Category Archives: Egypt

Disappointment for Copts in new Egyptian government

Photo courtesy of Copts United.

The acting head of the Coptic Church in Egypt is disappointed that the government of newly-elected Islamist President Mohammad Morsi is failing to include adequate representation to the Coptic religious minority. Morsi appointed one cabinet seat to the Copts among the 35 ministerial positions. Archbishop Pachomius says the new government unfairly represents Christians and ignores their rights as citizens.

Coptic Christians make up almost 10% of Egypt’s 82 million people. From VOA:

Coptic Christians in Egypt constitute the largest Christian community in the Middle East, as well as the largest religious minority in the region. In 2011, approximately 94 people – mostly Coptic Christians –died as the result of sectarian violence in Egypt, 70 since the fall of Mubarak.

Should religious minorities be concerned about the rise of Islamist governments?

America Abroad’s Katherine Lanpher discusses the issue with professors Aomar Boum, an assistant professor at the School of Middle Eastern and North African studies at the University of Arizona and Saba Mahmood, an associate professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley.

Katherine Lanpher: Let’s start by looking at the current political situation in the Middle East, what the casual observer knows as “Arab Spring” or the series of uprisings that we’ve seen across the region. What has that meant for religious minorities?

Saba Mahmood: I think it differs from country to country. Let’s take the example of Christians in Egypt. The Coptic Christians are the dominant Christian population. They’ve refused European protection historically and said: “We are Muslim by country and only Christian by religion.” They have suffered a series of discriminations which only escalated under the Mubarak regime. Now you have the Muslim Brotherhood that won the presidential election and it’s often touted in the press as being very negative. My studies in the last 20 years shows that the question is really open. We do not know how Coptic Christians will be treated. The Mubarak regime itself was very discriminatory against Copts when sectarian violence began to erupt against them.

Aomar Boum: If you look at Morocco and Tunisia, for instance, the Tunisian case is still uncertain despite the fact that the government has promised to protect the rights of Jews, given the fact that there is the rise of Salafis in Tunisia. If you look at the main religious minority in North Africa, they still are Jews. There are less than a thousand Jews who live in Tunisia. Between 3,000 and 5,000 Jews live in Morocco. Their situation is much better than other minorities in other parts of the Middle East. Algeria is a different case because we really don’t know the exact number of religious minorities. They are not as visible as much as in Morocco and Tunisia.

Read more from this interview »

Photo essay: Coptic Christians in post-revolutionary Egypt

From Marcus Benigno, Cairo, Egypt

Photo by Marcus F. Benigno

CAIRO – The recent election of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi marks an outward shift from the 30-year rule by his ousted predecessor Hosni Mubarak. But as the Supreme Council of Armed Forces relinquished its transitional power to the Islamist president last week, members of the largest religious minority expressed concern.

See Marcus’s photos now »

Emad Gad, a former member of the dissolved parliament, spoke about the Coptic vote in the recent elections and his mistrust in the Muslim Brotherhood, the influential group supporting Morsi and the Freedom and Justice Party.

“Not only Copts, but also the middle class and moderate people are afraid of the future,” Gad says. “They are afraid that the Muslim Brothers will do anything to change the identity of Egypt.”

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Egypt votes for new president

Photo: Ahmed Abd El-fatah (Flickr)

Today Egyptians are casting ballots in a historic presidential election to vote for the next leader in Egypt.  This is the first presidential election since Mubarak was ousted last year. From The New York Times:

“Rise up, Egyptians,” proclaimed a full-page headline in the largest independent daily newspaper, Al Masry Al Youm. “Egypt of the revolution’ chooses today the first elected president for the ‘Second Republic.’ ”

Four candidates have emerged. They include Mubarak’s former foreign minister, Amr Moussa, a former Muslim Brotherhood official named Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, and the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohammed Morsi. If no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote in the first round of voting, the top two candidates face a run-off in mid-June.

For an in-depth discussion on this historic election, AAM sits down with David Schenker, Director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

AAM: We know the elections are coming up on the 23rd and 24th of May. What happens next and what should we be looking for?

DAVID SCHENKER: I think what we have to see is who gets first past the post – who are the top two candidates. I think that the military is hoping that at least one of those is a guy named Amr Moussa. This is going to be their candidate. They see him as the best of a bad bunch. I think that liberals in the country – the ones who actually ran the revolution but are now largely shut out of the political process – are very concerned that there will be a political monopoly going forward. That, in fact, Islamists will sweep and not only control 75% of the parliament but also control the executive and then start legislating a really oppressive social agenda.

But even more immediate than that is the economy in the country which is reaching a crisis point. The standard figure used to be 40% of the people in Egypt make less than $2 dollars a day. Now a year after the revolution, when expectations were so high that the people’s economic situations would improve, you probably have up to 50% of the people in Egypt making less than $2 dollars a day. Their reserves are down from $36 billion dollars at the time of the revolution to $14 billion dollars. Read more »

Sandmonkey’s thoughts on upcoming Egyptian elections

Liberal youth formed the crux of the revolutionaries that took to the streets of Cairo to oust President Hosni Mubarak. Once toppled, Islamist parties in Egypt seemed to take over the political process. Islamist parties form the majority of members in parliament with a large say on the forming of a new constitution. Where did the liberals go? Why were they defeated so soundly in elections and have the Islamists hijacked the revolution?

Egyptian blogger Mahmoud Salem, better known by his nom de plume “Sandmonkey” spoke at the Washington Institute and shared his perspectives on the upcoming Egyptian elections and why there don’t seem to be any viable liberal candidates in the running. He is a longtime analyst of Egyptian political affairs and advocate for free speech. He also ran as a parliamentary candidate last year on the ticket of the Free Egyptians party.

He believes that the street movements were largely disorganized. Leftists have no candidates because they have not created a message that connects with the public at large. These civil and secular groups need to do a better job “modernizing their rhetoric” to appeal to large groups that are fundamentally Islamist and have lived the better part of their lives under a one-party system. The economy, corruption and security are the real issues that have to be dealt with forthright with new ideas and platforms that can appeal to the masses.

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Delegates from Muslim Brotherhood in Washington DC

One year later in Tahrir square, Zeinab Mohamed (via Flickr)

Delegates from the Freedom and Justice Party, a group affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, arrived in Washington DC this week to meet with White House officials, members of Congress, media and the general public to discuss their plans for what they wish to accomplish in the Middle East. At Georgetown University, they discussed issues such as women’s rights, religious minorities and the role of Islam in government. From NPR:

“It’s not necessarily just a PR campaign, but mainly we would like to get to know one another more,” said Dr. Abdul Mawgoud Dardery, a lawmaker who is part of the delegation. He said it’s “very important to understand the American concerns and they understand our aspirations as Egyptians, after the Egyptian revolution.”

The Muslim Brotherhood has emerged as a powerful force in Egypt’s political landscape. They control more than two-thirds of parliamentary seats. They recently announced that they would present a candidate in the presidential elections of Egypt, breaking away from a pledge not to do so. Officials in Washington are concerned that Islamic governments, such as the ones that emerged in Egypt and Tunisia and Morocco may have an agenda very different from relationships previously established.

America Abroad’s Katherine Lanpher speaks with Shadi Hamid, Director of Research at the Brookings Doha Center, and Robert Satloff, Executive Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, about whether and how the US should engage with Islamists. Read more »

Protests in Tahrir Square to protest military rule

Hundreds of thousands of protesters descended on Tahrir Square Friday to call for one principal demand: an end to military rule and a swift transfer of power to an elected president by April 2012. Photo by Lorenz Khazaleh.

Egyptians went back to the streets today to protest rules imposed by the military to hold onto power even after elections. Egyptians are calling for earlier than expected elections in April 2012, much in advance for the military’s timeline. From the AP: “The rally’s primary target was a document floated by the government that declares the military to be the guardian of “constitutional legitimacy,” suggesting it would have the final word on major policies, and possibly legislation, even after a new president is elected.”

The majority of the protesters are members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Also present were the ultraconservative Salafis who are calling for Islamic Sharia law. This is causing anxiety amongst liberals that see the struggle for democracy in Egypt being decided by either Islamists or the military. They “fear an Islamist-dominated parliament will inject too much religion into the constitution.” From the AP:

“Lots of people are scared of the Islamists,” said Mahmoud Abdel-Rahman, a liberal university student who came from the coastal city of Alexandria for Friday’s rally. “But they’re not using language that brings people together, so only people like them will vote for them,” he said. “It’s clear that they can get people out in the street, but can they also get people to vote for them? We’ll have to wait and see.”

Parliamentary elections are 10 days away and conservative and liberal groups are vying for power. At stake is the first draft of a new constitution, after the ouster of Mubarak.

America Abroad’s Noel King examines the political and religious forces that are competing for influence in Egypt as the country transitions from dictatorship to democracy. Read more »

Tahrir Protests Continue

Cairo, Egypt

“Let’s go somewhere else,” she said. “I need a beer.”

And with that, I followed a young Egyptian activist through a dark ally near Tahrir Square to a little restaurant. We sat down and ordered Stellas – one of Egypt’s domestic beers.

“I’m in a bad mood,” she said. “For the last day I have been in a bad mood.”

She said that she is worried that they are losing the revolution. Her fear is that the regime has not truly changed, and that the movement will run out of steam in the face of a resilient old guard. Read more »

Trio of Protests around Tahrir Square in Cairo

Cairo, Egypt

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Tahrir Square has been the hub of protest in Cairo for a month running. And while it has ramped down from its peak before Mubarak “stepped down” (there are people here who are not entirely convinced he has cut all ties and is not running the show by phone), the tempo has picked up again in the square. Protesters are not satisfied with the level of change so far, and pretty much unanimously argue that the government needs surgery and chemotherapy to rid it of any remaining cancerous cells of the Mubarak regime. So, they remain in the square and are trying to keep the heat on. Read more »

Insight: An interview with Adel Iskandar

Adel Iskandar is a media scholar and lecturer at Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. In an interview with Andrew Masloski, he discusses the ongoing demonstrations in Egypt and what role, if any, social media tools play.

Was there a single event or issue that sparked the current demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt?

I think to a great extent it was a combination of different forces. This was really a perfect storm in more ways than one. Of course there is the Tunisia factor – the fact that the Egyptians saw the head of the state depart in a highly scandalous scenario that was deeply problematic. Not to mention there was a plethora of qualms that the Egyptian population have had with their government for a number of years.

The turning point began with a larger campaign that advocated for greater transparency in a police state and the really scandalizing issues of police brutality and police torture. That campaign started in the early days of 2009 and the epitome of that was the beating and the brutal killing of a young man called Khaled Said, a 26 year old business man in Alexandria. This was the real turning point. It was a really galvanizing issue that everyone could relate to.

Everyone was witness to a police force that was incredibly visible in society and that most people feared and revered even if you were a member of the upper echelon of society or a member of the lower more downtrodden in Egyptian society. Police brutality was there and it had become very visible and it became a large part of popular culture in Egypt. Most television and film productions that featured the police showed them as incredibly malevolent characters, deeply tyrannical and corrupt individuals supported by institutions that allowed them to be so. So it was incredibly easy to rally people around a campaign to eradicate police brutality. This was the main turning point after Khaled Said’s killing in 2010.

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