High-ranking military personnel from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Sudan, and Libya will meet in Cairo, Egypt on May 18th to coordinate plans to stabilize Libya, which has seen crisis since the toppling of the Gadhafi government in 2011.

Cairo

The meeting is not being publicized, but France and Italy may also play a role.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Arab leaders have been in talks with Libya National Army Chief Maj. Gen. Khalifa Haftar which have resulted in the Libyan Army buying arms including five M-35 Hind upgraded helicopters that were delivered on April 26th.

Operations are ongoing in Yemen by Arab forces. These operations are seen as going well, and this has emboldened Arab forces to move into Libya.

The Egyptian government is hosting Libyan tribal leaders at the end of May to guarantee safe passage for Arab troops. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry announced on May 5th that the forum is meant to “unify the Libyan people.”

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty stressed in a statement, “the extremely important role of Libyan tribes and civil society,” in restoring stability in Libya.

Egypt is preparing to lead this coalition of states, much like Saudi Arabia has led in Yemen, to support the Libyan National Army. The Islamic State is pouring over Libya’s border into Western Egypt, so it has been deemed that action is required.

Jihadi Cool

July 24, 2013

Al Qaeda’s dissemination of jihad ideology has become more sophisticated over the last decade. Al Qaeda invested large amounts of capital into creating books, magazines, and music videos that are designed to appeal to Muslims under 30 years of age. Language and graphics are designed with a specific local audience in mind so that al Qaeda can properly target young Muslims in a desired region. Al Qaeda is paying close attention to what material their targeted demographics respond to and connect with.

Al Qaeda has expanded into cyberspace

Al Qaeda has expanded into cyberspace

Al Qaeda’s reach in Cyberspace is multifaceted. The network has a variety of different messages available on the internet that are designed to resonate with different groups. Al Qaeda’s franchises and affiliates, like the one in Iraq that I posted about yesterday, tend to focus on local issues that affect a particular local population. However, the traditional centralized body of al Qaeda tends to disseminate messages that are more global in scope.

Jihadi Cool is a term that was originally coined by Marc Sageman, a psychiatrist and former CIA operations officer, to encapsulate the phenomenon of al Qaeda’s influence within Cyberspace. Jihadi Cool describes rogue vigilantism by politically disenfranchised Muslim youths. Jihadi Cool appeals to those radicalized youths who are often described as “wannabe thugs.”

Has the new front for the War on Terror become the internet? Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and all electronic social networking media have become problematic, because al Qaeda operatives can operate behind electronic aliases and disseminate Jihadi propaganda. This propaganda then plays on Muslim youth’s politics of despair, in that these youths have a worldview where they perceive the Muslim world’s (Dar al-Islam) hegemonic power as being stripped away. Then there are the wars in Syria and Afghanistan, the political strife in Egypt, and the constant battle between Iran and Saudi Arabia over who will be the voice of the Middle East. Western popular culture and secular political forces are no longer the only targets of al Qaeda. The Sunni organization is increasingly getting into sectarian conflicts with Shi’ites. 

Al Qaeda essentially uses electronic social networking media to encourage random disgruntled youths into acts of violence against the West, Shi’a institutions, and the governments of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Iran. By hiding their propaganda in forms of popular media, such as rap videos available in various languages, al Qaeda can provide a cultural counterweight to Shi’a popular influences which both excites and provokes impressionable youth into becoming soldiers for al Qaeda’s distinctive version of discord which often includes suicide bombers and large body counts. 

The first assassination in post-revolutionary Tunisia occurred today. Chokri Belaid, a lawyer and Tunisian opposition leader, had been critical of both the Islamist-led government and of the violence perpetrated by radical Muslim Salafist groups. He was was gunned down as he left his home.

Protests in the North African nation originally ignited the Arab Spring, and it has since been seen as a model for the Arab world’s transition from dictatorship to democracy. The killing of Belaid is likely to increase societal tensions, and Tunisia’s Interior Ministry spokesman Khaled Tarrouch called the assassination a “terrorist act.” Belaid was shot point-blank several times.

Belaid was a high profile politician who had been particularly outspoken against groups affiliated with Tunisia’s largest political party, the Ennahda Party, that is infamous for seeking out remnants of the old dictatorship regime. The Ennahda is an Islamist party that was originally inspired by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. It is the most well-organized party in Tunisia, and it has politically outdistanced all of its more secular competitors.

Tunisia

Belaid was a member of a leftist alliance of parties known as the Popular Front. Islamist militants had disrupted a rally that Belaid had led over the weekend. The rally was part of a string of political meetings that have been disrupted by gangs loyal to Ennahda.

French President Francois Hollande has condemned the killing by saying, “This murder deprives Tunisia of one of its most courageous and free voices.”

Tunisia’s Islamist-led government is seen as being too moderate by that country’s more radical elements. Salafist groups have labeled the government as an oppressor for its refusal to release some 900 militants arrested for various acts of violence. Two of those detainees have since died in their cells after hunger strikes.

This has put Tunisia’s Islamist leaders in a problematic position. To the secular elite, the government is too indulgent regarding Salafist groups; yet, the Salafis accuse the government of being too indulgent regarding the secularists. Salafis have thus accused the Islamist-led government of selling out the purest form of Islam. It is a fine line that Tunisia’s leaders are currently walking.

The most radical of the Salafist gangs have attacked cultural events and shrines they consider un-Islamic. Carrying sticks and swords, they have ransacked stores selling alcohol and fought with the police. Salafist militants are also accused of leading the attack last year on the American school in Tunis as well as the U.S. Embassy attack that killed United States Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

The Salafi movement is typically spread through schools run by religious teachers who have little knowledge of or appreciation for traditional Islam. The chief task of these teachers is to promote a jihadist vision that is 1) global in scope, 2) intolerant of competing with other Sunni doctrines, and 3) fanatically anti-Shi’a. A main goal of these Salafist schools has been having their pupils spread this form of Islam world-wide. Originating in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Salafist movement has made Tunisia one of its latest cultural battlegrounds.

It’s been more than two years since anti-government protests began in Egypt. Since then, the government’s been replaced, citizens gained their right to vote, and a new president has been sworn in; however, protests in Egypt have started again, and some of them have turned violent.

Egyptians are frustrated because revolutionaries haven’t been able to translate the protests that brought down the former government into greater political action and reform. Egyptian courts are seen as politicized, police have not been reformed, and citizens do not have due process protections. Protesters are furious over the abusive treatment Egyptians receive at the hands of security forces.

Egypt’s interior minister did offer a rare apology over the weekend after officers under his command were seen on television beating a naked man two blocks from the president’s palace.  The spectacle of Hamada Saber’s beating revived bitterness at Egypt’s police force, whose record of brutality helped set off the original revolt against Hosni Mubarak, the former president, and served as a reminder that nearly two years later, the new president, Mohamed Morsi, had taken few steps to reform the police.

A protester uses a loudhailer as she chants anti-Mursi slogans during a protest in front of the presidential palace in Cairo

The latest violence has deepened a sense of crisis in Egypt. The country’s quarreling political forces, supporters and opponents of President Morsi, have blamed each other.

The current ruling party in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood, and they have struggled with their leadership role. The Brotherhood was an oppressed group before the anti-government protests began, and they have had difficulty with the challenges of their new position.

The seven million bureaucrats that work in Egypt’s government have kept their jobs under Morsi; therefore the endemic corruption and bribe taking that has plagued Egypt has not been addressed. Furthermore, the Brotherhood have been so focused on seeing their Islamist constitution become law that they have ignored almost all other grievances. The Brotherhood  rammed their constitution through to approval in December.

Since becoming the president of Egypt as the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mr. Morsi has focused on turning Egypt into an Islamist state. Possibly because he doesn’t want to give any momentum to the secularist opposition, Mr. Morsi has not done any reforms that could alienate government workers or weaken his power base. Therefore, the little political capital that Morsi had not invested in shaping Egypt’s constitution has been focused on foreign policy. Here, Morsi is taking a page out of the North Korea playbook where he is attempting to shift attention away from internal politics. By shifting national focus to outside the country, Morsi is in less danger of offending government interest groups. Of course, so far he is failing to change the national subject.

Morsi has sought to reassert Egypt’s historical leadership role in regional affairs. In doing so, Morsi has tried to place Egypt at the center of negotiations to end the Syrian civil war. He has also warmed relations with Iran. Morsi rightly believes that if he can paint himself as a peacemaker, it will quell some of his political opposition. In that vein, Morsi has called for a national dialogue within Egypt as a response to the country’s ongoing violence.

Egypt’s Coptic Christian pope sharply criticized Morsi and the Brotherhood in an interview with The Associated Press earlier today, saying that the new constitution is discriminatory, because under it Egypt’s Christians are being treated as a minority.

The comments by Pope Tawadros II reflected the political stance, historically unusual for a Coptic Pope, that he has taken since being enthroned in November as the spiritual leader of the Copts, the main community of Egypt’s Christians. Christians are increasingly worried over the power of Islamists in the country.

Tawadros dismissed Morsi’s call for national dialogue as a way to dispel criticism that his government concentrates power in the Brotherhood without reforming corruption. Most secularist opposition parties have refused to join the dialogue, as has the Coptic Church, calling it mere window dressing.

“We will actively take part in any national dialogue that would benefit the nation,” Tawadros told The AP. “But when a dialogue ends before it starts and none of its results are implemented then we do not take part.”

Since my recent post about Egypt’s internal turmoil, I’ve had some readers email me asking that I expound on who and what the Muslim Brotherhood are.

The Muslim Brotherhood is a socio-religio-political movement that was founded in Egypt in 1936, and, to me, the Brotherhood’s philosophical framework is best understood through the writings of one of their most prolific members, Sayyid Qutb.

Sayyid Qutb’s interpretation of Islam grew out of the many confrontations that occurred between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian state in the 1950s and 1960s. Increasingly radicalized by Egypt’s suppression of the movement, Qutb espoused a rejectionist ideology that was meant to be a kind of call to arms for the Egyptian people.

Qutb in an Egyptian jail

Qutb in an Egyptian jail

Qutb, who had a modern education, saw the Western world as morally decadent, racist, and devoid of familial responsibility. Worse, the West’s influence was growing in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world. Throughout the writings of his forty published books, Qutb divided the world into two antipodal camps, the Muslim world (dar al-Islam) and the world of evil epitomized by the West (dar al-Harb).

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Thousands of Egyptians gathered in Cairo today for a mass demonstration to protest a draft constitution that has been adopted by the allies of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. The demonstration culminated in a mass march on the presidential palace.

image (6)

As you may be aware, Egypt’s fragile democracy was threatened last month when Morsi, a member of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, moved to dramatically expand his power by nullifying Egypt’s separation of powers and granting himself absolute authority.

Separation of powers is a model for state governance. It was first used by the Roman Republic around 509 BCE. Under this model, the state is divided into branches, each with separate and independent powers as well as areas of responsibility. This ensures that no branch has more power than the other branches. The most common branch division is an executive, a legislature, and a judiciary.

Under Morsi, Egypt’s executive branch now has immunity from the other branches, thus giving the president dictator-like powers.

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The film that sparked the anti-American violence last week in Egypt, Libya, and Yemen was breathtakingly offensive to most Muslims.

Protests over the film entitled The Innocence of Muslims are now spreading across the Middle East and North Africa. I want to take a moment to talk about what is happening and why.

The now infamous trailer on YouTube was uploaded back in July, but the protests only started in Egypt this past week. There is some chatter that the man who made the film, believed to be Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, specifically targeted the Egyptian news media. It is believed that he alerted the Egyptian press to the YouTube trailer himself for maximum exposure within Egypt. It is possible that Nakoula timed his interaction with the Egyptian press to coincide with 9-11.

First, it is important to understand that the Qur’an and other Islamic teachings are crystal clear: Mohammad is never to be portrayed in a sketch or a painting, much less played by a bad actor in a cheap B movie. For Muslims, Mohammad is the perfect Muslim. He is the living Qur’an.

But this movie shows Mohammad seducing many women, and one actor states that the Prophet was gay. If you are a Christian, imagine if a movie depicted Jesus Christ engaging in oral sex and then claimed that he was a child molester.

The film portrays Mohammad as a sexual predator, a fraud, and possibly insane. It is in the poorest of taste.

The Innocence of Muslims

Sam Becile – which is the pseudonym Nakoula Basseley Nakoula used – claimed to be an Israeli Jew, and said that the film was financed by other Jews back in Israel. That appears to be completely false, though. Nakoula is being identified as an Egyptian-American Coptic Christian who’s alleged to be extremely anti-Muslim.

It is possible that the film was designed to not only denigrate Islam, but also to stir discord between Muslims and the Coptic Christians within Egypt. There’s been a lot of tension in those relations as of late, so such a film would be intended to further strain Egypt’s social fabric.

A series of anti-Christian attacks has heightened tensions since the ouster of Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak. Coptic Christians blame the the Muslim Brotherhood for the increase in violence.

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A Perfect Storm for Turmoil

September 13, 2012

An assault on the U.S. Consulate in Libya resulted in the first killing of a U.S. ambassador in more than 30 years. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in Benghazi on September 11, 2012.

Ambassador Chris Stevens

There are differing reports on the timeline of what happened and why. What is known is that armed militia joined a protest outside the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. Various militia brought automatic weapons, RPGs, and handmade bombs.

Libyan security forces originally blocked the road towards the Consulate in order to protect the Ambassador and his staff, but then security forces withdrew as the attacks intensified.

There has been a security vacuum in Libya since the Arab Spring ended The 42-year rule of Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Militias now roam around the country unchecked and unfettered. Hundreds of people may make up a single militia while another militia may have its membership number as few as ten.

The attack in Libya came hours after an Egyptian mob stormed the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and tore down the U.S. flag. 

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New Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi yesterday ordered the retirement of Defense Minister Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi as well as the military’s Chief of Staff Gen. Sami Annan. Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, is Egypt’s first democratically elected president. Morsi also restored to the presidential office powers that were taken from it by the military before his election.

Earlier today, Egypt’s military signaled its acquiescence to the shake-up. A posting on a Facebook page known to be close to the country’s military said the changes amounted to the “natural” handing over of leadership to a younger generation. Furthermore, the country’s official news agency quoted an unnamed military official yesterday as saying there has been no “negative reaction” from within the military.

Morsi has appointed Tantawi and Annan to be his presidential advisers during their retirement. This has sparked speculation that the shake-up of the military brass was part of a “safe exit” deal struck between Morsi and the generals to shield them against prosecution for any alleged crimes during the time they ruled the country.

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Part of what is fueling conflict within the Middle East is competing visions of what a Muslim society or culture should be, and conflicting interpretations of what Islam demands. Religiously Inspired conflict over proper etiquette, dress, and entertainment is mounting.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is currently challenging a planned performance by pop star Beyonce at a Red Sea resort. Beyonce’s concert has been announced for November 6th, and the Brotherhood is demanding that the Egyptian Interior Minister explain why she was given permission to perform. Organizing protests and anger against pop concerts headlined by females is a routine Islamist political maneuver.

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