New Canadian Media

Commentary by Phil Gurski

On rare occasions I pick up a copy of the National Enquirer or World Weekly News when I shop for groceries.  It's not that I am particularly a fan, but they are strategically located at the checkout counter with their flashy, outrageous headlines.  Some are truly unbelievable. I think my all-time favourite was 'Titanic survivor found on ice floe, vows never to eat fish again.'

These periodicals deal in what we now call fake news, albeit with a difference: the stories were never intended to be taken seriously and it is hard to believe that anyone could be influenced by their stark departure from the truth.

We are now living in a very different time where outright lies are taken seriously and they do affect the views and opinions of some people on very serious issues. The claim that crime is up (when it is down in many places) has led to calls for 'law and order' campaigns.  The belief that vaccinations lead to autism (this was debunked years ago and the scientist making the claim shown to be a fraud) has made some parents eschew life-saving vaccines, causing outbreaks of diseases we thought we had beaten, like measles.

In Canada, there is another onslaught of fake news that centres on our Muslim communities and supposed links to terrorism and clandestine efforts to take over our country.  Several Canadian cities have seen demonstrations that appear to have coincided with a motion by a Liberal backbencher to call on the government to look into and report on Islamophobia and other forms of hate.  Among the allegations made by some of those demonstrating in Canadian streets are:

  • M103 (the Liberal MP's motion) is an attack on free speech
  • there is a secret campaign to bring Sharia law to Canada
  • legitimate dissent is in danger in Canada

Reasonable limits

One of the great things about living in this country is that we are all free to express our views and opinions to a tremendous degree.  There are limits, though, and these limits are both legitimate and necessary.  If someone calls for violence, whether against a specific group or in general, that constitutes a crime (we'll leave aside the difficulties in prosecuting these offences).  Incitement to beat another person to a pulp should not be ignored and I am confident that all Canadians would agree with this.

No, M103 is not a blanket on free speech, it is a reasonable call for looking into a worrisome rise in hatred online and on certain radio shows.  Neither is it focussed solely on Islamophobia, although the highlighting of this particular form of potential hatred is not surprising in the wake of the awful massacre at a Quebec Islamic Centre a few weeks ago.  The State has both a right and a duty to investigate individuals and groups who, through their actions or their language, can reasonably be seen as urging others (or themselves) to use violence against anyone. To ignore these actions would constitute State negligence.

Persistent myths

While I support the fundamental right of the Islamophobes and the anti-immigrant lobby (thankfully small) in this country to voice their opinions, I also feel it necessary to address the 'alternative facts' they use to make their arguments. I will limit my comments to three here:

a) no, immigrants are not a drain on the system, commit more crimes than native-born and they do not steal 'Canadian' jobs.  Study after study after study has shown that immigrants are a net bonus to their adoptive societies and that most integrate within a generation. Those that veer towards criminal acts will be dealt with by the same authorities that deal with all others who engage in crime.

b) no, there is no 'creeping Sharia' campaign in Canada. The last time a government (the Ontario Liberals back in 2004) considered allowing limited Sharia for some family issues, the greatest opponents were Muslim women. In the end the McGuinty government changed its mind and also got rid of other forms of religious arbitration, noting that there  is 'one law for all Canadians'.

c) no, the Muslim Brotherhood is not taking over Canadian mosques and planning a stealth terrorism offensive.  Reports alluding to this are comical at best, bad analysis at worst.

Canada is proudly a land of immigrants and it is those immigrants who have built this country and will continue to do so. The vast majority are just average people looking to better their lives as well as those of their families. Yes, there are bad apples, and we will deal with those.

To conclude, here is a great quote I read in a recent edition of Foreign Affairs.  I could not have said things any better:

"Most people around the world now have the same aspirations as the Western middle classes: they want their children to get good educations, land good jobs, and live happy, productive lives as members of stable, peaceful communities."

Amen to that.


Phil Gurski worked for more than three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 at Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and is the author of the Threat from Within and Western Foreign Fighters (Rowan and Littlefield).

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary
Friday, 30 January 2015 09:16

After Tahrir: Egypt's Growing War on Terror

by Firas Al-Atraqchi (@Firas_Atraqchiin Cairo, Egypt

Four years after hundreds of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets to demand political, social and economic change, their movement has been overshadowed by the country's ongoing war against terrorism.

From the carpet merchant on the side of the road to the dental hygienist to the film director, Egyptians from all walks of life had invested in the so-called Arab Spring to bring about pivotal change that would alter their destinies for the better.

But every anniversary since January 25, 2011 has witnessed a deterioration in the mood among activists, human rights advocates and reformists.

In the first year since then President Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down, many Egyptians still braved the odds and violence, and held hope that a new Egypt was within grasp.

But by January 2013, the revolutionary zeal and momentum for change had been replaced with an existential battle waged between the Muslim Brotherhood and the state - the military polity that has run the country since the end of the monarchy in 1952.

The idealists and the reformists are caught in the middle, their voices drowned out by the rhetoric of war waged between the self-styled nationalists and the Islamists.

The idealists and the reformists are caught in the middle, their voices drowned out by the rhetoric of war waged between the self-styled nationalists and the Islamists.

With scores dead and wounded during the fourth anniversary this past Sunday - and dozens arrested for violating a controversial anti-protest law - the mood has again changed, this time from sombre resignation that the military is back in control to angry acknowledgment of a chance at change squandered.

Squandered opportunities

"I don't feel inspired when I see our old victories ... I find myself thinking not of victories but of opportunities wasted and of crimes unaccounted for," says Omar Kamel, a videographer and blogger.

Between 2011 and 2013, Kamel took part in dozens of demonstrations calling for political reform; he has seen protesters killed and wounded, and himself sustained injuries.

He is angered by how things have developed in the past four years and says he can't celebrate a "high" when it was followed by such a dismal decline.

"I'm sorry, but our successes have been too few, and the costs too high. We are the survivors and we are all wanting," he added.

The fourth anniversary, perhaps more than any other, has ignited passionate and often feverish debate on social media.

Some ask if the revolution really is dead while others ponder where it all went wrong.

For Khaled Bahaeldin, a surgeon and occasional political commentator, the premise of the revolution itself was flawed to begin with.

He believes that the slogans of the revolution - "Bread, Freedom and Social Justice" - were irrational and antagonistic.

"Freedom is too sacrosanct to be tied to bread," he says

"I cannot demand freedom and simultaneously relieve myself from the responsibility inherent with freedom to cater for myself."

Bahaeldin believes that projecting the ailments and tragedies of the region solely on its corrupt and decadent governance is misdirected.

He argues that a political revolution must work in tandem with a movement directed at concrete social change - what he calls the inward revolution.

Many-sided pyramid

While some see gloom and doom in Egypt's current state of affairs, others put their faith in the current government to lead the way forward.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi is seen as a hero by many and credited with "saving" the country from the "tyranny" of extremist Islamists.

The growing regional influence of such groups as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the civil war between Islamist militias in neighboring Libya has helped cement El-Sisi's image as guardian of the Egyptian state.

In the past two years, the Egyptian military has been engaged in an escalating war against such groups as Ansar Beit al Maqdis (Vanguards of Jerusalem), which recently declared allegiance to ISIL.

The war has proven costly.

On Thursday, Ansar Beit al Maqdis claimed responsibility for targeting the Egyptian Army in a string of attacks which killed at least 30 people, mostly soldiers, in Sinai.

The Interior Ministry said 62 civilians were also wounded in the attacks.

They will have to unify people under a viable alternative rather than just reaffirming their refusal of the regime.

Such terrorist violence confirms to many that Egypt is under a regional terrorist threat - or plot - that can only be defeated by rallying around El-Sisi, who was defence minister before being elected president in May 2014.

Independent Egyptian media, which used to predominantly carry opposition voices just a few years ago, has largely leaned in support of the country's leadership.

Foreign-inspired plots

There is also unanimous media criticism of Turkey and Qatar for their alleged roles in destabilizing Egypt.

This has helped create a more insular nation which is quick to cite foreign conspiracies targeting the state.

In recent months, civilians have reported to the police foreigners and foreign journalists "plotting" against Egypt.

Police investigations have found these allegations unwarranted.

Nevertheless, a number of journalists - including Canadian Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy in jail convicted of spreading false news and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood - have felt a dwindling space for the free press.

El-Sisi has said that there should be no interference in the way the press operates, but has called on the media to help the government develop the country.

He has also said that he would have advised against arresting Fahmy and two other Al Jazeera journalists.

Their imprisonment has been a sticking point in Egypt's efforts to lure foreign investors to a cash-strapped economy.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird's visit to Cairo two weeks ago fuelled speculation that the three journalists would be released on the fourth anniversary of the 2011 revolution.

However, as the date passed with no announcement of release, one former Al Jazeera producer told New Canadian Media that "it didn't look good" that they would be imminently released.

He said there was an expectation that the foreigners among the imprisoned Al Jazeera crew would be deported.

Nevertheless, there remains hope that the journalists will be released ahead of a much publicized Egypt Economic Summit in March.

Dormant revolution

Kamel says the revolutionary movement hasn't died out but has become dormant.

Ideas of social justice and accountability are likely to once again surface, however, as opposition politicians who rose to prominence during the revolution run for the upcoming parliamentary elections.

But Kamel says if the revolution is to survive and transition from the mistakes of the past it will have to mature beyond an opposition platform.

"If there is to be another revolutionary wave, then the revolutionaries will have to take on more responsibilities; risking their lives won't be enough," he says.

"They will have to unify people under a viable alternative rather than just reaffirming their refusal of the regime."


Firas Al-Atraqchi is a Canadian journalist of Arab descent who has covered the Middle East since 1992. In April 2010, he left Al Jazeera's English-language website, where he worked as a senior editor since 2004. In September 2010, he joined the American University of Cairo as an associate professor of practice at the Journalism and Mass Communication department. He is also a member of New Canadian Media's Editorial Board.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary
Saturday, 24 January 2015 10:04

King Abdullah Leaves a Complex Legacy

by Ghadah Alrasheed (@Ghadahf) in Ottawa

On Thursday, a royal court statement was read on the Saudi state television to announce the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. He was 90 and had reigned the kingdom for 10 years.

Just as he was being buried in an unmarked grave on Friday, activists stood in the front of the Saudi Embassy in Ottawa demanding the release of Raif Badawi. He is a blogger and activist who was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for his liberal views and his online site, Free Saudi Liberal Network.

The leader of Canada’s Official Opposition, the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair, announced his support for the protests, tweeting that, “We need to make every effort to allow him [Badawi] to return to his family.” Last week, the Liberal Party of Canada, led by Justin Trudeau, also described the lashing of Badawi as an, “inhumane sentence.” Despite these disagreements between Canada’s political parties and the Saudi monarchy over Badawi’s sentence, Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered his condolences to Saudi Arabia, describing the late King Abdullah as a “strong proponent of peace.”

Indeed, Canadian-Saudi relations have largely been stable. In fact, amidst some controversy, the Canadian government sealed a multi-billion dollar army deal to supply $14.8 billion worth of light armored vehicles (LAVs) to the Saudi military. Critics voiced concern that such deal would ignite more violence and suppression in the Middle East.

While the New York Times described the king as a force of moderation... Andrew Brown described King Abdullah as the, “wickedness of the Saudi Arabian regime,”  in the Guardian.

Questions of suppression aside, political leaders from around the world offered condolences to the monarchy. Flags were flown at half-mast in the U.K.; Jordan announced 40 days mourning. Even Saudi Arabia’s staunchest opponents including Hamas, Israel and the Muslim Brotherhood offered their respects. 

However, responses were far more varied in the media.

While the New York Times described the king as a force of moderation, an obituary in the Guardian written by Madawi al-Rasheed, a Saudi Arabian-born professor, ran the sub-headline: Monarch whose reign saw the spread of division, corruption and strife, and was saved only by ‘black gold’. Andrew Brown described King Abdullah as the, “wickedness of the Saudi Arabian regime,” in the Guardian.

Reformist or anti-democrat

Who was King Abdullah? Was he the reformer who stood against radical Islamist movements, maintaining the stability of his country? Or was he the embodiment of evil who prevented democracy to take root not only in Saudi Arabia, but also in the entire region?

The answers are complex. 

First, King Abdullah did make huge investments in several important projects in an effort to push his kingdom forward. One of these projects includes the King Abdullah Scholarship Program, which has sent more than 200,000 students, males and females, to study abroad. Canada, in particular, has more than 12,000 Saudi students and more than 4,000 physicians training across the country as a result. He also built King Abdullah University of Science and Technology and established King Abdullah Economic City, to be completed in 2020, with the promise of diversifying the Saudi economy and lessening its dependence on oil. Beside developments in the economy and in education, King Abdullah invested in health, founding more than 40 hospitals during his 10-year reign.

Canada, in particular, has more than 12,000 Saudi students and more than 4,000 physicians training across the country as a result.


Official Saudi government announcement of the king's death (in Arabic)

The king also had a more genuine way of speaking to the people than his predecessors. He used simple indigenous language, which was endearing to many of his subjects. Some of his popular sayings included, “You are always in my heart. I get the power and assistance from Allah first, and you, second,” and, “If you are fine, I am fine.” In a televised interview with American host Barbara Walters, he responded to a question about women’s rights in his country this way: “The woman is my mother, my sister, my daughter, my wife. I have been created from a woman.” Such simple ways of speaking about complex social and political issues had a surprisingly appealing effect among his Saudis, who were not used to hearing spontaneous speeches from other members of the monarchy.

On the other hand, Saudi watchers remained unsatisfied with superficial changes and slow developments, which were far from being deep and transformative. The Saudi monarch was resistant to reform, especially on the political level, prioritizing stability over democracy. The king rejected any demand for turning Saudi Arabia into a constitutional monarchy. There was a crackdown on any type of political or intellectual dissent following the Arab Spring. Critics also condemned Saudi Arabian interference in Egypt following that country’s revolution. People also criticized the limited development in important gender rights including driving (women in Saudi are still not allowed to drive a car) and male guardianship. Loujain Al-Hathloul and Maysa Al-Amoudi were detained for nearly two months and transferred to a terrorism court for defying the driving ban.

It isn’t likely that much of this will change under new King Salman bin Abdulaziz. He is known to be more conservative than King Abdullah. However, the fact that this marks the first time that a grandson, rather than a son of King Abdulaziz, is appointed as the Deputy Crown Prince, will presumably invigorate much debate regarding the role of the younger generation in leading the country. It may also push the country into local conflicts and chaos from the tensions that may emerge from within the royal family itself.

It’s a delicate balance, however, as it is also important not to appear condescending to Saudi indigenous culture or simplify and generalize its social and political state of affairs.

Canada’s stance

With economic and political ties, Canada will likely be observing the situation closely. My hope is that the Canadian government will be supportive of a peaceful reform process in Saudi Arabia, fostered through dialogue. It is also worth noting that the Saudi community is also growing in Canada. The Canadian government can work with the community as a bridge between the two countries, to open dialogue and help support the establishment of civic institutions. Canada should help Raif Badawi, as well as broaden its attention to the larger situation of freedom of speech and human rights. It’s a delicate balance, however, as it is also important not to appear condescending to Saudi indigenous culture or simplify and generalize its social and political state of affairs. The economic relations between the two countries are important for both, but they should not be prioritized over the political and social well being of the rest of the Middle East, nor should they compromise Canada’s record of human rights and dignity for all.


Ghadah Alrasheed was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She finished her bachelor’s degree at Princess Nora University, Riyadh. She has been in Canada for about 11 years and is currently doing a PhD in communication at Carleton University in Ottawa. She is a contributor to New Canadian Media and Saudi-based Al Hattlan Post and Sofaraa.

 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

Published in Commentary

By Firas Al-Atraqchi in Cairo, Egypt

Although nine per cent of Egyptians said they would likely boycott the presidential elections and 15 per cent were still undecided, the sense of enthusiasm and patriotic fervour was evident on the first day of voting.
 
By 7 a.m., a group of men had already lined up at one of the polling stations in the Cairo suburb of Maadi.

Overnight, soldiers had set up sand walls at the entrance to the station, ordinarily an orphanage and primary school.

As more men gathered at the polling station, a lone biker passed through the barricades set up at either end of the street leading to the no-vehicle zone.

A plain-clothed security officer and a policeman immediately detained the biker, searched him, and checked his identification.

"I swear I didn't know," the biker protested. After being questioned for 10 minutes, he was released.

"We have to be ever watchful," said one of the security guards at a nearby residential building. "The Muslim Brotherhood could try and sabotage the voting."

On the eve of the election, the Muslim Brotherhood said it would intensify efforts to disrupt the election by sparking demonstrations and urging prospective voters to go home.
 
A group of about 30 young men had gathered outside another polling centre just after dawn. They chanted anti-government slogans, and urged people not to vote.
 
They dispersed quickly when a police vehicle entered the street.
 
Their 'demonstration' had little effect. By 8 a.m., the queue of men waiting to vote, grew to about 100 people.

"This is a historic day for Egypt, these are real elections," said a man who parked his car about 50 meters away and walked to the polling station.

Just then, a military helicopter flew overhead.

Security has been significantly heightened in the capital Cairo and other cities as millions of Egyptians began voting for a president, the first since the military removed Mohamed Morsi from office 11 months ago.

Since then, and particularly after hundreds were killed when the army dismantled two pro-Morsi protest camps, the interim government has been locked in a war against terrorism.

Attacks on military and police outposts have killed dozens of security officials and civilians.

A bomb at an election rally organized by supporters of presidential candidate and former Defense Minister Abdel-Fatah El-Sissi killed two people and injured four last week.
 
Ali, a 41-year-old commuter transport driver, brushed off the security situation.
 
"I will vote for El-Sissi," he said, "because he is more nationalistic and patriotic than [rival candidate] Hamdeen Sabbahi."
 
If overseas voting is any indication, El-Sissi should win by a landslide.
 
Diaspora franchise
The electoral commission over the weekend said that over 320,000 expatriate Egyptians voted from New Zealand to Canada, covering some 124 countries.

But the turnout – some 53 per cent of 600,000 eligible expatriate voters – indicates that in Egypt the number of people heading to the polls is likely to be higher.

El-Sissi won 94.5 per cent of the expat vote, the commission said.
 
Early on Tuesday, it said that 12 million people had voted on the first day. Over 50 million are eligible to vote.
 
However, Waleed Nassar, an Egyptian living in Canada who was interviewed by New Canadian Media earlier in the year, did not vote for either candidate. 
 
"Neither El-Sissi or Hamdeen were worth a several-hour trip to Ottawa to cast my vote," Nassar said.
 
"El-Sissi represents everything I was against when I joined the protests in Cairo in 2011 - Army dominance of the regime, an exclusive group that have the resources but have been managing it inefficiently for years based on personal interests of a few. I voted for Hamdeen in the last presidential elections but I feel he hasn't been able to build any base support other than being the anti-regime choice." 
 
"Neither El-Sissi or Hamdeen were worth a several-hour trip to Ottawa to cast my vote," Nassar said.

According to Baseera (the Egyptian Centre for Public Opinion Research), Egyptians 50 years old and above are more likely to vote than the younger generation. Baseera said that 83 per cent of polled youth said they would vote, while 92 per cent of those aged 50 and above said they would go to the ballot.

Nouran Raouf, an e-marketing consultant who participated in January 25 and June 30 demonstrations, says she won't vote.
 
“I don’t feel my vote will matter, and even if it mattered I think it [the vote] will be rigged,” she said.
 
It is young people such as Raouf who have expressed the most dissatisfaction with the electoral and political process. However, some who braved the attacks of security forces during anti-government protests in January 2011 believe they have "earned the right after a revolution ... to have a say".
 
Boycott not an option
Menna Alaa, a young up-and-coming journalist, says that boycotting the vote isn't an option because any such measure lacked adequate organization, and, therefore, could turn into a weapon instead of being a tactic of protest.
 
She said in an interview just before polls opened that she would vote but had not yet made up her mind who to elect.
 
"I will be deciding again on who has a better plan for the future [of the] country that has been a sinking ship for the last couple of years," she says.
 
"It is time to play politics. I believe that the use of emotions throughout the last couple of years has made us lose a lot. We should start playing politics throughout the next parliamentary elections as well," she added.
 
"I will be deciding again on who has a better plan for the future [of the] country that has been a sinking ship for the last couple of years," she says.
 
On Friday, less than two hours before campaigning officially came to a close, El-Sissi gave a televised address urging women and young people to vote. Although his campaign realizes there is only a slim chance he will lose the vote, his supporters have been focusing on getting as large a voter turnout -- and thereby a more sweeping mandate -- as possible.
 
Voter turnout for the 2014 Constitutional Referendum in January was just above 38 per cent. This was a considerable decrease from the 52 per cent turnout for the runoff presidential election in 2012.
 
Hoping to facilitate a greater voter turnout, the interim government announced Tuesday, the last day of voting, a public holiday.
 
- With additional reporting by Salma Hegab

Firas is a Canadian journalist of Arab descent who has covered the Middle East since 1992. In April 2010, he left Al Jazeera's English-language website, where he worked as a senior editor since 2004. In September 2010, he joined the American University of Cairo as an associate professor of practice at the Journalism and Mass Communication department. He is also a member of New Canadian Media's Editorial Board.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Top Stories
Monday, 17 February 2014 14:49

Egypt: Many Markers, Little Progress

by Firas Al-Atraqchi in Cairo

The third anniversary of President Hosni Mubarak's ouster came and went last week with little fanfare, no ceremony and lots of shrugs of the shoulder.
 
Many Egyptians were instead out in the parks, cafes and Nile bank restaurants enjoying what to most Canadians is late May weather.
To the uninitiated, the capital Cairo could have been mistaken for hip central, a hangout zone for Egyptian youth brandishing iPads and iPhones, parked neatly next to the hookah, or shisha.
"It's been a long three years, people are finally starting to breathe," says Ali, a cashier at a supermarket in Cairo's Haddayek Maadi district.

'A long three years' may be understating the tumultuous events that have shaped Egypt's contemporary history since millions of Egyptians crowded the now iconic Tahrir Square and demanded "bread, social justice, and dignity."

At the time, Ottawa was slow -- if not reluctant -- to support the populist movement that somewhat achieved 'regime change'.

When Mubarak handed over power to the military, Prime Minister Stephen Harper acknowledged the new political reality, said that "the future of Egypt is for Egyptians to decide," and called for democracy and elections.
 
Egypt has witnessed three referendums, two uprisings, a parliamentary election and a presidential election, but the stability that so many had hoped for three years ago remains elusive.
 
Political and social violence in the past three years -- the latest was a February 16 rocket attack on a bus carrying mostly S Korean visitors, killing the driver and three tourists  -- has almost become a de facto way of life.
 
A watershed
 
Nevertheless, many Canadians of Egyptian extract believe the recent political momentum triggered by the January 14, 2014 constitutional referendum could put the country on the path toward stability 
 
Waleed Nassar, a Torontonian who came to Canada two years ago, happened to be in Cairo last summer when President Mohamad Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was forcibly removed from power by the military.
 
"From what I've seen, most Egyptians I spoke to were happy [that] Morsi was removed," says Mr. Nassar.
 
But the military's July 3rd intervention to remove a "democratically elected" president -- as North American media repeated over and over -- angered and confused many outside Egypt, and the foreign press began calling the ouster a military coup that divided the country.
 
Ottawa called it a coup, but stopped short of applying any pressure on the new military leaders, and interim Egyptian government. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird conveyed Canada's "deep concern" reiterating earlier statements calling for "meaningful political dialogue."
 
No one was listening.
 
On August 14, security forces forcibly dispersed pro-Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood protest camps in a section of Cairo near the presidential palace – the ensuing clashes left at least 600 people dead and more than 4,000 injured.
 
The violence shook Egyptians in and outside of the country, including Mr. Nassar who hoped for some kind of inclusive process that could defuse tensions between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military.
 
"Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have their core supporters who feel excluded and persecuted. My estimate is that they are around 25 per cent of the politically active Egyptians, so I wouldn't say that Egypt was 'divided'. But 25 per cent is still significant and should not be criminalized or labelled as terrorists," Mr. Nassar said.
 
Ahmed Kadry, a student studying in Toronto, believes that the Muslim Brotherhood are little more than a minority who have tried to persuade Egyptians that theirs is a country divided.
 
"Now that the referendum has officially passed, this will unite Egyptians even more as it’s an important step towards stability," he says.
 
On January 14, 98.1 per cent of the more than 20 million ballots approved by referendum the constitutional amendments proposed by a committee chosen by the post-July 3 interim government.
 
Some Egyptians said the referendum was also an approving nod for the military's intervention in July, while others say it is a stepping stone for Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi to run for president.
 
Others, like Mr. Kadry, believe the new amendments were necessary to correct or roll back the constitution that was approved by the Morsi government in 2012: It was a writ that many in Egypt feared would strengthen the Muslim Brotherhood's influence on all sectors of Egyptian society.
 
"The [Constituent Assembly] committee that wrote those amendments during President Morsi's year [June 2012-July 2013] of rule did not represent the Egyptian population in general, and especially the youth of Egypt that took the streets in January and February 2011," Mr. Kadry recalls.
 
He says the committee was given an edict by Mr. Morsi that it was above reproach. 
 
Religion in governance
 
"Morsi's constitution opened the door for two things that I did not want. The autonomy of the army without supervision by the people's assembly or president, and the constitution also included vague references to the role of religion in governance," Mr. Kadry says.
 
If the new constitution is meant to stabilize Egypt, it is yet to bear fruit.
 
While the number of street clashes that were once common in previous years have significantly dwindled, there has been in uptick in attacks on the state's institutions -- the police, army installations in the Sinai Peninsula, as well as targeted assassinations of senior security officials.
 
"I don't think the referendum will help unite Egypt unless the security-first mindset of the current rulers of Egypt is abandoned," says Mr. Nassar.
 
He believes that social and political dialogue must includes representatives of all sectors of society, including the Muslim Brotherhood.
 
In the meantime, Egyptians continue to worry about the economy. The tourism industry, which was a major source of foreign exchange inflows, has slowed to a crawl.
 
The February 16 attack on the tourist bus is likely to be another blow to the struggling sector.
 
Firas is a Canadian journalist of Arab descent who has covered the Middle East since 1992. In April 2010, he left Al Jazeera's English-language website, where he worked as a senior editor since 2004. In September 2010, he joined the American University of Cairo as an associate professor of practice at the Journalism and Mass Communication department. He is also a member of New Canadian Media's Editorial Board.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary
Sunday, 15 December 2013 14:38

Egypt – then and now

by Khaled Salama

It’s not about the pyramids anymore. It’s about a country that has always set the bar for moderation, openness and welcoming the world with open hearts.

For anybody who visited Egypt until the year 2000, it was really hard to realize that you were visiting a “Muslim” country. Don’t get me wrong here; I’m not labelling a nation of 80 million people with a single brush. All I’m trying to say is that the nation of my birth is now seen as a “Muslim” nation, and unfortunately, Muslims have lately been linked with terrorism, violence, and the so-called “Arab Spring”.

Oops, that’s another connotation I have to explain: Arab Spring. If spring is associated with bloom, Arab spring should only be associated with drought.

Here’s how I see it: Egypt is a Muslim-majority country, with a range of minorities, including Christians, Jews, atheists and people of other faiths who used to live together in harmony within one of the oldest civilizations on earth. This mosaic of faiths has always resulted in innovative ideas and a healthy social life that painted Egypt’s face with tolerance, and kept its heart beating with warmth and hospitality, that eventually enabled this Middle Eastern country to play a pivotal role not only between other Arab countries, but also globally.

If you have an everlasting spring, would you need another spring? The answer is yes. It may sound awkward, but believe it or not, that’s exactly what other so-called “super powers” wanted. Why?

An emerging pattern

There are certain super powers that want to see a new map in the Middle East. Have you not heard former U.S. Secretary of the State Hillary Clinton talking about the “new Middle East”? Did not previous U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice mention the same? If not, have you seen what’s happened in Libya, Sudan, Iraq, or what’s going on in Syria? It’s no coincidence that all these once-upon-a-time sovereign states are now becoming stateless countries.

Have you asked yourselves, fellow Canadians, why has the “map” of refugees arriving in Canada changed lately? Why is Canada receiving a rising number of Syrians? Canada has also been receiving more Egyptian refugees? And, let’s ask the million (U.S.) dollar question, Why should there be “Egyptian” refugees? Well, the answer is not that easy. The answer needs some background information about certain points and a couple of other questions.

To begin with, you need to know who the Muslim Brotherhood is and what the ideology they stand for is. You need to know also, what is the link between Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood; you need to know also about energy markets, nuclear weapons, and the so-called reign of terror in the Middle East. Then you also need to ask a couple of questions. The first is, who’s behind all this, and who benefits from all this “organized chaos in the Middle East?”

I’ll refer you to a precise un-biased documented work about the Muslim Brotherhood by the world renowned journalist and writer Martin A Lee, who wrote for Razor magazine in Sept. 2004:

The CIA often works in mysterious ways – and so it was with this little-known cloak-and-dagger caper, which set the stage for extensive collaboration between U.S. intelligence and Islamic extremists. The genesis of this ill-starred alliance dates back to Egypt in the mid-1950s, when the CIA made discrete overtures to the Muslim Brotherhood, the influential Sunni fundamentalist movement that fostered Islamic militancy throughout the Middle East. What started as a quiet American flirtation with political Islam became a cold war love affair on the sly – an affair that would turn out disastrously for the United States. Nearly all of today’s radical Islamic groups, including al-Qaeda, trace their lineage to the Brotherhood.

"The Muslim Brothers are at the root of a lot of our troubles,” says Colonel W. Patrick Lang, one of several U.S. intelligence veterans who were interviewed for this article. Formerly a high ranking Middle East expert at the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lang considers al-Qaeda to be “a descendent of the Brotherhood."

One flag

Now, with the fact that nearly all of today’s radical Islamic groups, including al-Qaeda, trace their lineage to the Brotherhood, we should understand for sure why wherever you’ll find the so-called Arab Spring, you’ll find terror and Muslim fanatical groups gaining ground. It’s no coincidence that those who killed Libya’s former ruler Muammar Gaddafi, or who toppled Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt, or those who destroyed one to the most ancient civilizations and beautiful cities and towns in Syria, or keep destroying some of the world’s best tourist destinations in Tunisia, they all share one flag: the Muslim Brotherhood.

Eventually, we’ll reach a single conclusion, that the Muslim Brotherhood is global organization with a pre-set agenda and one ideology, to rule most of the Arab countries as an initial step and get rid of “non-believer Western countries” in a later step.

Now I can hear somebody say, are you kidding me? Destroy the West? How come, they’re working with the U.S. intelligence, they’re getting tonnes of American taxpayer money, they’re getting weapons smuggled and delivered to them across several borders, they’re getting first-hand intelligence information, logistic support, fake passports, and above all, huge media campaigns to make every unsuspecting citizen sympathize with them, and yes, they get every means that makes them stronger, have bigger teeth, a louder voice?

Re-mapping the Middle East

Yes, it’s true, but they’re an instrumental tool in somebody else’s hands to dismantle strong armies -- Iraq, divide nations (Lebanon), re-map countries (Sudan), burn people (Syria) and above all, displace entire nations, and transfer them from their once peaceful lands and own homes to refugee camps. Turn them into people who are desperately awaiting mercy or a miracle to land as refugees in Canada, a country that is used to paying the bills of its neighbours across the southern border, and whose citizens pay dearly for every new refugee landing in the country? You and me, people who are working hard to make ends meet, are paying for super powers to destroy people’s lands and homes, to produce poverty, unemployment, and misery, not only for refugees, but also for our own fellow Canadians.

Now for the other question, is it really for energy? Is the United States and its allies carrying out all these acts of conspiracy and fuelling the “Arab Spring” to get their hands on energy and the oil market? All this killing, burning, displacing, and ugly refugee camps and inhuman living conditions of displaced people, to secure stable energy and oil resources for the American  people? The answer is a simple no.

Then, what now? Who’s to benefit from all this misery in the world? Is it really the new Middle East they’re after?  Of course not.

Creative Chaos

It is about enabling “Creative Chaos” to re-draw a new Middle East, and to know more this you should read this important document by Global Research , that states "The term 'New Middle East' was introduced to the world in June 2006 in Tel Aviv by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (who was credited by the Western media for coining the term) in replacement of the older and more imposing term, the 'Greater Middle East.'"

This shift in foreign policy phraseology coincided with the inauguration of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) Oil Terminal in the Eastern Mediterranean. The term and conceptualization of the “New Middle East” was subsequently heralded by the U.S. Secretary of State and the Israeli Prime Minister at the height of the Anglo-American sponsored Israeli siege of Lebanon. Prime Minister Olmert and Secretary Rice had informed the international media that a project for a “New Middle East” was being launched from Lebanon.

Now, to conclude, it is important for you not to go with the flow and believe that the U.S. and some Western countries are helping countries in the Middle East and beyond to enjoy democracy. This is merely the other crabby face of the famous art of spin aimed at fooling every good heart, for the benefit of heartless people, in the name of democracy.

Khaled Salama is an Egyptian-born Host-Producer of MySecondHomeTV that can be accessed here - <http://www.mysecondhometv.com/>

 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary
by Ranjit Bhaskar
 
With the world at large impassive in its reaction to the Egyptian military’s ouster of President Mohammed Morsi, the diametrically opposite responses from Syria and Turkey are perhaps the most telling.
 
Syria's President Bashar Assad has praised the massive protests against the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and said it means the end of political Islam. In an interview with the state-run Al-Thawra newspaper, Assad said his opponents at home failed because they tried to bring religion onto the battlefield. "Whoever brings religion to use for political or factional interests will fall anywhere in the world."
 
“It is unacceptable for a government that has come to power through democratic elections to be toppled through illicit means and, even more, a military coup,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. This strong reaction was to be expected as Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is the model for Mr. Morsi’s Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party.
For the record, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has urged all parties in Egypt to remain calm, avoid violence and engage in meaningful political dialogue. "This is important not only for Egypt, but, given Egypt’s influence, for the whole region as well," Baird said.
 
While Assad has reasons to be antagonistic against Islamists as they spearhead the fight against him, his diagnosis may only be partially true: what we are seeing is not the end of political Islam but a likely end to Islamists engaging in electoral politics.
 
Winning elections
 
The message out there among Islamists is that winning elections does not seem to benefit them and Egypt is only the latest in a string of bitter lessons.
 
In 1991, Algeria's Islamic Salvation Front won the first round of parliamentary elections only to be blocked from power when the president, under pressure from the military, dissolved parliament and annulled the vote. What followed was a decade of civil war in which more than 250,000 people lost their lives. That insurgency is still alive in the Sahara today and Canadians were reminded of it when four fellow citizens were linked to a deadly attack on an Algerian gas plant that killed dozens in January of this year.
 
Analogous to the Algerian fiasco, in 2006 when the Islamist Hamas won elections in Palestine, it was ostracized by the U.S., Canada and some other countries because of the position it took against Israel.
 
The Ennahda party, that won the 2011 elections in Tunisia after the first revolution of the Arab Spring, seems to have bucked the trend thanks to sharing power with non-Islamist parties. That lesson seems to have been lost on fellow Islamist parties elsewhere. Winner takes it all seems to be their mind-set.
 
It was in evidence when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan railed against the recent protests in Istanbul’s Taksim square.  Mr. Erdogan referred to his electoral victories and his parliamentary majority as a license to carry out policies as he saw fit. The more reconciliatory President Abdullah Gul had to point out that true democracy “does not only mean elections.”
This attitude of Islamists toward power gained through the ballot must be seen in the light of debates won within their circles on the superiority of electoral politics over violence. When the so-called Arab Spring movements in Tunisia and Egypt brought to power elected Islamist parties, it was a serious blow to al-Qaeda and the jihadists. It showed the world that political Islam’s compatibility with electoral democracy need not be confined only to Turkey in the Middle East.
 
Failed experiment
 
That experiment is at risk with the fall of Mr Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected leader. Analysts, like those at the US-based Stratfor Global Intelligence group, say the Muslim Brotherhood will probably not respond violently but may engage in civil unrest leading to violence. However, they fear that elements from ultraconservative Salafist groups would abandon mainstream politics in favor of armed conflict.
 
The ground for that is already being laid. Hundreds of Egyptians are in Syria fighting alongside Islamist rebels against Assad's forces. And at home in the Sinai desert, jihadist groups have taken advantage of the chaos of the past few years to build themselves up.
 
The Syrian president’s optimistic prediction of the end of political Islam may not come to pass soon. A cornered foe can always lash out with unpredictable results.- New Canadian Media
 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary
Thursday, 04 July 2013 21:57

Guest Column: Good Riddance Morsi

by Ujjal Dosanjh

Egypt has gone through momentous changes in the last three years. There was the popular overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. The elections resulted in the Muslim Brotherhood regime of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. Many secular democrats did not like it. President Morsi, did not at all try to appeal to those that did not support him. He was beholden to his Brotherhood base. The minorities were worried about the Islamist agenda. Some like the Coptics actually suffered violence at the hands of the some elements who may have felt Morsi and his supporters would implicitly support a Coptic exodus.

The economy suffered as Morsi failed to give a positive direction and leadership to Egypt. Tourism dried up. Most people realised very quickly that Morsi and his Islamist cohorts were the wrong people to lead the country. The Morsi crowd failed to understand one important thing. Most Egyptians had irrevocably changed. They were not going to tolerate authoritarian Islamism of the Brotherhood after having shed blood, sweat and tears to overthrow the much hated Mubarak regime. 

Egypt has changed forever. In a traditional democratic system as we know it, the governments are not usually forced out by popular show of strength on the streets. That is done at the polls. In Egypt a popularly elected government that was not governing for all Egyptians has been sacked by the Military because of the popular opinion turning against it.

Non-Islamist course

There is the question of the ultimate direction and nature of any future government in Egypt. I believe it has been settled for now that no Islamist government could or would be allowed to rule Egypt. It is clear that the military and a large section of the population have formed an unofficial alliance to chart a non-Islamist course for the country.

How should we react? The U.S. had supported Morsi as and when he won what was a reasonably fair election. Now the U.S. is probably going to support the change as the Egyptian military is largely financially supported by the $2 billion a year aid. And despite the noises made and support given by the West to the anti-President Bashar al- Assad rebels there is a very real fear of another Islamist regime if Assad leaves as a result of being defeated by the current rebels. Under those circumstances the U.S. and the rest of the West would welcome what has just happened in Egypt. A stable Egypt is indispensable for a stable Middle East.

No theistic democracy

My view is there isn’t a country in this world that doesn’t have minorities. Democracy can either be a liberal democracy (like in Canada, the U.S. or Western Europe) or you can have a controlled theistic democracy, which is not a real democracy. Whether or not you have minorities, one assumes that everyone in a theistic state is religious or believes in dogmas. You can’t, under the cloak of democratic elections, Islamize a country or impose a religion. The Muslim Brotherhood never said they wanted to Islamize the nation during their election campaign and was therefore able to win over secular democrats.

I for one will not shed any tears for the Morsi regime. Morsi failed to protect minorities. He remained a pawn of Islamists. As a secular democrat I believe a theistic state can never be really democratic.

Ujjal Dosanjh is a former Liberal federal Cabinet minister and also has been premier of B.C. This comment is adapted from his blog at ujjaldosanjh.org

Published in Commentary

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