Saturday, July 08, 2006

French Counter-Terrorism Head Warns On Muslim Recruiters

Recruiters for hard-line Islamist groups can turn Muslim youths with little interest in religion into extremists in a matter of weeks, the head of France's counterterrorism agency said in an interview published Friday.
A year after suicide bombers launched attacks on London's transit system, Pierre de Bousquet de Florian told the daily Le Parisien he could "not rule out" the possibility of a terrorist attack in France. The fact that there have not been any attacks in Europe since last year's bombings on the London transit system "does not mean there haven't been any plans," he said. "We have - like our British and Italian colleagues - neutralized groups that could have taken action," Bousquet de Florian said, adding authorities dismantled "several groups" in the Paris region and in the south of France in late 2005 and earlier this year.
Bousquet de Florian said one potential threat comes from volunteers who pass through Syria to fight in Iraq but are returned to Europe "to carry out the jihad according to one of the strategies developed by (Abu Mussab) al-Zarqawi," the head of al-Qaida in Iraq who was killed in June.

"The model is evolving," the DST official said, adding this was in part due to an increase of Iraqis taking part in the fight against U.S.-led forces, leading to a reduced need for young, untrained volunteers unless they volunteered as suicide bombers. However, another significant change is the shortening time span needed to transform a young Muslim into a radical ready to take action. "We have noticed a shortening in the time between recruitment and the radicalization of these volunteers," Bousquet de Florian was quoted as saying. "Young people who are indifferent to religion fall in a matter of weeks into the toughest kind of Islam and, almost without any transition, into the most worrisome kind of activism," he said.
The official said that, thus far, nine French nationals who joined up with insurgents in Iraq have died there, and about 10 are believed to be in combat zones. Two others have been detained and held in Iraq, he said. With about 5 million Muslims, France has western Europe's largest Muslim population. Some 5,000 embrace extremist Islam, according to a report last year by police intelligence.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Pakistani Prayer For Zarqawi.

US Cancels Invitation to Pakistani MP Over Zarqawi Prayers.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) -The US mission in northwest Pakistan withdrew an invitation to an Independence Day reception to the speaker of the provincial legislature because he allowed prayers for the slain leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, officials said.
Speaker Bakhat Jehan Khan was invited for the reception in Peshawar on Saturday but just before the ceremony was told that he would not be welcomed, senior US diplomat Michael Spangler told AFP.
"I sent a letter to ... Khan expressing deep shock over allowing fateha (prayer) for Al-Zarqawi and informing him I was unable to welcome him to our 7/1 official reception," Spangler said.

Khan presided over the North West Frontier Province assembly which is dominated by pro-Taliban Islamist MPs who collectively offered condolence prayers for Al-Zarqawi on June 21.
Zarqawi, who was Iraq's most wanted man with a 25 million dollar bounty on his head, was killed in a US air strike on June 7 near the restive city of Baquba, north of Baghdad.

The Islamists have tried to impose a Taliban-style rule North West Frontier Province since 2002 when they rose to power on anti-American sentiment after the US-led invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan.
Pakistan is battling the remnants of Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants who sneaked into in its tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Sacked Priest Proclaims Himsalf Pope.

"Charlatan", "heretic" and "traitor" are but a few words that have been used to describe rebel priest Maximus I, who has decided to break away from the Egyptian Coptic Church under Pope Shenuda III and form his own alternative church

A group of Coptic lawyers on Tuesday announced that they were initiating legal proceedings against Maximus for "insulting Pope Shenuda III".
But Maximus justifies the need for a new Church in Egypt by saying that Shenuda, who has headed the Coptic Church since 1971, has incited sectarian violence in the country.

Maximus, with a neatly trimmed beard and thin-rimmed glasses, brags about US-backing for his new church and insists that he has about half a million followers.

"No one has ever heard of this charlatan," said Munir Fakhri Abdel Nur, a Coptic politician and leader in the liberal Wafd party.
"There is only one Church and only one Pope," insisted Abdel Nur who says that Copts have "always refused any foreign intervention in their affairs".
"The fact that this man boasts US support will automatically distance him from the people," he said.

"This person was chased from the Church. He is a heretic who only represents himself," said Morkos Aziz who is in charge of the Al-Mouallaka parish, one of the most significant in Cairo.
The timing of the whole affair is sensitive but not coincidental, some say.
Over the past month, Shenuda has been undergoing medical treatment in the United States and Germany, and is due back in Cairo on July 9.
News of the 83-year-old Pope's ill health has sparked discussion in the Coptic community and beyond as to who will be the future Pope.

The timing of Maximus's campaign serves the purposes of "certain parties in whose interest it is to divide and weaken the Church," said Abdel Nur without identfiying those parties
During the 2005 presidential elections, Shenuda declared his backing for Mubarak in the country's first ever multi-candidate elections.
But his pro-Palestinian stance and his refusal to accept normalisation of relations between Egypt and Israel has won him favour with many.
Shenuda famously banned Copts from performing pilgrimmage to Jerusalem while it is under Israeli occupation.
All this, according to Coptic deputy Georgette Kallini, opens the door for a more pro-US church in Egypt.
"The Coptic Church does not adhere to US (political) positions and it is therefore normal that Washington creates another one which would follow orders," she said.
The US embassy in Cairo, however, was quick to reject the accusations.
"It's absolutely untrue," US embassy spokesman John Berry said.
"There is no way we are interfering" in the affairs of the Coptic Church, he said.
But Maximus is confident that his church will take off.
"We have presented the church papers to the interior ministry and I know, 100 percent, that we will get approved," he said.

An observer said the rebel priest would not be talking so boldly had he not been given at least an informal nod from the authorities.
"He preaches and receives worshippers at his church in Moqattam (Cairo). This would have been impossible without the implied approval of the authorities," researcher Magdi Girgis said.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Quotes About Copts And Moslems.

With talk on sectarian conflict filling Egyptian minds, papers and skies, the following quotes seemed especially pertinent.

"The criticism directed at the religious address and sermons of mosque imams is a kind of insolence at a time of increased insolence. Most of the criticisers are not known to be familiar with their religion [Islam], nor do they perform any of its due rituals."
Al-Azhar grand imam Sheikh Sayed Tantawi, as reported by the Cairo daily Al-Ahram, in response to the claim that mosque imams were fanning the flames of fanaticism and sectarian conflict through their Friday sermons •

"I challenge anyone who claims that any mosque imam or preacher serves to foment sectarianism. Minister of religious endowments, Sheikh Mahmoud Hamdi Zaqzouq in Al-Haqiqa weekly • Some mosque imams disregard national and citizenship rights in their sermons…They claim to promote religiosity while they only destroy the nation and divide its people."
Tareq Hassan, political writer at al-Ahram •

"Scores of so-called Islamic bookstores, each with a printshop of its own, publish books which play on the sentiments and instincts of simple Muslims."
Dr Samir Sarhan, former head of the Book Authority, on the huge number of ‘Islamic books’ flooding the market, propagating a narrow-minded, fanatic image of Islam, and promoting a body culture as far as relations between men and women are concerned. •

"We should all try to do something about the increased suffering and consequent immigration of Christian Arabs, not only for their sake but also for the sake of continued humane existence in our region and our world."
Radwan al-Sayed, writer, in al-Hayat al-Dawleya published in London •

"In order to ingrain in our society cultural values which oppose sectarian conflict, we must promote acceptance of the other between Copts and Muslims. Competence alone and not religion should be the only measure of assignment to jobs."
Dr Sultan Abu-Ali, former minister of economy •

"Instead of striving to promote a culture of tolerance and enlightenment to confront the extremist thought which came to us from the oil countries [of the Arabian Peninsula], and which have wreaked havoc with our [normally tolerant] religious address and educational system, we chose to turn a blind eye to it. We swept the national unity problems under the carpet, considering it enough to propagate a rhetoric of ‘one national fabric’ and courtesy meetings between [Muslim and Christian] religious leaders. Such measures are absolutely futile, and the matter now requires a confrontation that cannot be delayed."
Dr Hisham Sadeq, Professor at the Faculty of Law of Alexandria University •

"The ending to the recent Alexandria sectarian events is still open. More sectarian events could destroy the nation and hand over its people’s destiny to others outside its borders."
Dr Rifaat Laquosha, Professor of Law at Alexandria University •

"Those who believe religion is a nationality do not only live a huge illusion, but also stab in the heart the concepts of the nation and full citizenship rights."
Abdou Mubasher, political writer at al-Ahram •

"Only Egyptian Muslims swear talata billah al-azim (three times, in the name of the great God). This is a clear intonation on the thoroughly Christian “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” • Can anyone on earth believe that Egyptian children do not learn of the journey of the Holy Family into Egypt, this journey that is reportedly full of miracles, was blessed by God, and taken care of by Egyptians."
Journalist and writer Neam al-Baz, who writes for children and signs as “Mama Neam”. She wears the higab (the Islamic veil), and is famous for her elegant looks, and affectionate, outgoing nature. Ms Baz is a keen advocate of national unity.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Coptic Treasures Get The Home They Deserve.

Mogamaa Al-Adian, Old Cairo's religious compound, is finally free of the roar of trucks and lorries that have blocked the entrance to the Coptic Museum for three years now. And the museum itself, with its limestone façade loosely based on the Al-Aqmar Mosque, has finally opened its doors to visitors in an area the attractions of which include the Mosque of Amr Ibn Al-Aas, the Hanging Church and the Synagogue of Beni-Ezra.

On Monday President Hosni Mubarak formally opened the museum during a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and scores of Egyptian ministers and senior government officials. The president was guided through the museum's 26 galleries, containing 13,000 items, by Culture Minister Farouk Hosni and Supreme Council of Antiquities' Secretary-General Zahi Hawass. They also watched a 15-minute documentary film on the restoration of the museum.
"The restoration of the Coptic Museum was an ambitious project," says Hosni. "It is one of Cairo's oldest museums and its restoration is an illustration of the government's commitment to preserving the nation's Coptic, as well as its Pharaonic and Islamic, heritage."

Over three years, and with a budget of LE38 million, the museum has been comprehensively refurbished. The main body of the museum, which blends Roman and Fatimid forms, was built by Morqos Semeika Pasha in 1910. But by 1992 it had fallen into a state of disrepair, and after the earthquake of that year was closed for safety reasons, leaving only the new wing, added in 1947, open. In 2003 that too closed as the massive overhaul of the museum began.

Hussein El-Shabouri, the consultant engineer responsible for the restoration, says the museum building was in a critical condition when the restoration began. The walls of the old wing had developed cracks following the earthquake, the ceiling decorations were almost indistinguishable beneath the layers of accumulated dirt and much of the mashrabiya at the windows was broken. The floor of the new wing had been partially destroyed by subterranean water leakage and there were no emergency exits.

To rescue the buildings the foundations were consolidated and strengthened by micro-piles, sharply- pointed columns installed beneath the new wing.
To improve visitor flow the two wings have been connected by a corridor and their levels readjusted. A hydraulic lift and wheelchair ramps have been installed for disabled visitors.
The wooden ceilings in the old wing have been cleaned, revealing painted scenes of Venice and Istanbul. And in collaboration with the American Research Centre in Egypt (ARCE), a team of Italian restorers consolidated, cleaned and conserved the museum's most important frescoes.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Co-existence In Egypt.

By Ammar Ali Hassan.

Despite recent sectarian tensions it must be stressed that the situation in Egypt remains much better than in most other Arab states. Iraq and Somalia both face the prospects of fragmentation, Lebanon and Syria are rife with constant friction, in North Africa there are tensions between the Arabs and Amazigh, and in Sudan between the north and south, the east and west.
Yet until now Egyptians have remained capable of burying limiting sectarian conflict. Incidents in Al-Kishh, for example, did not lead to confrontations in Cairo or Alexandria. Nor did the recent clashes in Alexandria spread to other neighbourhoods.
Yet leaving matters as they are, depending on a history of tolerance, is no longer an option. The problem has reached the wider public, previously the exemplar of respectful, shared living.
In the past Christian complaints fell into two categories. First there were objections about the lack of equality, the fact that they were barred from holding some public posts, and discriminated against by the bureaucracy. Then there was a fear of extremist Islamist organisations, some of which attacked Christian interests during the period of tense confrontation between the regime and Islamist groups between 1988 and 1997.
Now, though, incendiary actions are being undertaken by members of the public. The protests that followed the conversion of a priests' wife, Wafaa Costantine, to Islam, are one case in point. Then there was the distribution of a CD of a play deemed offensive to Muslims, which ended with the church in which the play had been staged being besieged. Most recently confrontation broke out between the general public on both sides after a person the government described as mad attacked three churches in Alexandria.
For such outbursts to be prevented a number of basic conditions must pertain.
First, "political" and "religious" groups must be clearly demarcated. Rights and duties in everything related to politics must be equal, while religion should be dealt with on the basis of the golden rule that "religion is for the Judge". The relationship between the two sides should be based on the principle, formulated during the 1919 Revolution, that "religion is for God and the homeland for everyone".
Second, the debate between Muslims and Christians in Egypt must not be transposed onto the past but focus on the present. Christians should not talk excessively of the persecution they suffered following the Islamic conquest of Egypt, and Muslims should not brag to Christians about saving them from the oppression and harsh persecution of the Byzantines.
Third, Muslims must admit that among them are those who view Christians as infidels, while Christians must admit that their ranks contain extremists who view Muslims as heretics. Such an acknowledgement is necessary to begin along the path of co-existence.
There is also a dire need to respond to misinterpretations of texts in the Quran and Bible. The texts of both holy books espouse values sufficient to build mutual respect between Muslims and Christians.
It is also essential to separate religion from politics. The church should not attempt to play a political role, and Islamic organisations and groups should not continue to politicise religion. We might, though, consider "religicising" politics, giving it the moral framework that is essential if corruption and despotism are to be confronted.
Many intellectuals and members of the political and social elite, Muslim and Christian, hold that solving the problems of Egypt's Christians is possible only within the framework of comprehensive political reform, and a civil, democratic state based on citizenship and the rotation of power. This would open the door to freedom of expression and the formation of political parties that would not depend on their primary affiliations of religion, tribe and geographic location.
Any problems between Muslims and Christians in Egypt must, of course, be solved within an Egyptian agenda, and through the mediation of Egyptians. Summoning foreign powers will lead to disaster, and it will impact on Christians before Muslims.
Co-existence depends on balanced dialogue between all concerned parties, whether as individuals or groups. Dialogue and mutual understanding must be raised above zealotry and there must be a readiness to deal tolerantly with others, and accept opposing opinions. Tolerance must not be viewed as a relationship in which one party is stronger than the other, but as a necessity of civilised life.
It is also essential that wealth and opportunities be evenly divided. And the Egyptian people must better understand that differences between people in terms of language, religion, ethnicity, colour and culture should not be turned into an obstacle blocking co-existence between different groups.
There is no point in focussing excessively on abstract theories about the concept of co-existence. Rather, it is essential to steadily work at determining the mechanisms of conciliation. This can be done by activating dialogue and raising the values of tolerance, not as stammered slogans but as something that informs our daily lives. Fear of transgression must be removed, and the particularity of the culture of others recognised.
The Egyptian government must eliminate all factors that threaten the idea of co-existence and end all discrimination on the basis of religion, language, ethnicity and colour. It must be courageous in dealing with misinterpreted religious teachings that fuel religious extremism.
While there are opportunities for co- existence, we must admit that problems exist that, if exacerbated, may come to undermine that very goal. Among these we must count the behaviour of some security officials and employees in the bureaucracy, as well as extremist Islamist groups that produce rhetoric inciting hatred against Christians, and extremist Christians who call for all Muslims to leave Egypt.
Whatever the problems facing co- existence in Egypt they have yet to coalesce into a major threat. Egyptians are one of the most cohesive peoples in the world in terms of their ethnic characteristics and physical measurements, and one with the most similar in terms of appearance and features. This cohesion covers psychology as much as biology. Anba Shenouda expressed this clearly when he stated, "the unity of Egypt and the Egyptians is one of the secrets of this eternal country... Is it geography? Is it the inhabitants?... We have suffered great tragedies throughout history, and yet our unity has survived."
Demography is certainly a factor. Christians are found in almost all of Egypt's villages and cities. They do not live in a specific region as is the case with the Kurds in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran. This matter creates daily interactions between Egypt's Muslims and Christians, and increases the interlocking of mutual interests.