Tag 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.”

Read more »

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.

Read more »

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 »

Islamists in the New Middle East

Photo by FreedomHouse2 (via Flickr)

Officials from the Syrian government are saying that they have begun to draw-down its troops in advance of the April 10th deadline coordinated by U.N. international envoy Kofi Annan. The truce requires that Syrian forces withdraw from cities and towns and observe a cease-fire. Rebels would also put down their arms and hopes are high that this will lead to talks on a political solution.

According to Reuters, hardline Sunni Muslims in Lebanon are maneuvering for influence over Syrians across the border who have spent the last year fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad. As opposition groups abroad squabble over politics and Assad’s army pounds rebellious cities, Muslim hardliners want to make religion the unifying basis of the revolt.

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood-led parliament began drawing up a no-confidence motion against the military-appointed government Thursday, further escalating the Islamists’ increasingly public power struggle with the country’s ruling generals. The Muslim Brotherhood holds almost half the seats in parliament and wants to form a new government.

Across the Arab world, Islamist parties are taking power. After last year’s pan-Arab wave of revolutions, Islamists swept elections is Tunisia, Egypt, and Morocco. They’re expected to win again if there are votes in Libya, Yemen and Syria. Islamists already dominate politics in Lebanon, control the Gaza strip and rule Iran. But do Islamists want to be dictators or democratizers? What does their new authority mean for the the future of the Middle East? Read more on America Abroad’s Rise of the Islamists »

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 »

Roots of the Arab Spring

From Tunisia to Egypt to Yemen, a youth-powered uprising is challenging the Arab world’s ruling regimes. It all started quite literally with the strike of a match when a young Tunisian man set himself on fire to protest the humiliation of unemployment. The demands of this Arab spring quickly expanded beyond economic grievances to include freedom, democracy and respect, but it’s important to remember the jobless young man and the fire he started across the region.

The Middle East is in the middle of a dramatic and growing youth bulge. More than half of the population is under 30 and faced with a frustrating paradox: the fastest rising level of education and the highest levels of unemployment.  And no matter which regimes fall and where new governments stand up, the economic plight for young Arabs will take years to improve.

Listen to reports from America Abroad’s award-winning series on Arab youth. These stories detail the links between unemployment, frustration, migration, and terrorism.

Fleeing Libya

March 4, 2011

Saloum, Egypt – The Egyptian-Libyan border at Saloum Egypt is unremarkable at best. Saloum is a dusty, undeveloped port town that’s best seen from a moving car. After you pass through, the road heads up a small desert peak. A few switchbacks, and you’re looking over a moderately scenic Mediterranean vista.

From there, the border crossing is another minute or two away. The road meanders through not particularly attractive, and moderately littered desert. An arched security check point breaks the landscape and then from there it’s a few hundred yards to the border.

At first, it appears desolate. The parking area to the right of the first building seems quiet and empty. But, a few feet further, and a scene of chaos comes into view. 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 »