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Morsi and the General: Daniel Nisman, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 28, 2013—In August 2012, it seemed as though Egypt's once-omnipotent military generals had been all but neutered. After a devastating militant attack killed dozens of troops in the Sinai Peninsula, a newly-elected President Mohammed Morsi seized the opportunity to fire Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and a number of other generals.
A Warning to John Kerry: Egypt Could Become the Next Iran: Nesreen Akhtarkhavari, Christian Science Monitor, Mar. 1, 2013—As Secretary of State John Kerry heads to Egypt March 2 he should be wary of one concerning possibility: Under the rule of Mohammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt is in danger of becoming a Sunni version of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Terror in Tahrir: Diana Sayed, Egypt Independent, Mar. 2, 2013—Women activists have protested all over the world against sexual violence in Egypt. The protests, which took place in front of Egyptian embassies in 20 capitals worldwide and in Cairo, sent a clear message to the Egyptian government that the international community will take a stand against sexual harassment in solidarity with the women of Egypt.
Egypt's New Coptic Pope Tawadros Faces Religious Tension, Uncertain Future: Joseph Mayton, Washington Report on Mid East Affairs, February 2013—In early November, less than a week after Egypt's new Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros had taken over as the newest pontiff in the world's oldest Christian sect, he lashed out on television, accusing the ultra-conservative Salafists of "destroying" the future of the country.
Muslims Attacking Copts in Egypt Over False Rumor: Salma Shukrallah, Al Ahram, Mar. 2, 2013
Will Violence Erupt in Egypt?: Mike Giglio, The Daily Beast, Mar 1, 2013
Will Egypt’s democrats get serious?: Amir Taheri, New York Post, Feb. 27, 2013
The Egyptian Army is Making a Comeback: Zvi Mazel, Real Clear World, Feb. 25, 2013
Wall Street Journal, Feb. 28, 2013
In August 2012, it seemed as though Egypt's once-omnipotent military generals had been all but neutered. After a devastating militant attack killed dozens of troops in the Sinai Peninsula, a newly-elected President Mohammed Morsi seized the opportunity to fire Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and a number of other generals. President Morsi was empowered by popular anger following 17 months of incompetent military rule over post-revolution Egypt. But now, six months later, the generals of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) have returned to challenge an increasingly loathed President Morsi—quite possibly laying the groundwork to bring Egypt back under military rule.
General Abdel Fattah El Sissi, whom Mr. Morsi chose to replace Field Marshal Tantawi, was originally presumed to be sympathetic to Egypt's popularly elected Islamist leadership. Perhaps it was the notable opposition to U.S. foreign policy exhibited in his past writing, or the traditional Muslim headscarf worn by his wife. To suggest however, that a Brotherhood-sympathizer could have risen to the rank of general under Hosni Mubarak is to ignore the former dictator's unrelenting, decades-long rivalry with political Islam. Gen. Sissi's first move after being appointed was to make a tactical retreat, pulling the military back from the political sphere and restoring the prestige it lost during Egypt's tumultuous transition period. From there, Gen. Sissi has had a comfortable vantage point from which to observe the decline of the headstrong Muslim Brotherhood.
It didn't take long for the show to start. Last November, President Morsi plunged the country into violence after issuing a decree to help push an Islamist-backed draft constitution to referendum. During that month-long period of unrest, the fissure between Gen. Sissi's military and the Brotherhood had already begun to reopen. Amid ongoing military attacks against Islamist compounds across the country, President Morsi and his cohorts fumed at the military's refusal to send troops to protect their installations. The Brotherhood's leadership reportedly pressured President Morsi to reject a SCAF offer to mediate dialogue with the political opposition….
In January came more civil unrest, ignited by the anniversary of the 2011 uprising, particularly violent in Cairo. By then, relations between the Brotherhood and the military had gone from bad to worse. The Suez Canal region also saw particularly ugly clashes after a court issued death sentences against dozens of Port Said residents for their involvement in a deadly soccer riot last year. The Interior Ministry's failure to restore order to the country's most strategic region forced a hesitant President Morsi to make a request from the military to impose martial law.
Ironically, this handed Gen. Sissi a perfect opportunity to side with the people of the Suez Canal cities against President Morsi. Gen. Sissi agreed to deploy to the Canal, but ordered his troops to protect the waterway itself rather than submit to President Morsi's bidding by cracking down on a restive populace. The ensuing scenes of Port Said residents marching in the streets, side-by-side with military troops in defiance of President's Morsi's curfew, bore semblance to those of the 2011 uprising, when military officers were received in Tahrir Square by cheering revolutionaries. Those images emanating from Port Said soon led to whispers of support for a military coup in Cairo.
In the Sinai meanwhile, Gen. Sissi has gone ahead and strengthened his position with Washington at President Morsi's expense. The military's unprecedented crackdown on smuggling to the Gaza Strip most recently culminated in a campaign to destroy hundreds of tunnels on the Rafah border by flooding them with water. The military has made sure to publicize each of their seizures in a direct affront to President Morsi's pledges of support for Gaza's ruling Hamas regime.
Gen. Sissi has continued to publicly deny any intentions to seize power unless he is "called upon by the people" to do so—a hazy notion which has sparked fears of a coup within the Brotherhood leadership. On Feb. 20, the Egyptian press reported that the SCAF had been holding meetings behind closed doors in the president's absence on matters relating to security and stability. Since then, Egyptian media has been awash with rumours over a possible scheme by the president to sack Gen. Sissi as he did Field Marshal Tantawi…
Currently, neither President Morsi nor Gen. Sissi looks to be in a position to overpower the other. But the Machiavellian discipline displayed by the general may just be enough to outlast the Islamist politician. Egypt's secular opposition remains in disarray, unable to prove its worth as a viable alternative to President Morsi's floundering leadership. That leaves Gen. Sissi's increasingly trusted military as the only entity with the influence and organization needed to bring Egypt back from the brink of collapse.
Mr. Nisman is the Middle East and North Africa section intelligence director at Max Security Solutions, a geopolitical risk consulting firm.
A WARNING TO JOHN KERRY:
EGYPT COULD BECOME THE NEXT IRAN
Christian Science Monitor, Mar. 1, 2013
As Secretary of State John Kerry heads to Egypt March 2 he should be wary of one concerning possibility: Under the rule of Mohammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt is in danger of becoming a Sunni version of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Opposition leaders’ refusal to meet with Mr. Kerry over what they perceive to be as unprincipled US support for Mr. Morsi should serve as a wake-up call and warning to Washington.
Morsi’s first step after winning the June 2012 presidential election was to create an alliance with other Islamic groups, and sideline seculars and liberals who could derail the establishment of a religious state. Next, he gave himself immunity from legal prosecution and managed to quickly hoard more power than deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak ever dreamed of having. After a number of manoeuvres, Morsi pushed forward a constitution drafted mostly by Brotherhood members and their allies, ignoring the protests of secular opponents, Christians, women, and liberals against the discriminatory language and key articles placed in the new constitution.
The new constitution sets the legal ground for creating what could become an Islamic state. It restricts the role of the judicial and legislative branches and stipulates that laws and their interpretations are subject to Islamic jurisprudence. It further gives legal-oversight power on “matters related to the Islamic sharia” to Al-Azhar University, the oldest and highest Sunni religious institution in Egypt.
The new constitution and its wide implications for personal freedom and social justice should concern the international community. It explicitly recognizes only the three Abrahamic religions (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism), and leaves other minorities, such as those of the Baha’i faith, without meaningful constitutional protection. Strict adherence to the concept of apostasy prevents Muslims from changing their religion, a crime punishable by death. Blasphemy laws restrict freedom of expression, especially on religious matters, with retributions as severe as death for comments related to the prophet Mohammed or the Koran.
According to Sunni jurisprudence, women are subject to male guardianship under which their personal freedoms, social life, and career choices are severely restricted. This restriction is not banned under Egypt’s new constitution. And because the new constitution fails to set a minimum age for marriage and does not criminalize sexual trafficking of minors, children, especially girls, could be forced into marriages at the age of nine with the approval of their male guardians.
During the last three decades, Iran, under the control of the Islamic Shiite clergy, was transformed into a religious state with endless human rights violations. In most cases, the world stood by watching. Egypt is learning from the Iranian experience. If the political conditions in Egypt remain the same, Egypt could soon follow Iran’s footsteps…..
Egypt Independent, Mar. 2, 2013
Women activists have protested all over the world against sexual violence in Egypt. The protests, which took place in front of Egyptian embassies in 20 capitals worldwide and in Cairo, sent a clear message to the Egyptian government that the international community will take a stand against sexual harassment in solidarity with the women of Egypt.
In the midst of all the chaos of the country’s politics, there seems to be one constant: Women are being pushed, figuratively and, in many cases, literally, out of the public sphere. Despite being at the forefront of the revolution that occurred two years ago, women continue to face much the same kind of systematic targeting they faced under the Hosni Mubarak regime.
For example, Cairo’s Tahrir Square, seen as the heart of the protest movement, has become a dangerous place for women. On 25 January 2013, the second anniversary of the Egyptian uprising, numerous women reported being sexually assaulted, including many who were raped. Nazra for Feminist Studies, an Egyptian NGO, documented one protester’s story about what happened to her at Tahrir when she was caught in a crowd of demonstrators: “I did not understand anything at that moment … I did not comprehend what was happening … who are those people?”
“All that I knew was that there were hundreds of hands stripping me of my clothes and brutally violating my body. There is no way out, for everyone is saying that they are protecting and saving me, but all I felt from the circles close to me, sticking to my body, was the finger-rape of my body, from the front and back; someone was even trying to kiss me … I was completely naked,” she recounted. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemned the attacks….
In response to such violent attacks, Nazra and other leading Egyptian NGOs, including the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, HarassMap and Al-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, have formed Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment, often abbreviated as OpAntiSH. The coalition has been a prominent critic of revolutionary groups and political parties that have failed to combat attacks on female protesters.
Though it is not certain who is behind the frequent attacks, OpAntiSH suggests they are not random. “We believe they must be organized, because they happen most of the time in the exact same spots in Tahrir Square and they use the same methodologies,” the coalition said, adding that testimonies collected were similar to accounts of 2005 attacks thought to have been instigated by secret police. Nazra adds, “We will not be frightened; we will not hide in our homes. Sexual harassment is a social disease that has been rampant for years, used by the regime to intimidate girls and women.”
This is not a new problem in Egypt, but it is one that grows more disturbing with each brutal attack. According to a 2008 report by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, 83 percent of Egyptian women had experienced some form of sexual harassment. The problem is exacerbated by a failure to prosecute the perpetrators. One activist recently observed, “There is no accountability for these people. They know that they can get away with it again and again.”
The Egyptian Railways Authority announced last week that it would enforce women’s-only train cars on several popular routes to and from Cairo in a move to try and curtail the rampant sexual harassment. However, it’s a move that some activists say addresses the symptoms and not the cause of the attacks. The issue frequently happens in the shadows of more well-documented news events surrounding Egypt’s journey toward democracy. It is clear that Egypt is a nation in desperate need of stability that is safeguarded by institutions established to guarantee human rights.
It’s not easy bringing in democracy after generations of dictatorship or to change mindsets that have been entrenched for so long. But if the new Egypt is to emerge stronger and better than the one of the past, women must be permitted to safely participate in political dialogue. They must be able to walk down the street or into areas of protest safe from fear of attack. If the revolution of Tahrir Square is to take hold permanently, all Egyptians — men and women, alike — must be able to participate to ensure that every Egyptian lives with dignity and enjoys democracy.
Diana Sayed is Human Rights First’s Pennoyer fellow and an advocate and researcher in the Human Rights Defenders Program.
FACES RELIGIOUS TENSION, UNCERTAIN FUTURE
Washington Report on Mid East Affairs, February 2013
In early November, less than a week after Egypt's new Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros had taken over as the newest pontiff in the world's oldest Christian sect, he lashed out on television, accusing the ultra-conservative Salafists of "destroying" the future of the country. His comments are unlikely to go over well with a majority of Egyptians, who have turned even more toward their Islamic faith since the January 2011 uprising that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak from power.
Nevertheless, Pope Tawadros, like the Coptic community, is forging ahead, asserting their identity despite fears of a conservative backlash that has already threatened Egypt's social fabric. The new pope's ascension comes at a time when relations between Muslim and Christian Egyptians are strained at best. Reports of girls having their hair cut off on public transportation by Salafist (Islamic puritan) women in niqab, the full-face-covering veil popular among the ultra-conservatives, or of a teacher cutting students' hair for failing to cover their heads with a hijab are just the tip of the iceberg.
In an early November incident, a group of Salafists occupied a plot of land on the outskirts of Cairo owned by the Coptic Christian Church and attempted to turn it into a makeshift mosque. It took police a full day to arrive. Luckily for residents, violence and clashes did not break out, but it would not have been the first time Christians and Muslims have battled.
The average Egyptian Christian is uncertain which way the church will go under Pope Tawadros. As George Zaki, a young man studying to become a Coptic priest, says, right now "it is really up in the air" in which direction the church will head. Zaki wants a strong leader who is willing to speak his mind, but doesn't feel that immediately lashing out at the Salafists is a good move. "Many of us are definitely fearful of the Salafists, even my Muslim friends," he explains, "because we all fought and protested for a new Egypt that wouldn't see religion be part of the political make-up."
Prior to Pope Tawadros' appointment on Nov. 4, the Muslim Brotherhood began talking about working with the new pope, and those who cover religious issues on the ground say they support the status quo. "What the Coptic community doesn't need is someone who will anger the Islamists in government right now," says Yussif Qandeel, a reporter at an Egyptian Arabic daily who regularly covers Christian issues. Judging by his conversations with members of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP)—the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing—Qandeel says "they want to see someone be pope who they can work with, which means continuing the [late Pope] Shenouda tradition." Not everyone in the Coptic community may agree, however. Although Pope Shenouda, who died on March 17, was extremely popular, many Copts considered him weak in standing up for the community's rights and ability to function in Egyptian society.
Still, overall the Christian community is inclined to support the new pope, who already has demonstrated his ability to combine the strengths of the Shenouda era with distancing himself from what many perceived to be Shenouda's willingness to acquiesce to the Mubarak regime. Certainly it will be difficult to replace a man who presided over the Coptic community for more than four decades, as Shenouda did. Despite the growing internal struggle within the church, however, most are optimistic, including Zaki, who believes the future will find the Coptic Church stronger than ever.
"We are a strong people, a strong group of Christians and we have been through a lot in the past years," he explains, "so I think the future of the Church will not be determined by one choice, but by the strength of our own community and by our people as Egyptians." Fears of anti-Christian sentiment received a reprieve earlier this year when the country's leading Islamic institute, al-Azhar, called for a Bill of Rights to be adopted before a constitution is drafted. The idea, simply, would be to establish certain "inalienable" rights for all Egyptians, including freedom of speech, assembly and, most importantly, freedom of religion. The proposed document received massive popular support from activists, liberals, Islamists, intellectuals and Christians alike. Nevertheless, the implementation of these "inalienable" rights remains to be seen.
In the process of drafting a new constitution, the Constituent Assembly was consumed with the question of shariah, or Islamic law, leaving many Egyptians wondering what happened to the proposed Bill of Rights.
For its part, the Coptic Church has historically avoided advocating separation of church and state, despite the inclination of the greater Coptic community, which has long demanded that the government end its preferential treatment of Muslim Egyptians. This was evident a few years back, when a Coptic woman had to fight numerous court battles in order to retain custody of her two children, who grew up Coptic but whom the government reclassified as Muslims after their father converted to Islam. Although its views on religion in Egypt are becoming more liberal, the Coptic Church has long preferred a separate set of laws for Egypt's Muslim and Christian communities to a unifying concept of freedom of religion.
While the Coptic community is hopeful about the future of Egypt and the social and political roles it will play, they must have reservations about how far the Christian community can realistically advance. Not only do Coptic Egyptians have limited mobility and limited parliamentary representation, but the country's turn toward conservatism may well be a major impediment to creating a robust civil society that treats Coptic Christians with equal weight. The new constitution undoubtedly will provide the first look at just how much unity and freedom its citizens, Muslim and Coptic alike, will enjoy in the new Egypt.
Joseph Mayton is a free-lance journalist based in Cairo.
Muslims Attacking Copts in Egypt Over False Rumor: Salma Shukrallah, Al Ahram, Mar. 2, 2013—A rumour has spread in the Upper Egyptian city of Kom Ombo that a divorced Muslim woman in her mid-30s was kidnapped by the Coptic Church and converted to Christianity. In an area divided by tribal and religious allegiances, the story has fuelled violence against the area's Christian minority.
Will Violence Erupt in Egypt?: Mike Giglio, The Daily Beast, Mar 1, 2013—On the night of December 7, Ahmed Abdel Hamid sensed violence coming. A 35-year-old Salafi activist with a rugged black beard and a pro wrestler’s build, he and a few thousand of his hardline religious comrades had massed outside the futuristic compound in western Cairo known as “media city,” the heart of Egypt’s expanding TV-news universe. They waited for word from the capital’s east.
Will Egypt’s democrats get serious?: Amir Taheri, New York Post, Feb. 27, 2013—Two years ago, the popular narrative on Egypt was all about a nation getting rid of a despot and heading for a golden future. Today, we have a litany of woes depicting Egypt as a wayward ship in a stormy sea. But what if both narratives miss the point?
The Egyptian Army is Making a Comeback: Zvi Mazel, Real Clear World, Feb. 25, 2013—Never has Egypt been so close to civil war and today it seems that only the army can prevent the worst from happening. The Muslim Brothers and the opposition are both doing their utmost to bring the army to their side, with little success so far: Field Marshal Abd el-Fattah El-Sisi, the defense minister, never loses an opportunity to state that the army is taking no part in the political struggle and devotes its energy to protecting the country – while adding that it will not let it plunge into chaos.
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