Saturday, May 13, 2006

"Have the ships of love left?"

In Egypt, an Old Beacon of Tolerance Flickers.Fatal Stabbings Underline Growing Sectarian Tensions in Historic Port City of Alexandria.

This ancient port city clings to a self-proclaimed myth of urban tolerance as stubbornly as barnacles adhere to its harbor breakwaters. Ask anyone idling on the waterfront drive what Alexandria is like, and the answer will be that everyone gets along here, that the city is neither narrow-minded, like villages in Egypt's far south, nor coldly anonymous, like Cairo.
Alexandria's tolerance stems, residents say, from the city's earliest days. When Alexander the Great founded a Greek settlement on Africa's shore in 332 B.C., it merged cultures from north and south, east and west, quickly growing into a place that welcomed travelers, traders and refugees from all over the Mediterranean region. But last month, a 2,300-year-old reputation was undermined, perhaps fatally, by a dagger stroke.

On April 14, a man with a knife drove to three Coptic Christian churches here and stabbed several worshipers, killing an elderly man, Nushi Atta Girgis, on the steps of Saints Church. The attacker was a Muslim, and the assault ignited three days of sectarian street fighting. It was not Egypt's gravest outbreak of Christian-Muslim violence: Worse rioting took place last fall when Muslims protested a play about a Christian convert to Islam who switches back. But the stabbing set off public alarm because there was no apparent trigger for the attacks and because Egypt had looked to Alexandria as a model of tolerance.

"There has been an acceleration of conflict, and that is worrisome," said Sameh Naguib, a democracy activist and expert in economic development. "There is a kind of national agitation going on, and the unpredictability of it all is cause for concern. It's especially unfortunate that it should happen in Alexandria. It shatters an ideal that is particularly needed in Egypt: the ideal that we all can live together in peace."
Cosmopolitan Alexandria was once one of the Mediterranean's most easygoing cities, home to Greeks, Armenians, Italians, Jews, Arabs, Turks and many others. A major seaport, Alexandria attracted artists, poets and writers. Egypt's best-known film director, Youssef Chahine, had long held up his native city as a national exemplar. In his 2004 movie, "Alexandria . . . New York," the lead character praised Alexandria as a symbol of tolerance.
The city's reputation as a beacon of cordiality extended throughout the Middle East. When news spread of last month's knife attacks, a Saudi writer for the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper asked "Alexandria that overlooks the wide sea" a pointed question: "Have the ships of love left?"

Yet the city's celebrated tolerance has been more legend than reality for 50 years. An exclusionist Arab nationalism, combined with anti-foreign sentiment nourished by the 1956 Suez War and the 1967 Middle East war with Israel, gradually drained the city of its cosmopolitan populace and character. Almost all that remained was a kind of archaeology of sophistication. The faded Cecil Hotel, with its cafes and wrought-iron elevator, sits on the waterfront drive still known by its French name, the Corniche. Ruined palaces of aristocrats crumble in their lush gardens. Nearly empty churches -- Greek and Armenian Orthodox, Catholic and Anglican -- nestle among a forest of minarets and mosques. The old synagogue sits under guard, unused.
The mix of Muslims and Christians was Alexandria's last live exhibit of true urban variety. Now, sectarian hostility is palpably on the rise. It is rare for a foreigner to run into a Copt and not hear expressions of deep-seated fear of and complaints about Muslims, or to converse with a Muslim and not hear that Copts are privileged.
Maher Atta, son of the man who was fatally stabbed in April, recalls a time when Muslim and Christian families would visit during each other's festivals, celebrate each other's weddings and attend the same entertainments. That is all coming to an end, he said.
"People see on TV preachers saying bad things about each other's religions," Atta said. "They see people burning churches in Pakistan or blowing up mosques in Iraq, and they feel hostility." he said. On the wall of his apartment hung icons of the Virgin Mary and pictures of Coptic holy men, fixtures in Coptic homes throughout Egypt. Across the hall, a Muslim family's living room was adorned with Koranic verses, just as commonplace in Islamic households.
Atta noted that until a few years ago, religion classes in schools were taught in the context that everyone was Egyptian. Now, separate religion classes are held for Muslims and Christians. "The teachers can call the others infidel, and no one is around to challenge it," he said.
His father was attending a service at Saints Church when he left to go to a restroom outside. A car with three men arrived, and one got out and began to stab worshipers entering and exiting the church. During Atta's funeral the next day, Copts and Muslims fought each other with sticks and swords. Christian jewelry shops were looted as police stood idly by.
The alleged killer was captured and identified as Mahmoud Salah-Eddin Abdel-Rizziq. Police said he was deranged. Maqqar Ibrahim, a priest at Saints Church, protested: "If this person is mentally ill, why is it his illness only appears when he enters a church?" The accomplices escaped.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Caliphate: One nation, under Allah.

The three middle-aged men sitting in an Indian restaurant in Jordan's capital scarcely look like Islamic revolutionaries. They are smartly dressed in Western-style suits and sip thoughtfully from cans of Pepsi as they share their plan to reshape the Muslim world.

"[President] Bush says that we want to enslave people and oppress their freedom of speech," says Abu Abdullah, a senior member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Party of Liberation. "But we want to free all people from being slaves of men and make them slaves of Allah."
Hizb ut-Tahrir says that Muslims should abolish national boundaries within the Islamic world and return to a single Islamic state, known as "the Caliphate," that would stretch from Indonesia to Morocco and contain more than 1.5 billion people.

It's a simple and seductive idea that analysts believe may someday allow the group to rival existing Islamic movements, topple the rulers of Middle Eastern nations, and undermine those seeking to reconcile democracy and Islam and build bridges between East and West.
"A few years ago people laughed at them," says Zeyno Baran, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and the leading expert on Hizb ut-Tahrir. "But now that [Osama] bin Laden, [Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi, and other Islamic groups are saying they want to recreate the Caliphate, people are taking them seriously."

Even more moderate Muslim groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt pay lip-service to the ideal of reestablishing the Caliphate, leaving less ideological space for Muslims who want to move toward Western models of democracy.
"The Caliphate is a rallying point between the radicals and the more moderate Islamists," says Stephen Ulph, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation. "The idea of a government based on the Caliphate has a historical pedigree and Islamic legitimacy that Western systems of government by their very nature do not have."
But unlike Al Qaeda, Hizb ut-Tahrir believes it can recreate the Caliphate peacefully. Its activists aim to pursuade Muslim political and military leaders that reestablishing the Caliphate is their Islamic duty. Once these leaders invite Hizb ut-Tahrir to take power - effectively staging a military coup - the party would then repeat the process in other countries before linking them up to form a revived Caliphate.

"We spread our ideas by addressing people directly," says Abdullah Shakr, a fluent English-speaker, who, like all three men, spent time in Jordanian jails for membership in the party. "We don't care if the government knows about us, but ... we try not to catch their attention."

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Egypt arrests Bloggers

Egypt: Award-Winning Blogger Among New Arrests

Reuters: Egyptian security officials arrested 11 more political reform activists, including an award-winning blogger, Alaa Ahmed Seif al-Islam, Human Rights Watch said today. This brings to more than 100 the number of people detained over the past two weeks for exercising their rights to freedom of assembly and expression. Approximately half of those arrested are members of the Muslim Brotherhood who were putting up posters and distributing leaflets protesting the April 30 extension of emergency rule for another two years. The Emergency Law has been in effect since President Hosni Mubarak came to power in October 1981. The others were detained for demonstrating in support of a group of judges campaigning for greater judicial independence.

"These new arrests indicate that President Mubarak intends to silence all peaceful opposition," said Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division.
The latest arrests occurred on May 7 near the South Cairo Court where activists arrested on April 24 were scheduled to appear before a judge. Police released three of the 11 new detainees, but transferred the remaining eight to the Heliopolis state security prosecutor, who extended their detention for 15 days. The eight detained are: Ahmed 'Abd al-Gawad, Ahmed 'Abd al-Ghaffar, Alaa Ahmed Seif al-Islam, Asma'a 'Ali, Fadi Iskandar, Karim al-Sha'ir, Nada al-Qassas and Rasha Azab.
On May 8, authorities extended for another 15 days the detention of a dozen activists arrested on April 24. They initially faced charges of blocking traffic, but the authorities later transferred their cases to state security prosecutors. Yesterday, authorities extended the detention of 28 activists arrested on April 26 and 27 for another 15 days. All those arrested between April 24 and May 7 for demonstrating now face charges of "insulting the president," "spreading false rumors," and "disturbing public order" under the parallel state security legal system set up under the Emergency Law.
According to a statement published on an activist Web site, activists detained between April 24 and 27 have begun a hunger strike to protest prison conditions, including threats of torture and ill-treatment.
"The activists detained over the past two weeks should be released immediately, unharmed," Stork said. "The Egyptian government is responsible under international law for their safety."
The campaign of judges for greater judicial independence has become a rallying point for political reform activists. The Judges' Club, the quasi-official professional organization for members of the judiciary, refused to certify the results of last year's parliamentary elections after more than 100 of the judges reported irregularities at polling stations. In February, the government-controlled Supreme Judicial Council stripped four of the most vocal judges of their judicial immunity.
For the names of demonstrators detained prior to May 7, please click

More info from Alaa's blog:

Alaa detained for 15 days
Submitted by Manal on Mon, 08/05/2006 - 17:56.
Alaa and the rest of the group that was kidnapped yesterday, will be detained for 15 days. They didnt go directly to the prison as we thought, but spent the night at the Khalifa's police station and are supposed to be transferred to the prisons now. The 3 women will go to El Qanater prison, as Tora prison where the rest of the 40 detainees are held has no section for women, and the men are supposed to join the rest and go to Tora prison, but some think that they will also taken to El Qanater prison (which has sections for both men and women). They renewed 15 more days to the detainees of 24th of April, today. They are not releasing them anytime soon. Plz help spread the word, you can find photos for Alaa

Protesters Clash With Police in Cairo.

Egyptian security forces beat activists and arrested journalists in Cairo on Thursday during protests in support of judges facing a disciplinary committee for criticizing election abuses last year.

Activists organized at least three separate demonstrations in central Cairo but in each case plainclothes security men moved in, beating and detaining selected protesters.
Thousands of riot police, armed with sticks and shields, sealed off main streets near the High Court, disrupting traffic in the heart of the capital.
The protesters gathered quietly around the corner from the court to escape the attention of security forces and then began chanting "Judges, judges, save us from the tyrants!"
They marched for some 15 minutes before teams of plainclothes security attacked the leaders, pulling them to the pavement and beating them with fists.
One activist was held against a wall and beaten until his face bled heavily. At least a dozen were arrested. Plainclothes policemen also detained at least six journalists covering the protest, a Reuters witness said.
They dragged away cameramen from news organizations including Reuters and Al Jazeera television and confiscated their cameras. An Al Jazeera cameraman was badly beaten.
Demonstrators dispersed when the security forces began their crackdown. Some managed to regroup to continue chanting.
The demonstrators included supporters of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood and secular activists. "Down, down with Hosni Mubarak," they chanted, in reference to Egypt's president.
Shops closed their shutters in Talaat Harb street, one of the downtown area's main streets, for fear of violence. Security sources said at least eight activists were arrested.
The authorities arrested dozens during a protest in support of the judges last month. They are still in prison.
The two judges, Mahmoud Mekky and Hesham Bastawisi, face charges of violating judiciary rules by talking on television about abuses in last year's elections.
They have also been prominent in a campaign by the informal Judges Club to obtain full financial and administrative independence from the Ministry of Justice.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Egyptians detained for beating up local residents.

Two Egyptian citizens have been detained in St. Petersburg (USA) for beating up a young woman and a man, Interfax was told at city police headquarters.

A resident of St. Petersburg born in 1982 was beaten up outside a cafe on Moskovsky Prospekt at about 1 a.m. on Wednesday when he tried to help a young woman whom five foreigners, armed with the leg of a chair, were dragging somewhere. Eyewitnesses called the police and two Egyptians were detained at the scene. The others managed to escape," a police spokesman said.

The young man was hospitalized with brain concussion and head injuries. The young woman had numerous bruises and brain concussion.
"The detained foreigners are now being identified, since they had no documents on them and don't speak Russian. The launching of criminal proceedings is being considered," the spokesman said.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Sinai Bomb Leader Killed.

Egyptian police say they killed Sinai bomb leader.

Egyptian police on Tuesday killed the leader of the group behind suicide bombings which killed 19 people in the Sinai peninsula last month, the Interior Ministry said.
Counter-terrorism units and police surrounded an agricultural area on the outskirts of the north Sinai town of El Arish in the morning after receiving information that Nasr Khamis el-Milahi was hiding there, it said in a statement.
Milahi and an assistant, named as Abdullah Alyan Abu Jarir, tried to escape and a firefight broke out between them and the police. Milahi was killed and Abu Jarir was captured, it said.
Police found two automatic weapons, ammunition and hand grenades on them, it added.
The authorities had named Milahi as the leader of a group called Tawhid wal Jihad (One God and Jihad), which they blame for a series of attacks in Sinai since October 2004.
They describe it as a group of Sinai Bedouin with militant Islamist views. The group itself has never issued a public statement or claimed responsibility for attacks.
The Sinai attacks have killed at least 117 people. The Red Sea resort of Taba and beach camps further south were bombed in October 2004 and Sharm el-Sheikh was bombed in July 2005.
Men identified by the authorities as members of the group have come mainly from El Arish, a poor town on the Mediterranean coast.
The police last week killed six men wanted over the bombings in gunbattles in northern Sinai.

Islamists New Attack on Copts ?

The web site reports today that an attack has been launched by fanatic Islamists against Copts in the village of Wasef Ghaly Pacha, in El Ayat, Egypt.

The attack started when the Islamists entered the church soon after the service, and assaulted the priest. This was followed by spread of violence in the village where some properties of Copts were destroyed, and some of their cars and their land set on fire. There has been no response from the security forces of the village up to the time of sending the report, and the Copts were left to face the violence.

The report also mentions that the Copts of the village are to afraid to get out of their homes, and the priest cannot leave the church, because of the dangers and the threat to his life.

Monday, May 08, 2006

House of Lords Discusses Copts.

The British House of Lords discussed today the situation of Copts in Egypt and the latest events of Alexandria. The discussion started by a comment by Baroness Cox, and then different members of the House stated their opinions and expressed their support for the Copts cause.

The following link which was forwarded by Dr. Ibrahim Habib, allows you to watch the meeting. The part related to the Copts discussion is at the beginning of the clip.

Victim Vows to Keep Travelling

Egypt bombing victims challange Terrorism.

An Australian woman injured in the Egyptian bombings has spoken publicly for the first time about her ordeal.
Georgina Blake from Harefield in south-western New South Wales is in hospital in Wagga, recovering from injuries suffered in the bombing in the Egyptian town of Dahab last month.
Ms Blake was surrounded by her family as she faced the media for the first time today.
She says she has every intention of returning to Egypt and terrorism should not stop others from venturing overseas.
"It can happen anywhere in the world and I was just in the wrong place or the right place or whatever," she said.
Ms Blake and a Melbourne woman were the only Australians injured in the blasts, which killed about 24 people.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Long Term Effects of Attacks.

Rehab Saad writes about delayed reactions to the Dahab terrorist attacks.

That the October 2004 bomb attack on Taba was widely interpreted as a reaction to attacks taking place against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories led many to predict -- correctly, it turned out -- that the impact on tourist numbers visiting Sinai would be minimal. When Sharm El-Sheikh was attacked in July 2005 the impact on tourism, particularly in south Sinai, was much stronger. And many fear the industry is at the beginning of a real crisis.

"I am not happy and I don't know where it is all heading. We should respond somehow, but frankly I don't know what that response can be. The fact that these incidents are a recurring phenomenon is very disturbing," said Elhami El-Zayyat, president of Emeco Travel and ex-head of the Egyptian Tourism Federation.
Emeco Travel, a market leader in conference and incentive tourism, is reporting huge cancellations in conferences scheduled in the next few months. "This is very natural," says El-Zayyat. "This kind of expensive tourism is very sensitive to any negative developments." More worrying, he says, is that operators in Italy and France have told clients who had booked trips to Egypt before the attack that they can postpone their journey for up to 12 months at no additional cost.
"Of course there will be a negative impact but so far everything is normal. We are following up and monitoring occupancy rates and the reaction of tour operators. We are also monitoring aviation movement, both schedule and charter. Everything looks normal so far," says Hala El-Khatib, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Tourism.
The challenge now, she believes, is to "rebuild confidence in the destination, and this involves organising familiarisation trips for travel agents and tour operators as well as foreign journalists to come and investigate the area themselves".
The second challenge, says El-Khatib, concerns the rates charged: "We are trying hard to convince hotels not to decrease their rates because it will be extremely difficult to return to a higher rate once things get better."
Of Egypt's 170,000 hotel rooms 56,000 are in South Sinai, and they average a 93 per cent occupancy rate.

Subsidizing Hate School.

An Islamic school in London is teaching that non-Muslims are akin to pigs and dogs, and it is doing so with subventions from the British taxpayer.

More alarmingly, when notified of this problem, the British authorities indicate they intend to do nothing about it.
The Times (London) reported on April 20 in "
Muslim students ‘being taught to despise unbelievers as ‘filth'," that the Hawza Ilmiyya, a Shi‘i institution, teaches from the writings of Muhaqqiq al-Hilli. This scholar lived from 1240 to 1326 and wrote the authoritative work on Shi‘i law (Shara'i‘ al-Islam). About non-believers, called kafirs, he taught:
The water left over in the container after any type of animal has drunk from it is considered clean and pure apart from the left over of a dog, a pig, and a disbeliever.
There are ten [sic] types of filth and impurities: urine, faeces, semen, carrion, blood of carrion, dogs, pigs, disbelievers.
When a dog, a pig, or a disbeliever touches or comes in contact with the clothes or body [of a Muslim] while he [the disbeliever] is wet, it becomes obligatory-compulsory upon him [the Muslim] to wash and clean that part which came in contact with the disbeliever.
In addition, a chapter on jihad specifies conditions under which Muslims should fight Jews and Christians.
Although Hilli's attitudes were standard for a pre-modern Shi‘i, they are shocking for 2006 London. Indeed, several students in the Hawza Ilmiyya found them "disturbing" and "very worrying." Their spokesman told the Times that students "are being exposed to very literalist interpretations of the Koran. These are interpretations that would not be recognised by 80 or 90 per cent of Muslims, but they are being taught in this school. A lot of people in the Muslim community are very concerned about this." The spokesman concluded with an appeal urgently to re-examine "the kind of material that is being taught here and in other [Islamic] colleges in Britain."
The Tehran regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sponsors the Hawza Ilmiyya; for example, three of the eight years in the curriculum are spent at institutions in the Iranian city of Qom. Indeed, the school's 1996 founding memorandum states that "At all times at least one of the trustees shall be a representative of the Supreme Spiritual Leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran."
The institution that funds this school, the Irshad Trust, is a "registered charity" at the
Charity Commission (see the trust's page at the commission website), a privilege that qualifies it for various tax concessions; in other words, the British taxpayer is effectively subsidizing the school. In particular, the school benefits from a program called "Gift Aid," under which the government refunds the income tax paid by the donor. Gifts made to registered charities can claim and receive a 28 percent tax refund.