New Age Islam Edit Bureau
12 April 2017
Holy Week For Egypt’s Copts Will Never Be The Same
By Adam Makary
Trumping Up A Peace Deal Between Israelis, Palestinians
By Yossi Mekelberg
Before Supporting Trump On Syria, What Deal Is He Selling?
By Chris Doyle
Muslims In Europe, Identity Questions And Failure Of Discourse
By Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran
Trump’s Strike And The Demise Of A Hesitant Obama Policy
By Turki Aldakhil
Will Arabs Alter Russian Position On Syria?
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Immediately following the twin bombings in Egypt that killed at least 40 Christians last Palm Sunday, the country's president Abdel Fattah El Sisi released a statement saying "the attack … will only harden the determination (of the Egyptian people) to move forward on their trajectory to realise security, stability and comprehensive development."
But just four months ago, another attack in Cairo's Coptic Cathedral that killed at least 25 Christians did not bring Egyptians closer to security or stability.
December's attack was the first time a sectarian incident hit home for me, not only as a Copt but as someone who knew a couple of the victims personally. I arrived in Cairo during a winter break on the day the attack happened. The usual protocol was set in place: the government had declared three days of mourning and vowed to find the culprits.
In the aftermath of this attack discussions on state radio circled around the need for Egyptians to stand united against terrorism - but there was little to unite us on. Many doubted whether the government cared enough to prevent more of such attacks. They didn’t.
Four months later we found ourselves in the same rabbit hole.
Neglect And Violence
So rarely has the state thought to properly secure Egypt's churches on religious holidays that it's hardly surprising that the attackers on Sunday made it to the two churches.
There is a disturbing trend of neglect that dominates every government response towards such deadly attacks, and it points to the same recurring reality about the status of Egypt's Copts, which has for the most part remained unchanged since the late President Anwar Sadat came to power in 1970.
Egypt's Copts are said to make up 10 percent of the country's population. But the Egyptian authorities have repeatedly prevented researchers who carry out surveys from asking citizens about their religion and ethnicity, thwarting efforts to establish a collective understanding of the size and make-up of Egypt's minorities.
Whether they are more or fewer than 10 percent, Copts still get less than 1 percent representation in parliament. Copts must also fight through a web of bureaucracy to secure permission to build places of worship. Meanwhile, their Muslim counterparts can build and renovate mosques freely, and in some cases, get tax breaks for it. This sets a certain public attitude which leads Copts to believe that their identity as Egyptians is being deliberately eroded by the state.
In addition to this, Egyptian citizens must carry a national identification card where the religion of the cardholder is clearly indicated. This automatically facilitates discrimination against the Copts and other minorities which are already shut out of the higher echelons of political, state and security apparatuses.
Necessity Of Inclusion
Egypt also has been receiving $1.5bn in aid from the United States annually, most of it in the form of military equipment to Egypt's army, the 10th largest in the world - but not large enough to protect its own people.
In fact, in October 2011 the military became directly involved in the violence against Egypt's Christians.
During a peaceful protest against the demolition of a church in Southern Egypt, 27 Copts lost their lives - some disappearing under the wheels of military armoured vehicles - after the military launched a crackdown. As a way of washing their hands of what came to be known as the Maspero massacre, the authorities pointed fingers at mysterious external forces that they claimed were trying to destabilise the country.
This only manufactured more public consent to continue treating Copts the same way. Needless to say, the brutal attacks on Christians and their churches have persisted, whether in the form of bombings or communal violence.
When we talk about solutions to this problem, the discussion should then start with the idea of inclusion. One story I remember documenting involved a church that was set ablaze in the governorate of Qalyubiya. Four Christians were killed. Days later, local authorities set up a town meeting aimed at reconciliation, but not a single representative from the Coptic church was present. The Coptic clergy had not been informed, I later learned.
Many argue the topic of equal rights for Copts is a foregone conclusion, that nothing can be done to pull Copts out of the social inequality they have come to accept. Unless President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi starts viewing Copts as a minority in need of state protection and implements the necessary measures to proactively protect them against attacks, Egypt's Christians will continue to suffer on the margins of society.
Adam Makary is an Egyptian-American filmmaker currently receiving his MFA in Film & TV Production at the University of Southern California. He started his career as a print journalist in Egypt, then moved on to work as a field producer for several major news outlets including Al Jazeera English, CNN, ABC and Channel 4 in the lead-up to and the aftermath of the Arab Spring.
By Yossi Mekelberg
11 April 2017
Few outside the US welcomed Donald Trump’s election victory as much as Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank and their right-wing supporters in Israel. The prospect of moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and having someone in the White House who would be more sympathetic to settlement expansion, made them salivate.
In their nationalist-messianic vision, Trump was the newest revelation that would drive the last nail into the coffin of a peace between Israel and the Palestinians based on the two-state solution. His presidency, they hoped, would once and for all end Palestinian aspirations for self-determination. In their minds, this would clear the path for their biblical delusion of Greater Israel.
Promises derived from divinity do not seem to carry much weight with Trump. He is not different in this sense from any other US president, who promised before the elections to move the embassy to Jerusalem and reversed it shortly after assuming office. Similar to his decision to attack in Syria, he does not feel obliged or restricted by his stated positions before he became president.
But his anti-Muslim stand made his declared intentions markedly more convincing when it came to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Appointing a new ambassador to Israel, David Friedman — who is closely associated with one of the most extreme settlements, and who is an ardent and vile critic of those who pursue a just peace with the Palestinians — reinforced the view that a new dawn for Israeli settlements had broken over the White House.
In the twilight months of the Obama administration, and as Trump basked in his president-elect status, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu turned his complacency levels up full volume. Since then, almost every day has seen an announcement of construction of thousands of new homes in Jewish settlements, as well as plans for unrestrained building in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem.
Less than three months into the new presidency, it seems the tone is changing in Washington rather quickly vis-a-vis brokering peace. The regrettable appointment of Friedman was not reversed, but the key words on everyone’s lips are reaching a deal.
Trump — in his customary, overly simplistic view — believes past failures in reaching a negotiated peace is down to poor negotiators who were not as astute dealmakers as himself. Every dispute or conflict is one dealmaker away from a resolution, according to this view. It might prove to be a lot more complex than that, but for the time being it creates some buzz and a rethink in Israel about unabated settlement expansion and the need not to upset Trump.
Sending his special envoy Jason Greenblatt for talks in Jerusalem and Ramallah, and for talks with Arab leaders on the side-lines of the recent Arab League Summit, leaves the impression that Trump has a genuine interest in brokering a deal. He reiterated this last week in talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdallah. Greenblatt, despite expectations to the contrary, projected readiness to listen to both sides’ views and concerns.
Moreover, renowned US lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who is known for always arguing the case for Israel, revealed that Trump confided in him his determination to end the conflict via a two-state solution. Inadvertently, because of his belligerent approach Trump is taken seriously by Netanyahu, who for the last eight years became accustomed to a president whom he clashed with, but who did not do much to exert his influence to change Israel’s behavior.
Trump’s lack of subtlety or care for details would commonly be regarded as unhelpful, even harmful, for constructive and successful negotiations. But after nearly a quarter of a century of a process without peace, details have become an excuse not to make substantial progress.
Just maybe, the fear of the unpredictable Trump as a peace-broker, who combines the leverage of the most powerful country in the world with an uncompromising expectation that his wishes should be fulfilled, can advance the peace process in a way that previous US presidents did not.
Any of his electioneering promises on which he has tried to deliver, he has done so in his own brutal and damaging style. He does it in defiance of rational decision-making, showing very little learning curve in the process. It is rather surprising that one of his first departures from his campaign promises was to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that he has even applied some limited rationality to it.
He seems to have shelved the idea of moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, and accepted that settlements are a major obstacle to peace. It is hence not surprising that Netanyahu initiated a unilateral move in his own Cabinet, pre-empting a potential clash with the US.
Trump — considering his personal characteristics, what he stands for and the people he is surrounded by — is not an obvious peacemaker in this never-ending conflict. But there might be just a flicker of hope that on this occasion, someone with more determination than knowledge or understanding can push the sides to do things that others before him did not manage. On this occasion, his fundamental flaws can serve as an asset.
• Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, where he is head of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program. He is also an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media.
Engaging the administration of US President Donald Trump as an ally, let alone an adversary, has proved challenging. Major question marks hang over his future policy to the UN, the EU, NATO, Russia and China, where he has taken mixed messaging to a new art form. To this list must now be added Syria.
The one consistent in Trump’s Syria approach has been to view it almost solely through a military lens. Until the April 7 attack, this was to hit Daesh harder than Barack Obama had done, including by deploying additional US forces. Not a word had been uttered about Syrian regime attacks on civilians, barrel bombs or mass detentions. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson affirmed on March 30 what everyone had guessed: The US was no longer seeking regime-change in Syria.
Has all of this changed after the chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhun? Has Trump, in the space of a few days, moved from isolationist to interventionist? Traditional US allies across Europe and the Middle East have backed his bombardment, but have no idea what Syria policy he is trying to sell.
Many European politicians felt this went a small way to correct what they saw as a failure to punish the Syrian regime after chemical weapons attacks in 2013. Some were also relieved that the US attack was so limited. Opposition to the strikes came from the hard left, including Britain’s Labour Party, or the extreme right, erstwhile Trump supporters who had welcomed his non-interventionist campaign rhetoric.
Yet unlike the US, many powers maintain a tough anti-Russia stance, no doubt the rationale for the British foreign secretary canceling his Moscow visit, something his American counterpart does not appear to be doing.
Many argue this was a distraction from Trump’s domestic afflictions. He would not be the first US president to be accused of this. Bill Clinton bombed Iraq in 1998 reportedly to divert attention from an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Being seen to act against a Russian ally might also serve to squash the serious allegations that Trump is in debt to President Vladimir Putin. Trump will have appreciated the angry reaction from Moscow.
He has also made a great play about being everything his predecessor was not. Obama failed to bomb Syria in 2013; Trump has done the job in 2017, even if he opposed any attack in 2013 in 13 tweets. Obama vacillated, Trump was decisive. Trump declared a line had been crossed and proclaimed he meant business.
Obama declared in August 2011 that Syrian President Bashar Assad had to stand aside. Trump has not, and while Tillerson implied that this had to happen, White House spokesman Sean Spicer refused to confirm this.
European politicians think differently. The French foreign minister proclaimed even before the chemical weapons strikes: “France does not believe for an instant that this new Syria can be led by Assad.” Of course, France will shoulder none of the responsibility in achieving this.
Syrian opposition groups have rejoiced, somewhat prematurely. They would be wise not to start mortgaging their future on Abu Ivanka, who shows no sign of buying into their cause. Trump has yet to meet with any Syrians, opposition or regime.
He still has no overt Syria strategy, and lobbing 59 cruise missiles into an airbase is no platform for one. Does he even want one beyond smashing Daesh? A man who banned all Syrians from entering the US and suspended accepting refugees does not care about the lives of Syrians. He seems to care just as little about finding a political solution to this crisis.
A strong argument can be made that Trump’s fireworks display is a distraction of an entirely different sort. Notably, there was minimal damage at Shayrat airbase, which was operational within 24 hours, with planes back to bombing Syrian civilians with no reaction from Washington. Russia has, despite the rhetoric, done remarkably little in the wake of the attacks. The reality is that this was no major strike and barely damaged the Syrian regime.
In some ways, Trump has strengthened Russia’s hand as well as his own. The Syrian regime can no longer be sure what the US will do, and may have to listen more carefully to its protector-in-chief in Moscow.
The price for keeping the US out of the fray may well be for the regime to acquiesce in the sort of changes it has blocked at every turn. Russia may let the US get its way in east Syria with Daesh and the Kurds, in exchange for no interference in its key role in the west.
Trump has bombed his way to some positive headlines and goodwill. His action serves notice to the Syrian regime that chemical weapons use will lead to consequences. Other states, not least North Korea and Iran, have been put on notice. It was a calculated escalation that carried many rewards for a beleaguered US president, but left Syrians little closer to the end of the conflict that has destroyed their country.
• Chris Doyle is the director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU). He has worked with the council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic studies at Exeter University. He has organized and accompanied numerous British parliamentary delegations to Arab countries.
The European media, in all its versions, advertise some gatherings of Muslims residing in Europe, who want to evaluate the European experience, and perhaps aspire to change its regime to establish the desired model of governance, like the rule of the Brotherhood, an al-Qaeda state or an ISIS “caliphate”.
The speech of the Muslim Brotherhood sympathizer Dr. Tarek Ramadan considers Islam and Muslims as a part of the European fabric. He has long debated identity, and has engaged in lengthy dialogues with Edgar Moran, which I have written on more than once in the past.
However, the problem of identity is not the recognition of the existence of the other, but respecting the other’s civilization and not interfering in the fabric of society, as is the case of some refugees in Germany. Some want to modify the nation’s own system and this stems from central pressure and a false belief that the others are in desperate need for our experience and our minds, and our “spiritual experience”, which is nonexistent in the Islamic religious deliberation. As a matter of fact, the stands are full with non-polite methods, sermons inciting death; atonement and destruction. What a truly spiritual experience indeed!
That inferior view of the others they seek reinforces the presence of the extreme right and its entitlement to victory in France and Germany. The failure of all attempts to renew the Islamic discourse and push it towards urbanization instigated the right wing to wage a comprehensive war against that discourse, its constituents and branches, and to destruct all its platforms.
It made Muslims socially problematic, with the many opportunities that they have been given over the past two decades to improve the presence of discourse in European society. In the middle of the right-wing wave, a moderate voice may be a key link for a healthier relationship between Muslims and Europeans, especially new refugee groups from conflict areas in Libya, Syria and elsewhere.
“Freedom Of Belief”
Volker Kauder, the prominent politician in the German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party said in an interview with DW that: “Muslims are a part of Germany but Islam, isn’t” adding that “Freedom of belief is an existential matter of freedom in itself, and there is no freedom of belief when there is no freedom. Freedom of belief is existential for freedom itself, which is true in principle for every religion - and, of course, within the limits of German law and fundamental law. Islam is a religion that gets freedom in our country, so Muslims are allowed to build their mosques, but of course we cannot allow mosques to do anything against our democracy and our social system.”
The European thesis focuses on the need to respect the values and laws and learn the language, because one of the obstacles to the development of a Muslim society with the other is the lack of integration and fusion within other societies. In retrospect, the hosting society respects their rituals, allows the establishment of mosques, and provides Halal food and freedom of expression.
Throughout the past year, governmental religious institutions have placed religious pamphlets around the world for the purpose of spreading Islam, raising awareness and carrying out acts of preaching to God. However, the rapid events and the growth of extremism have made the nature of their work questionable. They did not identify the basic problem and did not recognize the imbalance in the discourse. They have rather perpetuated stereotypes, alienating the contrary opinion.
They did not separate the religious discourse within the Muslim community from the propagation of the Western societies in general. Thus reinforcing the formation of an offensive image of the religion as being Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Suleiman Abu Ghaith, Abu Hafs al-Mauritani and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. All of the Muslim preachers did not succeed in dispelling these names from the minds of the Western recipient.
This is the dilemma of renewing the religious discourse, which made some people consider it impossible to modernize it with the linguistics of religion but rather with a scientific method of deconstruction and anthropology. This left behind the ‘closed dogmatic fences’ as expressed by Professor Mohammed Arkoun, who has been plagued by the subject of refugees, identity and Muslims since the days of terrorism in Algeria, which caused his displacement to France, as he tells in his books, notably in his two books “from Manhattan to Baghdad” And “Islam, Europe, the West”.
The stage shows the level of conflict between the two visions: the first which claims that Muslims are a part of Europe but Islam isn’t, and the second that believes Islam and Muslims are part of Europe. The results of the battle will appear in the upcoming elections in Europe but one thing is certain, that the current situation for Muslims will not be as it has been since the first migrations until the second half of the twentieth century.
Fahad Shoqiran is a Saudi writer and researcher who also founded the Riyadh philosophers group. His writings have appeared in pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Alarabiya.net, among others. He also blogs on philosophies, cultures and arts. He tweets @shoqiran.
The world has been observing controversial president Donald Trump’s behavior ever since he assumed the presidency. Although celebrities, commentators and political analysts did not take him seriously, he has proved he is a strong man with a strong administration who manages thorny issues with political acumen. More importantly, Trump has returned to traditional American values.
After the US strike on the Syria’s al-Shayrat air base, the usual American terms, such as maintaining national security and America’s strategic interests and defending societies against tyrants, surfaced again. The policy of intervention is part of America’s policies. Regardless of whether the US intervenes to protect its interests or to maintain global security, it is the most capable at controlling political currents considering its power and values.
In the mid-20th century, American intervention was based on protecting allies against any communist tide. In his famous 1957 speech, Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against subjecting allies in the Middle East to any communist aggression and vowed to directly use armed forces to deter any aggression.
American forces intervened in Lebanon in 1958 to reduce tension. Amid this momentum of Eisenhower’s direct historical and defensive principles, late Saudi King Saud bin Abdulaziz visited Washington on June 30, 1957. In his book King Saud – The Orient at the time of Transformations – French historian Jacques Benoist-Méchin said the visit came after the failure of the tripartite aggression against Egypt and which resulted in “the demise of British control over the region’s policies.”
He writes that France began to confront the Algerian revolution and the Soviet Union began to support Arab countries. Discussions were on to end the vacuum in the region especially amid the Soviet expansion and its support of one party at the expense of another. One of the visit’s results was America’s vow to defend allies and interests. America’s principles thus led to its fruitful intervention to liberate Kuwait in 1990.
America’s intervention in Lebanon, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen and Syria is necessary to achieve peace. At times of political crises, the US State Department is well-known for always intervening in wars to achieve peace. The US intervened against Slobodan Milosevic and used its air force against him and sent heavy weapons to fight him. At the same time, it set a date for negotiations and Milosevic was forced to agree to the Dayton Agreement on December 14, 1995.
This is why top American strategists called on the US to restore the experience of the Dayton Agreement; i.e. launching war on the regime’s pillars, preventing it from easily moving, crushing its power until it submits to sitting for negotiations and concluding with a subjective political agreement that ends the tragedy of a nation, people and state.
The names of some American presidents were immortalized because they intervened at the right time to safeguard their interests and strengthen their allies. At the beginning of World War II, Theodore Roosevelt did not want to intervene. However, America’s allies France and Britain’s losses made him send them ships and ammunition.
When more than 2,000 Americans were killed, Roosevelt announced the US will participate in the war. The majority of Americans were against this “adventurous” intervention; however, it was the most successful decision any American president had made and the allies paved their way into victory and the entire face of the world changed.
Trump’s strike in Syria, regardless of its influence and how big or small it was, or whether it will happen again, indicates change in American behavior when dealing with international crises, humanitarian tragedies and totalitarian regimes. Iran will not be able to tamper with the region’s situation anyway it wants, like the case was during Barack Obama’s lean years.
The Syrian regime will not escape being held accountable and the Syrian president will, sooner or later, not be able to escape from his crimes. The usual and forthright America is back. This is the America and Trump as his close aides have often said “Obama’s term is over.”
Turki Aldakhil is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. He began his career as a print journalist, covering politics and culture for the Saudi newspapers Okaz, Al-Riyadh and Al-Watan. He then moved to pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat and pan-Arab news magazine Al-Majalla. Turki later became a radio correspondent for the French-owned pan-Arab Radio Monte Carlo and MBC FM. He proceeded to Elaph, an online news magazine and Alarabiya.net, the news channel’s online platform. Over a ten-year period, Dakhil’s weekly Al Arabiya talk show “Edaat” (Spotlights) provided an opportunity for proponents of Arab and Islamic social reform to make their case to a mass audience. Turki also owns Al Mesbar Studies and Research Centre and Madarek Publishing House in Dubai. He has received several awards and honors, including the America Abroad Media annual award for his role in supporting civil society, human rights and advancing women’s roles in Gulf societies.
Will Arabs alter Russian position on Syria?
By Abdulrahman al-Rashed
During the era of the Soviet Union, Arab relations with Moscow were positive most of the time and this was due to their matching stances in several affairs, mainly Palestine’s. The collapse of the Soviet empire led to chaos in the region, which is geographically far from it and one camp, i.e. the western camp, dominated instead.
This vacuum brought about chaos in Somalia and South Sudan and later in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and other countries. This is in addition to the emergence of terrorism and the deterioration of the security situation in stable countries such as in Pakistan and Ethiopia.
Regional countries fear competition between the two camps over their passages and markets as this creates tensions and wars. They are also aware that the absence of international balance in the region is more dangerous because it leads to vacuum which prevents organizing and framing conflicts.
When Russia recovered, it went back to playing a balancing role in our region and other areas in the world. We are currently witnessing the process of forming a new reality and it seems Syria is the major field for a Russian military parade.
I have written about the Russian “mystery” at the beginning of its intervention in Syria. Truth be told, Moscow’s stance is still mysterious and it’s unjustified for many in the region. Moscow does not have any rivalries with any Arab country and its relations with Arab countries – including those close to Washington such as Egypt, Jordan and Gulf countries – are all good.
Trade between Russia and Arab states is also good and it is at its best in the history of relations during half a century. Cooperation is ongoing in sensitive fields. Arrangements for oil production and pricing it are happening for the first time. There is also cooperation in combating terrorism. This cannot be said about Arab relations with the Iranian regime as relations between them are tense and bad on all levels.
I think that unlike Tehran, Moscow can change its position on Syria and trigger an end to the crisis via a formula that satisfies the moderate opposition. Before we imagine such a scenario, there must be convincing answers regarding the Kremlin’s enthusiasm and insistence to support the Syrian regime and, even more, Iran.
It can be explained via the perspective of American-Russian competition – which has come back to life – where Moscow’s stance is an expansion of its conflicts with the West in the world, particularly in areas that are close to it such as Ukraine.
Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union and the Russians consider it as their most important state, and the West had stolen it during the Orange Revolution – which resembled the Arab Spring revolutions. Around three years after chaotic developments erupted in Arab countries, protests erupted in Kiev.
Despite the huge difference between what’s happening in Ukraine and Syria, this explains Russia’s oversensitivity towards the revolution against the regime in Syria.
Zones Of Influence
The conflict between Russia and the West is still on in a number of old zones of influence. So is the Kremlin’s support of the Damascus regime part of raising the extent of the conflict with the US? The Americans did not care much about the Syrian conflict and have only focused on pursuing ISIS.
The Russians’ desire to restrain the Americans in their zones of influence is understandable and justified as it comes as a response to the West’s activity in West Russia and East Europe. However, Syria cannot be considered as a field for a proxy war between the two camps.
There are many indications to suggest that Moscow is willing to reconcile with the countries around Syria and reach a solution. It can also seek approval of the Americans who seem to be ready to engage more than before in the Syrian conflict. The Americans will not repeat sole attack on Idlib, which came in response to the use of chemical weapons.
Without a political solution, they will probably support the moderate Syrian opposition to pressure the Assad regime and the Iranians to accept a moderate political solution.
This development will complicate the situation further and prolong the duration of the civil war – unless the Russians agree to alter their current position and thus become the makers of real peace in Syria.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.