The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged Islamism
What Islamists want vs. what liberals want

Politics: Distinct camps find little common ground -

From the FT:

“In a public place, the greater public benefit is much more important than individual freedom,” says Gehad Haddad, a spokesman and strategist for the Muslim Brotherhood. “If a girl wearing a bikini is offensive to 100 people who are not, then the 100 have the say; she should not wear it on the public beach. At the same time, she can wear it on the private beach. She has the right. At the end of the day, there has to be a rule toward the public benefit. We all wear seat belts.”

1. No, in Egypt you certainly don't all wear seat belts.

2. This kind of argument and the fatuous examples chosen are really depressing. Same could be applied to the veil — "most want women to wear it so they have to respect it, they can always not wear at home". And this is from a smart guy who represents the elite of the MB. Soon enough this line of thinking can turn into "everyone believes prayer is a duty, so everyone has to do it, so shops have to close during prayer time and those who don't want to pray have to wait it out or prove they are not Muslim etc." This is exactly what Salafis have been trying to do in parts of Egypt.

Another good quote in the same piece, from the other side:

“It’s a polarisation between Islamist forces who are after a highly defined identity-based project to see a more Islamised Egypt,” says Lina Attalah, editor of the English-language Egypt Independent. “The other camp is a revolutionary camp that wants to see a democratic Egypt that allows multiple identities to exist.”

This is turning to be a pretty obvious basic difference: Islamists want to impose their way of life on everybody else. Liberals want to give everyone an individual choice about their lives, and will not restrict the Islamists from doing what they want to do. But not vice-versa. That so many outsiders have a difficulty grasping this and are defending the Islamists in Egypt out of a bizarre sort of multiculturalism gone mad is deeply troubling (looking at you, Grauniad).

Lynch on Berman

Marc Lynch has a fantastic essay review of Paul Berman's Flight of the Intellectuals up on Foreign Affairs. He goes on at length on how Berman misses the point of what Islamists like Tariq Ramadan are about:

Berman gets Ramadan's struggle backward. Ramadan's primary adversaries are not liberals in the West but rather literalistic Salafists whose ideas are ascendant in Muslim communities from Egypt and the Persian Gulf to western Europe. For Salafists, a movement such as the Muslim Brotherhood is too political, too accepting of civil institutions, and insufficiently attentive to the formalistic and public rituals of Islam. They urge Muslims to separate from Western societies in favor of their own allegedly pure Islamic enclaves. The Muslim Brotherhood has encouraged women to wear the veil, but only so that they can demonstrate virtue while in universities and the workplace. The Salafists, meanwhile, want women at home and strictly segregated from men. True liberals should prefer Ramadan because he offers a model for Muslims of integration as full citizens at a time when powerful forces are instead pushing for isolation and literalism.

[. . .]

Still, Berman highlights a very real dilemma. Put bluntly, Islamists have shaped the world around them in ways that many liberals in the United States and Europe find distasteful. Even moderate Islamists prioritize religion over all other identities and promote its application in law, society, culture, and politics. Their prosyletizing, social work, party politics, and organization of parallel civil societies have all helped transform societies from below. This frightens and angers secularists, liberals, feminists, non-Muslims, and others who take no comfort in the argument that the political success of the Islamists simply reflects the changing views of the majority. The strongest argument against accepting nonviolent Islamists as part of the legitimate spectrum of debate is that they offer only a short-term solution while making the long-term problem worse. These Islamists may be democrats, but they are not liberals. Their success will increase the prevalence and impact of illiberal views and help shape a world that will be less amenable to U.S. policies and culture.

But this is precisely why Berman's lumping together of different strands of Islamism is so harmful. Ramadan may not be a liberal, but he offers a realistic vision of full participation in public life that counters the rejectionist one posed by the ascendant corps of Salafi extremists. Pragmatists who hope to confront the disturbing trends within the Muslim world do not have the luxury of moral purity.

He also gets Berman's book other obsession, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, right:

Secular Muslims, such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali -- the Somali-born writer and former Dutch politician -- are a sideshow to the real struggles taking place between reformers and traditionalists, Muslim Brothers and Salafists, rulers and oppositionists. The real challenge to the integration of Muslims in the West comes from Salafists who deny the legitimacy of democracy itself, who view the society around them as mired in jahiliyya, and who seek only to enforce a rigid, literalistic version of Islam inside whatever insulated enclaves they are able to carve out. 

I'm not even sure Ali is Muslim at all by her own definition, but the point to take away here is that while she certainly deserves sympathy and protection from death threats, that doesn't mean she has to be taken seriously when her writings on Islam are so poorly informed.

Review: A Mosque in Munich


My review of Ian Johnson's recent book A Mosque in Munich is out in The National's Review. I enjoyed the book's multi-tiered history, notably its starting point among Central Asian Muslims who joined Nazi Germany to fight against the Soviet Union and the background of some of the characters who would later dominate the Munich Islamic Center who were closely associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. These include Said Ramadan, father of Tariq, and the famous MB financier Youssef Nada (who we learn has an amusing obsession with processed cheese, which he exported from Europe to Libya in the 1970s with the winning argument that it was less messy than oily canned tuna and thus idea to help students keep their textbooks clean.)

For these reasons alone it's worth a read, which is why it's disappointing that Johnson's view of Islamism is rather skewed and appears chiefly informed by right-wing sources, which cause him to over-emphasize the "Islamofascist" view of things. Here's the last part of my review:

As interesting as this all is, a major flaw of A Mosque in Munich lies in its superficial treatment of the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamism in general. The ideological convergence between the Nazis and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is overstated, notably in their hostility to Jews. It is true that Nazi anti-Semitism found a willing audience among the Brothers and that Germany in the 1930s and 1940s played an important role in disseminating European anti-Semitism in Egypt. But the Brothers were not the only group that lent a willing ear; one of their rivals at the time was the Misr al-Fatah (Young Egypt) group, which like fascist sympathisers in Europe and the Americas found much to admire in Hitler’s movement. The Brothers’ anti-Semitism certainly existed, but it was hardly the group’s top ideological priority, alongside anti-colonialism, as Johnson suggests: surely their project for a Muslim renewal came before that.

There is a similar lack of nuance in Johnson’s understanding of Islamism – which he defines early on as “not the ancient religion of Islam but a highly politicised and violent system of ideas that creates the milieu for terrorism.” Just as Central Asian refugees’ nationalism embraced Islam as a cultural marker of identity, groups like the Muslim Brothers have been marked as much by nationalism as much as theology. Furthermore, they have not been intellectually static, having for instance abandoned founder Hassan al-Banna’s rejection of partisan life and embraced electoral, rather than vanguard, politics. To paint the Brotherhood merely as a precursor of al Qa’eda, an argument usually made by those with an ideological axe to grind, is profoundly misleading, no matter how unpleasant some of its views may be.

One argument that runs through much of the book is a warning against Western engagement of Islamists, an idea popularised in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks as a way to recruit “moderate” Islamists against the nihilism of salafist jihadist groups like al Qa’eda. The Brothers have actually needed no such encouragement to have a public tiff with al Qa’eda’s Ayman Zawahri, who hates the Brothers as much he does the “Crusaders”. But if Johnson makes a good point in cautioning against paying undue attention to the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe – where it is after all a vanguard group that is not necessarily representative of the European Muslim experience – he often does so for the wrong reason. A more compelling reason for governments and spies to steer clear of the manipulation of religious groups is that, as the West has learned at a great cost, it can so often backfire.

The Brothers' resourcefulness

I suppose I owe a serious blog post after the previous not so serious one. I intend to return to the succession issue in Egypt shortly, but before that wanted to note that the Muslim Brothers have recently announced they will participate in the upcoming Shura Council elections by fielding 15 candidates.

In the last Shura Council elections, none of their candidates were allowed to run, though many tried. Now, they intend to have current MPs try to run for the upper house, hoping that they will benefit from parliamentary immunity during their campaign. Of course that immunity won't be extended to their campaign staff, but they are used to that. It's interesting to see this sign, however minor, of a willingness to continue the project to broaden the Brothers' electoral participation launched in 2005/06 by the former guide, Mahdi Akef. They almost certainly won't get elected, but they are putting a marker out there saying "we are entitled to contest it, and won't stop trying."

In other words, this suggest that they consider the last few years of intense repression a temporary setback, and still have in mind the post-(Hosni) Mubarak endgame of either formalizing their political role or ensuring their growth on the political scene. Food for thought after months of Brotherhood-regime negotiations about succession and the elections: even if these rumors were true, it does not mean they'll stop hedging their bets. Today's demonstration in Midan Tahrir, which included Brotherhood MPs, also suggests that part of the Brotherhood is still making political calculations — i.e. ones based on continued political participation rather than a retreat for which, in counterpart, the regime would give greater it influence on social and religious affairs.

[For background.]

Fouad Zakariyya, 1927-2010

Fouad Zakariyya, a leading Egyptian philosopher and sophisticated critic of Islamist thought, passed away on Thursday after a long illness. Born in Port Said, he earned his doctorate in philosophy at Cairo's Ain Shams University in 1956, as the four-year-old Nasser regime took a sharp turn into nationalist populism. His career took him away from Egypt, to Kuwait University, for much of his life. 

While I am not very familiar with Zakariyya's political involvement as a man of the left (Hossam perhaps can fill in), as a scholar he was a leading advocate for secularism in the Arab world. He saw secularism as a historical necessity for the Arab world, the only possible path to advancement, but was not anti-religious. At the core of his argument was that Islam was too pervasive in the public sphere, and should become a private matter. He was painfully of the way religion was manipulated by both the state and religious groups, whether by Azharites or movements like the Society of Muslim Brothers. He was also scathing about Sadat's embrace of these groups, and accused him of giving them the false expectation that Egypt would turn into an Islamic state — indeed, by the late 1970s many Islamists were already disappointed with Sadat's duplicity and would turn radical, eventually assassinating him.

To make his case, Zakariyya became a leading deconstructionist of the intellectual production of Islamists, and engaged in passionate debates with Islamist thinkers such as Hassan Hanafi, notably over the latter's critique of the European origins of secularism. Not only did Zakariyya not see the European influence on modern secularism as a problem, but he argued that secularism had been an integral part of Islamic culture since its early days, and called for the revival of the secularist tradition in Muslim thinkers like the Mutazallites and Ibn Rushd (Averroes). Without secularism, he argued, the Arab world would not catch up with modernity — and to do so, Arab intellectuals must treat standard Islamic history critically rather than with traditional deference.

Zakariyya leaves behind an oeuvre crowned by Myth and Reality in the Contemporary Islamist Movement, as far as I know the only book of his translated into English, which is one of the best books on Islamism I have read. I particularly appreciated his critique of groups like the Muslim Brothers, which he sees as authoritarian, closed to new ideas, and as promoting groupthink. He was unfortunately vindicated by the arrival of the Muslim Brothers to power in Sudan, where the Numeiri regime enacted the most retrograde policies in the name of Islam. He was also critical of the Islamism of the Gulf elites, which he saw devoid of social justice, and saw the combination of these elites and oil wealth as the "tribalization of Islam." These local elites, he wrote, allied with the US to maintain power, but gave Westerners political hegemony over the Middle East in exchange. Most of the book, though, engages with the ideas of Islamists, their internal contradictions, and the vagueness of terms such as shura to denote democracy.

Zakariyya also took positions that, among some Arab intellectuals at least, were controversial. He defended Kuwait when it was invaded by Saddam Hussein, a position many saw as pro-imperialist. In 2004, he wrote that the Iraqi insurgency was no national resistance movement, but a bunch of violent ex-Baathists thugs. 

At a time when, against all odds, there is the inkling of a revival of secularist thought in the region, it's sad to think that most of Zakariyya's adult life was marked by an Islamic revivalism that, at times, has been terribly destructive. I am curious what Asa'ad AbuKhalil made of him — AbuKhalil shares Zakariyya's critical take on Islamism (read for instance his The Incoherence of Islamic Fundamentalism [PDF] article) but probably not his politics.

Links for Jan.10.10 to Jan.11.10
“Lorsque je commençais mon enquête sur le tourisme au Sahara marocain, je n’imaginais pas être prise à témoin d’échanges sexuels” « Ibn Kafka's obiter dicta – divagations d'un juriste marocain en liberté surveillée | On sexual tourism in Western Sahara.
What the "Eurabia" Authors Get Wrong About Islam in Europe - By Justin Vaïsse | Foreign Policy | Critique of Eurabia theory.
The Trials of Tony Judt - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education |
U.S. to store $800m in military gear in Israel - Haaretz | To keep in mind in context of Iran.
Israel and Iran: The gathering storm | The Economist | Interesting story with background on Osirak bombing, Israeli prospects against Iran.
Executive | Magazine has new books section.
Strong reaction to warning of coup - The National Newspaper | Iraqis react to UK ambassador's testimony to Chilcot Enquiry that coup to purge Iran influence still possible in Iraq.
the arabophile | New blog.
Joe Sacco: Graphic History | Mother Jones | Interview with the cartoonist and author of "Footnotes from Gaza."
High cost of living means more unmarried in Egypt | Bikya Masr | Stats on why Egyptians are marrying later.
Arab Reform Initiative | Report on constitutional reforms in the Arab world.
The architecture of apartheid | | On the bantustanization of Palestine.
The Venture of Marty Peretz’s bigotry: Arabs, Muslims, Berbers and more « The Moor Next Door | Kal on the New Republic editor's Islamophobia.
The Forgotten Recantation — jihadica | Interesting post on the recantation of Abbud al-Zommor.
'Bush sold Arab states arms in violation of deal with Israel' - Haaretz - Israel News | Obama, more pro-Israel than Bush: "The Bush administration violated security related agreements with Israel in which the U.S. promised to preserve the IDF's qualitative edge over Arab armies, according to senior officials in the Obama administration and Israel."

Links for 12.04.09 to 12.07.09
ElBaradei on Zakaria's GPS - CNN | Check in at around 30:50 for his take on Egypt's current situation.
Egypt to re-evaluate subsidies for the poor - The National Newspaper | The debate over subsidies reform in Egypt.
Start the Week: 30/11/2009 | Andrew Marr interviews Eugene Rogan, author of "The Arabs". Also interviews on terrorism, etc.
Cyber Jihadis' LOTR obsession | Super funny post on the use of Lord of the Rings in jihadi propaganda
The Associated Press: Veil's spread fans Egypt's fear of hard-line Islam | I don't like this idea of the government backing a "moderate Islam" vs. some hardcore Islam. The government is as Islamist as anyone else.
AFP: Egypt detains 10 senior Muslim Brotherhood members | 227 Brothers behind bars so far.
Egypt to demand the Rosetta Stone from British Museum - Times Online | Fight to get antiquities back continues.
Why U.S. Mideast Policy is (Still) Screwed Up | Stephen M. Walt | "Every appointee to the American government must endure a thorough background check by the American Jewish community."
Arms smuggling heightens fears Iran may be building arsenal | US-backed UAE crackdown on arms smuggling to Iran. Interesting story, who leaked it and why? - News : Rising military suicides | "More U.S. military personnel have taken their own lives so far in 2009 than have been killed in either the Afghanistan or Iraq wars this year."
The Generals' Revolt : Rolling Stone | Are the generals pushing Obama on AfPak because of Petraeus' presidential ambitions?
Egypt’s opposition misled by fixation with Mubarak’s son - The National Newspaper | Amr Hamzawy, / UK - Muslim Brotherhood rifts widen | Habib lays out the divide for the FT.
Reset - Dialogues on Civilizations | Life | Interview with Joseph Massad on his ridiculous thesis of the "invention" of homosexuality ion the Arab world by the West and the "Gay International."
Iran whistleblower died from drug-laced salad - Yahoo! News | Nasty.

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.

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) - | 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 |

| "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 | | 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. / 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 - | 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!?

Links for 09.12.09 to 09.13.09
صحيفة عكاظ - موسوعة الأفلام.. تكرار أسماء واقتباسات صريحة | On a new Encyclopedia of Arab Cinema, categorizing 4350 films. [h/t: Lina]
The Arabic Student | Blog on learning Arabic, with vocab lessons and more.
US in raptures over Arab film - The National Newspaper | Regarding the new film on the Arab-American experience, "Amreeka".
YouTube - Al Jazeera: Debate between a liberal and an islamist in Egypt. | MEMRI video of a debate by the Egyptian secularist intellectual Sayyid Qemani on Jazeera, debating Islamists and the host.
Muslims Widely Seen As Facing Discrimination - Pew Research Center | "Eight years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Americans see Muslims as facing more discrimination inside the U.S. than other major religious groups. Nearly six-in-ten adults (58%) say that Muslims are subject to a lot of discrimination, far more than say the same about Jews, evangelical Christians, atheists or Mormons. In fact, of all the groups asked about, only gays and lesbians are seen as facing more discrimination than Muslims, with nearly two-thirds (64%) of the public saying there is a lot of discrimination against homosexuals."

Ending Jihadism? The Transformation of Armed Islamist Movements
From an article in the newArab Reform Bulletin on the wave of jihadi recantation and the de-radicalization of Salafist Jihadist groups in North Africa and elsewhere:

Research on de-radicalization processes shows that a combination of charismatic leadership, pressure from the government, interactions with non-jihadis as well as from within the organization, and selective inducements from the state and other actors are common causes of de-radicalization. Government pressure and interaction with  non-jihadis often cause jihadi leaders to rethink strategically, learn politically, and revise their worldview. Following this, the leadership initiates a de-radicalization process that is bolstered by selective inducements from the state as well as by internal interactions with the followers. De-radicalized groups often interact with violent ones and in some cases the former influences the latter, a sort of domino effect demonstrated in the cases of the IG and al-Jihad Organization in Egypt, the AIS and factions from the GIA, the GSPC and other militias in Algeria and de-radicalized Islamist figures and individual suspects in Saudi Arabia. 

Whether de-radicalization will continue and eventually have a serious impact on al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other like-minded organizations depends on many factors, not the least of which is regime type in the countries in question. In dictatorships, de-radicalization processes and programs are a short to mid-term solution for the problem of Islamist political violence. Indeed, de-radicalization does not mean that the root causes of radicalism were properly addressed and resolved. The Egyptian Muslim Brothers abandoned political violence back in the 1970s, for example, but the much more violent IG and al-Jihad emerged as their successors in the same decade. Now the IG has also abandoned violence, but the repression from dictatorships, socioeconomic strains, and exclusionary dogmas can ultimately reproduce similar organizations. Successful democratization and religious reformation remain critical to a long-term, durable solution. "

While all this is fine and dandy, I've found the excitement over these recantations to be blown out of proportion to some degree. Even is they eschew violence, the ideology of these groups remains extremely radical, intolerant, bigoted, and susceptible to create social violence (among Muslims as well as between Muslims and non-Muslims). Regular "scientific" Salafism, which some of these jihadis are reverting too, seems to me still incipiently takfiri. Let's not get too excited just yet, especially when the current generation of recantations has been largely obtained from jihadi leaders under arrest who appear to be recycling themselves for a career in post-Bin Ladenism.
Links for 08.04.09 to 08.06.09
Iran is the problem, not settlements: US lawmaker
| Slimy Republican sings from Bibi's songbook.
Most Taliban fighters 'could switch' | From Windows to Mac?
Where Have All the Palestinian Moderates Gone? | Read this obscene article by Israel lobby stooge David Schenker (and many others like it from WINEP): it makes a compelling argument that people from this institution should never be regarded as serious analysts or scholars, but as propagandists. The guy talks about Fatah reserving the right to armed resistannce - i.e. self-defense from a brutal occupation - but never once mentions occupation.
Whither Fateh? | Palestine | On the inner rifts of the Palestinian faction - quite good.
Middle East Democracy (404 Not Found) | Priceless.
Al-Ahram Weekly | Focus | Business interests | Hossam Tammam on the Muslim Brothers' economic policy.

Links for 08.02.09 to 08.03.09
Liam Stack, Greek Club Civil War, and Developing Developments | Boi boi Liam...
Al-Maqdisi’s Online Library of Translated Jihadi Material | Get your jihadi agit-prop in translation...
Fatah to reject Israel as Jewish state at congress: document (AFP) | Rightly so.
50 Palestinians evicted from their Jerusalem homes (AP) | "AP - Israeli police evicted two Palestinian families in east Jerusalem on Sunday, then allowed Jewish settlers to move into their homes, drawing criticism from Palestinians, the United Nations and the State Department." Criticism? Cut off their funding!
Jewish Tribune - Pepe Le Pew makes aliyah and protects the Jews | Columnist in Canada's Jewish tribune, on protests by International Solidarity Movement for Palestine against Israel's wall: "I personally would recommend use of live ammo on the ‘anarchists'". [Thanks, Saeed]

Links for 07.31.09
الإسلاميون - الإخوان وسيناريوهات المستقبل | "The Muslim Brothers and the scenarios of the future"
Morocco challenges Mideast Holocaust mind-set - Yahoo! News | King makes speech on Holocaust, also on Jewish community in Morocco.
Bédouins oubliés du Nakab, par Joseph Algazy (Le Monde diplomatique) | Anti-Arab discrimination and beatings by Israeli police, and the situation of Israel's Bedouins.
300,000 Israeli settlers in West Bank: report - Yahoo! News | "As of June 30, there were 304,569 settlers living in the Palestinian territory, an increase of 2.3 percent since the start of the year"
Counterterrorism Blog: NEFA Foundation: The Muslim Brotherhood Online | MB document on use of internet.
UPDATED: Levin lifts hold on State Near East official, bureau makes senior appointments | The Cable | Jeffrey Feltman to finally be confirmed at head of NEA.

Crackdown on Egypt's Islamist bloggers
Three major Egyptian Islamist bloggers have been arrested over the last 48 hours, Global Voices reports:

Today, July 22, 2009, seems to be a start of a series of crackdown on bloggers in Egypt, as 3 young bloggers were arrested separately. The first blogger is Ahmad Abu Khalil, who was taken from his home in the dawn.

State Security forces broke into Ahmad's house and confiscated his books. The State Security did not inform his family about the accusations against the son, or as to where he will be taken. However, he is most likely being held in Nasr City State Security headquarter.

Ahmad who blogs at Al- Bayareq (means: lanterns), identifies himself as an ‘Islamist’. And he used to write about his life.

The other two bloggers are Abdel Rahman Ayyash and Magy Sa'd, who have been arrested at the Cairo Airport, since yesterday night. The two bloggers were coming back from a visit to Turkey. Ayyash is running ‘Abdel Rahman's Blog‘ , while Magdy is writing at ‘Yalla Mesh Mohem’ blog, (means: OK it doesn't matter).

These guys are among the most influential young Islamist bloggers in Egypt, generally voices for dialogue with other currents and reform inside the Muslim Brotherhood. They are among the people campaigning for the release of Dr. Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, the prominent member of the MB's Guidance Council who has articulated reformist tendencies more clearly than any other leader. Let's hope they are quickly released.

Update: Menassat has a write-up, quoting from here but also with additional info.