Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Democracy in Egypt may be bad news for Copts

As I stated in my other post on democracy in Egypt:

The people labelled as neoconservatives tend to be disproportionately Jewish and primarily loyal to the interests of the state of Israel...The early neocons were disillusioned leftists, Trotskyists who believed in perpetual revolution. As neocons, they support global democratic revolution, and have been the among the most enthusiastic supporters of the so-called "Arab Spring," where dictatorial governments have been uprooted and replaced with democratic elections...

...The neocons have forgotten or ignored the history of western nations, where government has risen from a Christian worldview, and rights of minorities and dissenters have been protected. In an Islamic society, democracy may very well end up electing Islamist governments, which do not permit dissent or respect the rights of minorities. It doesn't seem to have occurred to neocons that a major reason western governments traditionally have supported Arab dictators was to prevent the existence of Islamist governments (of course, the dictatorial governments supported by western nations tended to operate in accord with the interests of those western nations rather than the interests of their own people, which helped to spur the popularity of Islamist movements).

As reported by Matthew Fisher in the National Post, November 26, 2011:

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt - Looking out at the Mediterranean Sea from this ancient port city's dilapidated Corniche, the chaos and political violence of Cairo seems a world away, rather than a two-hour trip by train.

But the Pearl of the Mediterranean, as Alexandria still styles itself, has all of the capital's problems and then some on the eve of the first round of several months of voting for the first parliament since strongman Hosni Mubarak was deposed nine months ago...

...Egypt's always potentially explosive religious fault line between its Muslim majority and its large Coptic Orthodox Christian minority feels more ominous here than elsewhere.

"This used to be the wealthiest and most cosmopolitan city in the country, but it has been slowly fading for more than 20 years," said businessman and blogger Mohammad Hanou. "It has become poorer and more conservative. The conservatives are not only Muslims. There are conservative Copts, too. But their differences need a trigger - an event."

One of those flashpoints occurred at a midnight mass marking the beginning of 2011 when a homemade bomb exploded at the front of the al-Qiddissin (Saints) Church. Twenty-three worshippers died and nearly 100 were injured.

That act of violence was followed by a sporadic acts on churches across the country. It is one of the reasons why Copts fret about the potential electoral successes of the Muslim Brotherhood and their more extreme allies, the Salafis, whose Saudi-like puritanical ideas about Islam are popular in Alexandria's slums.

"Many Muslims are tolerant and feel free to elect Christian parliamentarians," said Hany Mikhail Botros, a prominent Copt businessman who was only five metres away from the blast and lost his future daughter-in-law and many close friends in the attack.

Proof of this tolerance, he said, was that many Muslims personally contacted him to express their sorrow after the New Year's bombing.

"I can even say that some Muslims fight more for our rights than we do ourselves," Botros said as he looked up at a wall in the church with photographs of those who died in the bombing.

There was, however, inevitably, a "but" coming as Botros continued his reflections.

"But such turmoil has always existed under the surface here. Kids in some primary schools are actually taught to hate Christians. After this year's revolution such sentiments began to come out more."

Alexandria was once the largest Jewish city in the world, but only a handful of Jews live here today. Whether a similar fate may befall the Copts is a subject that is not much discussed in public but it is at the back of many minds.

"Do we have a Plan B? No," Botros said. "We could live overseas and I have the chance to do that, but I do not see that as a solution. I really love this country and I am not only making a speech."

Religion is such an emotive topic that there has never been a reliable census of how many Muslims and Christians there are in Egypt. Copts claim they number about 15 million and make up about 20 per cent of the population. Many Muslims reckon that the true percentage of Copts is only eight or 10 per cent...

..."If the Islamists gain power it won't be good and not only for us but for all Egyptians," said Father Mina Adel, who leads prayers at al-Qiddissin Church. "This is because some in the Brotherhood and some Salafis do not properly understand the Koran. They want to use religion to abuse people. They oppose freedom.

"When they see a woman uncovered, as Christian woman are, they tell her to cover head when it is none of their business."

Whatever transpired, Adel said that God would protect him. There were also, nevertheless, secular reasons why he was optimistic about the Copts' future.

"Such conservative ideas can still exist in the Egyptian desert," he said. "But we are in an Internet age where we are connected to and part of a global village where information is always available."

"What I think that it will be fragmented poll and that the people in the middle - the large group that is not Islamist or secular - will have control," said Hanou, the businessman and blogger.

"This group is heavily influenced by the Islamists right now, but they could shift. Most of these young people do not want to grow beards or go to the mosque. Their weak point until now is that they are fundamentally religious but they will rebel if somebody tells them how they should live.”

The results of the first round of voting in the Egyptian parliamentary elections, as reported by The Associated Press, December 4, 2011:

Islamists captured more than 60 percent of the vote for party lists in the first round of Egypt's parliamentary elections, according to results released Sunday.

The tallies offer only a partial indication of how the new parliament will look. There are still two more rounds of voting in 18 of the country's 27 provinces over the coming month and runoff elections on Monday and Tuesday to determine almost all of the seats allocated for individuals in the first round. But the grip of the Islamists over the next parliament appears set, particularly considering their popularity in provinces voting in the next rounds.

The High Election Commission said the Islamic fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party garnered 36.6 percent of the 9.7 million valid ballots cast for party lists. The Nour Party, a more hardline Islamist group, captured 24.4 percent.

The strong Islamist showing worries liberal parties, and even some religious parties, who fear the two groups will work to push a religious agenda. It has also left many of the youthful activists behind the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak in February feeling that their revolution has been hijacked.

Since Mubarak's ouster, the groups that led the uprising and Islamists have been locked in a fight over the country's new constitution. The new parliament will be tasked, in theory, with selecting a 100-member panel to draft the new constitution. But adding to tensions, the ruling military council that took over from Mubarak has suggested it will choose 80 of those members, and said parliament will have no say in naming a new government...

...The Brotherhood has emerged as the most organized and cohesive political force in these elections. But with no track record of governing, it is not yet clear how they will behave in power. The party has positioned itself as a moderate Islamist party that wants to implement Islamic law without sacrificing personal freedoms, and has said it will not seek an alliance with the more radical Nour party.

The ultraconservative Salafis who dominate the Nour Party are newcomers to the political scene. They had previously frowned upon involvement in politics and shunned elections. They espouse a strict interpretation of Islam similar to that of Saudi Arabia, where the sexes are segregated and women must be veiled and are barred from driving. Its members say laws contradicting religion can't be passed.

Egypt already uses Islamic law, or Shariah, as the basis for legislation. However, laws remain largely secular as Shariah does not cover all aspects of modern life.

If the Muslim Brotherhood chooses not to form an alliance with the Salafis, the liberal Egyptian Bloc - which came in third with 13.4 percent of the votes - could counterbalance hard-line elements...

...The elections, which began Nov. 28, are the first since Mubarak's ouster and the freest and fairest in Egypt's modern history.

Turnout of around 60 percent was the highest in living memory as few participated in the heavily rigged votes under Mubarak.

The ballots are a confusing mix of individual races and party lists, and the Sunday results only reflect the party list performance for less than a third of the 498-seat parliament.

Another liberal list, the Wafd Party, received 7.1 percent, while the moderate Islamist Wasat or Centrist Party took 4.3 percent.

The final shape of the parliament will not be announced before January.

The next step in the complex process, a round of runoffs between more than 100 individual candidates competing in the first round for around 50 seats, is set for Monday and Tuesday.

Not everyone who supported the "Arab Spring" revolution in Egypt is pleased with the way things have gone, if this post from the blog Rantings of a Sandmonkey is any indication.

The latest news from the second day of the third round of voting, as reported by Tom Perry of Reuters on January 4, 2012:

CAIRO, Jan 4 (Reuters) - The Islamist Muslim Brotherhood was edging on Wednesday towards a dominant role in Egypt's first free parliament in decades, but said it would not impose its will over a new constitution and would work with all political rivals on the blueprint.

Egyptians went to the polls for a second day in the final stage of the election for the assembly's lower house, the first free legislative vote since military officers overthrew the monarchy in 1952.

The vote is part of the ruling army council's plan to hand power to civilians before July, ending their turbulent interregnum that began with the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in February in a popular uprising.

Welcomed then as heroes who helped nudge the unpopular, autocratic leader from office, the generals now face anger over their handling of protests that left 59 dead since mid-November and an economic crisis that is worsening the plight of the poor.

Raids last week on non-government organisations monitoring the vote by police who sought evidence of foreign funding for political parties have incensed rights activists and drawn a rebuke from Egypt's long-time ally the United States.

The Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has led after two of the three rounds of voting and the rise of Islamist parties in the poll has prompted Western concern for the future of Egypt's close ties to Washington and peace with Israel.

Founded in 1928, the Brotherhood is Egypt's best organised political force, emerging stronger than others from three decades of autocratic rule under Mubarak. The new parliament will pick a 100-member assembly to write a new constitution.

"The party's winning of the majority in the new parliament does not mean going it alone in writing the constitution without consideration for the rights of other Egyptians, or ignoring the political forces which did not get a majority or failed in the parliamentary elections," said FJP head Mohamed Mursi.

"All political forces and intellectuals in Egypt, regardless of their political and religious allegiances, will take part in writing the constitution," said Mursi, whose comments were published on the Muslim Brotherhood's website on Tuesday.

The more hardline Islamist al-Nour Party has come second in the voting so far. It is a Salafi group promoting a strict interpretation of Islamic law and its success has raised the prospect of a chamber dominated by Islamists.

Some analysts believe, however, that the Muslim Brotherhood could seek to build a coalition with secular groups.

That could ease concerns at home and in the West about the rise of the Islamists in a country whose economy is propped up by tourism.

The staggered lower house election concludes with a run-off vote on Jan. 10 and 11, with final results expected on Jan. 13. Voting for the upper house will be held in January and February.


The election will produce the first Egyptian parliament with popular legitimacy in decades, raising the possibility of friction with the army.

The army has been the focus of the street protests, held by activists who accuse it of seeking to hold on to power and privilege. The generals say they do not want to govern, but some still doubt their intentions.

In an echo of the Mubarak years, four activists were detained on Tuesday for putting up posters critical of the military council, activists and a source in the public prosecutor's office said.

They were detained while hanging posters comparing images of soldiers after the 1973 war with Israel with pictures of troops beating women in Cairo during protests last month, said Amr Ezz, an organiser of the April 6 movement to which the four belonged.

Gamal Eid, a human rights lawyer, said the arrests were part of a trend including raids last week against 17 pro-democracy and human rights groups.

The United States criticised the authorities over the raids, part of what Cairo said was an investigation into foreign funding. The United States said Egypt had failed to resolve the stand-off over the U.S.-backed non-governmental organisations.

"We had been assured by leaders within the Egyptian government that this issue would be resolved ... it is frankly unacceptable to us that that situation has not been returned to normal," a U.S. State Department spokeswoman said.

She said it appeared Egypt's crackdown on pro-democracy NGOs was driven by "Mubarak hold-overs who don't understand how these organisations operate in a democratic society".
July 13, 2013 update: It comes as no surprise to this blogger that Muslim extremists in Egypt are blaming Christians for the recent downfall of the government of President Mohammed Morsi. As reported by Ben Hubbard of The New York Times News Service, July 11, 2013 (updated, July 12, 2013):

The military’s ouster of President Mohammed Morsi has unleashed a new wave of violence by extremist Muslims against Christians whom they blame for having supported the calls to overthrow Morsi, Egypt’s first Islamist elected leader, according to rights activists.

Since Morsi’s ouster July 3, the activists say, a priest has been shot dead in the street, Islamists have painted black X’s on Christian shops to mark them for arson and angry mobs have attacked churches and besieged Christians in their homes. Four Christians were reported slaughtered with knives and machetes in one village last week.

The attacks have hit across the country, in the northern Sinai Peninsula, in a resort town on the Mediterranean coast, in Port Said along the Suez Canal and in isolated villages in upper Egypt...

...Many Christians were alarmed at the victories of Islamists in elections after the 2011 revolution that overthrew Morsi’s autocratic predecessor, Hosni Mubarak. Although Christians by no means represented a majority of the anti-Morsi rallies that preceded Morsi’s downfall, Christians did participate in the campaigns to remove Morsi that so deeply antagonized his supporters.

“They thought Christians played a big role in the protests and in the army’s intervention to topple Morsi, so this is revenge for that,” said Ishaq Ibrahim, who has documented the violence for the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, or EIPR.

Many Islamist leaders blamed Christians and holdovers from the Mubarak era for the mass protests against Morsi that took place on the June 30 anniversary of his swearing-in. Even rank-and-file Islamists maintaining a sit-in in a Cairo suburb calling for Morsi’s return often have spoken spitefully of what they described as Christian collusion.

In some places, Christians were warned not to participate in the anti-Morsi protests. Fliers distributed in the upper Egypt province of Minya, documented by EIPR, warned that “one liter of gas can light up your gold, wood, plumbing, tractor, carpentry shops, buses, cars, houses, churches, schools, agricultural fields and workshops.”

They were signed “people who care for the country.”

After Morsi’s ouster, Islamist mobs in the village of Dagala in that province looted one church, burned a building belonging to another and surrounded Christian homes, shattering their widows with rocks and clubs, EIPR said.

After one Christian man shot at the attackers from his roof, they dragged his wife from the house, beat her up and shot her. She is currently hospitalized, according to EIPR.

“The police came the day after the events, and they didn’t do anything,” Ibrahim said. “People prevented the fire engines from coming in so they couldn’t do anything.”

In the village of Naga Hassan near Luxor, Muslim mobs invaded Christian homes and set them alight while besieging other Christians in their homes. Security forces arrived to evacuate the women but left the men, four of whom were subsequently stabbed and beaten to death, Ibrahim said. One of them, Emile Nessim, was a local organizer for the tamarrod, or “rebellion,” campaign that collected signatures and organized mass protests against Morsi.

Dozens of Christian homes were reported burned in the Naga Hassan attacks, and most of the village’s Christians have fled or are believed to be hiding in the local church.

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