The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged Liberalism
Weddady's Free Arabs, American Islamic Congress and the pro-Israel funders who helped them rise

Max Blumenthal has this investigative piece on the American Islamic Congress in Electronic Intifada. I was shocked to read about the funding behind AIC that Max uncovers, I had simply no idea, having thought AIC was funded by Muslim Americans or, perhaps, Gulf countries. It turns out the most fanatic wing of the Israel lobby has a big role in it:

According to Internal Revenue Service 990 information filings, the AIC is funded largely by a pool of right-wing donors responsible for bankrolling key players in America’s Islamophobia industry, from Charles Jacobs to Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism and Daniel Pipes’ Middle East Forum. These same donors have pumped millions into major pro-Israel organizations, including groups involved in settlement activity and the Friends of the IDF, which provides assistance to the Israeli army.
Among the AIC’s most reliable supporters is the Donors Capital Fund, which has provided at least $85,000 in funding since 2008. Donors Capital was among the seven foundations identified in the Center for American Progress’s 2011 report Fear Inc. as “the lifeblood of the Islamophobia network in America.” Another foundation singled out in the report, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, has donated $325,000 to the AIC between 2005 and 2011.

There's a lot more there.

Knowing both Max and Nasser Weddady, I am a bit uneasy with his attack on Nasser, who after all is not a top dog at AIC. And I think the swipe at Stanford's Program on Arab Reform is a little weak, especially compared to what he reveals about AIC. Much of the last part of the piece focuses on the Free Arabs website, which Nasser co-edits. As far as I know it is more of a personal project for Nasser that secured funding from Stanford and elsewhere by co-editor Ahmed Benchemsi. So the AIC-Free Arabs connection, apart of Weddady, remains unclear. I was critical like many others of Free Arabs's "Horrible 4" feature and the quite scandalous article cited in Max's article about Mizrahi Israelis being the freest Arabs. But there is also good content elsewhere there.

There is a real problem in the funding of secular liberal Arab publishing. Often sources are from neo-con, pro-Israel sources that tend to minimize criticism of Israel (in my view is the only logical position to take on Israel as a liberal is critical, otherwise one is buying into the exceptionalism of "liberal Zionism" and thus into the racial/religious supremacism inherent in Zionism, which is hardly liberal.) In Arabic, they are often from conservative Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia, whose princes finance such "liberal" sites as Elaph. This represents almost none of the mainstream, center-left to center-right, liberal/social-democratic thinking in the Arab world. To have institutions like AIC created to supposedly represent "mainstream Muslims" and have them be largely financed by extremists is deeply disturbing.

Update: Free Arabs' Ahmed Benchemsi has a reply to Max Blumenthal.

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).

Links for 10.28.09 / Middle East - Wait goes on for Dubai’s £10bn bond | "Where is Dubai’s $10bn bond? The question has been making the rounds in Dubai business circles, as bankers and executives wonder when the emirate will bite the bullet and ask the United Arab Emirates central bank – which is bankrolled by Abu Dhabi – for the second tranche of a $20bn bail-out agreed earlier this year." / China / Economy & Trade - Qatar targets increased gas exports to China | China hydrocarbons imports from ME increase.
Almasry Alyoum | Standing Up To Garbage | Interesting story about garbage collection problem, reveals govt. spending very little, military stepping in with recycling.
Almasry Alyoum | NDP Promotes Gamal Mubarak On Facebook | Facebook users paid LE1500 to promote Gamal.
Brown: Asking the wrong questions about Palestinian elections | Marc Lynch | Makes some good points about elections in the Arab world in general and the Palestinian ones in particular.
Dar Al Hayat - The “Brotherhoodization” of the Arab World | Argues MB arrests only reinforce ideological core of the group and increases its popularity, allowing them to spread their intolerant populist message rather than engage in genuine politics.
Arab winds of change | Brian Whitaker | Comment is free | | Whitaker provides a short take on his new book, which I will be reviewing shortly: the Arab malaise is not just the regimes, but also the people.
The disabled Palestinian standup helping refugees find their funny side | Stage | The Guardian | Very nice story on Palestinian disabled standupcomics: "I am officially the most oppressed person in the world," Maysoon Zayid recently told an audience in California. "I'm a Palestinian Muslim with cerebral palsy."
Israel rations Palestinians to trickle of water | Amnesty International | Amnesty's report on Israel cutting off water to Gaza.
Envisioning an alternative Egypt, post-Mubarak - Haaretz - Israel News | Zvi Barel on Heikal and succession.
bt - Waiting for a Trickle | "The boom, spurred by private and foreign direct investment, has paid off primarily for the country’s richest, according to the new report by the General Authority for Investment (GAFI)."
The Race for Iran | New blog about the geostrategy of Iran, contributors include Flynt and Hillary Everett.
Gaza water supply at 'crisis point' | "Amnesty International says Israeli policies and practices are denying Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip their fair share of the region's scarce water supplies"
Amr Bargisi and Samuel Tadros: Why Are Egypt's Liberals Anti-Semitic? - | WTF is the Egyptian Union of Liberal Youth? This argument is stupid, you take the liberals you have, not those you wish you had. And how do these people get into the WSJ op-ed page?
Brother of Afghan Leader Is Said to Be on C.I.A. Payroll - | No wonder Matthew Hoh resigned: "KABUL, Afghanistan — Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency, and has for much of the past eight years, according to current and former American officials."

Links January 25th and January 26th

Automatically posted links for January 25th through January 26th:

A pardon for Nour?
I forgot to post this last week, but readers may be interested in reading a letter by Ayman Nour's family to mark the one-year anniversary of the 2005 presidential elections, in which he came a distant second from Hosni Mubarak and most probably caused him to be sentenced to jail on 25 December of the same year. In the letter, fully reproduced below, President Mubarak is appealed to grant Nour a pardon. Previously Nour had refused to petition Mubarak for an appeal, and I am still not sure whether the administrative legwork to file for a pardon has been done or whether this a more informal, moral appeal.

It's worth noting that US President Bush recently called for Nour's release, as have opposition MPs in Egypt.

Letter from Ayman Nour on the anniversary of the 2005 presidential elections.

This week marks the anniversary of the first presidential elections in Egypt's history which took place on September 7, 2005. This week also Dr. Ayman Nour, leader of Al-Ghad party and the second candidate according to the results of the presidential elections, almost completes one year in prison for allegedly having forged Al-Ghad party powers-of-attorney.
We receive both events with contradicting feelings due to the severe deterioration in Nour's health after having suffered coronary artery, diabetes and high blood pressure complications. Thus, continuing to enforce the five-year sentence would represent a death sentence to Nour, a matter organized by Article 36 of the law governing prisons which deals with release for medical reasons. This issue is also governed by Article 149 of the Egyptian Constitution which entitles the President exclusive authority to grant pardon or reduce the sentence.
Dear Sir,
Today there are people celebrating the one year anniversary of the election considering it a sign of democratic progress. There are also those who believe it useful for the President to use the exclusive authority vested in him by the Constitution by suspending the penalty or considering the year Nour spent in prison sufficient due to the extremely hard conditions, the unjust and harsh treatment he was subjected to. It has become clear that those who wish to show their ability in serving the regime are focusing on harassing Nour through depriving him of his basic human right guaranteed by the Constitution and the Prisons Law.
It is enough to point out the decision to prevent him from writing in a clear violation of the Constitution, the law and prison regulations. He was also prevented from receiving treatment and having an urgent artery operation at his own expense. Moreover, he is under 24-hour surveillance in prison, prevent from movement and correspondence in violation of the law and prison regulations. He is also prevented from receiving the special food for his health condition from outside the prison which led him to go on hunger strike more than once in objection. The Administrative Judiciary Court is also considering a number of relevant lawsuits, the decision related to the first of which is expected on 26 September.
We appeal to you for immediate intervention to save Ayman Nour's life and for a wise call for a stance that takes all the conditions of the case, which we do not wish to go into now and which are known to everyone, into consideration.
We are not asking to give Nour an equal treatment as singers, artists and others. We only call for observing the circumstances, harms and health risks and respond to a request submitted to the President months ago by 110 current parliament representatives to release Nour through a Presidential Decree in accordance with the Constitution.
The President's response at this time in particular to the request of about one-third of the parliament representing the nation has major implications. It is worth calling for and moving to achieve to save the life of an Egyptian citizen who, on 7 September 2005, obtained over half a million votes.
Dear Sir,
We address this message to you due to our confidence in your sincere patriotism and your ability to make an effort in line with the dedication we know you enjoy to your convictions and the ideas you adopt that transcend political and party differences.
We hope the God grants success to you efforts on our behalf.
Ayman Nour's small and larger families
Hamzawy: Democracy lost
That Amr Hamzawy -- he's so hot right now (you have watched Zoolander, haven't you?):

This widening ideological divide between ruling elites and oppositions will make it more difficult to adopt political reform measures, which require at least some consensus and flexibility on both sides. More troubling is that the positions of putatively democratic Arab opposition movements on the war in Lebanon have exposed their totalitarian and populist tendencies. There is a great difference between adopting a rational discourse that rightly condemns the Israeli military for its crimes against civilians and criticizes unconditional American acceptance of the war, and cheering the death of Israeli civilians as a step toward the destruction of the "Zionist entity." This goes beyond the tendency of Islamist and pan-Arab opposition movements to opportunistically capitalize on popular feelings to rally support. It shows that these movements lack a key characteristic of reformist political forces: a willingness to combat ideologies of hatred and extremism rather than using them for political advantage.

Furthermore, although they call for democratic reform in Arab countries, Islamist and pan-Arab movements have failed to acknowledge the fundamentally non-democratic nature of the actions of Lebanon's Hizbullah. By unilaterally making a decision of war and peace on July 12, Hizbullah confiscated the right of Lebanon's government, of which it is part, to determine the country's fate. Israel's response , by targeting infrastructure and the civilian population, was surely extreme, legitimizing resistance; however, Hizbullah acted like a state within a state, taking advantage of the weakness of Lebanon's formal institutions and transgressing the principle of consensual decision-making.

The regional shadows of the war in Lebanon will persist for many years. They may well be a long and painful reminder that the hope for any near-term democratic transformation of the Arab world was perhaps the greatest loser in a war that produced tremendous damage on all sides.
Harsh words indeed. While I agree with him that Hizbullah acted irresponsibly on 12 July, it's quite a stretch to say that it took a decision of war and peace. It was Israel that took the decision to escalate the conflict into a full-scale war. As for the opposition being opportunistic in capitalizing on the Hizbullah-Lebanon war for local advantage, I don't really see that as a problem (they're politicians, after all) as much as some of the delusions about this war. But there is a real concern in that the opposition does not realize that cheering for Hizbullah is a dead-end street: there is no real support in Egypt (and I suspect in all other Arab countries) for going to war against Israel. The need for a rational discourse about the region is indeed great, and it would have been nice to see less grandstanding from certain parts of the Nasserist left (which does indeed have totalitarian impulses). But it's a bit of a chicken-and-egg argument: can you have a quality democratic debate in the absence of democracy and when the only avenue open to dissidents is populism? Rational debate lost out on all sides here: in both the Arab world and in Israel (actually, particularly in Israel), jingoism triumphed.
New liberal party launched
Dr. Osama al-Ghazali Harb, political pundit and editor of Al-Siyassa Al-Dawliya, is to hold a press conference on the launching of his new political party in Egypt on Sunday, 16 July, 11am at the Shepherd Hotel in downtown Cairo, according to a press release I received.
Harb, a former member of the NDP’s Policies’ Secretariat, resigned from the party shortly after he voted against Mubarak’s proposed constitutional amendment at the Shura Council February last year, and expressed his interest in forming a new political party with a liberal agenda.

I’m attaching the press release.
Press Release
The Democratic Front Party
(Under establishment)

The founders of the Democratic Front Party (under establishment) will be holding a press conference on Sunday, 16 July 2006, at 11:00 am in Shepard Hotel, Nefertiti Hall.
At this conference speakers will introduce the principal founders of the party, present its program and invite all Egyptian citizens to participate in the establishment of the party.
Speakers include representatives of the founding party members Dr. Yehia Al-Gamal, the prominent lawyer and professor of constitutional law at Cairo University, and Dr. Osama Al-Ghazali Harb, Editor in Chief of Al-Siyassa Al-Dawliya Journal and member of Shura Council, in addition to a number of prominent public figures and new young faces who have participated in founding the party.
Journalist sentenced to one year in prison for "insulting" Mubarak

Ibrahim 3eissa, the popular liberal editor of Al-Dostour, has been sentenced today to one year in prison, for "insulting" the president in an article he published April last year, that included a copy of a lawsuit filed by an Egyptian lawyer against President Hosni Mubarak and his family.
The court sentenced also another Al-Dostour reporter, Sahar Zaki, to a year in prison, together with Sa3eed Mohamed Abdallah Suleiman the lawyer who filed the original lawsuit quoted by Al-Dostour's article. Three other reporters were released on a LE10,000 bail, pending their appeal.
The article, published 5 April 2005, Issue 55, included accusations by the lawyer against Hosni Mubarak, Suzan Mubarak, and Gamal Mubarak of "waisting the country's resources" by "selling the public sector for a cheap price, ... squandering foreign aid." Suleiman demanded, in his lawsuit, that the president "returns LE500 billion to the treasury." He also accused the president of turning the "Arab Republic of Egypt into a monarchy" and "replacing the constitution with State Security rule."
Mubarak has usually been a favorite target for criticism on the weekly tabloid's frontpage.
There will be a press conference in the evening at Al-Dostour's office, 7pm, 29 Tanta St., 3agouza.
UPDATE: CPJ has issued a statement denouncing the court verdict.
EGYPT: Editor, reporter for weekly are sentenced to jail
New York, June 26, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists deplores today’s decision by an Egyptian court to sentence two journalists to a year in prison for publishing a report critical of President Hosni Mubarak, his family, and other top officials.
The court in Al-Warrak, north of Giza, sentenced Ibrahim Eissa, editor of the independent weekly Al-Dustour, and Sahar Zaki, a reporter for the paper, to a year in prison for insulting Mubarak, the newspaper said in a statement today. The journalists, who were not present for the verdict, are free on bail of 10,000 Egyptian pounds pending appeal.
The case against Eissa and Zaki stems from an April 5, 2005, news item that reported efforts by an Egyptian lawyer to take Mubarak and his family to court on allegations of corruption, including the alleged misuse of foreign aid. The lawyer, Said Abdullah, was also sentenced today to a year in jail. Over all, Al-Dustour has been a persistently harsh critic of Mubarak and his government.
Two years ago, Mubarak pledged to eliminate prison penalties against journalists for what they publish. The promise remains unfulfilled, and Egyptian journalists continue to be brought before criminal courts and sentenced to jail because of their criticism of government officials and other influential figures. In 2006 alone, CPJ has documented the cases of at least two other journalists sentenced to jail terms on defamation charges.
“Taken together with President Mubarak’s empty promise, the continuing prosecutions of outspoken journalists demonstrate this government’s hostility toward independent journalism,� CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call on Egypt to put an end to the egregious practice of prosecuting journalists for their work.�

UPDATE: Human Rights Watch blasted the court ruling in a statement.