Tadros on Egypt's sectarian problem

An interesting insight in Mariz Tadros' excellent new piece on sectarian tensions in Egypt, and the Church's wrestling with its traditional prerogatives and Egypt's mixture of Islamic and secular laws:
Pope Shenouda may have emerged triumphant in the eyes of his followers after the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled in his favor, but public opinion was split, with many wondering about the proper limits of the papal sphere of influence. The crisis also revealed the extent to which all parties were deploying a human rights discourse to advance non-democratic ends. Islamists, intellectuals and high-profile, pro-government Copts who had long minimized or even denied religious discrimination against Copts by state and society were suddenly eager to defend the rights of Copts against the Church. The Church, which had conventionally resisted the Islamization of politics, was suddenly making reference to the rights of non-Muslims under Islamic law. Women’s rights organizations, which had never defended the rights of non-Muslim women in Muslim family law (despite the serious compromises of gender equity therein), were suddenly all excited about saving Coptic women from the patriarchal Coptic leadership.
And then she gets to the crux of the matter in the "conversion affairs" such as this summer's Camilla scandal:
In Egypt, however, there is no freedom of religion in the first place. Egyptian citizens who are not Sunni Muslims do not enjoy equal rights to practice their religion freely.[5] In the Camillia saga, it is important to remember that while the majority of Sunni Muslims are subject to severe restrictions, and possible persecution, if they wish to convert to Christianity, Christians are permitted to embrace Islam as a matter of course. The imbalance in the right to freedom of religion was further accentuated with the abolition by state security of the “reconciliation committees” in 2003. These committees allowed the Church or Coptic families to verify whether members who wished to convert were doing so of their own free will. This move has only intensified the conviction of Copts that they must rely on the Church’s bargaining power, rather than citizenship rights, to negotiate with the state. It is evident, however, that Pope Shenouda has lost his credibility among the wider Egyptian polity, which may leave room for Copts to work on internal reform, including the ouster of Bishop Bishoy. Within the Church, there is a nascent resistance movement against what is perceived to be Bishoy’s lack of accountability. Yet the politics of the Church cannot explain the tenor of the current crisis.

Tackling this issue of conversion — the bedrock of freedom of religion — is precisely what most of the major parties involved (the state, the church, al-Azhar, Islamists) either do not want to do or are too terrified to do.

Since I was away most of the summer, I missed much of the rise in tensions over this issue. In the last few weeks I have found that the situation is worse than I had expected.

Worry about satellites, not SMSs

Much has been made over the last week of a decision by Egypt's National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (NTRA) to require a license from SMS distributors. Some see it as a pre-electoral move targeting newspapers before parliamentary elections next month. The Minister of CIT, Tarek Kamel, did not help his case when making vague allusions to wanting to counter SMS messages that could be disruptive to the country

But there's been too much bandwagon-hopping to think this is part of a conspiracy to counter anti-government activism. SMS delivery services should be regulated, if only so that my number isn't shared by multiple businesses to announce their sales, latest clothing line, and all the other kind of junk I receive on my 10-year-old phone line in Cairo. The question is not whether the new regulations are bad — any country has the same kind of regulations — but whether the NTRA will now restrict the type of bodies who can use mass SMS delivery or give a license to every company that meets its technical criteria, as it should, without regard to who the customers of that company are — shops, political parties, etc.

Is it for instance acceptable that a political candidate in my district (Qasr al-Nil, in Central Cairo) to use information that must have been obtained from the telecom networks themselves to send a campaign message to everyone with a billing address in that district? How is private information regulated? I remember in 2005, everyone using the MobiNil network got a message to go out and vote on the day of the presidential election. Is that a legitimate use of the private information that is my phone number? Is it a type of campaigning that is allowed by the Electoral Commission? Those are the pertinent questions. Activists in any case don't usually hire SMS delivery companies to pass on the message.

A more urgent issue at the moment I only became aware of last night, having drinks with a friend from the news agencies, is that the licensing of companies that provide audio-video satellite linkage (the most famous is VideoCairo, which had already gotten in trouble for its work for al-Jazeera in recent years) will now have to obtain licenses from the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU) rather than the NTRA. The ERTU is Egyptian state TV, or in other words the competitor to the companies that hire satlink companies' services. It made much more sense to have a technical body like the NTRA handle these licenses. Moreover, it seems that there is confusion about where to obtain such licenses. One man went to ERTU only to be told he had to go to Media Production City (MPC), the film and production studio outside of Cairo, where he was told that the satellite linkup trucks rented by the likes of al-Jazeera, CNN, etc. would not be able to leave the premises (rather defeating their point). 

That, to me, is much more of an indicator of wanting to restrict media and potential coverage of live events (such as electoral fraud and violence) than the new rules governing SMSs, which should be welcomed if implemented in a reasonable manner.

Update: AP has a story covering the latest media restrictions:

Critics say a sequence of new restrictions on journalists is intended to stifle Egypt's vibrant media landscape a month before parliamentary elections in the authoritarian country.

In the latest measure, the telecommunications regulator is canceling the permits of private companies providing live broadcast services in Egypt, requiring them to get new licenses from state television, several of the companies said Wednesday.

The government measures could be an attempt by authorities to tighten their grip on information and media commentary as Egypt's political scene becomes increasingly tense before the parliamentary vote and a presidential election next year.

Links for October 13 2010

Researcher: Suicide terrorism linked to military occupation

Researcher: Suicide terrorism linked to military occupation:

Robert Pape, a University of Chicago political science professor and former Air Force lecturer, will present findings on Capitol Hill on Tuesday that argue that the majority of suicide terrorism around the world since 1980 has had a common cause: military occupation.

Pape and his team of researchers draw on data produced by a six-year study of suicide terrorist attacks around the world that was partially funded by the Defense Department's Defense Threat Reduction Agency. They have compiled the terrorism statistics in a publicly available database comprising some 10,000 records on some 2,200 suicide terrorism attacks, dating back to the first suicide terrorism attack of modern times — the 1983 truck bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, which killed 241 U.S. Marines.

'We have lots of evidence now that when you put the foreign military presence in, it triggers suicide terrorism campaigns, ... and that when the foreign forces leave, it takes away almost 100 percent of the terrorist campaign,' Pape said in an interview last week on his findings.

Pape said there has been a dramatic spike in suicide bombings in Afghanistan since U.S. forces began to expand their presence to the south and east of the country in 2006. While there were a total of 12 suicide attacks from 2001 to 2005 in Afghanistan when the U.S. had a relatively limited troop presence of a few thousand troops mostly in Kabul, since 2006 there have been more than 450 suicide attacks in Afghanistan — and they are growing more lethal, Pape said.

You don't say.

Ahmedinejad in Lebanon

Note: This is much shorter version of  post written earlier and then lost because of #$@^!* system. Couldn't be bothered to redo it fully.

The above pic from the Lebanese blog Beirut Spring illustrates the division about Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's visit to Lebanon today. A bunch of Lebanese bloggers have decided to note the visit with humor, like this list of 10 things to expect during the visit.

See the FT, the WSJ, Reuters, and Rami Khouri who makes some interesting points about both the domestic Lebanese reaction and the nervousness in the US and the Arab world. The State Dept's response that Ahmedinejad's visit infringes on Lebanese sovereignty is rather mind-numbing, between 2006 and now they must have grown to care a lot about Lebanese sovereignty. 

My own take to the question of Iran-US relations will come in the form of this picture I took last May, near Times Square in New York. I think it explains everything pretty clearly.


The eunuchs of Washington


Chas Freeman, the man passed over as Obama's intelligence czar, shared his thoughts on the recent appointment of Tom Donilon to replace James Jones as Obama's National Security Advisor. Freeman quoted over at Mondoweiss:

. . . there's a broader issue with the appointment of Tom Donilon, a creature of Congress whose professional formation has taken place entirely within the Washington bubble. Nothing in his background as a lawyer or aide to elected officials and political appointees hints at any skill at strategic thinking, foreign policy formulation, or diplomatic maneuver that is directed at anyone other than domestic constituencies. He gives every sign of faithfully reflecting the political risk aversion, venal deference to campaign contributors, and constipated strategic imagination of the Washington establishment. We Americans have spawned our own version of the eunuchs of old, who flourished inside the walls of the Forbidden City or Topkapi/Dolmabah?e Palace. Their counterparts now practice the arts of the courtier within the Beltway at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. (It is said that Afghanistan has jirgas to make village-level decisions and loya jirgas to decide things at the national level, while Washington now makes decisions in circle jirgas.) Donilon is exhibit A of this archetypal Washington type; his presumed successor, Denis McDonough, is exhibit B.
Note that the principal argument for Donilon and McDonough is not their competence or mastery of the subject matter of national security affairs in its diplomatic, intelligence, and military dimensions, but the trust the president has in them. To me, this underscores that American politics has become entirely self-referential and solipsistic. We have evolved the world's most militarily powerful autistic government. The Obama Administration is practicing non-partisanship by carrying on the foreign policy of its predecessor. Mr. Magoo is still at the helm, as I discovered he was years back. See: "America in the World - Magoo at the Helm" -- , now a chapter in the book Just World Books just brought out, "America's Misadventures in the Middle East." )

Read the whole thing. For dissenting opinions, see Steve Clemons and Helena Cobban (update: also Peter Beinart. I know I'll be getting a copy of Freeman's book (click here to get it from Amazon and send Arabist some baksheesh).

On American Jews and Obama

I posted in yesterday's links a long, five-part series on Jews and Obama by Edward Klein and Richard Chesnoff. I had only read the first part when I did so, and, having now read four of the five (the last one still isn't up), I feel it's worth making a few comments on it, especially as it has gotten some considerable attention in some circles.
Read More

Links October 7-10 2010

Liu Xiaobo

Nobel Peace Prize Given to Jailed Chinese Dissident - NYTimes.com:

Given that he has no access to a telephone, it was unlikely that Mr. Liu would immediately learn of the news, his wife, Liu Xia, said. On Friday night, dozens of foreign reporters gathered outside the couple?s building in Beijing but they were prevented from entering by the police, who posted a sign saying the complex residents ?politely refused? to be interviewed. His wife was also barred from leaving her apartment.

 About time to stop worshipping China.

WSJ on the Mabhouh assassination

The Wall Street Journal has a very nice long investigative piece on the investigation into the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, focusing especially on one suspect, UK citizen Christopher Lockwood, aka Yehuda Lustig, an Israeli believed to have died in Sinai in the 1973 war. It all sounds like a spy thriller.

Lockwood/Lustig, believed to be the son of early Zionist settlers in mandate-era Palestine, had a nominal British residence but traces of him exist around the Middle East. He came in and out of Dubai, prepared the ground for the assassins, and even shipped a van to Iran (possibly for a related operation, since some of the alleged killers took a ferry to Iran after Mabhouh's death.)

From the end of the article:

When investigators discovered that Mr. Lockwood was once known as Mr. Lustig, the plot appeared to thicken. Mr. Lustig's birth certificate indicated he was born in Glasgow on Feb. 23, 1948. Mr. Lustig's father was a veterinary student who had married in Palestine, then under British control.

Investigators figured he probably changed his name from Lustig to avoid suspicion while traveling in the Middle East, according to people familiar with the probe.

But Mr. Lustig's military service history—described in six Israeli memorials, including an official obituary posted on the Israeli Ministry of Defense's website—indicates the man of that name died in combat in a barrage of rocket fire in the Sinai Peninsula.

That clouded the picture—and suggests that an unknown person fraudulently used the dead soldier's identity to obtain a British passport. Investigators appear to be back at square one in figuring out who that is.

Not so sure about that conclusion. If you look at the pics the WSJ provides of Lockwood and Lustig, they could very well be the same man, 40 years apart.

Lockwood and LustigSimilar nose and eyes, same chin and lips. Maybe Lustig never died in 1973, but was simply made to disappear so he could more easily operate as an agent.

Sponsored links:

Our prep course include COG-612 dumps along with 642-902 exam key, in addition of testking SY0-201 and testking 220-702 dumps. We guarantee 100% victory in testking 642-185.

Celebrating "Setta Oktober" Gideon Levy style

Nothing has changed since the Yom Kippur War - Haaretz:

Nothing has changed in 37 years. It's the same arrogant hubris, the same obstinate resistance to any prospect of an agreement, the same failure to recognize that only peace will save us from another defense minister who sinks into an existential depression while warning of an impending holocaust. What's the point of this festival of 1973 war documents and this retroactive dance of death? Why look back, if on the day the settlement building freeze ended the settlers did a remarkably accurate imitation of the dance of arrogance that preceded the 1973 war?

Links October 5-7 2010

Baheyya on Ibrahim Eissa

Baheyya: Egypt Analysis and Whimsy: Control the Message:

The sacking of maverick newspaperman Ibrahim Eissa is only the tip of a vast iceberg. The broader project is to discredit and intimidate independent media outlets and those who run them, ahead of the 2010 parliamentary elections and the 2011 presidential selection. The regime's goal is clear: to control the flow of political information at an exceptionally sensitive time, limiting the public's exposure to alternative constructions of political reality. Here's the true import of Ibrahim Eissa as a media maverick.

. . .

Eissa has been removed because he’s a newspaperman with a vision and a superior communicator. When al-Dostor went daily in 2007, the paper’s diverse opinion pages were supplemented with solid news reporting that illuminated key spheres of Egyptian society. Eissa cultivated beat reporters who began systematically covering the universities, the courts, protests and demonstrations, and the Coptic Church. He continued to pack the newspaper’s opinion pages with the widest range of political viewpoints of any Egyptian broadsheet. And he managed to keep on writing his own daily column of hard-hitting socio-political commentary, all while also hosting a television show that showcased his skills as a communicator. In one clip, Eissa broke down weighty matters of political economy into an accessible, digestible, humorous module for public edification.

As Egypt heads toward parliamentary and presidential elections, a time when the free flow of political information takes on heightened significance, the government is intent on controlling all sources of alternative knowledge. Newspapers like al-Dostor that pose the greatest threat are effectively shut down, via an elaborate scheme using al-Sayed al-Badawi as the agent and poor management as the pretext. For other independent dailies such as al-Masry al-Youm andal-Shurouq, they are deterred with veiled threats, inducing them to self-censor and scale back their news coverage during election season. Witness the recent series of openly threatening editorials in the government daily Ruz al-Yusuf, warning the editors and owners of all independent dailies and even threatening them with disappearance by 2012.