Monday, July 07, 2014
Under Al-Sisi, A New Egypt?
Over at Gates of Vienna there an interesting piece by Ashraf Ramelah, founder and president of Voice of the Copts examining the new presidency of Abdel Al-Sisi in Egypt:
As the live airwaves of Egypt’s state TV deliver the Al Azhar lectures cautioning against apostasy and Atheism to all those carrying state-issued I.D. cards indicating Egypt’s official religion, Egypt’s newly installed president, Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi, foregoes public prayers and mosque attendance as the first modern leader ever to skip over this tradition within his initial days of office. Since the uprising of January 2011 against former President Mubarak — propelled by a platform of human rights, equal rights, secularism and religious freedom which in turn brought down Mubarak’s successor, Mohammed Morsi — more and more Egyptians have fled Islam by quietly claiming Atheism and enduring the harassment that comes with it.
Likewise, those converting to Christianity proclaim Atheism in order to avoid death threats. Now, however, unlike earlier times, Muslims are apt to keep their Islamic birth names rather than switch to Christian ones like David or Maria. Rejecting the practice of matching one’s name to one’s religion is seen as bold and dangerous — introducing Christianity into personal circles. But it is consistent with the outcome of the recent presidential election hoped and seen by some as a potentially fierce challenge to the theocratic state. Generally, the name-religion change means that the very personal matter of spiritual belief and departure from Islam and the mosque must remain on the sly to avoid the treachery embodied in religious juridical law.
Al Azhar University is one of the centers of Sunni Islamic learning and jurisprudence, founded in the 10th century by the Fatimids.It represents all four Sunni fiqhs (schools of sharia jurisprudence)and is a powerful influence in Egypt,where Sunni Islam is the official state relion and the laws are based on Sharia.
Is al-Sisi taking Al Ahzar on? I doubt it, but there seems to be an interesting balancing act going on.
President Al-Sisi was installed this month on June 8 in a swearing-in ceremony before Egypt’s Constitutional Court surrounded by representatives from many nations — heads of state and high-ranked envoys — including a member of the U.S. State Department. Almost three years after Egypt’s first uprising, a president enters office knowing that the 23 million votes cast for him (more than double cast for Morsi) were cast for a better future, and not, as in the past, for provisions of rice and oil. Egypt’s electorate, mindful of turmoil in Libya and Syria, chose Mr. Al-Sisi, a man with backbone; now Iraq’s ISIS (a terror faction working alongside Al Qaida) threatens Egypt and Al-Sisi, and Egyptians count on their former field marshal and backer of the freedom movement to defend Egypt’s borders and continue to extinguish internal terrorism.
This paragraph is key. Al-Sisi represents the Egyptian Army, the one government institution that can be said to actually function.While many Egyptians, especially in rural Egypt voted for Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood,it was to get rid of a corrupt government that wasn't doing very well at running the economy or feeding Egypt's 80 million people. Morsi's election was based on the Brotherhood's soup kitchens and social welfare apparatus that at least seemed to be working, and the promise to extend that perceived competence to Egypt's entire society. However,once Morsi took over, ordinary Egyptians realized that what the Brotherhood was really adept at was not economics or governing but tyranny and control.
Egyptians see al-Sisi as someone they can depend on the secure law and order and deal with Egypt's myriad problems, not the least of which are al-Qaeda backed factions on its borders with Libya and in Sinai, where they are working with their fellow Islamists in Hamas-ruled Gaza.
And Al-Sisi seems to be sending out signals that he likewise relies on them:
Sending shockwaves through the public sensibility giving hope to modern Egyptians, Al-Sisi’s actions on two occasions within three days’ time serve to enlighten Egyptians on how far he will go to prove his commitment to the people. After addressing citizens for the first time as president, Al-Sisi bicycled through the Heliopolis section of Cairo. Sporting white sneakers, tennis shirt and no helmet, Al-Sisi led a pack of more than three thousand students (military and police academy) through the city’s neighborhoods. Soft-spoken and even-toned, more priestly than charismatic, Al-Sisi thanked all participants for accompanying him.
The spectacle of a marathon-style bike ride — where the president was open and vulnerable — only endeared him more to his admirers. The oddity and simplicity of the event was anything but gimmicky. His genuineness, the closeness, his courage and oneness with the people projected a plain and genuinely humble man. He was believable when he said, “I am one like you. I am not above you. Any identity that tries to damage this country I will not let come close to you to harm you. I will never allow that to happen.”
That's very different from the Egyptian's people's relationship with any of their modern rulers, where iron-clad security and distancing has always been the rule, especially since the Muslim Brotherhood had Anwar Sadat assassinated.
And there are even signs that al-Sisi may be working towards liberating and utilizing the half of Egypt's population that has been religiously and culturally repressed..its women:
Two days before biking through city streets, Al-Sisi visited the hospital bed of a rape victim. The president personally apologized for her tragedy and handed her a bouquet of red roses. What does Al-Sisi’s visit mean in a country where rape is seen as a woman’s fault and where lax laws or punitive laws substantiate this cultural understanding? President Al-Sisi indicates that Egypt’s epidemic of sexual assaults on women in the protest squares and elsewhere is unacceptable and laws must change to act as deterrent to this crime. According to reports, Al-Sisi attended the victim’s bedside and expressed to the woman and her mother who had been forced to watch her daughter’s gang-rape and now stood by her side, “I am personally apologizing to you for what happened, and I apologize to all Egyptian women. They [the government, the police and the courts] will do everything to prevent such things from happening again.”
The article doesn't mention it, but the women in question were Coptic Christians. Which may be another milestone.
Will Al-Sisi totally change Egypt? No. That would be too large a task for any one man and a lot of the problems are culturally rooted. But he could become a figure for Egyptians to rally around to do quite a bit of the heavy lifting themselves.
Here's one recommendation, if al-Sissi and the Egyptians have the courage. The Egyptian Army is already working with the IDF to combat Islamist terrorism in Sinai and to keep Hamas from getting heavy weapons. Discarding Egypt's historical anti-Semitism and reaching out to Israel, a nation far advanced in irrigation, technology, desalination, healthcare and agriculture would make life a lot better for the Egyptian people and change Egypt almost beyond recognition.
For real help in solving the problems Egypt faces, a solution could be waiting just across the border.