Published by the GLORIA Center,
Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya Volume 10, No. 3, Article 7/10 - September 2006
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No wonder then, as Lakhdar concludes, that Shaykh Mustafa Mash'hur, the
(previous) leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, demanded that Copts not be allowed into the
Over 400,000 students in 70 faculties are currently enrolled in al-Azhar University, and there are over 7,000 faculty members. During the 2005/2006 academic year it accepted over 83,000 students, becoming one of the largest universities in the world. It is only open to "believers," though some of its faculties offer secular studies in engineering, medicine, or commerce (albeit always tinged with religious teachings). Incidentally, the university provides free education to some 20,000 Muslim students from over 60 countries. A simple calculation would show that in all, 1.9 million students are enrolled in various stages of religious education.
Egypt boasts over 120,000 mosques, in addition to some 900,000 prayer areas. By mid-2005, some 92,000 mosques were run by the "Ministry of Endowments" (which, in reality, is the Ministry of Islamic Affairs). A plan was under way to integrate an additional 2,500 mosques in the 2005/2006 fiscal year, offering 10,000 new employment positions for imams and preachers (as government employees). The Ministry builds and runs new mosques and also covers all management costs of privately-built mosques that become integrated under its auspices. Its vast expenses are partially covered by endowments, but largely come from the general state budget (i.e. at the tax-payers' expense). The budget for building and furnishing mosques alone in 2005 was LE 320 million (approximately US $60). To this, one must add the costs of maintenance and the salaries of over 400,000 employees. Indeed, the minister of endowment once boasted (in 2004) that his ministry's budget had grown forty times in twenty!
reach 1.5 billion pounds (about US $270). Showing where the government's priorities lie, such large expenditures drain the national budget, leaving less for vital issues, such as education, health, environment, etc.
Another simple calculation would then show that the number of Egyptian Muslims who devote their lives to religion--whether studying, teaching, preaching, or attending to other supporting activities--exceeds a staggering 2.5 million. There are then, when including the families of employees, some eight to ten percent of Egyptian Muslims whose lives revolve around religion. It is worth noting that such individuals often know little about those things that are not related to Islam and have never had any personal acquaintances who are not Muslims.
It would be difficult to estimate accurately national expenditure on religious affairs, including--in addition to the above-mentioned activities--those related to hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) and foreign religious missions (proselytizing) that fan the world. However, it would be quite safe to say that these exceed the foreign financial aid that Egypt receives from the United States, EU, and other donors.
At the annual Koran studies (reciting and rote learning) celebrations and the Prophet's Birthday, Egypt's president takes it upon himself to hand out in person awards to students and scholars, not only from Egypt but also from all over the world. A new international Islamic studies award carrying Mr. Mubarak's name was created last year. In addition there is an annual award to the governorate in Egypt that "excels in the efforts to expand the centers of Koran learning to every village and hamlet." This occurs at a time when there are no competitive efforts across the nation addressing such areas as illiteracy, environment, reduction of road accidents, cleanliness, attracting more investments, or reducing unemployment.
The special fatwa department in Egypt issues about 100,000 fatwas (religious opinions) per year, and it has a database containing over one million fatwas. In March 2005, Egypt and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement on "cooperation in the domain of da'wa (preaching, proselytizing), preparation and qualification of imams to inform others of Islam and its tolerance and its stance towards modern issues... and to the service of Koran and Sunnah, through publishing and translations...." However, keeping in mind the reputation of the Saudis' Wahhabi Islam when it comes to "tolerance" and "modern issues," the prospects for the religious establishment in Egypt look grim.
One need not look beyond the following two examples for indications of the kind of message the religious establishment currently spreads:
First, the Grand Shaykh of al-Azhar, the highest religious authority in the country wrote recently: "The belief of the believer and the Islam of a Muslim would not be complete unless he fully believes that all what Islamic Shari'a contains, as rules, manners, orders and prohibitions is the Truth that must be followed, implemented and lived in its light." Shari'a harbors several objectionable stipulations according to current human rights standards (such as cruel punishments by stoning, amputation, and flagellation; or the prohibition--through apostasy rules--on freedom of belief). Therefore, it was rather shocking to see Shaykh Muhammad Sayid Tantawi--otherwise known for his moderate views--make such sweeping statements. They simply imply such forms of punishment should be put back in the penal code, more than a century after having been removed.
Second, the official website of the "Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs," an official body of the "Ministry of Awqaf," (The Ministry of Endowment and Islamic Affairs) posted an article entitled "Islam versus Ahl al-Kitab: Past and Present." The author, Dr. Maryam Jameelah, attempts to answer the question "how can we be certain that Islam is the only infallible Truth?" The article concludes by emphatically stating:
Peaceful relations and mutual respect among us can only be achieved through strength. We must cease indulging in apologetics and present the Islamic message to the world honestly and forthrightly. Before we can hope to succeed with Tabligh (proselytizing) on a large scale, we must first convert the nominal Muslims into true believers. We must establish a full-blooded Islamic state where the world will witness our precepts translated into action. Finally, we must crush the conspiracies of Zionism, free-masonry, Orientalism and foreign missions both with the pen and with the sword. We cannot afford peace and reconciliation with the Ahl al Kitab until we can humble them and gain the upper hand.
THE SITUATION OF THE COPTS
Those who have suffered and who continue to suffer most from this drastic transformation are undoubtedly the Copts. "I can no longer stand the insults and the spitting in my face because I don't wear hijab. I have become a stranger in my own country." This statement made by a young Coptic woman from Alexandria, as quoted by the correspondent of Le Figaro (April 17, 2006) after a series of quasi-simultaneous attacks on three churches, speak loudly of the overall situation of Copts in Egypt. This statement, however, represents only the tip of the iceberg of the Copts' suffering.
Apart from the scores of violent attacks against them over the past 35 years, they have been forced into a de-facto dhimmi status. In fact, the infamous Second Article of the Constitution provides the legal basis to discriminate against and marginalize the Copts in their own homeland.
There are numerous indications pointing to the status of the Coptic minority, which makes up around ten million in a country of 74 million. Following are but a few examples:
The media is not only inundated with Islamic religious material, but also routinely ridicules Christianity and Judaism as "falsified" or "perverted" religions whose original "Books" have been lost and/or "tampered with." The message propagated by mosque preachers is no less derogatory. The issue does not relate to a (indecent) "theological" debate. Rather, the issue is that such discourse, repeated and hammered incessantly, would only turn an ordinary Muslim into a fanatic, if not a radical. Hence, such harassment and violence against Copts would be rendered perfectly justifiable, if not desirable, indeed becoming a "religious duty."
A presidential decree is required for every permit to build a church (which unlike a mosque, would be paid for entirely by the faithful.) The process, dominated by the state security apparatus, is deliberately entangled and usually takes many years. The government hailed a recent presidential decree that delegates to provincial governors the power to authorize rebuilding "a ruined or fallen church on its site." The real power to authorize still remains with the state security apparatus, with little change in the painful process. The irony, however, is that the decree appears to be fully in line with the spirit and letter of the "Chart of Omar" in that it restricts building churches replacing existing ones at their exact site and of the same size.
During the most recent parliamentary elections, the ruling party fielded only two Coptic candidates. The result was that only one, who was also a government minister, was elected (with difficulty) among 444 members. Not only did the other candidate fail, but Islamist riots broke out at the district where he ran in Alexandria and led to attacks on churches as well as ransacked shops and properties. There were only two Copts elected in the previous elections of 2000, and none in 1995.
The numbers of Copts accepted to military and police academies, judiciary posts and diplomatic corps, and teaching posts at universities are limited to a one to two percent quota. Such quotas are obviously never declared, but are consistent and relatively easy to demonstrate based on the published lists of acceptances. There are no Copts in "sensitive" sectors, such as state security organs or the presidency. The entire local governance system is practically free of Copts. Not a single Copt occupies a university or faculty dean post.
The curricula of public schools, established by the Ministry of Education, ignore the Coptic era in Egypt's history. Courses glorifying Islam (the "Only True Religion") and its history, while vilifying the crusaders (i.e. Christians) and the Jews, are imposed on all students. Religious (Islamic) references permeate various courses, including science. Most schools have replaced the daily salute to the flag with the Islamic proclamation "Allahu Akbar."
The city of Alexandria, once the capital of the Mediterranean culture, which as recent as the 1950s was a flourishing and cosmopolitan city in which religions and races mixed, has become a hot point of Islamic fanaticism and repeated aggressions against Copts. The numerous cases of attacks on lives, churches, and property of Copts are often conducted under the negligent--if not complacent--eyes of the security apparatus. Culprits, if caught, are seldom "found guilty" by the courts. A flagrant example is that of al-Kosheh village in Upper Egypt where 21 Copts were massacred on January 2, 2000. Despite arrests of over one hundred persons, nobody was found guilty by the lower, appeal, or Cassation courts. Doubts on the neutrality of the judiciary system apart, the police investigative authorities simply never provided sufficiently reliable data to support the case against the real perpetrators.
One successful "technique" often adopted by the authorities is to declare the culprit as "mentally (or psychologically) unstable" and thus not in a condition to be tried. Another technique is to force the Copt victims to retract their complaints and enter into "reconciliation" with their attackers for the sake of preserving "National Unity." In all cases, attacks against Copts are systematically referred to as "sectarian conflict (or sedition)," thus implying that "both sides" are to blame.
Organized, and well-dissimulated, groups target young girls and women to convert them to Islam. The entire state is mobilized to facilitate the conversion procedures, even if those concerned are minors in the eyes of the law. On the other hand, a Muslim choosing to convert to Christianity faces despicable treatment by the authorities and often ends up having to live incognito or to flee the country altogether, if possible.
In the case of a father of a Christian family converting to Islam, his minor children are forced to follow suit: The mother's custody rights--a well established legal principle--are ignored in this case, as children, according to typical court rulings, are supposed to follow the "better (or 'more noble') of the two religions." Under current laws, if one partner in a Christian marriage changes to another denomination (say from Orthodox to Evangelical, or Catholic), the stipulations of Shari'a immediately apply to the marriage in case of any intra-marital dispute.
It is an obligation to declare one's religious affiliation (among a very short list of "recognized" religions) in all official formalities, including the national identity card. Such measures facilitate discrimination practices. Furthermore, the Civil Status Department's "computer system" often list Christians as Muslims. Attempts to correct such errors invariably prove to be extremely difficult, if not impossible, with severe ramifications on the lives of those concerned.
Recently, an administrative court ruled that the Coptic Orthodox Church remarry a divorced person. Since according to Church teachings marriage is a sacrament and not merely a civil partnership, this ruling, which was duly referenced by the court to "constitutional principles," amounts to a license to override the beliefs of the Church. The same court would never dare attempt to order the Islamic authorities in the country to marry a Muslim woman to a non-Muslim, as such unions are prohibited by Shari'a. Some years ago, another court ruled that polygamy was permissible in Christianity.
Yet what is especially sad about the abuse of the Copts' citizenship and human rights is that, on the one hand, the Egyptian government still adamantly insists that there is no such thing as a "Coptic problem." Continuous appeals by numerous Copts to the president to take charge of the situation--as part of his constitutional responsibilities--go unheeded. A call to establish a special council composed of leading Muslim and Coptic figures to report issues of citizenship rights to the president was totally ignored. On the other hand, such abuses are taking place before the watchful eyes--with few protests or objections--of the "freedom-loving" nations of the world and the various international institutions that are meant to correct such wrongs.
MERIA Journal V.10, N.3 (September 2006)
Guindy: The Islamization of Egypt?
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Published by the GLORIA Center,
Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya Volume 10, No. 3, Article 10/10 - September 2006
The Lebanon Crisis
Another front where Iran increased its influence was with the Lebanon
crisis of July-August 2006. Iran's client, Hizballah, attacked Israel and kidnapped two
Israeli soldiers. Israel attacked into Lebanon and a month-long war ensued, with Hizballah
firing 4,000 rockets into Israel and Israeli forces bombing Lebanon and seizing
temporarily the south. Iran supplied Hizballah's advanced arms, training, and sent
advisors to Lebanon.
Arab popular support for Hizballah, especially since Hizballah claimed victory, also reflected favorably on Iran, and to some extent the Sunni-Shi'a divide was breached. The conflict also knit Syria and Iran tighter together. This was, then, a major step forward for Iranian influence.
At the same time, though, a number of Arab states--Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia especially--anti-Hizballah forces in Lebanon, and even to some extent Iraq's government were alarmed at the growth in Iranian power and sought to oppose it.
The Nuclear Issue and the Day After
Iran has handled the nuclear issue brilliantly. In diplomatic exchanges, it has repeatedly demanded concessions, hinting that once these are given it will accept a compromise solution. Yet when the United States and Europe offer attractive packages, for example helping Iran get nuclear power as long as there are safeguards to keep it from using the technology to build bombs, Iran stalls or makes promises that it quickly breaks. Avoiding any punishment, Iran makes still more demands--and sometimes threats--thus beginning the next round.
Aside from eating up a great deal of time that is used to make progress on nuclear weapons research, Iran is being taught the lesson that it can get away with doing just about anything it wants without penalty. Equally, Iran's leaders have absorbed the idea that Europe will appease them and that the United States--which Ahmadinejad calls "an imaginary superpower made of straw"--in Khomeini's words, "Cannot do a damn thing" against Iran.
What is most disconcerting here is the combination of Ahmadinejad's recklessness and his ridicule of the apparent balance of power. Based on similar characteristics, Saddam Hussein launched three Middle East wars even without nuclear weapons. To some extent, the majority of the Iranian establishment would be a restraining factor, yet they are hardly moderates either.
What are Iran's motives in seeking nuclear technology? The official story, which even Iranian leaders contradict when speaking in Persian, is that they are not seeking weapons but merely peaceful nuclear power. It is true that Iran lacks oil refining capability, but it is doubtful that one of the world's main oil-producing countries believes it needs nuclear energy when this mode of power generation has been a costly, dangerous failure elsewhere. Nor has Iran spent so much money to develop long-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons to distant targets in order to build an overnight international mail delivery service to compete with Federal Express.
Given this poor cover story, the first fallback argument is that Iran needs nuclear weapons because it is surrounded by enemies. This neglects the fact that Iran would have few enemies (the worst of the real ones, Saddam Hussein, is now an imprisoned ex-dictator) if it were not the world's main supporter of terrorism, subverter of Arab-Israeli peace, and official sponsor of anti-Americanism, while also sabotaging Iraqi stability and daily threatening to wipe Israel off the map.
The second fallback argument is that Iran has as much right to have nuclear weapons as other states, which neglects the regime's actual nature, ideology, and aggressive ambitions. This ignores the fact that Iran has legal obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty not to develop weapons. Other countries that did obtain nuclear weapons--Israel, India, Pakistan--forewent the advantages offered by the treaty since they never signed it.
There is actually a third argument that Iranians do not use, but which makes sense. As expensive as nuclear weapons are, it is cheaper and easier to build them (and the long-range rocket delivery vehicles) than to rebuild a conventional military. After all, the latter option would require building or buying hundreds of tanks and planes as well as other equipment. Moreover, if Iran can build its own nuclear weapons, it would not be dependent on buying and maintaining high-tech items from other countries, which involves the risk that supplies could be cut off in case of war or policy disputes.
In short, in a sense, nuclear weapons are the poor man's nuclear weapons. This point, however, also shows how dangerous such a dependency on unconventional weapons for deterrence would be. It is an inflexible strategy in which these arms either would or would not be used. Even the threat to employ them can set off a major confrontation and a stressful arms race.
Iran has already threatened to wipe out one country, Israel, in a policy that can only be termed genocide. Of course, if Iran were to obtain nuclear weapons it would not necessarily immediately use them against Israel. The principal concern, however, is that Tehran would be able to do so whenever it wanted; and thinking about the kind of people--both in terms of their responsibility and ideology--who would control that decision makes it a frightening prospect indeed.
Yet there are other dangerous implications of Iranian nuclear weapons that should make stopping Tehran's drive to get them a priority for many others. First, such weapons would be far more likely to fall into the hands of terrorists than any other nuclear arms in the world, through carelessness or intention of even a small group of Iranian government extremists. While it is often claimed that Iran would not pass nuclear weapons to terrorist groups, it should be noted that in 2006, Tehran did give Hizballah some of the longer-range missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads--not a good omen for the future in this regard.
Second, the weapons would more likely be used in the probable event that the Iranian regime were to face domestic instability or imminent overthrow.
Possessing such power would give Iran tremendous strategic leverage. Who in the area would say "no" to a Tehran so armed? A Europe already too quick with appeasement would go even further in that direction, while U.S. ability to act in the region would be greatly reduced. The Gulf Arabs, freed from the menace of Saddam Hussein, would now face an equally or even more frightening threat.
Such a development would be an inspiration to radical movements and terrorists to become even more reckless, believing that Tehran would back them up or at least that their enemies would be demoralized and the West too afraid to help their intended victims.
Western countries would be asked by Middle Eastern states to give them serious guarantees to intervene, even to the point of using nuclear weapons if Iran were to threaten with them. To fail to do so would mean a collapse of Western credibility in the region; to do so would mean that some day that promise might have to be fulfilled.
What will the current nuclear powers do when the Saudis or other Arab states ask for help in obtaining their own nuclear devices?
As for the attempts to stop Iran or persuade it to slow down the nuclear program, concern over the danger has sparked some U.S.-Europe cooperation. Yet Iran is not bargaining in good faith; it is merely buying the time necessary so it can reach its goal and ward off further pressure by flourishing its new nuclear arms. Furthermore, since there are no teeth in the Western stance--and Iran knows it--the effort is completely futile.
Finally, if one asks the negative consequences for Iran from the international community when--not if--it is clear Iran has broken its pledges, openly rejected a deal, and is on the verge of obtaining atomic warheads, the answer is: remarkably little.
Of course, much could be done to stop Iran if Europe were to join the United States in a serious program of economic and political sanctions combined with tough, credible warnings along with real pressures on Russia, China, Pakistan, and North Korea to stop any help to Iran. However, Europe would not back such measures, fearing confrontation and the loss of both oil imports and profits from trade with Iran. The same point applies to any attempt to topple Iran's regime, which would not work any way.
Thus, despite all the talk of efforts to stop Iran's nuclear weapons effort and about someone attacking Iran's nuclear facilities, this is probably not going to happen. Thereafter, the only defense for Iran's intended targets would be deterrence and hope.
It should be reiterated that while Iran might not be a "crazy
state" it is also not a normal one guided by pragmatic ideology, limited aims, and
realpolitik. The Iranian ruling establishment certainly shows signs of caution at times
and an ability to read the balance of power, but this is a slender reed on which to base
the future of the Middle East, much less of the world. In addition, the mainstream Iranian
establishment is the group that has already proven to be the world's leading sponsor of
terrorism, a determined wrecker of Arab-Israeli peace, a prime source for anti-Westernism
and anti-Americanism, and a determined enemy of the status quo in the Arab and Muslim
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is even more extreme; And while the establishment has limited his power so far--as the two terms of his reformist predecessor, Muhammad Khatami, showed, Iran's president can be a relatively powerless job--this will not necessarily apply forever. Unlike Khatami, Ahmadinejad is a tough young man who is building his own faction. It is conceivable that he will be in total control of Iran--as much as anyone can be--in the future. In partnership with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, he can implement his design; and what a design it is. Iran's goals include:
Fomenting revolution in every existing Muslim majority state.
Encouraging radical Islamist forces everywhere Muslims live.
Wiping Israel off the map.
Expelling Western influence from the Middle East.
Even if it falls very short of this ambitious redesign for the globe, the consequences are far-reaching and quite dangerous. Moreover, Iran now has more ability to pursue such a program than at any time previously. Iran faces the least Western opposition to this program at a time when the most extreme faction may be establishing rule over the country and moving in a very militant direction.
Iran is the sole regional great power today in the Middle
East, because no Arab state can claim that title. It has expanded influence in Iraq,
Lebanon, and among the Palestinians as well as in parts of Afghanistan, becoming the
sponsor not only of Hizballah, but also of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In many ways it is the
patron of Syria. The growing Shi'a-Sunni rift is adding to Iran's influence, which is also
helped by the high price of oil; even without nuclear weapons.
Iran is relatively more powerful today than at any time in modern history. At the same time, it has an extremist, adventurous regime that makes it dangerous but also gives it appeal in the Arab world. Iran is the world's leading sponsor of terrorism and a major force subverting any resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is on the verge of obtaining nuclear weapons.
Given all these factors, it is reasonable to say that Iran's growing power is possibly the most dangerous situation that the world will face in the coming years.
*Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Interdisciplinary university, and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs. His latest books are The Tragedy of the Middle East and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East.
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MERIA Journal V.10, N.3 (September 2006)
Rubin: Iran - The Rise of a Regional Power
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