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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on December 12th, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (pj@sustainabilitank.info)

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Secretary General Meets Ruler of Sharjah and Praises Halal Food Exhibition and Conference

His Highness Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of the Emirate of Sharjah, received on 10 December 2012, the Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Prof. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu.

The OIC Secretary General praised Sharjah for hosting the International Halal Food Middle East Expo and Conference on 10 – 12 December 2012, stressing the significance of this occasion for enhancing economic and trade cooperation between the OIC Member States, which would boost intra-OIC trade.

The two sides discussed ways and means to develop cooperation between the OIC and the United Arab Emirates as well as the situation in the Islamic world.

Message of the OIC Secretary General on the Occasion of the Human Rights Day (10 December 2012)

The world has witnessed, in recent years, the rise of protest waves of all scales and forms against violations of the full enjoyment by thousands of citizens of their civil and political economic, cultural and social rights. Extreme poverty continues to plunge millions of people into abject misery. The right to adequate housing, drinking water and sanitation, education, health services, and decent jobs are still beyond the reach of one billion people around the globe who live on less than one dollar a day, despite MDGs recommendations aimed at reducing poverty by half by 2015.

Freedoms of expression, thought and religion, freedom of association, assembly and peaceful protest are violated in many countries which are still learning Democracy. The right to vote and the freedom to militate within a political party and vote for a candidate of their choice are not yet guaranteed to all citizens. Women, ethnic and religious minorities, internally displaced people, refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants continue to pay a high price in the countries of origin and destination and are often victims of serious human rights violations.

These crowds assembled spontaneously and massively multiplied in countries where citizens have felt themselves marginalized in the management of and participation in the public life and the daily affairs of their country, although that impacts directly on their daily lives.

These gatherings which brought together both the young and the old, men and women, the unemployed and students -among others- were carrying messages of rebellion and despair from a large segment of our societies. The feeling conveyed is not much of uncertainty about a bright future, but rather that of weariness of the maneuvers of the regimes in place that have monopolized public life and deprived many citizens of hope.

The slogan chosen for the Human Rights Day this year: “My voice counts” is a message to political leaders to encourage them to adopt a more inclusive and consensual approach in the conduct of public affairs. All segments of society, taken as a whole and without any discrimination, should be involved in the national debate on public policy options aimed at promoting universally-recognized human rights: the right of everyone to benefit fully and with no restriction from public resources and from the benefits to which they are entitled as citizens.

People’s effective participation in public life and in the management of the daily affairs of society at the political, economic, social and cultural levels remains the cornerstone of any quest for peaceful coexistence between the citizens of the same country, in a climate of harmony, complementarity and respect for diversity.

The OIC, through its Secretary General, has never ceased in the past years to promote the language of dialogue and consensus in the management of public affairs. Member countries’ strategies of political, economic, social and cultural development cannot be achieved without greater involvement of all the forces of the nation. This implies that the inalienable rights and freedoms of their citizens, acknowledged universally and subscribed to at the national level, should be the major foundation which guides any just and inclusive action towards the Islamic Ummah.

It is necessary today to guarantee to our people an environment that is both healthy and open to the free expression of expectations, fears and legitimate hopes within a pluralistic and democratic nation; a requirement whose legitimacy is recognized and defended by the international community.

OIC Participates in 4th UTSAM Symposium on Combating International Terrorism and Trans-border Criminality

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) took part in the 4th edition of the Symposium on International Terrorism and Transnational Organized Crime (TOC) held by the International Terrorism and Transnational Crime Research Center (UTSAM) over 7-9 December 2012 in Antalya, Republic of Turkey.

This year’s edition of the Symposium stood out by the wide diversity of expert participants representing academia, law-enforcement agencies, international and regional organizations as well as NGOs. The working papers and debates during the three-day event focused heavily on the evolving nexus between terrorism networks and cross-border criminality, particularly in fragile and failed States.

The OIC emphasized the need for reinforcing the international legal arsenal within a multi-pronged approach that should address the roots causes of the phenomena of terrorism and extremism. It also highlighted the endeavors deployed by H.E. the Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu,  to hold a high-level international conference under the auspices of the United Nations in a bid to develop a joint action by the international community against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, and to articulate a consensual definition of terrorism.

Among the prominent issues explored during the Symposium was the imperative of tackling the corruptive power of transnational criminal networks by dismantling their infrastructures and pre-empting any alliance between transnational criminality and terrorist activities.

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OP-ED: Egypt, Arab Sunni Politics, and the U.S.: A Problematic Road Ahead

By Emile Nakhleh Reprint |   | Print | Send by email

WASHINGTON, Dec 5 2012 (IPS) – The bad news about Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s expanding constitutional powers is the threat of another dictatorship in Egypt. The good news is that normal politics is returning to Egypt after decades of brutal authoritarian regimes.

Recent mass demonstrations in support of and opposition to Morsi’s new draft constitution and the political tug of war between Morsi and the judiciary, especially the Judges Club, signify a healthy sign of democratic politics, which the Egyptian people had fought for before and since Tahrir Square.

Egyptians are openly debating the meaning and implications of each of the 234 articles in the new constitution, ranging from setting a two- to four-year presidential term to freedom of worship and social justice.

Opponents of the document correctly claim that it is excessively religious, especially with the role assigned to al-Azhar Islamic University, and is barely inclusive. Rights of women and minorities are not clearly spelled out although followers of other Abrahamic religions have the right to select their own religious leaders and conduct their personal status matters according to their religious dictates.

These raucous and often turbulent constitutional debates and the verbal scuffles between the judiciary and the executive branch seem to signal the advent of rational politics and the promise of pragmatic political compromises. The upcoming popular referendum on the document will tell whether the Egyptian people support or oppose the draft document.

Egypt has not witnessed or enjoyed this type of political jockeying at the popular level since before the middle of the last century. Even if the draft constitution is adopted, Morsi can serve a maximum of two terms – again, something Egyptians have not known for generations.

The United States should not get involved in this debate and should allow the Egyptian people to sort out their political differences. Privately, Washington should point out to Morsi that tolerance, inclusion, and minority and women rights should be the hallmark of governance in the new Egypt.

Constitutional tensions in Egypt, however, should be viewed in the broader context of the emerging Arab Sunni order in the region.

This new regional Sunni alignment is led by Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, and tacitly supported by Turkey. It is perceived in the region and globally as a front to isolate Iran and diminish its regional influence, bring down the Assad regime or speed up Assad’s fall, and help break up the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah “Axis of Resistance.”

This Sunni architecture could also pull Hamas away from the Iran-Syria camp and move it closer to the Sunni fold. The recent military confrontation between Israel and Hamas in Gaza had the unintended consequence of strengthening Hamas’ regional posture and cementing relations between it and Sunni Arab leaders, ranging from Qatar to Tunisia.

Although Washington has quietly endorsed the new regional Sunni politics, U.S. policymakers and intelligence and policy analysts should consider the possibility that in the long run, the new order could also spell trouble for Arab democratic transitions and for the West.

The short-term gains, while critical for the region, are already happening. Iran is becoming more isolated and its relations with Arab states and non-state actors are fraying.

Assad is on his way out, and within months if not weeks, Syria will be begin to experience the convulsions of a new post-Assad political order. The forceful Western warnings, including by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to Assad about the possible use of chemical and biological weapons could be the prelude of Western military intervention in Syria to remove Assad. It’s time he should be removed.

The Hezbollah alliance with Iran and Syria is already breaking up. Hezbollah and its leader Hassan Nasrallah have lost much of their legitimacy as a symbol of resistance or “muqawama”. Nasrallah’s vocal and consistent support of Assad is viewed in the region as naked realpolitik, which has undercut his standing as a regional leader.

In the long run, the emerging Sunni order could undermine the gains of the Arab Spring and threaten the transition to democracy in post-authoritarian Arab countries. More importantly, the new order could embolden Sunni regimes in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and elsewhere in their continued repression of their Shia communities and other ethnic and religious minorities.

While the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Qatar are pushing for Assad’s removal, they are not necessarily wedded to democratic principles or to granting their citizens, especially in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, equal rights. Nor are they enamoured by the principles of “freedom and human dignity” highlighted in the Egyptian draft constitution.

Unless the emerging Arab Sunni order commits itself to the principles for which millions of Arab youth fought two years ago, and unless it goes beyond just containing Iran and toppling Assad, it will remain problematic and fraught with uncertainty.

*Emile Nakhleh is former director of the Political Islam Strategic Analysis Programme at CIA and author of “A necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World”.

post thumbnail Islamist Vigilantes Begin to Police Egypt – Published by IPS on December 6th, 2012
Written by: Cam McGrath

CAIRO, Dec 6 2012 (IPS) – As Egyptians debate how deeply Sharia should influence the new constitution, and in the face of clashes that left five dead on Wednesday, some extremists have taken to the streets to enforce their own interpretation of “God’s law”. In recent months, these self-appointed guardians of public probity have accosted Muslims and minority Christians they accuse of violating the provisions of Islamic law.

Ishaq Ibrahim, a researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), says reports of incidents began after the 2011 uprising that toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak. Witnesses have reported seeing “bearded zealots” threaten women they deem dressed immodestly, break up parties playing “un-Islamic” music, vandalise shops selling alcohol, and in one case, chop off the ear of a man accused of abetting immorality.

Ibrahim says evidence is circumstantial, as only a few of the perpetrators have been caught, but the attacks appear to be the work of ultraconservative Salafi Muslims.[related_articles]

Salafis follow a puritanical school of Islam, aspiring to emulate the lifestyle of Prophet Muhammad and his companions, and putting conspicuous emphasis on beards and veils. Salafi political parties won nearly a quarter of the seats in the now dissolved lower house of parliament and have vigorously demanded Sharia as the sole source of legislation in Egypt.

While homegrown Salafi groups once carried out a bloody insurgency aimed at carving out an Islamic caliphate, their leaders have since renounced violence and pledged peaceful dialogue. Prominent Salafis, however, have threatened violence against “idols and blasphemers” – one recently vowing to “cut off the tongue” of anyone who insults Sharia or Islam.

Or cut off their hair perhaps?

Mirette Michail was standing with her sister in downtown Cairo when six women wearing niqab (the full Islamic veil) attacked her, beating her and attempting to set her hair on fire – presumably as punishment for not veiling. The women disappeared into the crowd when two male passersby intervened, she reported.

It was the third tonsorial assault in less than a month. Earlier, two women in niqab cut the hair of a Christian woman riding the subway and pushed her off the train, breaking her arm. A 13-year-old Christian girl also had her hair cut by a fully veiled woman while on the subway.

Such incidents are unusual in Cairo. The capital still retains its relatively cosmopolitan atmosphere, with young couples holding hands in public, tourists piling off buses in shorts and t-shirts, and many upscale establishments serving alcohol.

But in provincial cities and rural areas, long governed by a culture of conservative Islam, activists have reported an alarming increase in cases of moral vigilantism. Extremists appear to be organising small groups to patrol neighbourhoods and enforce their own interpretation of Sharia – by brute force if necessary.

Amal Abdel Hadi, head of the Cairo-based New Women Foundation, says the absence of an effective police force since last year’s uprising and the expectation that Egypt’s new constitution will mandate stronger application of Islamic law has given these groups a sense of legitimacy.

“When you have in your constitution that the state should ‘safeguard ethics and public morality’, it’s a green light for these groups to operate,” Abdel Hadi told IPS. “You’re constitutionalising the role of the community in defending traditions using vague and rhetorical phrasing that allows for extreme interpretations.”

Last January, a shadowy group claiming affiliation to the Salafi Calling announced on Facebook that it had established the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, an Islamic morality police modeled on Saudi Arabia’s mutaween.

In Saudi Arabia, mutaween agents and volunteers patrol the streets, enforcing strict separation of the sexes, conservative dress codes, observance of Muslim prayers, and other behaviour they consider mandated by Sharia. Until 2007, these government-sanctioned enforcers of Islamic law carried rattan canes to mete out corporal punishment.

While there is no proof that the Egyptian group ever transformed its online presence into a physical force, its unveiling coincided with a series of incidents in the northern delta provinces. The Arabic press reported that groups of bearded men armed with rattan canes raided shops, threatening to flog shop owners caught selling “indecent” clothing, barbers found shaving men’s beards, or any merchant displaying Christian religious books or icons.

The attacks culminated in the murder of Ahmed Hussein Eid, a university student stabbed to death during a run-in with some roving enforcers last June. According to police reports, three Salafi men approached Eid and his fiancee as they were out walking in Suez’s port district. The men castigated the couple for standing too close, and when Eid rebuked them, one of the men pulled out a knife and fatally stabbed him.

Al-Azhar, the highest authority in Sunni Islam, has issued statements condemning reports of individual efforts to enforce Sharia. As has the ruling Muslim Brotherhood.

But Salafi leaders have been equivocal, denying any affiliation to moral vigilante groups while defending the concept – provided it is through “peaceful intervention”.

“The idea of having such a committee is legitimate and in accordance with the Quran,” Islamist lawyer Montasser El-Zayat told one local media outlet. “Such a committee should promote virtue with virtue, and prevent vice with virtue as well. And, of course, it would be better if (it were) run by the government and not by an independent group.”

Police, criticised for mothballing reports of vigilante incidents, responded to a public outcry following the fatal stabbing in Suez. The three Salafi assailants were apprehended and each sentenced to 15 years in prison.

EIPR’s Ibrahim says moral vigilantes have kept a low profile since the sentencing. But this may simply be the calm before the storm.

“Islamists (control the political agenda) so it’s not in their interest to create problems for the time being,” he says. “They want to focus on the constitution first, then comes the application of Sharia.”

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