Welcome to the Middle East Today

The Middle East has traditionally been important for the world economy. The Middle East situation today has an impact on all aspects of life in America and much of the world.

Only by understanding the motivations of the various factions in the Middle East can we hope to understand how to promote peace and national security for Middle Eastern nations, Europe, and the United States.

Apr 12, 2012

Arab Spring Revolution and Rise of Religious Sectarianism

The Spring Arab Revolution, which began in December 2010 in Tunisia and spread into Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, and Syria with its main secular objective, has to remove the corrupt authoritarian regimes from power. The only successful state so far is Tunisia, which is on the right track to achieve its goal. In Egypt, the revolution has been stopped by a counter-revolution conducted by the Egyptian Higher Military Council and the Muslim Brotherhood. Both have achieved their first objective, which was the removal of Mubarak and a dozen of his associates from power. The military council is still part of the previous corrupt regime and its head, General Tantawi, was the defense minister for more than 25 years. The military council did their best after the removal of Mubarak to stop further changes, as the younger generation was demanding complete reform. The Muslim Brotherhood, which is the largest and most organized political group, has aligned themselves with the military council to achieve their political strategy. They have won the majority of seats in parliament and are pushing hard to dominate political power in Egypt. The latest strategy was the nomination of K. Al-Shater for the position of Egypt’s president, despite the fact that they announced previously on several occasions that they would not seek that position. The Muslim Brotherhood may have changed their slogan from “Islam is the solution” to “Lying is the solution”. The latest news (4/7/2012) revealed that Mr. K. al-Shater has been prevented from entering the race for the position of president for legal reasons. Also, two other candidates, Mr. Abon Ismail and Mr. A. Nour are under investigation for Egyptian law.

Furthermore, the nomination of Mr. O. Suleiman for the position of president is an open invitation for the previous regime to return to power. Remember, Mr. Suleiman was appointed as vice president by Mubarak. This nomination is a big blow to the Egyptian revolution. Mr. Suleiman will not win the election unless the military council rigs the election. The next few months might bring the unexpected.

Libya and Yemen are still involved in local conflicts, despite the removal of their previous corrupt regimes. Hopefully they might be able to overcome it.

The Syrian and Bahraini conflicts are drifting away from the secular political objectives and the uprisings are turning into religious-sectarian struggles between the Muslim Sunnis and Muslim Shiaa.

In Bahrain, the Sunnis, who are less than one-third of the population, are dominating the government. While the Shiaa majority has less than one half of the seats in parliament, the Syrian situation is totally the opposite, where the Alawites (a Shiaa offshoot who are a minority and less than 20% of the population) are dominating the nearly 70% Sunni population. The uprising in both countries, Syrian and Bahrain, is causing a political split among the Muslims states in the Middle East.

Iran, Iraq, and the Hezbollah Shiaa of Lebanon, led by Hassan Nasserallah, are supporting the regime in Syria and the Shiaa uprising in Bahrain. It is of interest to notice that the Lebanese political party, which established a reputation as the champion of the suppressed in the Arab world, turned to support the Assad regime in Syria against the Syrian uprising.

Furthermore, Prime Minister N. al-Maliki, who leads the Iraqi government, blasted the Saudi and Qatari governments for their support of the Syrian uprising against Assad’s regime. Both the Saudi and Qatari populations are dominated by a Sunni majority. Nevertheless, the mass media in both countries blasted Prime Minister al-Maliki and called him an agent of the Iranian government, which is dominated by a Shiaa population. It is also of interest to observe that the al-Maliki government’s sectarian policy has already caused a disenfranchisement of the country’s Sunni minority. A rift between al-Maliki’s government and his Sunni political opponents casts light on a growing sectarian divide in Iraqi politics.

It is also of interest to hear al-Maliki’s support of the Shiaa uprising in Bahrain and condemnation of the Sunni uprising in Syria. Furthermore, al-Maliki made it clear that the fall of the Syrian regime will have negative consequences on the entire Middle East region. The al-Maliki political stand was also echoed by Iran, where religious and political leaders warned against interference in the internal affairs of Syria.

The Syrian uprising is causing tensions between Turkey and Iran. Iran has a Shiaa majority population while Turkey has a dominant Sunni population. Turkey has condemned the Syrian regime atrocity against its people and has been playing an important role in hosting an international meeting for the Syrian opposition group. Iran accused Turkey of being a supporter of the U.S. and Zionist Israel.

Iran has been the major source of military supply to Syria and its major political supporter. Furthermore, several Sunni Arab states, especially in the Gulf area, have already stated publicly that they are ready to supply the Syrian Free Army with weapons to help the removal of Bashar al-Assad and his government from power. The irony of such public support coming from the Saudi government is that this government discriminates and has been suppressing the Saudi Shiaa minority for hundreds of years.

The rise of religious sectarianism between the Sunni majority versus the Muslim Shiaa minority has been a major historical conflict in the Arab world in particular and the Islamic world in general for more than a thousand years.

Apr 7, 2012

The Dilemma of the Proposed New Egyptian Constitution

During the past few weeks, the battle for drafting the new Egyptian constitution has reached its peak. There are three major camps and each one has its own agenda in terms of what the constitution should or should not include.

The first camp is reflected in the Egyptian Higher Military Council with the most political power and influence. Their hidden agenda is to include in the new constitution their right to prevent the parliament and future government from interfering in their military budget and economic investments under the pretext of national security.

It was reported that the military council has issued a public warning that nobody should interfere in their economic projects, and that provisions should be included in the new constitution permitting that. Furthermore, no civil authority should manage any of their economic projects. The military council will not permit any civilian interference in their economic affairs. The members of the military council pointed out that the return from their investment, which is equal to 1.2 billion Egyptian pounds per year, is subject to control by the government accounting department. However, the army does not pay taxes on that income. The military council issued a warning that any pressure from the Egyptian parliament might lead to undesirable consequences. (Aljazeera.net, 3/30/2012). Keep in mind that the military has been in power for more than 60 years and are not going to give it up easily.

The second camp is reflected in the political Islamic parties, which includes the Freedom and Justice Party, the Nour-Salafi Party, and Al-Jamat il-Islamiyah. The three political Islamic groups have won more than 70% of the parliament seats. As a result of that victory, they are demanding to send 50 members from their parliament to join the 100-member committee that is supposed to draft the new constitution. The political Islamic group has already declared its belief that the new constitution should include, among other things, that Islam is the religion of the state and that Sharia is the fundamental source of its judicial law.

It was also reported that the military council has issued hidden threats to dissolve the parliament, which is illegal according to the Islamicists. However, the military council has the power to do so.

The third camp consists of all secular political parties, as well as the younger generation who were the vanguard of the Egyptian revolution. The group’s main objective is to draft a new constitution that will state that Egypt is an Arab Muslim country with a secular government that will be free and democratically elected. All citizens will be treated equally.

Nearly all independent and liberal members who were asked to serve on the committee to draft the new constitution have resigned in protest of the expected domination of the committee by Islamicists. Even the Alazhar University representative has joined the group in protest as well. The parliament has selected 50 members to join the committee, which will consist of 100 people who are expected to draft the constitution. Only 75 members of the committee showed up to the first meeting with the military council. No decision was made yet. (as of 3/24/2012)

So far, there has been no agreement among the three camps in terms of their views about the new constitution. Furthermore, all of the experts in constitutional law and other members of judicial knowledge have resigned from the committee, which is supposed to include 100 people that will be responsible for drafting the new constitution.

The Muslim Brotherhood (the Freedom and Justice Party) should learn from the Tunisian Model. The Tunisian Islamic Party “Al-Nahda” was the biggest winner in the election, but their leader, R. al-Khanoushi, compromised with other secular political parties in drafting their new constitution. The new Tunisian constitution kept the first part of the previous constitution, without any changes. It states that “Tunis is a free and independent state and Islam is its religion and Arabic is its language and its form of government is a republic”. No reference was made to Sharia law, and it should be noted that the literacy rate in Tunisia is around 85%, while the literacy rate in Egypt is nearly 62%. It has been mentioned that most of those who voted for the Islamic parties were illiterate. The Egyptian Freedom and Justice Islamic political party should learn from both the Tunisian and the Turkish Islamic political models.

Apr 3, 2012

The Dilemma of the Proposed New Egyptian Constitution

During the past few weeks, the battle for drafting the new Egyptian constitution has reached its peak. There are three major camps and each one has its own agenda in terms of what the constitution should or should not include.

The first camp is reflected in the Egyptian Higher Military Council with the most political power and influence. Their hidden agenda is to include in the new constitution their right to prevent the parliament and future government from interfering in their military budget and economic investments under the pretext of national security.

It was reported that the military council has issued a public warning that nobody should interfere in their economic projects, and that provisions should be included in the new constitution permitting that. Furthermore, no civil authority should manage any of their economic projects. The military council will not permit any civilian interference in their economic affairs. The members of the military council pointed out that the return from their investment, which is equal to 1.2 billion Egyptian pounds per year, is subject to control by the government accounting department. However, the army does not pay taxes on that income. The military council issued a warning that any pressure from the Egyptian parliament might lead to undesirable consequences. (Aljazeera.net, 3/30/2012). Keep in mind that the military has been in power for more than 60 years and are not going to give it up easily.

The second camp is reflected in the political Islamic parties, which includes the Justice and Freedom Party, the Nour-Salafi Party, and Al-Jamat il-Islamiyah. The three political Islamic groups have won more than 70% of the parliament seats. As a result of that victory, they are demanding to send 50 members from their parliament to join the 100-member committee that is supposed to draft the new constitution. The political Islamic group has already declared its belief that the new constitution should include, among other things, that Islam is the religion of the state and that Sharia is the fundamental source of its judicial law.

It was also reported that the military council has issued hidden threats to dissolve the parliament, which is illegal according to the Islamicists. However, the military council has the power to do so.

The third camp consists of all secular political parties, as well as the younger generation who were the vanguard of the Egyptian revolution. The group’s main objective is to draft a new constitution that will state that Egypt is an Arab Muslim country with a secular government that will be free and democratically elected. All citizens will be treated equally.

Nearly all independent and liberal members who were asked to serve on the committee to draft the new constitution have resigned in protest of the expected domination of the committee by Islamicists. Even the Alazhar representatives have joined the group in protest as well. The parliament has selected 50 members to join the committee, which will consist of 100 people who are expected to draft the constitution. Only 75 members of the committee showed up to the first meeting with the military council. No decision was made yet. (as of 3/24/2012)

So far, there has been no agreement among the three camps in terms of their views about the new constitution. Furthermore, experts in constitutional law and other members of judicial knowledge have resigned from the committee, which is supposed to include 100 people that will be responsible for drafting the new constitution.

The Muslim Brotherhood (the Freedom and Justice Party) should learn from the Tunisian Model. The Tunisian Islamic Party “Al-Nahda” was the biggest winner in the election, but their leader, R. al-Khanoushi, compromised with other secular political parties in drafting their new constitution. The new Tunisian constitution kept the first part of the previous constitution, without any changes. It states that “Tunis is a free and independent state and Islam is its religion and Arabic is its language and its form of government is a republic”. No reference was made to Sharia law, and it should be noted that the literacy rate in Tunisia is around 85%, while the literacy rate in Egypt is nearly 62%. It has been mentioned that most of those who voted for the Islamic parties were illiterate. The Egyptian Freedom and Justice Islamic political party should learn from both the Tunisian and the Turkish Islamic political models.

Apr 1, 2012

The Blunder of the Saudi Fatwa

Recently, the international press reported on a new fatwa issued by the Saudi Arabian Mufti, Shah Abed al-Aziz Al-Ishaih who called for the demolition of all Christian churches in the Gulf region and the prevention of the construction of new ones. (www.almasry-alyoum.com, 3/25/12).

Such an irresponsible religious fatwa by one of the highest Islamic religious officials in Saudi Arabia is a slap on the face for the Saudi king, who has been personally advocating a peaceful coexistence among the three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

The fatwa by the Saudi Mufti has created international protests by Christian religious leaders in several western countries and Russia.

As of March 30th, 2012, I have not read any official reactions from the Saudi government regarding the fatwa. Keep in mind that there are over 3 million Christian foreign workers in Qatar, the Emirates, Yemen, Oman, and Bahrain who are entitled to practice their religious beliefs freely.

The Saudi religious leader who issued the “fatwa” must be ignorant of the content of the Quran that refers positively to the followers of the holy books “Christians and Jews”.

Furthermore, such an irresponsible religious statement will further fuel the discrimination against Islam and Muslims, especially in the U.S. and other western countries. Every religion tends to have its own share of ignorant and fanatic people who will take advantage of any opportunity to discriminate against the members of other faiths. Such fanatic and un-enlightened people want to be the authority on earth to judge other people and ignore the basic teachings of their own religions, such as that God is the only judge.

It is unfortunate to say that throughout history in all of the three monotheistic religions, some religious leaders want to interpret religion the way they want it to be and not the way it is written in the holy books.

In democratic and open societies, the matter of constructing places of worship is the responsibility of the civil authorities and not the religious ones, especially in terms of building zoning codes and safety in addition to the practice of religion.

The Wahabi religious hierarchy in Saudi Arabia is living in total isolation in terms of the changes that have been taking place worldwide. They should learn a lesson from the influences of the Arab Islamic civilization on the world more than one thousand years ago. May the all mighty open the eyes of these fanatics in Saudi Arabia to see the light and protect Islam from their fanaticism.