Islam and democracy in the Arab world


Galip Dalay wrote what I thought was a very good explanation of Islam and democracy  and the conflict some people in today’s Arab/Muslim world think exists, entitled  Yet Another Instance of Islamic Exceptionalism, which I wanted to post excerpts of below

 

Tanks rolled down the street, state owned TV channels were taken over, dissenting media outlets tankswere raided and silenced, president’s office was surrounded, the first ever democratically elected president was put under house arrest, the constitution was suspended, and the head of army stood in front of cameras to try to justify these disgraceful deeds. As a citizen of Turkey, a country that has endured four military coups, these scenes were all too familiar; what has been taking place in Egypt was clear and obvious: a coup d’état.

Yet, the leaders of “democratic” countries did not describe the events in Egypt as a coup. The United States, which ostensibly squandered a great deal of finances and shed blood all in the name of “democracy” in greater Middle East and North Africa, failed to use “c” word…

Ashton

EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton

Likewise, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton refrained from using the “c” word in her statement on the overthrow of Morsi. In addition, her statement did not indicate any possible repercussions against the military’s grab of power from elected civilians….

This refusal to call a coup a coup has not been limited to the official circles. A significant part of the international media, pundits, and analysts also followed suit by not labeling the events as coup or condemning them. But why were the pundits so reluctant in defining the new millenium’s first televised coup by its name? Have we not all been applauding the irresistible shift towards democratization world-wide? Was not the Arab Spring a welcome development similar to the ones that had taken place in Central and Eastern Europe in 1989 – 1990?

The excessive emphasis on the identity of the president and the characteristics of the party, in the international media and analysts’ discourse, seems to indicate the real reason for condoning the coup. morsiIIFinding an article that did not attempt to justify the military takeover of the Morsi government by references to his and his party’s Islamist identity and a detailed account of all the mistakes they made, supposedly due to their Islamist politics, has become a mission impossible. For some, this whole affair represented the confirmation of their long-held belief regarding the incompatibility of Islam and democracy. They eagerly spelled out the failure of Political Islam in playing by the rules of an open and democratic political system.

…the perennial debate on incompatibility between Islam and democracy has been a flawed one. This debate adopts an essentialist approach to both democracy and religion. It accounts for the existence of a functioning democracy more through the specific cultural, civilizational and religious codes than through the existence of strong and independent institutions, rules of law, and political experience…democracy was essentially and exclusively European due to its unique mix of cultural, civilizational and religious factors, thus it could not take root anywhere but the European-western world. This stance assumed that other regions, cultures or religions were impervious to democratization due to their exceptional circumstances and religious and cultural values, which were deemed to be incommensurate with democratic values.

vote….the revolutions in the Arab World rendered this latest form of exceptionalism obsolete as well. Thus, these experiences illustrated that Asians, Muslims and Arabs were no different in their demands for representative democracy and dignity than their European and American peers….

…when pundits question the compatibility of Islam and democracy, what they actually mean is whether Islam is compatible with liberalism. Given that Islamist movements are usually the best organized groups at the societal level in the countries they operate and that they share the value systems of the public at large, they have no qualms about electoral democracy–a stance they eagerly proved by seizing every opportunity for free and fair elections. In this respect, it becomes clear that what is meant by this question of compatibility is whether Islamists are ready to accommodate liberal demands and different (secular) life styles….

…it is the secularist elites and establishments that demonstrate incompatibility with democracy in the Middle East and North Africa. This region has not witnessed Islamists’ halting or crushing democratic processes. In fact, one may argue that the only exception might be the Iranian election of 2009 on a minor scale. Yet, the region witnessed many instances of secularist establishment’s and elites’ crushing of democratic processes: four coups by secular military – establishment in Turkey, Algerian army’s crushing of Islamic Salvation Front in 1992 election to prevent them from coming to power through democratic elections, Egyptian army’s present day crushing of a fledgling democratic experiment. conflictLikewise, in Syria, it is again the secularist Baathist regime that stifles peoples’ demands for freedom, democracy, and economic well-being. This raises the question as to why Middle Eastern and North African secularists demonstrate this inability to reconcile with democratic processes?

Renowned scholar Jose Casanova’s following observations are imperative in understanding this dilemma. “One wonders whether democracy does not become an impossible “game” when potential majorities are not allowed to win elections, and when secular civilian politicians ask the military to come to the rescue of democracy by banning these potential majorities, which threaten their secular identity and their power.” This observation does not only aptly capture the crux of challenges to the democratization in the region, it also elucidates why Middle Eastern and North African secularists prove unable to comply with democratic rules and procedures. Thus, the search for Islamist-proof democracy makes democracy itself a mission impossible to accomplish.

The Islamist identity of Morsi and his party seems to be the major reason for the reticence of the international community and media in defining this coup a coup! The future of democracy and upholding of rights and liberties of the citizens in the Middle East and North Africa are significantly contingent upon whether Islamists would be allowed to run in fair elections and rule, if they win. If we do not want Essam el Haddad’s words “…the message will resonate throughout the Muslim world loud and clear: democracy is not for Muslims” to form the mindset of new generation of Islamists in the region, then it is imperative to take a stance against this coup, which has the potential to stifle the emerging democratic experiments of the Arab Spring.

 

 

 

In our name


iftar

While you are breaking your fast during the month of Ramadan there are others who are being forced to break theirs while still in detention in Guantanamo Bay.  They want to eat and enjoy themselves with family, friend and worship after fasting but they just don’t want to do it in Gitmo Bay.  Some of them have been determined to be worthy of being released years ago, yet still remain imprisoned for reasons they haven’t been told.   I couldn’t watch this video at the link which details forced feeding of detainees there. Perhaps you can.

As Ramadan begins, more than 100 hunger-strikers in Guantánamo Bay continue their protest. More than 40 of them are being force-fed. A leaked document sets out the military instructions, or standard operating procedure, for force-feeding detainees. In this four-minute film made by Human Rights organisation Reprieve and Bafta award-winning director Asif Kapadia, US actor and rapper Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def), experiences the procedure

Warning: some viewers may find these images distressing

 

Ramadan Mubarak


Ramadan Mubarak to the readers of Miscellany101

Ramadan Mubarak to the readers of Miscellany101

Yes it’s a few days early, but not as early as can be found in some newspapers across the Arab Muslim world where March, 2013 was when Ramadan’s start date was announced.  It really doesn’t matter when it was announced or when it’s said it WILL begin, what matters is you enjoy the month of fasting and get the optimum benefit from observing it.  During the month of fasting and reflection I hope you will pause a time or two to read what’s written on the pages of Miscellany101.wordpress.com

Live by the mob, die by the mob


Mobs confront police

Mobs confront police

It was the Egyptian “mob” that brought Muhammad Mursi into power and it was the same mob that swept him out of power.  During the interim he managed to do some things for his country but in the minds of many alienated himself and his party from the majority of Egyptians.

Immediately after his rise, ascent to power, Mursi was faced with the usual Israeli aggression against the Palestinians and particularly in  Gaza.  No doubt he was being goaded by Israel in order to test his mettle.  His response was he  surprisingly managed the situation in a way to avoid further aggression and even win the praise of some in the West. At the same time he helped Gazans in a show of humanitarianism  rarely seen in Middle East politics.

Despite the intense economic difficulties facing Egypt Mursi refused to devalue the Egyptian pound, which would lower export costs and might be a short-term fix but have a negative impact for a  majority of Egyptians.  He was in the process of negotiating with the IMF for a loan that some said was necessary  but wanted, during his negotiations, to  avert the catastrophe of the ’70s when there was an increase in prices due to the IMF mandated reduction of government subsidies for necessities.  He almost seemed to be adhering to a GOP platform of no new taxes, refusing to raise taxes on  alcoholic drinks, cigarettes and a range of goods and services because of the impact it would have on Egyptians. Surprisingly, he and the IMF were even negotiating on those issues.

Mursi, however didn’t help himself much with some really stupid mistakes, like decreeing to himself powers that resembled the actions of a dictator, only to rescind such decrees a month later

The Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, has scrapped a decree that had generated widespread unrest by awarding him near-absolute powers…..

Selim al-Awa, an official who attended a “national dialogue meeting” called by Morsi at the presidential palace in Cairo but boycotted by his opponents, said the Islamist-dominated discussion recommended removing articles that granted the president powers to declare emergency laws and shield him from judicial oversight.

 

and having the baggage of the Muslim Brotherhood, that much maligned Islamic party certainly didn’t help Mursi’s chances with many Egyptians and others across the Arab world who feared a politically strong Islamist power  in the most powerful and populous Arab country.

Victim of the military's justice in Cairo

Victim of the military’s justice in Cairo

The problem with Mursi’s rise to power is that it was done at the behest of the mob and mobs by definition are unruly, lawless masses of people who are not visionary which is what is needed to govern, but rather reactionary by nature.  After 30 years of Mubarak’s despotic rule Egyptians had had enough and took their frustrations to the streets.  They were confronted by an army whose sole interest is remaining in power, no matter who the titular head of Egypt may be.  That army owns upwards of 40% of Egypt’s gross domestic product, it is a money making franchise for some but it is also brutal and often times as lawless as the mob it faces.

Mursi and his supporters hitched their political aspirations to the mob and upon seizing power diplomatically changed the make-up of the army.  It appeared the transition was smooth, but obviously it wasn’t because one year later the opposition’s mob used the same military to takeover power from Mursi in what could only be described as a banana  republic like act of political gamesmanship. One can expect that the same thing could happen again after whatever period of time passes. Even in the face of a Constitution, mob rule can negate at will laws and systems merely by taking to the streets and asking the military to join with it and if the population is used to, acquiesces to such displays of opposition the “when” just becomes a matter of time.

Trying to chart change by any yardstick to ANY party in power after a period of one year is inherently an exercise in futility. Using western models of political success for a government taking over the reins from a 30 year dictatorship is immature at best, doomed to failure at worse and so it (the Morsi government) was.  Articles appeared which sought to chart Morsi’s success after the first 100 days in office as if he possessed a magic wand that could change everything wrong with Egypt so shortly after Mubarak’s regime.  Mursi was even given a report card that detailed what he did and did not do, as if he alone was the catalyst for change among a nation mired in neglect and overwhelming collapse.  When the obvious happened, i.e. he could not produce for Egypt what it was promised after one year, the mob took to the streets and exclaimed it was only doing what was necessary to protect the country.  One tweeter eloquently said, ‘You can call Egypt’s opposition groups many things, but not “liberal” — liberals don’t support military coups. Emerging secular extremism’….. a rather scary foreboding of what’s to come, perhaps.  Sadly, the same could have applied to Mursi’s climb to power a year ago, with the help of the same military.

mobruleEgypt therefore joins the ranks of those countries in the Arab spring that have not yet reached their zenith and are still societies of chaos and strife.  Palestine, Syria, Iraq, perennially Lebanon are all embroiled in some sort of prolonged armed struggle which has disrupted the lives of its citizens and now Egypt can be added to the list.  Also, it’s interesting to note all of these countries are contiguous to or neighbors of Israel which profits militarily and economically from the instability of her neighbors by increased American largesse.  There are still other countries on the periphery with unrest, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tunisia, Libya, Mali, which mars social cohesion and prosperity and endangers peace.  Moreover, indefinite instability is never good for any country, and the fact that Egyptians so quickly embraced it is almost suicidal for its hopes of an upturn in the economy, but they’ve gone down that road and there’s no turning back.

egypthistoryWhat is equally troubling is too many in the West seem to encourage Egyptians to use yardsticks that are wholly inappropriate for what it is Egypt is facing.  What democracy can expect a 180 degree turn in the political direction of a country of 82.5 million people in anything less than decades?  How can it be that a society as old as Egypt, centuries old some would say extending to the very beginning of mankind, should expect a political reconstruction in anything less than years and why is it that people with  internal clocks that date to the Pharaohs feel the need to be in such a hurry?  It almost seems as if  it’s against their nature.   The usual course of affairs in democracies is ineffective leaders are voted out of office, not run out as was the case with Mursi.  Why anyone from a western styled democracy would suggest anything other than that for Egyptians is suspicious.  Democracies are big ships with many different captains at the helm who must all work in sync with one another.  When brought together for the first time, the cooperation needed to successfully guide the ship of state takes time..years, not months.  Almost six years after the waning days of the Bush Administration, America is still trying to recover from merely 8 years of unbridled spending and rampant military  adventurism which pales in comparison to 30 years of Mubarak’s rule.   Do Egyptians think they possess some other other worldly recuperative powers that can rebuild their country so quickly?

Hardly. Let us hope the disease for the change of power at the hands of mobs is quickly replaced in Egypt with true representative government  that’s instituted not at the threat of a gun barrel but by participatory democracy.  This must be the goal and the means to be employed by all concerned, those in power today and those who oppose them.

 

 

The skinny on government surveillance of Americans


It’s real, pervasive and intrusive.  Any and everything you produce electronically, digitally or perhaps even analog with crossover to digital equipment is monitored by the government and stored away for future reference.  This can be done without the required governmental judicial oversight and is done, up until now, without your knowledge.  Eugene Robinson weighs in on that here

I don’t believe government officials when they say the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance programs do not invade our privacy. The record suggests that you shouldn’t believe them, either.

It pains me to sound like some Rand Paul acolyte. I promise I’m not wearing a tinfoil hat or scanning the leaden sky for black helicopters. I just wish our government would start treating us like adults — more important, like participants in a democracy — and stop lying. We can handle the truth.

James Clapper

James Clapper (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The starkest lie came in March at a Senate intelligence committee hearing, when Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper a simple question: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”

Clapper replied, “No, sir.”

As we’ve learned from Edward Snowden, a former analyst for an NSA contractor, Clapper’s answer was patently false. The agency collects metadata — essentially, a detailed log — of many and perhaps all of our domestic phone calls.

Lying to Congress is a serious offense; baseball legend Roger Clemens was tried —and acquitted — on criminal charges for allegedly lying about steroid use at a congressional hearing. The chance that Clapper will face similar peril, however, is approximately zero.

Following Snowden’s revelations, Clapper said that an honest answer to Wyden’s question would have required him to divulge highly classified secrets, so he gave the “least untruthful” answer he could come up with. Clapper apparently believes that “least” is a synonym for “most.”

In a recent letter to the Senate intelligence committee, Clapper said he thought Wyden was asking about the content of domestic communications — which the NSA says it does not collect “wittingly,” for what that’s worth — rather than about the metadata. “Thus, my response was clearly erroneous,” Clapper wrote, “for which I apologize.”

He sounded like the cheating husband, caught in flagrante by his wife, who feigns surprise and says, “What mistress? Oh, you mean that mistress.”

Clapper’s defenders say Wyden unfairly asked a question that he knew the director could not answer. But Wyden says he sent the question to Clapper’s office a day in advance — and gave him the chance to amend his answer afterward.

Also untrue is President Obama’s assertion that the NSA surveillance programs are “transparent.” They are, in fact, completely opaque — or were, until Snowden started leaking the agency’s secrets.

Eric Snowden

Edward Snowden

By what authority does the government collect data on our private communications? We don’t know. More accurately, we’re not permitted to know.

A provision of the Patriot Act allows the FBI to seek warrants “requiring the production of any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents and other items) for an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.”

Seizing records that pertain to an investigation is not the same thing as compiling a comprehensive log of billions of domestic phone calls. How has the law been stretched — I mean, interpreted — to accommodate the NSA’s wish to compile a record of our contacts, associations and movements? The government refuses to tell us.

We know that permission for this surveillance was granted by one or more judges of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. But the court’s proceedings and rulings are secret. We don’t know what argument the government made in seeking permission to conduct this kind of vacuum-cleaner surveillance. We don’t know what the court’s legal reasoning was in granting the authority. We don’t know whether the court considers other laws so elastic.

We do know that the court’s secret hearings are not adversarial, meaning that there is no push-back from advocates of civil liberties. And we know that since its inception the court has approved more than 30,000 government requests for surveillance warrants and refused only 11.

I accept that the administration officials, Justice Department lawyers, federal judges, FBI agents and NSA analysts involved in the phone surveillance and other programs are acting in good faith. The same is true of members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, who are supposed to be providing oversight. But honorable intentions are not enough — especially when we know that much of what these honorable officials have told us is false.

The biggest lie of all? That the American people don’t even deserve to be told what their laws mean, much less how those laws are being used.

Congress has abrogated its oversight powers, choosing instead to blame the present Administration which has simply continued the policy of its predecessors.  One of the reasons why the progressive movement was so vigorous in its opposition to the Bush administration’s surveillance measures  ramped up during the fictitious war on terror was because of the common government practice of never relinquishing power of secret enforcement measures once they have been imposed.  We’ve talked about that here and here among other places.  Rather, governments tend to embellish those practices and make it even more difficult to rescind them.  Such is the case now with the Obama administration; he has doubled down on what Bush gave America.  That’s not what you call change, but it’s no different a federal policy than any other president either.  It’s probably accurate to assume that ANY president will take this position of intrusive national spying on American citizens regardless of his/her campaign promises and especially a lame duck president not faced with re-election who can disregard the wishes of the electorate no matter how progressive it may be.  The solution therefore is in oversight and congress members who will take that responsibility seriously.  At the moment there are none like that in Washington.  Fix this America!

Disturbing


A letter from prisoner 329 at Guantanamo Bay

This is my call to the outside world from behind these rusty bars, in this monstrous cell. Does the world know what is happening in this prison?

Despite the long years we the prisoners have spent in this place from 2002 to 2013, the American government does not seem interested in solving the problem. The past few months have been among the harshest lived by the prisoners here. During the Bush years, solutions seemed possible. Under Obama, it seems like there is no will to solve the problem.

I once lived communally with the other prisoners in Camp Six. Now we are all in solitary confinement here, with only two hours of recreation a day. Some prisoners are too weak and sick to ever leave their cells as a result of the hunger strike and the U.S. military’s reaction to it.

The military here has used brute force against the hunger strikers. They have beaten us and used rubber-coated bullets and tear gas against us. They have confiscated everything from our cells, from toothbrushes to blankets and books. They have confined us to cold, windowless cells, beyond the reach of the sun’s rays or a fresh breeze. Sometimes, we don’t even know if it’s day or night out.

It isn’t unusual for prison guards here to search prisoners’ genital parts and their rectum ten times in a single day.

According to Vallely captives were only restra...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Daily, I am forced into a restraint chair, my arms, legs and chest tied down tight. Big guards grab my head with both hands. I feel like my skull is being crushed. Then, so-called nurses violently push a thick tube down my nostril. Blood rushes out of my nose and mouth. The nurses turn on the feeding solution full throttle. I cannot begin to describe the pain that causes.

Recently, a nurse brutally yanked out the force-feeding tube, threw it on my shoulder, and left the cell, leaving me tied down to the chair. Later, the nurse returned to the cell, took the tube off my shoulder and began to reinsert it into my nose. I asked him to cleanse and purify the tube first but he refused.

When I later tried to complain to another nurse about the incident, the other nurse threatened to force the feeding tube up my rear, not down my nose, if I didn’t suspend my hunger strike.

And when I tried taking the matter to a senior medical officer, he told me that they would strap me to a bed and make me urinate through a catheter forced into my penis if I kept up my peaceful protest.

I used to think I was the only one coping with severe joint pain, a weakened memory, having a hard time concentrating, and feeling constantly distracted as a result of all this. But I’ve since discovered that many hunger strikers struggle with the same symptoms. Without realizing it, some of the hunger strikers even speak to themselves out loud when they’re alone.

But we also know that there are peaceful protests in solidarity with our plight in many countries. Even in America itself, there are protests demanding that the U.S. government close this prison that has hurt America’s reputation. And international criticism mounts daily.

We the hunger strikers continue to demand our rights. President Obama can begin by releasing those of us who have been cleared for release years ago, followed by the prisoners who have not been charged with any crime after eleven years in captivity.

Despite the difficulties, the hard conditions, and the challenges created by the U.S. government, those of us on hunger strike will continue protesting until our demands for justice are met.

 

This letter was written by a man held at Gitmo since 2002, but who has been cleared for release since 2010, yet he still languishes in prison.