* Egypt’s president promises to act after a rash of sexual assaults occur during Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday
* The holiday features celebrations, crowded public squares – and widespread harassment of women by men
* Activist Azza Suleiman told Al-Ahram newspaper that her two sons were assaulted in downtown Cairo during the holiday while trying to protect a group of foreigners, while police stood by watching
* Earlier this month, a correspondent for France 24 TV was “savagely attacked” after being seized by a crowd, the network said
* Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood says the new constitution must be based on Sharia law (in contradiction to all the Western media pundits in the NY Times and elsewhere who said this would never be the case)
* Associated Press: “Many Egyptians fear the implementation of Islamic penal code as they watch neighboring Saudi Arabia punishing people with execution, usually with a sword, cutting off limbs or stoning to death”
* Jordan’s King Abdullah orders the release of a man convicted of involvement in the murder of a U.S. diplomat
* 11-year-old boy latest Christian to be killed in Pakistan for his faith. Daily Telegraph: “Police said his lips and nose had been sliced off, his stomach removed and there was evidence that his legs had been mutilated too”
I attach a selection of recent articles. I apologize for the fact that these pieces are generally very depressing. The next two dispatches will include some lighter, human interest articles.
Meanwhile this “Spot the difference: Obama vs. Romney video” may amuse you.
-- Tom Gross
(You can comment on this dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please also press “Like” on that page.)
1.“Egypt’s sexual assaults intensify over Eid al-Adha holiday” (Associated Press, Oct. 31, 2012)
2. “Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood says new constitution must be based on Islamic Sharia law” (AP / Washington Post, Oct. 31, 2012)
3. “Hurricane Sandy a ‘divine slap on the face of U.S. arrogance,’ Toronto Islamist website declares” (National Post, Canada, Oct. 30, 2012)
4. “Jordan to free man involved in US diplomat murder” (AFP / Al Ahram, Oct. 31 2012
5. “Christians demand separate province in Pakistan to protect them from persecution” (Daily Telegraph, London)
6. “11-year-old Christian boy tortured and killed in Pakistan” (Daily Telegraph, London)
7. “A nation's young minds under attack” (By Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times, Oct. 27, 2012)
EGYPT’S SEXUAL ASSAULTS INTENSIFY OVER HOLIDAY
Egypt’s sexual assaults intensify over holiday
Eid al-Adha features celebrations, crowded public squares - and widespread harassment of women by men.
October 31, 2012
CAIRO - Egypt’s president has acknowledged the widespread problem of sexual harassment in his country, ordering his interior minister to investigate a rash of assaults during the weekend’s Muslim holiday.
Mohammed Morsi acted after his government reported 735 police complaints about sexual harassment over the four-day Eid al-Adha holiday, which ended Monday.
In a statement, Morsi stressed the need to fight “all phenomena of moral chaos and abuses, especially harassment in Egyptian streets.”
The holiday features celebrations, crowded public squares - and widespread harassment of women by men.
Rights activists have faulted Morsi’s Islamist government for failing to take action against the wave of sexual assaults. Earlier this month, about 200 activists gathered outside the presidential palace, chanting slogans against Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood and pressing for a law to criminalize harassment. Morsi’s order appeared to be an attempt to counter the charges.
Complaints about the problem, which has long been a feature of Egypt’s society, gained prominence during last year’s popular uprising that unseated longtime President Hosni Mubarak. Female activists and reporters told of assaults by men in Tahrir Square, the focus of the mass protests.
Activists say that little, if anything, has changed.
Activist Azza Suleiman told the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper that her two sons were assaulted in downtown Cairo during the holiday while trying to protect a group of foreigners, while police stood by watching. She criticized the police and the Interior Ministry for failing to secure the crowded streets.
Tahrir Square has been the scene of a number of assaults against women in the aftermath of the revolution. Earlier this month, a correspondent for France 24 TV was “savagely attacked” after being seized by a crowd, the network said.
Hani Henry, a psychology professor at the American University in Cairo, said the widespread notion that women should dress more conservatively to reduce harassment is one of the biggest impediments to addressing the issue.
“There’s a ‘blaming-the-victim’ mentality,” Hany said. He predicted that addressing sexual harassment could be more difficult now that Islamists have emerged as the strongest political power.
EGYPT’S MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD SAYS NEW CONSTITUTION MUST BE BASED ON SHARIA LAW
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood says new constitution must be based on Islamic Sharia law
By Associated Press (as carried in the Washington Post)
October 31, 2012
CAIRO — Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood said Wednesday it is committed to enshrining Islamic Sharia law as the main source of a new constitution, seeking to mollify ultraconservative Islamists who accuse the group of not advocating strongly enough for Islamic rule.
Islamic influence in Egypt’s governance is the most inflammatory issue following last year’s ousting of longtime President Hosni Mubarak. Islamists have swept elections since then, and the Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi is the president — but the Brotherhood faces criticism from even more stringent Islamists as much as from liberals.
Ultraconservatives known as Salafis have pushed for firm language in the new constitution to ensure implementation of Sharia, even calling for demonstrations on Friday. Top Salafi clerics threatened to rally voters against the constitution when it is put to a vote in a referendum before end of this year, if their demands are not met.
Together, Salafis and the Brotherhood dominate the 100-member assembly writing the new constitution.
The controversy centers on the phrasing of key articles that expand the role of Islamic Sharia laws.
The previous constitution said “the principles of Sharia” are the basis of law in Egypt. Liberals favored such phrasing, which they say allows greater leeway, meaning legislation can meet the broad ideas of Islam.
Salafis wanted that changed to “the rulings of Sharia,” implying Egypt’s laws would have to abide by the strict letter of what clerics say is meant in Islamic law.
Liberals fear that could bring heavy restrictions on many rights and would forge a new role for religious scholars similar to clerical rule in Iran.
In its statement, the Muslim Brotherhood appeared to try to accommodate liberals’ demands by keeping the phrase “principles of Sharia,” while adding an article explaining what that means: the principles would include “the juristic rules” of Sharia agreed upon by scholars and the “accepted sources” of the Quran’s interpretation.
Yousseri Hamad, spokesman of Al-Nour party, the most popular political arm of the Salafi movement, commented on the phrasing by saying, “this satisfies us and we agree on it.”
Critics fear such wording could make it easier for hard-liners to challenge laws they feel don’t adhere to Sharia and empower legislators to pass laws that could impose heavy-handed limits on freedoms of expression, worship, faith and other civil liberties.
The Muslim Brotherhood repeated its stance that the Sharia penal code should not be implemented for now by saying that the penal code determines punishment according to the crime after “preparing society first to understand Sharia and accept it.” However, it is not clear who would decide on when society would be ready for Sharia punishment for crimes, and such vague phrases spark more concerns.
Many Egyptians fear the implementation of Islamic penal code as they watch neighboring Saudi Arabia punishing people convicted of murder, drug trafficking, rape, adultery and armed robbery with execution, usually with a sword, cutting off limbs or stoning to death.
The Brotherhood also defended its hard-line position on an article related to women rights.
The proposed article, supported by the Brotherhood and Salafis, states that “women are equal to men without violating the laws of Islamic Sharia.” Liberals and rights advocates fear that would enable Islamist legislators to pass laws that violate women’s rights, such as lowering the age of marriage or permitting female genital mutilation.
A new constitution would be a key step in establishing a democracy to replace the Mubarak’s regime, ousted last year in an uprising led by progressive, secular activists.
But in the nearly 20 months since then, Islamists have emerged as the strongest political force. Morsi was elected president after the Brotherhood and the Salafis swept parliamentary elections, leaving the liberals with minimal representation. The parliament was later disbanded.
The panel drafting the constitution said it could be ready for public discussion as early as the first half of November. The new constitution then would have to be put to a public referendum within 30 days.
HURRICANE SANDY A “DIVINE SLAP ON THE FACE OF U.S. ARROGANCE”
Hurricane Sandy a ‘divine slap on the face of U.S. arrogance,’ Toronto Islamist website declares
By Stewart Bell
The National Post (Canada)
October 30, 2012
A Toronto website that calls itself the “newsmagazine of the Islamic movement” has described the hurricane battering the northeast U.S. a “divine slap.”
In an un-bylined post, Crescent International, which often promotes the worldview of Iran’s repressive regime, called Hurricane Sandy “a divine slap on the face of arrogance.”
The website is run by the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought. Zafar Bangash, director of the institute, said Tuesday he did not write the post, headlined: “Hurricane Sandy delivers slap on US face.”
“We have a number of bloggers that put on stuff on our website but that particular writer perhaps felt that it was a slap on the face of the U.S. government and its policies,” he said.
Asked to elaborate, Mr. Bangash, who was reached at the Islamic Society of York Region, the federally registered charity that lists him as a director, said he did not believe he would be quoted accurately and hung up.
The post also lamented that Ohio women would be voting in next week’s U.S. presidential election, saying “the fact that Ohio housewives will determine who should occupy the White House to decide on such weighty issues as dealing with the Middle East, Iran’s nuclear program or U.S. relations with Russia is quite amusing, and revealing.
“This is what American democracy is all about. But for now, Hurricane Sandy, as a divine slap on the face of arrogance, is smashing its way through the Eastern Coast of the U.S.”
JORDAN TO FREE MAN INVOLVED IN US DIPLOMAT MURDER
Jordan to free man involved in US diplomat murder
King Abdullah of Jordan ordered six Al-Qaeda-linked militants free, one of whom had been convicted in connection with the 2002 murder of US diplomat
AFP (Agence France Presse) (as carried in the Egyptian publication Al Ahram)
October 31 2012
A Jordanian convicted in connection with the 2002 murder of a US diplomat in the kingdom was among six Al-Qaeda-linked militants that King Abdullah on Wednesday ordered freed.
“The king has instructed the government to take the necessary legal measures to free the six convicts,” the palace said, naming the men without giving details.
Salafists, who espouse an austere form of Sunni Islam, have repeatedly held streets demonstrations to demand the release of their relatives.
The palace did not elaborate on its reasons for freeing the prisoners.
One of them is Mohammad Issa Dumos, who was sentenced for 15 years in prison for his role in the assassination of USAID official Laurence Foley, shot at close range outside his Amman home.
The remaining five are in jail for plotting to attack former intelligence officers in Jordan, planning jihad against foreign troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and funding terror activities.
“We welcome the king’s instruction,” Salafist leader Mohammed Shalabi, known as Abu Sayyaf, told AFP.
“Fifty members of the Salafist movement are detained in Jordan. The government has promised us to free all of them.”
CHRISTIANS DEMAND SEPARATE PROVINCE IN PAKISTAN TO PROTECT THEM FROM PERSECUTION
Christians demand separate province in Pakistan to protect them from persecution
Pakistan’s embattled Christian minority have launched a campaign for a separate province to protect them from persecution after a wave of brutal attacks and arrests for blasphemy
In 2009, at least seven Christians were burned to death in an attack in Punjab province after reports of the desecration of the Koran
By Rob Crilly, Islamabad
Daily Telegraph (London)
Aug 30, 2012
A 14-year-old girl is being held in prison after being accused of burning a copy of the Koran and last week the body of an 11-year-old Christian boy was found in Punjab bearing torture marks.
The demand for a separate province, although unlikely to succeed, is a further blow to the ideal of Pakistan’s founding father, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, of a secular country that would be home to India’s Muslims but where all would be free to worship their own religion.
The move is the brainchild of Younus Masih Bhatti, president of the Pakistan United Christian Welfare Association, who wants a government commission on new provinces to consider the plight of Christians.
“So, keeping in view the two million Christians in the country and a sense of insecurity among them, there is a requirement for a separate province for them so that they can enjoy equal rights like the majority,” he said.
On Thursday, human rights campaigners renewed calls for Rimsha Masih, the girl accused of blasphemy, to be released after a bail hearing was adjourned until Saturday leaving her imprisoned in a high-security jail alongside murderers and terrorists.
Her parents say Rimsha is only 11 and was born with Down’s syndrome.
However, a medical report which said Rimsha’s mental age was below her physical age of 14 and that she should be treated as a minor was challenged in court by a lawyer for the man accusing her of burning the Koran.
Rao Abdur Raheem said: “If you burn me, I will forgive you, but if you burn our Koran, then I will fight a legal battle to seek maximum punishment for anyone doing this act.” As a result the judge has asked for more time to consider the matter.
In the meantime, Rimsha’s neighbours in a Christian enclave outside Islamabad have fled their homes amid fears of revenge attacks.
Some have tried to set up home in a park in Islamabad rather than return.
Raza Rumi, of the Jinnah Institute, a public policy centre based in Islamabad, said that although Islamist political parties had been repeatedly rejected in elections, Pakistan’s leaders were reluctant to speak out against abuses or push for reform for fear of being called a traitor.
“If you are known as a traitor or anti-Islam, these non-state actors will come and kill you,” he said. “Nobody wants to take that risk.” In 2010, The Daily Telegraph revealed that a Christian mother had been sentenced to death for blasphemy, a case that led to a campaign for reform of the archaic, British-era laws.
Christians, who make up about four percent of Pakistan’s population of 180 million, have been particularly concerned about the law, saying it used to wage personal vendettas or settle property disputes.
In 2009, at least seven Christians were burned to death in an attack in Punjab province after reports of the desecration of the Koran.
However, attempts at reform stalled after the murder of two prominent campaigners last year, including Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab.
Last week, an 11-year-old Christian boy was found dead in a town in Punjab. Police said his lips and nose had been sliced off, his stomach removed and there was evidence that his legs had been mutilated too.
CHRISTIAN BOY TORTURED AND KILLED IN PAKISTAN
Christian boy tortured and killed in Pakistan: The tortured body of an 11 year old Christian boy has been found in a town in Punjab, Pakistan, days after a young Christian girl was arrested on blasphemy charges
By Dean Nelson, South Asia Editor
Aug 23, 2012
Detectives in Faisalabad, around 60 miles from Lahore, said they were investigating whether accusations of blasphemy had also been made against the boy.
Human rights campaigners condemned the killing of Samuel Yaqoob whose burned and tortured body body was discovered on Eid, the celebration which marks the end of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.
His lips and nose had been sliced off, his stomach removed and there was evidence that his legs had been mutilated too.
The boy had been missing since Monday when he left his home in the town’s Christian Colony to visit a local market. His relatives identified his body from a distinctive mark on his forehead.
Yaquub was reported to be an orphan but in local newspaper reports his mother Asia Bibi was quoted denying he had been accused of blasphemy. “We neither received any phone call for ransom nor were we told that Samuel had committed blasphemy,” she said.
Police said they were investigating whether blasphemy had been behind the attack on Samuel. His death comes just days after the arrest of Rimsha Masih, an eleven year old girl with Down’s Syndrome, after Muslims in Islamabad accused her of burning pages from the Koran for cooking.
President Asif Zardari intervened in the case after dozens of Christians fled their homes fearing violence. He said the country’s controversial blasphemy laws, in which those guilty of insulting Islam face the death penalty, must not be misused to settle scores.
The country’s leading human rights campaigner Ansar Burney said he had “strongly condemned the brutal murder” of Samuel Yaqoob who had been killed “mercilessly”.
PAKISTAN IS BELIEVED TO HAVE OVER 100 NUCLEAR WEAPONS. IT INCREASINGLY APPEARS TO BE A STATE COMING PART. HOW WILL THE WORLD MANAGE THIS SITUATION IN FUTURE?
A Nation’s Young Minds Under Attack
By Alex Rodriguez
Los Angeles Times (page 1)
October 27, 2012
SWABI, PAKISTAN -- Under a torrid sun on a parched patch of dirt, 65 young boys and girls wiped sweat from their foreheads and struggled to concentrate on their studies. There were no blackboards, no desks.
Nearby, their white two-room country school sat abandoned, shrapnel holes gouged into the exterior. The roof and walls had cracked, making the building too dangerous to use -- the result of a homemade bomb detonated by the Taliban on the school’s porch.
“Everything was fine here,” said 9-year-old Fazl Qadeem, squatting on the ground with his lesson book in hand. “And they destroyed it.”
The Taliban outraged millions of Pakistanis and people around the world this month when its gunmen attempted to kill Malala Yousafzai, a 15-year-old girl who publicly championed the education of girls. But that attack was just one small piece of a long campaign against the country’s education system.
School buildings like the one in Swabi are blown up with astonishing regularity: 96 were damaged or destroyed by militants this year, according to Human Rights Watch, a rate of more than two per week. Last year, 152 schools were hit. Militants have targeted school buses, teachers, headmasters, even a provincial education minister.
The damage is palpable and far-reaching, especially in northwestern Pakistan, where the Taliban maintains its nerve centers.
For parents like Sher Zameer, whose son survived a Taliban ambush of a school bus a year ago that killed the driver and four boys, the joy of watching his son go to class has turned to dread. “We don’t want our kids to get killed for the sake of education,” he said. “After this attack, the enthusiasm is gone.”
At least 600,000 children in northwestern Pakistan have missed a year or more of school because of militant attacks or threats, according to the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, an Islamabad-based nongovernmental group. In neighborhoods hit by school bombings, parents are pulling their children out of classrooms. More than half the schools destroyed in the northwest have yet to be rebuilt. Teachers in conflict zones have sought transfers to safer areas, leading to a shortage of instructors.
Pakistan desperately needs to shore up its weak, cash-starved education system if it hopes to build a path out of poverty for vast numbers of its citizens. Half the country’s nearly 180 million people are under 17, and the population is expected to soar to 335 million by 2050.
Large numbers of uneducated or poorly educated Pakistanis provide ideal fodder for the country’s myriad militant groups, as well as a rapt audience for hard-line religious clerics who preach intolerance and extremism.
“When the quality of education suffers, you always have a generation of children growing up frustrated and angry,” said Zarina Jillani, executive director of the children’s rights society. “A generation of children is being created without any real hope for the future. You can imagine the ramifications of that.”
The Pakistani Taliban is an amalgam of militant factions bent on toppling the government and imposing Islamic law. It regards government education as secular and therefore un-Islamic.
“Their view of education is that it should be largely limited to the Koran, as it’s understood by them,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director for Human Rights Watch.
The shooting of Malala illustrated the Taliban’s opposition to girls’ education. She was only 11 when she wrote in a BBC blog about the Taliban decree against girls attending school in the Swat Valley, her home. Taliban gunmen boarded her school bus and shot her in the head Oct. 9. She survived and is recovering in a British hospital.
The Taliban’s deep animosity for girls’ education reflects the group’s desire to thwart any kind of empowerment of women, said Jillani. “It’s part of an overall oppression of women,” she said. “The right for a woman to marry who she wants, her right to inheritance -- it’s all part of it.”
But the bombings, which almost always occur at night when children are not present, target boys’ as well as girls’ schools.
“They want to throw us back into the Stone Age,” said Sardar Hussain Babak, education minister for Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, home to the Swat Valley and Pakistan’s tribal areas. “If there is no education, extremism and religious fanaticism will rule. This is clear. So they don’t want people to be educated; they don’t want them to be informed.”
Schools in rural areas are especially easy targets for the militants. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province has thousands of schools, and no way to deploy armed guards at each one.
In Swabi, teachers kept classes going for dozens of children between the ages of 5 and 10, but had to move them outside.
“God knows why they do it,” instructor Mohammed Tayyib said of the Taliban. “As a teacher, it’s very frustrating. We’re trying our best, but it has definitely affected my level of motivation. And it has done the same to the students.”
When police do make arrests, said Babak, the provincial education minister, judges often release the suspects weeks later, citing shoddy investigative work. He can attest to that firsthand.
Last year, militants attacked his convoy in the middle of the night, spraying his car with bullets, one of which fractured a bone in his right hand. Several suspects were captured, but a court released them three months later.
The Taliban also claimed responsibility for attacking a bus carrying Sher Zameer’s son and other students home from Khyber Model School outside Peshawar in September 2011, calling it retaliation for a decision by tribal leaders from the suburb of Mattani to form anti-Taliban militias. The militias had set up checkpoints around villages served by the school, said Asghar Khan, whose only son, Mohammed Naveed Khan, was one of those killed.
A dozen black-clad militants crouched in wait behind a roadside berm and opened fire when the bus drove by, so crowded that children were clinging to the roof and sides.
The attackers killed the driver first, then shot out the tires. They pumped hundreds of AK-47 rounds and fired rockets at screaming boys and girls who leaped onto the road and sprinted for cover.
No one has been charged. It took survivors months to overcome their fear. Zameer’s son, 15-year-old Arshad Alam, was out of class for 10 weeks. “Every time I thought of restarting school, images from the attack would replay in my mind and keep me from going back,” he said.
Mohammed Zarshad, injured by shrapnel that pierced his hands and sheared off part of his right ear, didn’t go back for seven months.
“It’s not acceptable in any society for people to attack schoolchildren or schools,” said Khan. “One of the dead was a 5-year-old child. What did that boy do to deserve being killed?”