by Caroline Glick
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.
The horrible events that have been occurring in Syria for the past nine months raise a worrying question: Why isn't the world getting involved in what's going on there? Why did NATO interfere in Libya to bring about the fall of the Qadhafi regime but in Syria the slaughter continues without the world lifting a finger? Is the Libyan "black liquid" really more valuable in the eyes of the world than the Syrian "red liquid"?
Today we will try to concentrate on the complex system of relationships between those countries that have a say about Syrian affairs; a "system" that paralyzes every international action to rescue the citizens of Syria, after about 4000 of them have been murdered by the regime, and many thousands more have been arrested and their fate is still unknown.
The whole world clearly knows that Syria is very important to Iran, and indeed Syria is the Iranian Trojan horse inside the Arab world; it is the logistical backbone of Hizballah in Lebanon, so the fall of the Syrian regime will end the Syrian support for Hizballah and bring an end to the "exporting of the revolution to Lebanon". Iran has cautioned the whole world that external interference in Syria will be considered by Iran as an attack upon itself, which will result in acts of reprisals against Israel and Turkey. Turkey is involved up to Erdogan's ears in the events in Syria (see below), but why Israel? What has Israel done to Syria that would justify an Iranian attack? Iran has the answers to these questions.
Turkey is constantly stirring up matters in Syria. Not one day passes without it's leaders - and contrary to Asad, they are legitimate leaders - announcing that he (Asad) must resign and leave office, and the Turks are hosting thousands of Syrian refugees in their country. Recently, there have been scattered reports that Turkey has established a training camp within its territory for the Syrian citizens and soldiers who deserted their posts, in order to turn them into guerilla units under the title of "The Free Syrian Army". Turkey arms and equips them, and these are the ones who are attacking military camps, intelligence headquarters and buses of the Syrian army. The number of Syrian soldiers that these guerilla units have killed and wounded is estimated to be in the hundreds, and as a result, they have caused the Syrian army to take defensive positions in their own camps.
Turkey threatens to take over several kilometers in the North of Syria along its border with Turkey, to serve as a protected buffer zone where Syrian citizens will be able to find shelter from the Syrian army. In response, Iran threatens Turkey that it will attack "NATO positions" in Turkey if Turkey will attack Syria. This warning amounts to no less than a threat of war between Iran and Turkey.
Iran's reaction to the fall of the Asad regime may not be limited only to Turkey and Israel, but may include the Gulf. Why not? If the Iranians see that Europe is also involved in the overthrow of the Syrian regime, they may announce that there's one naval mine - only one - in the Straights of Hormuz. This announcement would be enough - even if it wasn't actually so - to raise the price of oil drastically in the world, and the sputtering economy of Europe will suffer a hard blow. Iran can very easily harm oil installations in the countries of the Gulf without even deploying the army; It would be enough to pay a few Shi'ites in Saudi Arabia to do to the oil and gas pipes in their country what the Bedouin are doing in Sinai, to the pipe that brings gas to Israel and Jordan.
Europe and The United States might react to the Iranian action and the deterioration into war between Iran and NATO may follow quickly. The result of this war would be - among other things - cessation of the export of Iranian oil to China, and a dramatic rise in the price of oil in the world. China has invested many billions in the petrochemical and other industries in Iran, and a NATO war on Iran may bring about regime change in Iran. The new regime might renege on the agreements that the Ayatollahs' regime have made with China, which might cause all of those investments to go down the drain. This is the reason for China's support of Iran and Syria.
Russia supports Syria too, because it too has invested many billions in Syria and Iran, and worries about these investments. But Russia has an additional, much larger fear: the fall of the regime in Syria, and the war that may break out in the Gulf as a result of that, might cause great damage to the Chinese economy, which is already suffering a slowdown as a result of the world-wide economic slowdown. High unemployment in China will cause many millions of unemployed Chinese to join the millions of Chinese who are flooding into Russia today in search of work. If there is anything that the Russian leaders fear, it is to be swallowed up demographically by the Chinese, which has been happening in recent years at a rapid rate, mainly because of the demographic decrease of the Russians.
Russia has military and intelligence bases in Syria, and the only ports in the Mediterranean Sea in which Russian warships anchor on an ongoing basis are the Syrian ports, Latakia, Tartus and Banias. The toppling of the Asad regime by NATO might bring to power a Western-leaning regime, and Russia will lose its special privileges in Syria.
However, it is important to bear in mind that Europe is also invested economically in Iran: thousands of European companies, mainly in Germany, France and Italy, are up to their necks in investments of many billions in Iranian industry, and not just in oil, so a European attack on Syria might have the same effect on these investments as the attack on Iraq did eight years ago: flush them down the drain, and the European economy will suffer a hard blow as a result.
The economic crisis in China that might result from a war in the Gulf will also have an influence on the economy of the United States, because China lent many billions to the USA in recent years in order to support the White House in its efforts to stabilize the American economy. A crisis in China might cause China to demand the US to pay their debt or they may raise the interest on it. A scenario such as this might bring to an end the efforts of the American administration to improve the US economy, which might, in turn, damage the president's chances for reelection.
The great rise in oil prices will worsen the economic situation of third world countries, especially Egypt and the African countries. The worsening economic situation in these countries will increase the stream of emigrants to Europe and to Israel; this will place an extra burden on the European economy, which is suffering to begin with.
The fall of the Syrian regime may influence Israel as well. On one hand, it will result in the partitioning of Syria into a number of countries: Kurdish in the North, 'Alawite in the West, Druze in the South, Bedouin in the East and two more in Damascus and Aleppo, which have never had great love between them. This partition will improve the mood in the area, due to the departure of an illegitimate regime, which has castigated Israel all the years in order to unite all of the groups under Asad's aegis. But the fall of the regime might also create difficult problems: a) weapons belonging to the Syrian army might get into the hands of Hizballah and other terror organizations who have representation in Syria, and b) the worsening struggle between the regime and the citizens in Syria might cause thousands of Syrians to request refuge - perhaps only temporary - in the Golan Heights. It would be important for Israel to grant them refuge, both for humanitarian reasons and also in order to create a good rapport with the Syrian people. But refugees don't always return to their country of origin, especially if the situation has not stabilized, and that might be a dangerous precedent regarding the Palestinian refugees: how would Israel be able to explain the fact that it accepts Syrian refugees of the year 2011 but refuses to accept Palestinian refugees who were - according to the claim - residents, before 1948, of the land that subsequently became the State of Israel?
The fall of the Syrian regime might cause the 'Alawites to take revenge on anyone who helped to overthrow their regime. They may send terror groups to carry out attacks in Turkey, Europe and the United States, to add another concern to the list of worries concerning Europe these days.
Iran, which is worried about what's going on in Syria, is increasing the pressure on Iraq, which has the majority of Shi'ites, to take on the role of Iran's Trojan horse inside the Arab nation, especially after the U.S. army completes its withdrawal in another month. There are signs lately that this is Iran's intention, mainly because of the series of visits in Iraq of Vice President of the U.S., Joe Biden, which is meant to stabilize a pro-American government that will reject Iranian pressures. The U.S. wants to retain bases in Iraq, which will serve as sources of intelligence in case of war with Iran, but the Iraqi government objects. This objection increases the American fear of an Iranian takeover of Iraq, because this would be an additional step in Iran's overall goal to take over the rest of the Gulf countries, with Saudi Arabia heading the list.
One sad conclusion that arises from the aforesaid is that the motives that drive the world today are economic and military interests, not ethics nor human rights. The UN, which was established in the wake of the Second World War, in order to prevent a similar occurrence, does not do anything in order to stop the butchering of thousands of Syrians which might deteriorate into a multi-national crisis. This crisis may quickly develop after the freedom-loving Syrian people overthrow the bloodthirsty dictator, who inherited Syria from his father, who, in his turn, took control of their lives and deaths forty one years ago.
The responsibility for this on-going butchering of Syrians lies with Asad and his blood-thirsty army, police security organizations and the Shabbiha gangs; Iran, Hizballah, Russia and China which support the Syrian regime, while the rest of the world so far only issues condemnations.
The fall of the Syrian regime may create a series of earthquakes with a regional and global scope, and its ripples may arrive to Iran, the Gulf, China, Russia, Europe, the United States and even Israel. World leaders are well aware of the physical law, "Water seeks its own level", and this is the very reason that the world is reluctant to give the Syrian regime what it deserves. This is another price that "les miserables" pay for globalization: a shock in one place is felt well in many other places, and the Syrians are paying the price in blood for the economic interests of many countries. Nevertheless, and despite the dangers, the world without the dark and bloodthirsty regime of Syria will be a better place, and if it will be possible for the regime of the Iranian Ayatollahs to join Assad in his final resting place, the world will surely be better, calmer and far less dangerous.
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Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Mordechai.Kedar@biu.ac.il) is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. He specializes in Islamic ideology and movements, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic mass media, and the Syrian domestic arena.
Translated from Hebrew by Sally.
Recent articles by Dr. Kedar:
Source: Makor Rishon Hebrew Weekly; Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam; http://imra.org.il/story.php3?id=54677
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.
My name is Bosch and I’m a recovering Muslim.
That is, if Muslims don’t kill me for leaving Islam, which it requires them to do. That’s just one of the reasons I’ve been writing and drawing against Islam and its Jihad for a number of years now. But fortunately for us, Islam hasn’t been able to make every Muslim its slave, just as Nazism wasn’t able to turn every German into a Nazi. So there is Islam and there are Muslims. Muslims who take Islam seriously are at war with us and Muslims who don’t aren’t.
But that doesn’t mean we should consider these reluctant Muslims allies against Jihad. I’ve been around Muslims my entire life and most of them truly don’t care about Islam. The problem I have with many of these essentially non-Muslim Muslims, especially in the middle of this war being waged on us by their more consistent co-religionists, is that they give the enemy cover. They force us to play a game of Muslim Roulette since we can’t tell which Muslim is going to blow himself up until he does. And their indifference about the evil being committed in the name of their religion is a big reason why their reputation is where it is.
So while I understand that most Muslims are not at war with us, they’ve proven in their silence and inaction against jihad that they’re not on our side either, and there’s nothing we can say or do to change that. We just have to finally accept it and stop expecting them to come around, while doing our best to kill those who are trying to kill us.
Another problem with Muslims who aren’t very Muslim is that they lead some among us to conclude that they must be practicing a more enlightened form of Islam. They’re not. They’re “practicing” life in non-Muslim countries, where they are free to live as they choose. But their “Islam” is not the Islam. There’s no separate ideology apart from Islam that’s being practiced by these Muslims in name only, there’s no such thing as “Western Islam”.
Non-observant Muslims are not our problem, but neither are they the solution to our problem. Our problem is Islam and its most consistent practitioners. There is nothing in Islam that stays the hand of Muslims who want to kill non-Muslims. If an individual Muslim is personally peaceful, it’s not because of Islam, it’s because of his individual choice, which is why I often say that your average Muslim is morally superior to Mohammad, to their own religion. The very rare Muslim who helps us against Jihad is acting against his religion, but that doesn’t stop some among us from thinking that his existence somehow means that he represents more than himself.
The only reason we’re talking about Islam is because it doesn’t mean peace. Islam wasn’t hijacked by a “small minority of extremists” on 9/11, it was hijacked by a very small minority of moderates whose embarrassment in being associated with such an immoderate religion leads them to engage in moderate truth telling about it, proving their irrelevance as allies.
In addition to these politically active moderates, when you see well-assimilated Muslims in the West, you’re not seeing Islam in action, you’re seeing individuals living up to the old adage, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. They’re essentially post-Islamic Muslims who have rejected Islamic values and have embraced Western ones. But since the process of their assimilation was implicit – as it happened naturally by their exposure to Western, i.e., pro-life, values – both Muslims and non-Muslims alike prefer to generously give Islam some credit for it. But a good Muslim, by our standards is a bad Muslim by Islamic standards. Objectively good human beings, who identify themselves as Muslim, give Islam a good face, one far better then it deserves. This only gives us a false impression about what it is we’re facing, with just another excuse not to face it. And this leads to our acceptance into our culture of stealth jihadists who have figured out how to say what we want to hear, while they scheme behind the scenes to further Islamize the West.
In the name of distinguishing the enemy from Muslims who mean us no harm, far too many Western commentators have avoided using the name “Islam” for the enemy’s ideology, and instead have decided to create their very own terms for the threat we’re facing, terms that are alien to the enemy. Terms such as:
We didn’t use terms such as “Radical Nazism”, “Extremist Shinto” and “Militant Communism” in the past. “Militant Islam”, Political Islam”, etc., are redundant terms. Our pretending otherwise has proven disastrous. Thousands of American lives, both civilian and military, have been sacrificed because of policies predicated on the myth that “Islam means peace.” We didn’t try to reform Shinto or Nazism during World War II; the major changes in those cultures took place only after we thoroughly de-militarized them.
And it’s no accident that Western analysts of Islam who are most informed about Islam are also most critical of it, while those least informed are least critical. But then there are those who, in their study of Islam, have become so enamored with their subject that, instead of sticking to what Islam is, they often write about what it isn’t, what they hope it might be. They seem preoccupied with doing their part to save Islam from those who have allegedly corrupted it.
The Muslim world is where the true meaning of Islam can be found in practice. Islam – not any alleged deviant form of it – means misogyny, censorship, anti-Semitism, homophobia, wife-beatings, beheadings, honor killings, pedophilia/“child marriages”, murdering infidels, etc. This is evil, and Islam sanctions every bit of it, but we’ve been told that we must respect “one of the world’s great religions” because it’s a religion. Following 9/11, the only thing George W. Bush knew about Islam was that it was a religion, and that apparently was a good enough reason for him to exonerate it as he did. And his advisor on Islam, David Forte, told Bush exactly what he wanted to hear, that “Nothing this evil could come from religion.” But 9/11 did come from a religion. Whatever else 9/11 was, it was an act of faith.
And Bush saying “Islam is peace” shortly after 9/11 gave the enemy a gift they couldn’t have foreseen. Here was the one man who was charged to defend America from their attack and here he was defending the very ideology that motivated the attackers. Honesty is the best policy in general, and when it comes to war, it’s a moral imperative to find out the truth, to tell the truth and to act on the truth, no matter what sacred cow is killed in the process. And so a big part of why nearly 3,000 victims of jihad on 9/11 haven’t been avenged is because of respect for religion, even for a religion that calls for our destruction.
I often hear that we should be working with the Muslim world. Working towards what? As Ayn Rand writes, “In any collaboration between two men (or two groups) who hold different basic principles, it is the more evil or irrational one who wins.” Any time we spend “working” with a culture that calls for our destruction, we are working towards our own destruction, consciously or not.
While it’s true that jihadists don’t represent most Muslims, they do represent Islam. But then why don’t most Muslims engage in jihad? Like in any culture, heroes are a small minority, and that goes for Islamic culture as well. The jihadists are Islam’s heroes; they are the ones most dedicated to following Allah’s commands and they’re celebrated in the Muslim world for it. They are also the only ones to whom Islam guarantees paradise. And their rarity was made even clearer when we learned that only the pilots of 9/11 knew it was a suicide mission. Our enemy knows that it’s tough to get even hardcore Muslims to sacrifice their lives for Islam, but they don’t want us to know that. Just as they don’t want us to know that behind their boast that they love death is the fact that they hate life.
And while Muslims who blow themselves up in order to kill non-Muslims are a small minority, Muslims who would explicitly condemn them are an even smaller minority. And while I think that Muslims are mere sheep to their Jihadist wolves, there are also too many Muslim cheerleaders for jihad. How many Muslims celebrated 9/11? Far too many. Even in my own lax Muslim upbringing in America, there was an omnipresent anti-Semitism and misogyny. Some members of my family admired, who I refer to as “Islam’s Favorite Infidel.” Regarding misogyny, the birth of a girl became a day of mourning for Muslim women in my family; they understood the suffering this girl would endure under Islam, even in America.
Though we say we’ve been at war for over ten years, we haven’t even begun to fight the war the way we should be fighting it. And those calling for a change within Islam during this war would be surprised at how much Islam can be changed through an honest war on our behalf. You can’t make a violent religion like Islam non-violent by argument, only by greater retaliatory force against state sponsors of jihad terrorism.
The future of Islam and the well-being of Muslims is said to be of importance to us. Post – 9/11, the defense of our culture, our values, our very lives has been optional, but our defense of Islam has been absolute. It began with Bush’s “Islam is peace” and it continues with Obama, who said in his Submission Speech in Egypt in 2009, in front of members of The, “I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.” If only he felt the same about America.
We can’t be both for Islam and for ourselves. This enemy is fully on their own side and fully against us and they’ve made themselves believe that they’re the good guys and that we’re the bad guys, and our actions have done nothing but turn their hatred of us into an ever-deepening contempt. Before we see the enemy for what it is, we need to see ourselves for what we are. Only then can we, with full moral conviction, make them pay for what they’ve done and move us towards victory.
Our problem is not “Islamophobia”, but Islamophilia. It is this uncritical, uninformed, absolute defense of Islam by Western elites after 9/11 that I refer to as Islamgate. It’s a scandal for the ages that few involved would ever admit to being part of.
I care about the truth. I care about Western Civilization. I care about myself, my loved ones and my friends. I care about Iife. And that’s why I don’t care about Islam.
Our altruistic concern for the future and well being of the Muslim world has come at the expense of American lives and treasure. We’ve placed the well being of “The Muslim World” above our own self-defense. We’ve placed today’s Big Lie, “Islam means peace”, above the truth we need to act on. We’ve placed the lives of Muslim civilians above the lives of our soldiers, placing them in absolutely unnecessary danger in order to protect innocent (or even guilty) civilians. Our Rules of Engagement might as well be renamed the Golden Rules of Engagement, as our soldiers have been forced to treat the enemy the way we’d like to be treated. And the enemy takes full advantage of that, as they do of all of the policies our morally vain politicians have concocted. We need to shift the focus onto our own well-being at the enemy’s expense for a change.
We’ve tried everything since 9/11 except real war. War is the answer to Jihad.
So who cares about Islam? Muslims, Jihadists, Islamophiles, Leftists who naturally side with anti-American ideologies, guilt-ridden fellow travelers who think America is usually in the wrong, and religionists who believe any religion is better than none. But since Leftists and Islamophiles usually know very little about Islam, who truly cares about Islam? Those who are at war with us.
In the end, I care about Islam and the Muslim world as much as the Muslim world cares about America and the West. This is war. We can’t be on both sides. I’m not rooting for Islam or the Muslim world.
I’m rooting for us.
The International press has been writing that the Arab world -- in Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt -- has been hit in the recent elections by an Islamist "wave." However, one must looks [sic] carefully behind the election results to understand what it is really going on. Take Tunisia, for example, where elections were held last October for the Constituent Assembly, consisting of 217 lawmakers. The Islamist party Ennahda won a relative majority (not the absolute one), with 89 seats. If one looks more closely at the other parties that entered in the Constituent Assembly, however, the majority of them are left-oriented.
The problem with these elections was that the Tunisians -- maybe because they were so excited to have their first free elections -- presented 1570 electoral lists, and 11.000 candidates for 110 parties running for election. Many of these parties were just copies the others or, in many instances, differentiated only by small nuances. The socialist, liberal and democratic parties made the mistake of not forming a coalition, hence dispersing the vote.
There were many liberal-oriented parties that achieved just one seat each, thereby having no weight inside the Constituent Assembly. Tunisia's Ennahda had a program and was organized and united, but the democratic opposition was totally fragmented and too busy busy to decide on who should be heading what. If parties with similar ideologies would have united instead of creating new lists, the outcome of these elections would have been slightly different. Ennahda managed to get a relative majority basically because it was facing an opposition that was unprepared. It is not possible to run an election with more than a hundred parties: the votes become too fragmented.
With fewer parties and a democratically-united alliance , Ennahda might have won less than 40% of the vote, but would still have obtained a good result. The Islamist party undertook a good door-to-door campaign and had a clear-cut message on social issues and against corruption. The opposition movements, instead, often failed to deliver a message, and some parties were so elitist that they were unable to reach the masses altogether.
Many Tunisians decided not to go to vote. In part of the society there is disillusionment with politics concerning the economy and liberal freedoms. Despite the initial announcement that the 70% of eligible voters went to cast their votes, data confirmed that the percentage was lower: only 54%. As this was the first free, historic and pluralistic election in the country, people expected a higher turnout. Extremist Salafist movements also were trying to threaten the society and, despite the government's concern, political parties appear totally impotent to face these jihadist groups.
Tunisia does not have an Islamist society at all: the victory of Ennahda should be interpreted as a failure of the opposition probably not yet politically mature after having been crushed by years of dictatorship.
While the liberal opposition under the regime of former president Zine Abidine Ben Ali was totally destroyed, the Islamists managed to survive, becoming the only structured opposition against the dictatorship. Why the Islamists in Tunisia and Egypt were not crushed as the liberals were is that neither Ben Ali nor Egypt's former president, Hosni Mubarak, wanted a liberal third way backed by the West. The idea was not to have any liberal group to emerge between the "Palace" and the "Mosque," in order not to have any competitor with the U.S. and Europe. Another reason the Islamists and Salafists survived under the dictatorship is because they enjoyed financial help mainly from Gulf countries; the liberals had no one to support them.
In Morocco and Egypt, there was the common denominator: not only did the the democratic opposition fail to get united; in some instances, it also failed to convince the electorate of its message or to present a viable leader,. In Egypt, who should have been the democratic opposition? Amr Moussa and El Baradei are not appealing candidates -- a deficiency that left Egyptians with not a great choice.
There is also another element, underlined by the Moroccan weekly, Tel Quel: the people were tempted to try the "Islamist Solution," which was crying out to stop corruption. While the "Socialist Solution" was not something new to the Arab world and had already failed in Egypt, Sudan and Algeria by transforming itself in a dictatorship, the "Islamist Solution" was, for many Arab countries, still untried and therefore politically "pure." As Tel Quel wrote, what was described as an "Islamist Wave" could also be explained not by the strength of the Islamist parties but by the weakness-through-splintering of the others -- as perhaps even more by the possibility that the electorate wanted to see at least once if the campaign slogan "Islam is the Solution" might be true.
While the UN Security Council has finally condemned "the widespread violations of human rights and the use of force against civilians by the Syrian authorities," -- stressing that the only solution to the current crisis in Syria is through "an inclusive and Syrian-led political process, with the aim of effectively addressing the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the population which will allow the full exercise of fundamental freedoms for its entire population, including that of expression and peaceful assembly"-- the Syrian regime is trying to play what is probably its final trump card. Syria's President, Bashar Assad, the head of the secular Baath party, has chosen to pin his survival on Islam.
Like Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Syria has always presented itself as a secular country led by an Arab nationalist party. But just as Saddam modified the original Iraqi flag after the invasion of Kuwait in 1991 with the "Flag Law No. 6 of 1991," by adding green between the stars the takbir, or the words, Allahu Akbar ["Allah is Greater"] to show that his battle was an Islamic battle, so too the Syrian regime is now trying to survive by an opportunistic use of Islam.
On July 31, Syrian authorities announced the launch of the religious satellite channel "Noor al-Sham" ["The Light of Syria"]. While other actions have been attemps by the Syrian gvernment to appease its Muslim constituency, launching the satellite channel is the first time Syria has been directly promoting an Islam of the State.
Earlier steps taken by the secular-baathist regime towards Islam were different: In July 2010 Assad banned the niqab [full head cover] in univerisities; and last June, hundreds of primary school teachers, who were wearing the niqab at government-run schools, were -- in a move that angered many conservative Muslims -- transferred to administrative jobs; although the Education minister in Syria's temporary government, Ali Saad, later said they teachers could return to their jobs.
This decision, along with the decision to close down Casino Damascus, were clearly attempts just to appease the Muslim Brotherhood who represent a consistent and strong part of the Syrian rebels -- and not officially to promote Islam as the satellite channel does.
"Noor al-Sham" is apparently to broadcast Friday sermons and various religious programs "in a way to provide a right understanding of Islam and the Islamic rules." The Minister of Religious Endowments, Mohammad Abd al-Sattar al-Sayyid, underscored the important timing of launching the channel on the occasion of Ramadan, by saying that the channel aims at "spreading sharia sciences and Islamic culture and introducing the great values of love, fraternity and religious tolerance Damascus has always been known for." He added, possibly unconvincingly, that "the channel's motto is not to exclude anyone as it will provide a platform for every scholar and a door for every science."
Even the Minister of Information, Adnan Mahmud, said "the channel will open its doors wide before the Arab and Islamic civilization with all its spectra." It is hard to believe in the official statement of the regime in a country where, even though 74% of the population is Sunni Muslim and only 11% belong to the ruling Shi'ite Alawite sect, the Alawites have been in power for nearly 40 years.
A further paradox in Syria is the fact that Article 35 of the Constitution reads: "The freedom of faith is guaranteed. The state respects all religions," and, "The state guarantees the freedom to hold any religious rites, provided they do not disturb the public order." -- but Article 3 clearly states: "the religion of the President of the Republic has to be Islam," and "Islamic jurisprudence is a main source of legislation."
It seems clear that the ruling Assad family has always made opportunistic use of Islam without necessarily any regard for Syria's citizens.
The Assad family has also recruited a prominent cleric sheikh, Muhammad al-Bouty, a member of the Islamic law department at Damascus University; he has spoken out in favor of the regime and has released fatwas banning protests. Al-Bouty even condoned forcing protesters to bow down to a portrait of Bashar Assad, a punitive measure used by security forces against protesters in the city of Duma in southern Syria. Al-Bouty declared that "those who call for toppling the regime want to topple Islam." In response, residents of Deir al-Zor, in northeastern Syria, burned al-Bouty's books in a public ceremony, and said that his religious rulings legitimized the regime's brutality. Al-Bouty was the first to announce during the first month of the revolts, and after a meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad, the birth of a religious channel from Damascus It seems ironic that a television channel is now defending all forms of Islam in a country such as Syria where a sect, considered heretical by some, has been ruling for decades without any respect for democracy and tolerance.
By appealing to religious passions, however,Assad is playing with fire. He has already tried to delegitimize the protesters as extremist Islamists in a bid to garner the support of Syrian liberals and Christians. Now he is trying to revive an Islam of the State to defeat the Muslim Brotherhood after attempts to appease it have failed -- as in the town of Hama, stronghold of the Muslim Brotherhood and one of the main centers both of revolt and cruel repression.
On the strength of the Tunisian and Egyptian experience, The Muslim Brotherhood has no intention of kneeling down and getting on good terms with the Syrian regime. On the contrary, its members are trying to hijack the revolution just as they have hijacked political Islam. As in Tunisia and Egypt, the Syrian revolt that was started mainly by secular young intellectuals, has turned into the Brotherhood's revolution. It looks as though Islam is the only solution and the only weapon against the regime. This is the reason why Assad's last hope is to use the same weapon, religion, for his own interests.
It is sad to realize that the Syrians might be getting rid of one dictatorship which exploited religion, only to fall into the hands of another dictatorship, the Muslim Brotherhood's, which has turned religion into politics. It is also sad to realize that the future of Syrians is in the hands of people who do not care about human rights and freedom, which are supposed to be the true main goals of the initiators of the Arab spring.
In Islam, the sanctity of life does not depend on religion. All Syrians - Muslims, Christians, Jews – have been victims of dictators, and all of them deserve true freedom of faith, of expression and thought. All Syrians deserve to be able to live with their faiths in privacy, without having to account either to the regime or to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Obama Administration is making a mistake by endorsing the Muslim Brotherhood as if it were made up of moderates or "good guys" just because they are not blowing things up.
What moderate Arabs and Muslims do not understand is the rush of the Barack Obama Administration to endorse extremist Islamic groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Muslim Brotherhood decision to run in the parliamentary elections under the banner of "Freedom and Justice" does not necessarily mean that the organization has changed its ideology.
Its credo was and remains: "Allah is our objective, the Quran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader, jihad is our way and death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations."
The organization believes the Quran and Sharia law (the "Justice" part of "Freedom and Justice") should be the basis for any Islamic government; that all Muslims should be unified under a Caliphate, and that its principles include "liberating Arabs and Muslims from foreign imperialism."
The Obama Administration seems deliberately to want to be unaware of "taqiyya" [dissimulation], a silent and therefore even more dangerous tactic advocated in Islam to achieve the strategic goal of soothing the infidels into submitting without their even realizing what they have submitted to until it is too late for them -- called "Stealth Sharia."
If anyone thinks that the Muslim Brotherhood will abandon jihad and extremism once its members come to power, they are living in an illusion.
Hamas did the same thing in the Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, when it contested the vote under the banner of Change and Reform. In Tunisia, the Islamists chose to run under the banner of Annahda [Renaissance], while in Morocco they hid behind the name Justice and Development.
The nice and attractive names that the Islamists choose for their parties are above all intended to fool Westerners into thinking that Muslim extremists do not pose a threat to non-Muslims. The Muslim Brotherhood and its allies will do everything to hide their true intentions from Western governments and people. But once they come to power, they reveal their true colors.
The US Administration, which has determined that the Muslim Brotherhood is probably not that bad after all, is most likely unaware of what happened in Cairo last week, when thousands of the organization's supporters chanted "death to the Jews" and vowed to wage jihad [holy war] against Israel.
At a rally co-sponsored by Al-Azhar University under the banner "The Friday for Supporting Al-Aqsa Mosque," Muslim Brotherhood supporters also chanted: "O Tel Aviv, the day of judgment has come!" and "We will march on Jerusalem and sacrifice millions of martyrs!"
According to Eldad Beck, an Arab affairs correspondent for the Israeli online newspaper Ynet, about 5,000 Egyptians participated in the event, held to mark the anniversary of the 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine.
Mohammed Ahmed Tayeb, the imam of Al-Azhar Mosque, told the crowd that the "Al-Aqsa Mosque is currently under an offensive by the Jews. We shall not allow Zionists to Judaize Jerusalem."
The messages coming out of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt did not surprise most Arabs and Muslims who are familiar with the organization and its agenda.
Although Hamas won the elections in 2006 under the banner of Change and Reform, the movement has since not changed its ideology, and continues to call for the destruction of Israel. Only those who are naive would believe that Hamas would ever recognize Israel's right to exist.
In 2006, the Americans made the mistake of allowing Hamas to run unconditionally in the elections. Back then, Washington should have demanded that Hamas first recognize Israel's right to exist and the Oslo Accords, and renounce terrorism as a precondition for participating in the election.
Ten years earlier, Hamas boycotted the same election: it said the vote was being held under the Oslo Accords, which the movement does not recognize.
There is nothing that Washington can do to stop the Islamists from hijacking the "Arab Spring," but by endorsing the Muslim Brotherhood, the US Administration has facilitated the organization's ultimate goal of establishing an Islamic Caliphate.
Those who were chanting "death to the Jews" in Cairo also want to kill all "infidels," including Americans and Europeans.
On their way to achieving their goal, the Islamists will also kill the moderate Muslims -- whom they see as just a fifth column.
Iran is planning on attacking U.S. military airfields in Germany, to preempt a possible strike on Tehran, reports Germany's Bild news source. Evidence of the plot was uncovered by federal investigation into a German businessman, on charges of "suspicion of espionage activities to sabotage," who was working with Iran's embassy in Berlin.
German Attorney General Harald Range confirmed the case on Thursday, stating the federal law enforcement had "launched an investigation and conducted operational measures." This included a house search authorized by an investigating judge on Nov. 2.
Iranian terrorism expert Dr. Wahied Wahdat-Hagh told the Jerusalem Post that the Islamic Republic's terrorist operations are directed from their embassies. "He [the suspect] had contact to Iran's Embassy – and was clearly a part of the Iranian terrorist cell that was led by the Islamic Republic's embassy in Berlin," Wahdat-Hagh said.
However, not all news reports confirm the plot. The German Federal Prosecutor's Office told the Jerusalem Post that the businessman was not subject to an arrest warrant and that there are no "indications that in Germany an attack against US American installations was planned or will be planned."
Relations between Germany and Iran have recently deteriorated. Nuclear negotiations with Iran are at a deadlock and the recent attack by Iranian protesters on Britain's embassy prompted the recall of several European Union ambassadors, including Germany's.
As we approach the end of the first year of what has been called the "Arab Spring," it is worth examining the nature of Shi'a (Shiite) -Sunni relations in the Middle East. Indeed, commentators such as Patrick Cockburn have been warning that "since the start of the Arab uprisings this year, Shi'a-Sunni hostility has deepened again wherever the two communities seek to live side by side."
To discuss this issue, a country-by-country survey is useful wherever there are significant Shi'a-Sunni divides in the population.
Iraq: As U.S. troops look set to complete their withdrawal from the country before the end of this month, perhaps leaving only a few hundred to provide further training for the Iraqi security forces, some analysts have raised concern over tensions spilling into another full-blown sectarian civil war. Amongst other things, they draw attention to the recent arrests - on the basis of vague allegations of promoting Baathism - of hundreds of Sunnis in two predominantly Sunni provinces seeking autonomy (Salahaddin and Anbar), the possibility that a civil war in Syria will embolden Iraq's Sunni Arabs, the continued activity of militant groups like al-Qa'eda, and an apparent proposal among Shi'a and Kurdish politicians to reduce the size of Sunni Arab provinces.
However, such anxieties fail to take into account the primary reason for the decline in violence across the country: namely, that the Sunni Arab community has generally come to realize that it lost the civil war to the Shi'a militias.
Most Sunni insurgents initially thought they could defeat the Shi'a by supposed numerical superiority, yet by the end of 2006 Sunnis had been ethnically cleansed from most mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad.
Observe the demographic shift by examining a map of the capital from 2003 and compare with one from early 2007, just at the time of the start of the surge.
Survival for most Sunni Arabs in Iraq therefore depends on adapting to the fact that the Shi'a are leading the political process in the country.
The problem of militant groups is thus more accurately described as terrorist threats from organizations that also function as criminal gangs also engaging in robberies and extortion, rather than a threat of renewed sectarian civil war.
Yemen: In the wake of President Ali Abdullah Saleh's transfer of powers on paper, it is notable that an all-out conflict is erupting between the Zaydi Shi'a Houthi rebels, who are primarily based in the north and are aiming to expand their control to gain access to the Red Sea coast, and Salafist Sunni militants. Dozens of fighters have been killed on both sides over the past couple of weeks, with Houthi rebels now reportedly subjecting parts of the Dammaj district of Saada province to artillery shelling.
Meanwhile, as speculation arises over what comes next after Saleh, rebel general Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, commander of the first Armored Division of the Yemeni army, is arguably the most powerful figure in the country, and he is known for his links to Sunni Islamist militants and his anti-Shi'a sentiments.
The Sunni Islamists are also at odds with the increasingly assertive southern separatists, who are generally secular owing to Marxist influences on their ideology.
It has often been supposed that the Houthi rebels have been receiving Iranian support, but there has been no reliable evidence for this assertion so far. Indeed, Iranian backing for Shi'a militants as proxies has occurred on account of geographical proximity (as was the case for Iran's neighbor Iraq, via Maysan province in the south-east, which has historically been a route for arms smuggling) or through an ally (i.e. Syria as an intermediary for Iranian support for Hizbullah in Lebanon).
Neither of these factors applies to the Houthis, but should these Zaydi Shi'a rebels gain access to the Red Sea, Iran may well begin to provide them with financial aid and weapons in the face of their conflict with the Salafists.
In turn, Saudi Arabia could involve itself and start backing the Sunni militants to contain the Houthis, fearing destabilization along its southern border.
Syria: While Assad clings to power, it is increasingly clear that the country is being divided along sectarian lines, with minority Alawites (who, incidentally, are not strictly Shi'a but have merely defined themselves as such to win solidarity from fellow Shi'a in the region) on the side of the regime - and in control of the elite security forces - versus the Sunni Arab majority.
Numerous reports, for example, have emerged on sectarian killings in the city of Homs, divided sharply between Alawite and Sunni Arab neighborhoods. To be sure, there is still a degree of crossover as many middle-class, urban Sunnis have refrained from joining the protests against Assad, but that could well change in the near future as the state of Syria's economy hangs in balance.
Two primary mitigating factors against economic sanctions from the outside world are Iraq's close trade ties with Syria, and Iran's reported purchasing of Syrian crude oil (although the Iranians deny it).
The Syrian National Council (SNC), with strong Turkish support, has come to be dominated by Sunni Islamists, and members of the Free Syrian Army have begun to receive training from prominent Islamists like Belhaj, commander of the Tripoli Military Council in Libya.
In the meantime, as the Wall Street Journal reports, "Christians already speak of arming themselves. Ethnic Druze say they have made underground bunkers in their rugged southwest mountains." Both of these minorities are evidently not siding with the opposition; for instance, Christian leaders in Syria like Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III Laham have condemned the Arab League's suspension of Syria from the organization and imposition of sanctions on Assad's regime.
On the other hand, the Kurds remain divided, with many still suspicious of the Sunni Arabs in the SNC and their ties to Turkey. Assad has attempted to exploit this by trying to reach out to the Kurds in the country's northeast.
An end to the conflict is unlikely in the near future, but a full-blown sectarian civil war could be avoided if an Alawite general overthrows Assad by means of a military coup, although there is no sign yet of such a development's taking place.
Should sectarian civil war break out, many Alawite activists are hoping that their community can at least salvage an autonomous province in the northwest along the lines of the "Alawite State" that existed under the French mandate of Syria after the First World War. However, it remains questionable whether the Sunni Arabs would generally tolerate such an arrangement, for a de facto partition of Syria in such a way would cut off their access to the Mediterranean Sea via the country's principal port city of Latakia, and therefore hamper the chances of their having a viable economic future.
Hence, in the event of a sectarian civil war, expect significant bloodshed, not exactly like Iraq in 2006 where the fighting raged for control of one city but undoubtedly with similar scale of loss of civilian life.
Lebanon: It is clear that the unrest in Syria is having repercussions in Lebanon. As the New York Times notes, "for the Future Movement, which has been dealt major blows by March 14's (anti-Syrian coalition) loss of control of the government and the physical absence from Lebanon of its leader, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the Syrian uprising has provided an opportunity to rejuvenate its support base, which is largely Sunni."
This attempt at rejuvenation included, for example, a rally recently organized by Saad Hariri's party in the northern city of Tripoli and involving thousands of people, with some waving the flag of the Syrian opposition. The primary purpose of the protest was to commemorate Lebanese politicians murdered by pro-Syrian agents in recent years.
Yet the picture in Lebanon is not quite as simple as one of just Sunnis against Shi'a. For the March 8 alliance (the pro-Syrian coalition, including Hizbullah and Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement, which is primarily Maronite) - embodying 'resistance' ideology also espoused by Assad - is apparently beginning to crack.
Najib Mikati, the Lebanese Prime Minister installed by the March 8 alliance at the start of this year, has threatened to resign if the present government does not provide funding for the UN-backed Special Tribunal on Lebanon, which has been investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and has thus far indicted four senior members of Hizbullah. Unsurprisingly, Hizbullah has come out in opposition to Mikati's sentiments, but as Michael Totten points out, Mikati has never liked Hizbullah anyway, being quoted in a Wikileaks cable as describing Hizbullah as "cancerous."
All that said, a civil war in Syria might lead to sporadic outbreaks of sectarian violence in Lebanon, while an end to the Assad regime together with the ascendancy of a Sunni-dominated regime will undoubtedly end the sense of intimidation many Lebanese Sunnis feel at the hands of an armed Hizbullah. The latter, deprived of its primary support in the event of Assad's downfall, may feel a need to reach a compromise with the Sunni community as a whole if it wishes to avert a second Lebanese civil war.
Recall that the main consequence of the first civil war in Lebanon, though multi-faceted, was the reduction of Christian influence in the country, rather than a shift in the balance of power between the Shi'a and Sunnis.
Bahrain: I have previously noted that one of the causes of increasing sectarian tensions between the Shi'a majority primarily comprising the Bahraini protestors and the Sunni minority regime has been the latter's failure - reinforced by the Gulf Cooperation Council's intervention - to distinguish between pro-Iranian Islamists like Hassan Mushaima of al-Haq and more mainstream factions such as al-Wefaq.
There is no good evidence for Iranian interference in the protests thus far, despite Iranian claims to Bahrain as its fourteenth province. In any case, in the wake of the publication of a report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, both sides are only becoming more and more impervious to compromise and therefore squandering opportunities to restore stability.
Even as they face criticism from the commission's report, the security forces continue to engage in violent crackdown against Bahraini protestors, while al-Wefaq has refused to participate in the National Committee, recently set up to discuss the commission's suggestions and reports its findings to the monarch by February. As Hussein Ibish notes:
"This mirrors its stance of boycotting parliamentary balloting in September and refusing to participate in the legislature under the current circumstances. One can readily understand the opposition's skepticism about the government's intentions and this entire process. However, the commission report was hardly the whitewash that many opposition figures had predicted. To the contrary, it was surprisingly blunt about the excessive use of force and other abuses on the part of security services, even though it did not go as far as many would have wanted with regard to the systematic nature of abuses."
Saudi Arabia: It has recently been reported that protests have arisen in the predominantly Shi'a areas of the eastern half of the country, where the population, suffering considerable discrimination, has not received a fair share of the nation's oil wealth even though the eastern provinces contain the biggest oil fields. As a result, many protestors in towns like Qatif have been chanting, "Death to [the house of] al-Saud!" (in reference to the dictatorial, ruling royal family).
The Saudi security forces have responded by firing on demonstrators, killing several unarmed people. Saudi Arabia has unsurprisingly accused the protests of being part of an Iranian plot, while al-Jazeera's Arabic channel, in keeping with its anti-Shi'a bias, accused the protestors of aggression and portrayed the casualties as merely the result of crossfire. Al-Arabiya parroted the official Saudi line. In any event, there is no evidence that these protests are being driven by Iran.
In fact, if polling data by Pechter Middle East Polls are a reliable indication of public opinion in Saudi Arabia, it is actually the primarily Shi'a residents in the eastern area of al-Ahsa who most fear Tehran's ambitions in the region, as opposed to their Sunni neighbors in the western half of the country, and accordingly they are more inclined to support an American pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.
Summing Up: In sum, sectarianism has become more entrenched in the Middle East since the "Arab Spring" first began. Syria and Yemen are the most likely candidates for full-blown Shi'a-Sunni civil wars of some sort, yet it need not necessarily be thought that such conflicts, if they arise, will resonate across the region so as to trigger a regional Shi'a-Sunni civil war. Iraq is almost certainly going to remain immune from such a danger, given the country's experiences over the past years.
Nor should it be presumed that every area with Sunni-Shi'a tensions entails a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran respectively, though such a scenario could well emerge in Yemen in the near future.
WASHINGTON - The US Senate unanimously approved tougher sanctions against Iran on Thursday, voting to penalize foreign financial institutions that do business with Iran's central bank, the main conduit for its oil revenues.
The Senate acted despite warnings from Obama administration officials who said threatening US allies might not be the best way to get their cooperation in action against Iran.
Administration officials said they were indeed looking to sanction Iran's central bank, but in a calibrated manner, to avoid roiling oil markets or antagonizing allies.
The United States already bars its own banks from dealing with the Iranian central bank, so US sanctions would operate by dissuading other foreign banks from doing so by threatening to cut them off from the US financial system.
The United States and its Western allies have supported multiple rounds of sanctions on Iran, seeking to persuade it to curtail its nuclear work. Washington suspects Tehran of using its civilian nuclear program to develop an atomic bomb, although Iran says its program is solely to produce electricity.
The Senate voted 100-0 for an amendment sponsored by Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat, and Senator Mark Kirk, a Republican, that would allow the US president to sanction foreign banks found to have carried out a "significant financial transaction with the Central Bank of Iran."
"We seek to break the stable financial intermediary in between Iranian oil contracts and the outside world, so that it will just be easier to buy oil from elsewhere," Kirk said in debate this week.
The sanctions were approved as an amendment to a huge defense bill that passed later on Thursday in the Senate. Similar provisions have passed a House of Representatives committee, increasing the likelihood that some version will be sent to Obama for his signature into law -- or possible veto.
On Nov. 21, the United States, Britain and Canada announced new sanctions on Iran's energy and financial sectors, but the Obama administration stopped short of targeting Iran's central bank, a step that US officials said could send oil prices skyrocketing and jeopardized global economic recovery.
"The Obama administration strongly supports increasing the pressure on Iran, and that includes properly designed and targeted sanctions against the central bank of Iran, appropriately timed as part of a carefully phased and sustainable policy toward bringing about Iranian compliance with its obligations," US Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier on Thursday, several hours before the Senate vote.
Senate move gives world oil markets time to adjust
The Senate amendment provides a six-month grace period before sanctions would kick in for petroleum transactions with Iran's Central Bank, a move that appeared designed to give world oil markets time to adjust.
It includes a "waiver" letting the president suspend the sanctions if he deems it vital to US national security.
"Our judgment is that the best course to pursue at this time is not to apply a mechanism that puts at risk the largest financial institutions, the central banks, of our closest allies," Undersecretary of the Treasury David Cohen told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Sherman and Cohen drew a rebuke from Menendez, who argued he had agreed to make changes in the amendment to suit the Obama administration only to find that it still rejected the legislation.
"I am extremely disappointed," Menendez said. "At your request, we engaged in an effort to come to a bipartisan agreement that I think is fair and balanced and now you come here and vitiate that very agreement."
"You should have said we want no amendment, not that you don't care for that amendment," he added.
The Obama administration's chief concerns appear to be that the amendment could be a blunt instrument that might send oil prices higher and undercut support for sanctions among US allies, whose backing has been vital to pass four U.N. Security Council sanctions resolutions against Iran.
While the Obama administration steps carefully, some countries in Europe are seeking to push forward a Europe-wide boycott of Iranian crude imports. EU foreign ministers in Brussels failed on Thursday to move forward with a plan backed by France and Britain to ban shipments, but agreed to examine expanding sanctions.
Tightening financial sanctions have already complicated Iran's oil trade. Last December, India's central bank scrapped a clearing house system with Iran, forcing refiners to scramble to arrange other means of payment in order to keep shipments flowing.
It is unclear whether further sanctions on financial dealings would affect shipments to countries like China, Iran's biggest buyer.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.
a big winner in the first round of parliamentary elections held in Egypt on Monday and Tuesday. Early returns suggest the FJP captured as much as 40% of the vote with a surprisingly strong showing from the Salifist al-Nour party. The two Islamist parties together could very well make an absolute majority of 65% of the parliament, which means if voting continues along these lines during the rest of the complex process, it is likely that the first freely elected parliament in Egypt’s history will be run by radical Muslims.’s Freedom and Justice Party appeared to be
The military congratulated itself on how smoothly the vote went despite apparent blatant electioneering at most polling sites by the Muslim Brotherhood and other parties, which is against the law. It hardly mattered since it was clear that the FJP was going to get a large plurality of the vote simply because it was the only party with any name recognition. As soon as it became apparent that the FJP was going to surpass pre-election expectations, the Muslim Brotherhood turned on its erstwhile allies on the military council, calling for an early transfer of power to civilian authorities.
Also accepting the results, albeit with fear and trepidation, were Egypt’s Coptic Christians who fear that an Islamist government will be even harsher than the current military regime has been.
As for the protestors in Tahrir Square, their credibility suffered a blow as the elections appeared to be conducted in a mostly fair and free manner. The National Democratic Institute, which oversaw the foreign observers who monitored the election, issued a statement praising the vote but suggesting that the blatant violations of election laws regarding campaigning at polling spots be better enforced. And while the young activists who brought down the Mubarak regime earlier in the year urged a boycott of the elections, authorities estimated that up to 70% of eligible voters in the 9 provinces that voted this week turned out to cast ballots. Two more rounds of elections in the other 18 provinces — 9 at a time – will be held in the coming weeks with runoff elections for candidates not receiving 50% of the vote held one week after the initial voting.
The complexity of the voting process played right into the hands of the FJP. Voters had to choose two individual candidates and one party list or their ballot would be invalidated. Because of its many decades of charity work with the Egyptian poor, the Brotherhood had a ready-made base of support which it capitalized on by setting up “information” booths right next to polling stations to help voters — many of whom were illiterate — in choosing who to cast their ballots for. The Associated Press described one such “information” center:
Outside polling stations around the country, Brotherhood activists were set up with laptop computers in booths, helping voters find their district and voter numbers — which they wrote on cards advertising the party’s candidates. Elsewhere, they posted activists outside to wave banners, pass out flyers or simply chat up voters waiting in line.
For the illiterate, there were symbols next to which they could mark their ballot. And the FJP made sure that the voters knew which symbols stood for the Brotherhood candidates.
The confusion over who was running and what the parties stood for didn’t help the largest secular mix of parties, the Egyptian Bloc, which is composed of neo-liberal Free Egyptians; the socialist Gathering party; and the Egyptian Socialist Democrats. The better known but even smaller Wafd party, a Mubarak-era organization of liberals and academics, apparently didn’t have much of a showing either. Dr. Barry Rubin points out that the secularists wasted their energy in protesting military rule rather than organizing, uniting, and getting out the vote. Given the several decade head start in organizing that the Brotherhood enjoyed, they may not have won, but they certainly would have had a better showing and a chance for larger representation at the table when negotiations over forming the new government begin.
Besides patting themselves on the back for conducting the elections on time, the generals were expressing their pleasure at the size of the turnout. Major Gen. Mukhtar al-Mulla, a member of the ruling council, said the vote “responds to all those who were skeptical that elections will take place on time.” He added that the turnout was “unprecedented in the history of the Arab world’s parliamentary life.”Perhaps the size of the turnout had something to do with the fine of 500 Egyptian pounds — around $85 — that the military will impose on those who did not cast their ballots. In a country where nearly half the people earn less than a dollar a day, the fine may have convinced most of them to make it to the polls. In Alexandria, the Globe and Mail reports that people brought their elderly parents to the polls, standing in line with them so they could avoid paying the fine. “You think any of these candidates can change anything? Of course not. Ask anyone here – wouldn’t see these lines without the fine,” said one voter.
Now that the Brotherhood is on the cusp of seizing power, what is it exactly it wants to do with it? Prior to the vote, the Brotherhood backed the military’s position on the Tahrir Square protestors, withdrawing its supports of the latest demonstrations early on. It made a deal with the military to move up the presidential election from July of 2013 to July of 2012. The Brotherhood also negotiated the electoral process itself and steered clear of suggesting an early return to civilian rule.
But the coming electoral victory appears to have emboldened the Islamists. Despite what FJP leaders say was a “convergence” of interests with the military in the past, the party is now demanding the right to form a government without interference from the military, and subsequently choose a civilian cabinet. This almost certainly won’t sit well with the military council because it is likely that parliament would want to set up its own process for writing a new constitution — a deadly threat to the military, which has made it clear it will tolerate no scrutiny of its budget, no change in the economic advantages members hold, and will expect to have a strong voice in running the new parliament.
“The Brotherhood wants a strong parliament and the military council wants a weak one. The reason the Brotherhood fought for parliament is because they’re going to use it as an agent of change,” says Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. He adds that the path the FJP has chosen has put it on a collision course with the military.
That change is what has Egypt’s 10 million Coptic Christians so worried. Since Mubarak’s ouster, many violent incidents have taken place pitting extremist Muslims against the small Coptic communities. There have been murders of clergy, church burnings, oppression by local government officials, and just last month, a demonstration by Copts in Cairo that saw the military actually open fire on the demonstrators and run them over with armored personnel carriers. The violence has driven 100,000 Coptic families from the country with more leaving every month.
But the Copts have been in Egypt since the first century AD and most of them have no intention of leaving. Father Ishak, a priest at a Cairo church said, “We picked the Egyptian Bloc because it’s the most liberal group and because they are against religious parties, including the .” He added, “And if elections are free and fair, it will mean that Copts are more clearly represented and be more active in building a new Egypt.”
The Brotherhood will probably move cautiously in fulfilling its Islamist agenda. The military is still very powerful and is opposed to the idea of Egypt becoming an Islamic state. To protect its position in Egyptian society, it might resort to armed force. This will make the FJP’s job doubly difficult because the party has promised free market reforms that would put a crimp in the military’s control of the economy. Rather than give the military an excuse to kick it out, it is more likely that the FJP will follow the example of the Turkish Justice and Development party that has gradually established control over the courts, the parliament, and finally the military since its victory in 2002.
A new day dawns in Egypt. Elections are a fine and wonderful thing, but elevating the Muslim Brotherhood to power, whose hatred of Israel and whose real agenda is undemocratic and injurious to personal freedom, will undoubtedly usher in a dark age after the dawn, which the Egyptian people will come to bitterly regret.