Tag Archives: Egypt

Quote of the day

Rubin: In view of all this, how to explain the great optimism of the Western media beginning with the Arab spring in January 2011 concerning the prospects of the democratic-revolutionary movement — the dawn of a new glorious age?

Laqueur: I wish I had an answer. To read now the comments of the correspondents of the New York Times reminds one of Alice in Wonderland. They were so utterly mistaken. It is probably unfair to single out one specific newspaper because the illusions were so widely shared even by the experts. In part, the roots of the misunderstandings were, of course, psychological. For so long, reports from the Middle East had been negative and depressing: autocratic governments, riots, terrorism, corruption, civil wars, and so on. And now suddenly, there was this great, intoxicating promise of freedom and progress — a beacon of light to the whole world….

There was a total misreading of the Egyptian situation and the prospect and the reasons should be examined very, very carefully.”

Barry Rubin, An Interview with Historian Walter Laqueur on the Arab Spring.

Laqueur may be right to argue that it would be important to critically examine the pre-dominant “Alice-in-Wonderland”-reporting and commentary on the so-called “Arab Spring,” but there is little reason to think that there will really be serious efforts to do so – not least because a more realistic view of the Middle East would shatter some of the most cherished media “narratives” about the Arab conflict with Israel.

However, the BBC did have an investigation of its “Arab Spring” coverage, which reportedly uncovered only relatively minor shortcomings. By contrast, we will probably never know the findings of the 2004 Balen Report on the BBC’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because the BBC fought – and won – a long and costly legal battle to keep the report from being published.

 

Quote of the day

“You can find various editions of Mein Kampf and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in any modest sidewalk bookstand, but you won’t find John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government or Plato’s Republic in Cairo’s biggest bookstores. (And if you do, it will be either in English or an unreadable Arabic translation.) Meantime, Islamist teaching is ubiquitous in schools and mosques, on bumper-stickers and YouTube videos. […]

Islamism will not die out in the face of free voting or economic liberalism or Twitter. It is one of the most formidable ideologies in history, the success of which does not depend on electoral bribes or the ignorance of the average voter. Rather, it stands on thousands of books containing the wisdom of one of the greatest civilizations in history. It comprises serious ideas and ideals that, although they might be diametrically opposed to those of the West, are no less compelling. Most important, Islamism runs on millions of dedicated adherents who are willing to endure imprisonment, exile, unspeakable torture, and even death to uphold what they deem right.

Amr Bargisi, a liberal Egyptian activist, in a must-read piece at Tablet Magazine with the depressing title “An Egyptian Democrat Gives Up.” Particularly important in my view are Bargisi’s comments on the misconceptions that dominate so much of Western reactions to the rise of Islamists – and yes, to my great delight, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman gets mentioned, too… As I’ve argued before, Islamists are not the Muslim equivalent of Europe’s Christian Democrats.

Anyone interested in additional reading should check out Sohrab Ahmari’s critical take on “The Failure of Arab Liberals” in the May issue of Commentary Magazine (which may be accessible for free only for a limited time).

News from Israel’s Islamist neighborhood

A stunning clip made available by MEMRI documents an Egyptian rally to launch the presidential election campaign for Muslim Brotherhood candidate Muhammad Mursi. Egyptian cleric Safwat Higazi, who addresses the crowd, promises that Mursi and the Muslim Brothers will realize “the dream of the Islamic Caliphate” by “restoring” the “United States of the Arabs” with its capital Jerusalem.

Higazi wants “the whole world” to hear his message:

“We say it loud and clear: Yes, Jerusalem is our goal. We shall pray in Jerusalem, or else we shall die as martyrs on its threshold. Millions of martyrs march toward Jerusalem.”

According to a report in the Jerusalem Post, the rally took place in a Cairo soccer stadium with presidential candidate Mursi and other Brotherhood officials present; they are shown in the clip nodding in agreement with Higazi’s speech.

Let’s hope that all the assorted “experts” and pundits who never grow tired of telling their audiences how “moderate” and/or “pragmatic” the Muslim Brotherhood really truly is will indeed take the time to listen carefully to this message.

However, the really politically correct media outlets that never fail to describe Jerusalem as Islam’s “third-holiest” city may now face a dilemma given Higazi’s explicit statement that the Islamic Caliphate’s “capital shall not be Cairo, Mecca, or Medina. It shall be Jerusalem, Allah willing.”

News from Israel’s Islamist neighborhood

A recently published report by MEMRI documents a call for the implementation of gruesome “Islamic” punishments by the Egyptian Cleric Muhammad Hussein Yaaqub. According to MEMRI, the cleric asserted in a televised interview that theft, robbery and similar crimes should be regarded as “war against Allah and His Messenger” and he recommended that those guilty of such crimes should “be executed, or…crucified, or…have their hand and foot chopped off on opposite sides, or…be banished from the land.”

If it is some obscure village preacher who comes out with such horrendous proposals, it would be perfectly reasonable to conclude that this incident was not really relevant enough to report on. But I think it is fair to say that even when notable Islamic clerics issue such statements, they rarely receive prominent news coverage in the West, despite (or because of?) the fact that this is arguably a very newsworthy item because it highlights the radical difference between discourse in the Islamic world and the West.

So who is Muhammad Hussein Yaaqub?

A paper entitled “Salafists Challenge al-Azhar for Ideological Supremacy in Egypt,” originally published in September 2010 in Terrorism Monitor (Volume: 8 Issue: 35), describes Yaaqub (Yaqub) as a “very famous” Salafist preacher “with experience in teaching and preaching in some Gulf countries.” The paper also provides a link to his website (in Arabic: www.yaqob.com); and apparently, Yaaqub even has a Facebook page –which goes to show that a preference for barbaric medieval “justice” does not preclude the savvy use of modern means to propagate the incongruous  message.

Indeed, as noted in the paper, the “Salafist presence in Egypt has been further cemented lately through Salafist religious satellite channels such as al-Rahma (Mercy), al-Annas (People), al-Majd (Glory), al-Hikmah (Wisdom) and al-Fajr (Dawn).” The Salafist appreciation for modern media and marketing strategies seems to include a strong preference for Orwellian brand names, and  accordingly, the newly established Salafist party is named Al-Nour (Light); it has emerged as the strongest member of Egypt’s Islamist bloc that garnered almost 28% in Egypt’s parliamentary elections.

Given this context, Yaaqub is certainly an influential figure – and here he is venting his rage against Jews during Israel’s campaign against Hamas in January 2009:

 

One can hardly expect anything else from a fanatic who advocates atrocious punishments for his own society.

The rise of Islamists also means a brutal setback for the already severely disadvantaged women in the Middle East – though there are plenty of Muslim women who willingly endorse the abuse condoned by powerful Islamists. According to a recent report, Azza El Garf, a prominent figure in the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, “disagrees” with Egypt’s 2008 ban on female genital mutilation (FGM):

“‘It is a personal decision and each woman can decide based on her needs. If she needs it, she can go to a doctor,’ El Garf said, adding that the Muslim Brotherhood refers to the practice as beautification plastic surgery. She was adamant that it was a woman’s choice, and hers alone, to have the outlawed procedure […]”

Likewise, a recent BBC report on FGM in Egypt ends with a Salafist leader evading the question whether he supports the ban on FGM by declaring that when it comes to women’s rights, this issue was “not a priority.”

 

That’s Israel’s Islamist neighborhood – and anyone who ignores the widespread social acceptance of such brutal practices in the Middle East will have a hard time to understand the region.

MJ Rosenberg improves on Palestinian propaganda

When Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, a prominent defender of Israel, recently vowed to take on the self-described progressive watchdog group Media Matters, he singled out the group’s senior foreign policy fellow MJ Rosenberg for his particularly vitriolic attacks against Israel and its supporters.

Rushing to Rosenberg’s defense, one of his old friends argued that Rosenberg was really an “Israel-Lover” who was unfairly criticized because he was simply continuing “what he’s done for 43 years, mounting the barricades for the Jewish cause of a safe, peaceful Israel and damn what others think. The ground around him has moved, but he hasn’t.”

However, it wouldn’t be hard to collect innumerable examples of Rosenberg rhetoric that cannot be spun as in any way promoting the “Jewish cause of a safe, peaceful Israel.” By coincidence, I came across just one example today that can only be explained by a deep animus against Israel.

Yesterday afternoon, Ha’aretz published an AP report on the death of a baby in Gaza. According to the report, the baby needed a respirator which, due to a fuel shortage, had to be powered by a generator that, by mistake, ran out of fuel overnight. Most of the report was devoted to explaining the fuel shortage:

“The power shortage has been caused by a cut-off of Egyptian fuel.

A shipment of 450,000 liters of gasoline and diesel fuel purchased by the Palestinian Authority was sent into the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom border crossing on Friday, after Israel agreed to permit the transfer.

Over a year ago, Hamas ceased importing fuel from Israel.

The shipment is meant to provide temporary relief for the fuel shortage in the Gaza strip, which started after Egypt cut off all shipments of fuel to Gaza. Senior Hamas officials blamed the Egyptian intelligence services, claiming that they were behind cutting off fuel to Gaza, in order to force the Hamas government into an agreement with Fatah.

Over the past year, Hamas has been smuggling fuel into Gaza at reduced prices through underground tunnels. The shortage began last month as fuel supplies smuggled from Egypt began to dry up. The Palestinian Authority paid full price for the shipment to be delivered on Friday, in order to help ease the current fuel crisis, which has forced Gaza’s 1.7 million to endure widespread blackouts.”

Yet, this is what MJ Rosenberg tweeted:

It is notable that Rosenberg did not provide the link to the Ha’aretz report. But clearly, there was nothing in the report that could explain his claim that the baby died “due to Israeli electricity shut down” – this was something he simply made up.

But there is another twist to the story, because, as documented by Camera, AP soon realized that the baby had apparently died already in early March and that “Hamas was now trying to recycle the story to capitalize on the family’s tragedy.”

According to AP, the changed timing of the baby’s death would allow Hamas to “highlight the human cost Gaza’s 1.6 million residents are paying for 18-hour-a-day blackouts, triggered by a cutoff of Egyptian fuel.”

In other words, the Palestinian propaganda methods that have been so often used against Israel are now used against Egypt. But Hamas will find out that when the Jewish state is to blame, the media and so-called pro-Palestinian activists will be infinitely more interested than when Egypt is the target.

Maybe Rosenberg’s mistake simply reflects a Pavlovian response: if a Ha’aretz headline announces the death of a baby in Gaza, there is no need to read on: it must be Israel’s fault. It’s unlikely that this is the first time he has operated under this assumption: Israel is guilty until proven otherwise.

UPDATE:

Many more recent examples of false accusations blaming Israel for the death of Palestinian children in this Camera piece on “The Global Blood Libel against Israel.”

Quote of the day

“The country’s military rulers would have Egyptians believe that ongoing protests are the work of “foreign agents”, “hidden hands”, and other mysterious third parties bent on driving a wedge between the Egyptian people and their beloved army and/or destroying the institutions of the state — even suggesting that activists are paid 200 Egyptian pounds (about $33) a day to protest in Tahrir. The SCAF’s recent crackdown on several pro-democracy NGOs, including the criminal indictments of 19 Americans on charges related to illegal funding and fomenting public unrest, is the direct if unspoken ancillary to this fanciful conspiracy.

Such conspiracy theories may strike a populist chord, but there is no shortage of actual reasons for Egyptians to feel unhappy — even angry — at their current condition. With foreign investment and tourism in sharp decline and youth unemployment hovering around 25 percent, the country’s economic crisis is edging toward disaster. This is on top of the SCAF’s gross mishandling of the transition at virtually every stage and in nearly every respect — from its erratic decision-making to its brutal repression of all forms of dissent to its blatant manipulation of the political process.

Khaled Elgindy, Egypt must look back before it can move forward. Elgindy’s observations reminded me of an article by Bret Stephens, published in the Wall Street Journal in early January 2011 under the title “Egypt’s Prison of Hate” (subscription required; but some of the relevant passages are quoted here). Stephens wrote about the popularity of conspiracy theories in Egypt, arguing:

“The ultimate source of Arab backwardness lies in the debasement of the Arab mind. When the only diagnosis Egyptians can offer for their various predicaments is that it’s all a Zionist plot, you know that the country is in very deep trouble.”

While it seems that by now, Egyptians have broadened their list of scapegoats far beyond the “Zionists,” conspiracy theories have apparently remained as popular as ever. Indeed, following a tweet by Omri Ceren, I chanced today on this short blog post aptly entitled “conspiracy cab” that offers a glimpse of the amazing conspiracy theories of a Cairo cab driver – who still seems very focused on blaming Israel. As blogger doctorzamalek notes in conclusion:

The common element in all of his theories, I was disappointed to note, was the assumption that no Arab person is capable of doing anything wrong at any time. At least conspiracy theories in America usually blame Americans.

News from Israel’s Islamist neighborhood

Recently, the Austrian newspaper Die Presse featured an interview with the Syrian-German scholar Bassam Tibi who is a widely respected expert on Islamism. The title of the interview quotes one of Tibi’s assessments: “The Muslim Brothers are a totalitarian movement” (a reliable English translation of the interview can be found here.)

Among the issues addressed in the interview are the implications of the Islamists’ ascendancy for Israel. Tibi’s answer is blunt: “Israel will be paying a high price, because – in addition to a sharia state – the basic tenets of Islamism include antisemitism.”

Anyone inclined to find this statement too harsh should read the new report in MEMRI’s Antisemitism Documentation Project, which is devoted to antisemitic and anti-Israel articles on the website of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. Here are just a few quotes from the fairly long report; emphasis is mine to highlight the rank of the writer:

In a June 2011 sermon posted on the website, MB in Egypt General Guide Muhammad Badi’ discussed the Jews, their traits, and their actions: “Allah warned us against the deceit of the Jews and their dangerous role in sparking wars: ‘Whenever they kindle a fire for war Allah puts it out, and they strive to make mischief in the land; and Allah does not love the mischief-makers [Koran 5:64].’ Their hands light the hidden fuse… [and] little time passes before the fire spreads to the field of war, including Islamic lands… The war in Sudan and its division are their handiwork; the internal struggle and war among the Palestinians is [likewise part] of their plan. [For this reason,] the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah angered them.” […]

Against the backdrop of the discussion over Egypt’s reconsideration of its peace agreement with Israel, and in the wake of the 2011 cross-border attacks near Eilat, Israel, in which seven Israelis and five Egyptian soldiers were killed, Dr. Muhammad ‘Ali Dabour, member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) and lecturer at Cairo University, wrote about the Jewish nature: “Throughout all of history, the Jews have failed to keep their word. They always employ a double standard and act in their own interests, even if it means destroying the entire world… The Koran informs us: ‘Certainly you will find the most violent of people in enmity for those who believe (to be) the Jews and those who are polytheists [Koran 5:82].’ Allah, may He be exalted, [also] said: ‘But on account of their breaking their covenant We cursed them and made their hearts hard; they altered the words from their places…’ [Koran 5:13]. Breaking agreements and treaties is easier for [Jews] than drinking water or breathing air. Such are the Jews. Such is Jewish nature. Though they flatter, act hypocritically, and embitter the entire world, we Muslims must not be deceived by them.” […]

As early as October 2010, Dr. Isma’il ‘Ali Muhammad, lecturer at Al-Azhar University, published a series of articles on “the nature of the Jews according to the Old Testament and the Talmud.” In one article, he wrote: “It would not be an exaggeration to say that the [Jewish] character is still a source of evil and harm among all human societies […] When one reads the Old Testament, the Talmud, and the ideas born of them such as [those found in] The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the rulings of the rabbis, and the streams of Jewish ideology, one finds in them an open hostility toward all people. The Jews’ deviant behavior is directed at all humanity… The holy ideological sources – according to their belief – permit them to act hypocritically and treacherously, and to unjustly throw to the dogs the lives, property, and belongings of non-Jews.”[7]

In another article, he claimed that Jewish tradition taught the Jews to be “so criminal that they are unparalleled in all [other] human societies. It incites them to annihilate the non-Jews and to spread ruin and destruction throughout the non-Jewish world.” […]

In an article published following the release of prisoners as part of the Gilad Shalit deal, Dr. ‘Abd Al-Rahman Al-Bar, a member of the MB General Guide’s Office and of the IUMS, stressed that jihad and martyrdom were the path to liberating all of Palestine – from “the sea to the river” – rather than negotiations, which had consistently failed to produce positive results. He emphasized that the attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo was one of the milestones of the revolution in Egypt:

“‘Oh brothers, Allah has granted the ummah, which excels at producing death and knows how to die honorably, dear life in this world and eternal bliss in the next. The weakness that leads to our humiliation is love for this world and hatred of death. Prepare your souls for a great deed. Work toward death; it is then that you will be granted life. Act toward honorable death, and you will earn complete happiness.’

“With these words, [MB founder] the shahid, the imam Hassan Al-Bana concluded his ‘Letter on Jihad.’ [These words] came to my mind when, in tears of joy, I watched the scenes of the prisoners being released from the prisons of the Zionist occupation, a nobility visible on their faces and in their eyes, and the words issuing from their mouths like rockets expressing [their] steadfastness… They proved that jihad alone is the means of liberating both man and homeland…

In another article, Dr. ‘Abd Al-Rahman Al-Bar called to support “the jihad of the resistance materially, in the media, and morally,” and expressed his hope that Israel would soon be destroyed: “The [Palestinian] cause will remain a prime concern for the [Muslim] ummah, until Allah heralds the end of the racist state of occupation [i.e. Israel], and until the last of the people of our ummah fights the swindling Jews and their armies and delivers the land from their wickedness… [It was related by the Prophet’s Companion] Abu Huraira that the Prophet said, ‘Judgment Day will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them. The Jews will hide behind stones and trees, and the stones and trees will call: O Muslim, o servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him – except for the gharqad tree, which is the tree of the Jews.’” […]

The broken Egypt ignored by the media

On his blog “Felix Arabia”, Sultan Al Qassemi has posted some utterly depressing observations on life in post-revolutionary Cairo – the kind of life the majority of Egyptians live away from media crews looking for stories that fit the latest news trends. The post is simply entitled “Observations from Cairo,” but at the end of the piece, there is a line that would provide a fitting subtitle: “Broken souls wither away in the useless drag of another day.”

Below a few excerpts – but the full post is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding how dire Egypt’s situation is.

Living in Cairo for most of 2011, I discovered that the political revolution alone is cosmetic in significance relative to the underlying dysfunction within society. Walking through the streets of Cairo or sitting by its riverbanks one comes across a plethora of garbage. Littering has even infected the upper class. I saw a young man tossing his empty box of cigarettes into the Nile while on a yacht cruise. In allegedly upscale neighborhoods such as Zamalek you find no relief from the sea of accumulated trash on the street. Rubbish, dirt, broken poles, parked cars, trees, and fragmented bricks can be found obstructing almost every sidewalk. […] Crossing the country you notice the problem is not Cairo’s alone. Garbage is a permanent fixture in the landscapes of other cities and towns. Desensitization to uncleanliness is endemic across the country.

[…]

The level of religiosity is surreal. Virtually the entire population possesses an unshakable conviction and belief in supernatural powers. There is no conversation around whether an alternative perspective may exist. The average citizen has never met an atheist or a Jew, and most have never had someone meaningfully press them on their beliefs or suggest that their beliefs might be wrong or contain fallacies. This goes for all segments of society. The most progressive try to develop liberal interpretations of religion that make life more manageable, but none are able to shed themselves entirely of religious belief. In fact, religious ideas are so engrained that it is virtually impossible for anyone to view them as a burden.

Even when you look at the Christian communities, where you might expect to find more relaxed or diverse views, you discover the same fierce religiosity and unequivocal belief in the supernatural. The unchecked conviction has little to do with the underlying content of the ideas but with the unquestioned way by which religious ideas are formulated. There is a clear intolerance to Jews, atheists, homosexuals, or anyone who stars as an antagonist in the various vivid conspiracy theories that most buy into. […]

Life in Egypt could be very different if its military hadn’t pretended for the past 30 years that it needed to be ready for war with Israel, and if its elites had not so eagerly opposed any “normalization” with Israel. Sadly, there is no reason to hope that things will change in the wake of the “Arab Spring”: Ikhwanweb, the Muslim Brotherhood’s official English website, has an article from last January entitled: “Of course, Israel is Egypt’s enemy.” Here are some excerpts, but the whole thing is worthwhile reading for anyone ready to give up illusions about Muslim Brotherhood “moderation” – the vicious ideological hostility that is expressed in the piece can only be compared to attitudes found on the far-left and far-right fringes in the West.

Some Israeli officials have voiced surprise at revelations published by Wikileaks showing that the Egyptian military continues to view the apartheid Israeli regime as the primary strategic threat facing Egypt.

This is despite the passage of more than 30 years since the signing of the Camp David peace treaty between the two states in 1979.

According to the revelations, American diplomats have been frustrated as the Egyptian army continued to retain the erstwhile military doctrine which viewed Israel as the enemy. […]

Well, it is an expression of daring audacity on the part of these arrogant American diplomats to expect the sons of Egypt to morph themselves into Israel lovers and forget the tens of thousands of Egyptians, civilians and servicemen, who were murdered by Israel.

The Egyptian people are not about to forget the massacres of Bahr el Bagar school, the Abu Za’abal factory, and the massacre of Egyptian POWs at the instruction of Ariel Sharon in addition to the indiscriminate bombings of Egyptian civilian areas during the so-called war of attrition prior to the 1973 war.

It is true that Egypt , mainly due to economic and other reasons, had to sign the infamous peace treaty at Camp David, which only formally ended the state of belligerency between Israel and largest and most powerful Arab country. But it is also true that the vast majority of Egyptians continued to hate Israel as a hostile and criminal entity despite all American inducements and bribes to create good chemistry between Egyptians and Israelis.

In the final analysis, it would be a form of morbid imagination to expect Egyptians, who nearly on a daily basis watch Zionist thugs and terrorists murder, terrorize and savage their coreligionists and brethren in Palestine and destroy their homes, bulldoze their farms, and expel them form [sic!] their places of residence.

It is morbid imagination to expect members of the Egyptian armed forces to fall in love with the killers of their fathers and forefathers who fell in battle with Zionism on Palestinian and Egyptian soils.

It is even more morbid to expect the Egyptian armed forces to abandon their old doctrine and adopt a new one based on the unnatural and mendacious assumption which views other Arabs and Muslims, not Israel, which usurped Palestine and expelled its people to the four corners of the world, as the enemy.

Egypt and its kind-hearted people may not be going through the best of times. But what is in the heart is in the heart, and no amount of Kafkaesque metamorphosis would succeed in deviating the needle of the Egyptian people’s compass away from its natural direction. […]

It seems quite “morbid” to me to imagine more of the same old, same old for the “new” Egypt, but apparently, Egyptians can’t imagine anything else.

News from Israel’s Islamist neighborhood

Cairo’s Al-Azhar Mosque and its associated Islamic university are widely respected as a historic and pre-eminent institution of Islamic learning, and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar is the top Islamic authority for most of the world’s Sunni Muslims.

The 1000-year-old institution has big plans for this year: as a project of the al-Azhar department for fatwas and Islamic advice, two or even three satellite television channels will soon be launched to “speak in the name of the institution.”

Earlier this week, Al-Azhar Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayeb met with Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh and assured him that Palestinian resistance is a “legitimate right granted by the decree of Islamic Sharia as well as that of international charters.”

The Grand Imam also announced during the meeting “that Al-Azhar is in the process of organising a conference to discuss ways of counteracting the Judaisation of Jerusalem and reclaiming Islamic holy sites in the city.”

Ismail Haniyeh responded by declaring that the Palestinians will provide “no concessions […] on their choice of resistance until the liberation of Palestinian soil.”

Anybody familiar with the Hamas Charter should know what that means – and Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam can definitely be expected to be familiar with the Charter.

In recent media reports, Al-Azhar has been generally portrayed as “the voice of moderate Islam.”

It is obviously doubtful that the same media outlets that describe Al-Azhar as “the voice of moderate Islam” would use similar adjectives if – to conjure a purely imaginary scenario – the pope met with a violent Catholic terrorist group and told them that the bible sanctifies their “right” to “resistance.” Indeed, even if the pope just encouraged Nigeria’s beleaguered Christians to respond to their Islamist killers in kind, I doubt that anyone would describe this as “the voice of moderate Catholicism.”

In this context it is also interesting to recall that when the pope expressed concern about the bloody attacks against Egypt’s Coptic Christians a year ago, Al-Ahzar ended dialogue with the Vatican and Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayeb demanded an apology from the pope. In other words, when Christians are killed in a Muslim country, “the voice of moderate Islam” requires Christian leaders to shut up about it.

The Islamists who stole Christmas

It’s certainly not one of the endearing Christmas traditions, but exploiting Christmas for political purposes is unfortunately becoming a sort of Christmas ritual for activists who regard themselves as pro-Palestinian – and who are, in any case, fiercely against Israel. But as so often, the relentless focus on blaming Israel reflects a cynical approach that cares little about any kind of abuse or persecution that can’t be blamed on the Jewish state.

As I’ve noted in a previous post, even though Christianity is doing very well globally, the picture in the region where it originated looks rather grim: today’s Middle East has the lowest concentration of Christians (just 4% of the population) and the smallest number of Christians (some 13 million) of any major geographic region.

Contrary to what pro-Palestinian activists like to insinuate, Palestinian Christians under Palestinian rule in Gaza and the West Bank are affected by the very same dynamics that have diminished the ancient Christian communities all over the Middle East – and before they came for the Christians, they came for the Jews.

Focusing on minorities in the Middle East, Zvi Mazel, a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, notes in a recent op-ed:

Nearly a century after they rose on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, the Arab states have failed to cause the mosaic of ethnic, national and religious communities which form them to coalesce into nations with common goals and aspirations. Those societies have been torn by ceaseless internal and external squabbles, political and economic discrimination, revolts, civil wars and military coups – resulting in an estimated five million dead and countless wounded as well as a growing number of refugees.

But if the Arab Middle East was often hostile to its minorities while secular Arab nationalism held sway, the now emerging Islamist-ruled Middle East is already threatening even Egypt’s ancient Coptic community whose roots go back centuries before the establishment of Islam and whose very name is associated with ancient Egypt. A depressing report in the Wall Street Journal notes that “[for] decades Copts have suffered attacks by Islamists who view them as ‘kafir’—Arabic for nonbelievers. […] This year, mobs have looted and attacked Coptic churches, homes and shops throughout Egypt. Churches have been burned down, and one Copt had his ear cut off by a Muslim cleric invoking Islamic law.”

One woman quoted in the report says that she faced harassment because she did not go out veiled, and that she was openly told by a fellow-Egyptian: “We want to clean our country of you.” Hardly less alarming was her experience when a doctor who checked her 12-year-old daughter for a fever suggested that the girl should have her genitals mutilated.

Estimates by human rights groups indicate that as many as 100,000 Copts may have already fled Egypt in the wake of the “Arab Spring.”

But for Egypt’s Copts, the year had already begun with sorrow and anguish when the bombing of a church in Alexandria killed 21 and wounded nearly 100 people leaving a New Year’s Mass. One of the victims was a young woman named Mariouma Fekry who, just before attending the mass, had written on her Facebook page: “I have so many wishes in 2011 … hope they come true … plz god stay beside me & help make it all true.”

The Egyptian government eventually blamed the Gaza-based “Army of Islam” for the bombing; according to press reports, the group denied responsibility, but expressed praise for the perpetrators. This praise is hardly surprising given that also Gaza’s tiny Christian community faced violence and threats by Islamists already shortly after Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007. Ever since, Gaza’s Christians have been aware that they can’t celebrate Christmas publicly. Moderate Islamism in action.