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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 8    Issue 6   01-15 August 2013

Professor A. R. MOMIN

The Coup and the Subversion of Democracy in Egypt

Mr. Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically-elected president, was summarily and unceremoniously ousted by the chief of the armed forces, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on July 3, 2013. The events that unfolded in the aftermath of the military takeover, including the formation of a military-installed interim government and the startling revelations in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Le Monde, suggest beyond a shadow of doubt that the ouster of Mr. Morsi was the outcome of an orchestrated plot hatched weeks and even months before June 30, when huge public protests began to surface at the iconic Tahrir Square. The key actors in the plot included the army top brass, key opposition figures and anti-Morsi activists, Mubarak-appointed judges of the Supreme Constitutional Court, Mohamed ElBaradei, leader of the National Salvation Front, and Mubarak-era media tycoons and businessmen, particularly Naguib Sawiris. The plot was backed by the Salafi al-Nour party, Coptic Christians and the secular elite.

The Obama administration was aware of the plot well in advance and had lent its support to it. The Egyptian army has been a trusted ally of the US for more than five decades. The US government gives $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt every year, most of which goes to the military. General al-Sisi, the mastermind of the coup and deputy prime minister and defence minister in the new dispensation, was trained by the US army. The top officers of the Egyptian army had been regularly meeting with opposition leaders in the past months, behind Mr. Morsi’s back.

Judges of the Supreme Constitutional Court, who were appointed during the Mubarak era and considered the torch bearers of the despot’s legacy, did not take kindly to the assumption of power by the Muslim Brotherhood. Ironically, Mr. Adly Mansour, who is now the interim president, was appointed head of Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court by Mr. Morsi on May 19, 2013.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the 71-year-old Nobel Peace Prize-winner, former head of the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency (1997-2009) and vice-president for foreign relations in the interim government, was in close touch with the US administration, especially with US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel, and European leaders before the coup and had sought their support in the bid to topple Mr. Morsi. In an interview with The New York Times on July 4, ElBaradei said that he had worked hard to convince Western powers of the necessity of forcibly removing Mr. Morsi and that he had spoken at length with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top foreign policy official, in this connection. He was present when General al-Sisi announced the removal of Mr. Morsi. In an interview with the German newspaper Der Spiegel on July 8, ElBaradei defended the ouster of Mr. Morsi, saying that the military intervention was necessary and that the military takeover was not a coup. In an interview with The New York Times, ElBaradei also defended the arrest of Muslim Brotherhood members and the shutdown of their TV channel.

ElBaradei, who had the ambition of becoming Egypt’s president, withdrew from the 2012 presidential election when he realized that he had very slim chances of winning. He is reported to have said after he announced his withdrawal, “My conscience does not permit me to run for the presidency or any other official position unless it is within a democratic framework.” Strangely enough, the same man did not experience any pangs of conscience when he agreed to join the interim government. ElBaradei went one step further and stoutly defended the forcible ouster of a democratically elected government by the military, with which he was at loggerheads only a year ago. ElBaradei’s opportunistic alliance with the military has severely damaged his credentials and has shown that he is a man of straw, who can be easily swayed by the temptations of power and authority.

Naguib Sawiris, an Egyptian billionaire and media tycoon, a Mubarak loyalist and a sworn enemy of the Muslim Brotherhood, provided huge finances and logistical support for anti-Morsi protests. Mubarak-era media owners and the secular elite teamed up to engineer massive anti-Morsi propaganda. The size of anti-Morsi protest meetings and rallies was vastly exaggerated and inflated by the opposition groups and the army with a view to mislead the nation and to give a distorted picture of the anti-Morsi protests, which could be used as a pretext for the military takeover. ElBaradei, for example, told Der Spiegel that as many as 20 million Egyptians had taken to the streets to vent their ire against the Morsi government. The army sources inflated the figure to 30 million. These doctored figures were uncritically accepted and aired by the Western media. Nobody bothered to think that the Tahrir Squate, which was the centre stage of anti-Morsi protests, can accommodate only about half a million people.

Businessmen, who had thrived during the Mubarak era and thus swore loyalty to him, hoarders and black marketers conspired to create artificial shortages of cooking gas and other essential supplies to discredit the Morsi government. The Salafi hardliners, who are in cahoots with the Gulf states, which in turn are close allies of the US, backed the coup. Interestingly, the first countries to recognize the interim government were Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

On 24 July, General al-Sisi made a highly provocative and explosive statement, which can only be construed as playing with fire. In the course of a speech at a military parade, he urged the Egyptian people to come out on the streets in large numbers and grant his forces a mandate to crack down on what he called “violence and terrorism.” On 27 July, the security forces opened fire on peaceful pro-Morsi-protesters, killing more than 100 people and wounding about 200. Most of them were shot in the face, several in the yes and many in the chest. The massacre took place in the hours before dawn. All the dead were Muslim Brothers or their friends and family members. There were no dead policemen.

The response of the United States and the European Union to the coup is in keeping with their past record. The Obama administration has avoided calling it a coup. Declaring the overthrow of the Morsi government a coup would lead to the automatic suspension of American aid to Egypt under the 1981 Foreign Assistance Act, which would go against the geopolitical interests of the US. After days of silence, on 1 August, John Kerry said that the ouster of Morsi by the army marked the restoration of democracy in Egypt. On 26 July, US officials said that the Egyptian government’s overthrow was not a coup. This confirms the growing suspicion that the US was complicit in the coup.

In an interview with the Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman on 20 July 2013, John Esposito, an eminent American scholar who specializes in the Middle East and the Islamic world, said: “If what happened in Egypt took place in any Western country where the head of government proved to be unpopular with a significant number of citizens and the military intervened, it would be denounced by every Western government, the US in particular. The example of Egypt and the acquiescence of Western powers send a signal to other opposition groups in emerging democracies that if they follow the Egyptian coup model, they can get away with it.”

Esposito says that by not speaking out strongly and not deeming the military intervention as a coup, the West “risks sending a message that it is not ready for real democracy in the Middle East, especially if a government has an Islamic reference, regardless of it being elected”. He adds, “They accepted the military-backed coup and even supported it behind the scenes and have avoided referring to it as a coup, thus leaving themselves open to what many will see as another of a double standard when it comes to the promotion of democracy.”

Noam Chomsky, the renowned linguist and human rights activist, said in a speech at the American University of Cairo on 23 October 2012, “Egyptian democracy will be supported by the US as long as it stays in line with its interests.” Chomsky’s words have a ring of prophecy in the context of the coup.

Female Genital Mutilations in Muslim Countries

Female genital mutilations or female circumcision is defined by the World Health Organisation as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” Female genital mutilations (FGM), whose origins have a hoary past, are practiced in 29 countries, mostly in Africa. The WHO estimates that nearly 140 million women and girls around the world have experienced FGM, out of which 101 million are in Africa. More than 80% of women who have undergone FGM live in sub-Saharan Africa. Female genital mutilations are particularly rampant in Somalia (98%), Guinea (96%), Djibouti (93%) and Egypt (91%). They are widely practiced in Eritrea, Mali, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Mauritania, Benin, Kenya, Liberia, The Gambia and Iraqi Kurdistan. (The highlighted countries are Muslim-majority). The practice is sporadic in Malaysia, Indonesia, Iraq, Iran, Oman and Yemen. FGM are also commonly found in the African diaspora in Europe. Thus, more than 20,000 girls of African descent, who are living in Britain, are at the risk of undergoing FGM.

Female genital mutilations are generally performed on girls between 7 and 13 years of age without anaesthesia and with crude instruments such as a knife, razor or scissors. The practice is rooted in traditional beliefs and ideas relating to modesty, chastity, fidelity and the control of women’s sexuality. FGM are generally looked upon as a rite of passage of girls into womanhood, and they are believed to curb women’s sexual pleasure. The practice is found among Muslims, Christians and animists. WHO says that FGM have no known health benefits. On the contrary, they are known to be harmful to girls and women in many ways. Female genital mutilations are generally accompanied by adverse health consequences, including urinary and vaginal infections, chronic pain, infertility, complications during child birth, as well as negative psychological consequences. In some cases, FGM may cause death.

FGM are widespread across Egypt. A 2005 government health survey revealed that 96% of the thousands of women who were interviewed said that they had undergone the procedure. Female circumcision has been in the focus of controversy and debate in Egypt. The practice has many supporters, including some ulama. Following a campaign launched by the Egyptian government, religious leaders and social activists, female genital mutilations were banned in 1996. Egypt’s former Grand Mufti, Ali Gomaa, declared the procedure illegitimate and forbidden (haram). The Al-Azhar Supreme Council of Islamic Research issued an edict declaring that the practice of female circumcision has no basis in Islamic law.

A report by Unicef, released in July 2013, says that the practice of female genital mutilations has declined in recent years. For example, in the Central African Republic, the share of women in the 15-49 age group, who had undergone FGM, dropped from 43% in 1995 to 24% in 2010. Growing literacy and education levels among women, the efforts of dedicated social activists and the involvement of the ulama in the campaign against FGM have paid rich dividends.

French Muslims Prefer Burials in Ancestral Countries

France swears by the republican ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity, but French society in reality is highly differentiated in terms of race, class, religion and ethnicity. Mainstream jobs and positions are almost the exclusive preserve of the white, Catholic majority. By and large, the country’s 6 million Muslims have to bear the brunt of widespread discrimination and stigmatization and are excluded from mainstream society. Most of them live in high-rise public blocks -- known as banlieues -- which have become virtual ghettos, characterised by poverty, high rates of unemployment, crime and drug addiction. The unemployment rate among French Muslims is three times the national average and in some housing colonies is as high as 40 per cent.

Poverty, low levels of education, discrimination in education, employment and housing and high unemployment rates form part of a vicious circle of deprivation and exclusion. A French sociologist Jean-Francois Amadien has shown that applicants with Arab or Muslim surnames are five times less likely to receive positive responses for job applications from French employers than those with French names. Faced with this frustrating situation, many young Muslim men and women in the country -- known as beurs -- are forced to change their names or to conceal their addresses for fear that this might jeopardize their chances of getting a job.

A peculiar problem faced by French Muslims relates to the burial of the dead. About 70 per cent of Muslims of North African origin prefer their dead relatives to be buried in their ancestral homeland. Every year thousands of dead bodies are transported by air from France to the Maghreb. This is a complex and expensive procedure, costing about € 2,500. There are two main reasons for the repatriation of dead bodies to the Maghreb. One has to do with deeply-entrenched sentiments and longing for one’s homeland, and the other is the absence of exclusively Muslim cemeteries in France. French authorities, who swear by the tenet of laicite (French version of secularism, which posits a strict separation between church and state), do not allow separate graveyards for Muslims or other religious communities. For the past several years French Muslims have been clamouring for designated areas for the community in graveyards, but the authorities have rejected their petitions.

Another problem is that the burial spaces provided to Muslims in graveyards are normally provisional. Muslim families take a given space in a cemetery on lease for 30 or 50 years, after which the bodies are transferred to a common area. Most Muslims, who believe that after burial, bodies in the ground should not be touched or tampered with, and hence consider this arrangement offensive.

This is not a happy situation for Muslims either. If a parent or close relative lies buried in Algeria or Morocco, it is extremely difficult and expensive for the family to visit the grave. The parents of Karim Saidi, a teacher of Algerian descent, came to Saint Quentin from Algeria in the 1960s. He and his sisters and brothers were born and raised in France and consider themselves French rather than Algerian. When Saidi’s father died in a road accident, his body was repatriated to his village in Algeria. But the family later came to regret the decision because it is not easy to visit the grave in the far-off Algerian village. So the family decided that when the mother dies she would be buried in France.

This situation raises serious questions about the integration of Muslims in mainstream French society. As French citizens who pay taxes and participate in elections, Muslims should have a say in how their dead relatives are buried. The biggest stumbling block is a rigid adherence to the Republican creed of laicite.

China Prohibits Uighur Muslim Students from Fasting

There are 55 distinct ethnic groups in China, officially designated as nationalities or national minorities, which comprise nearly 120 million people and constitute about 10% of the country’s population. Ten of the 55 national minorities follow Islam. The most important among Muslim minority groups are Hui (9 million), Uighur (8 million), and Kazakh (1.2 million). The Hui, who comprise about half of the Muslim population in China, are spread over 97% of China’s provinces. They are the descendants of Arab, Central Asian and Persian merchants who began arriving and settling in China since the 7th century. They married local Chinese women, which resulted in their gradual assimilation into Chinese society. The other Muslim communities are Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Tatar, Salar, Bonan, Tajik and Dongxiang. The Uighur, Kazakh and Kirghiz Muslims have substantially retained their original languages and cultural traditions. Their largest concentration is in Xinjiang, which was known as Eastern Turkestan in earlier times. They speak variants of Turkic languages and share substantial cultural and oral traditions with the Muslims of Central Asia.

In the 1990s, when the Soviet Union was breaking up and its Central Asian republics were declaring independence, Chinese authorities feared that Xinjiang, which shares borders with Central Asia and had a Muslim majority, might secede from the country. In order to forestall this possibility, the Chinese authorities embarked on a calculated policy of the migration of Han Chinese into Xinjiang. Mr. Wang Lequan, the Communist Party secretary and absolute power in Xinjiang for 15 years, introduced modernization in the region. He opened the region’s oil and gas fields to drilling, laid pipelines east to the Chinese heartland and west to Kazakhstan. Lured by rising employment opportunities, Han Chinese workers flocked to Xinjiang. During the 1990s, about two million Han migrated to the region. As a result of the planned migration of Han Chinese to Xinjiang, the proportion of Uighurs in the region’s population has shrunk from 75 per cent in 1949 to 45 per cent today. The Han Chinese now form the majority (more than 70 per cent) of Urumqi’s population of 2.3 million. Xinjiang has been milked for its abundant oil reserves, but the benefits have not accrued to the region’s Muslim population in any significant measure.

Xinjiang has undoubtedly developed, but large numbers of people, especially Uighurs, are still living in poverty. Mr Wang Lequan also carried out a policy of de-ethnicization of Uighur Muslims. He substituted Mandarin for Uighur in primary schools, saying that minority languages were “out of step with the 21st century,” and banned or restricted Islamic symbols and practices, including the Islamic veil, beards and praying and fasting while on the job, among government workers. This year, Chinese authorities have barred Uighur students and Muslim staff in educational institutions from fasting in the month of Ramadan. Students who defy the order are being reported to the authorities for punitive action.

China has been accused by two US-based human rights organizations, Human Rights Watch and Human Rights in China, of conducting a “crushing campaign of religious repression against Muslim Uighurs”. This campaign is ostensibly carried out in the name of anti-separatism and counter-terrorism. The repressive measures of the government range from surveillance of imams and forced closure of mosques to the detention of thousands of people and executions. The curriculum of Islamic educational institutions is required to be approved by the authorities. Imams have to attend political education camps. Religious literature has to be screened and approved by the authorities before circulation. In the wake of 9/11, thousands of Uighur men were imprisoned on trumped-up charges of terrorism and religious extremism. East Turkestan Islamic Movement, the main religious and cultural organization of Uighurs in Xinjiang, has been declared a terrorist group by both China and the US. There have been frequent protests and demonstrations by Uighur Muslims against the repressive and discriminatory policies pursued by the Chinese authorities. According to Amnesty International, some 3,000 Uighurs have been arrested and 22 executed since the mid-1990s. There were deadly clashes between the Chinese police and Uighur youth in Xinjiang in June this year, which claimed 37 lives.

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