It is up to Muslims – particularly, Arabs – either to ignore the bitter truth and so leave the disease to get worse until it turns fatal, or to admit its existence as a first step to radically treating it. (..) The time for excuses and apologies has long gone; and what we need now is radical solutions.
Last Friday was indeed a painful and sad day in the month of Ramadan, yet it is no more sufficient to merely express sorrow and abhorrence and call for national unity. As targeting mosques and murdering innocent people continue, all talk may be both useless and meaningless.
When Egyptian Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat’s car was blown up in Cairo this week by as of yet unknown terrorists, there was a profound sense of foreboding that Egypt was in some new, unprecedented phase of violence. These concerns were only reinforced when the Islamic State-affiliated Wilayat Sina, or “Province of Sinai,” killed dozens of soldiers and policemen in a spectacular raid on the town of Sheikh Zuwayd the following day. Egypt is indeed entering unchartered territory, fighting an undeclared war in the Sinai Peninsula that is spreading to the population centers of the Nile Valley. It is hard to imagine how the Egyptians will avoid a prolonged period of bloodshed.
Barakat’s assassination was just the most recent in a long list of Egyptian officials killed at the hands of their opponents. Everyone knows about President Anwar Sadat’s murder in October 1981, but far fewer know that in the 1940s alone, two prime ministers, a minister of finance, a well-respected judge, and the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Banna, were assassinated. With the obvious exception of the greater influence of the British, who occupied Egypt at the time, there are echoes of that era in Egypt’s current political dynamics — notably hyper-nationalism, political instability, widening violence, and a pervasive sense of chaos. How did it all end then? With a coup.
While a coup today seems unlikely, if not entirely implausible, the Egyptian military’s decisions are once again at the center of the current moment. Its goal has been to rebuild, renovate, and reengineer a system in which it can play a role similar to the one it perfected during the Mubarak years. In the 38 years starting after the October 1973 war, the military enjoyed the prestige and influence of being the guarantor of Egypt’s political order without actually having to be responsible for anything — with the exception of national defense — or accountable to anyone. The violence that is bedeviling Egypt and drawing the military deeper and deeper into a full-blown civil conflict reveals this effort to be a failure.
The insurgency tilts the balance of civil-military relations further in favor of the high command. As civilians or civilianized officers are diminished, the commanders will necessarily (though not always happily) assume greater responsibility for issues beyond those strictly related to national security.
There are parallels here to the dynamic that bolstered the Turkish General Staff’s outsized role in politics after an insurgency by Kurdish guerrillas broke out in 1984. By the mid-1990s, Turkey’s civilian leaders, unable to manage the conflict and fearful of the officers, basically abdicated their responsibility for the southeastern party of the country to the General Staff, which made for an even more autonomous and politically active military establishment. Despite the widely held perceptions of the Egyptian officer corps, this is precisely the kind of outcome they want to avoid. The officers enjoy their prestige and jealously guard their power — but as the armed forces’ own history demonstrates, politics and conflict undermine their preeminent place in the system.
Yet the officers do not seem to have a choice. The Province of Sinai — imbued with an uncompromising extremist worldview — has made war on Egypt, promising to keep the military out in the open and politically exposed.
So what next? History is not much of a guide. In the late 1940s, in response to violence, the government dissolved the Muslim Brotherhood — but more violence ensued. The instability and uncertainty of that era only ended when Gamal Abdel Nasser and the Free Officers deposed King Farouk in July 1952, but even then it took them almost two more years to establish political control.
In the 1990s, terrorists of the Islamic Group and Egyptian Islamic Jihad attacked tourists, intellectuals, police generals, and senior officials like then Interior Minister Abdel Halim Moussa, who was the target of four unsuccessful assassination attempts. The military played a largely secondary role for most of that conflict until 1997, when terrorists murdered 58 tourists and four Egyptians near Luxor. Under the command of Sami Enan, who would later become the armed forces chief of staff and the number two figure in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the military hunted down the perpetrators of that attack. The violence came to an end shortly afterwards, when the accumulation of arrests and killings took a toll on the extremist groups. These examples provide few, if any clues, as to how the Egyptian government will manage the current conflict.
For the military, the current struggle is made all the more difficult because the officers have spent the last 42 years equipping themselves to fight a large land war that will never happen. Add to this the significant ideological challenge that the terrorists of the Province of Sinai, which declared its allegiance to the so-called Islamic State in November 2014, represents.
As a result, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the military seem to be at a loss. The special forces operation that killed nine members of the Muslim Brotherhood the same day of the Sheikh Zuwayd attack seemed to have little rationale other than vengeance. The Brotherhood’s statement in response, calling on Egyptians to rise up against Sisi to avenge these deaths, was chilling. If government crackdowns, restrictive laws, violence, and nationalist propaganda have done nothing to arrest Egypt’s slide, adding vengeance to this dynamic will almost certainly produce a spiral of violence from which it will be hard to break out.
When Sisi deposed former President Mohamed Morsi and brought Egypt’s brief experience with Muslim Brotherhood rule to a merciful end, the officers’ promise to the Egyptian people was that of prosperity borne of stability. It has not come to pass. In the broad sweep of Egyptian history, Hisham Barakat’s assassination is no more important than that of Minister of Finance Amin Othman’s in 1944 — but there is something about the present struggle that seems different and with greater stakes.
Unlike in previous conflicts, Egypt’s officers find themselves in the worst of all possible worlds: Fighting a long war for which they are not prepared, thus risking the officers’ vaunted position in the Egyptian political system. In the abstract, a change in the military’s place would be a good thing. But in the present conflict, it would mean breaking the military — and when you do that, you break Egypt.
Original title: Egypt’s Coming Chaos: An assassination of a top official and a brazen attack by the Islamic State this week herald a prolonged period of bloodshed.
Steven A. Cook is the Hasib J. Sabbagh senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square. http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/07/03/egypts-coming-chaos-isis-terrorism-sisi/
The devil is not in the details. It’s in the entire conception of the Iran deal, animated by President Obama’s fantastical belief that he, uniquely, could achieve detente with a fanatical Islamist regime whose foundational purpose is to cleanse the Middle East of the poisonous corruption of American power and influence.
U.S. President Barack Obama has reportedly blocked allies in the Middle East from delivering heavy weapons to Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL).
The Islamic State group's success in Ramadi signals a long road for reversing recent events.
The recent military success of the Islamic State group in conquering Ramadi and in attacking Iraqi forces elsewhere in northwestern Iraq as well as making gains in Syria reminds us that ISIS remains a disciplined, coherent fighting force—not soon to be defeated or disappear. This is not good news for the Christians of Iraq.
By Daniel Greenfield
Obama has announced the appointment of Azizah al-Hibri to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. Al-Hibri (full name, Azizah Yahia Muhammad Toufiq al-Hibri) is a Muslim professor and the granddaughter of a Sheikh, who claims that the Koran inspired Thomas Jefferson and the Founders and that the Saudi criminal justice system is more moral than the American one because it accepts blood money from murderers.
Appointing a Muslim scholar to a commission on international religious freedom is only justifiable if that scholar recognized that much of the injustice in the world originates from Islamic law. But Al-Hibri has made her career whitewashing Islamic law and even presenting it as superior to American law. While she has been called a reformer, her call in 2001 for a return to the fundamentals echoes Wahhabi rhetoric. Rather than examining the incompatibilities of Islamic law and the modern world, and urging the appropriate adjustments, as genuine reformers have done, Al-Hibri instead builds myths that uphold the Islamist agenda.
According to Al-Hibri, “Islamic fiqh is deeper and better than Western codes of law”. She favorably compares Saudi Arabia’s willingness to accept blood money bribes to excuse a murder, to the “impersonal and powerful” American justice system. Al-Hibri is often billed as a Muslim feminist, but she is equally hypocritical on women’s rights. Rather than conceding that Islamic law discriminates against women, she whitewashes its discriminatory treatment of women, arguing that guardianship is meant to protect “inexperienced women”.
Rather than trying to bring Islam in line with the modern world, Azizah Al-Hibri pushes for the modern world to be brought in line with Islam. Rather than reforming Islam, it is America that she would like to reform to Islamic standards. Placing a woman who believes that American law is inferior to that of the Koran on an American commission to promote international religious freedom perverts the purpose of the commission and promotes religious tyranny instead.
Given a forum to call for reform, Al-Hibri unerringly insists that there is nothing to reform. At the UN, Al-Hibri expressed outrage that the Koran, which “established acceptance of others, now needed to be defended” and insisted that Islam “guaranteed freedom of thought”. Listening to her defend Mohammed’s tyranny as an early form of democracy at the UN is a reminder of the era when Soviet representatives to the UN angrily defended their record on human rights and insisted that there is no freedom outside of Communism.
In Al-Hibri’s distorted history, the wave of genocides and conquests that turned the multicultural Middle-East into a desert of brutality governed by minor variations of Islamic ideology, was actually a wave of enlightenment. The massacres of the region’s Jews and the purge of all other religions from the area never occurred in Al-Habri’s history book. Revisionist history of this kind would be dangerous even if it were not coming from a woman in a position to influence opinion leaders.
The twin approaches of the Islamist narrative may be described as the Caliph Omar bridge. When the Muslim armies of the Caliph reached the great Library of Alexandria, he decreed that it should be burned, for if the library’s scrolls held the same ideas as the Koran they were redundant, and if they opposed the Koran, they were heretical.
While some Islamists attack the United States Constitution as a heretical document and Western Civilization as worthless– others more cleverly represent the Constitution as an inferior version of the Koran and Western Civilization as derivative of Islamic civilization. Either way they must burn along with the Library of Alexandria. But the second approach is more seductive. Rather than launching a direct attack, it seeks to construct a bridge that connects Islam and the West. But the structure of the bridge is only a more insidious form of attack.
These bridge builders don’t come bearing a torch, rather an argument that since American law is derived from Islam, it must ‘revert’ to the higher standards of Islamic law. By contrasting the reality of American law with an ideal version of Islamic law that does not exist anywhere in the world, they manage to make the system that protects human rights seem shabby, while the system that represses women and minorities appears noble and righteous. That is the kind of revisionist history that Al-Hibri traffics in, creating a noble Islamic creed contrasted with a flawed American system.
Al-Hibri appears to transmute the rhetoric of Islamism into sweet music to progressive ears, and her associations only reinforce that image. She served on the advisory board of Alamoudi’s American Muslim Council, defended it in print against accusations of extremism and made joint appearances with Alamoudi even after his statements in support of terrorism.
In 1995 she even testified at a congressional hearing against the Comprehensive Anti-Terrorism Act’s ability to cut off funds to terrorist groups, because, “it gives the President the ability to designate, with no effective recourse, certain groups as terrorist”. The America Muslim Council, whose national advisory board Al-Hibri sat on, had reason to fear that portion of the act. Some years later the AMC would be caught encouraging donations to the Holy Land Foundation and the Global Relief Foundation, both charities affiliated with terrorists.
In the early days of 2001, Al-Hibri traveled to the Afghan border and criticized the Western press for “sensationalizing” Taliban atrocities and using them “as an opportunity to attack Islam”. After the attacks of September 11, she cautioned against bombing Al-Qaeda and Taliban targets during Ramadan. And that same year she defended Wahhabism as part of Islam’s “religious diversity” and its “marketplace of ideas”.
Al-Hibri appeared at an ISNA panel two months ago to call on Obama to stand up for Muslims against their American critics. And her insistence that no Muslim country practices true Sharia law appears to echo a familiar Islamist slogan. When the Archbishop of Canterbury endorsed bringing Sharia to the UK, Al-Hibri gave an approving quote. Last year at the Congressional Muslim Staffers Association, she called for a “a council of scholars” to serve as a central authority on Islam for the United States.
Azizah Al-Hibri’s feminist credentials rest heavily on Karamah, an organization of Muslim women lawyers, primarily funded by her brother Ibrahim El-Hibri and nephew Fuad El-Hibri’s “El-Hibri Charitable Foundation”. The El-Hibri clan are a curious footnote in the War on Terror. Ibrahim El-Hibri had made a fortune doing business with Saudi Arabia. His company dominates the manufacture of the anthrax vaccine and suspicions have been raised by the Wall Street Journal about leaks from their company into the hands of terrorists. Regardless of all that, there is something ironic in Azizah Al-Hibri’s feminist organization being funded by her brother’s charitable trust with a board of trustees that includes two male members of the family, but not her.
Another donor to Karamah was Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of the famously progressive Saudi royal family. A kingdom well known for promoting feminism and women’s rights, which no doubt in between banning women from driving cars and distributing such feminist tracts as “Women Who Deserve To Go To Hell” funds organizations that empower women. Rather than organizations that put a faux feminist face on the Islamic repression of women.
Yet the oddest moment in Al-Hibri’s career of promoting Islamic law in the United States may have come when before Clinton’s impeachment proceedings, she actually wrote an article discussing how a sitting President of the United States might be tried under Islamic law.
“Had the President been testifying in an Islamic court, he would not have been placed in this terrible predicament in the first instance,” Al-Hibri wrote. As an added bonus, to Bill, she added that under Islamic law, it would be his accusers “would be punished for committing the crime of qathf”. In a further reminder of the Islamic commitment to freedom of speech; “Others who violated his privacy and broadcast his behavior are guilty and, if not repentant, are punishable.” We can only guess if this involved stoning Matt Drudge.
Al-Hibri went on to point out that four witnesses to the crime were lacking. The same law that makes it so easy for gang rapists to accuse their victim of adultery, while leaving her helpless to defend against the charges. Then she wrote, “Coming from a religious background, the President may have understood the religious significance of penetration and hence avoided it.” Clearly Bill Clinton wasn’t just the nation’s first Black president. He was also its first Muslim president.
At no point in this surreal article did Al-Hibri acknowledge that adultery is a crime punishable by death or vicious corporal punishment in much of the Muslim world. Instead she used a congressional investigation into presidential malfeasance to misrepresent Islamic law, which lashes or stones adulterers to death, as a more liberal code.
What can such a woman offer to the cause of international religious freedom? Only Obama and Bill know.
Coptic Solidarity 2015 Conference
The Annual Conference was held in Washington, D.C. on June 11-13, 2015.