The Mufti and Jerusalem

Egypt's Grand Mufti, Ali Gomaa, visited Jerusalem yesterday — sparking a huge controversy and earning the condemnations of the Muslim Brotherhood and countless others for the visit.

Mufti Ali Gomaa said on his Twitter account that he had visited Jerusalem, entering from the West Bank via Jordan and not from the Israeli side. He said he prayed in the al-Aqsa mosque, one of Islam's holiest sites, in the walled old city.

East Jerusalem was captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 war. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as a future capital of a Palestinian state. Israel describes Jerusalem as its eternal undivided capital.

Egyptian religious officials, including members of Egypt's Coptic Christian church, have for decades refused to travel to Jerusalem in protest at the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem and the Palestinian areas.

On Twitter, Gomaa said it was an "unofficial visit" to the mosque. The mufti's spokesman told the state-owned Al-Ahram's website that the trip which was his first did not indicate "any recognition of the Zionist entity" - a reference to Israel.

I'm not sure what Gomaa was thinking, as this visit is an unprecedented step with far-reaching consequences. The Mufti is, in a sense, the state-apppointed religious arbiter in Egypt, which is why any engagement with Israel is going to be seen as ill-advised by (but not only Islamists). It also puts the Coptic Orthodox Church, which under the late Pope Shenouda III refused to visit Jerusalem (surely an even more important place to Christians) in solidarity with the country's Muslims and the Palestinian cause.

He might also have known that the Islamist-dominated parliament would not be happy with this, and indeed there is now a move by Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood MPs to question him and possibly sack him (something that in theory is the prerogative of the president, or for now SCAF). What we have, then, is a preview of the convergence of religious issues and the Israel issue in Egypt's new politics.

(For the record, I have long thought that Egypt's dominant anti-normalization stance is, well, pretty stupid and narrow-minded. Gomaa was right to go there and engage with Palestinians and break their isolation — they need all the support they can get. It is neither a recognition nor endorsement of Israel, and indeed while there he could have denounced the occupation. )

Links for Jan.05.10

akhbare-rooz (iranian political Bulletin) | List of organizations considered "subversive" by Iranian ministry of inteligence [in Farsi]. ✪ The Daily Star - The Gaza scorecard, one year later | Rami Khouri. ✪ Israel approves east Jerusalem building project | Yet another new settlement. ✪ Library of Congress on Islam in Early America « Anonymous Arabist وين الناس | Fascinating. ✪ Tweet freedom | On Twitter activism in Egypt, unfortunately confuses arabawy.org for arabist.net. ✪ Cairo's US Embassy is Worse by Far | Mamoun Fandy: "The embassy has become an embodiment of the meaning of disgracefulness in Cairo, in terms of people's behavior, rudeness, and impoliteness." ✪ gary's choices - The Decade's First Revolution? | Gary Sick on Iran. ✪ لا لحجب الإنترنت بالجزائر - Non à la censure de l'Internet en Algérie - No to Internet Censorship in Algeria Petition | Petition. ✪ Egyptian minister slams Al-Jazeera for 'instigating civil war' - Ynetnews | Over Gaza wall. ✪ Video: Gaza war: One year on, Palestinians struggle to rebuild life from the rubble | guardian.co.uk | ✪ CIA Bomber a Jihadi Blogger? — jihadica | Interesting background on Abu Dujana, as the bomber was allegedly known. ✪ Dear Metallica | Letter asking the metal band not to perform in Israel. ✪ Free Barghouti Now - Haaretz | OK. ✪ The Daily Nuisance | News From The Frontier | New online site from Israel/Palestine ✪ Three days in Iran - The Big Picture - Boston.com | Great pics of Iranian protests.
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The EU and Jerusalem

For the last few days the EU has been battling over a Swedish proposal (Sweden currently holds the EU presidency) to make it official EU position that Jerusalem should be a shared capital of the two states. Now to most reasonable people this makes sense: after all the international community is backing a two-state solution, the city is divided and that division is recognized by international law, and it's clear that the symbolism of Jerusalem being the capital of both Israel and Palestine is important to the parties. Except of course the Israelis want it all to themselves, and have plenty of allies to counter this move. Due to various pressures (see below) that laudable proposal has now been reworded:
The European Union backed away yesterday from demanding that East Jerusalem be the capital of a future Palestinian state after a proposal from the Swedish presidency ran into Israeli objections. EU foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels, called instead for negotiations to settle Jerusalem's status and said they envisaged the city as the capital of two countries: Israel and any future Palestinian state. The EU position was a compromise between Sweden and several other countries that wanted the 27nation bloc to make a firm commitment to the Palestinians on East Jerusalem, and other countries, such as the Czech Republic, Ger-many and Italy, that preferred a less overtly antiIsraeli stance. Israel criticised the statement, saying it would "not contribute to the renewal of negotiations" and failed to acknowledge the Palestinian side was the "primary obstacle" to a peace deal.
Al Jazeera's Inside Story has a show on the EU and the Jerusalem question on Sunday: (Ahmad Moor had thoughts on that exchange at Mondoweiss.) How was it that the EU decided to water down a clear commitment to East Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital? Alain Gresh writes that Paris is enabling Israeli policies, with Sarkozy lobbying on behalf of Netanyahu to water down the Swedish proposals. Their ground is that there should be recognition of Bibi's "positive" move on partial freeze of settlements, which is ridiculous — anything less than a total freeze is illegal and against the chief diplomatic initiative launched by Obama several months ago). (The Jerusalem Post also covered the French move.) The United States also came out on this issue as typically mendacious:
Shortly after European Union Ministers announced their support for the division of Jerusalem between Israel and a future Palestinian state on Tuesday, the U.S. State Department issued a statement saying that the fate of Jerusalem should only be determined by Israel and the Palestinians in talks. "Our position on Jerusalem is clear. United States policy remains unaffected and unchanged: As has been stated by every previous administration which addressed this issue, the status of Jerusalem, and all other permanent status issues, must be resolved by the parties through negotiations," the statement read.
Of course, the Swedish position was exactly what the PA wants to see, so it's not like the EU would be imposing a standard that both parties reject as implied. For the record here was the divide among some of the major EU states on original Swedish proposal: For: Sweden, Britain, Ireland, Belgium. Against: Italy, France, Holland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Romania, Poland.
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Links for 11.30.09 to 12.02.09

Why they hate us (II): How many Muslims has the U.S. killed in the past 30 years? | Stephen M. Walt | 288,000, Walt estimates. ✪ Libya convicts Swiss pair in apparent revenge for arrest of Gaddafi's son | World news | guardian.co.uk | Good timing. ✪ Israel strips more Palestinians of Jerusalem status (Reuters) | "Reuters - Israel stripped Palestinians of Jerusalem residency status last year at a faster rate than at any time in the history of the Jewish state, an Israeli rights group said on Wednesday, citing official Israeli statistics." ✪ Dubai model was the vision of one man | Reuters | Andrew Hammond's writes: "The "Dubai vision," which has suffered a crushing blow from the freewheeling Gulf emirate's sudden debt crisis, is the creation of one man who failed to apply the rules of open governance." ✪ Arab disappointment with Obama | Marc Lynch | Arabs disappointed with mideast policy, not democracy. Americans disappointed with everything. ✪ Spreading Shiism to the Moon Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | This is about Iranian ambitions over the Comoros Islands, but I link because the intro is funny. ✪ Jewish Nationalists and Palestinians Clash in East Jerusalem - NYTimes.com | This headline makes it sounds like the Jews are the natives. Plus it's in East Jerusalem, which is Palestinian under international law. ✪ Obama's Middle East Policies: the Persistence of the Bush Doctrine on Vimeo | A lecture by the Angry Arab, Asa'ad Abu Khalil. ✪ Israel attacks Sweden on Jerusalem plan | I think this Swedish position on Jerusalem, if the EU takes it up, is important. ✪ What to listen for in Obama's speech | What Walt says on Afghanistan. ✪ The New Inquisition | Laila Lalami in The Nation. ✪ Arab journalist throws shoe at Iraqi shoe thrower - Yahoo! News | He missed, too. ✪ Views from the Occident: Hizbullah Announces New Party Platform | Hizbullah peddles its national vision. ✪ ei: "We will have to kill them all": Effie Eitam, thug messiah | Buffalo, NY Jews welcome Elie Eitam, murderer and Eretz Israeler. ✪ Super Emo Friends | Diskursdisko | Comic book humor - should appeal to those emos in Egypt.
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Links for 07.20.09 to 07.21.09

Iran's Mir Hosein Mousavi: Out of his shell | The Economist | What Moussavi's been up to. The Arabs' view of Iran: Mixed feelings | The Economist | On Arabs' view of the recent political turmoil in Iran. Honour killings in Syria: The law changes. Will attitudes? | The Economist | Bashar al-Assad timidly moves against honor crimes. The "Swiftboating" of Human Rights Watch (Prospects for Peace) | A good piece on the lobby's attack on HRW. Wait, Bibi-- Palestinians can't go buy property in West Jerusalem | Bibi claims that Palestinians are free to buy property in West Jerusalem, so why not let Jews buy in East Jerusalem... except of course it's a lie, you can't buy in WJ if you're not Jewish. Not too mention, of course, under international law any Israeli-owned property in East Jerusalem is an illegal settlement. Daily News Egypt - Full Article | The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Index of Democracy 2008 | Egypt, Jordan Morocco start at 118. [PDF] Islamists Today: Mubarak Regime and Brotherhood: Zero-Sum Game | Khalil al-Anani has a very strong column on the ongoing MB-regime war - but perhaps he goes too far by comparing the arrest of Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh to the execution of Sayyid Qutb! Not do I really believe the regime wants to eradicate the MB, but Khalil's expression "to turn it into an antique suitable for the Egyptian Museum" may have some truth to it. The regime's dilemma is, how do you make the MB irrelevant?
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