Richard Melson

September 2006

MERIA: Egypt

Published by the GLORIA Center,
Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya Volume 10, No. 3, Article 7/10 - September 2006

Total Circulation 22,500

Adel Guindy*
This article discusses the recent strengthening of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamist movements in Egypt. It then looks at the resulting regression in modernization and Westernization efforts in the country. The article also focuses on the adverse effects these changes have had on Egyptian Copts.
The success of the Muslim Brotherhood to gain a fifth of the parliamentary seats in the latest elections in Egypt (November 2005) seemed to have taken many people by surprise. The recent acceleration in the number of attacks on Copts in the country may also take some by surprise. These two phenomena are in fact linked and should be seen as a natural consequence of relentless efforts over the past few decades to Islamize the country.
Six decades ago, Egypt's ruling system, under a corrupt monarchy and on the verge of collapse, nearly fell into the laps of the Muslim Brotherhood. Established only two decades earlier (in 1928), the Brotherhood appeared to have garnered such strength that to them it seemed natural they would take over the rule in the country and establish an Islamic state from the ruins of the dysfunctional liberal system.
Then came the army's coup d'etat (later called a "revolution"). Even though most of the "Free Officers" had previously been Brotherhood members and, as new rulers, it was clear they had special connections with the Brotherhood, the realities of governance soon led to a clash of interests. As a result, the Brotherhood was banned in 1954, and its aspirations and designs had to be shelved. However, these aspirations never died.
Following the Nasser years, with the wins, losses, and experimentations with Arabism and socialism, those shelved aspirations were revived with the arrival of Anwar Sadat. He began his rule by reopening the doors to the Brotherhood and other off-shoots of Islamic groups. He then initiated what one could, in hindsight, term "the Great Islamic Transformation" of Egypt. The first step was to stipulate in the Second Article of his new Constitution, promulgated in 1971 (long before Khomeini embarked on his Islamic revolutionary campaign), that the Principles of Islamic Shari'a were "a main source" of legislation. In May 1981, the "a" was replaced with "the," making Shari'a the term of reference for the entire constitution, meaning all other articles were to be interpreted in that light.[1]
That change provided the legal, political, and "psychological" basis for the Islamic transformation to proceed in an inexorable fashion. Sadat's famous slogan, "I am a Muslim president of a Muslim state" was a clear indication of this transformation.
The society began a gradual Islamic transformation. Consider the following examples of Egypt's transformation.
Not only the hijab, but also the niqab[2] became widespread and a part of a national dress code of sorts for the Egyptian women. Beyond the push to exhibit ever more piety, this trend was defended, in Orwellian fashion, in the name of "personal freedom." If Huda Sha'arawi and Qasim Amin--the visionary champions of the women's liberation movement of the early twentieth century--were still alive, they would find the present scenes on the streets of Cairo utterly devastating.
Mosques broadcast prayers (including at early dawn) over public speakers, and religious recordings have replaced popular music in most transport vehicles (taxis, buses, and minibuses) as well as in shops. It is not unusual to see Metro (subway) cars turned into preaching (proselytizing) forums by feverish zealots. Moreover, owners of apartment buildings who have transformed even part of their building's basement into a prayer hall (equipped with microphones) receive special local property tax exemptions.
The professional syndicates, organizations, and the Lawyers' Bar--mostly dominated by Islamists--have been turned into forums for spreading an Islamic--and violently anti-Western--agenda rather than attending to members' needs and providing them with services.
At government administration offices, it is common for employees to spend most of the workday (already among the shortest in the world) performing ritual ablution and prayers. Office managers and senior directors often double as prayer leaders. It is indeed rare to find an office that is not adorned with religious artifacts, such as framed Koran verses and photos of Qa'aba along with photos of the president--a perfect example of the amalgamation of religious and state symbols.
The national carrier, EgyptAir, which for years has banned serving alcohol[3] on all flights, also recites at every take-off and landing the "Invocation of Travel," originally intended for desert trips on camelback. While alcohol is still not totally banned in the country, local authorities in the governorates have over the past several years gradually restricted its sale to "tourist" areas. This is done to feign public piety or simply to avoid possible attacks by Islamists on bars and other places where alcohol is sold. During the fasting month of Ramadan, alcohol may be served in tourist locations outside the fasting hours (i.e. between sunset and dawn), and only to foreigners. Ironically, an Egyptian non-Muslim would not be served a beer, whereas a foreigner (even if Muslim) would be.
Even the basic and familiar daily greetings of "good morning/evening/day," using expressions for which Egyptians were long renowned, were replaced with the standard Islamic "assalamu alaykum."[4]. The "hello" naturally said in answering the phone, has equally been replaced by the same Islamic expression.
Likewise, the century-old school of fine arts is now filled with hijab-wearing girls and bearded men, all claiming that sculpturing and drawing human models is "illicit."[5] Already from the late 1970s, depicting nude models has been banned, and all artwork statues showing full or partial nudity once exhibited in the school were moved to the school's storage rooms. It is worth noting that the drive towards such extremist attitudes is propagated by preachers in the prayer halls of the school itself.
Indeed, the Grand Mufti of Egypt recently declared statues "illicit."[6] In response to criticism by some writers worried that such fatwas would further blemish the image of Islam in the world, the Mufti said that he was only reiterating this old fatwa based on a hadith (a saying by the Prophet)[7] and that he was not in a position to deny or negate "what is established in the matters of religion" no matter what. Will the treasures of the pharaohs one day meet the same destiny as that of the Buddha statutes demolished by the Taliban? One woman already smashed statues in the Hassan Heshmat Museum in Cairo following the famous fatwa.
Propagators of extremist thought are given a free hand to spread their ideas by all means (as long as they are not overly critical of the regime). On the other hand, efforts by civil society are systematically obstructed, and the defenders of liberal and progressive ideas have--until very recently--been extremely marginalized. The bases of critical thinking and respect for the "other" are not even taught in school.
Establishing political parties in Egypt is subject to the approval of a special commission headed by the speaker of the Shura Council (The "Consultative Council," or the upper parliamentary chamber, which has limited legislative powers). According to the Parties Law, a new party must meet certain criteria in order to become eligible. A main criterion is that the "party's principles, objectives, programs, politics, and approaches in performing its activities do not contradict the principles of Shari'a; these being the main source of legislation in the country."[8] When the new party "Egypt the Motherland" applied in February 2004, the Parties Commission (currently headed by the secretary general of the ruling National Democratic Party) quickly denied its approval, essentially because its program spoke of the necessity to adopt some kind of secularism in the country. The party duly challenged the decision in the courts in July of the same year. After lengthy procedures, the Supr!
eme Administrative
Court decided to uphold the Commission's decision, asserting that the party's program "does not define the secularism (it calls for), or how to separate between the religious and political authorities..."
Egyptian nationalism and patriotism have receded and have been replaced by a new sense of Pan-Islamism in which a fellow Muslim from Pakistan or Malaysia is considered to be much closer than a Coptic co-citizen. For instance, in a recent interview with the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood in a government-owned paper, he stated with no ambiguity: "Tuz fi (To hell with) Egypt," "Our nationality is Islam," and "The Rule of the Ottoman Empire over Egypt was not an occupation, because it was a Muslim Caliphate."[9] To show his zeal for Pan-Islamism, he said, "We don't mind to have a Malaysian president for Egypt (as long as he is Muslim)." Surprisingly, few voices arose to reject such abhorrent discourse.
It would require volumes to document the drastic role played over the past few decades by the government-owned media, which are typically mouth-pieces reflecting the government's directives in the process of Islamic Transformation. Yet one recent example says a great deal. On December 9, 2005, a guest on one of the regular religious programs broadcast on Cairo's main television channel used the opportunity to pour out his wrath on "secularists" in Egypt.[10] He emphasized that Islam's tenet as "a state and a religion" was one of the fundamentals without which the faith could not be upheld. He went on to explain that the objectives of legislation in the Muslim state must be within the boundaries of defining what is licit and illicit (as stipulated by the Shari'a).
This, coming only a few weeks after the "surprise" success of the Muslim Brotherhood in the parliamentary elections may indicate that in essence, there is little ideological difference between the government and the Brotherhood. The main issue, therefore, is who holds the reigns of power and to what extent (or rather how fast) the ideology is implemented.
The examples mentioned above demonstrating the Islamic Transformation of Egypt would not be complete without attempting to examine the state of the religious establishment in the country.
In the early years of the 20th Century, Egypt had five religious (Koranic) schools with about 3,000 students, some of whom would ultimately join al-Azhar Mosque/University to become imams. Today, the number of institutes has mushroomed to seven thousand, with no less than 1.5 million students.[11] Even considering the population growth, this is still a huge proportional increase, most of it taking place over the past few decades.
In regards to the religious curricula and material taught in these schools, the prominent thinker Lafif Lakhdar reports[12] that the students are taught under the topic of the "Rules of Dhimmitude" that "the meaning of the dhimmitude contract is to accept that some infidels (kuffar) remain in their infidelity (kufr) on the condition that they pay the tribute (jizzyah) in utter humiliation, according to the commands of the Highest (Allah) in the Koran."[13] Lakhdar further identifies examples of flagrant religious discrimination as he quotes from the same book that orders dhimmis "not [to] be buried in our tombs.... [T]hey can enter public baths only if porting bells or having their necks stamped; they ride donkeys without saddles, not horses; they should not take a lead position in meetings; one should not stand up [to salute] them, nor be first to greet them or congratulate them or visit them when sick; they should not be allowed to ring their (church) bells; and should be forced to go through the narrowest of alleys."

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 Army.
Over 400,000 students in 70 faculties are currently enrolled in al-Azhar University,[14] and there are over 7,000 faculty members. During the 2005/2006 academic year it accepted over 83,000 students,[15] 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[16] 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!
years to
reach 1.5 billion pounds (about US $270).[17] 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.[18] 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,[19] 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."[20] Shari'a harbors several objectionable stipulations according to current human rights standards (such as cruel punishments by stoning, amputation, and flagellation;[21] 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)[22] posted an article entitled "Islam versus Ahl al-Kitab: Past and Present."[23] 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.
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.[24] 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."[25]
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."[26] 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"[27] 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.[28] 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,[29] 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.[30]
Recently, an administrative court ruled that the Coptic Orthodox Church remarry a divorced person.[31] 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.
The media has consistently played a major role in the process, but when questioned about the excessive religious material in the government media, Egyptian officials usually offer a pretext that the government, in its efforts to defeat the violent Islamist groups, has been trying to "pull the rug from under their feet" (by outdoing them in religiosity). However, the problem is believed to be deeper than a simple reaction to Islamist violence; it is more likely a deliberate process that has continued over the past few decades.
Nevertheless, and without trying to minimize the potential catastrophic risks associated with a possible establishment of a fully Islamist regime in Egypt, it is only fair to conclude that the "Great Islamic Transformation," implemented (and/or tolerated) by the government over the past few decades has paved the way for the Muslim Brotherhood to take over the rule in a perfectly natural and even "democratic" fashion.
Indeed, that the Islamists (only) won a fifth of the Assembly's seats can be misleading; one must not forget that they had fielded candidates in no more than a third of the total constituencies. In other words, the Brotherhood would be bound to sweep the vote in fully-open, fair, and free elections in the future. Hamas's recent victory in the Palestinian Authority elections is another eye-opener.
Furthermore, Islamization, especially the stipulation in the Constitution that Shari'a is the main source of legislation, has also led to a serious deterioration of the Coptic minority's conditions; they have become subject to a de-facto dhimmi status, relegated to second-class citizens.
Overall, Egypt, which has undergone serious modernization and Westernization efforts since the days of Muhammad Ali Pasha[32] (who ruled after the awakening cultural shock caused by Napoleon's Conquest) seems to have regressed. Egypt badly needs a leadership that will reverse the trend and put the country back on a course of enlightenment and modernity.
*Adel Guindy is a writer on Middle East issues based in France.

[1] By way of comparison, Article 1 of the French Constitution states: "France shall be an indivisible, secular, democratic and social Republic. It shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion. It shall respect all beliefs."
[2] An all black garment, with only a narrow slot for the eyes.
[3] Sharing that honor only with Saudi Airlines in the Arab world.
[4] This literally means "peace be upon you," which is not at all bad in itself. The real issue is that of forced vestmental and behavioral codes in all aspects of life.
[5] Reported by Rose-elyoussef Magazine, April 13, 2006.
[6] See Dr. Hamed Ammar, al-Kahera, April 4, 2006.
[7] In this particular case, the hadith in question infers that "angels" would never enter a house adorned with statues or where dogs were.
[8] According to Article 4 of Law 40/1977 on Political Parties.
[9] Roza newspaper, April 17, 2006.
[10] The guest was Dr. Mohamed Imara, among the most popular extremist leaders. He is a regular guest on government TV shows and writes a weekly column in the government-owned al-Akhbar newspaper.
[11] Information based on a series of articles by Shaykh Ali Goma'a, al-Ahram, July/August 2005.
[12] Refer to article:
[13] These ideas reflect the stipulations of the "Chart of Omar." Refer to endnote 29 below.
[14] Information based on a series of articles by Shaykh Ali Goma'a, al-Ahram, July/August 2005.
[15] Exactly 83,331 students. Refer to al-Ahram, September 22, 2005.
[16] Reported in al-Ahram, June 23, 2005.
[17] Al-Ahram, May 10, 2004.
[18] Reported in al-Ahram, April, 15 and 21, 2005, October 30, 2005.
[19] Refer to al-Ahram, August 6, 2005.
[20] Al-Ahram newspaper (government-owned), May 15, 2006.
[21] Collectively called hudud (penal limits).
[22] See article at:
[23] People of the Book, Jews and Christians.
[24] Under the dhimmitude status, the "People of the Book" are allowed to keep their faiths, while living under complete submission to the reign and rules of Islam, including the payment of jiziah "in humbleness." In 1856, that status was abolished de jure by the Ottoman Empire (under European pressure), but it still prevails de facto.
[25] On the other hand, when a few cartoons--however offensive they may have been--were published by a Danish paper, it was turned into a major international crisis (in which Egypt played a major role), with demands to implement laws in Western countries incriminating "insults" to Islam or any of its sacred figures.
[26] Decree 291 of December 7, 2005.
[27] The "Chart of Omar," usually attributed to Caliph Omar ibn al-Khattab, is the basis of the dhimmitude status as it stipulates several obligations and prohibitions by dhimmis, and concludes with: "If they break any of their conditions, there is no valid pact with them and they deserve from Muslims whatever the adversaries do." Refer to article by Lafif Lakhdar at:
[28] One example, reported by al-Kalema Center for Human Rights based in Cairo, in 2004, only 12 Copts were admitted to the Police Academy, out of a total 1,050.
[29] A recent case at hand: On May 18, 2006, the Court of Appeals in Alexandria upheld (in the case 679/43) the ruling of a lower court whereby the (Coptic) defendant mother Camilla Lotfi was ordered to give up her twin children Andrew and Mario (aged 11 years) to their father, Medhat Ramses, who had converted to Islam. Ignoring the applicable law, which grants the custody of children below 15 years to their mother, the court decided to implement the precepts of Shari'a instead. It stated that: "Aged 11, the children can discern... moreover, there is a danger, if left with their Christian mother, that their (Islamic) faith would be 'spoiled.'"
[30] Numerous cases have been reported by the Coptic weekly paper Watani during 2005 and 2006.
[31] Reported by al-Ahram, March, 15, 2006. The Coptic Church has rejected and appealed the ruling.
[32] He ruled Egypt from 1805 to 1847. The last descendant of his dynasty was deposed in 1954.

MERIA Journal Staff
Publisher and Editor: Prof. Barry Rubin
Assistant Editors: Cameron Brown, Keren Ribo, Yeru Aharoni
MERIA is a project of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Interdisciplinary University.


MERIA Journal V.10, N.3 (September 2006)

Guindy: The Islamization of Egypt?

MERIA Journal

Wed, 13 Sep 2006 10:52:43 +0200

Published by the GLORIA Center,
Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya Volume 10, No. 3, Article 10/10 - September 2006

Total Circulation 22,500

Barry Rubin*
One of the most important developments in the early twenty-first century Middle East is the rise of Iran to become a regional great power. This has come about not solely because Iran has an Islamist regime or even that it was driving strenuously for nuclear weapons, but also due to other factors including the country's geopolitical assets and a relative power vacuum. Given, however, the ideology and extremism of the Tehran regime, Iran's growing influence has serious consequences for the region's stability and Western interests that could well become a, or perhaps the, central global issue in the coming years.
In July/August 2006, this influence was especially felt in the border attacks against Israel by Hamas and Hizballah, leading to wider-scale fighting. Iran is the patron of both groups, supplying them with arms, training, and encouragement to launch assaults. Iranian advisors in Lebanon have long aided Hizballah, while most of the weapons and equipment Hizballah used against Israel during this period were Iranian-built and supplied. This for the first time included longer-range missiles and the radar-guided C-102 anti-ship missile.[1]
Ironically, the original theorist and architect of Iran's rise to be a regional power was the man most hated by the current Islamist regime, the shah, who was overthrown by its 1979 revolution. He had foreseen Iran as the strongest state in the Persian Gulf region, albeit as a junior partner of the United States. In this pursuit, he had launched a massive military build-up, inaugurated a nuclear power program, mobilized the country's rising oil income, and tried to implement a reform program to make Iran a modern country. What had been for the shah an ambition built on nationalism was for his successors a parallel ambition built on an Islamist radicalism that often simply served as a thin disguise for nationalism.
If the ambition of its leader was one pillar of Iran's rise to be a regional power, the other was its objective situation. Iran is a large state with a large population exceeding the number of people in all the Arab states of the Gulf combined. As the price of oil soared after the 1990s, it had ample financial resources too. As an empire--only half its people are Persian-speaking--the government in Tehran knows it must be strong enough to maintain the state's existence. History has shown, indeed, that when the central regime is weak the country falls apart.
Iran's cultural, linguistic, ethnic, and religious distinctions from its neighbors also fuel its sense of a separate national mission. The Persian-Arab divide is a very real one, and in terms of Islam, the Iranians' Shi'a version stands in contrast to the majority Sunni faith among the Arabs. Indeed, the dominant view among Arabs since the 1950s was a militant nationalism of their own that viewed the Middle East as their sole domain. At times of confrontation and tension, as in the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988, these contrasts make for real rivalry and hatred. Symbolically, Arab nationalists reject the designation "Persian Gulf," preferring to call that body of water that adjoins the world's richest oil reserves the "Arab Gulf."
This is the context into which a radical, utopian Islamist ideology seized power in Iran. The revolution's leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, regarded Iran as only the first step to creating a utopian Islamic empire that would bring, in the words of his final testament in 1989, "absolute perfection and infinite glory and beauty." He urged Muslims: "Rise up! Grab what is yours by right through nails and teeth! Do not fear the propaganda of the superpowers and their sworn stooges. Drive out the criminal rulers!.... March towards an Islamic government!" If only all Moslems cooperated, they would be "the greatest power on earth."
Obviously, Iran's Arab neighbors were to be the first ones "liberated" or victimized, depending on one's perspective. Deciding not to wait until Iran was able to launch an Islamist revolution in his country, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Iran in 1980 in what was partly a preemptive strike and partly an imperialistic aggression. After eight years of fighting, Khomeini reluctantly had to sue for peace, but the revolution had survived. Shortly thereafter, Khomeini died, but he had many lieutenants to take his place.
The experience of governing Iran and of fighting off Iraq had taught the country's new rulers an important lesson. They had the ambition and ideological drive to spread the revolution and expand their control but also knew that such activities were dangerous. The top priority would be on maintaining their control over Iran; a secondary priority was to expand Iranian influence and Islamist revolt. On the latter front, they proceeded carefully and covertly.
Yet in following this strategy, they also created a hostile environment for themselves. Insisting that the United States was the "Great Satan" whose influence must be swept out of the region did not endear Iran to America. In truth, an accommodation would have been possible in which Washington would accept an Islamist regime in Iran if it did not try to overthrow its neighbors, spread anti-Americanism, sponsor terrorism, and try to wreck any progress in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. The rivalry was not inevitable. The United States wanted to avoid trouble. Having Iran's cooperation in blocking Soviet influence (at a time when Moscow had invaded Afghanistan) and Arab radicalism--or at least Tehran's neutrality--would have satisfied the United States. Seizing the staff of the U.S. embassy as hostages and holding them for more than a year provoked a different reaction.
By 2006, after a quarter-century in power, Iran had helped produce a very difficult environment for itself. Its relations with neighboring Arab states were formally correct but also tense. American forces were in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Tehran could talk about encirclement. It was also facing American sanctions and international pressure on the nuclear arms issue. In conventional military terms, Iran was relatively weak. It had never recovered from the cutoff of Western arms and spare parts, especially when it came to planes, ships, and tanks.
The domestic situation was also far from secure. During a period of relative political permissiveness in the 1990s and into the next decade, reformist candidates had won every election. The majority of Iranians, especially among the young, were discontented with the regime's tight rule. Moreover, at least before oil prices hit their peak, the economy was not doing well. The regime contained these threats by maneuvering and blocking any real change, but they did not go away
To all these problems--foreign and domestic--the regime's response was ideological firmness, repression of opposition, mass mobilization, the sponsorship of terrorist and revolutionary movements abroad, and the acquisition of non-conventional weapons. There were also elements in the international and regional situation that gave Iran its long-awaited opportunity to become a great power in its own area.
Despite these problems, inside and outside of the country, developments also provided Iran with opportunities for exerting its power and influence that were unprecedented during the time of the Islamist regime and even in Iran's entire modern history.
The first among these elements is the Soviet Union's collapse, which led to the emergence of a half-dozen Muslim majority states to Iran's north. These include Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan. Given the weakness of these states, Iran has backed indigenous Islamist movements. The absence of a strong USSR to Iran's north also eases the pressure on Tehran.
Second, high oil prices in the early twenty-first century greatly enhanced Iran's financial assets. In addition, Iran became the patron and sole ally of Syria, which needed the oil Iran supplied it at special discounts as well as Tehran's diplomatic support. The two countries cooperated closely in Syrian-controlled Lebanon for many years.
The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and overthrow of Saddam Hussein eliminated Iran's most immediately threatening enemy. Moreover, in a democratic situation, the majority Shi'a lead the government. Some elements in this leading coalition and Shi'a militia groups are pro-Iranian, though the leadership as a whole has no desire to be Iranian clients. A Sunni insurgency, supported by Arab regimes, also pushes the post-Saddam government to view Iran as a necessary ally. From a situation in which Iraq menaced Iran, Tehran can now send in large numbers of agents and money to play a pivotal role in the country.
The U.S.-led removal of the Taliban government in Afghanistan also eliminated another force hostile to Iran. While Iran is not happy having American troops in Afghanistan, Tehran has its own client groups and considerable influence in the Shi'a-majority southwestern part of the country.
Although the United States looks at Iran as the world's leading sponsor of terrorism (as well as an obstacle to an Arab-Israeli peace settlement, and seeking nuclear weapons) America is constrained from going beyond its present pressure on that country. Tied down with Iraq, lacking support from allies and domestic public opinion, the United States is unlikely to attack Iran and lacks other alternatives for changing Tehran's policy.
Unwilling to have a confrontation with Iran while needing Iran's oil and wanting its business, Europe is not ready to support serious sanctions, much less a military operation against Iran's nuclear weapons' program. Although a great deal of diplomacy was conducted and many plans offered, the bottom line is that Iran fairly easily maneuvered these efforts in order to continue its nuclear arms drive without serious cost.
Having already built long-range missiles and well on the way to possessing nuclear warheads, Iran's hand is already strengthened in anticipation of getting them. When the day finally comes, Tehran will be the most strategically powerful Muslim state in the world.
Aside from these better-known factors are some other, more recent ones that contribute to Iran's stronger position. One of the most important, and least noticed, of these is the high level of Arab weakness and disorganization. The Arab world's decline is related to its leaders' refusal to make necessary reforms whether they involve civil rights, economic changes, pragmatism, or moderation toward the West and Israel. The breakdown is apparent in virtually every country even though the regimes are still managing to use demagoguery, Arab nationalism, and the fear of Islamism to hold onto power.
Arab nationalism has collapsed, especially in its international aspects. Apart from propagandistic exercises, there is no Arab world. Moreover, not a single Arab state has any real influence on the others today. Egypt has turned inward, Syria is isolated, and Iraq no longer even defines itself as Arab. Only Iran has something to offer ideologically and is able and eager to promote its influence across borders.
This is not to deny that the Persian ethnic and Shi'a religious factors limit Iran's appeal. Yet this can be transcended to some extent or even, in the latter case, provide an advantage. The growing Sunni-Shi'a divide is the main such situation where Iran's distinctiveness is an advantage. Shi'a Muslims are the largest group in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Oman, and Bahrain, while also comprising significant minorities in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and other countries. Iran sponsors large Shi'a groups in Lebanon and Iraq along with small ones, often oriented toward terrorism, in the Gulf Arab monarchies.
Several years of terrorism by Sunni on Shi'a Muslims in Iraq, with some bloody reprisals in the other direction, have stirred up these passions even beyond Iraq's borders. By cheering on the terrorist insurgency, the Arab regimes have taken the side of the Sunnis and Iraq's Shi'a majority knows it. Saudi Arabia supplies money for the insurgents, Jordanians cross the border to fight, and Syria sponsors the terrorist war in every way.
Since Arab nationalism and Arab states offer Iraq's Shi'as nothing except support for their enemies, why shouldn't Iraqi Shi'as see Iran as an ally, though not as a master? In 2005, the leader of the insurgency, al-Qaida's Abu Musab al-Zarqawi openly called for a jihad against Shi'as, in effect denying that they were Muslims at all. There was virtually no condemnation of this shocking statement by Sunni Muslim clerics or political leaders in other Arab countries. Jordan's King Abdallah, far more politely, warned of a Shi'a alliance of Iran, Iraq, and others that would threaten the Arab world.
Egyptian President Husni Mubarak added his views in an April 8, 2006 interview on al-Arabiya satellite television. Pointing out that Iran has influence over the Shi'a in Iraq, which is certainly somewhat true, he concluded: "The Shiites are always loyal to Iran. Most of them are loyal to Iran and not to the countries in which they live." This portrayed Shi'as everywhere as Iranian agents and traitors to the Arabs.
In a tape posted on the internet on July 2, 2006, and authenticated by experts, Usama bin Ladin accused Iraqi Shi'a of trying to wipe out the Sunni. He calls the Shi'a "traitors" and "agents of the Americans." Contrary to previous Muslim practice, bin Ladin proclaims that the Shi'a are themselves "apostates," a crime punishable by death in Islamic law.
Of course, bin Ladin represents a very extreme view of Islam and even of Islamism. However, in the past, some of his ideas--though less so his strategic proposals--have percolated throughout Islamist and even into mainstream Sunni Muslim thought. Moreover, although Sunni clerics and political leaders could easily have denounced this statement as a simple way to discredit bin Ladin and promote Muslim unity, they did nothing to blunt the growing rift.
More and more Shi'a may thus turn to Iran, making Mubarak's statement a self-fulfilling prophecy. If Iran has nuclear weapons this is not just a "Muslim bomb" but more specifically a "Shi'a bomb." The Shi'a, often treated as second-class citizens, may see this as their alternative to living with the status quo.
So far, Iran has had a major appeal to only one Shi'a community, that of Lebanon through its sponsorship of Hizballah. Hizballah had the only armed militia in Lebanon, controlled the southern part of the country, has elected members to parliament and even joined the government coalition. Through its war with Israel in 2006, Hizballah showed itself to be a very effective way of increasing Iran's prestige and potentially its influence in the Arab world.
While leaping the Shi'a-Sunni divide has been hard for Iran, it has recently scored some successes in that area. A key factor here is the decline and disinterest of Arab states--at least apart from Syria--in continuing to sponsor terrorist and revolutionary groups. As a result, Iran has become the patron for both Palestinian Islamist groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, eclipsing Arab counterparts. This gives Tehran a real ability to ensure that the Arab-Israeli (or at least the Israeli-Palestinian) conflict continues to simmer. It can also portray itself to Arabs as the real hero in fighting the conflict while their own governments are largely inactive.
Despite bin Ladin's anti-Shi'a invective, there also might be links between Iran and al-Qa'ida. What is most suspicious is the continued safe haven it provides a couple of hundred wanted al-Qa'ida terrorists on its soil, where they continue to plan terrorist activities. While this connection should not be overstated, Iran clearly does use such people when its interests are parallel to theirs: striking at American, Israeli, or Western targets.
Finally, there is the factor of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who represents both a more aggressive Iranian policy and a new form of appeal beyond Iran's borders. Ahmadinejad was elected after the regime cracked down on the reformist opposition. While he is in broad terms a member of the ruling group, he was not the establishment's favorite candidate, has his own faction, and is seen as a problem by much of the Islamic Republic's ruling group.
Ahmadinejad is a populist with close ties to the hardline Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (the military formation, incidentally, that would have control over Iran's nuclear weapons) and who is trying to install his own appointees to a wide range of high-level positions. The president in part uses militancy as a demagogic way to build his own popularity while he also believes in returning to Khomeini's original thought.
His adventurism is visible on two high-profile issues on which he does not differ with the establishment so much in content as he does in style. For example, he is much more outspoken about Iran's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Though all Iran's leadership wants them, the majority prefer to be more circumspect, allowing them to maintain officially that they seek only peaceful nuclear power. Similarly, all Iran's top leaders have called for Israel's destruction but Ahmadinejad does so more frequently and openly.
His establishment critics ask why create unnecessary frictions with the West when Iran is doing so well with a more subtle approach? Yet in the Middle East, Ahmadinejad's extremism plays better. With Saddam Hussein in jail and bin Ladin apparently ineffective, the Arab world is looking for some new hero who postures at standing up to the West. Clearly, Ahmadinejad, and thus Iran, are winning more respect among the Arab masses than the country has hitherto enjoyed. It also benefits from the rise of its client, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah.
How Iran can exploit these opportunities is still an open question. Yet clearly, with the possible exception of the period immediately after the revolution Iran is riding higher than at any time during the previous quarter-century. Obtaining nuclear weapons would move that situation up by a very big margin.

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 worlds.
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.

[1] Associated Press, July 14, 2006.

MERIA Journal Staff
Publisher and Editor: Prof. Barry Rubin
Assistant Editors: Cameron Brown, Keren Ribo, Yeru Aharoni
MERIA is a project of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Interdisciplinary University


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MERIA Journal.

MERIA Journal V.10, N.3 (September 2006)

Rubin: Iran - The Rise of a Regional Power

MERIA Journal

Mon, 18 Sep 2006