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On Fear: The Islam Edition, Or, Do You Know My Friend Wa’el? September 22, 2010

We last got together about ten days ago, when I put up a story that hoped to explain to the Islamic world that, Qur’an burning aside, we don’t really hate either them, or our own Constitution.

I pointed out that, just like everywhere else, about 20% of our population are idiots, that this means about 60,000,000 of us might, at any time, be inclined to burst into fits of random stupidity, such as the desire to burn Qur’ans to make some sort of statement, and that the same First Amendment that protects the freedom of stupid speech also protects the rights of Islamic folks to freely build mosques…and finally, that this apparent “paradox of freedom” is exactly why the US is the kind of country that many Islamic folks the world over wish they lived in as well.

I then went off to enjoy my Godson’s wedding, and I ignored the posting until the next Monday.

On the two dozen sites where it could be found, this was apparently considered to be a fairly innocuous message…with one giant exception, which is what we’ll be talking about today.

Long story short, some portion of this country’s population has some bizarre ideas about Islamic folks…but maybe if they knew my friend Wa’el, they might see things a bit differently.

This world is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those that feel

Horace Walpole, Fourth Earl of Orford, in a letter, August, 1776

So all of this took place at Newsvine…and if you’re not familiar with how things work there, users may “seed” a story that they find of interest, so that it may attract the interest of others. What happens is that the user reposts a shortened version of the original story, along with a link back to the source.

My original posting on the site had fewer than ten comments, but by Monday Newsvine user btco’s seeded version of my story had about 300 comments; today there are more than 625.

Those who were not liking the story basically came down to one of a few categories of responders; here’s one example…

…I live a few minutes from Dearbornistan in Michigan and I can tell you that, as a place with a great deal of Muslims, they barely speak out against the Islamofacists that kill. There is outrage; however, but that outrage is aimed at America instead of the Islamofacists that should be the target of the aforementioned outrage. In fact, Dearborn has seen Muslims verbally attack Christians and forbid them for handing out Christian pamphlets, their 1st amendment right to do so, as this goes against the @!$%#ed up Sharia Law. Until Dearbornistan demands that they will abide willingly with the constitution and ignore the racist and misogynic crap that is Sharia law, then Dearbornistan Muslims side with the enemy and that enemy is Islam.

…and here’s another:

Christianity underwent reformation and was tamed by enlightenment period (during which, BTW, was harshly criticized).

Islam is in its original forms, claws and all.

And people like you, who for some dubious reason think it should be allowed to be what it is are doing great disservice for Muslims whose minds are set for the reforms and who want to live like normal, 21 century people, but are forced to “submit” to medieval dogma.

The idea that all Islamic folks worship a Moon God, that neither democracy nor any other religion can co-exist alongside Islam, that after beating them, all Islamic men send their four wives out to distribute “terror tomatoes” among the infidel population, and that, for adherents of Islam, both the Bible and the Constitution are immoral and corrupt all seems to be accepted wisdom for a bunch of the commenters (except for the “terror tomato” part, which I made up myself); it all seems to come from an apparently long-circulating email that was posted in the comments over and over that purports to prove that Muslims can’t be good Americans.

So is all this true?

Well…let’s start with the question of whether Islamic people can co-exist with democracy…and to help answer that question, let me introduce you to my friend Wa’el.

Wa’el Nawara has been trying to advance the interests of democracy in Egyptian politics for many years now, in the form of his work for the El-Ghad Party, in the face of an Egyptian Government that has been ruled, since the end of King Farouk’s reign, by just one political party, the (secular) NDP. The founder of El-Ghad, Ayman Nour, was imprisoned and tortured for basically getting 8% of the vote in a 2005 Presidential election against the current President, Hosni Mubarak.

To prevent this from happening again, it is also alleged that the Egyptian Government helped to orchestrate a temporarily successful “takeover” of the party from within. (This is not uncommon; the Egyptians security apparatus has acted against numerous parties, including the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood.)

Shortly after Wa’el and I became acquainted (I had been researching a series of stories about Egyptian politics when we were introduced) he was inside the offices of his own Party, which were burned by a mob that was allegedly associated with Egyptian State Security (an event that was recorded, live, by people across the street). Afterwards Wa’el, along with many of the 30 other people who were in the building, were arrested and detained for…you guessed it…suspicion of arson.

It’s not just Wa’el, or the other members of his Party…nor the other members of other Parties, either.

If were to take the time, you’d find out there’s a Center for Democracy in Lebanon, you’d discover that Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and even Saudi Arabia have all held recent local elections, and you’d find out there’s even a debate in the UAE as to whether adopting democratic reforms might be appropriate.

Outside the Gulf, India’s current President is their third Muslim President, Indonesia, which is 80% Muslim, elects their Presidents (even as they struggle with sectarian violence)…and all of that tells me that anyone who thinks Islam and democracy are incompatible should do some more reading.

Can Islam accept the presence of other religions?

One answer can be found in what is today’s Spain, but what used to be Andalucía (or Al-Andalus, if you prefer Arabic), where Moors ruled for centuries over Jews with far more compassion and respect than they ever received under Christian dominion; another, in today’s Egypt, where Christian Copts and Muslims have lived together for thousands of years, even as tensions have increased recently between the two groups.

Does Wa’el beat his four wives?

Not as far as I can tell—and if his one wife ever found out he had three other wives…I’m guessing that wouldn’t go so well for Wa’el.

Is the Bible corrupt to those who follow Islam?

Those who follow “mainstream” Islam believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but they don’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God, or that He was crucified. Is that corruption? I don’t know, and I guess you’ll have to decide that one for yourself.

Now we need to be fair here, and acknowledge that one branch of Islam does indeed represent much of what my most conservative friends are afraid of: Wahhabi Ikhban. Here’s what the Library of Congress has to say about the sect:

Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab was concerned with the way the people of Najd engaged in practices he considered polytheistic, such as praying to saints; making pilgrimages to tombs and special mosques; venerating trees, caves, and stones; and using votive and sacrificial offerings. He was also concerned by what he viewed as a laxity in adhering to Islamic law and in performing religious devotions, such as indifference to the plight of widows and orphans, adultery, lack of attention to obligatory prayers, and failure to allocate shares of inheritance fairly to women.

When Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab began to preach against these breaches of Islamic laws, he characterized customary practices as jahiliya, the same term used to describe the ignorance of Arabians before the Prophet. Initially, his preaching encountered opposition, but he eventually came under the protection of a local chieftain named Muhammad ibn Saud, with whom he formed an alliance. The endurance of the Wahhabi movement’s influence may be attributed to the close association between the founder of the movement and the politically powerful Al Saud in southern Najd (see The Saud Family and Wahhabi Islam, 1500-1818 , ch. 1).

This association between the Al Saud and the Al ash Shaykh, as Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab and his descendants came to be known, effectively converted political loyalty into a religious obligation. According to Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab’s teachings, a Muslim must present a bayah, or oath of allegiance, to a Muslim ruler during his lifetime to ensure his redemption after death. The ruler, conversely, is owed unquestioned allegiance from his people so long as he leads the community according to the laws of God. The whole purpose of the Muslim community is to become the living embodiment of God’s laws, and it is the responsibility of the legitimate ruler to ensure that people know God’s laws and live in conformity to them.

So what have we learned today?

Well, we learned that there is a community of Americans out there who are profoundly afraid of Islam, or anything connected with it, and the odds are that they know very little about the religion, other than what they’ve seen and copied and pasted, over and over, in a particularly ignorant email.

My friend Wa’el, on the other hand, lives a life that disproves those myths: in addition to being the target of a mob, he’s been jailed, along with many of his friends and associates, for trying to create a more democratic Egypt, he has just the one wife, who lives as an equal in their house, and his own country, Egypt, is one of numerous Islamic countries that have other religions well-established within their borders.

We also learned that numerous countries with Islamic populations are countries with varying degrees of representative democracy…and that the world’s largest democracy just inaugurated their third Muslim President.

Now the question that we’re addressing today is whether Muslims can be good Americans—and the fact is that Wa’el and his family would make great Americans…even though they’re not…and if I can point to Muslims who would make great Americans and live halfway around the world…how much you wanna bet we can find tens of thousands more in the heart of Dearbornistan?

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On The View From Egypt, Part Four, Or, Gaza, We Have A Problem December 31, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — fakeconsultant @ 10:35 am
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What had been a truce between Israel and the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip seems to have abruptly come to a halt; with the Israelis blaming Hamas and Hamas blaming Israeli oppression of the displaced Palestinians for the simmering hostilities that are now boiling over into military-scale violence.

Before the recent holidays and an immoderate amount of snow buried me in things that could not be done on the computer we had been having a conversation about the strategic importance of our relationship with Egypt. Within that series of discussions we explored the influence of the political opposition, and we considered the fragility of President Mubarak’s hold on power.

We also noted the immediate proximity of Egypt to the Gaza Strip.

Today we’re going to tie all of that together—and the end result of all that tying is that we better keep a close eye on Egypt, because trouble in Gaza has spilled over into trouble in Cairo….and that’s one more Middle Eastern problem we don’t need.

If you’re looking for more details as to why Egyptian politics have been a one-party affair since the Republic’s founding, information about the opposition, or a consideration of the country’s strategic importance, have a look at Parts One, Two, or Three of this series.

So that we might put some of the background in place, here are some of the salient facts surrounding the events of the past few days:

A ceasefire that had existed between Hamas and the Israeli Government has expired. That ceasefire, however, had been a bit of an imperfect exercise.

Some attacks from Gaza into Israel have been self-attributed by Hamas (actions that they have described as responses to Israeli aggressions); and there are suggestions that forces loyal to the rival Fatah movement have also been involved in attacks. The Israeli Foreign Ministry reported 2502 rockets or mortars were fired from Gaza in the first 11 months of 2008, resulting in 17 Israeli deaths. (The ceasefire began in June of 2008.)

Over the four days since the ceasefire’s expiration at least 1100 Palestinians have been killed or wounded by Israeli airstrikes, with some airstrikes targeting tunnels that connect the Gaza Strip to Egypt.

The tunnels are important because they are used to import supplies to the region when normal commercial crossings are restricted or closed by the Israeli Defense Forces. (Truck crossings into Gaza have been reduced from 475 daily before Hamas took control of the region to 123 daily in October 2008 to none for the past eight days.)

The IDF reports that the tunnels are used to import weapons as well.

It is also reported that IDF troops are massing near the Gaza border. It is possible that an entry into Gaza by the IDF is imminent, but as of this writing that has not yet occurred…or it may have already occurred, as reported by the sometimes reliable Debka.com.

And it’s the tunnels that connect this story to Egypt.

As you may recall from our earlier conversations, there are many Egyptians who support the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamist views, and there are also many Egyptians, unassociated with Islamism, who feel a sense of solidarity with Gazans and their struggles with Israel. Add to that the fact that President Mubarak’s secular but increasingly unpopular Government has been cooperative with Israel as they have worked to isolate Gaza and you have the makings of some serious trouble in the Egyptian street.

And as of today, the trouble seems to have started.

In a country with a Government that attempts to deter undesired street demonstrations with an extremely hostile internal security response, El Badeel of Cairo reports as many as 200.000 of the undeterred may have taken to the streets in demonstrations against the Government in cities such as Cairo, Alexandria, Tanta, and even down the Nile in the farm country of Minya and Asyut.

The Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Abul-Gheit, and the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, are trading words—and Egyptian police and military border guard units are firing on Palestinians who attempt to enter Egypt through holes blown in the wall (by the bombing raids…) that would normally prevent such entries.

Now here is where it gets tricky.

Hamas, the ruling party in Gaza, is essentially descended from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood—and the last thing Mr. Mubarak wants is hundreds of thousands of Hamas supporters taking up permanent residence in his country, especially if they end up forming fairly insular communities out in the Sinai Desert where the Egyptian internal security apparatus is at it’s weakest.

On the other hand, being perceived as supporting Israel is fraught with 200,000 or so of its own perils—and if the internal security apparatus can’t control the demonstrations, or uses unusually harsh methods to regain control, the internal security threat to Mr. Mubarak’s control from his own citizens will also rise dramatically.

There are those in Israel who want Egypt to take control of Gaza…and it is possible that Israel will use the blockade to create an atmosphere that will “require” Egypt to take “humanitarian” steps—something that might be popular in the Egyptian street…but something that Mr. Mubarak, as we have noted, has no desire to accept.

There are also those who would like to see the Fatah Party take over again in Gaza, removing Hamas from power—but you may recall that Hamas was able to come to power in Gaza because many ordinary Gazans perceived Fatah and Yasser Arafat to be extraordinarily corrupt and ineffectual during their time in power.

The bad news for the US?

We are perceived throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds as the blindly supportive enablers of what Israel is doing in Gaza…and we are perceived in Egypt as the country that enables Mr. Mubarak’s often highly oppressive rule.

As things go badly for the Palestinians, ironically, they get bad for us—and probably for the Israelis as well.

Why? Well, as I often say to my friends, we are making enemies faster than we can kill them. This blind support of Israel against the Gazans isn’t helping matters…but Johann Hari tells the story much better than I:

The world isn’t just watching the Israeli government commit a crime in Gaza; we are watching it self-harm. This morning, and tomorrow morning, and every morning until this punishment beating ends, the young people of the Gaza Strip are going to be more filled with hate, and more determined to fight back, with stones or suicide vests or rockets. Israeli leaders have convinced themselves that the harder you beat the Palestinians, the softer they will become. But when this is over, the rage against Israelis will have hardened, and the same old compromises will still be waiting by the roadside of history, untended and unmade.

To understand how frightening it is to be a Gazan this morning, you need to have stood in that small slab of concrete by the Mediterranean and smelled the claustrophobia. The Gaza Strip is smaller than the Isle of Wight but it is crammed with 1.5 million people who can never leave. They live out their lives on top of each other, jobless and hungry, in vast, sagging tower blocks. From the top floor, you can often see the borders of their world: the Mediterranean, and Israeli barbed wire. When bombs begin to fall – as they are doing now with more deadly force than at any time since 1967 – there is nowhere to hide.

–From an editorial in The Independent, December 29, 2008

There is one bit of good news: if Hillary Clinton can find a way to be seen as an “honest broker”, instead of just a supporter of Israel, the incoming Obama Administration could change the atmosphere enough to allow Gazans and Israelis to again return to negotiations. Can the Obama Administration change the atmosphere enough to induce Israel to adopt a less hard-line anti-Palestinian stance? That may be the biggest question the new Secretary of State finds on her plate next month.

Another possible bit of good news: a rapid settlement and return to a semi-ceasefire status could reduce the long-term political damage. In the unfortunate event of a large-scale ground action by the IDF, it is likely the long-term damage increases. (Some suggest the Israelis chose this moment because they feel the Obama Administration will be less supportive of a hard-line policy than the Bush Administration. If this is true, the window for aggressive action may be closing sooner rather than later.)

So here we are: The Israeli actions against Gaza, intended to end the desire of Gazans to attack Israel, are likely to have exactly the opposite effect…which is spilling over the border to create all kinds of problems for the Mubarak Government in Egypt…all of which means all kinds of new bad news for us.

Hillary Clinton might have problems negotiating with all the players…but if she can overcome that obstacle, there could be a better outcome down the road than we have today.

If Israel cannot be convinced to find a way to develop a different relationship with their Palestinian neighbors—and vice versa—eight years from now President Obama will find himself just as vexed as Mr. Bush is today with his giant Middle Eastern failure…and if events cause Egypt, Pakistan, and maybe even Morocco to slide over to the Iran end of the “scale of hostile nations”, he may find himself quite a bit more vexed than he ever expected.

 

On The View From Egypt, Part Three, Or, Could Big Trouble Create A “Biden Challenge” ? November 17, 2008

I have been telling a serialized story about Egyptian politics recently, and my friend noemie maxwell, over at the Washblog, left a comment that suggested to me that I had “buried the lead” during the Part One and Part Two conversations.

We’ve been hinting at Joe Biden’s comments about inevitable challenges to the incoming Obama Administration, as well as describing political repression and the Constitutionalization of a “forever” political majority…but what we haven’t been talking about is why all of this, specifically, is important to US interests—and what a problem Big Trouble in Egypt could be for a new Administration.

Today, that’s an oversight we’re going to fix….and as a result, we won’t be resolving the cliffhanger that ended Part Two until Part Four.

So hop in the car, Gentle Reader, because we have a long ride ahead.

Let’s get this conversation started by answering the title question…why does Egypt pose such a significant potential challenge for US foreign policy?

The Middle East and its neighbors, we all know, represent the greatest foreign policy challenge we face today—and Egypt is not only adjacent to everything in the Middle East, they’re the first Arab country to have made a kind of peace with Israel.

The Gaza Strip is one half of what could eventually become Palestine…and it is surrounded on three sides by Israel—and on the other by Egypt.

The Suez Canal is entirely within Egypt. If access to the Canal were impeded, oil shipments from Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq would have to travel entirely around Africa…as well as trade from places such as Indonesia, India, and China heading to the Mediterranean and beyond that, to Northern Europe and the East Coast of North America. The Canal, and the trade it supports, has been so important for so long that the British considered it the “jugular vein” of their Empire—in 1892.

(Here’s a fun fact: it is estimated that 120,000 Egyptian forced laborers died during the construction of the Canal.)

We have an extremely close relationship with Egypt as it relates to our “War on Terror”…and they are very important to our very ugly “rendition” program:

“”If you want a serious interrogation, you send a prisoner to Jordan. If you want them to be tortured, you send them to Syria. If you want someone to disappear-never to see them again-you send them to Egypt.”

–Ex-CIA agent Bob Baer, quoted in Stephen Gray’sThe New Statesman” article “America’s Gulag”

We send lots of people to be interrogated, tortured, and disappeared all over the world—and lots of them end up in Egypt; delivered by our CIA to their SSI (State Security Investigations). How many exactly? No one is telling—and it’s possible that no one actually knows.

One thing we do know: we have been following our longtime pattern of supporting a “repressive strongman” in Egypt, just as we have in so many other countries—and that often comes back to bite us very hard (see: Iran).

Lazoghli Square.

The name conjures up such happy memories…if you were one of those who were married at the Notary Public’s Office down at the ol’ Ministry of Justice offices located on the Square.

If you were one of those who were tortured to death by SSI, in the very same building…well, those memories aren’t so happy.

And it is those memories that we will have to deal with should President Hosni Mubarak and his National Democratic Party lose their hold on power suddenly—and it is those memories that have the potential to make things very bad for the US, not just for bilateral relations, but for our relations across the Islamic world.

How bad might it get?

You may recall from our last conversation that essentially the only political opposition that is not the Muslim Brotherhood is the Al-Ghad Party…and you may recall from our last conversation that Ayman Nour, Al-Ghad’s 2005 and 2008 Presidential candidate (and the subject of the cliffhanger from the last story), has been in and out of prison lately.

The de facto current leader of the Al-Ghad Party, Wa’el Nawara, offered this assessment of the potential problems ahead in an email I received just last evening:

Egypt is key to the region’s stability and development … the situation is even more critical than Iran …

If Egypt falls … the entire Middle East and North Africa fall – from Pakistan to Morocco – into chaos, or into the hands of extremists or back to the extremists or back to the age of one-military-coup-every-six-months.

With the eradication of all moderate opposition and the elimination of any real political process, the political situation in Egypt is so uncertain and fragile to the extent that no one knows what happens when Mubarak leaves. Building a political process and tolerating real secular opposition is an insurance policy for stability which the Egyptian regime has persistently failed to subscribe to.

And therein lies the answer to today’s question.

Two things are required to turn Egypt into a foreign policy challenge for the new Administration: there has to be the potential for great damage to peace and stability if Big Trouble should come…and there should be some indication that Big Trouble might be on the way, sooner rather than later.

If Wa’el Nawara is to be believed, the potential for great damage is definitely there…so now what we need to know is whether Big Trouble might really be on the way, sooner rather than later.

Well, folks, I believe it may be…but that will be the second cliffhanger we will resolve in Part Four of this story.

Since we’re running a bit long, and I’m trying to avoid 4,000 word stories, we’ll end today’s conversation with a final thought from Wa’el Nawara:

I just hope that the new US Administration will be able to develop rapport and in fact build some leverage … in the relationship with Egypt … soft leverage … based on partnership and mutual interests … such that this leverage can be used to talk the regime into affecting much-needed political reform and democratic transformation. This is the only way to insure long-term stability in Egypt and the Region.

 

On The View From Egypt, Part Two, Or, If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Lock ‘Em  Up   November 15, 2008

Joe the Biden famously warned us that the new President will be tested by a foreign policy challenge–and most of us assumed that challenge would come from somewhere like Pakistan, Afghanistan…or Russia.

New developments in the Middle East are suggesting that the challenge might come from an entirely different direction.

It’s quite a story we’ve been telling–and today’s installment involves massive electoral manipulation, intimidation, imprisonment… and a recanting witness who dies in his jail cell.

Hop on board the international train, Gentle Reader, and we’ll see what we can learn about a country that is hardly an enemy…that is, in fact, such an ally that they have been willing to torture for us.

As the title notes, this is Part Two of a larger story, so let’s recap:

The Arab Republic of Egypt has been ruled by various versions of one political party more or less forever. That political party is today known as the National Democratic Party (NDP); and at its head is Egypt’s President (since 1981), Hosni Mubarak.

Egypt’s Constitution is written so as to ensure the perpetual dominance of the NDP. For example, the Government is allowed to license political parties…and may revoke that license if a Party violates the law.

Egypt’s Constitution says that “national unity” is the principle to which politics in the Republic shall adhere, which means any political party that advocates any change in the way the NDP is running things is potentially guilty of a violation of law.

The recap complete, let’s move on to new business.

There are other political groups in Egypt besides the NDP, but the opposition is kept very tightly controlled.

One opposition group that exists, but really doesn’t is Al-Ikhwan Al-Muslimeen (in English, the Muslim Brotherhood).

The group has been officially banned in Egypt, but individuals “unofficially” supporting the Brotherhood have run successfully for Parliament. (In 2005, the unofficial Brotherhood candidates won 20% of Parliamentary seats.)

It is said that Mr. Mubarak allows the presence of the Brotherhood, partly to convince Americans that he and the NDP represent the only option other than Radical Islamism…and partly because his own citizens support elements of the Brotherhood’s platform.

Not unlike other Islamist political organizations, the Brotherhood also provides social services in ways the Government does not, which has also strongly connected the group to Egyptian citizens.

Some report that the Brotherhood is associated with extremists, others report that the Brotherhood has in recent decades chosen a moderate path, seeking to impose Shari’a Law through elections and other political means. It is likely that both statements are, to some degree, correct.

Partly because the Government has tolerated the Brotherhood–and partly because the Brotherhood has become powerful enough to demand it–Islamists have gained authority as de facto cultural rulemakers; which, ironically, has led to the Brotherhood acquiring the very political influence Mr. Mubarak’s Government had hoped to avoid giving away.

In an attempt to reduce that influence, there have been various crackdowns on the group….meaning that from time to time the Mubahath el-Dawla (Egyptian State Security) “rounds up the usual suspects” for a bit of intimidation, beating, and torture…with jail time applied as needed.

Other means are also used: as an example, virtually the entire slate of candidates that hoped to run as “Independent” candidates (but were widely perceived as being associated with the Brotherhood) were disqualified by the Government, with only 20 being allowed to run for the 52,000 positions available in the April 2008 elections. (These were the same candidates that had won 20% of the seats in Parliament, and it was expected that they would also do well in the local elections.)

The Brotherhood, despite the best efforts of the Government, is not the only opposition.

There have been a variety of efforts over the years to mount other “reform” candidacies; and today Egypt’s most successful reformer outside the Brotherhood is Ayman Nour.

Of course, in Egyptian politics, success is relative.

Nour, an attorney by trade, was elected to Parliament, but his first major success came just three months after he formed the El-Ghad (Tomorrow) Party in an effort to put himself in contention for Mr. Mubarak’s job in the 2005 Presidential election…when he was stripped of his Parliamentary immunity, arrested, tossed into prison, and charged with conspiring to forge some of the signatures that were on his nominating petitions.

Additional success came in the form of the Party’s newspaper being banned the day before it was scheduled to hit the newsstands.

In the subsequent trial, monitored by Human Rights Watch, the State was able to present co-defendants who admitted their own culpability in the forging of signatures, and who then named Nour as the group’s ringleader. Nour denied having ever met five of his six alleged co-conspirators.

It was alleged by Nour’s defense that Egyptian State Security had “assisted” the co-defendants with their recollection of events—and in fact, one of the co-defendants, Ayman Isma’il Hassan, recanted his testimony in open court, claiming that he was coerced into his confession.

The State Department offered this comment on December 24, 2005:

The United States is troubled by the Egyptian court decision convicting civil reformer and former presidential candidate Ayman Nour. Mr. Nour’s trial has been marred by irregularities and inconsistencies, and has failed to meet the international standards of transparency and respect for rule of law that the Egyptian Government has publicly espoused.

Mr. Nour’s detention and sentencing raise serious concerns about the path of political reform and democracy in Egypt, and is inconsistent with the Egyptian Government’s professed commitment to increased political openness and dialogue within Egyptian society.

We note reports that Ayman Nour’s health appears to be deteriorating, and we urge the Egyptian Government to consider his humanitarian release.

The United States and the international community have been following with concern the Government of Egypt’s handling of Ayman Nour’s case. We will continue to press for his release.

Nour received a five year sentence and was sent to the Mazra’at Tura Prison.

As it turns out, Hassan, the recanting witness, did not survive the events of the trial and his own five year sentence that followed: it is reported that he was found by his three cellmates hanged in his prison cell when they awoke one morning in September 2007.

I love a good cliffhanger…especially when they are real.

With that in mind, this is where we stop for today—but here’s what you need to know:

Nour’s story, despite the intimidation and imprisonment, is far from over.
The intimidation and imprisonment (courtesy of a Government we strongly support) isn’t over, either.

The next time we meet, there’s a lot more story to tell: the Internet becomes the opposition’s most dangerous weapon, the Government responds with “spontaneous demonstrations” and arson…and we discover that in Mr. Mubarak’s Egypt, bloggers are such a threat to public order that they are now themselves targets for torture.

 

On The View From Egypt, Part One, Or, How Professionals Rig Elections October 3, 2008

It has been but a few hours since Sarah Palin took the stage to have a conversation with Joe Biden, and of course the Nation has a ton of questions.

What will happen now?
How will we view all this in a few days?
How will it affect McCain and Obama?

I don’t know…and I’m not even going to try to figure it out right this minute.

Instead, we’re going to take a trip halfway across the world to a country that has been essential to understanding the Middle Eastern story, has been at the center of international conflicts time and time again…and has lessons to teach us that, if we learn them well, could make us a much smarter “Foreign Policy Nation” than we are today.

The country? Egypt.

So grab your virtual passport…and after we arrive, there are a few people I want you to meet.

This is part one of a bigger story, and over the next few days I’m going to try to give you some recent history (well, recent for a country with a history that goes back 7,000 years…), along with an explanation of how political factions are aligned today…how some political factions aren’t even allowed to align…and a few words about the hazards of having an opinion in Egypt—even if it’s online.

Included will be a critical lesson: Democracy and Freedom, which we say we support, can lead to the election of people we don’t like…and that the true measure of a democracy is accepting—and sometimes even encouraging–those outcomes, even if we don’t like them.

So before we can talk about Egyptian politics, we have to talk about…Egyptian Politics.

The Constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt has provisions that pretty much guarantee that there will be no meaningful political opposition. We’ll go right to the Constitution itself for an explanation of how it’s done (where it appears, emphasis was added by me):

PART ONE
THE STATE

Article 5
The political system of the Arab Republic of Egypt is a multiparty one, within the framework of the basic elements and principles of the Egyptian society as stipulated in the Constitution (Political parties are regulated by law).

PART TWO
BASIC CONSTITUENTS OF THE SOCIETY
CHAPTER 1
Social and Moral Constituents

Article 7
Social solidarity is the basis of the society.

PART THREE
PUBLIC FREEDOMS, RIGHTS AND DUTIES

Article 47
Freedom of opinion is guaranteed.
Every individual has the right to express his opinion and to publicise it verbally or in writing or by photography or by other means within the limits of the law.
Self-criticism and constructive criticism is the guarantee for the safety of the national structure.

Article 48
Freedom of the press, printing, publication and mass media shall be guaranteed.
Censorship on newspapers is forbidden as well as notifying, suspending or cancelling them by administrative methods.
In a state of emergency or in time of war a limited censorship may be imposed on the newspapers, publications and mass media in matters related to public safety or purposes of national security in accordance with the law.

The “State of Emergency” provision was invoked in 1981 after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat—and it has been faithfully renewed by his successor, President Hosni Mubarak, every two years since, most recently in May of this year.

You may have noticed that political parties are regulated by law. Specifically, it’s Law 177/2005. Below is the important language (emphasis will again be added where I think it is needed):

Article 4:
For a political party to be established or maintained, it shall satisfy the following conditions:

ii: The party’s principles, goals, platforms, policies or modalities of exercising its activities shall not contradict the Constitution or requirements of maintaining national unity, social peace and the democratic system.

iii: The party’s platform shall constitute an addition to the political life according to specific methods and goals.

iv: In its principles or platforms or in practicing its activities or selecting its leaderships or members the party shall not be based on religious, class, sectarian, categorical, geographical grounds or on manipulating religious feelings or discrimination on account of origin or creed.

VI: The party shall not pose as a branch of a foreign party or political organization.

Article 7:
A notice in writing shall be submitted to the chairman of Political Parties Affairs Committee stipulated in Article 8 hereof as regards the establishment of the party signed by at least 1000 constituent members whose signatures shall be officially authenticated. The members shall be drawn from at least ten governorates with no less than fifty members from each….

Article 8:
The Political Parties Affairs Committee shall be composed as follows:
1- the Speaker of the Shura Council, as chairman;
2- Minister of Interior;
3- Minister for the People’s Assembly Affairs;
4- three former heads or deputy heads of the judiciary bodies who are not affiliated to any political party; and
5-three public figures who are not affiliated to any political party, as members.
The selection of the members stipulated in Items 4&5 shall be made by a Presidential decree for three years renewable.
The Committee shall have the competence to examine and consider notices of the establishments of the parties according to the provisions of this law, let alone the other competencies stipulated therein…

We will continue with the text of Article 8 in a moment, but before we do, some explanations are in order.

The Shura Council is one of the two halves of Egypt’s Legislative Branch; and it serves a function somewhat similar to that of the United States Senate.

Because Egypt’s National Democratic Party (NDP) controls Parliament and the Presidency, the Political Parties Affairs Committee (PPAC), who grants the license you need to form a political party (and can revoke it as well…) consists of the Speaker of the Shura Council, (obviously, an NDP member), two members of the President’s Cabinet, and six people appointed by the President.

The obvious conflicts between this arrangement and what we would think of as a true multiparty system will be the focus of part two of this story…but for now, we return you to Article 8, already in progress:

…To exercise its competencies, the Committee may demand much documents, papers, data and clarifications at it deems as necessary, from the concerned parties as much time as it determines. It may also demand any documents, papers, data or information from any official or public body and it may conduct on its own or through a sub-committee of its own such research as it may deem appropriate. It may also commision [sic] any such official bodies as it may deem appropriate to conduct or study necessary to reach the truth about matters submitted thereto…

Article 9:
The party shall be a private judicial person…

Article 11:
The resources of the party shall consist in subscriptions of its members, financial support received from the State and the donations by Egyptian natural persons…

The party may not accept any contribution, privilege or benefit from any foreigner, any foreign or international body or from any judicial person type even if it enjoys Egyptian citizenship.

These clauses tell us that the Government’s PPAC can start it’s own investigations of any party—and that Parties are not allowed, by law, to align themselves together in coalitions.

I am often guilty of going too long in these stories…so let’s get to the end of part one.

Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak and the NDP have created an ongoing quarter-century “emergency situation” that allows them to decide who can be a political party, that allows them to revoke the license of a party that they feel violates the rules they create…and because of the Constitutional mandate to protect “National Unity”, any political party that says the NDP is doing anything wrong is potentially in violation of the law.

These rules create conditions that are impossible to satisfy, and as a result politicians, protesters…and even bloggers…are at risk for arrest and imprisonment. But that’s a story for another day—and to make the story better, when we get together next time we’ll be meeting one of those politicians in a very close-up and personal way.