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WPost whoppers about the Muslim Brotherhood: Get Religion, January 14, 2014 January 16, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Press criticism.
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Claims of bias and inaccurate reporting have dogged the Western press’s coverage of Egypt since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. A story in this week’s Washington Post entitled “In Egypt, many shrug as freedoms disappear” will do little to restore confidence.

The article eschews the classical news story format in favor of an impressions and perceptions style. Its lede states:

The charges are often vague. The evidence is elusive. Arrests occur swiftly, and the convictions follow. And there is little transparency in what analysts have called the harshest political crackdown in Egypt in decades.

But many Egyptians say they are all right with that.

There is a growing sense here in the Arab world’s largest country that the best path to stability — after three years of political turmoil — might be to do things the military’s way: crush the Islamists who made people angry enough to support a coup; silence dissent; and ask very few questions.

The article begins with an opinion as to the mood of the Egyptian people. Is this then a news analysis article or a news article?

If a news article facts and figures should follow to support the claims in the lede. What “evidence”? How many arrests and convictions? Who is being arrested and why? Which analysts claim the army’s rule has led to the “harshest political crackdown in Egypt in decades”? Who is being censored and why? These details are mostly absent.

A thematic diagram of this story suggests this is an opinion piece — a commentary offering the author’s view of the meaning of events, rather than a report on events. Following the lede we have a quote from a government spokesman defending the violent crackdown; a man in the street supporting the crackdown and a Washington-based expert explaining popular support for the crackdown.

This all leads to the central argument of the story.

The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties captured the lion’s share of the vote in Egypt’s first democratic elections two years ago. The Brotherhood had renounced violence decades earlier and gained popularity by establishing a vast network of charitable organizations.

These days, those images of benign Islamist leadership have been erased from many minds by the hyper-nationalist rhetoric promoted by the government, which has portrayed Brotherhood members as bloodthirsty terrorists bent on destroying the nation.

An assortment of disconnected facts are presented to support this argument, coupled with further pro-Brotherhood arguments from the Washington Post. Assertions are piled on assertions and dubious statements presented uncritically.

The government’s crackdown has been so pervasive — and the cult of support for military leader Abdel Fatah al-Sissi so far-reaching — that the Brotherhood has likened Egypt’s transgression to “fascism,” as have some liberal observers.

Is labeling support for al-Sissi a “cult” fair? Fascism? Is citing a foreign diplomat as a “liberal” observer appropriate? The US embassy and the former ambassador have been denounced for its pro-Brotherhood statements and have little credibility in Egypt — are Western diplomats an appropriate source on this point?

The article closes with a pessimistic quote from an Egypt expert at Harvard. Given six decades of military rule following the overthrow of King Farouk it was foolish to expect Egypt to take to democracy, he argues.

No mention of the reasons for the popular revolt against the Brotherhood are given in this story. Not only does the Washington Post not “get politics” in Egypt, it does not “get religion”.

There is no sense of context or balance in this Washington Post piece.It is ill-informed, in-curious and overtly partisan. As a news story it is an embarrassment to the Post. Not quite Walter Duranty material — but it does come close in that it too places ideology above reality.

Comparing the tone, style and use of facts in this story to a similar item published by the avowedly pro-Muslim Brotherhood Al Jazeera network will not dispel concerns the Western press are flacks who believe the Muslim Brotherhood is a force for good in Egypt.

Thirty million Egyptians would tend to disagree with this sentiment — that is how many people took to the streets to demand the army step in and remove the Muslim Brotherhood government. Egypt’s Christians along with the other religious minorities who were persecuted by the Muslim Brotherhood — e.g., murdered, churches burnt, schools ransacked — are also likely to take issue with this whitewash.

Arab commentators have also denounced the American press for offering what they see as a false narrative. Writing in the Egypt’s largest circulation daily newspaper, the pro-government al-Ahram, Abdel-Moneim Said wrote:

The one-sided version of post-30 June realities in Egypt that The New York Times presents is nothing short of a travesty.

Al-Ahram accused the Times of ignorance and deliberate bias. It viewed the unfolding political scene in Egypt through ideological lenses.

The NYT’s original sin is that it refuses to recognize the mass uprising on 30 June 2013 as a revolution whereas it does recognize as such the January 2011 uprising, which succeeded in overthrowing a tyrannical regime, even though the number of people who participated in that revolution were about half as many as those who took part in the 30 June demonstrations. In both cases, it was the military that shifted the balances on the ground and that channeled a massive grassroots movement into political processes that brought the country back from the brink of conflict and civil war. But the NYT doesn’t see it that way. In its opinion, the military’s intervention in the first case was not a coup because it eventually brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power whereas its intervention in the second case was a coup because it ushered the Muslim Brotherhood out of power and into forms of “resistance.” Not only do such double standards obscure the truth, they also give way to a number of historical misconceptions regarding the idea of “revolution” or mass uprising in general, and what has happened in Egypt in particular.

No mention of religion appears in this piece save as a descriptor for the Brotherhood. Perhaps the cult like support from the Copts for al-Sissi may have something to do with the Brotherhood’s persecution and pogroms against Egypt’s Christians? Failing to discuss religion when writing about political Islam is an oversight. Is the Washington Post guilty too of propounding a revisionist history of the Arab Spring? Is it a shill for the Muslim Brotherhood’s view of Egypt’s recent history? If this article is an example of the Post‘s reporting from Egypt, then it is guilty as charged.

First printed in Get Religion.

Where is the BBC’s coverage of Egypt?: Get Religion, August 27, 2013 August 27, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
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What lays behind the Anglo-American press’s failure to report on the chaos in Egypt?

While there have been bright spots here and there in the coverage, the mainstream press appears to have dropped the ball, giving a stilted view of the “people’s coup” that overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood government of Pres. Mohammad Mursi. The claims coming from the liberal media in Egypt and pro-democracy activists is that the BBC and other major Western news agencies are pro-Muslim Brotherhood. Arab newspapers and blogs are full of reports of the crimes of the Muslim Brotherhood supporters — murder, arson, rape — yet the sympathy of the Western press is with the perpetrators of the violence.

Not all of the writing on Egypt is biased or ignorant. Look no further than Samuel Tadros’ article in The Wall Street Journal entitled “A Coptic Monument to Survival, Destroyed” to find a superior example of quality writing. This news analysis story printed on 22 August 2013 on page D4 in the U.S. edition of the WSJ  opens with a strong lede:

The Egyptian army’s crackdown on Mohamed Morsi’s Cairo supporters unleashed the largest attack on Coptic houses of worship since 1321.

And defends the assertion, telling the story of the destruction of the fourth century Virgin Mary Church by Muslim Brotherhood supporters. In relating this tale, Tadros helps the reader understand the destruction of this church is an analogy to the situation for Egypt’s Christians.

A Coptic exodus has been under way for two years now in Egypt. The hopes unleashed by the 2011 revolution soon gave way to the realities of continued and intensified persecution. Decades earlier, a similar fate had befallen the country’s once-thriving Jewish community. The departure of the people is echoed in the decay of the buildings. The landscape of the country is changing along with its demography. A few synagogues stand today as the only reminder of the country’s Jews. Which churches will remain standing is an open question.

But this WSJ story is the exception. Writing in Al-Arabiya, Joyce Karam criticized the parochial mindset of the American press.

For reasons related to the security crackdown inside Cairo and  the nature of the debate in Washington, the media coverage of the Egyptian crisis in major American news outlets has been lagging behind other parts of the world. The focus has been more on the policy of the Obama administration and less on the Egyptian dynamics and events outside Cairo. The overriding theme in the U.S. media since the crisis broke out last July has been centered around the question: “What should the U.S. do in Egypt?” rather than “what is going on in Egypt?”

The BBC did report on the anti-Christian pogrom of Aug 15. But its initial story was short on details and context. There does not appear to have been any follow up or mention of the chains of Muslim men protecting Christian churches from the Muslim Brotherhood in some sections of Cairo. The clipped account of the church burnings gave this explanation.

The Muslim Brotherhood has accused Christians, particularly the Copts, of supporting the toppling of Mr Morsi.  The Coptic Pope Tawadros II appeared to back the military after it deposed Mr Morsi on 3 July following mass protests. In turn, many Christians say Mr Morsi’s government was deliberately squeezing religious pluralism.

The head of the army, Gen Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, has described the attacks as a “red line” and promised to respond forcefully. Yet much of the violence has taken place outside urban areas, where there are few security personnel to intervene.

It may well be the BBC was unable to get out into the countryside to report on the violence — but this black/white view of the riots is woefully incomplete.

The story the BBC has missed — or ignored — is the widespread support the military ouster has in Egypt. The Egypt Independent reports that polling within Egypt reports two thirds of the country believe the army did not use excessive force in breaking up the Muslim Brotherhood camps.

The poll, conducted by The Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research ‘Baseera,’ showed that 17 percent of Egyptians believed the sit-ins were peaceful, while 67 percent said they were not peaceful. Regarding satisfaction about the way of dispersal, the poll showed that 67 percent were satisfied, while 24 percent were unsatisfied. Nine percent said they were unable to decide.

The Guardian might well have been the only major Western outlet to report the “military-backed government in Cairo appears to be enjoying widespread domestic support for its bloody crackdown.”

However, the BBC has not completely withdrawn from the Cairo coverage.  It ran a human interest story about one family caught up in the violence on 18 August, two days after it ran its story on the church burnings.

Relatives of four Irish citizens caught up in a stand-off at a Cairo mosque have said they fear for their safety. The three young women and teenage boy are children of Hussein Halawa, the Imam at Ireland’s largest mosque in Clonskeagh in Dublin. All four were in the al-Fath mosque which was barricaded by supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi on Friday. It was cleared by Egyptian security forces on Saturday.

The story continues with reports about the family in Ireland’s fears for their relatives in Cairo. But while we know the four children of Hussein Halawa were in Cairo, the BBC does not seem curious to ask why they were there, and what they were doing inside the Muslim Brotherhood compound.

However a little searching on the internet will lead you to research conducted by Mark Humphrys on the Clonskeagh mosque — and there you will learn it is a Muslim Brotherhood operation. Watch the videos should you have any doubt as to where they stand.

Should the BBC have left its readers with the impression that these “three young women and teenage boy” were Irish tourists caught up in the turmoil, or foreign jihadists come to Egypt to lend their support to the cause?

All of which leads me back to my opening question? What reasons can there be for the dreadful coverage out of Egypt? Reports on the on-going destruction of a civilization are given short shrift, while the travails of Irish jihadists get the full on treatment. Why?

First printed in Get Religion.

Muslim Brotherhood mob lays seige to Anglican church in Port Suez: Anglican Ink, August 14, 2013 August 14, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East.
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The Bishop of Egypt, Dr. Mouneer Anis writes:

“14 August 2013

Dear Friends,

Greetings in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ!

As I write these words, our St. Saviour’s Anglican Church in Suez is under heavy attack from those who support former President Mursi.  They are throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at the church and have destroyed the car of Rev. Ehab Ayoub, the priest-in-charge of St. Saviour’s Church.  I am also aware that there are attacks on other Orthodox churches in Menyia and Suhag in Upper Egypt(see attached photo), as well as a Catholic church in Suez.  Some police stations are also under attack in different parts of Egypt.  Please pray and ask others to pray for this inflammable situation in Egypt.”

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Crisis talks to save Egypt: The Church of England Newspaper, February 13, 2013 February 14, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East.
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The rector of the Al-Azhar in Cairo has convened an all-party meeting of government, opposition, and religious leaders to halt the slide towards anarchy underway in Egypt.

On 31 Jan 2013, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of the al-Azhar University and the country’s leading Islamic scholar, sat down with senior government leaders, the opposition and Muslim and Christian leaders to begin a national conversation “in which all elements of Egyptian society participate, without any exclusion.”

Dialogue “is the only tool to resolve any problems or differences,” Sheikh al-Tayyeb told the gathering, which included the Anglican Bishop of Egypt, Dr. Mouneer Anis.

“Political work has nothing to do with violence or sabotage and the welfare of everyone and the fate of our nation depends on respect for the rule of law,” the sheikh said, according to Egyptian press accounts.

The intervention by the al-Azhar follows street fighting and protests in the wake of the second anniversary of the fall of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. Analysts fear the political crisis in Egypt may lead to national collapse.

The International Crisis Group stated that what was “overshadowing” the dispute was a “a persistent, perilous standoff between on one side the president and his Islamist backers for whom elections appear to mean everything, and, on the other, opposition forces for whom they seem to mean nothing; between those in power who deny adversaries respect and those not in power who deny Islamists legitimacy. The constitution-writing process was a sad microcosm: Islamist contempt in forcing through what ought to have been a carefully constructed, consensual document; opposition recklessness in seeking to exploit the moment to topple the Brotherhood; one celebrating a narrow conception of majority rule, the other holding to a counter-productive notion of street politics.”

“Even if leaders back away from the brink, this could quickly get out of hand, as their ability to control the rank and file – and, in the case of the opposition, ability to represent the rank and file – dwindles,” the think tank wrote.

At last week’s meeting, Sheikh al-Tayyeb and Egypt’s religious leaders presented Mahmoud Ezzat, deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Saad el-Katatni, the head of its political party with a document that called for the renunciation of violence and a pledge to engage in dialogue with the opposition.

Across the table from the Muslim Brotherhood leaders were leaders of Egypt’s National Salvation Front – including Mohamed ElBardie, the former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency and leader of Egypt’s Constitution Party, and former presidential candidates Amr Moussa and leftist Hamdeen Sabahi. Representatives of Egypt’s hardline Islamist parties, including the head of the salafist Nour Party also participated in the talks.

The ten point agreement signed by the political and religious leaders agreed to renounce violence “in all its forms and manifestations” and respect the dignity of all Egyptians irrespective of religion or political views.

Dr. Anis reported after the meeting: “Today the Grand Imam invited all opposition parties and ruling party and churches. We produced a document against violence and formed a committee to prepare for a dialogue. We pray so that the Lord may put an end for this violence and bring peace to Egypt.”

New York Times solves the problem of Sharia: Get Religion, February 1, 2013 February 2, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Get Religion, Press criticism.
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This report on Thursday’s Cairo conference from the New York Times breaks the streak of great stories it has filed from Egypt over the past few months. Long on speculation and short on facts, “Rivals Across Egypt’s Political Spectrum Hold Rare Meeting, Urging Dialogue” on page A10 of the 1 Feb 2013 issue rambles on about what the Times thinks might happen rather than report what has happened. And, (I know you  will be surprised to hear this) the article omits the role religion and religious groups play in the news.

The background to this story is the clash between the Muslim Brotherhood aligned government of President Mohamed Mursi with moderate Muslims and secularist parties to the left, a split with salafist (even more hardline Islamist) parties to the right, coupled with the persecution of religious minorities — primarily Christians, but also Baha’is, Shia, and Ahmadiya Muslims.

The Times has done a great job in reporting on the unraveling of Egypt, but this article does not live up to the standard the Gray Lady has set in its reporting so far.

The article opens with:

With Egypt’s political elites warring and street violence taking on a life of its own, young revolutionaries on Thursday tried to step into the country’s leadership vacuum, organizing a rare meeting of political forces that, in Egypt’s polarized state, was a victory in itself.  The meeting, which included representatives of secular leftist and liberal groups as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, failed to resolve some of the most divisive issues facing the country, including whether Egypt’s president, Mohamed Morsi, would agree to form a national unity government or amend the country’s newly approved constitution, as some opposition leaders have demanded.

The lede is framed in terms of a heroic attempt by “young revolutionaries” to bring the “warring” factions to the conference table, that must (alas) be deemed a noble failure as it did not achieve the immediate aims of “some opposition leaders” in forcing the president to change his government or revoke the new constitution. This political failure is coupled with a likely short term failure in halting the escalating violence in the streets.

Nor was there any assurance that the meeting’s principal call — to end the violence that has led to more than 50 deaths over the last week — would be heeded on the streets. Clashes during protests have become the latest polarizing issue in Egypt’s turbulent transition, with Mr. Morsi and members of his Muslim Brotherhood movement largely blaming shadowy instigators for the violence. Others, though, have faulted the country’s poorly trained security forces for a persistently heavy-handed response to protests.

The article then identifies the “organizers” of the meeting as:

a leader of the April 6th youth movement, three Brotherhood defectors and Wael Ghonim, a former Google executive who played a prominent role in the uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak. Group members said they met several days ago, “to look into ways of leading Egypt out of the crisis and to warn against the threats of being dragged into a cycle of violence.”

And it notes that leaders of the secularist National Salvation Front were present at the meeting along with senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders. A comment is offered by the leader of the National Salvation Front, Mohamed ElBaradei expressing boilerplate optimism, before the story moves back into a discussion of the parlous political state of the country.

At this point we get some hint that something else may be going on:

In another display of high-level concern, the talks on Thursday were held under the chairmanship of the country’s leading Muslim scholar, Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayeb of Al Azhar mosque and university.  After the meeting, he said that a national dialogue, “in which all the components of the Egyptian society participate without any exclusion” was “the only means to resolve any problems or disagreements.” He urged the participants to “commit to a peaceful competition for power” and to prohibit “all types of violence and coercion to achieve goals, demands and policies.”

And the story closes out with comments from a professor from Georgetown University who warns the situation is spiraling out of control. The problem with this story is that it downplays the role of Al-Azhar at the expense of the “young revolutionaries”, neglects to give details of the 10 point communique endorsed by the government and opposition, and omits the place of religious leaders in the negotiations.

A Reuters dispatch frames this same story in a very different way:

A leading Egyptian Islamic scholar brought together rival politicians on Thursday in a bid to ease a crisis that has triggered street violence, killing more than 50 people, saying dialogue was the only way to resolve differences. Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the head of al-Azhar mosque and university, brought together members of the Muslim Brotherhood – the Islamist group that propelled President Mohamed Morsi to power – with the president’s most vocal opponents, including liberal politician Mohamed ElBaradei.

The emphasis in this story is the unprecedented intervention by the religious establishment into the political arena — bringing the parties to the negotiating table. The document signed by the participants was prepared by the “young revolutionaries” but it was the al-Azhar that provided the political clout to get everyone round the same table.

Egypt’s State Information Service opened its report in this way:

Political, partisan, and religious powers Thursday 31/01/2013 agreed on an al-Azhar document rejecting violence and encouraging dialogue. The document was proposed by revolution youths and drafted by al-Azhar in cooperation with all political powers that also agreed on forming a panel to draw up foundations and topics of the dialogue to restore security and stability to Egypt.

Note the reference here to “religious powers”. This can be seen again at the close of the government press bulletin which states:

Speaking at a press conference following the meeting, Baradei stressed the need to renounce violence and achieve consensus among all political groups, with the involvement of Al-Azhar and the Church, to resolve disputes peacefully.

Reading these reports with a careful eye you can see the religious angle grow from being a venue for the New York Times to the convener of the meeting for Reuters and the Egyptian SIS, with the added mention of “Church”. And if you delve even further into this story in the Arabic press you will learn the Nour Party — Salafists to the right of the Muslim Brotherhood — have also called for a national unity government.

And you can read the ten point communique that renounces violence “in all its forms and manifestations” and respects the dignity of all Egyptians irrespective of religion or political views. The document calls upon the state to protect the lives of its all citizens, respect the human and legal rights of all Egyptians, and observe the distinction between legitimate political protest and treason. All parties agreed to refrain from and denounce the destruction of public and private property, honor the rights of all Egyptians for free and unfettered speech, worship and belief and engage in a national dialogue to resolve the political disputes dividing the country.

The problem then with the Times report is that it leaves out news that this meeting was not just a bilateral pow-wow between Mursi and his opponents on the left, but a meeting that brought to the table salafists, secularists, moderate Muslims, Nassirites, non-believers, and Christians. The meeting also sought to address the problem of Egypt’s growing religious intolerance — the persecution of Christians, minority religious groups and non-believers.

I must admit to having inside knowledge — the Anglican Bishop of Egypt was a participant in the talks (he is the fellow in the purple cassock in the foreground of the photo of the meeting posted above). Yet the role religion played in this meeting was not conveyed to me via the secret decoder ring supplied to the fraternity of right thinking Anglicans across the globe (we’re like Freemasons but dress better) — this angle was prominent in the domestic coverage, but failed to make its way across the Atlantic to the New York Times.

Why? Could the reporters or editors be cutting down the story for space? Could they be removing the bits that would not be of interest to the Times’ readers, or do not conform to the world view of the Times‘ editorial board? Whatever the cause this story is defective — and I’m sorry to say that the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Egyptian State Information Service, even with its problematic English syntax, did a better job with this story than the Gray Lady.

This article also neglects to ask the question why? Why is Egypt on the brink of anarchy? Many factors are at work — a collapsing economy, over population, food shortages, unrealized expectations in the wake of the fall of Mubarak. But the catalyst for the on-going political disputes is the imposition of a Sharia-law based constitution, with all that entails for moderate Muslims and non-Muslims. The Times appears shy of addressing this point, of confronting the issue of Sharia law.

With apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein, how does the Times solve a problem like Sharia? They ignore it.

First printed in Get Religion.

Al-Azhar meeting to head off civil war in Egypt: Anglican Ink, February 1, 2013 February 1, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Politics.
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Egypt’s warring political factions sat down with the country’s religious leaders on Thursday and endorsed a joint declaration pledging an end to the political violence that has left over sixty dead in the past week.

On 31 Jan 2013, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of the al-Azhar University and the country’s leading Islamic scholar, convened a meeting of top officials of President Mohammad Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood party and the secularist opposition. Egypt’s leading religious and social leaders including the Anglican Bishop of Egypt, Dr. Mouneer Anis, attended the conference at the 1000-year old university in Cairo in a bid to halt Egypt’s slide toward anarchy.

Sheikh al-Tayyeb told the politicians that a national conversation “in which all elements of Egyptian society participate, without any exclusion, is the only tool to resolve any problems or differences.”

“Political work has nothing to do with violence or sabotage and the welfare of everyone and the fate of our nation depends on respect for the rule of law,” the sheikh said, according to Egyptian press accounts.

The unprecedented intervention by the al-Azhar follows two weeks of political tensions in the wake of the second anniversary of the fall of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. Last week President Mursi declared a “state of emergency” for Port Said, Ismailia and Suez, placing them under martial law.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

First round win for Islamists in Egyptian constitutional referendum: The Church of England Newspaper, December 23, 2012 p 6. December 28, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Politics.
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The Muslim Brotherhood has claimed victory in the first round of voting to introduce a Sharia Law-based constitution for Egypt.  Unofficial returns after Saturday’s vote released by President Mohammed Mursi’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) show 56.6 per cent of ballots cast were in favour of the new constitution, while 43.5 per cent were opposed.

However, the Egyptian Coalition for Monitoring Elections said in a statement after the polls closed on Saturday there were “cases of voter intimidation, delaying the voting process, and early closure of some voting centers with no clear reasons,” while the Egyptian Independent newspaper reported that in some polling places Coptic Christians were not allowed to vote.

In a pastoral letter released on the eve of the vote, the Bishop of Egypt, Dr. Mouneer Anis warned the political battle between Islamists and moderates may push Egypt into civil war.

“I cannot tell you how much I am heavy-hearted because of what is going on in my beloved country Egypt,” Dr. Anis said, as “many Egyptians were expecting that after the 25 January Revolution in 2011 there would be no exclusion for any citizen or groups because of their political or religious stance. Sadly, we are still groaning for this equality.”

The new constitution posed significant problems for Christians, women and moderate Muslims, the bishop said as the constitution would empower religious vigilante groups to impose their views on society. “We have already seen some groups such as ‘The Authority for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice’ who, in the name of Islam, punish others without resorting to the legal authorities,” the bishop wrote, noting the language of the new constitution would give their actions the force of law.

“Another example would be how Article 2 mentions that ‘the principles of the Islamic sharia is the source of all legislation’ while Article 219 defines ‘the principle of the Islamic sharia’ in a vague way which can be interpreted in a variety of ways depending on the different Islamic sects,” the bishop wrote.

This breakdown of public trust in the government over the constitutional reform process had led to street fighting between the Muslim Brotherhood and pro-democracy activists.  “The two demonstrating groups became violent and more than 450 people were injured and 8 people were killed. The demonstrations continue now and the fear is that another wave of violence and bloodshed may happen tomorrow.”

The bishop said that those who opposed the new constitution believed it should be a document that fosters national unity, not the sectarian interests of one political-religious party.  The document was “dividing the society into Islamists and non-Islamists (moderate Muslims and Christians),” the bishop warned.

Ten provinces, including Cairo and Alexandria voted on 15 December and 17 rural provinces are scheduled to vote on 22 December. “It is heart-breaking to see Egyptians against Egyptians,” Dr. Anis said. “We don’t want to see Egypt in a civil war.”

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Righteous Religious Indignation in Cairo: Get Religion, September 11, 2012 September 12, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Politics.
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There are conflicting reports coming out of Egypt and Libya tonight on the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Cairo and the consulate in Benghazi.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, drawing upon reports from Reuters and AFP, stated one U.S. official was killed and a second injured in the attack on the Benghazi consulate,while the Washington Post, citing the Associated Press, reported that no one was inside the Benghazi consulate when the attack occurred.

The protests, coming on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 bombings, are being described in most press accounts as being driven by religious fervor. The New York Times reported:

The protest was a result of outrage over a movie being promoted by an anti-Muslim Egyptian Christian campaigner in the United States, clips of which are available on YouTube and dubbed in Egyptian Arabic. The video depicts Muhammad as a fraud, and shows him having sex and calling for massacres. Muslims find it offensive to depict Muhammad at all, much less in an insulting way.

And the ABC noted:

Reports suggest both incidents were sparked by anger over a film which was produced by expatriate members of Egypt’s Christian minority resident in the United States.

Reports said the Cairo protesters, numbering nearly 3,000 were mostly hardline Islamist supporters of the Salafist movement.

A dozen men scaled the embassy walls and one of them tore down the US flag, replacing it with a black one inscribed with the Muslim profession of faith: “There is no God but God and Mohammed is the prophet of God.”

The New York Times added a bit of context about this black flag, stating: “The flag, similar to Al Qaeda’s banner, is popular with ultraconservatives around the region.”

Religion, then would seem to be one of the forces driving the attack — though some Egyptian Christians with whom I was in contact via email today suggested the attacks were driven by Egyptian domestic political considerations. Their argument was that the Salafist parties — the hardline Islamist groups that are junior coalition partners with the Muslim Brotherhood government — are seeking to incite the “Arab Street” to pressure the government to adopt a stricter Sharia law-based government. Religion, this line of thinking believes, is a tool for political ends.

I have no knowledge as to the truth of these assertions, but the first day reports out of the Middle East have noted the religious and political nature of the protests.

The Washington Post reported:

Many of the protesters at the U.S. Embassy Tuesday said that they were associated with the Salafist political parties Al Nour and Al Asala. Salafism is an extremely conservative branch of Islam.

Protesters condemned a video clip that depicted the prophet Mohammed in a series of humiliating scenes. A controversial Cairo television host, Sheikh Khaled Abdallah, aired clips from the video on an Islamic-focused television station on Saturday, and the same video clips were posted to YouTube on Monday. Depicting Mohammed at all is considered deeply offensive by Muslims. Some protesters said that the movie had been created by Egyptian-American Coptic Christians, though its provenance online was unclear.

“We are speaking out and will never be tolerant toward any curses for our prophet,” said Moaz Abdel Kareem, 37, who had a long beard typical of followers of the Salafist movement and was carrying a black flag.

Congratulations to the Post — and the wire services — for being on the scene and doing  a great job in explaining what is taking place.

I would note that the prohibition against the portrayal of Mohammad is a Sunni Muslim tradition and not practiced by the Shia.  My colleagues and I at GetReligion have written extensively about reporting on images of Mohammad. Articles on Everybody Draw Mohammad Day, South Park, and the Jyllands-Posten cartoons have raised questions about the quality of reporting and unwarranted suppositions about Islam. I hope we will not see these same mistakes in this news cycle.

While the press has done a great job so far, I would not say the same about the U.S. embassy press people in Cairo. There response to the violation of American sovereignty, the raising of the al-Qaeda flag at the U.S. embassy and destruction of the American flag by the Salafist protestors on the 11th anniversary of 9/11 was to send out this tweet:

We condemn the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims

An extraordinarily feckless statement — even by the standards of the State Department.

I do hope that in the days to come the press continues pushing this story, seeking to unravel the political and religious dimensions of this story.

First printed in GetReligion.

Church leaders urge Egypt’s new president to support religious tolerance: The Church of England Newspaper, September 2, 2012 p 6. September 6, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Islam, Persecution.
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The sacking of the country’s top generals puts an end to 52 years of military rule and restores the rule of law to Egypt, President Mohammed Morsi told a gathering of Christian leaders this week, the Bishop of Egypt Dr. Mouneer Anis writes.

On 22 August, Dr. Anis along with 12 other bishops and ministers representing Egypt’s  Coptic Orthodox Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant Churches met for two hours at the presidential palace with the new president.

“I, and all my colleagues, appreciated the fact that the President called us twice in less than two months to talk and listen to us. This never happened in the last 30 years,” Dr. Anis said.

“The President shared with us the reasons behind his recent decisions to dismiss the military chiefs and the cancelling of the constitutional declarations they made. By these decisions the President put an end to the military ruling of the country which started since 1952. He also shared his hopes that the new Constitution would represent the hopes and views of all Egyptian regardless of their religion, ethnic background and political views. This will guarantee the support of the vast majority of people to the new constitution,” the bishop reported.

Asked to share with him the concerns of Egypt’s Christian minority, the church leaders urged the president to clamp down on sectarian violence.  “Ignorance and wrong teaching are behind such congestion,” they told the president and urged him to support the “sound and moderate religious teaching of Islam as taught by Al Azhar.”

A member of the Muslim Brotherhood before his run for office, President Morsi has supported the introduction of Shari’a law in Egypt. At a 13 May rally broadcast by Misr-25 TV, he told supporters the Koran would be the true constitution of Egypt.

“Above all – Allah is our goal… The shari’a, then the shari’a, and finally, the shari’a. This nation will enjoy blessing and revival only through the Islamic shari’a. I take an oath before Allah and before you all that regardless of the actual text [of the constitution]… Allah willing, the text will truly reflect [the shari'a], as will be agreed upon by the Egyptian people, by the Islamic scholars, and by legal and constitutional experts,” he proclaimed.

The Christian leaders urged the president to improve the quality of Egypt’s schools to “care for the education of the new generations so that they become more tolerant and good citizens. We suggested that common values should be taught in schools,” Dr Anis said.

They also asked the president to ensure non-partisan policy and that the security services apply the “rule of law on everyone, especially when sectarian clashes” as well as take steps to improve public order across the country.

“We told the President that we are aware that he received a heavy responsibility at a very difficult time in Egypt’s history and we all need to be patient and hard-working in order to see the desired fruits,” the bishop reported, adding the president “assured us that he is working to achieve the dream of Egypt: to be a democratic and modern country where the rights of citizenship and the constitution are held up high.”

“In the end, we came out of the meeting very encouraged and determined to do our best in order to see the Egypt that we dream of,” said Dr. Anis.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

BBC Bias? Sharia law and Egypt: Get Religion, August 24, 2012 August 24, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam.
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Above all – Allah is our goal… The shari’a, then the shari’a, and finally, the shari’a. This nation will enjoy blessing and revival only through the Islamic shari’a. I take an oath before Allah and before you all that regardless of the actual text [of the constitution]… Allah willing, the text will truly reflect [the shari'a], as will be agreed upon by the Egyptian people, by the Islamic scholars, and by legal and constitutional experts…

Mohammed Mursi: Jihad Is Our Path, Death for the Sake of Allah Is Our Most Lofty Aspiration, the Shari’a Is Our Constitution. Misr-25 TV, 13 May 2012. Video clip and translation provided by MEMRI.

From time to time it is important to remind readers (and me) about GetReligion‘s mandate. This site does not seek to discuss religious issues of the moment and their intersection with politics, culture, the arts, economics and the like. It critiques press coverage of religion. The underlying issues are not central to a GetReligion story line.

Nor is this a “gotcha” site. I have made mistakes as a writer and have suffered from the deprivations sub-editors pruning and mis-titling my work. An example of a religion article that is not a proper GetReligion story is this article from the Seattle Times entitled: “Pakistani Christians flee after girl, 12, is accused of blasphemy”.

The subheading states: “A 12-year-old Muslim girl is in jail while Pakistani police investigate allegations that she burned a Quran, a crime that, if she is convicted, carries a life sentence.”

Now this is a dumb mistake. The girl is described as Christian in the article but called a Muslim in the subheading. This is not a question of the Seattle Times not getting religion, but a sub-editor’s mistake.

The mission of GetReligion is to point out what our editor TMatt calls “religion ghosts” — examples of an article misunderstanding, omitting or denigrating the role religion plays in a story. A classic example of this sort of religion ghost appears in a BBC story printed today entitled “Egypt requests $4.8bn loan from visiting IMF chief”.

The story opens:

Egypt has asked the International Monetary Fund for a $4.8bn (£3bn) loan to help revive its struggling economy. The request was made during talks in Cairo between President Mohammed Mursi and IMF chief Christine Lagarde.

Ms Lagarde said the IMF would respond quickly, while Prime Minister Hisham Qandil said he hoped the deal could be finalised before the end of the year. It is needed to cover budget deficits resulting from shrinking tourism and foreign investment revenues.

The article unfolds as a straight forward international finance story, discussing Egypt’s parlous economy, its “balance-of-payments crisis and high borrowing costs”, summarizing negotiations with the IMF, exploring possible U.S., Qatari and Saudi aid, and describing the terms of the loan:

After meeting [IMF chief Christine] Lagarde on Wednesday, Prime Minister Qandil said he expected the IMF loan would be for five years, with a grace period of 39 months and an interest rate of 1.1%.

Perhaps you are asking yourself where the GetReligion angle lies? Is this not a straight forward, somewhat dull, international economics story? Yes — but go back to the top of the article and look at the comments made by candidate Mohammed Mursi to the Muslim Brotherhood. If elected he would govern Egypt under the dictates of Shari’a law — which means a banking system without interest.

Throughout its time in opposition and underground, the Muslim Brotherhood denounced Western banking as being contrary to Shari’a. Sayyid Qutb, the ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood interpreted the Koran’s verses on riba (interest or usury) to apply to commercial banking.  He accused banks of “eating the flesh and bones” of the poor and “drinking their sweat and blood” through the charging of interest. Hasan al-Banna, the founder of the Brotherhood, in 1947 wrote to the leaders of Muslim state calling for them to repudiate Western banking practices in favor of interest-free Islamic banking.

The religion ghost in this story is whether Mohammed Mursi will jettison his protestations about Sharia law being the cornerstone of his administration in exchange for cheap interest loans from the West to keep his economy afloat.

Reuters and the Telegraph made no mention of the religion angle in their stories also, while the AP noted that past negotiations had been stalled by opposition from the Islamists.  The Financial Times reported:

Analysts say the IMF’s loan terms could impede its acceptance by an Islamist government with populist pretences and a rhetorical commitment to thinning the gap between rich and poor.

The religious ramifications of the interest bearing loans were not omitted in the Egyptian press however. The Egypt Independent reported:

The government should not borrow from the International Monetary Fund to boost the country’s cash reserve, the Salafi Nour Party stated on Wednesday.  “Borrowing from abroad is usury,” said Younis Makhyoun, a member of the party’s supreme committee. “God will never bless an economy based on usury.”

Mahkyoun called on Prime Minister Hesham Qandil to find other ways to raise funds instead of “allowing foreigners to interfere in our affairs.” The government should reduce spending, apply an austerity policy, set a maximum wage, apply Islamic regultations to stock exchange speculations and repatriate funds siphoned abroad, Makhyoun added.

Al-Ahram reported the left was outraged too by the prospect of IMF loans.

Dozens of demonstrators, meanwhile, protested outside the Cabinet building in downtown Cairo during Lagarde’s visit. Protestors, consisting mainly of leftist and revolutionaries, called on Egypt to reject the loan.

They chanted slogans and held signs against the proposed loan –and capitalism in general – such as “No to crony capitalism,” “Down with capitalism,” and “Reject the loans.”

“Why did we have a revolution? Wasn’t it to improve the living conditions of the people? We know that the money from these loans is pilfered by the authorities and will only lead to the further impoverishment of the people,” protest organiser Mary Daniel told Ahram Online.

IMF and World Bank loans are notorious among leftist activists in Egypt, as in the rest of the world, as they are generally seen as a means of spreading capitalism throughout the world.

The state-run daily, which has the largest circulation of any newspaper in Egypt, also noted that  Islamists had been quiet.

Notably, Islamist political forces – which rejected a similar IMF loan offer last April – were nowhere to be seen in Wednesday’s protest.

In April, Egypt’s Islamist-led parliament said that the government’s economic programme failed to provide details on how the key problems facing Egypt’s economy – namely, unemployment and security – would be solved.

Some Islamists went so far as to say that such loans were haram (religiously proscribed) since they relied on interest, which is forbidden according to the tenets of Islam.

Let me offer a historical analogy. In the Fall of 1932 Adolf Hitler toned back his anti-Semitic tirades and played the bourgeois, President Paul von Hindenburg, the army and Germany’s wealthy industrialists. When he was appointed chancellor in 1933 some expected the Nazi leader’s anti-Semitism would dry up as he had achieved his goal of power.

The liberal German-Jewish playwright Carl Zuckmayer wrote at that time:

… even many Jews considered the savage anti-Semitic rantings of the Nazis merely a propaganda device, a line the Nazis would drop as soon as they reached power.

At that time it seemed reasonable that Hitler would drop the anti-Semitic rantings that had helped bring him to power as it no longer served a rational political or economic purpose. Are we seeing something similar happening in Egypt?

Is the Morsi government shedding its ideology, its fundamental commitment to a state governed by the dictates of Sharia law in return for cheap Western loans? Now that the army has been neutered, parliament dissolved and the opposition broken Mohammed Morsi can do as he likes. It would seem to make rational sense that he would drop his anti-modernist religious views now that he has a modern state to run — but will he?

Is there a religious ghost in the IMF story? Is the BBC bringing a Western secular worldview to this story that misses its inherent non-Western faith-driven elements?

Should these two stories be kept separate? Keep financial news in the business section and religion in the Saturday lifestyle supplement? Or, is there a religion angle in this finance story that must be explored in order for the reader to understand? What say you GetReligion readers?

First printed in GetReligion.

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