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What to expect from Egypt's Morsi
by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
June 29, 2012
What to make of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi's election as president of Egypt? What seems to be the most likely outcome is something analogous to the "constitutional settlements" of the early Roman Empire. That is, the military, like the Emperor Augustus in antiquity, will entrust to itself management of foreign policy, while granting Morsi (and a parliament, if new elections are allowed) - akin to the Senate in Rome - considerable autonomy with regards to the direction of domestic affairs, even as the military has assumed control over the drafting of the constitution.
Indeed, such a settlement would work well for the military, because, despite its extensive control of the economy, the burden of resolving the economic crisis would ultimately rest in Morsi's hands. Currently, as Reuters reports, the country's depleted foreign reserves can only cover "three months of import coverage," while the local currency debt has increased to 600 billion Egyptian pounds ($99 billion), up from 500 billion before the unrest began in January 2011.
The International Monetary Fund has indicated that a $3.2 billion loan will only be granted if the country gets its finances in order, but the prospects of such a resolution appear to be bleak. Having Morsi take responsibility, therefore, can prove useful in directing potential civilian anger away from the military. On the other hand, the perception of a settlement between the military and the president could help to attract foreign investment.
With the military managing foreign policy, the chances of a full-blown war between Egypt and Israel are slim, despite bellicose rhetoric emanating from some quarters of the Muslim Brotherhood calling for the liberation of Jerusalem and establishment of a "United Arab States." For one thing, Egypt lacks the means to launch and sustain a war against Israel. At the same time, however, one should not expect Egyptian firmness in dealing with rocket fire against the Jewish state or militant activity in the Sinai Peninsula.
In fact, one could well see the military adopt an approach toward militancy not dissimilar to the methods of the Pakistani security forces: that is, targeting those perceived to pose a direct threat to Egypt's stability, while lacking resolve at best, and at worst playing a double game with other militants in order to continue receiving U.S. aid.
As for the domestic scene, it is probable that the Islamization trend that has been apparent over the past five or so decades will not only continue but could also accelerate. When the likes of Hosni Mubarak were in charge, the arrangement was such that Islamist ideology was allowed to disseminate at ground level. Now that Egypt has an elected Islamist president, it is to be expected that sentiments on the ground will only become more hard-line.
Although it is easy to dismiss outlandish claims that Morsi wants to reinstate the discriminatory jizya poll tax - essentially the equivalent of a Mafia protection racket - on Christians (the report is an uncorroborated rumor that can be traced to one obscure Arabic website), there is evidence that he would like to restrict the rights of non-Muslim minorities and women. Just under half of voters chose Ahmed Shafiq, but that will not act as a firm barrier against a gradualist approach to implementing Islamic law that many in the Brotherhood see as the ideal strategy to adopt.
In an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic magazine last year, Morsi made it clear that neither he nor the Brotherhood could tolerate the idea of a Christian or woman running for the presidency of Egypt.
While much has been made of a recent announcement by an advisor to Morsi that there are plans to appoint a Copt and a woman as vice-presidents, it should be appreciated that such positions are likely to be no more than symbolic. In fact, problems of discrimination against non-Muslims and women will in all likelihood only worsen under Morsi's presidency. Further, the spike in Salafist mob attacks on Coptic churches since the ousting of Mubarak - attacks usually sparked by the flimsiest rumors and trivialities - is unlikely to subside, and the authorities will probably continue to do nothing about it.
In the long run, chaos and instability are most likely to dominate the country's future. Unlike Iran, which has, since the mid-1980s, implemented a major family planning program that has dramatically slowed population growth, Egypt's population (83 million as of October 2011) continues to grow. It could reach 100 million by 2020, with more than 99 percent of the population living on an area of land around the Nile only 2.5 times the size of Israel.
Even assuming Egypt can escape from its current economic crisis, there is no sign its economy can keep up with the pace of population growth even to sustain present standards of living. The Muslim Brotherhood and other Egyptian Islamists have on past occasions denounced family planning as a Western conspiracy to keep the number of Muslims in the world in check. They have shown no intention of implementing a program to reduce the birth rate.
Egypt is unlikely to become a "Somalia on the Nile" as economist and columnist David P. Goldman has predicted, but in the long-term, internal stability is a remote possibility.
Update from June 29, 2012: Concerning Egypt's economy and the Muslim Brotherhood's plans, Martin Kramer summarizes the situation well:
The Muslim Brotherhood is in a bind, because it has to deliver. For the masses of people who voted for the Muslim Brotherhood, the revolution wasn't about democracy and freedom. It was about bread and social justice.
The Brotherhood has a so-called "Renaissance" plan for the overhaul of the Egyptian economy. I won't pretend to judge its feasibility. Could modernization of tax collection double or triple tax revenues? Can Egypt double the number of arriving tourists, even while contemplating limits on alcohol and bikinis? Can a renovation of the Suez Canal raise transit revenues from $6 billion a year to $100 billion? Can Egypt's economy surpass the economies of Turkey and Malaysia within seven years? These are all claims made at various times by the economic thinkers of the Muslim Brotherhood, who trumpet Egypt's supposed potential for self-sufficiency.
To these big promises, one can add Morsi's pledge to tackle congestion problems within the first 100 days of his time in office.
Kramer goes on to suggest that the Brotherhood will try to solicit aid from Gulf Arabs and the West, drawing attention to remarks made by Khairat El-Shater, the deputy supreme guide of the Brotherhood, back in February, when he "strongly" advised Europeans and Americans to "support Egypt during this critical period as compensation for the many years they supported a brutal dictatorship."
However, the question of the Brotherhood's relations with the U.S. and the West at large is a tricky issue. It should not be forgotten that the Islamists have spent the past thirty years attacking Mubarak and the establishment for supposedly being too close to the U.S. and the West, and the popular sentiment in Egypt is deeply anti-American.
That the military will continue to receive Western aid is almost certain, but Kramer correctly notes that the Brotherhood is trumpeting an image of self-reliance. A perception of economic dependence on America and the West could backfire on the Brotherhood. This is not like the North Korean regime that has a philosophy of autarky but can portray its reliance on foreign aid as tribute to the greatness of the nation.
As for the Gulf Arabs, let's just say that they have frequently proven themselves to be remarkably stingy when it comes to helping Muslim brothers in need. Saudi Arabia in particular is still angered by the 'betrayal' of Mubarak (hence its uncompromising stance on Bahrain).
* * *
Fawaz A. Gerges appears to agree with my idea of a "constitutional settlement" along the lines of the early Principate but with unfounded optimism proclaims:
After decades of persecution and incarceration, what is unfolding today clearly shows the weight and influence of the Muslim Brothers, most of whom are centrist and modernist and accept democratic values, in shaping the political future of their society…Arab Islamists are traveling a similar path as did the Christian fundamentalists and later the Christian Democrats and Euro-communists in Western Europe who in the 20th century subordinated ideology to interests and political constituencies.
As Jonathan Schanzer aptly comments on Twitter: "Fawaz Gerges just slobbers all over the Brotherhood here. Behold, the personification of MidEast studies failures today."
Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is a student at Brasenose College, Oxford University, and an adjunct fellow at the Middle East Forum.
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Friday, June 29, 2012
Posted by solsticewitch13 at 2:43 PM
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Philadelphia and the Burqa Bandits
by David J. Rusin
June 27, 2012
Some scoff at the idea that face-covering Islamic veils endanger public safety in any Western nation, let alone the United States, but Philadelphians do not have the luxury of blissful ignorance. As recent events highlight, their city has become the American epicenter of robberies and murders carried out by criminals disguised as fundamentalist Muslim women. Several factors help explain Philadelphia's place at the forefront of this trend. Will other U.S. cities be next?
The latest wave of burqa banditry to target Philadelphia began at a branch of More Bank in the East Oak Lane neighborhood two days before Christmas. Following similar heists on January 6, March 14, March 20, and April 4, the Philadelphia Police Department and FBI issued a wanted flier for a pair of black males in "Muslim-like clothing covering their heads and bodies." Surveillance images indicate that the outfits include face veils (niqabs) and "burqa-like robes," to quote one news item, leaving just the eyes visible. The same Wells Fargo branch struck on April 4 was then hit again on April 13, after which Muslim groups offered $20,000 for information leading to the perpetrators. No arrests or further bank robberies have been reported.
The criminal applications of this attire also were on display during an April 18 homicide at a barbershop in Upper Darby, a township bordering West Philadelphia. Police believe that a love triangle inspired Sharif Wynn to enter with a gun and demand money from the barber, Michael Turner. Wynn insists that he merely meant to scare the man, but officers say that he shot Turner intentionally at point-blank range. The police superintendent has revealed that the attacker was "dressed in Muslim female garb, was covered from head to toe. The only thing that was showing was his eyes." Authorities identified Wynn through interviews and his electronic trail.
Though assembling a complete history of niqab-aided crimes is hindered by the unknown consistency of media reporting, the seven incidents outlined above appear to be the most that the Philadelphia area has suffered in any four-month period to date. However, the city earned its reputation as a burqa banditry hot spot long before this recent spike.
The worst episode occurred on May 3, 2008, when three Muslim men — two dressed in female Islamic apparel and face veils — held up a Bank of America branch inside a supermarket in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia. Police Sergeant Stephen Liczbinski gave chase, only to be shot to death by robber Howard Cain, whom officers killed shortly thereafter. Cain's accomplices were caught, convicted of murder, and sentenced to life.
The Philadelphia area endured many additional cases between then and now. On November 16, 2009, a man in a face veil attempted to rob a Bank of America location in the suburb of Drexel Hill, but he left empty-handed after an employee played dumb; DNA from a niqab discarded near the scene later led to an arrest. Other unsuccessful perpetrators have included an armed man in a "long black dress … and a hijab covering his head and face" at a Sovereign Bank branch in the city's Mount Airy neighborhood on February 1, 2011, and a niqab-wearing man at a branch of the same bank in Woodlynne, New Jersey, just across the river from Philadelphia, on June 13, 2011.
Women have gotten into the act as well. Police arrested Lashawnda Jones in December 2010 following robberies of four TD Bank branches within a 40-mile radius of Philadelphia during the prior two months. Though Jones had sported a niqab in the earlier heists, she used only a headscarf (hijab) for the final one, in which she lured tellers to the vault, brandished firearms, and stole $103,000. Soon after showing her face, she was behind bars.
A blog post by Middle East Forum president Daniel Pipes collects more examples from the area. Similar cases throughout the West — including many in Europe and a few others in North America — are listed too, but crimes of this nature occur with surprising frequency in the City of Brotherly Love. "What is it about Philadelphia, burqas, and robberies?" he wonders.
The demographics of Philadelphia, whose Muslim population is among the largest in the U.S., make it particularly fertile ground. While only a very small percentage of Philadelphians wear niqabs, they are sufficiently numerous to be seen with regularity. Desensitizing the public to this radical attire opens many doors.
"Whatever happened to the mask?" a local imam said in response to recent crimes, referring to ski masks often employed by robbers. Simply put, the increasing prevalence of face-cloaking Islamic garb is rendering traditional masks obsolete. Both provide anonymity, but a niqab grants the wearer access that a mask does not. Whereas spotting a masked individual entering a bank or business strongly indicates a robbery, someone in a niqab doing so may represent just another patch in Philadelphia's multicultural quilt. Indecision about the wearer's motives — indeed, most women in niqabs do not have criminal intent — buys crucial time for a heist to unfold on the perpetrator's terms. The relatively common sight of niqabs, as opposed to masks, also enables a robber to travel to the crime scene in the same face-blocking apparel, further lowering the chances of being identified.
Moreover, they take advantage of political correctness, which cautions against scrutinizing people who don such clothes. A 2009 article in Philadelphia magazine captures how this atmosphere contributed to the robbery that left Sergeant Liczbinski dead: "To Western eyes, two of them became hijabi — Muslim women who cover themselves — by pulling on full-length black burqas. They became, in a sense, invisible. The bank sat inside a busy supermarket, where shoppers would surely notice the two monoliths moving among them; but just as surely, those shoppers would pass by with eyes cast down, or aside, or beyond. They may be drawn for a moment by the sheer otherness of the hijabi, but would dependably look away with a twinge of awkward guilt for having noticed." The journalist explains, "So complete were the robbers' identities — so perfect their invisibility — that the store's security cameras recorded the manager as he talked to an emergency dispatcher, and walked out between two of the disguised figures," utterly oblivious to them.
Islamists promote this cultural paralysis. Case in point: the victimhood narrative pushed in the wake of the latest Philadelphia robberies. One imam declared them "a hate crime against Muslims," as they allegedly put Muslim women "in danger of being stereotyped, victimized, and ostracized." City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. doubled down on the persecution theme: "In many ways I'm reminded of the shooting of Trayvon Martin, stereotyped because of a garment called a hoodie." Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) chimed in as well. "Islamophobes love to see this sort of thing, because it gives them fuel to express their hatred," he claimed. "Now they can say, 'See, this is why Muslim women shouldn't dress the way they do.'"
Therefore, banks must run the gauntlet of "Islamophobia" charges if they pursue a seemingly obvious remedy: forbidding attire that hides customers' faces from security cameras. Financial institutions nationwide have worked to deter more conventional robberies, reportedly with some success, by implementing dress codes that ban hats, hoods, and sunglasses, but Islamists have fought restrictions on headgear. When disputes arose several years ago over women being asked to remove headscarves or be served in alternate areas, CAIR characteristically demanded more sensitive policies and issued dubious calls for federal probes. Just as predictably, the banks and credit unions tended to cave and exempt hijabs. No doubt robbers note the deference toward Islam enforced by Islamists — a phenomenon exacerbated in cities like Philadelphia with copious Muslims and an aggressive CAIR chapter.
Many Philadelphia Muslims cover their hair, so banks encounter substantial ambient pressure not to adopt rules that could affect any religiously motivated garments. This author recently visited branches of six major banks in Philadelphia and found only one — a PNC Bank location — with a sign requesting that customers take off hats, hoods, and sunglasses. (Coincidence or not, there is no record of PNC Bank being struck by burqa bandits.) As if to dissuade others from launching similar policies, Amara Chaudhry of CAIR-Philadelphia already has bemoaned, in the words of an MSNBC.com article, how a Muslim "was not allowed to enter the branch [of one bank] before first removing her hijab, making her feel as naked as removing her blouse and bra." CAIR officials have not specifically addressed niqabs in banks or complained of women being denied service because of them, but the year is still young.
How to proceed? The ultimate solution would entail proscribing face-covering apparel everywhere in public, as France and Belgium have done. Yet American banks enjoy plenty of leeway to ban it on their premises right now, assuming that they ignore CAIR's specious threats and frequently bogus tales of Muslim victimhood. The First Amendment may protect niqabs on the streets, but banks are private entities and thus not bound by it. They also are not listed in Title II of the 1964 U.S. Civil Rights Act among "places of public accommodation" where religiously discriminating against clients is illegal — not that faith-neutral dress codes are "discriminatory" anyway, regardless of Islamists' pleas. In addition, though numerous states, including Pennsylvania, have civil rights laws that are more expansive than the federal version, the various requirements to accommodate religious practices of customers or employees are not absolute and typically must be balanced against the hardships imposed on others.
One can debate whether banks should tolerate hijabs, which often obscure less of the face than hoodies or caps, but it is inconceivable that banks are somehow obligated to welcome niqabs that purposefully hide the face and burden others by undermining safety in a venue where security is paramount. If ski masks are not permitted, niqabs should not be either. Drawing the line with clear policies that prohibit all criminal-friendly garments on bank property would be a significant step in the appropriate direction — and almost certainly a legal one.
Legend has it that when the infamous Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he replied, "Because that's where the money is." If Philadelphia's niqab-clad outlaws were asked why they disguise themselves as Muslim women, they might offer an equally straightforward answer: because it works. So long as religious garb resembling the dress of bandits proliferates and sensitivity toward it trumps security, the stage is set for actual bandits to adopt such clothing for their nefarious ends, just as terrorists regularly don burqas and niqabs in Muslim-majority nations. (Fewer reports of veiled robbers emerge from the Islamic world, but one suspects that these crimes would be less likely to reach Western media than high-profile terrorist attacks.)
Situated at the leading edge of this problem in the U.S., Philadelphians have a special responsibility to find effective solutions. Other American cities must stay alert as well, because the ingredients that make Philadelphia a prime target exist elsewhere; Detroit comes to mind. If Philadelphia manages to curtail the trend, its approach can be a template for comparable cities to follow. But if it fails, criminals in the country's niqab-heavy metropolitan areas may soon thank the trailblazing burqa bandits of Philadelphia for having provided a successful model of their own.
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