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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Friction inside the National Council for Human Rights

An interesting story today on the front page of Al Misry Al Yom about the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR). At its end of the year performance review board members accused the Council's leaders of hindering the NCHR's work, taking unilateral decisions without consulting the rest of the Council, and failing to respond to many human rights issues, such as the recent Coptic demonstrations, or the alleged sweeping human rights abuses that occurred in Sinai in the wake of the Taba bombings. NCHR's president, Boutros Boutros Ghali, its vice-president, Kamel Abu el-Maged, and its general secretary, Mukhlis Qutb, bore the brunt of the criticism. I just spoke with Hafez Abu Saada, head of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights and a board member on the National Council for Human Rights. With regards to the NCHR's failure to act on the human rights abuses in Sinai, Abu Saada said:
I asked to invite these human rights organizations [that had reported on the abuses in Sinai] to come to the Council and give us a testimony about their report, to see how we could respond or interact with this report, and take a stand as a council against what was happening. He [Secretary General Mukhlis Qutb] refused to do this. He said that because the [Complaint] Committee's quorum was not complete-- only five out of 13 were present-- it's recommendation was invalid. This is not his decision. This is the decision of the council... He hasn’t the right to intevene.
At yesterday's meeting members also accused the government, specifically the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Justice, and the general prosecutor's office of failing to respond to complaints from the NCHR. Abu Saada said that the Council has sent an estimated 2,500 complaints regarding specific human rights abuses to various government bodies. The government has responded to only 100 of those complaints, and those responses have been casual dismissals of the original complaint. The Interior Ministry, by far the recipient of the most complaints, has yet to respond to a single complaint, according to Abu Saada. Abu Saada said:
If you look at the replies that we’ve received from the government there are no solutions to the problems. All they say is this man has no right to complain, or this man must go to the court. And we haven't received any reply from the Minister of Interior which is the main complaint for violations committed by the police, or regarding illegal detentions, or the situation in the prisons.
As far as trying to gauge the National Council for Human Rights' independence the Sinai case is a telling example. It wouldn't be surprising if Abu Saada is right about the Council's leadership squashing any attempt to broach the issue. The human rights abuses in Sinai, and the alleged large-scale arrests and torturing of Bedouins there, was and continues to be a very sensitive topic. Remember that one of the more popular theories as to why the editor of Al Araby Al Nassery was abducted, beaten and left naked in the desert, was that he had tackled this subject in his weekly column. When I interviewed Nawal al Saadawi a few weeks ago she talked briefly about the National Council for Human Rights and summarized the matter very simply. Said Al Saadawi:
How can the government protect human rights and then violate human rights? The government is violating human rights. So how can the government establish a council to protect human rights. This is a contradiction.
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Copt-Muslim clashes

The plot thickens... Here's the Reuters story.
CAIRO (Reuters) - One man died and two others were injured in uncertain circumstances in southern Egypt, a police source said on Thursday, in the latest in a series of clashes between Muslims and Christians in Egypt.
The source said the clash took place on Wednesday when dozens of Muslims threw stones at a private building in Damshaw Hashim village, some 240 km (150 miles) south of Cairo, which they believed a Christian resident was turning into a church without state permission.
Police arrived at the scene and fired shots into the air to disperse the crowd, the source said.
Al Hayat reported that the Musim villagers blamed the Copts for the violence, and the Copts blamed the police officers for the shooting. I haven't been covering this story, but based on assorted conversations I've had with people who have been following it more closely than I, it seems the Copts are not really winning this battle from a public relations perspective. This is a purely anecdotal analysis mind you, but generally there is an inclination on our parts to sympathize with the Copts as the oppressed minority. However, this whole affair, beginning with the conversion of the bishop's wife, and the protests, and her being pressured to convert back, and the pope going into seclusion in protest, and now this... well there doesn't seem to be much public sentiment with the Copts, even among people are inclined to side with the Copts. There is a sense that the pope overreacted, and that, throughout this affair the Copts have shown themselves to be just as fanatical as their Muslim counterparts.
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Gamal Mubarak, the 2005 elections, and the Mufti on QIZs

Gamal Mubarak is quoted in the December 25 Al Hayat as saying that the Fall parliamentary elections would be "important and decisive." He said they would be "different" and added that "it is unimaginable to conduct the new elections in an air of suspicion as happened during the past elections." The Gamal quotes in Al Hayat came from a meeting with 400 agricultural union leaders in the Delta governorate of Daqahliya. The December 25 Al Misry Al Yom has a related article quoting assorted analysts describing the young Mubarak's recent tour of the Egyptian countryside as "propaganda and self promotion, especially given the uncertainty of the succession issue." One parliament member, Adel Eid, (I'm assuming he's opposition but it doesn't say in the article) said, "The decrease in Gamal Mubarak's support among the grassroots of the Egyptian people pushed him to convene these meetings with different segments of Egyptian society, like students, youth, workers, and peasants. This is after he has presented himself to foreign circles, especially America, to guarantee popular support and the support of the west when he steps forward to be President of the Republic." Abu Alaa Al Maadi, the outspoken head of the new Al Wasat Party has some good quotes in the article to the same effect, basically that Gamal Mubarak has realized that his coterie of intellectuals and businessmen does not necessarily translate into popular support. As a result he has begun directing his attentions to the peasants and the workers. It is stated as a given by some of those interviewed in the article that Gamal's support is waning. I'm wondering is Gamal really losing support among the Egyptian masses? Did he ever really have that support in the first place? And does he even need that support? (Where's Stacher when you need him?) Meanwhile, the leftist Tegammu Party, whose leader Rafaat Al Said came under fire recently after he met with the American Ambassador David Welch, announced that it is prepared to compete in the coming parliamentary elections. However the Tegammu party warned that it is still considering how to deal with the presidential referendum. It will either vote against Hosni Mubarak, or will boycott the presidential referendum all together in protest against the single candidate referendum. Saad Eddin Ibrahim has announced that his Ibn Khaldun Center will be monitoring the 2005 parliamentary and presidential elections. Recall that many say that his monitoring and subsequent criticism of the 1995 and 2000 elections was the primary cause for his differences with the regime that ultimately led to a series of trials and retrials and his spending the better part of three years in jail. A spokesperson for the Egyptian cabinet said on December 23 that the new political laws go to Parliament next month. The new laws will include the formation of a high committee for elections in order to ensure that they are fair and transparent, and the abolishing of prison sentences for journalists. (Are we repeating reforms here? Weren't prison sentences for journalists abolished last February?) The Mufti on QIZs: Al Masry Al Yom reported on December 24 that the Mufti of Egypt, Ali Gomaa, has declared that the QIZ agreement with Israel is simply a matter of free trade similar to any international agreement. And added that there is no need to fear trade with Israel. He stressed that the QIZs are good for the public interests of Egypt. And pointed out that Muslims traded with the Jews during the time of the Prophet.
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Al Qaradawi, Tantawi and the Mufti on Women

Al Misry Al Yom reported last Sunday that the Sheikh of Al Azhar, Muhammad Sayid Tantawi, issued a fatwa declaring that a woman could be president of Egypt, but could not become a sheikh at Al Azhar. According to the article the fatwa was a response to Nawal Al Saadawi's announcement that she would be a candidate for the 2005 presidential elections in Egypt:
Tantawi told Al Masry Al Yom following the announcement that Dr. Nawal Al Saadawi had declared her candidacy in the upcoming presidential elections: It is the right of a woman to become president of any state in the world, as long as that is compatible with her special nature, because the Islamic Sharia does not deny the woman the right to hold any specific positions or employment. It only stipulates that the work must be appropriate to her nature.
The following day, last Monday, Al Masry Al Yom reported that Ali Gomaa, the Mufti of Egypt, and Yussuf Al Qaradawi had rejected Tantawi's fatwa. Here is a translation of their response as reported by Al Masry Al Yom:
Gomaa said: Reality reflects the ability of the man to be president of the state effectively, and to make difficult decisions.
Qaradawi said: It is not acceptable for a woman to be president of the state at all, because her nature does not allow her to carry out the tasks of the presidency, or to adminster the affairs of the country, or to oversee the needs of the people. A woman's emotions overcome her mind, and this is why her testimony in Islam is only half that of a man's testimony, as evident in the saying of the prophet: "If there are not two men available, then bring one man and two women."
Qaradawi added: The pain and the physical tiring that a woman suffers from during her monthly period prevent her from carrying out her duties and following the affairs of her subjects.
To stress his opinion rejecting Tantawi's fatwa Qaradawi cited the prophet as saying: "A people will not succeed if their leader is a woman."
Gomaa and Qaradawi agreed on rejecting the candidacy of Dr. Nawal Al Saadawi, and indicated that if it was okay for a woman to be presdient, it wouldn't be Nawal Saadawi.
Defending these people as moderates is a disservice to Islam. When people who have no exposure to Islam except what they read in the Western media see people like Qaradawi repeatedly deemed a moderate, they conclude that the backward ideas mentioned above are really what Islam is about. Of course Qaradawi does not deserve to be in the same category as a Zarqawi or a Zawahiri, but I cannot bring myself to consider him a moderate. I also want to respond to Tantawi's fatwa. He said that it is acceptable for a woman to be the president, but not a sheikh at Al Azhar. In other words, a woman can be the political leader of Muslims, but cannot be their spiritual leader. But from it's earliest days Islam endowed its political leader with spiritual authority. The political leader and the spiritual leader were one and the same. The early caliphs had both temporal authority and spiritual authority.
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Interview with the AHDR's Nader Fergany

Nader Fergany heads the team of scholars and researchers that has worked on the Arab Human Development Report (AHDR) series. The third report in that series, on freedom and governance, will not be published under the aegis of the UNDP after attempts by the US and Egyptian governments to alter its contents. The first two reports -- on "Creating opportunities for future generations" and "Building a knowledge society" -- provided a major impetus for reform in Arab countries and were also frequently referred to by Western commentators as a sign the Arab world needed attention. The third report is meant to be followed by fourth and final report on the empowerment of women. Fergany wrote an impassioned response to the (mis)use of the AHDR in Colin Powell's 12 December 2002 speech on Arab democracy for the Cairo Times when I was its editor. (The Cairo Times' site no longer exists but that article is cached here, below my article about Powell's speech.) He was also profiled in the Cairo Times in August 2002 after the release of the first AHDR by Mona El-Ghobashy and myself (cached here). More recently, Al Ahram Weekly's Fatemah Farag reported last April on another powerful speech Fergany gave during a conference on reform in Alexandria last April. Today Al Jazeera had a good story on the report, confirming what Fergany told me in that it is quite unlikely that the report will be published under the UNDP's logo. AFP also has a story in which they talk to several of the authors. I interviewed Fergany yesterday at his office at the Al Mishkat Center, the NGO and research center he runs in Cairo. This a complete transcript of our conversation. What is the status of the third AHDR -- is it finished? It's finished -- we had what we thought was a final draft for four months now. It has been under negotiation for release. With the previous report, was there a similar period of negotiation? There is always a period of negotiation before final release because with the report coming out under the logo of the UNDP, certain UN criteria have to be met. So there was a similar process in the first and the second report. With the third report the process of final negotiation became very lengthy and ended up with this roadblock. Which countries are now opposed to the publication of the report? At the forefront is the US government, actively supported and helped by the Egyptian government. It seems that the Egyptian government, while it has its own concerns, is doing the bidding of the US government. Have they made clear to you which areas of the book they are concerned about? Not to me in person, but it's very clear that the US is concerned about the report's critique of the American occupation of Iraq and American support of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Occupied Territories. Has the Israeli government voiced any concerns? No, they haven't. I think they trust the Americans to take care of that. They've never failed to. Can the UNDP release the report anyway or is it blocked unless they approve it? Well, the team is keen on publishing the report at any rate. It will probably come out without the UNDP logo on it. So what possibilities are you looking at for its publication? Probably a legal entity will be created which will publish the report and perhaps work on the fourth one. On the side of the Egyptian government, what have been the objections? Well, as I said the Egyptian government's concerns are twofold: they are working for the Americans so to speak but they have their own concerns as well. They were concerned with the fact that the report calls for total freedom of expression and association -- and association means assembly as well as organization in civil and political society. Now, to the Egyptian government this hits a raw nerve, because freedom of association in civil and political society would imply -- although the report doesn't say that explicitly -- it would imply the right of the Muslim Brotherhood to organize in the form of a political party, which the Egyptian government is adamantly against. Many other Arab states might have the same objections to this -- have they voiced their concern? Well, as I said the Egyptian government is the one that has been active in trying to modify the report. Does the report address the issue of presidential succession in Egypt? It does, but it does not point fingers at the Arab countries, because the tradition of the report is that it does not assign blame on specific countries. Rather there are a series of issues that are considered from the vantage point of the theme of the report. With regards to the issue of inheritance of power, for example, it is not addressed in the context of specific Arab countries but is addressed as a departure from democratic principles. Would you be able to summarize the main points of the new report? No -- strictly speaking the report is embargoed until it is released. The tradition has been that the content of the report is embargoed until the report is launched. Perhaps you can tell me, within governance, which issues are covered? It has an integrated concept of governance that is considered to safeguard freedom defined in a comprehensive manner. So it does deals with parliamentaty representation, it does deal with the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary... It takes a comprehensive approach to governance. But does it give suggestions to specific countries? It does. Normally the report in its final chapter has a strategic vision that gives general recommendation for reform -- in this case for freedom, leading to a society of freedom and good governance. In the second report, the strategic vision was about building a knowledge society. So the final chapter of this report deals with a strategic vision that would lead to a society of freedom and good governance. This strategic vision for reform, has it been inspired by other movements for reform, like the alexandria declaration in egypt or the Greater Middle Eastern Initiative in the US? Well, don't try to push me to reveal things that I will not reveal anyway, but I could say that the strategic vision of the report goes beyond many documents and declarations about Arab reform because of the comprehensive nature of its definition of freedom and good governance. Does it address the issue of religious minorities? Well, again I am not going to reveal specifics, but definitely. We don't use the word minorities, actually, we much prefer to use sub-groups and sub-cultures and an integrated concept of freedom which lies in adherence to international human rights law would imply respect of the rights of sub-groups and cultural minorities or sub-cultures. Have you or the UNDP been in touch with the egyptian government directly -- is there a public document of complaints that the Egyptian government has distributed? No, in these situations you don't end up with documents. There is the exercise of pressure and implicit threats and things like that. The main threat of the us government has been withdrawal of funding. Right. What would that imply for the project? It has little bearing on the project itself except that UNDP would stop sponsoring the project. If the UNDP does not publish the report under its logo this year, it will be very difficult for to continue working with the UNDP on the fourth report. Strictly speaking it's really the end of the series as far as the UNDP is concerned. The last one would have the end of series as far as the UNDP is concerned if this one comes out without the UNDP logo. This is in my opinion a major loss to the UNDP. Nevertheless I think that one should be fair to the UNDP because they have been quite generous in their sponsorship of the report and I think until the last minute they were willing to publish the report under their logo but then they received threats that they could not avoid. They were threatened with major cuts in funding that would imply a very significant reduction of UNDP programs in support of poor Asian and African nations. How much money do you need to publish the report and continue to make it available for free? Not very much, because the report has been ready for month actually -- the draft I mean. What is needed now to complete the process is a marginal amount of money. Are there any criteria for donor organizations that you would accept funding from? We would definitely prefer Arab donors if we look for funding. But some funding might be found within the team itself, which will be the first priority. Can you tell me about the team, how many people it consists of and who they are? This year the team consists of about 100 persons -- Arab scholars and experts in different fields in almost all Arab countries. Some of them are also outside the Arab world. Are some of them Europeans or Americans? In the peer-review process we have at the end, we have two readers' teams -- one reads the original Arabic version and is composed of Arabs. And then we have another readers group that reads an English translation which has some Arabs. So I would say the team is 95% Arabs. Their names will be on the report. Are you able to say which person wrote on what section? No we don't do that, because actually the final draft of the report is negotiated throughout the team. When you were negotiating between yourselves, were there any big debates? Well, there are always debates within a large group, but ultimately the final draft that emerges is a text that every member concurs on the issues, rather than the details. For the past few years, you've had the Bush administration and many American and European newspaper columnists rely a lot on the first two reports to advance their beliefs on the need for reform in the Arab world or the idea that the region needs to be shaken up for democracy to grow. Do you think their interpretation is valid? The only flagrant misuse of the report was by the American administration in basing their Greater Middle East Initiative, [which was based] especially on the first draft on the report, which I think was a form of misuse of the report. It's only because the American administration has no credibility in the region whatsoever that it wanted something that is credible to propose its own version of reform, which is not consistent with the reports' vision anyway. Now, the current American pressure to change the report has only come after the report was finished, or was there pressure also beforehand? It seems that American government somehow got hold of an earlier draft of the report as did the Egyptian government. Has there been pressure on you or the Al Mishkat Center coming directly from the Egyptian government? So far there hasn't been any pressure on me or the institution. I think the aim of the two governments has been to lift the UNDP cover from the report, rather than penalize the team itself -- which is a form of penalty for the team since some members of the team of course drive some comfort from the fact that the UNDP had its logo on the report. Do you have a planned date for the release of the report? Well we want it before the end of January. If the report comes out without the undp logo do you think that will discredit it? I'm sure in some circles -- those special circles that will be unhappy with the content of the report -- would find in the withdrawal of UNDP sponsorship a way of attacking the report as being the work of a bunch of extremists, but nevertheless in the Arab world and worldwide the report will still enjoy the credibility it has earned so far and, in a sense, in breadth and strength of the current media interest in the incident of trying to suppress the report and modify its contents is a reflection of the credibility of the report. I might just add that I'm not personally totally unhappy with the UNDP withdrawing its sponsorship because we have always thought of this report -- and even the UNDP recognized that -- as the work of a group of independent Arab scholars and thinkers on the state and development of the region. In that sense, if the report comes back to the region as the work of a group of independent Arab scholars, that's a source of strength.
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What's a moderate?

A few quick thoughts on the Tariq Ramadan controversy. The debate is largely one of definitions. What defines a moderate Muslim? Is Tariq Ramadan, or anyone for that matter, moderate simply because he doesn't support suicide bombers, and isn't calling for armed confrontation with the West, or infidel regimes, or whatever other looming entities are perceived as threats to Islam? This is a tangible measure of moderation for many, especially today, when the specter of global terrorism carried out by Islamic radicals is frankly the only reason we're discussing this in the first place. Abu Aardvark defined a moderate as those who "embrace dialogue as a core political value." However, in terms of really understanding what these people are saying, these are marginal issues. Many "moderates" like Ramadan and Qaradawi, may not be calling for armed confrontation and may be engaging in open dialog, but they do have a way of reading the texts, and of interpreting Islam that I, and my liberal secular standards, feel is decidedly immoderate. Their critics argue that whether or not they themselves are encouraging violence, their way of thinking is ultimately the same as those extremists who are. Nasser Hamed Abu Zeid, in his book "A Critique of Religious Discourse," argues that the premises that Qaradawi and others are basing their discourse on, are the same premises that the extremists are basing their rhetoric on. It's a matter of applying the principle and when to apply the principle, not a matter of the principle itself. Let's take the example of the takfiri movements that plagued Egypt though much of the 1990s. Al Gamaa Al Islamiya would release a statement saying the regime of Hosni Mubarak is an infidel regime and therefore we must resort to violence and do away with it. And then the "moderates" from Al Azhar, or elsewhere, would release a statement in response saying, the regime is not an infidel regime. So the debate is not, is it acceptable to violently attack an infidel regime? But rather, is the regime an infidel regime? It's an argument over details, not principles. The reason this debate continues to rage, and the reason it won't end any time soon, is because while Qaradawi and Ramadan are moderates by the standards of a place like Cairo, by our more secular Westernized standards they are about as moderate as, I don't know, say Billy Graham or Ralph Reed (Neither Reed nor Graham are calling for armed struggle, but both are trying to achieve immoderate ends through moderate means.) Those who say Ramadan is not moderate can find plenty to support their argument, meanwhile, in the context of time and place (ie the Islamic world today), Ramadan is a moderate. Which brings us back to the game of definitions. We need to make a distinction between moderate and reformist. Too often, when people slam an Islamic thinker as not moderate, it is clear that they were expecting a reformist. Reformists view the Koran as a historical text, as a series of solutions to a series of a specific problems faced by a specific society in a specific time. It provides a general framework that is applicable throughout the ages, but just because four wives was a reasonable thing in seventh century Saudi Arabia, doesn't mean it's reasonable today. Such talk is considered blasphemous by Al Azhar, by Qaradawi, and I would imagine by Ramadan too. Unfortunately, the truly reform movement in Islam, as embodied by thinkers like Nasser Hamed Abu Zeid, Gamal al Banna and others, is still insignificant in the Muslim world. They are perceived (perhaps rightly) as a bunch of Westernized secular intellectuals. So, while we should continue to encourage the true reformists, we must also engage Ramadan and those of his ilk. (A quick sidenote: This is all unrelated to whether or not Ramdan should be allowed to teach in the US. I can think of dozens of University professors of all political and ideological stripes who are hardly moderate. Issandr is right, Ramdan doesn't present a threat to US security, even if he does pose a threat to progressive, liberal thought. Of course, all those crusading against Ramadan pose an even bigger threat to progressive, liberal thought. I guess the answer is to let him in, and then, if necessary, discredit him on the merits of his ideas. Silencing him or keeping him out is no better than Azhar confiscating books.)
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Israel's Holocaust problem

I don't usually like to post about Israeli internal affairs here unless they have an Arab angle, but two stories in the past few days drew my attention. One was that Israeli banks and Bank Leumi in particular are conspiring with the government not to return money that belongs to Holocaust survivors and their descendants. After the fuss made over the Nazi-era money in Swiss banks, this is absolutely incredible. It also raises the question of double standards when Israel uses the memory of the Holocaust to advance its own interests but then helps its own banks get away with the same type of craven mentality found at Swiss banks. The other thing is that settlers against the Gaza pullout are now saying Sharon's plan amounts to a new Holocaust. What the hell is wrong with these people? I have only a basic understanding of the attitude of the founders of Israel and the Holocaust (largely through Tom Segev's The Seventh Million, which I read a long time ago) but I wonder if the whole sekkes vs. sabras problem somehow lingers...
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On Tarek Ramadan

One of my favorite sites, the Agonist, posted this flawed piece on Tariq Ramadan yesterday. I'd like to explain a few of the issues that I have with it. First, the reliance on Lee Smith's analysis in Slate is highly dubious. Smith is a poor source of expertise on the Arab world, and the reasons why have been explored elsewhere, notably on Abu Aardvark. Secondly, and even more so than reliance on Smith, the author of the article gives credibility to the writings of Daniel Pipes, who is described as "a board member of the U.S. Institute of Peace, one of four members of the Presidium of the Jerusalem Summit, ostensibly a conservative organization that includes distinguished Israeli academics." Pipes is much more than this, he is a member and former head of the Middle East Forum, one of the most pro-Likudnik think tanks and pressure groups in the US. He has a long track record of Arab-bashing and foaming-at-the-mouth pro-Israel propaganda spouting. He is hardly an impartial informed commentator. The article also fails to mention that Pipes' appointment to the US Institute for Peace was extremely controversial and that in the end Bush had to take advantage of a congressional recess to pass it. Thirdly, another source quoted is Stephen Schwartz (a frequent contributor to right-wing magazines such as the National Review, the Weekly Standard and FrontPage), who advocates not allowing Ramadan into the US and seems to think that the Beirut Daily Star, a relatively timid liberal English-language newspaper, is the mouthpiece of Arab nationalism. Take a look at the passage that was quoted from Schwartz's piece (on the generally right-wing TechCentralStation):
Even Hicham Chehab, news editor of the Beirut Daily Star, a newspaper obviously dedicated to Arab interests, was forced to admit early this month that "During the controversial visit to Britain last July by Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, himself accused of sanctioning suicide bombers, Ramadan defended Qaradawi on the BBC television program 'Hard Talk.'"
This implies that a) even the Daily Star was forced to admit something negative about Ramadan, as if he's not controversial at all in the Arab world; b) Ramadan defending Qaradawi automatically makes him pro-suicide bombers; and c) doesn't even examine the controversy about what Qaradawi actually said (again Abu Aardvark has a lot on this.) I am not a fan of Tariq Ramadan. I do think he is more dangerous than some people say he is, but not in the way that is usually thought of. Ramadan poses absolutely no danger to the US or to the students of Notre Dame University -- indeed, he would have been an asset, as he is an extremely intelligent and articulate Islamist thinker who can express his thoughts in other languages than Arabic with probably much greater ease than most Arab scholars. I also think that America is better than banning someone for what essentially is a "thought crime" -- after all the man hasn't done anything illegal or violent. That being said, any real danger that Ramadan poses is with European Muslims. Taking France as an example, it is remarkable that the most prominent French Muslim institution, the Conseil du Culte Musulman, is dominated by Moroccans and Algerians but espouses a distinctly international form of Islamism akin to the thinking of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. That's where Ramadan's influence comes in. The fact is that Arab immigrants to Europe who are religious have practically no choice but to turn to mosques dominated by thinkers and preachers whose ideas are the highly abstracted, intellectual kind of the Muslim Brotherhood rather than Islam as practiced by their parents and grandparents. This article [French] in the Moroccan weekly Le Journal has the details. This does not mean that I link Ramadan with the violent, extremist trend in European Islam, but simply that he represents a kind of Muslim Brotherhood-type thinking that I absolutely reject. Furthermore, as a Moroccan I think it's a shame that religious Moroccan immigrants don't retain the "popular" Moroccan Islam (with its strong animist and Sufi influences) rather than adopt these ideas. But of course, that is their choice -- although it is limited by the dominance of a Ramadan-like discourse among European Muslim thinkers. There are a lot of interesting comments below the Agonist article which take issue with some of these issues and others, it's worth reading them -- but it's a shame the author of the article chose to rely on the above sources. My own feeling in the "Is Tariq Ramadan a reformist or a fundamentalist?" debate is that he is both, and many people don't seem to get that this is not a contradiction. P.S. I've just received an advanced review copy of a French book on Ramadan, called Tarek Raman devoilé (Tariq Ramadan Unveiled) which claims to be a five-year investigation into the man. From the blurb I suspect it's mostly negative, and I'll post a small review once I've had the chance to read it.
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Saad Eddin Ibrahim on Arab Christians

Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the noted Egyptian-American political scientist who was imprisoned for nearly a year and a half before being acquitted, has penned a new editorial for the Daily Star. It's on the status of Christians in various Arab countries and is well-timed to coincide with the current sectarian tension in Egypt over church construction and the conversion of Christian women to Islam.
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World Bank links Palestinian aid

The World Bank is linking a new $500 million in Palestinian aid to Israel lifting travel restrictions and Palestinian reform:
The president, James Wolfensohn, said the bank is not imposing conditions, but that international donors want to see conditions improve to make the aid more effective.
"The donors, essentially, today, having gone through the intefadeh (Palestinian uprising), are going to want to feel that if they put in an additional $500 million (a year), that it's being done seriously and with an opportunity for a viable area," Wolfensohn told the Israeli daily Haaretz
Perhaps the bank and other donors should reform the way they give aid to the Palestinians rather than link to abstract issues like "Palestinian reform" -- we are talking about an area where the authorities are not really in control of the situation. In the meantime, it seems a bit callous to delay aid when the Palestinians, particularly in Gaza, are going through one of the worst humanitarian crisis in their history.
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More on ADHR coming soon

I've just come back from the interview with Nader Fergany, the lead author of the Arab Human Development Report. As promised before, it will be posted here after I've had a chance to transcribe it. In the meantime, see this Al Hayat column by Jihad Al Khazen, which has more information. According to my meeting with Fergany, Al Khazen has it wrong about why Egypt is playing such a prominent role in blocking the report -- it may not be the succession issue that they are opposed to, but the idea that complete associational freedom, which would imply the right of the Muslim Brotherhood to form a party. There is also a Reuters story that apparently has more info, but I haven't found it. Stay tuned.
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Muslims in France

Evan Osnos of the Chicago Tribune has a long piece on French Muslims here, which is part of a wider series on the "Struggle for the soul of Islam." I have to say these pieces on Islam, while often interesting and educational, are getting a bit tiring. Which is why I was glad to see that Al Arabiya, the Saudi-based satellite channel, has been advertising a special documentary on "The future of Christianity" -- a look at Christendom in three cities: Rome, Moscow and Washington. Should be interesting.
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Half of Americans against full rights for Muslims

A survey finds that nearly half of Americans are in favor of curtailing American Muslims' liberties:
The survey found 44 percent favored at least some restrictions on the civil liberties of Muslim Americans. Forty-eight percent said liberties should not be restricted in any way.
The survey showed that 27 percent of respondents supported requiring all Muslim Americans to register where they lived with the federal government. Twenty-two percent favored racial profiling to identify potential terrorist threats. And 29 percent thought undercover agents should infiltrate Muslim civic and volunteer organizations to keep tabs on their activities and fund-raising.
Cornell student researchers questioned 715 people in the nationwide telephone poll conducted this fall. The margin of error was 3.6 percentage points.
The survey conducted by Cornell University also found that Republicans and people who described themselves as highly religious were more apt to support curtailing Muslims' civil liberties than Democrats or people who are less religious.
Arab-Americans, who are traditionally Republican, should remember this the next time they vote. If they will still be able to.
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Brits and Baradei

The Independent reports that the Brits are secretly taking the US side on getting Mohamed Al Baradei out of the IAEA:
It had been assumed that Britain was also well-disposed towards Dr ElBaradei, who has said he plans to seek a third term next year as IAEA chief, but a well-placed Whitehall source revealed that officials had secretly backed US moves to replace him. The Foreign Office gave its support to the plan weeks ago, and the Department of Trade and Industry, in charge of Britain's nuclear regulation, was also behind the move, according to the source.
Dr ElBaradei has angered Britain and the US by contradicting their claims that Iraq was seeking to reconstitute its nuclear programme. The Foreign Office refused to comment, but behind the scenes it is justifying its decision to back the Americans on a technicality known as the "Geneva rule". This says senior UN officials should serve no more than two terms, which would bring Dr ElBaradei's tenure to an end next summer.
Remember that a few weeks ago diplomats were leaking info to journalists in Vienna to discredit Baradei, even suggesting that he was helping covering up an Egyptian nuclear program. But we haven't heard anything since, have we?
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Another Egyptian journalist roughed up

I've just received the following message via email:
Egyptian journalist Abdou Al Maghrabi, who works for the Sout Al Umma ('Voice of the Nation') broadsheet, faced a violent attack by a police officer in Abd el Moneim Riad square, next to Cairo's main square, Midan Al Tahrir, on Saturday night. The area was tightly guarded as Gamal Mubarak, son of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, was due to pass by the area, and as passage of pedestrians was being checked and double-checked, by the time Al Maghrabi came to pass in front of the police, one officer grabbed him by the neck - unprovoked, and without confirmation of his identity - beat him, and threw him to the ground. All the while, the reporter was repeating the words "I am a journalist!", in the hope that the officer would stop. The officer went on unaltered.
Al Maghrabi went to register a complaint at the nearest police station, and made his way to the hospital.
From Sunday morning onwards, Al Maghrabi has staged a sit-in at the journalists' syndicate. He also organised an unannounced protest during which the lack of safety for all Egyptian citizens, including lawyers and journalists, was denounced. In particular, the protest condemned Gamal Mubarak as potential leader of Egypt - note that the Western press paints him out to be far more lenient and democratic than his father, but factors on the ground do not seem to indicate that this is true. Gamal Mubarak is being 'groomed' for the presidency.
On Monday morning, posters in the press syndicate annoucing Al MAghrabi's sit-in - which included a slogan "defend journalists' dignity" - were torn down. It is as yet unconfirmed whether central security was responsible.
The sit-in is still going on.
This comes quite soon after Abdel Halim Qandil, the editor of Al Arabi, was taken to the desert outside Cairo, stripped and beaten up by unknown assailants who told him to stop writing about powerful people. It sounds like this latest case was not a targeted operation, but is telling of the lack of discipline and brutality of Egyptian police.
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Khouri on the AHDR

Daily Star Editor Rami Khouri provides some new information on the suppression of the third Arab Human Development Report by the US and apparently Egypt, who is also pressuring the UNDP not to publish it in its current form.
Authoritative sources directly involved in the matter revealed that the U.S. State Department had accused the UNDP of publishing "false accusations" against the U.S. in the third report, which is finalized and ready for printing. The report has been held up since October due to this political problem. Last year the U.S. cut its funding of the UNDP by $12 million, to $89 million, making it clear that the cut reflected its displeasure with some of the contents of the Arab Human Development Report (AHDR).
UN officials believe that the report as it stands now is factual and fair. It has already been heavily edited to meet normal UN standards of fairness and accuracy, and in its present form it describes the impact of the Israel-Palestine and Iraq situations on sentiments and public opinion in the Middle East. The UN's dilemma is that it could never edit or change the text sufficiently to reflect Washington's view that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is "a man of peace" and that the American presence in Iraq is an act of "liberation," as one person involved in this matter noted privately. Yet publishing the report as it is would lead to a severe funding cut.
Khouri suggests that one option being considered is publishing the report under another institution. But either way, he says, the UNDP stands to be the major loser from this. In the meantime I will be meeting one of the report's main author's today or tomorrow. Stay tuned.
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Egyptian PM addresses parliament

I suppose it's worth noting that Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif gave his first address to Parliament today (Sunday) since assuming office in July. It provides us an opportunity to reflect on the progress of the new government. In terms of political reform, I don't think there is really much to say, because nothing has really happened. Nazif's most visible achievement so far has been taking on customs procedures, which tended to be investors' number one gripe with Egypt. And I think the business community is generally pleased with the direction Nazif is heading so far. Issandr will have a more nuanced view of this I imagine. Nazif himself cited customs and tax reforms, and improving the investment climate in Egypt among his principle achievements to date. His government is streamlining processes for foreign investors, opening new markets, increasing exports, and signing new agreements with international companies... or so says Nazif.
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The Islamic Satellite

Who says Islam and modernity can't go hand and hand? Al Masry Al Yom reported yesterday that Cairo University announced at a press conference last friday that it will begin work in January on the Islamic Satellite. Due to be launched in mid-2006, the satellite will unify the lunar calendar throughout the Islamic world. For those of you unfamiliar with this, basically because the Islamic calendar is based on the moon, the beginning of each month is determined by the sighting (by a human eye) of the new moon. So you have situations where, say, Ramadan begins on one day in Saudi Arabia, but begins a day later in Egypt because, for reasons such as weather, the optical properties of the atmosphere, or the location of the observer, the new moon isn't visible here. So that problem will now be solved... and it will only cost $8 million.
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