Prospects for the Iranian uprising

Published in Al Ahram Weekly on 13/1/2018

The current protests in Iran are the most challenging to the country’s Islamic regime since the crushing of demonstrations against massive election-rigging in 2009, writes Hany Ghoraba

The Iranian authorities have managed to keep the country ruled with an iron fist for nearly four decades. The security apparatus along with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have managed to weed out all forms of dissent and nip all forms of rebellion in the bud.

Oppressive measures were taken in June 2009 when major protests across Iran were sparked as a result of controversial presidential election results that witnessed the victory of the conservative candidate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over the reformist Mir-Hussein Mousavi. The elections, which witnessed massive rigging, inspired major protests across the country, and these were met with brutal force by the Iranian security forces backed by the paramilitary Basij troops that managed to crush the opposition. Countless Iranians were arrested, jailed or even killed by regime forces.

History repeated itself in December with the outbreak of new protests across Iran and backed by many in the Iranian Diaspora. The protests started in the city of Mashhad and then spread across the country. By 2 January, they had claimed the lives of 21 protesters as a result of the draconian measures taken by the Iranian authorities.

The reasons behind the new wave of protests have been cited as both economic and political. Despite the optimism that followed the partial lifting of the economic sanctions on Iran as a result of the nuclear deal in 2015 between Iran and six world powers, despair has prevailed as economic hardship has persisted during the rule of reformist president Hassan Rouhani. Four decades of oppressive practices by the regime have led many Iranians to revolt against the country’s theocratic regime, one of the most oppressive in the world and only rivalled by the likes of North Korea.

Unfettered by any international human rights obligations, Iranian Minister of the Interior Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said that the “improper use” of social media was causing the violence and added that such behaviour would be “smashed.” The ministry’s draconian measures have expanded to block Internet access in many Iranian cities. There have been reports of independent media being restricted and even the official Iranian TV network of being banned from covering the protests.

While the uprising may come as a shock to the tyrannical regime, there is little evidence that it will attain its desired results despite its scope and intensity. The Iranian regime has been notorious in its violent modus operandi towards dissidents on any level. In the mentality of the regime, there is no act too base or too unethical that it will not carry out in order to maintain order and regime hierarchy.

Over four decades of control it has managed to instil fear in the hearts of most Iranians and install loyalists throughout the Iranian state. Moreover, years of radicalisation and blaming the West and the country’s Arab neighbours for all Iran’s troubles have been the methods of the mullahs’ regime in order to dissuade Iranians from participating in any such uprisings, which the regime will always paint as acts of treason and the results of plots by the West, thus annihilating the opposition.

If there is one lesson to be learned from the 2011 Arab Spring Revolutions, it is that the political future is not decided by the dreams of protesters but by other factors that come into play such as the political balance of power and who has the most firepower. These things often determine the victors. In this case, it’s the Iranian regime that has the firepower, which it never falters in using on civilians whenever the need arises.

However, this does not mean that the Iranian protests will entirely fail as they may place pressure on commanders in the armed forces to consider moving against the regime, even if the likelihood of that happening appears far-fetched at the moment since the protests are being dealt with by such heavy-handed methods. Even if some military commanders lean towards the protesters’ demands, it is unlikely that the rest of their peers will do so as almost all of them have been chosen based on their loyalty to the Islamic Revolution and particularly to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

International support for the protests has also been quite mild in comparison to those that took place during the Arab Spring. Many countries including the EU states have refrained from putting themselves on a collision course with the Iranian regime lest they lose the economic ties they have forged over recent years. Despite the support of US President Donald Trump for the uprising, the US administration has limited means of supporting the protests other than the political support that the protesters in Iran will be wary to accept lest they be labelled as traitors by the regime if they are seen as courting the Americans.

Observers of the Iranian uprising should therefore not hold their breath for positive results coming from Iran. However, political and moral support should be provided to dissidents fighting against one of the most oppressive regimes in modern history, in order to help them to continue their struggle for the freedom of a nation that deserves a lot better than the current assortment of mullahs and theocrats that governs it.

Originals post in Al Ahram Weekly :

http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/News/23439.aspx

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Confronting the evil of terrorism

Published in Al Ahram Weekly on 6/7/2018

As the country’s war on terrorism continues, many observers cannot fathom why MPs are proposing new religious laws on doubtful pretexts, writes Hany Ghoraba

Egyptians once again are mourning the victims of a vile terrorist attack, this time on a church in Helwan near Cairo that killed nine innocent people including a police officer and injured four others during religious celebrations preceding Coptic Christmas on 7 January.

Despite heightened security measures and pre-emptive strikes by the security forces, the terrorists were able to strike. However, the security forces managed to avoid a more major incident as they defused an explosive device set to blow up the church, which could have caused a further catastrophe.

Though fighting a ferocious war on terrorism, the Egyptian army and security forces have been largely left to fight the war on their own, with much of the country’s media and many of its institutions acting like spectators or armchair experts whose recommendations may lead to further extremism.

This can be seen in the media’s obsession with leading witch-hunts against various figures across the country. Anyone who attempts to mobilise the country in favour of change and reform is met with storms of criticism, witch-hunts, and even lawsuits from media anchors, lawyers and politicians who may utilise loopholes in the law or the blasphemy law to hunt down such reformers.

Not satisfied with the current assortment of unconstitutional laws that contradict the freedom of speech embodied in the 2014 constitution, some MPs are obsessed with proposing even stricter laws that curb freedom of expression and worship in the name of national security. Among these laws proposed by the parliament’s Religions Committee is a law that prohibits atheism and introduces prison sentences or fines for those publicly professing it.

MPs unintentionally catering to the needs of extremists under the pretext of upholding ethics are the last thing Egypt needs during its war on terrorism. After all, most Egyptians rose up in 2013 to oust the Muslim Brotherhood and its ilk from power, and many of them cannot fathom why MPs are now proposing strict religious laws on sometimes ridiculous pretexts.

The Religions Committee’s role on Egypt’s political scene is vague and contradicts articles of the constitution upholding the freedom of worship and belief. It also serves critics of the government due to its proposals for oppressive laws. The committee is a relic of the past, and it now needs to be consigned to history. Tampering with citizens’ freedom of belief and expression regardless of the pretext is a one-way ticket to dictatorship and violence.

The MPs were elected to uphold the laws and the constitution while aiming to solve Egypt’s pressing economic, security and social issues. However, these issues seem to have taken a back seat among the priorities of some MPs who now discuss trifling matters such as video clips on YouTube and waste tax-payers’ money on proposing laws to combat atheism.

The country is in dire need of a parliament that lives up to the challenges facing it and formulates real strategies to combat the extremism that has afflicted it over the past three decades. At the moment, the Egyptian police and army are fighting the war on terrorism almost alone with no serious backup from the media or politicians except clichéd statements of support that are hardly manifested in actions.

Confronting the evil of terrorism must be done by combating all forms of extremism and opening the doors for a secular and liberal society to flourish. That kind of society will be able to shield itself against extremism and terrorism and assist in combating these things more effectively than any new laws. However, unfortunately at the moment the counter-productive status quo that has led to the current wave of extremism is still prevailing within some policy-makers’ minds as they attempt to use the same worn-out initiatives to deal with terrorism while still expecting positive results.

Original Post in Al Ahram Weekly :

http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/News/23377.aspx

Original Post in Al Ahram Online:

http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContentP/4/286649/Opinion/Confronting-the-evil-of-terrorism.aspx

Countering Christmas Jihad

Published in Investigative Project on Terrorism on 19/12/2017

“Soon on your holidays,” a sentence that would typically befit the celebrations of the Christmas festivities, was turned into a terrifying threat posted recently on an ISIS-related network vowing to attack major European cities during the Christmas holidays. The post included pictures of Santa Claus being stabbed by masked ISIS terrorists, among other chilling images, including landmarks from the Eiffel Tower to Times Square. These threats and attacks did not just target western communities, but Middle Eastern ones as well, where churches have a history of being targeted by deadly attacks such as the one in Egypt in December 2016 when St. Mark Cathedral’s adjoining chapel was bombed by terrorists, killing 25 worshippers and injuring dozens of others. Since that attack, the country has increased security measures to safeguard all churches and places of worship, especially in the upcoming Christmas season.

The recent wave of ISIS threats to attack civilians during the Christmas season has forced governments to tighten security in the face of what is believed to be a serious threat from the terrorist group which has suffered major defeats in the Middle East, namely in Syria, Iraq, Libya and North Sinai (Egypt). Consequently, the U.S. State Department has issued a heightened alert for all American travelers to Europe to exercise caution, particularly at holiday events.

Accordingly, these countries have taken drastic measures to safeguard the celebrations of Christmas this year and the following are a few examples of such measures:

Germany

Six suspects were taken into custody during a Nov. 21 raid on eight apartments by a police force of about 500 officers. These preemptive strikes have saved Germany from another devious plan that aimed to kill dozens if not hundreds of people. Germany experienced one of the vicious attacks by ISIS terrorists in 2016 on a busy open air Christmas market in Berlin. German police shot Tunisian asylum seeker Anis Amri dead four days later in a shootout after he had killed 12 people and injured 56 more in the truck attack. German authorities continue to beef up security measures to protect public areas, particularly the country’s estimated 2,600 Christmas markets. Organizers in Bochum, for example, decorated concrete barriers protecting pedestrian areas with festive Christmas wrapping with bows. Armed police patrols have been increased and stop-and-search checks were introduced at venues across the country.

France

France was rocked by a series of terrorist attacks and mass killings in recent years. The French Parliament approved tougher new laws giving security forces unprecedented powers during emergencies. This action was inspired by the December 2015 Paris attacks, which left 130 people dead and 413 people injured. Officials recently canceled a Christmas market in Lyon because security costs would be too high. Paris’s Champs Elysees Christmas market also was cancelled due to fear of possible attacks. In the famous Strasbourg Christmas market, police patrols have been increased and 140 private security agents have been hired for added protection. During the Christmas weekend, traffic will be restricted to the Grand Ile “Great Island” in the historic center of the French city, turning into it into a pedestrian zone.

Spain

Amid political turmoil following the Catalan independence referendum and a possible repeat vote, Spain can’t ignore its security priorities as Christmas approaches. Spain has been a target of al-Qaida and ISIS terrorists for years, as it remains the crown jewel of their fabled caliphate. In August, Spain woke up to an attack in Barcelona when 22-year-old terrorist Younis Abouyaacoub drove a van into pedestrians, killing 14 people and injuring 130. In the days before Christmas, the Spanish government have stepped up their security in all the cities despite fears that the numbers of police forces are not adequate to counter the threat of ISIS returnees from Iraq. For example, In Barcelona, bollards and hedges were installed in the city center and around the Sagrada Familia Cathedral to stop vehicles from approaching pedestrian areas. In the Spanish capital Madrid, authorities placed 1,100 kg concrete blocks on the famous Gran Via shopping street Dec. 1 and won’t remove them until Jan. 7. Plans call for closing the street to all private vehicles by summer.

United Kingdom

Britain endured a series of seemingly lone wolf attacks this year, including May’s bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester that killed 23 people and wounded 116. Security forces are using drones to give officers at a command center and other offices live images of potential targets.

Scenes of the unarmed English police “Bobbies” are being replaced by heavily armed officers guarding Christmas markets and other high volume areas. Moreover, metal detectors, large concrete barriers, and stop and search checks are highly visible at the open markets across the United Kingdom.

United States

The United States remains the prime target of all jihadist terrorist groups across the world.

Manhattan saw two terrorist attacks in the past six weeks – Sayfullo Saipov’s truck rampage that killed eight people on a bicycle path, and last week’s attempted suicide bombing by Akayed Ullah at Manhattan’s Port Authority Bus Terminal.

New York police are using sand-filled sanitation trucks and sharpshooters to secure Times Square celebrations, which is similar to steps taken last Christmas and during last month’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.

While ISIS and al-Qaida suffered battlefield defeats in the Middle East, they are far from finished plotting attacks and enticing lone wolf supporters across the world to do their vile bidding. So far, the 2017 holiday season has been more safe and peaceful, indicating the increased security measures may have helped.

Original post in IPT:

https://www.investigativeproject.org/7095/countering-christmas-jihad

A united front on Jerusalem

Published in Al Ahram Weekly on 13/12/2017

The decision by US President Donald Trump to move the US Embassy in Israel to the occupied city of Jerusalem has met with universal condemnation, writes Hany Ghoraba

A week is a long time in politics, and certainly the first week of December 2017 proved to be one of the longest in the Arab world over recent years. This was due to US President Donald Trump executing the 1995 US Jerusalem Embassy Act to relocate the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the occupied city of Jerusalem in an unprecedented step that complicates an already very complex and turbulent Middle East.

The decision to move the embassy was preceded by a number of telephone calls made by Trump to leaders in the Middle East including President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, King Salman of Saudi Arabia and President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas informing them of his intention. Aware of the dire consequences on the ground and the stagnant Palestinian-Israeli peace process, the leaders warned the American president against taking this risky step. This was a warning Trump chose to ignore for mainly domestic political reasons.

 President Al-Sisi has been making major efforts over the past three years to bring the Palestinians and Israelis back to the negotiating table. Egypt hosted talks among the Palestinian factions aiming at their reconciliation under one banner such that they could then enter final settlement talks with the Israelis. Al-Sisi has also called upon Israeli citizens multiple times to embrace the peace negotiations and to lobby their leaders to return to the negotiating table. He has conducted multiple talks with Israeli, European and American leaders to push the peace process forwards.

The Egyptian leadership decided to tackle Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem on an international political level by calling, along with seven other nations, for an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council. The session aimed to address the consequences of the decision on the already struggling peace process, and Egyptian Ambassador to the UN Amr Abul-Atta eloquently warned of the possible collapse of international law were nations to continue making such unilateral decisions.

Reactions from Arab leaders to Trump’s decision were varied, but they were mostly calm and diplomatic. The reactions from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and other Gulf States were similar, with these countries all expressing their “sorrow and disapproval” of the US action. They stressed that unilateral actions by the United States could have serious ramifications for the entire region.

Saudi Arabia expressed its “extreme concern” at the US decision, while Abbas speaking on behalf of the PA said that as a result of Trump’s action the United States was no longer a legitimate sponsor of peace between the Palestinians and Israelis since the US administration had decided openly to support Israel. However, the harshest reaction from an Arab country came from Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil who after delivering a strong statement calling for Arab unity during an emergency session of the Arab League demanded that diplomatic and even economic sanctions be placed on the United States.

Whether the Arab leaders will decide to up the ante and increase the pressure on Trump or not is unclear, but it is not entirely unlikely. The reason for this is due mainly to the fact that Trump’s decision is not simply a form of US support for Israel, which the Arab leaders are already well aware of, but that it is also changes the realities on the ground and tosses decades of hard work on the peace process in the rubbish bin.

The Arab countries’ position is also in alignment with that of all the European Union countries, including the United Kingdom, France and Germany, along with world powers such as China and Russia. These countries believe, along with most other members of the United Nations, that the fate of Jerusalem should remain a subject of negotiation, while the division of the city as the shared capital of Israel and a new Palestinian state should be the only practical solution in this five-decade conflict.

At the emergency meeting of the foreign ministers of the Arab League, the representatives reiterated their disapproval and condemnation of the relocation of the US embassy, labelling it a breach of international law and of UN Security Council resolutions 465, 475, 478 and 2334 which prohibit altering the status of occupied territories or their identities. The foreign ministers also called upon other nations not to consider moving their own embassies to Jerusalem.

In a statement released at the end of the meeting, the Arab foreign ministers warned of provocations and attempts to alter the multi-religious character of the city of Jerusalem, which has a strong Muslim, Christian and Jewish identity. The statement called upon the United States to revise its decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem and upon the UN Security Council to issue a statement confirming the illegality of the US decision. Arab leaders are vehemently calling on other countries to explain their stance and to reject Trump’s decision.

Jerusalem and the Palestinian cause represent a main sticking point in the Arab-Israeli conflict despite other feuds exacerbated in the post-Arab Spring era. The Palestinian cause and the right of the Palestinian people to establish their own state with East Jerusalem as its capital remain non-negotiable cornerstones of Arab diplomacy, especially in the wake of the Arab peace initiative of 2002 that was based on the principle of land for peace.

The Palestinian cause will continue to be the elephant in the room for years, and it will remain a uniting factor for all Arab countries until a final peace agreement is reached between the Palestinians and the Israelis and consequently between the Arabs and the Israelis.

Original Post in Al Ahram Weekly:

http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/News/23262.aspx

Ibrahim Munir, the Man Who Keeps the Muslim Brotherhood Alive

Published in Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) on 12/12/2017

 

Among the lesser known, yet most influential leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood organization is the Egyptian-born British national Ahmed Ibrahim Munir Mustafa. Known simply as Ibrahim Munir, he is the global Brotherhood’s secretary general and interim supreme guide.

The Brotherhood faces a great succession dilemma with many of its Egyptian leadership jailed and facing trials. A controversial old Islamic jurisprudence fatwa states that captured men or prisoners of wars cannot lead their nation or groups. Accordingly, incumbent Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie cannot lead the group while he is in an Egyptian prison.

Several names were mentioned as a possible new supreme guide, among them Mahmoud Ezzat, a leading Brotherhood member since the 1960s, who is believed to be in hiding in Gaza and is wanted by Egyptian authorities for allegedly orchestrating the violence taking place in Egypt. But Ezzat announced in 2016 that he did not want the title and recommended Ibrahim Munir.

But group members and leaders in Egypt question the 80-year-old Munir’s leadership abilities as they fight against the Egyptian state and wish to substitute him with a wartime general guide. Younger members who followed the late Brotherhood leader Mohamed Kamal indicated their desire for a more vicious supreme guide. While the Muslim Brotherhood leadership tried to keep the news of the succession war a secret, the divisions and resignations have rocked the group and shattered any image of unity.

The double messages

Among his Brotherhood duties, Ibrahim Munir supervises the content of IkwhanWeb, the group’s English-language website, and its weekly journal Risalat al-Ikhwan. English-language statements tend to be much more sanitized and tolerant than what the Brotherhood tells its Arabic-speaking audience.

Munir followed the taqqiya principal – a precautionary concealment or denial of religious belief and practice in the face of persecution – in all his English language communications with the media and United Kingdom politicians. The Brotherhood is a Sunni movement with a Salafist tradition, while taqqiya remains a practice found in the Shiite denomination of Islam.

For example, Munir told a British Parliament committee that sharia laws tolerate apostates, but that statement contradicts the beliefs and teachings of Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna. It also avoided answering questions about the Brotherhood’s positions toward minorities such as homosexuals.

An example of the Brotherhood’s dual messaging came in September 2012 when a group of Islamists led by the Muslim Brotherhood stormed the American Embassy to protest what was dubbed as an anti-Islamic movie. In Arabic, they called upon all “Egyptians to rise to defend the Prophet” in a million-man march directed towards U.S. Embassy in Cairo. Munir’s London-based IkhwanWeb, on the other hand, tweeted a statement from deputy head Khairat Al Shater: “relieved none of @USembassycairo staff were harmed,” while expressing hopes that Egyptian-American relations could weather the storm. However, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo twitter account mocked the tweet in English: “Thanks, by the way, have you checked your own Arabic feeds? I hope you know we read those too.”

Ibrahim Munir meets in London last July with Ayatollah Khamenei’s personal representative Mohsen Araki.

Despite their following different religious denominations the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran have had relations for decades, as many Brotherhood leaders frequently visit Iran as guests of the regime. The first meeting between Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna and Ayatollah Khomeini, the supreme leader of the Islamic revolution took place in 1945 – more than three decades before the 1979 Islamic revolution. Moreover, the only time an Iranian president visited Egypt after the revolution came during Mohamed Morsi’s ill-fated one-year reign in 2013 when Mahmoud Ahmedinejad traveled to Egypt. Munir, along with other Brotherhood officials, have maintained strong ties with Iranian leaders. During a July conference on Islamophobia, Munir was among Brotherhood members to meet in London with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s personal representative, Mohsen Araki.

Ties to terrorism:

During the 1960s, Munir was part of a terrorist group led by Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb. Munir was sentenced to 10 years in a maximum security prison as a result. He remains loyal to Qutb, who advocated violent jihad and the toppling of what he considered “apostate” regimes. In a lengthy essay last year, Munir called Qutb a “humanitarian teacher.”

As with many Islamists in the past five decades, Munir applied for political asylum in the United Kingdom, citing political persecution in Egypt. From his safe haven in London, he established, along with defector former member Kamal Al Hilbawy, the Muslim Brotherhood’s international base in 1982. The organization established a network that extended across the globe using London as a political and financial center.

From his office in London’s Cricklewood Broadway neighborhood, Munir established a web of connections using his diplomatic skills and contacts in the British government. He was instrumental in keeping the Muslim Brotherhood from being banned in the United Kingdom in 2014 after then-Prime Minister David Cameron ordered an investigation into the Brotherhood’s activities in Britain and Egypt. The investigation was prompted by terrorist attacks in Egypt that were orchestrated by the Muslim Brotherhood after the June 2013 ouster of President Mohamed Morsi.

Munir issued an indirect threat to the British government that terrorism will increase if the ban goes in effect. “This would make a lot of people in Muslim communities think that ‘peaceful’ Muslim Brotherhood values . . . didn’t work and now they are designated a terrorist group, which would make the doors open for all options,” he said. Asked if that might include violence, he replied, “Any possibility.”

Munir helped saved the Muslim Brotherhood from a terrorist designation by lobbying Britain’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee, headed by British MP Crispin Blunt, to release a counter report criticizing Jenkins’, neglecting the clear condemnation of the group’s activities in UK found in Sir John Jenkins’s 2014 report.

“Their public narrative – notably in the West – emphasised engagement not violence. But there have been significant differences between Muslim Brotherhood communications in English and Arabic,” the report said.

“Aspects of Muslim Brotherhood ideology and tactics, in this country and overseas, are contrary to our values and have been contrary to our national interests and our national security,” it added.

Munir defended Hamas terrorism as self-defense during an unaired June interview with NBC. “I don’t just support Hamas,” he said, “I support the Palestinian cause, that conflict was created by the West and they have to resolve it or the conflict will continue indefinitely; if Hamas violates the UN articles and Geneva Accords we will condemn them but the West should tell us how else can the Palestinians acquire their rights.”

Undoubtedly, without Britain’s hosting and granting of political asylum and citizenship to its leaders throughout the past six decades, the Brotherhood would have lost access to international media outlets and financial means, and might have disbanded by now. Munir and his colleagues managed to keep the ship afloat through its international base, aided by Islamic charities such as the Takaful Trust and now-defunct Human Relief International. These fronts financed multiple media outlets including a TV network originating from Turkey after June 2013 which became the launching pad for Brotherhood propaganda and incitement of violence in Egypt.

Moreover, the Brotherhood convinced the British authorities repeatedly of its so-called peaceful nature. They managed through trickery, taqqiya, and shrewd diplomacy to play off British politicians’ naiveté’ to keep their UK operations intact.

Ibrahim Munir may not be a household name but he remains the Brotherhood’s gatekeeper and its savior in dire situations. His good-cop attitude with the British media and political circles, along with shrewd financial and media skills, has managed to protect the group from attempts to ban it.

Original Post in Al IPT:

https://www.investigativeproject.org/7052/ibrahim-munir-the-man-who-keeps-the-muslim

Celebrity status Egypt

Published in Al Ahram Weekly 6/12/2017

Egypt has tremendous cultural and historical cachet, yet fails, time and again, to capitalise on it, writes Hany Ghoraba

“I am in Cairo as I am not gonna let anybody scare me, inshallah,” said the Hollywood actor Nicolas Cage during the finale of the Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF) in its 39th edition. With an authoritative tone and an inspiring speech befitting a military commander, the Oscar-winning American actor has shown solidarity with the Egyptian people and sent a message to the world assuring all of Egypt’s safety and hospitality.

The scene of Cage on the CIFF podium was one of the most culturally inspirational moments of the year in Egypt. It was a message of solidarity and peace from the heart of the Egyptian capital delivered by a world class actor. But Cage was not alone as he was accompanied by equally talented fellow Hollywood stars such as Oscar-winning Adrian Brody and Hillary Swank, who graced the finale of the prestigious film festival.

The opening and closing ceremonies of the festival seemed like a far cry from the mental images conjured of Egypt in the international media. Whatever room remains for improvement, Cage, Brody and Swank were already preceded by a list of Hollywood A-listers, singers and sports superstars, including Will Smith, Helen Hunt, Vanessa Williams, Luis Fonsi, Kourtney Kardashian, Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Michel Salgado, Ryan Giggs and Floyd Mayweather, among many others. A country’s image relies on how it presents itself to the world. Unfortunately, despite that a few ministries and authorities — such as the ministries of tourism and culture — are conducting significant efforts to promote Egypt as a tourist attraction, in many cases the fruitful results stem from individuals who took it upon themselves to do that.

A strange example of this is a video game that carries one of the most famous franchises, the “Assassins Creed” series. The latest iteration of the game, “Assassins Creed: Origins”, is set in Ancient Egypt during the turbulent period of Alexandrian rule and the reign of Queen Cleopatra. The game’s realistic graphics, action and scenery have captured the hearts and minds of millions of gamers across the world, becoming one of the best-selling games of the year. The player gets to explore ancient Egyptian cities in near full scale, including temples, palaces, houses and even natural attractions. The game developer, Ashraf Ismail of UBI soft, is a Canadian of Egyptian origin who along with his incredible team of developers paid greatest homage to Ancient Egyptian civilisation and revived worldwide interest in Egypt and its glorious touristic sights. Now, millions of gamers are looking forward for the day to visit the old nation and witness firsthand the beauty of Egypt beyond the twisted dark headlines and editorials of The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Guardian.

UTILISING EGYPTIAN SOFT POWER: For decades, Egyptian authorities have neglected Egypt’s soft power in face of organised anti-Egyptian propaganda by many international news media outlets. Even with the existence of great Egyptian figures worldwide in all areas of life, authorities didn’t connect with them seriously enough to produce the image desired for the Egyptian state. An example being footballer Mohamed Salah, whose amazing skills have secured a place for Egypt at the World Cup, and who is currently displaying great form in the English Premier League. His inspirational performance for Liverpool Football Club has created a cult-following for the talented Egyptian to the extent that British well-known sports journalist Dave O’Connel has tweeted: “I’m applying for Egyptian citizenship. Salah makes me wanna be an Egyptian.”

If this seems to be an exaggeration for some; it still manifests what one talented Egyptian can do to portray the true Egyptian spirit and strength.

Accordingly, it is up to all able-bodied Egyptians to assure that Egypt would be in the top list of dream holiday destinations, on par with Paris, London and others. Dubai has used its great marketing and public relations prowess to position the metropolis as a great destination for shopping, vacations and even filmmaking. The city provides facilities for movie producers to shoot movies in Dubai, garnering both tourism revenues and investment opportunities. That is exactly the same path that Egypt should be following in the upcoming period, instead of placing ridiculous hurdles on filmmakers attempting to shoot their movies in Egypt and ending up with them shooting in Morocco or Tunisia.

A modern and developed Egypt built on the basis of its ancient and great civilisation and multi-cultural strength is exactly the image that all Egyptians should be aspiring for.

It is high time to brush away the dust cast upon on the great nation by Islamists, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and radical Salafis, who attempted nothing but bringing the country centuries backwards. It is time to place Egypt in celebrity status among nations.

Original Post in Al Ahram Weekly:

http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/News/23203.aspx

Responding to the Sinai attack

Published in Al Ahram Weekly on 29/11/2017

Anger is running high following the Sinai mosque attack. But the army alone should be the one to act, writes Hany Ghoraba

For the deadliest terrorist attack on Egyptian soil to take place in Egypt after four years of successful campaigns against the Muslim Brotherhood and their affiliates, including  Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, is a sign that the war is not over and that the security apparatus and counter-terrorism authorities still have a long way to go before declaring North Sinai terrorism-free.

At least 305 were killed and 128 Egyptians injured in an unprecedented massacre that took place during Friday prayers on 24 November when a bomb exploded in Al-Rawda Mosque in North Sinai followed by gunshots fired from multiple terrorists killing most of the attendees in the mosque, including 27 children. The sheer vile evil of the attack is indescribable. There are no words in the English language or any other language to describe the demonic nature of these terrorists. President Al-Sisi, in short speech afterwards, vowed brutal retaliation against the terrorists and their supporters. From that moment, the Egyptian air forces backed by special forces are pounding terrorist hideouts and have managed to kill many of them in an ongoing operation.

As shocking as the attack was, the situation in North Sinai usually witnesses such operations whenever a court trial of some members of terrorist groups takes place. It is highly unlikely to be a coincidence that a trial for an Islamic State-affiliated cell was taking place the next day.

BREEDING GROUND FOR TERRORISM: Salafi preachers are still at work in Sinai mosques, inciting against the state and minorities, radicalising a sizeable portion of the population who became ready recruits for the likes of Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis. In February 2017, it was estimated that 120 families found themselves forced to depart their homes in the Sinai city of Al-Arish in fear of their lives as some Christians were killed in the governorate already. Moreover, Sufi shrines and places of worship were already subject to attack and vandalism.

The attacked mosque belongs to Al-Gariria Sufist order which was celebrating along with most Egyptians the birthday of the Prophet Mohamed. The Sufi doctrine mosque belonged to Al-Sawarka Bedouin tribe, which is among the most influential and supportive of the Egyptian state. They have been threatened and targeted by Islamic State-affiliates Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis for years.

The attack on innocent worshippers in Beir Al-Abd Mosque was bound to happen after Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups exhausted their desperate and insane attempts to defeat the Middle East’s most powerful army on its home turf. Accordingly, they shifted their vile activities towards unarmed innocent worshippers on one of the holiest days in Egypt. The attack may be prelude to a wave of similar attacks in places of worship. The Islamic State group and the Muslim Brotherhood have attacked places of worship before, such as churches, leaving hundreds of innocent casualties throughout recent years. Targeting mosques is an alteration of their vile tactics, mimicking those used in Syria, Iraq and Pakistan, in an attempt to cause a wave of anger against the government regarding its capacity to protect its citizens.

However, attacking a mosque that belonging to a large tribe such as Al-Sawarka will spark a different sort of reaction contrary to what terrorists are used to. As tribal laws of honour and vendetta are common in the North Sinai region, Al-Sawarka along with other allied tribes under the name the “Union of Sinai Tribes” have vowed to cleanse Sinai of every last takfiri terrorist in retaliation for the hideous terrorist attack on their families and tribesmen in the mosque. They issued a strong-worded statement 24 November, mentioning that the union is organising a major sweeping campaign in coordination with the Egyptian army to eradicate all Islamic State terrorists from Al-Barth region in North Sinai. Furthermore, the union statement mentioned that they will utilise their own tribal code in dealing with terrorists — there will be no prison or trials, but complete eradication, which is an alarming turn of events.

The fear remains that the situation in Sinai could be prelude to similar attacks on mosques and churches in Egypt, and accordingly pre-emptive strikes are key to eliminating threats before they materialise into massacres such as that seen at the Sinai mosque. But the tribe leaders must understand the importance of restraining themselves and letting the army finish the job, as an escalating tribal war of vendettas is the last thing the nation needs in such delicate times.

Original Post in Al Ahram Weekly :

http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/News/23137.aspx