guardian | Damascus wants to double the number of tourists that visit it. Quick, get there before the country is ruined... ✪ Homeland Security Today - preparedness and security news - Obama Dilutes Power of Top Intel Officer; Elevates DCI | Interesting piece on failed attempts to restructure US intelligence community, caused by fight between CIA and DNI. ✪ International Journal of Žižek Studies | It would be funny if this was satire, but it's not. ✪ Interview / Reporter Helen Thomas criticizes Obama's Mideast peace efforts - Haaretz | "I don't think they are working very hard for peace." ✪ Will Turkey benefit from Ergenekon? - Le Monde diplomatique | Remnants of Turkey's deep state and Cold War networks. ✪ Le Figaro - La lutte des princes saoudiens pour succéder au roi Abdallah | As Sarkozy visits, creepy old geezer princes fight for kingdom. ✪ Little behind Obama's tough Mideast talk: analysts - Yahoo! News | In foreign as in domestic policy, Obama has no balls.
    Read More

    Links for 11.09.09 to 11.12.09

    Report: Angelina Jolie planning to adopt child from Syria - Haaretz - Israel News | Jolie and Pitt thinking of adopting an Iraqi refugee baby in Syria. They also met with Bashar and his wife, apparently. United Colors of Adoption... this will cause a stir. ✪ Israel & Palestine: Can They Start Over? - The New York Review of Books | Malley & Agha's latest, in which they criticize the two-state solution, criticize alternatives to it (notably one-state), and sketch out the alternative: a hudna, a long-term interim truce while work on fundamental questions is carried out. Not entirely convincing, too vague at times, but there's something interesting there nonetheless. I wish they could be more straightforward. ✪ UN: Gaza needs construction material before winter - Yahoo! News | Even greater humanitarian crisis looming. ✪ Palestinian borders could solve settlements row: Fatah - Yahoo! News | Muhammad Dahlan picks up Daniel Levy's line about deciding on borders. Worrying. ✪ Israeli flights over Lebanon break resolution: UN - Yahoo! News | "UNITED NATIONS (AFP) – All Israeli military flights over Lebanon break a resolution aimed at ending the 2006 hostilities between the two neighbors, a UN envoy said Tuesday." So let's have the UN set up air defenses, then! ✪ Abbas slams Israel on settlements at mass Arafat rally - Yahoo! News | Funny pic of Abbas alongside this story. Well he's shown he can have some balls, at least, and highlight the dismal failure of the Israelis and Americans on the settlement question. ✪ Israel mulls draft refugee law - Yahoo! News | "JERUSALEM (AFP) – A draft law stipulating that any Middle East peace treaty must mention compensation for Jews forced to leave Arab states has passed a preliminary reading in the Israeli parliament, a spokesman said on Wednesday." ✪ Gaza, Gilad Shalit, Hamas, and Israel : The New Yorker | Somewhat flawed piece by Lawrence Wright, but nice descriptions of the misery of Gaza. Too much Gilad Shalit for my taste. ✪ Arab Reform Bulletin - Brotherhood Faces Leadership Challenge | Ibrahim al-Hudaiby about the MB's internal dispute and its need to institutionalize decision-making. ✪ Memo From Riyadh - Influence of Egypt and Saudi Arabia Fades - NYTimes.com | An interesting story on Egypt and Saudi Arabia's dwindling relative power to influence regional affairs. Except I would not put Cairo and Riyadh in the same basket: Egypt is in absolute decline, Saudi in relative decline. Also interesting stuff on differences between the two on how to handle Syria. ✪ 6 Guantanamo detainees resettle in Palau Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | The absurdities of the war on terror: "KOROR, Palau (AP) - Six Chinese Muslims released from Guantanamo Bay but still wanted at home as separatists arrived Sunday on their new tropical island home of Palau after the tiny Pacific nation agreed to a U.S. request to resettle the men." ✪ Géopolitique des médias arabes (1/2) : Rotana, mondialisation et normalisation | Culture et politique arabes | First post in a series of the geopolitics of Arab media. This one largely focuses on Kingdom Holdings and Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal. ✪ الرئيس جمال عبد الناصر، الصفحة الرئيسية | Gamal Abdel Nasser archives at the Alexandria Library. ✪ In Turkey, fertile ground for creationism - washingtonpost.com | On Islamist creationists in Turkey. ✪ Al-Ahram Weekly | Egypt | Obituary Amin Howeidi (1921-2009) Vexed, not villainous | Gamal Nkrumah's obituary of former Egyptian spy chief Amin Howeidy.
    Read More

    Ross Douthat in NYT: Islam is Christianity's "most enduring and impressive foe."

    Conservative American columnist Ross Douthat in a NYT op-ed on Anglican-Catholic reconciliation finds an occasion to allude to appeasement of Islamofascists, the Eurabia idiocy, and the idea of some epic Christian-Muslim battle being played out:
    But in making the opening to Anglicanism, Benedict also may have a deeper conflict in mind — not the parochial Western struggle between conservative and liberal believers, but Christianity’s global encounter with a resurgent Islam. Here Catholicism and Anglicanism share two fronts. In Europe, both are weakened players, caught between a secular majority and an expanding Muslim population. In Africa, increasingly the real heart of the Anglican Communion, both are facing an entrenched Islamic presence across a fault line running from Nigeria to Sudan. Where the European encounter is concerned, Pope Benedict has opted for public confrontation. In a controversial 2006 address in Regensburg, Germany, he explicitly challenged Islam’s compatibility with the Western way of reason — and sparked, as if in vindication of his point, a wave of Muslim riots around the world. By contrast, the Church of England’s leadership has opted for conciliation (some would say appeasement), with the Archbishop of Canterbury going so far as to speculate about the inevitability of some kind of sharia law in Britain. There are an awful lot of Anglicans, in England and Africa alike, who would prefer a leader who takes Benedict’s approach to the Islamic challenge. Now they can have one, if they want him. This could be the real significance of last week’s invitation. What’s being interpreted, for now, as an intra-Christian skirmish may eventually be remembered as the first step toward a united Anglican-Catholic front — not against liberalism or atheism, but against Christianity’s most enduring and impressive foe.
    My question is: would the NYT tolerate an op-ed describing any other religion like this? Would it not condemn, say, a Christian who describes Judaism's as Christianity's foe because of the old "Jews-killed-Jesus" trope some anti-Semites and Christian ultra-conservatives like to dish out?
    Read More

    Israel's Religious Right

    From Israel’s Religious Right and the Peace Process by Nicolas Pelham:
    "Yet internally, the settler movement is -- in the words of a former West Bank army commander -- ‘Israel’s most powerful lobby.’ Fearful of additional Amona-style faceoffs with Zionism’s foremost ideologues, few Israeli politicians dare confront the movement. It is growing fast: The drift of the secular-minded out of the West Bank (though not East Jerusalem) has been more than compensated for by the movement’s burgeoning hard core of national-religious activists, who from the outset have promoted Jewish settlement throughout the biblical Land of Israel as a sacred duty. In addition, the movement has coopted Israel’s ultra-Orthodox and traditionally non-Zionist communities, desperate for room for their large families. In so doing, the settlers have jettisoned the slowest-growing sector of Israeli society, secular Jews, and conjoined the two fastest to their project. The West Bank settler population, again excluding occupied East Jerusalem, has tripled from 105,000 on the eve of the Oslo agreement in 1992 to over 300,000 today.  The population expansion has given the settler movement an ever more religious hue. Ma’ale Ephraim, a settlement on the cliffs above the Jordan Valley whose secular population largely wants out, has opened a hesder yeshiva, a school combining religious study and army training. And in the valley below a national-religious community has entirely taken over Yitav, a once secular settlement. The caravan sites littering the West Bank are also markers of growing national-religious strength in the settlement enterprise and the readiness of the national-religious to put ideology before comfort. In the vicinity of Nokdim near Bethlehem, for example, 30 couples have pitched mobile homes on the hilltop, the latest influx turning a community that once had equal numbers of secular and pious families into a predominantly religious settlement. The Gush Etzion bloc of which Nokdim is a part has no secular school. Like others, it teaches that the Bible, as a local teacher puts it, is a God-given land registry. Prompted by cheap housing and subsidized mortgages, ultra-Orthodox population growth is even starker, particularly in the overspills near Jerusalem. Beitar Illit, overlooking Bethlehem, has grown from scrub brush to a town of 40,000 in little over a decade. Erected on hilltops west of Jerusalem in 1996, Modi’in Illit is already the largest settlement and is projected to grow to 150,000 people by 2020. Even so, building fails to keep pace with demand, leading families to move ever deeper into the West Bank. The influx has replaced ultra-Orthodoxy’s traditional detachment from the Arab-Israeli conflict with attachment to the land that is now home. Ultra-Orthodox notables are as vocal as the national-religious in protesting any freeze on construction. Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai, leader of the Shas Party, has called for rebuilding the four far-flung West Bank settlements from which Israel decamped in 2005.  The demographic weight of pious Jews has increased inside Israel as well as in the settlements. Goaded to multiply by their rabbis, the religious marry younger and have more children than their secular counterparts, fostering three generations in the time that secular Israelis raise two. ‘Normally one must not delay marriage beyond the age of 20,’ advises Yaakov Yosef, head of the Hazon Yaakov yeshiva and son of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. From 2007 polling data, the Israel Democracy Institute estimates that 8 percent of Israel’s Jewish population aged over 50 and 32 percent of the population aged between 18 and 30 are either ultra-Orthodox or national-religious. By contrast, says the Institute, totally secular Jewish Israelis have declined from 23 percent to 17 percent of the population in a decade. Numbering about 1.5 million, the religious Jews in Israel proper provide a rear base of moral, electoral and logistical support for the vanguard in the settlements. ‘We have more followers in the army inside the Green Line than in the West Bank,’ says Yisrael Ariel, assistant to Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburgh, whose militant sermons attract both an ultra-Orthodox and a national-religious audience. ‘They help us obtain weapons.’ "
    Read the whole of this excellent overview of the settler-religious right-state, and while you're at it the editors of MERIP have a smart take on the Obama Nobel Peace prize
    Read More

    Links for 10.08.09 to 10.09.09

    ‘Abuse’ of Islamic rule lands lawyer in court - The National Newspaper | About time someone stopped Nabih el Wahsh and his ridiculous hesba claims, but this needs to go further: a judicial ruling or new law should declare hesba unacceptable in courts.

    Israel FM to tell U.S. envoy no peace deal possible | Lieberman always says what's on his mind.

    Mideast sliding into 'darkness': Jordan king | Jordan's king does his Cassandra routine.

    Sudan: SLM Warns US Envoy Not to Visit Darfur Areas Under Its Control Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | "The Sudan Liberation Army Movement [SLM] led by Abdul-Wahid Nur who resides in France has warned US Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration not to visit the areas in Darfur that are under its control and where he is expected to hold a conference in the "Darbat" area in Murrah Mountain on 20 October."

    Unjustifiable To Lose ‘Goldstone’ Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | "It is not the time for point-scoring. Goldstone’s report marked the beginning of the international justice the Palestinian people need. The issue goes beyond political wrangling between Hamas and the PA, and also goes beyond the assumed price for slip ups. It is about responsibility for people’s lives."

    ‘The Times’ lets everyone off the hook on Goldstone | The NYT's continued hasbara on the Goldstone report.

    BBC NEWS | Middle East | UN body to debate Gaza 'crimes' | Slated for 14 October.

    Fatah seeks joint action with Hamas over Gaza report - Yahoo! News | About time.

    ei: Abbas helps Israel bury its crimes in Gaza | Ali Abunimah: "Just when it seemed that the Ramallah Palestinian Authority (PA) and its leader Mahmoud Abbas could not sink any lower in their complicity with Israel's occupation of the West Bank and the murderous blockade of Gaza, Ramallah has dealt a further stunning blow to the Palestinian people."

    “The Challenge of Moderation in Islam: Egypt’s Religious Institution Versus Extremism.” | POMED notes on speech by Egyptian Mufti Ali Gomaa.

    Palestine on the brink: only a quick de-escalation can prevent an explosion | Israel Policy Forum | Hussein Ibish.

    Abbas Cancels Israel War-Crimes Report, Boosting Hamas - Yahoo! News | It's over for Abbas, morally now and politically eventually.

    Saudi, Syria agree to 'remove obstacles' to closer ties - Yahoo! News | They also called for a NUG to be formed in Lebanon.

    Security Council to raise UN Gaza report next week - Yahoo! News | Libya move to push for discussion of Goldstone report moves ahead, despite Mahmoud Abbas's failure to push for it (and his subsequent reversal.)

    All these Abdelazizes | New head of Western Sahara mission MINURSO is Egyptian.

    Oren likens Goldstone to… Nazi threat | Israel Ambassador to US Michael Oren: Goldstone = Nazis = Nuclear Annihilation.

    Agents arrest dozens for theft scheme in US, Egypt | Egyptian hackers engage in $2m phishing scam.

    Pew Forum: Mapping the Global Muslim Population | Pew report says there are 1.57bn Muslims, analysis and breakdown through maps and more.

    Read More

    Ramadan hysteria

    Picture from Flickr.

    As Ramadan comes to an end, it appears these summer months of fasting present more difficulties than those years when the holy months comes at cooler times (at least if you live in the northern hemisphere.) So it looks like the years ahead will be tough, as Ramadan slides into the hot months of August, then July, then June. I think there's something slightly dysfunctional in the way Ramadan is practiced these days, as a kind of hyper-consumerist, frenetic month of stress, rather than the month of introspection it was surely meant to be. For many in this region (whether they fast or not) we are left with a 30-day Christmas frenzy.

    Which is why perhaps it's not surprising, in countries where poor people have to go to work doing manual labor, that some simply choose not to fast. Yes, public display of non-fasting is not approved, although we all know that many eat or drink on the sly. In 99% Muslim Morocco this has long been officially against the law (but certainly not enforced among the elite), whereas in Egypt, another country frequently labeled as "tolerant" in its practice of Islam (as opposed to what - Saudi Arabia?!?), not fasting is relatively normal, at least for the large Christian minority. Strange then that it's in these two countries that scandals over the arrests of non-fasters have emerged.

    Jillian York at Global Voices has a good round-up of the Moroccan debacle, as has Morocco Board. But here is an account sent to me from one of the participants in the protests against the penalization of public eating during Ramadan:

    Testimony of Moroccan Non-Faster in Hideout Drastic Government Crackdown

    We are Moroccan citizens who started MALI, an informal Internet-based group whose French acronym means “Alternative Movement for Individual Freedoms”. Launched a few weeks ago, the Facebook group brought together about 600 members from various Moroccan towns, countries, professions, and religious beliefs. MALI is a forum which discusses possible courses of action for the protection of basic individual liberties in our country. MALI defends the freedoms of religion, conscience, expression, movement, and lifestyle.
    Our first action was scheduled during the current month of Ramadan, as an effort to defend the right of non-fasting Moroccans to legally exist. We planned a daytime picnic in symbolic protest of Article 222 of the Moroccan Penal Code which demands a penalty of one to six months in prison and a fine on "any person who, understood to belong to the Muslim religion, publicly breaks the fast during Ramadan." The fast requires total abstinence from all food and drink from dawn to sunset during the lunar month of Ramadan.
    Our action was based on Article 6 in Chapter 1 of the Moroccan Constitution, which guarantees religious freedom for all citizens, and on Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which Morocco is a member, which guarantees religious freedoms including the rights to change one's beliefs and to manifest them individually or as part of a community, publicly or privately, in teaching, observance, and/or worship.
    We picked the Benslimane forest near Mohammedia for our action because it lies far outside the city, and in order to avoid any accusations of public provocation. The forest is also conveniently located midway between the cities Casablanca and Rabat, which facilitated train travel to the event by MALI members from both cities. We arranged to meet at the Mohammedia train station and to walk together to the forest. Members arrived by in discreet groups of 2 and 3. At our arrival, we were met with a huge deployment of security forces at the train station. We were followed as soon as we got off the train, individually searched, and ordered to leave. One of the policemen also verbally directed religious insults at us in the process. The police prevented us from gathering and we were forced to immediately board the train back to Casablanca, in the escort of plainclothes officers. A member of the MALI group who tried to join us was arrested, verbally abused, face-slapped, and taken away before he was released later from a local police station. Back in Casablanca, a journalist who had traveled with us was taken into police van, verbally insulted, and released 15 minutes later. This same journalist, Mr. Aziz El Yaakoubi, was arrested again this afternoon (GMT. Sept 15). At about the same time, the police also arrived at my house, but I was not in there.
    A news dispatch from the Morocco's official news agency (MAP) posted yesterday announced charges against us for our “heinous” act, and I was the only participant mentioned by name. This morning, my name along, with various versions of the event, also appeared in all major Moroccan dailies. Some of the news statements openly incited hatred, and I have received death threats in my e-mail as well as via Facebook. In order to avoid tracking and arrest, I am not reachable by cell phone at the moment.

    [name redacted]

    In fact, there have been reports of dozens of police officers coming to brake up the "protest," the country's political leadership has been mobilized around the issue (Boubakr Jamai has a good editorial about that), and a meeting of ulema gathered to express its indignation. As Morocco's most famous blogger,Larbi, points out, this amounts to collective hysteria: eight people prevented from doing anything are suddenly a moral threat to the nation of tremendous magnitude.

    According to the Ministère des Habous et des Affaires Islamiques, the Moroccan penal code says:

    Article 222 - A person, known for belonging to the Muslim religion, which breaks fast in a public place during Ramadan, without a reason commonly accepted in this religion, is to be punished by imprisonment for one to six months and of a fine of 12-120DH.

    This might just be a silly story, but it speaks poorly of overall regime outlook, and not just because these people were needless harassed and prosecuted. The palace reacted to protect its flank, gathering party leaders around it and pressuring them into issuing condemnation of the fasters. The same regime that boasts endlessly of its moderateness to foreigners is giving credence to Islamist hysteria over this eight-man threat to Moroccan values. It's a reminder of Morocco's surface reforms that ties in nicely with a recent Guardian piece by the Arab Reform Bulletin's Intissar Fakir on "Make-believe reforms in Morocco" in which she argues:

    Morocco excels at deflecting western criticism, insisting that liberal reforms would empower violent Islamic radicals who threaten the state. The claim takes in even those who should know better. "Under pressure from Islamic radicalism," Stephen Erlanger and Souad Mekhennet wrote recently in the New York Times, "King Mohammed VI has slowed the pace of change." The latest cover of the Washington Diplomat sports a profile of Aziz Mekouar, Morocco's ambassador to the US, heralding the monarchy's successes in squaring tradition with modernity.

    She continues later:

    Ironically, the radicalism that plagues Morocco is a product of the palace itself. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, Mohammed's father, Hassan II, embarked on an initiative to Islamise Morocco. Seeking both to solidify his image as Commander of the Faithful and to weaken the secular left-leaning opposition forces that had gained support in the 60s and 70s, Hassan led a relentless effort to remake education and popular culture, infusing school curriculums with radical Salafi teachings.
    The monarchy sought to divert attention from the sad reality of daily life by associating all secular thinking with colonialism and western domination – a powerful charge for a country that lived under French rule for nearly five decades – engaging the population in a search for lost identity. More imagined than real, the new identity focused on the religious character of the state: a Sunni, Salafi Morocco.
    These efforts have succeeded, and all too well. As is the case in Saudi Arabia, the monarchy now faces an Islamist threat it is increasingly unable or unwilling to contain. The precise extent of the threat has never been clear, but Islamism is undeniably on the rise. While Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has inflicted less damage in Morocco than it has in Algeria and Mauritania, it remains a palpable threat.

    Much of the bit about palace instrumentalization of religion is true, I do however disagree with the last bit about Islamism being a palpable threat: if you can't say 'the precise extent" or even define the threat, you should not speak about threats. AQIM is not a "threat" to Morocco (as in it won't bring the country down), and if other Islamists are meant here (such as the PJD) I don't quite see the argument of this being a serious threat.

    The idea of a Sunni, Salafi Morocco being encouraged in the 1970s by Hassan II (or rather tolerated through his promotion of certain Istiqlal figures, traditionalists mostly, and tolerance for others who shared his goal of fighting the left is true, but is it still relevant?

    I would argue that the single most important thing about Muhammad VI's reign has been his "reform of the religious field," in which he has re-asserted the "Sunni, Malekite character of Moroccan Islam" while carrying out major efforts to train imams and create a conservative but not radical consensus among the ulema. Not everyone is on board of course, and there are plenty of Salafists who disagree (and they are targered by this message) as well as the like of al-Adl wal Ihsan, whose Sufi radicalism is based on opposition to the "Commander of the Faithful." While Muhammad VI has carried this reform as the most effective symbolic method to strengthen's the monarchy's claim to power, it has put him in the position of having to act more explicitly as a religious leader. His attack on the non-fasters, on the hyper-secularist magazines Nichane and Tel Quel a few years ago, as well as on Shias more recently are explained by this renewed claim to moral leadership being made through religious conservatism. As opposed, say, to moral authority granted by being a genuine reformer.

    On to Egypt, where moral authority by the regime hit rock bottom a long time ago and the big worry is how bigoted the police has become. Here I think the issue is more one of general moral decay (I don't mean this in religious terms) and utter confusion about the directions the country is taking. In this regard, Sara al-Deeb of AP has a good piece about Egypt's own Ramadan troubles:

    The Associated Press: Ramadan brings out Egypt's split personality

    Two furious debates have been raging through the season in the Arab world's most populous nation. On one hand, rumors that police arrested Egyptians violating the daily Ramadan fast raised dire warnings from secularists that a Taliban-like rule by Islamic law is taking over.
    On the other, Ramadan TV talk shows on state-sponsored television featuring racily dressed female hosts discussing intimate sex secrets with celebrities have sparked outrage from conservatives, denouncing what they call the decadence that is sweeping the nation.
    So is Egypt being taken over by sinners or saints? Egyptians have always been a boisterous combination — priding themselves on their piety, while determined to have a good time.
    Ramadan, the final day of which is Saturday in most of the Islamic world, shows the contradictions. Egyptians widely adhere to the dawn-to-dusk fast, in which the faithful abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex from dawn until dusk. After sunset, while some pray into the night, many Egyptians party with large meals and a heavy dose of TV entertainment produced specially for the month.
    But the confusion comes from the government as well. It has often promoted strict Islamic principles in an attempt to co-opt conservatives and undercut extremists whom the state has been battling for decades. But it also increasingly dominated by businessmen who this year are more heavily than ever promoting Western-style secular culture.
    There is no explicit law in Egypt to punish those not abiding by the fast, nor are there religious police to enforce Islamic rules as in Saudi Arabia. Many restaurants still serve during the day, and coffee shops can be seen with their doors cracked open, patrons hidden inside sipping tea or smoking water pipes.
    But independent newspapers reported this month that police arrested more than 150 people for openly violating the fast.
    Most of the reports have been unconfirmed. But Ahmed, a 27-year old fruit vendor, told The Associated Press he and 15 other people were arrested in a market in the southern town of Aswan on Sept. 5, for smoking in public.
    "I was slapped, kicked around," Ahmed said, refusing to give his last name fearing further police harassment. "They asked me why I am not fasting ... They insulted me and used foul language."
    Ahmed said he was kept in the police station for nearly six hours, then let go. "Now I am fasting, I swear," he said.
    Police officials refused to confirm if Ahmed and others were arrested for not fasting, saying only they were rounded up for investigation.

    Original reports spoke of 155 people being arrested in Aswan,so it could be that this was a localized policy, much like arrests of Shias in Hurghada were not state policy but the result of over-zealous, bigoted police officers.

    More shockingly, the Interior Ministry appears to have endorsed the arrests of non-fasters and adopted it as standing policy, as Bikya Misr and al-Shorouk have reported. Without, apparently, any more legal ground then they feel it's a disturbance to public order. I don't think this is a question of the state competing with Islamists to be the most pious (indeed, one could make the argument that the Quranic injunction "there is no compulsion in Islam" is a libertarian credo. The problem, in Egypt at least, is more that moral authority has dwindled to such an extent that police officers of all ranks feel that they can enact their personal bigotry unto others. Who knows what the back story of the arrests in Aswan is, but it tells us one thing: the law does not matter; it's what the pasha says that does.


    Read More

    Links for 09.17.09 to 09.19.09

    A few day's worth...

    Orientalism’s Wake: The Ongoing Politics of a Polemic | Very nice collection of essays on Edward Said's "Orientalism" from a variety of supporters, critics, academics including Daniel Varisco, Robert Irwin, Roger Owen, etc.
    The Sources of Islamic Revolutionary Conduct | I have not read in detail this small book by a US Air Force analyst, but scanning through it I see rather odd choices. For instance there are long chapters comparing Christianity and modern secularism to the Islamist outlook, except that it's never quite clear whether the latter means the outlook of engaged Islamist activists or ordinary Muslims. There is also copious quoting from Sayyid Qutb's "Milestones" as if it was representative of all Islamic thinking. Someone should give this a detailed look (and I'd be happy to post the result.) [PDF]
    Al-Ahram Weekly | Egypt | A clean break | On Cairo's garbage collection crisis.
    Irving Kristol, Godfather of Conservatism, Dies - Obituary (Obit) - NYTimes.com | Leaving behind a disastrous intellectual, social, economic and political legacy: alleged liberalism on social issues that shirks from real change, supply-side economics, and of course an imperial war doctrine.
    Are Morocco And Algeria Gearing Up For Arms Race? « A Moroccan About the world around him
    Big mouth - The National Newspaper | Bernard Heykal on how the strength of al-Qaeda is impossible. Which makes sense, at least if you try to do it from the Bin Laden tapes as all the silly pseudo-analysis of last week showed.
    Ikhwanweb :: The Muslim Brotherhood Official English Website | Very much like the new look of the Muslim Brothers' English website, which I hadn't checked in a while. They have a very useful "today's news" feature that can also be used for archives by date.
    Al-Ahram Weekly | Economy | Depleting Egypt's reserves | A good article with details on the Egypt-Israel gas deal and why it may be a bad idea in terms of resource management, never mind political and financial sense.
    Al-Qaradawi's Fatwa Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | The alleged liberal paid by intolerant Islamists in Riyadh attacks the alleged moderate Islamist paid by Doha:

    A news item reported in the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper revealed that Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi had issued a fatwa prohibiting Iraqis from acquiring US citizenship on the grounds that this is the nationality of an occupier nation. However this fatwa has nothing to do with the reality on the ground, and contains more political absurdity then it does religious guidance. Sheikh al-Qaradawi himself is an Egyptian who possesses Qatari nationality, which was given to him after he opposed the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. However when an Israeli office was opened in Doha, al-Qaradawi did not renounce his Qatari nationality.

    Freed Iraqi shoe thrower tells of torture in jail | World news | guardian.co.uk

    | "His brother Uday told Reuters: "Thanks be to God that Muntazer has seen the light of day. I wish Bush could see our happiness. When President Bush looks back and turns the pages of his life, he will see the shoes of Muntazer al-Zaidi on every page.""
    BAE to axe 1,100 jobs and close site | Business | guardian.co.uk | So Tony Blair quashed the Yamama inquiry to save jobs (or so he says) but BAe still carries out layoffs?
    Seinfeld, Sacha Baron Cohen and Natalie Portman slam Toronto Film Festival protest - Haaretz - Israel News| Some stars come to Israel's side in the tiff over TIFF.
    GDC | Economist Conferences| Economist infographic shows public debt around the world.
    FT.com / Middle East / Politics & Society - Investors seek to revive faded glory of Cairo | On investment in Downtown Cairo properties and plans for gentrification. Look out for another article on this soon.
    No concrete proof that Iran has or has had nuclear programme – UN atomic watchdog | Just a reminder that the press reports have spinned things wrongly - this comes straight from the UN: "17 September 2009 – Refuting a recent media report, the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) today reiterated that the body has no concrete proof that Iran has or has ever had a nuclear weapons programme."
    Egypt Islamic Authority Says Women Can Wear Trousers - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News - FOXNews.com | The world is going to hell -- what next, capris?
    BBC NEWS | Middle East | 'Many killed' in Yemen air raid | Serious turn in Yemen's trouble -- bombing a refugee camp!?


    Read More