Egypt’s prime minister joins the conspiracy theorists

October 12, 2011

* Earlier this year, during the Tahrir Square demonstrations against Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian military was widely praised for not using force to crush the protests and keep Mubarak in power. Then-U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, for example, declared that Egypt’s military had “conducted itself in exemplary fashion” and “made a contribution to the evolution of democracy.” Popular, too, was the notion that the uprising could catalyze a new era of interfaith solidarity. “Egypt’s religious tensions have been set aside,” reported the BBC in February, “as the country’s Muslims and Christians join forces at anti-government protests.”

* Despite the fact that on Sunday there was another one-sided massacre of Christians, the BBC and other media again misled audiences with their talk of “clashes” between Christians and Muslims.

***

Thank you to all the websites that have linked to this dispatch, for example, Toby Young at the (London) Daily Telegraph.

 

An Egyptian Christian woman mourns at the coffin of Mina Demian, who was killed on Sunday


An Egyptian Christian holds a cross over the coffins of some of the Copts killed

 

CONTENTS

1. Egypt’s Prime Minister joins the conspiracy theorists
2. Videos of Sunday’s violence
3. “The Cairo pogrom” (By Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe, Oct. 12, 2011)
4. “Islam’s war on the Cross” (By Con Coughlin, Daily Telegraph, Oct. 12, 2011)
5. “Never have so few been blamed for so much by so many” (Asia Times, Oct. 12, 2011)


EGYPT’S PRIME MINISTER JOINS THE CONSPIRACY THEORISTS

[Note by Tom Gross]

This is the latest in an occasional series of dispatches on Egypt

After tens of thousands of Egyptian Jews were driven out of Egypt last century (and in some cases killed), Egypt’s eight million Christian Copts are now the country’s oldest surviving indigenous faith, having existed there for 19 centuries – six centuries before Islam was created in what is now neighboring Saudi Arabia.

Following the overthrow of President Mubarak earlier this year, things have once again become much worse for Egypt’s Copts, with churches, shops and homes set ablaze in recent weeks.

Thousands of Copts have fled the country, and Egyptian communities in northern Europe, North America and Australia are now disproportionately Christian.

Below I attach three articles on the situation (all written by subscribers to this list). Sunday’s death toll has now risen to 26, mainly Christians, with hundreds wounded. Bands of Muslim men armed with sticks, swords and guns roamed the streets on Sunday looking for Christians to attack. In some cases, they pulled men and women suspected of being Christian out of cars and taxis. Police and army troops did not intervene and in some cases joined in. In other cases, military vehicles were deliberately driven at high speed into groups of Christians.

Joining the conspiracy theorists following Sunday’s massacre, Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf said “What’s happening is not sectarian tension. There are hidden hands involved,” absurdly suggesting the Jews and/or Americans may be to blame.

On another note, in the eight months since Mubarak’s ouster, the military government has tried and convicted over 12,000 Egyptian civilians in military tribunals, often after using torture to extract confessions. This is more than in the entire 30 years of Mubarak’s rule.

-- Tom Gross

 

VIDEOS OF SUNDAY’S VIOLENCE

Warning: Some of the pictures in the second video are gruesome.





ARTICLES

HAVE YOU EVER SEEN A POGROM?

The Cairo pogrom
By Jeff Jacoby
The Boston Globe
October 12, 2011

Have you ever seen a pogrom? Sarah Carr has.

“The Coptic Hospital tried its best to deal with the sudden influx of casualties,” wrote Carr, a Cairo-based journalist and blogger, in her firsthand account [www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/503496] of Sunday’s deadly attack on Christian protesters by the Egyptian military. “Its floors were sticky with blood and there was barely room to move among the wounded.”

In one room of the hospital morgue Carr counted the bodies of 12 people, some of whom had been killed when soldiers in armored personnel vehicles charged the crowd, firing at random and crushing the protesters they ran over. One of the victims was “a man whose face was contorted into an impossible expression. A priest . . . showed me the remains of the man’s skull and parts of his brain. He too had been crushed.”

What happened in Egypt on Sunday was a massacre. Government security forces assaulted Coptic Christians as they marched peacefully to the headquarters of the state TV network. They were protesting the recent burning of St. George’s, a Coptic church in the Upper Egypt village of El-Marinab. Yet broadcasters loyal to the ruling military junta exhorted “honorable Egyptians” to help the army put down the protests. “Soon afterward, bands of young men armed with sticks, rocks, swords, and firebombs began to roam central Cairo, attacking Christians,” the Associated Press reported. “Troops and riot police did not intervene.” Graphic video of the violence was quickly uploaded to the Internet. So were even more graphic images of the murdered protesters.

Back during the Tahrir Square demonstrations against strongman Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian military was widely praised for not using force to crush the protests and keep Mubarak in power. Then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, for example, declared that Egypt’s military had “conducted itself in exemplary fashion” and “made a contribution to the evolution of democracy.” Popular, too, was the notion that the uprising could catalyze a new era of interfaith solidarity. “Egypt’s religious tensions have been set aside,” reported the BBC in February, “as the country’s Muslims and Christians join forces at anti-government protests.”

But the “spirit of Tahrir Square” has ushered in neither liberal democracy nor a rebirth of tolerance for Egypt’s ancient but beleaguered Christian minority.

One of the country’s leading liberal reformers, Ayman Nour, said Monday that with the latest bloodshed, the military has lost whatever goodwill it accrued last spring. It’s hard to believe that the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces cares. In the eight months since Mubarak’s ouster, the military has tried and convicted some 12,000 Egyptian civilians in military tribunals, often after using torture to extract confessions. The country’s hated emergency laws, which allow suspects to be detained without charge, not only remain in force, but have been expanded to cover offenses as vague as “spreading rumors” or “blocking traffic.” And just as Mubarak did, the generals insist that government repression is all that stands between Egypt and social chaos.

As for Egypt’s Coptic Christians, their plight has gone from bad to worse. Post-Mubarak Egypt has seen “an explosion of violence against the Coptic Christian community,” the international news channel France24 was reporting as far back as May. “Anger has flared up into deadly riots, and houses, shops, and churches have been set ablaze.”

With Islamist hardliners growing increasingly influential, hate crimes against Christians routinely go unpunished. Copts, who represent a tenth of Egypt’s population, are subjected to appalling humiliations. The mob that destroyed St. George’s had first demanded that the church be stripped of its crosses and bells; after the Christians yielded to that demand, local Muslims insisted that the church dome be removed as well. For several weeks, Copts in El-Marinab were literally besieged, forbidden to leave their homes or buy food unless they agreed to mutilate their nearly century-old house of worship. On September 30, Muslim thugs set fire to the church and demolished its dome, pillars, and walls. For good measure, they also burned a Coptic-owned shop and four homes.

Many Copts are choosing to leave Egypt, rather than live under this intensifying anti-Christian persecution. The Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organizations calculated last month that more than 90,000 Christians have fled the country since March 2011. At that rate, estimated human-rights advocate Naguib Gabriel, one-third of Egypt’s Coptic population will have vanished within a decade.

Or maybe sooner – maybe much sooner – if Sunday’s anti-Christian pogrom is a sign of things to come.

 

EGYPT’S MOVE TO DEMOCRACY UNDER THREAT

Islam’s war on the Cross: Egypt’s move to democracy under threat after latest attack on Coptic community
By Con Coughlin
The Daily Telegraph (London)
October 11, 2011

In the 19 or so centuries since Christianity first took root in Egypt, the ritual of mourning has become an all-too-familiar experience for the majority of the country’s Coptic community. Egypt’s eight million Copts may claim to be their nation’s oldest surviving indigenous faith, but that has not spared them from prolonged periods of persecution, most recently at the hands of Islamist militants.

In many respects, the tone was set for nearly two millennia of oppression of the Copts, one of the world’s oldest Christian sects, by the martyrdom of St Mark the Evangelist, the disciple who established the Christian faith in Alexandria just a few years after the ascension of Christ.

The establishment of a new religion was bitterly resented by the city’s pagan population, who feared it would turn Alexandrians away from the worship of their traditional gods. They exacted their revenge on Easter Monday in 68 AD when Roman soldiers put a rope around St Mark’s neck and dragged him through the streets of Alexandria until he was dead.

These days the methods used to persecute Egypt’s Copts might not be so primitive, but their overall effect is no less barbaric. During the latest outbreak of Coptic-related violence in Cairo on Sunday night, several Copts are reported to have been crushed to death by the tracks of an armoured military vehicle that ploughed into a group of protesters as they sang hymns and held aloft the Cross.

The roots of the current wave of anti-Coptic violence are murky. At first it was assumed that Islamist militants, who have waged a vicious campaign of intimidation, sparked the unrest by burning down a church in the southern province of Aswan. This attack was the latest in a series of clashes between Muslims and Christians, which began when 21 worshippers were killed as they left mass at a Coptic church in Alexandria on New Year’s Eve.

Thousands of Copts descended on the state TV building in Cairo on Sunday to protest against what many Christians regard as the growing strength of ultra-conservative Islamists since the overthrow of former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak in February. But the uncompromising response of the Egyptian authorities, which resulted in government forces firing live rounds at stone-throwing protesters, has prompted accusations that the army, which has interim control of the country, is deliberately fostering sectarian hatred in order to disguise its own plans to maintain control of the country.

Following the high-profile protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square earlier this year – during which Muslim and Coptic protesters joined forces to demand the overthrow of President Mubarak – the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces assumed responsibility for creating a modern, pluralistic democratic state following decades of authoritarian rule.

But the delays that have hindered plans to hold fresh parliamentary and presidential elections – they are now due to start at the end of next month – have led many to conclude that the military, which effectively ran the country during the Mubarak era, has no real interest in establishing democratic institutions. And what better way to abort the transition from military to democratic rule than to instigate nationwide sectarian violence?

As one Coptic protester commented in Cairo yesterday: “This is not about Muslim-Christian hatred. It is about the army trying to start a civil conflict for its own reasons, and we all know what those reasons are.”

Certainly the vitriolic language used by state-controlled broadcasters during coverage of the protests undermined the interim government’s claim to represent the interests of all Egyptians, Christians and Muslims alike. Newsreaders appealed for “honest Egyptians” to protect their soldiers against Christian “mobs”, while the Copts were denounced as “sons of dogs”, despite the fact many moderate Muslims, who want Egypt to be free of sectarian divisions, supported the protesters.

But then Egypt’s Copts are used to state-sponsored persecution. Tens of thousands of Copts fled the country in the 1950s after Colonel Gamal Abdul Nasser nationalised Egypt’s private businesses, most of which were owned by Christians. Today it is estimated that two out of three Egyptians living in Britain are from Christian families. Egyptian communities in northern Europe, North America and Australia are also disproportionately Christian.

Nor is the persecution of religious minorities in the Middle East confined to Egypt’s Copts. One of the more alarming trends of recent years has been the violent persecution of Christians throughout the region.

In Iraq, for example, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003 was supposed to herald a new era of sectarian harmony. Instead a wave of al-Qaeda-related attacks has had a devastating impact on Iraq’s once-thriving Christian community, which numbered around 1.4 million 10 years ago, but has now declined to around 400,000.

As in Egypt, the exodus was hastened by a series of grotesque attacks on Iraqi churches, the worst of which was the suicide bomb attack on the Church of our Salvation in Baghdad at the end of last year, which killed 58 people. To mark their contempt for the Christian faith, the al-Qaeda bombers blew themselves up on the altar, together with a child hostage.

Not all the persecution of Christian minorities is as violent as that experienced in Iraq, but the refusal of even pro-Western countries such as Saudi Arabia to tolerate any expression of Christianity has forced believers to practise their faith in private. There are an estimated one million Catholics in Saudi Arabia, most of them guest-workers from the Philippines, but they risk immediate expulsion if they are found observing their religion.

In Iran, meanwhile, the persecution of Christians that began with the 1979 Islamic revolution resulted in a Christian pastor being sentenced to death in the provincial town of Rasht earlier this month for refusing to renounce his faith. The ayatollahs’ refusal to countenance any other faith has also resulted in an upsurge in the persecution of the country’s Baha’i sect, the world’s youngest monotheistic faith.

Much of the blame for the deterioration in relations between Islam and Christianity in the region can be laid at the door of the growing legions of Islamist militants who refuse to acknowledge the other main monotheistic faiths. They point to the comment made by the Prophet himself on his deathbed, when he instructed his followers that only one faith – Islam – could be tolerated in Arabia.

This interpretation is disputed by moderate Muslims – such as those who joined the Copts for Sunday night’s protest in Cairo – who argue that Islam is a tolerant faith, which allows for peaceful co-existence with other religions.

Unfortunately for Christians in the Middle East, this is increasingly the minority view among the region’s ruling elites, which are no longer prepared to recognise basic rights of their citizens, such as freedom of worship.

Arguably the most extreme example of this intolerance has been seen in Sudan, where decades of mistreatment of non-Muslims by the conservative Islamic government in Khartoum resulted earlier this year in the secession of the country’s Christian population to form South Sudan. The new state, which is the size of France but has just 38 miles of paved roads, is the world’s poorest, but simply to be free of the tyranny of their former Islamic rulers is reward enough for the new country’s four million Christian inhabitants.

The break-up of neighbouring Sudan will serve as a warning to the military authorities in Cairo, who should be mindful of St Mark’s remark that “Every affliction tests our will”. The current wave of persecution directed at Egypt’s Coptic community constitutes not only a major test of the interim government’s ability to maintain order, but also of its desire to establish a government that represents the interests of all Egyptians, irrespective of their creed.

 

HERE’S YOUR FINAL EXAM QUESTION IN MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES

Never have so few been blamed for so much by so many
By Spengler
Asia Times
October 12, 2011

Here’s your final exam question in Middle Eastern studies:

A mass of Coptic Christians marches through Cairo to protest the military government’s failure to protect them from Muslim radicals. They are attacked by stone-throwing, club-wielding rowdies. Armed forces security personnel intervene, and the Copts fight it out with the soldiers, with two dozen dead and scores injured on both sides. Who is to blame?

The full credit answer is: Benjamin Netanyahu, for building apartments in Jerusalem. If that’s not what you wrote, don’t blame me if you can’t get a job at the New York Times.

Rarely in the course of human events have so few been blamed for so much by so many. There are precedents, for example, when Adolf Hitler claimed that a Jewish “stab in the back” lost World War I for Germany. The notion that the problems of three hundred million Arabs revolve around the governance of a few million Palestinians has the same order of credibility.

Israeli-Palestinian negotiations always presumed that Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan would remain intact - that Egypt would interdict terrorists infiltrating Israel from the Sinai, stop weapons from reaching Hamas in Gaza, and otherwise fill its obligations. But Egypt is dissolving. The Egyptian army crossed a red line on October 9, according to Egyptian blogger Issander al-Armani. [1] Soldiers attacked Coptic demonstrators who were demanding protection from the army, the military not only shut down news coverage of the massacre, but used state television to call on Egyptian Muslims to “defend the army from the Copts”.

On September 19, the Egyptian army showed that it could not protect Israel’s embassy in Cairo; on October 9, it showed itself ready to murder members of the country’s Christian minority. Egypt is dissolving because it can’t feed itself, and it can’t feed itself because it is going bankrupt. Former International Atomic Energy chief Mohamed ElBaradei, now a candidate for Egypt’s presidency, warned last week that Egypt would run out of money within months, according to the English-language edition of Almasry Alroum:

“Egypt might face bankruptcy within six months, Egyptian reform advocate and presidential hopeful Mohamed ElBaradei warned on Monday. During a meeting with labor leaders at the Center for Trade Unions and Workers Services (CTUWS) in Helwan, south of Cairo, ElBaradei attacked the ‘failing’ policies of Egypt’s ruling military council. He criticized the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) for what he called incompetence and lack of experience, saying that experienced government officials don’t have enough power. Egypt is currently relying on its cash reserve with no gross domestic product, he said [2].”

ElBaradei, the undeserved winner of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize (he helped Iran cover its tracks en route to enriching uranium to near weapons grade), nonetheless is the closest thing to a responsible figure in Egyptian politics. His warning that Egypt is burning its cash reserves is accurate. On October 5, the Financial Times reported that Egypt’s foreign exchange reserves had fallen from $35 billion in January to only $19.4 billion, [3] enough to cover less than five months’ worth of imports.

The central bank had reported $25 billion of reserves in August, [4] so the monthly decline appears to be around $6 billion; it is hard to tell precisely because the Egyptian central bank publishes contradictory data about its reserve position. The earlier $25 billion figure might have counted loans expected from the Gulf states, but as the FT explains, “Only $500m of some $7bn of promised aid from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have arrived so far.”

Almost 60% of Egyptians live in rural areas, yet the country imports half its caloric consumption and spends $5.5 billion a year in food subsidies. When it runs out of money, millions will starve. Many already are hungry. The state-controlled newspaper al-Dostour warned on October 9 that an “insane” increase in the price of food - up 80% so far this year - has left citizens “screaming”. [5]

The newspaper added that the “current state of lawlessness has left merchants and businesses with no supervision”, leading to hoarding, price-gouging and shortages. This was evident at the outset of the uprisings, [6] and a breakdown of the country’s food distribution system was evident by May, as I wrote at the time. [7]

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces appears baffled. Its leader, Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, does not appear in public. Previously he ran Egypt’s military industries. Prime Minister Essam Sharaf was briefly transportation minister, having taught highway engineering for most of his career.

He has spoken publicly about only one topic of political importance, namely the peace treaty with Israel, which he proposes to change, as he told Turkish television on October 8. [8] Egypt’s leaders face a crisis brewing for two generations in which the Egyptian government kept half of its population illiterate and mired in rural poverty as an instrument of social control. As ElBaradei warns, they have no idea what they are doing.

Syria, meanwhile, is in civil war, which may turn into a proxy war between the Sunni powers and Iran. And Iraq’s leader Nuri al-Maliki, the leader of the supposed Iraqi democracy we spent a trillion dollars and 4,000 lives to put in place, is backing the Bashar al-Assad regime in alliance with Iran. [9]

Turkey, the self-styled rising power in the region, is about to get its come-uppance in the form of a nasty economic downturn. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s belligerence has risen in inverse proportion to the market price of the Turkish lira:

I warned in August of the “instant obsolescence of the Turkish model” as the credit bubble engineered by the ruling party explodes. [10] Markets have already anticipated a sudden turnaround in the Turkish economy. The lira fell by a quarter between November 2010 and September 2011, making it the world’s worst-performing emerging market currency. The stock market has fallen in dollar terms by 40%, making Turkey the worst performer after Egypt among all the markets in the MSCI Tradable Index during 2011.

A hard landing for Turkey has now become the Wall Street consensus. “Goldman Sachs Group Inc added Garanti to its focus sell list, saying the stock’s gain last month was based on optimistic macroeconomic assumptions that don’t account for a ‘relatively high probability’ of a recession,” Bloomberg News [11] reported on October 6.

The Russian brokerage Renaissance Capital [12] and my own firm, Macrostrategy LLC [13] have published warnings about the Turkish banking system, which has increased lending at a 40% annual rate for the past couple of years.

In short, there is not a patch of ground in Israel’s proximity that is not roiling and boiling with political and economic turmoil. Echoing in the ears of Israel’s leaders are the words of Isaiah (57:20-21), which Jews around the world read on October 8 on the Day of Atonement: “The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.”

Spengler’s corollary states: Neither is there peace to the stupid. We have Nicholas Kristof writing in the October 6 New York Times: “Now it is Israel that is endangered most by its leaders and maximalist stance. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is isolating his country, and, to be blunt, his hard line on settlements seems like a national suicide policy. Nothing is more corrosive than Israel’s growth of settlements because they erode hope of a peace agreement in the future.”

Kristof is talking about the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, which was undeveloped land before 1967 and which every conceivable peace agreement would assign to Israel.

Nothing will appease the liberals, because if liberal social engineering can’t fix the problems of the Middle East, the world will have no need of liberals. The New York Times will demand [14] that Israel concede and apologize, as surely as a gumball will roll out of the machine when I crank in a quarter. Existential need trumps rationality, most of all among the self-styled priesthood of rationality.

For extra credit, class: If 15 million Egyptians starve to death, and all the Copts are murdered, and Syria plunges into a genocidal civil war, and Turkey kills another 40,000 Kurds, and the Iraqi Shi’ites and Iraqi Sunnis all fight to the death, whose fault will it be?

I bet you guessed right this time. Israel’s, for building apartments in Gilo.

***

For footnotes referred to in this article, see: www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/MJ12Ak02.html


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.