Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Letters from Egypt: Difference between Islamist/Muslim

After reading my blog yesterday, a good friend said: “Thank you for pointing out that the majority of Egyptians, though largely Muslim, are not staunch Islamists.” It got me to thinking – before I moved to this region, I didn’t know the difference and I’m sure many of you may not.

So as you watch the continuation of Egypt’s latest protests or just other uprisings in the region, you should be able to distinguish between the two. Islamaphobia is centered on the fear of Islamist organizations which include al-Qaeda, Somalia’s al-Shabab, Algeria’s AQIM, etc. However, there are moderate to liberal Muslims that do not fall into the category of Islamist, like Turkey’s Republican People’s Party and pro-democracy movements in Egypt.

Islamists – mostly associated with a jihad ideology, but even when not violent, center around hard-lined beliefs like refusing to recognize gender equality. Islamists gain more traction by claiming to represent Muslims, but this isn’t true.

The term Islamism was coined to differentiate Islam as modern ideology from Islam as a faith. It became necessary to make this distinction after the Iranian revolution of 1979, which gave rise to the popular use of the term: “Islamic fundamentalism.”

Muslims – Encompass all that believe in the Qaran and Prophet Mohammed, but not every Muslim is an Islamist. It is ignorant to associate every Muslim with Bin Laden, similar to associating every Christian with cult leader David Koresh. We all have different beliefs and not every Muslim is associated with such hard-lined rhetoric. Many believe in recognizing other religions, living in peace and the basic life standards that most strive to live by.

Islamists are a small sect within Islam, but unfortunately, their actions carry the most weight.

The Muslim Brotherhood is considered Islamist, but only composes around 100,000 followers out of 80-million people in Egypt (figures vary). So you might wonder how Islamists, including the post-revolution emergence of the Salafeen (previously, this group did not exist), garnered the majority of the parliamentary seats. One main reason could be that the liberals were split. It’s like the two major parties that rule the US, but voting for a third party candidate only takes away from the GOP or DEM which could cause a loss for one of the two major parties during a close race.

Another reason fears are heightened over the MB is because many of the most dangerous terrorist organizations have derived from the group which originated in Egypt. Shadi Hamid, a MidEast expert at the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center, said: “[The MB] is the mother of all Islamist movements.”

So the major problem within the Egyptian protests right now center on the majority-led Islamists within the Constitutional Assembly – which do not represent the majority of Egypt.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Letters from Egypt: Tomorrow’s Significance

Tomorrow could be Egypt’s Second Revolution, but doubtful. And this is why.

Some of you may be wondering why protests are scheduled for Tuesday. The onset of the revolution that resulted in the ousting of the Mubarak regime took place on National Police Day, Tuesday, January 25, 2011. As international media have grown tired of the regular Friday demonstrations, what better way to get attention all the while hoping for the same results from nearly two years ago?

The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) will not convene in Tahrir Square, as stated in yesterday’s blog. Instead the ruling group will meet in Downtown Cairo at Abdeen Square, approximately 1 km from Tahrir, which indicates a stronger position to break away from all that is associated with Tahrir (Liberation).

Yes, protests are taking place over Morsi (or Morsilini as he has been dubbed in reference to the Italian dictator Mussolini) commanding absolute control. Morsi claims that he will only take these powers for two months in order to establish Egypt’s constitution which has seen many delays including the disbandment of Parliament as well as the constitutional council suffering from boycotts like those from the church and other liberal organizations.

Naturally the international community is watching closely as the definition of a dictator is essentially in the decree Morsi made. It is rare within this continent – whether Egypt wants to align itself with Africa or the MidEast – to see any ruler (Mandela being the only one I can recall) relinquish power.

It is reported that the original Constitutional Assembly had agreed on 96% of the constitution, but was unable to come to a mutual decision on four policies that the MB-led assembly refused to negotiate. CNN ran the headline, “Morsy [sic] edict divides Egypt but unifies opponents, observers and critics say,” however, that’s not entirely true. There are some non-Islamists that are questioning if this is really a battle to fight. Someone told me, “We can’t move on without a constitution, why not give Morsi the time that he wants to establish this so that we can finally move forward?” This person is a dual passport holder of the US and Egypt, very liberal and yet fails to understand the repeated delays in the constitution. So the opposition might not be as numerous as some are anticipating – although I didn’t initially believe that January 25, 2011 would have had such numbers.

All non-Islamists parties withdrew from the Constitutional Assembly which was the largest group in Egypt’s constitutional history, coming in at 100 members. The Assembly was composed of 16 members representing the MB’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), eight for the Salafist’s Nour Party, two for Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya’s Building and Development Party and one for the moderate Wasat Party. For more information on the major political parties, please see: How IlliterateEgypt Votes

The problem was that Islamists were representing the majority of the Assembly which would not allow for a majority opposition to thwart the potential of certain threats like sharia (Islamic law) or other actions – although such drastic integrations would probably not have been immediately implemented anyway. The remaining members represent only four parties, three of which are Islamist-oriented: the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), al-Nour Salafi party, the moderate Islamist al-Wasat party and the Civilization party. Previous Parliament speaker Mohamed Saad el-Katatni said, “We finally have a Constitutional Assembly that represents all factions of the Egyptian people.” Just because you throw in a Christian here and there, a liberal for one other seat and a young revolutionist next to that doesn’t mean other views are well represented.

It isn’t about getting the Christians more representation as it is about showing the majority of Egyptians – which are not Islamists. Such seats should be filled with other bright Egyptians including former presidential candidates like Nobel laureate El Baradei, maybe even Amr Moussa, Sabahy, etc.

Will tomorrow be interesting? Meh, I’m on the fence, but perhaps that’s because I, like many, have grown tired of the protest du jour. It isn’t that I don’t think this is actually one of the more valid protests, but as I stated about the AUCans protesting: the argument is negated when going about it in a manner that will undoubtedly consist of more rocks being thrown.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Letters from Egypt: Expat Living amid Turmoil

I had an Israeli friend during my time in NYC who would tell of her life during Gaza flare-ups which was a far different take than what TV portrayed. She discussed getting released from school early, but congregating on rooftops spending time with friends and family while watching missiles pass overhead. I remember her saying, “It really wasn’t as scary as everyone made it out to sound, at least not in my location.”

I can now completely understand.

Hearing of Morsi’s latest decree that gives him absolute control over the executive, legislative and judicial branches was only surprising for one reason: announcing it so soon after taking office. And it’s not shocking to see people taking to the streets. And all the while many of you are seeing things unfold from the only vantage point media seems to provide, Tahrir Square and other parts in Alexandria, it’s important to understand that incidents are widely isolated.

What the media has you believe we're all doing. Source: Associated Press
But really, most of us are just carrying on as usual.
I was watching the news with friends on Friday and we started laughing. The TV makes everything look so horrible yet there we were so non-chalantly enjoying pointless conversations over our respective glasses of wine and beer. And really at this point, the only situation I might blink at twice would be a war between Egypt and Israel. Otherwise, it’s the same rock throwing contest just on a different day.

That being said, there are reports that Tuesday could actually see numbers increase to those 2011 revolution levels – which would be the first time for a protest to garner such figures since the revolution. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) members and supporters will convene in Abdeen Square, attempting to thwart the opposition efforts of claiming another “Liberation Square” victory. Those against the MB will most probably convene in Tahrir, analyze their numbers and then venture to Abdeen. And this is where things could get interesting.

The military is not solely on Morsi’s side, but it has yet to be seen as to what the military does support. So it is unknown if the military will step in or not. The police have been battered for nearly two years and are unable to maintain any sort of control. And if Morsi wishes to implement his plan to establish a constitution in two months by taking authoritarian control, he will need an iron fist to quell the opposition – which seems beyond his grasps. The only thing that he does have is the MB which could play into his favor, but if they react in a hostile way, the international community will lambast the group.

For those of you unaware, the reason it seems like the MB is the majority of Egypt (which is not entirely true) is for simple tactics like all standing together as one unit which bypassed the liberals during elections. Each MB member receives a message, usually in form of mobile SMS or text, to report to a specific area. Often times, members may not even know why they are going, but they do as told (of course, this time everyone knows why they are going) because it is their Godly duty. The MB will probably outnumber the opposition because many are unsure of justifications to stand up against the latest decree (which would have to be another blog for another time).

So for any of you that are not living in Egypt, but have friends/family or are just curious about those of us that do reside here: don’t worry. It’s business-as-usual, at least for right now.

And for those of you that weren’t present during the revolution and are thinking of venturing into these areas, here’s a piece of advice from someone who did attend those beginning protests:

Yes, I went to Tahrir on January 25, 28 and February 11, 2011. It was a different time, and I’d lived here for awhile. Long enough to speak enough Arabic to get me around, enough Arabic jokes to get me past questioning and long enough to understand the culture/situation. It was a different time and while I’m not saying it was right or wrong, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But the situations that take place in the vicinity are different nowadays.

Previously everyone was united in their anger over Mubarak, but now there are varying feelings toward the situation which always results in turmoil. There is essentially no security presence as the police are too fearful to do much and the military’s stance, if available, is uncertain. For the 20-somethings in school here, remember that this is not your country and ultimately not your fight. Your ill-conceived actions (remember the three Americans who were arrested for throwing Molotov cocktails) should not take up valuable embassy time, essentially using tax dollars, to get you released from custody.

For aspiring journalists, there are plenty of stories outside of these areas. Look into reactions of your everyday taxi drivers, see how people in other areas are coping with the increase in food and fuel prices, monitor businesses and their economic strife, etc. There are 20 different angles for a story and there are stories that aren’t in Tahrir or Abdeen. At the end of the day if something happens to you, no one will ever know about the story you were pursuing. And chances are, that story was regurgitated 1,000 times over. Originality is never out of style.