Posts Tagged ‘Egypt’
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Losing Her Heart in Egypt : Amr Kassem 1987-2013
[Heart Breaking and Inspiring True Story]
By Asma Hussein
Teaching myself how not to lose hope
“Think not of those who are killed in the Way of Allāh as dead. Nay, they are alive, with their Lord, and they have provision. They rejoice in what Allāh has bestowed upon them of His Bounty and rejoice for the sake of those who have not yet joined them, but are left behind (not yet martyred) that on them no fear shall come, nor shall they grieve. They rejoice in a Grace and a Bounty from Allāh, and that Allāh will not waste the reward of the believers.” (Ale Imran; 169-171)
US bankrolled anti-Morsi activists
Berkeley, United States – President Barack Obama recently stated the United States was not taking sides as Egypt’s crisis came to a head with the military overthrow of the democratically elected president.
But a review of dozens of US federal government documents shows Washington has quietly funded senior Egyptian opposition figures who called for toppling of the country’s now-deposed president Mohamed Morsi.
Documents obtained by the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley show the US channeled funding through a State Department programme to promote democracy in the Middle East region. This programme vigorously supported activists and politicians who have fomented unrest in Egypt, after autocratic president Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising in February 2011.
The State Department’s programme, dubbed by US officials as a “democracy assistance” initiative, is part of a wider Obama administration effort to try to stop the retreat of pro-Washington secularists, and to win back influence in Arab Spring countries that saw the rise of Islamists, who largely oppose US interests in the Middle East.
Activists bankrolled by the programme include an exiled Egyptian police officer who plotted the violent overthrow of the Morsi government, an anti-Islamist politician who advocated closing mosques and dragging preachers out by force, as well as a coterie of opposition politicians who pushed for the ouster of the country’s first democratically elected leader, government documents show.
Information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, interviews, and public records reveal Washington’s “democracy assistance” may have violated Egyptian law, which prohibits foreign political funding.
It may also have broken US government regulations that ban the use of taxpayers’ money to fund foreign politicians, or finance subversive activities that target democratically elected governments.
‘Bureau for Democracy’
Washington’s democracy assistance programme for the Middle East is filtered through a pyramid of agencies within the State Department. Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars is channeled through the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL), The Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), USAID, as well as the Washington-based, quasi-governmental organisation the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).
In turn, those groups re-route money to other organisations such as the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and Freedom House, among others. Federal documents show these groups have sent funds to certain organisations in Egypt, mostly run by senior members of anti-Morsi political parties who double as NGO activists.
The Middle East Partnership Initiative – launched by the George W Bush administration in 2002 in a bid to influence politics in the Middle East in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks – has spent close to $900m on democracy projects across the region, a federal grants database shows.
USAID manages about $1.4bn annually in the Middle East, with nearly $390m designated for democracy promotion, according to the Washington-based Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED).
The US government doesn’t issue figures on democracy spending per country, but Stephen McInerney, POMED’s executive director, estimated that Washington spent some $65m in 2011 and $25m in 2012. He said he expects a similar amount paid out this year.
A main conduit for channeling the State Department’s democracy funds to Egypt has been the National Endowment for Democracy. Federal documents show NED, which in 2011 was authorised an annual budget of $118m by Congress, funneled at least $120,000 over several years to an exiled Egyptian police officer who has for years incited violence in his native country.
This appears to be in direct contradiction to its Congressional mandate, which clearly states NED is to engage only in “peaceful” political change overseas.
Colonel Omar Afifi Soliman – who served in Egypt’s elite investigative police unit, notorious for human rights abuses – began receiving NED funds in 2008 for at least four years.
During that time he and his followers targeted Mubarak’s government, and Soliman later followed the same tactics against the military rulers who briefly replaced him. Most recently Soliman set his sights on Morsi’s government.
Soliman, who has refugee status in the US, was sentenced in absentia last year for five years imprisonment by a Cairo court for his role in inciting violence in 2011 against the embassies of Israel and Saudi Arabia, two US allies.
He also used social media to encourage violent attacks against Egyptian officials, according to court documents and a review of his social media posts.
US Internal Revenue Service documents reveal thatNED paid tens of thousands of dollars to Soliman through an organisation he created called Hukuk Al-Nas (People’s Rights), based in Falls Church, Virginia. Federal forms show he is the only employee.
After he was awarded a 2008 human rights fellowship at NED and moved to the US, Soliman received a second $50,000 NED grant in 2009 for Hukuk Al-Nas. In 2010, he received $60,000 and another $10,000 in 2011.
In an interview with the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley, Soliman reluctantly admitted he received US government funding from the National Endowment for Democracy, but complained it wasn’t enough. “It is like $2000 or $2,500 a month,” he said. “Do you think this is too much? Obama wants to give us peanuts. We will not accept that.”
‘Pro bono advice’
NED’s website says Soliman spreads only nonviolent literature, and his group was set up to provide “immediate, pro bono legal advice through a telephone hotline, instant messaging, and other social networking tools”.
However, in Egyptian media interviews, social media posts and YouTube videos, Soliman encouraged the violent overthrow of Egypt’s government, then led by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party.
“Incapacitate them by smashing their knee bones first,” he instructed followers on Facebook in late June, as Morsi’s opponents prepared massive street rallies against the government. Egypt’s US-funded and trainedmilitary later used those demonstrations to justify its coup on July 3.
“Make a road bump with a broken palm tree to stop the buses going into Cairo, and drench the road around it with gas and diesel. When the bus slows down for the bump, set it all ablaze so it will burn down with all the passengers inside … God bless,” Soliman’s post read.
In late May he instructed, “Behead those who control power, water and gas utilities.”
Soliman removed several older social media posts after authorities in Egypt took notice of his subversive instructions, court documents show.
More recent Facebook instructions to his 83,000 followers range from guidelines on spraying roads with a mix of auto oil and gas – “20 liters of oil to 4 liters of gas”- to how to thwart cars giving chase.
“We know he gets support from some groups in the US, but we do not know he is getting support from the US government. This would be news to us,” said an Egyptian embassy official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.
Funding other Morsi opponents
Other beneficiaries of US government funding are also opponents of the now-deposed president, some who had called for Morsi’s removal by force.
The Salvation Front main opposition bloc, of which some members received US funding, has backed street protest campaigns that turned violent against the elected government, in contradiction of many of the State Department’s own guidelines.
A longtime grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy and other US democracy groups is a 34-year old Egyptian woman, Esraa Abdel-Fatah, who sprang to notoriety during the country’s pitched battle over the new constitution in December 2012.
She exhorted activists to lay siege to mosques and drag from pulpits all Muslim preachers and religious figures who supported the country’s the proposed constitution, just before it went to a public referendum.
Federal records show Abdel-Fatah’s NGO, the Egyptian Democratic Academy, received support from NED, MEPI and NDI, among other State Department-funded groups “assisting democracy”. Records show NED gave her organisation a one-year $75,000 grant in 2011.
Abdel-Fatah is politically active, crisscrossing Egypt to rally support for her Al-Dostor Party, which is led by former UN nuclear chief Mohamed El-Baradei, the most prominent figure in the Salvation Front. She lent full support to the military takeover, and urged the West not call it a “coup”.
“June 30 will be the last day of Morsi’s term,” she told the press a few weeks before the coup took place.
US taxpayer money has also been sent to groups set up by some of Egypt’s richest people, raising questions about waste in the democracy programme.
Michael Meunier is a frequent guest on TV channels that opposed Morsi. Head of the Al-Haya Party, Meunier – a dual US-Egyptian citizen – has quietly collected US funding through his NGO, Hand In Hand for Egypt Association.
Meunier’s organisation was founded by some of the most vehement opposition figures, including Egypt’s richest man and well-known Coptic Christian billionaire Naguib Sawiris, Tarek Heggy, an oil industry executive, Salah Diab, Halliburton’s partner in Egypt, and Usama Ghazali Harb, a politician with roots in the Mubarak regime and a frequent US embassy contact.
Meunier helped rally the country’s five million Christian Orthodox Coptic minority, who oppose Morsi’s Islamist agenda, to take to the streets against the president on June 30.
Reform and Development Party member Mohammed Essmat al-Sadat received US financial support through his Sadat Association for Social Development, a grantee of The Middle East Partnership Initiative.
The federal grants records and database show in 2011 Sadat collected $84,445 from MEPI “to work with youth in the post-revolutionary Egypt”.
Sadat was a member of the coordination committee, the main organising body for the June 30 anti-Morsi protest. Since 2008, he has collected $265,176 in US funding. Sadat announced he will be running for office again in upcoming parliamentary elections.
After soldiers and police killed more than 50 Morsi supporters on Monday, Sadat defended the use of force and blamed the Muslim Brotherhood, saying it used women and children as shields.
Some US-backed politicians have said Washington tacitly encouraged them to incite protests.
“We were told by the Americans that if we see big street protests that sustain themselves for a week, they will reconsider all current US policies towards the Muslim Brotherhood regime,” said Saaddin Ibrahim, an Egyptian-American politician opposed Morsi.
Ibrahim’s Ibn Khaldoun Center in Cairo receives US funding, one of the largest recipients of democracy promotion money in fact.
His comments followed statements by other Egyptian opposition politicians claiming they had been prodded by US officials to whip up public sentiment against Morsi before Washington could publicly weigh in.
Democracy programme defence
The practice of funding politicians and anti-government activists through NGOs was vehemently defended by the State Department and by a group of Washington-based Middle East experts close to the programme.
“The line between politics and activism is very blurred in this country,” said David Linfield, spokesman for the US Embassy in Cairo.
Others said the United States cannot be held responsible for activities by groups it doesn’t control.
“It’s a very hot and dynamic political scene,” said Michelle Dunne, an expert at the Atlantic Council think-tank. Her husband, Michael Dunne, was given a five-year jail sentence in absentia by a Cairo court for his role in political funding in Egypt.
“Just because you give someone some money, you cannot take away their freedom or the position they want to take,” said Dunne.
Elliot Abrams, a former official in the administration of George W. Bush and a member of the Working Group on Egypt that includes Dunne, denied in an email message that the US has paid politicians in Egypt, or elsewhere in the Middle East.
“The US does not provide funding for parties or ‘local politicians’ in Egypt or anywhere else,” said Abrams. “That is prohibited by law and the law is scrupulously obeyed by all US agencies, under careful Congressional oversight.”
But a State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity, said American support for foreign political activists was in line with American principles.
“The US government provides support to civil society, democracy and human rights activists around the world, in line with our long-held values, such as respecting the fundamental human rights of free speech, peaceful assembly, and human dignity,” the official wrote in an email. “US outreach in Egypt is consistent with these principles.”
Out of line
Some Middle East observers suggested the US’ democracy push in Egypt may be more about buying influence than spreading human rights and good governance.
Funding of politicians is a problem,” said Robert Springborg, who evaluated democracy programmes for the State Department in Egypt, and is now a professor at the National Security Department of the Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, California.
“If you run a programme for electoral observation, or for developing media capacity for political parties, I am not against that. But providing lots of money to politicians – I think that raises lots of questions,” Springborg said.
Some Egyptians, meanwhile, said the US was out of line by sending cash through its democracy programme in the Middle East to organisations run by political operators.
“Instead of being sincere about backing democracy and reaching out to the Egyptian people, the US has chosen an unethical path,” said Esam Neizamy, an independent researcher into foreign funding in Egypt, and a member of the country’s Revolutionary Trustees, a group set up to protect the 2011 revolution.
“The Americans think they can outsmart lots of people in the Middle East. They are being very hostile against the Egyptian people who have nothing but goodwill for them – so far,” Neizamy said.
Source : AlJazeera
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CIA Undercover Shocks Danish Muslims
CAIRO – Revelations that a Danish Muslim convert was in reality an undercover agent posing as extremist in an attempt to trap young Muslims are sending shockwaves across the sizable minority in Denmark.
“The police and security services want us to trust them but they are sending agitators into our community to lead people astray,” Qadir Baksh, chairman of the Luton Islamic Center in Bury Park Road, told Luton Today newspaper on Wednesday, October 10.
A Muslim convert, Morten Storm, has unveiled that he was an undercover agent for the Danish intelligence service (PET) and the CIA.
He told Jyllands-Posten daily that he was recruited by PET in 2006 to track down extremists in the Scandinavian country.
He also said that he led the CIA to Al-Qaeda leader in Yemen Anwar Al-Awlaki, who was killed in a drone attack last year.
The convert moved to Luton in 1999, where he told community leaders that he wanted to start a new life after a history of extremism.
However, he started to propagate his radical ideas in an effort to lure young Muslims into his line.
“Certain people here propped him up, such as Al Muhajiroun,” Baksh said, referring to an outlawed Islamist group in Britain, which has an office in Denmark.
“They made him their scholar.”
The Muslim leader said that the undercover had tried hard to spread his radical ideas in the Muslim community.
“He tried very hard to spread mischief in the community,” he said.
“He would come to us and tell us his views, and we would send him away with his tail between his legs.”
Baksh said the radical ideas championed by the undercover largely fell on the deaf ears of most Danish Muslims.
“He was running around here, there and everywhere, with a corrupt version of Islam, and leading people astray,” he said.
“There are extremist jihadists in Luton and he was propagating their thoughts among young people, spreading lies about Islam.
“We thought he was probably being watched by the security services.”
The Muslim leader said that the behavior of the convert had raised suspicions in the community.
“Early on I had my suspicions about him, but I didn’t have clear evidence,” Baksh said.
“We know the CIA do conduct sting operations.”
The CIA and FBI are used to use fake operations to trap what they say “potential terror” suspects.
But the technique has sparked anger among US Muslims, who accuse the two agencies of trapping young Muslims into terrorism.
In 2009, Muslim groups had threatened to suspend all contacts with the FBI over its tactics of sending informants into mosques to trap worshippers.
“The vast majority of Muslims just want to get on with their lives and practise their religion in peace,” Baksh said.
Denmark is home to a Muslim minority of 200,000, making three percent of the country’s 5.4 million population.
The Scandinavian country was the focus of Muslim anger in 2005 after a newspaper published cartoons lampooning Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him).
Following the cartoons crisis, Muslims worldwide took many initiatives to remove widely circulated stereotypes about Islam in the West.
Danish Muslims established the European Committee for Honoring the Prophet, a grouping of 27 Danish Muslim organizations, to raise awareness about the merits and characteristics of the Prophet.
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An Open Letter to All Non-Muslims Regarding the Anti-Islam Film and Cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)
It is a centuries-old Islamic tradition to engage in debate, tolerate criticism and hear the critiques of others. But insults against Islam, such as those in the recent film and cartoons, are unacceptable provocations that cross a red line that no Muslim or decent human being would ever accept. As such we condemn them in the strongest possible terms, as we do any such insults against Islam and the symbols of our religion; especially those against the greatest man ever, the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.
We do not condone the recent violence that has broken out in response, but the blood-stained track record of Western foreign policy and hypocrisy regarding free speech means that all right to take the moral high ground has been forfeited when arguing that violence is an unacceptable response to this provocation, or when arguing that freedom of speech is sacred.
We believe it is our duty as Muslims to counter the politically motivated propaganda, in particular about the man who has been slandered more than any other in history – the Prophet, peace be upon him – but also to be frank in pointing out injustice and hypocrisy where we see it.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney argued that the protests across the World against US embassies were nothing to do with US foreign policy. Does the White House really think that such protests can be de-contextualised from the backdrop of wars waged against Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan; the illegal imprisonment and torture of Muslims at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Bagram and numerous other facilities; the use of rendition and torture in collaboration with the regimes of Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Gaddafi, Bashar al-Assad and others; the continued killing of innocent men, women and children through Predator drones, most notably in Yemen & Pakistan? Only recently eight innocent women and children were killed by a NATO airstrike in Afghanistan, and in early September long-term Guantanamo detainee Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif died having been held without charge and subjected to torture for 10 years, despite being cleared for release in 2006.
It is disturbing that such news fails to shock anymore. However it is for these very reasons and many others that we see a persistent resentment to Western interference in Muslim countries, and so reaction to perceived insults will inevitably be strong.
At the same time many Western politicians and media commentators have stated that upholding “freedom”, including the right to offend others, is a fundamental principle of liberal societies.
Yet such principles seem remarkably easy to set aside when it comes to the treatment of Muslims – women and girls in France are still unable to wear hijab (Islamic headscarf) in schools and universities, or niqab (face veil) in public places, and we have seen Muslims prosecuted (even jailed) in Western countries for simply expressing their views. In the United States Tarek Mehenna was jailed for 17 years, ostensibly for translating a readily available e-book that had been widely quoted in the media. America seeks the extradition of Babar Ahmed and Talha Ahsan for running a website that was legal in the UK, which updated news about the Chechen crisis. And recently a 20-year-old man in the UK was found guilty for posting an offensive message on Facebook regarding British soldiers in Afghanistan.
France claims freedom of expression is a ‘fundamental principle’ of the republic. And yet Charlie Hebdo, the magazine printing the offensive cartoons while claiming to be a bastion of free speech – previously lambasted their own cartoonist Maurice Sinet for writing a biting article about Nicholas Sarkozy’s son which appeared to denigrate him for marrying a Jewish heiress for money. Sinet was subsequently sacked by his employers for refusing to apologies – their ‘fundamental principle’ set aside to appease domestic political sensitivities. Similarly, when the French Prime Minister stated that these cartoons are “expressed within the confines of the law and under the control of the courts”, he ought to have been reminded that the French senate passed a bill earlier this year outlawing denial of any genocide recognized by French law; a clear indication of the willingness to restrict expression under the law and through the courts for political reasons.
Let us be frank – this is not an argument about “freedom of speech”. Like all other mooted “freedoms”, it simply does not and cannot exist as an absolute, despite all the rhetoric.
All countries have red line issues that limit speech depending on context, leading to variation in law – such as the criminalisation of holocaust denial in Germany for historical reasons, despite it remaining legal elsewhere. Every society has criminalised speech according to their belief and value system. In secular Western society, religion is largely unvalued so blasphemy is permitted. Whereas in Islamic society religion is the core value and so blasphemy becomes a red line issue, including insulting any of the Prophets of God, starting from the Prophet Adam, to Prophets Moses and Jesus to the Prophet Mohammad.
The cost to societal harmony from the ‘freedom to insult’ is rarely discussed. Western Europe’s moral and legal tradition stems from its Christian heritage, which has become routinely mocked and derided. This freedom to mock and deride, which we appreciate was born out of Europe’s particular dilemma of Church authority, opened the door to the growing disrespect and anti-social behaviour in society – where rudeness is celebrated as a sign of assertiveness, courtesy undervalued as weakness, and all too many people do not respect each other or the law.
There are some who will look beyond the superficial images and clichéd analysis, sincerely wondering why people are so upset, asking why millions of Muslims in the UK and Europe seem not to have adopted the secular values they are surrounded by. They will inquire as to why Muslims have persisted on adhering to Islamic values despite relentless criticism and abuse – and are joined every day by others who are newly convinced of Islam. As the systemic decline in capitalism becomes increasingly obvious, people across the world are searching for new answers; many will find them in Islam.
A process of change in the Muslim world has been accelerated by the Arab spring, where a debate about the future of the region is growing. At present the emerging governments are weak, provide a fig-leaf for the old military authorities and insist on perpetuating a flawed secular, capitalist, nation-state model that is an aberration in terms of the history and values of the Muslim world.
As people ask “Is this, the freedom to insult Prophets, what ‘freedom and democracy’ really means?” the call for an Islamic model of government (the Islamic Caliphate) continues to grow in the region – one that is true to the principles of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and his successors, which protects the security, property, honour and beliefs of all its citizens, regardless of creed, colour or gender. A state which obliges accounting political authority and intellectual inquiry, but prohibits making money from gossip and slander; which encourages trade yet circulates wealth; which allows private enterprise but shares the states natural resources with all; and which finally breaks the colonial grip on the Muslim world so that it can present a true message of Islam.
Indeed, if a government in the Muslim world had taken a robust stand on the international stage using all diplomatic means at its disposal in order to arrest the on-going insults to the Prophet, peace be upon him, we would not now be seeing tens of thousands of demonstrators taking to the streets due to the lack of a political leadership at a state level that reflects their deeply held beliefs.
Surely there is too much that needs to be understood, which requires a mature debate and intellectual discussion rather than insults and lies and we would invite others to engage with us in that discussion.
Dr Reza Pankhurst – Reza.Pankhurst@hizb.org.uk
Dr Abdul Wahid – Abdul.Wahid@hizb.org.uk
Taji Mustafa – firstname.lastname@example.org
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