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 RAYMOND IBRAHIM
For Egypt's Christian Copts, the New Year began with threats that their churches would be attacked during Christmas mass (celebrated on January 7). Because many were eyeing the situation—several Coptic churches were previously attacked, including last Christmas (eight dead) and New Year's day (23 dead), not to mention ominous harbingers around the world, such as the Nigerian Christmas day church bombings (40 dead) —the Muslim Brotherhood proclaimed it would "protect" the Copts during their church services. Happily, Coptic Christmas came and went without incident.
Yet, if the Muslim Brotherhood "protected" Coptic churches when many around the world were watching, as soon as attention dissipated, it was business as usual: a large number of Salafis and Muslim Brotherhood members entered a church, asserting that it had no license and no one should pray in it, with hints that it might be turned into a mosque—an all too typical approach in Muslim countries where building or even renovating churches is next to impossible.
More to the point, 2012 appears to be unfolding as the "year of dhimmitude" for Egypt's Christians. Consider the following anecdotes starting from just last January, all of which demonstrate an upsurge in the treatment of Egypt's Copts as dhimmis (dhimmi being the legal term for Islam's "protected" non-Muslim minorities—"protected," that is, as long as they agree to a number of debilitations that renders them second-class citizens):
According to the Pact of Omar (which is also one of the earliest sources banning the construction or renovation of churches), dhimmis must "respect Muslims" and never insult them or their religion. Accordingly, a prominent Christian, Naguib Sawiris, is charged with "contempt of religion" for twittering a cartoon of a bearded Mickey Mouse and veiled Minnie: "The case has added to fears among many that ultraconservative Islamists may use their new found powers to try to stifle freedom of expression." Nor are the double standards in Egypt's "contempt of religion" law missed: Christianity is daily disparaged in Egypt with impunity.
Likewise, a 17-year-old Christian student accused of posting a drawing of Islam's prophet on Facebook—which he denies, saying it was posted without his permission—triggered days of Muslim violence and havoc, including the burning of three Christian homes to cries of "Allahu Akbar." The student, who was beaten, is to be "held" for fifteen days, "pending investigation." Muslim leaders agree "that priests should publicly apologize for the images, and that the student as well as his family should move out of the governorate."
Also according to the Pact of Omar, dhimmis "shall not prevent" any of their family members from converting to Islam. Accordingly, thousands of Muslims just attacked a Coptic church, demanding the death of its pastor, who, along with "nearly 100 terrorized Copts sought refuge inside the church, while Muslim rioters were pelting the church with stones in an effort to break into the church, assault the Copts and torch the building." They did this because a Christian girl who, according to Islamic law, automatically became a Muslim when her father converted to Islam, fled her father and was rumored to be hiding in the church. This would not be the first time in recent months that churches are attacked on similar rumors.
Traditionally, if one dhimmi transgressed, all surrounding dhimmis were collectively punished. As the jurist al-Murtada writes: "The agreement will be canceled if all or some of them [dhimmis] break it"; another jurist, al-Maghili taught that "the fact that one individual (or one group) among them has broken the statute is enough to invalidate it for all of them."
Accordingly, a mob of over 3,000 Muslims attacked Christians in an Alexandrian village because a Muslim barber accused a Christian of having "intimate photos" of a Muslim woman on his phone (Sharia bans non-Muslim men from marrying Muslim women). Terrified, the Christian, who denies having such photos, turned himself in to the police. Regardless, Coptic homes and shops were looted and set ablaze. Three Christians were injured, while "terrorized" women and children, rendered homeless, stood in the streets with no place to go. As usual, it took the army an hour to drive 2 kilometers to the village: "This happens every time. They wait outside the village until the Muslims have had enough violence, then they appear." None of the perpetrators were arrested.
Since the initial attacks, and in an effort to empty the village of its 62 Christian families, Muslims attacked them again, burning more Coptic property. According to police, the woman concerned has denied the whole story, and no photos were found.
Koran 9:29 commands Muslims to "Fight … the People of the Book [Jews and Christians] until they pay the jizya [monetary tribute] with willing submission and feel themselves subdued." Although abolished under Western pressure during the colonial era, Muslim demands for jizya are back. And though it has currently not been reinstated, some Muslims have taken matters in their own hands by extorting money from Christians in lieu of jizya. (Who can forget the Egyptian preacher Abu Ishaq al-Huwaini's lament that Muslims could alleviate their economic woes if only they returned to the good old days of Islam, when plundering, abducting, and selling/ransoming infidels were a great way of making a living?) Thus, Two Christians were killed "after a Muslim racketeer opened fire on them for refusing to pay him extortion money." The local bishop said "I hold security forces and local Muslims fully responsible for terrorizing the Copts living there, who are continuously being subjected to terror and kidnapping."
Then there is the Islamic principle that necessity makes that which is forbidden permissible. In this context, the rights of dhimmis can be trampled upon so long as an Islamic interest is served. Accordingly, in a region that is half Christian, Muslim mobs went on a rampage, attacking Copts, destroying and torching their homes and property to more screams of "Allahu Akbar." Why? Simply to prevent Copts from voting and to ensure that a Salafist (Islamist) candidate win. "No Copt from Rahmaniya-Kebly was able to vote today, so the Salafists will win the elections," descried a witness. Equally telling is that, while the population of this region is half Christian, there are 300 mosques and only one church.
Finally, perhaps nothing better demonstrates the return of dhimmitude for Copts as when the Egyptian government itself—as opposed to "radicals" or "mobs"—openly treats Christians as second-class citizens. Aside from the aforementioned "contempt of religion" cases, other anecdotes surfacing in January include a legal case revolving around the abduction of a 16-year old Christian girl. The court sided with Islamist lawyers, in a decision that Coptic activists are saying will "encourage Islamists to continue unabated the abduction of Christian minors for conversion to Islam." Similarly, rather than punishing the aggressors, the government has arrested and is trying two priests in connection with the Maspero massacre, when the military opened fire on and ran tanks over Copts protesting the constant destruction of their churches. Finally is the fact that, although Egypt's new parliament has 498 seats, only six are Copts, though Copts make up at the very least 10% of the population, and so should have approximately 50 seats.
Coptic Solidarity 2015 Conference
The Annual Conference was held in Washington, D.C. on June 11-13, 2015.