Posted: 26 Feb 2011 05:45 AM PST
By Barry Rubin
Once the revolution began, Egypt’s Christians knew precisely what to expect. It isn’t that the regime of Husni Mubarak protected them so well from Muslim wrath. On the contrary, it was reluctant to prosecute Muslims who attacked and killed or wounded Christians as well as damaged or destroyed churches. The government often arrested Christians who defended themselves. But at least the regime’s power restrained anarchy, caught terrorists, and kept the Islamists at bay.
Now all that has changed. Despite the widely publicized statements by Brotherhood ideologue Yusuf al-Qaradawi in favor of Muslim-Christian amity in his big Cairo rally, this has no effect on the ground. In Assiut, a Coptic priest was stabbed 22 times by a man yelling “Allahu Akhbar.” Next, the Egyptian army—the guardian of democracy as it is now styled—attacked the St. Bishoy monastery outside of Cairo and the St. Makarios monastery near Alexandria, using tanks and bullets. One monk was wounded and several were beaten.
Why? This is a point of tremendous significance. According to Islamic law, in countries governed by Islam new churches or synagogues cannot be built and existing ones cannot be repaired. The goal, of course, is to foster the decline and extinction of all religions other than Islam. Even in Turkey, the government has frequently tried to enforce this in practice.
During the revolutionary disturbances the monasteries had built walls to protect themselves and Christians who flocked there for refuge. Now the army is tearing down those walls so they will not be available in future to defend Christians.
Of course, the existence of these walls threaten no one. There is no conceivable reason–except for Islamic law–that they not be left in place. Indeed, with all the other problems Egypt has for the army to make this demolition a top priority tells a lot about the nature of the new Egypt.
This is only the beginning. What should be obvious is the following: a democratically elected Egyptian government—even a non-Islamist one–will not protect Christians and arrest, prosecute, and imprison Muslims who attack them. Why? Because it won’t be popular with the voters. The government would be branded as anti-Muslim and in the pay of the Pope, the West, and the Zionists. That’s how Middle East politics work, as I pointed out with this historical example.
Many of these attacks will be perpetuated by radical Islamist groups whose members have come to consider the Muslim Brotherhood too cautious. This is precisely what happened in the 1990s, when scores of Christians were murdered with virtually no prosecution of those responsible.
And presumably whether or not Egypt becomes a state based on Sharia law–something that could even happen under a non- or even anti-Islamist government–the new regime will enforce restrictive provisions of Islamic law on the large (but probably shrinking through desperate emigration) Christian minority.
Persecution against Christians will grow, whether or not it is reported in the Western media.
Posted: 25 Feb 2011 02:39 PM PST
By Barry Rubin
During an interview on Iranian television, the Iranian admiral who led a two-ship flotilla up the Red Sea, through the Suez Canal, and to Syria–asserting Iran’s expanding power–made the following statement:
“Of course, what has caused the raising of tensions is normally the action of the enemy. It uses any action by the Islamic Republic of Iran in order to promote its agenda of Iranophobia.”
Of course, according to him, everyone loves Iran except the evil “Zionist regime.” But since, he adds, everyone else in the world hates the “Zionist regime” that’s not much of a problem.
Will “Iranophobia” become the latest no-no on the Politically Correct (rather than Factually Correct) list? Stay tuned.
Posted: 25 Feb 2011 10:12 AM PST
By Barry Rubin
In 1938 the Saudi diplomat Hafiz Wahbah secretly met with Zionist leader (and future Israeli prime minister) David Ben-Gurion.
Wahbah explained to Ben-Gurion why it was impossible to negotiate a lasting peace. A few years before, Wahbah recounted, when he had called calling for peace in Jerusalem, Wahbah had mentioned that Jerusalem was a holy city for Jews and Christians as well as for Muslims.
In response, he continued, he received a stack of cables and insults asking how much the Jews had paid him to say that.
Compromise could not take place, Wahbah concluded, in an atmosphere where everyone was afraid he might be accused of treason.
Recently, in the “Palestine Papers” controversy, the idea that Palestinian Authority negotiators might have made in passing on one occasion–though they then abandoned the idea–a couple of real proposed concessions–led to the officials involved going into hiding, denying, and resigning.
Now with political upheavals and even revolutions in the Arab world–which many Arabs attribute to the rejection of governments too friendly with the West and too willing to make peace with Israel–the idea that compromise would be equated with treason is as likely today as it was in 1938.
Oh, and by the way, in 1938, Egypt had a parliamentary system with free elections. Four years later, though, the British surrounded the king’s palace with tanks and forced him to appoint another government. The existing one, you see, favored a Nazi victory and with General Erwin Rommel and the Afrika Corps crossing into Egypt the British could no longer afford that luxury.
Of course, in principle the Middle East can change for the better. It just doesn’t seem to do so too much in practice. And that’s a problem for people who live in Western societies where change for the better is assumed as universal and inevitable.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The GLORIA Center’s site is http://www.gloria-center.org/ and of his blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com/.
Posted: 25 Feb 2011 10:14 AM PST
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By Barry Rubin
It is completely understandable that Arabs, having waited decades for the democratic moment, are rejoicing at events in Egypt and elsewhere. One wishes them well and hopes that this all works out in a new Middle East of democracy, peace, progress, and rising living standards.
Yet everybody–and I repeat everybody–has acted as if this is the first time a massive uprising of people have demanded freedom and democracy in the Arabic-speaking world. In fact, just a little over five years ago the same thing happened in Lebanon. In the Beirut Spring, as it was called, a far higher proportion of the total population–arguably 50 times more–than in Egypt rallied to demand the end of Syrian control and the return of democracy Lebanese-style.
There are two important lessons here that should well be heeded.
First, an equally huge crowd demonstrated on behalf of Hizballah and continued Syrian control. That is, it is possible to generate mass support on behalf of anti-democratic movements and for Islamism. This phenomenon of the “reactionary masses” is well known in modern European history but has been forgotten in the West today. Indeed, in Egypt many of those demonstrating for “freedom” define freedom as having a Sharia-dominated society at home and a radical foreign policy, including support for terrorism.
Second, the Lebanese experiment failed, and it failed due to the results of free elections (along with a bit of strategic violence). Nobody–and I repeat nobody–has pointed out that at this very same moment as Egypt was celebrating, Lebanon was succumbing to the rule of Hizballah, Iran, and Syria. It decayed into the present situation despite the fact that Lebanon has the strongest record of democracy of any Arabic-speaking country.t
Events in Lebanon mark another advance for the Iran-Syria-Hamas-Hizballah bloc with support from the Turkish government. This, too, is being ignored in the celebrations that history in the Middle East can only go in one direction.
Might the comparison be worth considering?
At least the New York Times has finally noticed that Hizballah and its allies are taking over Lebanon’s government. That’s progress of a sort. Note that Hizballah isn’t going to turn Lebanon into an Islamic republic and suppress the Christians and Sunni Muslims. What it wants is control over Lebanon’s foreign and military policy. Now it has achieved that goal and Lebanon–as the great minds of the West don’t even notice–is now a satellite of Iran and Syria.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His books include Islamic Fundamentalists in Egyptian Politics and The Muslim Brotherhood (Palgrave-Macmillan); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East, a study of Arab reform movements (Wiley). GLORIA Center site: http://www.gloria-center.org His blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.