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31 December 2013

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The results for the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) that were presented in early December showed that of the 10 countries that topped the performance, not one of them is a Muslim country. As a matter of fact, of the final results tabled, not one Muslim country was placed in the top 40.

Half a million pupils in 65 countries and local administrations were tested in the three core areas of mathematics, science and reading. Shanghai scored the best result with 613, followed by Singapore and Japan.

With the exception of Turkey which took the 43rd spot scoring the highest among the Muslim countries followed by UAE, of the rest of the Muslim countries that took part such as Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Qatar, Jordan, Tunisia and Indonesia, suffice to say that they were placed within the bottom 50 and 60 jostling with Columbia, Peru and Albania for the award of worst performer!

Before anyone jumps the gun by blaming this OECD study as essentially biased and Eurocentric, let us be reminded the top three performers are Asian. It is indeed noteworthy that the results for 2012, 2010, and the 2009 Assessment showed that Shanghai students scored the highest in all categories.

According to the OECD, this study considers Shanghai a pioneer of educational reform, having transformed their approach to education. Instead of focusing merely on the elite, it appears they have adopted a more inclusive system. In other words, the democratization of access to quality education is a key factor.

Below is the table for the 2012 results:

Programme for International Student Assessment (2012)
Maths Sciences Reading
1 Shanghai, China 613 1 Shanghai, China 580 1 Shanghai, China 570
2 Singapore 573 2 Hong Kong, China 555 2 Hong Kong, China 545
3 Hong Kong, China 561 3 Singapore 551 3 Singapore 542
4 Taiwan 560 4 Japan 547 4 Japan 538
5 South Korea 554 5 Finland 545 5 South Korea 536
6 Macau, China 538 6 Estonia 541 6 Finland 524
7 Japan 536 7 South Korea 538 7 Taiwan 523
8 Liechtenstein 535 8 Vietnam 528 8 Canada 523
9 Switzerland 531 9 Poland 526 9 Ireland 523
10 Netherlands 523 10 Liechtenstein 525 10 Poland 518
11 Estonia 521 11 Canada 525 11 Liechtenstein 516
12 Finland 519 12 Germany 524 12 Estonia 516
13 Canada 518 13 Taiwan 523 13 Australia 512
14 Poland 518 14 Netherlands 522 14 New Zealand 512
15 Belgium 515 15 Ireland 522 15 Netherlands 511
16 Germany 514 16 Macau, China 521 16 Macau, China 509
17 Vietnam 511 17 Australia 521 17 Switzerland 509
18 Austria 506 18 New Zealand 516 18 Belgium 509
19 Australia 504 19 Switzerland 515 19 Germany 508
20 Ireland 501 20 Slovenia 514 20 Vietnam 508
21 Slovenia 501 21 United Kingdom 514 21 France 505
22 Denmark 500 22 Czech Republic 508 22 Norway 504
23 New Zealand 500 23 Austria 506 23 United Kingdom 499
24 Czech Republic 499 24 Belgium 505 24 United States 498
25 France 495 25 Latvia 502 25 Denmark 496
26 United Kingdom 494 26 France 499 26 Czech Republic 493
27 Iceland 493 27 Denmark 498 27 Austria 490
28 Latvia 491 28 United States 497 28 Italy 490
29 Luxembourg 490 29 Spain 496 29 Latvia 489
30 Norway 489 30 Lithuania 496 30 Luxembourg 488
31 Portugal 487 31 Norway 495 31 Portugal 488
32 Italy 485 32 Italy 494 32 Spain 488
33 Spain 484 33 Hungary 494 33 Hungary 488
34 Russia 482 34 Luxembourg 491 34 Israel 486
35 Slovakia 482 35 Croatia 491 35 Croatia 485
36 United States 481 36 Portugal 489 36 Iceland 483
37 Lithuania 479 37 Russia 486 37 Sweden 483
38 Sweden 478 38 Sweden 485 38 Slovenia 481
39 Hungary 477 39 Iceland 478 39 Lithuania 477
40 Croatia 471 40 Slovakia 471 40 Greece 477
41 Israel 466 41 Israel 470 41 Russia 475
42 Greece 453 42 Greece 467 42 Turkey 475
43 Serbia 449 43 Turkey 463 43 Slovakia 463
44 Turkey 448 44 UAE 448 44 Cyprus 449
45 Romania 445 45 Bulgaria 446 45 Serbia 446
46 Cyprus 440 46 Serbia 445 46 UAE 442
47 Bulgaria 439 47 Chile 445 47 Thailand 441
48 UAE 434 48 Thailand 444 48 Chile 441
49 Kazakhstan 432 49 Romania 439 49 Costa Rica 441
50 Thailand 427 50 Cyprus 438 50 Romania 438
51 Chile 423 51 Costa Rica 429 51 Bulgaria 436
52 Malaysia 421 52 Kazakhstan 425 52 Mexico 424
53 Mexico 413 53 Malaysia 420 53 Montenegro 422
54 Montenegro 410 54 Uruguay 416 54 Uruguay 411
55 Uruguay 409 55 Mexico 415 55 Brazil 410
56 Costa Rica 407 56 Montenegro 410 56 Tunisia 404
57 Albania 394 57 Jordan 409 57 Colombia 403
58 Brazil 391 58 Argentina 406 58 Jordan 399
59 Argentina 388 59 Brazil 405 59 Malaysia 398
60 Tunisia 388 60 Colombia 399 60 Argentina 396
61 Jordan 386 61 Tunisia 398 61 Indonesia 396
62 Colombia 376 62 Albania 397 62 Albania 394
63 Qatar 376 63 Qatar 384 63 Kazakhstan 393
64 Indonesia 375 64 Indonesia 382 64 Qatar 388
65 Peru 368 65 Peru 373 65 Peru 384
                 

 

Take-home lessons

If we take ourselves off the intellectual pedestal, let us ask what lessons we can take home from this study, apart from other indicators in different studies.

Firstly, there is no basis for the conventional argument that because Muslim students have to attend extra classes for religious studies over and above the routine academic lessons in the schools, they have less time to study and prepare for exams and hence perform not as well as non-Muslim students. In Malaysia, for example, Chinese students who also attend extra classes for Chinese-based subjects over and above the national-type syllabus do just as well in both.

Pedagogy and quality of teaching

Finland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland were among the best of the European nations. Studies have shown that students from Finland produced very good results in various subjects when compared to students from the United States and other countries. This was attributed mainly to the fact that in Finland, the very best graduates were recruited to become teachers.

Also important is the question of content and curriculum, including pedagogy. The quality of teachers is a matter of concern. The teaching profession needs to be given greater priority by the state.  A proper incentive scheme must be introduced and to restore the profession to its earlier recognition. As it stands, apart from infrastructure constraints, Muslim countries suffer from a shortage of good teachers. But the issues should be more than that just a question of material resources.

Spending on education

The conventional belief that greater spending on education would yield better performance was also shown to be not always true. Thus, the analysis of the 2003 results showed that Australia, Belgium, Canada, Finland, Japan and South Korea, which had spent less on education than the United States actually did better. While this should not be taken as an excuse to spend less on education, allocation of such funds for Muslim countries must be beefed up with the rider that the resources are to be spent effectively.

Governance

The issue of governance remains a serious problem in Muslim countries. For example, cases of misappropriation of funds allocated for poorer students continue to be a source of embarrassment. Poor governance also breeds corruption which then leads to wastages and leakages. Where financial resources get mis-channelled or misused, schools suffer and students become victims.

Bad governance in the running of schools also impacts on the quality of teaching when for example school authorities haphazardly transfer teachers to other areas without considering the effect on both the teaching and the teachers themselves.

Confucian ethic

Yet another lesson is probably the obvious one considering that the top three performances are connected one way or the other to the Confucian model of learning. Surely, Muslim countries should be able to draw some lessons from this phenomenon. Muslim intellectuals worth their salt must get off their high horse and study the Confucian model, adapt it according to Muslim requirements, if need be, and start preaching a culture of diligence in the pursuit of knowledge. The defensive response about reminding people of Islam’s glorious history of learning and advancements in science serves no purpose if all it does is encourage us to rest on past laurels.

Conclusion

While it is known that Muslim countries are facing a crisis in higher education, this study is significant in showing that even in the formative mid-secondary school stage, we are seeing a crisis of alarming proportions. The fact of the matter is that Muslim countries are occupying the bottom rungs in higher education and advancement in science and technology. The PISA results are therefore a precursor to worse things to come.

Failure to take immediate remedial action may lead to a deeper crisis. In this regard, we call on the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to take the lead in addressing this problem.

ANWAR IBRAHIM

27th December, 2013

12 December 2013

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Keynote address by Anwar Ibrahim at the Symposium on “Reform of Higher Education in Muslim Societies,” organized by the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) on December 9-10, 2013 at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, DC.

Introduction

The crisis in higher education in Muslim societies is manifested in myriad ways not the least of which are impacting socioeconomic development. Among the root causes of the crisis are those related to choice, content, quality and financial resources and issues of governance.

It is said that Islamic education has not progressed much from its traditional form with its emphasis on Qur’anic and Hadith studies and while other societies have transformed their systems, Muslim countries are still grappling with the challenges of integrating within modern education.

Another major concern is the accessibility of education to the people. The need to democratize access to education has been canvassed for some time but this has remained a long-standing problem in Muslim countries.

It is obvious that the traditional system, without more, is unable to meet the needs of contemporary Muslim societies what with the additional pressures of globalization and the increasing need for education to produce problem-solving capacities. I believe all these issues are being discoursed in our two-day symposium and as such I shall confine my address today to the conceptual issues pertaining to the ummah and the intellectual crisis.

The economics of education

To begin with, there is a general perception in the discourse among many Muslim scholars that Western education and philosophy is secular and bereft of an ethical and moral dimension. To my mind, this is unfounded.

In John Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, it is clear that the driving concern is morality which for him, “is the one area apart from mathematics wherein human reasoning can attain a level of rational certitude.”[1]

In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which debunks the notion of him being the free market fundamentalist, Adam Smith asserts:

How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it.

Expounding his moral philosophy, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen is of the view that Adam Smith has two fundamental propositions on the functioning of the economic system in general, and of the market in particular. The first principle, being epistemological, is that human beings are not guided only by self-gain or even prudence. The second is one of practical reason: That there are good ethical and practical grounds for encouraging motives other than self-interest.

According to Professor Sen, Smith argues that while “prudence” was “of all virtues that which is most helpful to the individual”, “humanity, justice, generosity, and public spirit, are the qualities most useful to others”.

The point is that these are principles about which “unfortunately, a big part of modern economics gets both of them wrong in interpreting Smith.” Making him out as an advocate of pure capitalism, with complete reliance on the market mechanism guided by pure profit motive, is altogether misconceived.[2]

So, it appears that the misperceptions are not only pervasive among Muslim scholars but even among Western scholars in this regard, Smith – the icon of ‘capitalism’ – has been seriously misread.

Coming back to our original concern, I believe these ‘moral sentiments’ are not at loggerheads with Islamic precepts. After all, the guiding principle in political economy as summed up by al-Marhum Ismail al-F?r?q? is that economic action is the expression of Islam’s spirituality: The economy of the ummah and its good health are of the essence of Islam just as Islam’s spirituality is inexistent without just economic action.[3]

According to al-F?r?q?, if charity is to serve as a tool of religion whose purpose is the well-being of mankind, then it must have for its object goods of economic value. Religion, therefore, seeks to subject Man’s economic behaviour to the norms of morality. Islam, the religion of world-affirmation par excellence, seeks to order human life so as to make it actualize the pattern intended for it by its Creator. Hence the Islamic dictum: Inna al din al mu’amalah (Religion is indeed man’s treatment of his fellows).[4]

In looking at the economics of education, while the profit motive may be a legitimate factor, it cannot be driven purely by self-gain. On the contrary in line with the Islamic dictum on charity as expounded by al-F?r?q?, where the purpose of religion is the well-being of mankind, the promotion of education must be conducted as a virtue at par with such other virtues as “humanity, justice, generosity, and public spirit.”

Going back to first principles

It is important to remind ourselves that Muslim societies will not be able to progress by merely resting on the laurels of its time honoured labels. It is doubtful indeed that anything productive can emerge from the exercise of finding fault with the Western systems. The crisis in higher education – and for that matter, crisis in education at all levels – is most acute in Muslim countries, not in the West.

In fact, in the West, much less is said about the need for moral rectitude and ethical behaviour in education, yet the universities are at the forefront in producing the most sought after graduates, and in research and development. In saying this, I am not suggesting that moral rectitude and ethical behaviour in education are irrelevant but that this has to be seen in deed and action, not in proclamation of intentions.

In analysing the causes of the decline of the ummah be it in the field of education or any other field of significance, we should do away with the defensive mind-set that seems to have exemplified Muslim writers. Though Islamophobia is indeed a real problem, it is nevertheless not a cause or a factor that may be legitimately linked to the decline.

In this regard, going back to first principles is a better recourse. The Qur’an reminds us:

“Similar situations [as yours] have passed on before you, so proceed throughout the earth and observe how was the end of those who denied.” (Ali Imran: 137)

It is clear that much can be learned from the lessons of history. Malik Bennabi’s central thesis is indeed relevant concerning the need for original ideas and that a vibrant progressive society may emerge only if it can break free from the tradition of intellectual retardation.[5]

Bennabi tells us that a society’s wealth is not measured by material possessions but by ideas and that it is only from creative ideas alone that great strides in civilization were made.[6]

In the area of scientific and technological advancement, it bears recalling that Bennabi was already advocating the importance of the inculcation of skills and competencies in all fields as well as vocational and technical training for the ummah. And this is absolutely essential for the ummah to move ahead with the times.[7]

Education, rationality and ijtihad

Education must proceed on the basis of rationality and with that ijtihad. I am using this term in the sense as explained by Al-F?r?q?, where he has said:

As a methodical principle, rationalism is constitutive of the essence of Islamic civilization. … Rationalism does not mean the priority of reason over revelation but the rejection of any ultimate contradiction between them.[8]

Al-F?r?q? presented Islam as the religion par excellence of reason, science, and progress with a strong emphasis on action and the work ethic. Any suggestion that the advocacy of rationality in the articulation of educational policies and principles is grounded in secular thinking is therefore without foundation.[9]

For the advancement of the ummah, Al-F?r?q? advocates the fundamental processes of tajdid and islah in order to renew and reform the educational system.

To move ahead with the changing times is not tantamount to abandoning first principles or a rejection of tradition. Professor Naquib al-Attas, always mindful of the need to reassert the primacy of Islam as an intellectual tradition, persuasively argues that real modern education cannot be separated from the categories of knowledge fundamental to the Islamic tradition whereas contemporary modern knowledge should be freed from its secular-bound interpretations.[10]

To al-Attas, the major cause of not just of the crisis of Muslim education but the general retrogression of the ummah is the failure to inculcate ta?dib, which is the cultivation of the inner dimensions of the self, centering on the spirit of knowledge and education.

To my mind, and in this regard, it might constitute a contrarian view, rather than viewing it as a clash of views, I see a convergence of approaches between al-F?r?q? and al-Attas. If I may use the analogy of the Baytu l-?ar?m, there are various entrances to the holiest of holy sites in Islam but by which ever entrance used, the ultimate destination remains the Ka’aba. In both their approaches, we can discern a unified concern for the revivification of Islamic knowledge and thought.

That concern was not entirely new. From the time of Muhammad ‘Abduh, the call for change was couched in the language of modernity. Even back then there was the suspicion of ‘Abduh attempting to introduce secularism through the back door of ijtih?d but we know that such allegations are misconceived. On the contrary, what ‘Abduh did was to subject the moral and epistemological premises of secular modernity to scrutiny and he came to the conclusion that Islam’s modernity was both non-Western and non-secular.[11]

Allama Iqbal reminded us of the inadequacy of fiqh for the requirements of his time and called for ijtih?d. In doing so, he rightly cautioned that in the area of legislation for the State, ijtih?d should be undertaken as a collective enterprise and not individuals going on their own ways.[12]

Nevertheless, it would be timely to reconsider the constraints on the adoption of the ijtihad, including those advocated by Iqbal, removing them and allowing the doctrine to apply beyond legal matters into the realm of everyday life.

In this regard, we are in complete agreement with Sheikh Taha’s call for the revival of knowledge based on divine revelation against blind imitation of supposedly modern curricula in all areas of education where the dissemination of knowledge appears to be deliberately divorced from Islam’s core values.[13]

One must not forget that taqlid can also refer to blind imitation of the West and falling prey, even subconsciously, to the influence of the biases latent in the language of discourse. Hence, the need to propound alternative views and articulate a greater degree of independent thinking.[14]

The caveat against blind adoption of liberal views was sounded by Fazlur Rahman: “Universal values are the crux of the being of a society: the debate about the relativity of moral values in a society is born of a liberalism that in the process of liberalisation has become so perverted as to destroy those very moral values that it set out to liberate from the constraints of dogma.”[15]

A tentative prescription in the tradition of IIIT

In formulating a new prescription for Muslims one can do no better than to echo the calls made in the tradition of the International Institute of Islamic Thought on the Islamization of knowledge as pioneered by al-Marhum Ismail al-F?r?q?. I use the word ‘echo’ deliberately with the rider that a fresh interpretation is called for in order to do justice to the purport of this approach. This fresh interpretation is in tandem with the commitment to the core values of Islam.

In my humble view, this is necessary because in failing to do justice to these fundamental principles, certain scholars and ulema have confounded the plain message of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. They call for the adoption of the Shari’ah without a deeper understanding of the maqasid, giving preference to scholastic views and speculative opinions, many of which rely on unauthentic hadith and a skewered understanding of hudud law.[16] Indeed, this is clearly contrary to the clear message of the Qur’an:

“This [Qur'an] is a clear statement to [all] the people and a guidance and instruction for those conscious of Allah.” (Ali Imran: 138)

Though we would expect it to be taken for granted, yet it is imperative to remind ourselves that the Qur??n is more than just a moral code. Indeed it is a universal guide for the community. If we take the definition of education as a social extension of culture and culture as a definitive or core ingredient of civilization, then this approach of the Islamization of knowledge will lead to a truly holistic adoption of Islam’s core values. This indeed will be the best answer to the question what is the Islamic weltanschauung:

“You are the best nation produced [as an example] for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allah.” (Ali Imran: 110)

Secondly, to my mind, there is some substance in the observation that in the current approach to the Islamization of knowledge endeavour, there is a preponderance of focus on the social sciences while the crisis of the ummah in practical terms can be traced to it being technologically and scientifically lagging behind the non-Muslim communities.[17]

The project should therefore be broadened to attract more scholars and participants from the physical sciences and in time this will add a more balanced critical mass to the intellectual force. After all, the Bayt al-Hikmah of the Golden Age of Islam gave birth to not just philosophers but eminent scientists. In fact, the bifurcation between the two was not the norm as the holistic pursuit of knowledge saw the genesis of “philosopher-scientists” competent in a wide spectrum of intellectual disciplines.[18] At the core of this focus, I believe, is the divine injunction on the use of the intellectual faculty.

Thus, the Qur’an enjoins the use of reason to ascertain the truth as provided by the senses, and truth grounded on revelation:

“And He has subjected to you whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth – all from Him. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought.” (al-Jathiyah:13)

Finally, we must consider it a jihad to free ourselves from a new shroud of ignorance that has been cast upon the ummah. Shaykh Muhammad al-Ghazali reminds us that “ignorance combined with bigotry and caprice are a great misfortune.” The antidote to this is the pursuit of knowledge which will widen our horizons and strengthen our resolve and will-power for individuals as well as communities.[19]

Thank you.


[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy –  http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/locke-moral/ An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, in P.H. Nidditch (ed.), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, based on the fourth edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975.

[2] http://www.newstatesman.com/ideas/2010/04/smith-market-essay-sentiments

[3] Ismail Raji al Faruqi, Al Tawhid: Its Implications for Thought and Life, 2nd ed., Herndon: IIIT, 1992, p. 157

[4] Ibid. at p.170

[5] Badrane Benlahcene, The Socio-Intellectual Foundations of Malek Bennabi’s Approach To Civilisation, IIIT, 2011

[6] Malik Bennabi, Mushkilat al Afkar fil Alam al Islami, trans. M Ali, Cairo: Maktabat Amar, 1971, 56

[7] Abdulaziz Berghout, The Concept of Culture and Cultural Transformation: Views of Malik Bennabi, Intellectual Discourse, 2001 Vol. 9, No 1, pp. 78-79

[8] Ismail R. al Faruqi and Lois Lamya al Faruqi, Cultural Atlas of Islam, Macmillan Publishing Company: New York, 1986, pp.78-79

[9] Islam and Knowledge: Al Faruqi’s Concept Of Religion In Islamic Thought, ed. Imtiyaz Yusuf, I.B. Tauris in association with IIIT and the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University, Washington 2012

[10] Prolegomena to the Metaphysics of Islam: An Exposition of the Fundamental Elements of the Worldview of Islam, Kuala Lumpur: International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization, 1995

[11] Tradition and Modernity – Christian and Muslim Perspectives, ed. David Marshall, Georgetown University Press, 2013, Chapter on “Muhammad ‘Abduh – A Sufi-inspired Modernist?” by Vincent J. Cornell p.108

[12] Muhammad Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, Kitab Bhavan, 2000

[13] Taha J. al-Alwani, Islamic Thought: An Approach To Reform

[14] Epistemological Bias in the Physical & Social Sciences, Edited by A. M. Elmessiri, IIIT

[15] Liberal Islam – A Sourcebook, ed. Charles Kruzman, Oxford University Press, 1998, Ch. 31 on Fazlur Rahman’s Islam and Modernity p.317

[16] Mohammad Omar Farooq, Toward Our Reformation: From Legalism to Value-Oriented Islamic Law and Jurisprudence, IIIT, 2011

[17] Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr, “Islamization of Knowledge: A Critical Overview”, Islamic Studies Vol. 30, No. 3 (Autumn 1991), pp. 387-400

[18] Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. “The Teaching of Philosophy.” In Philosophy, Literature, and Fine Arts, edited by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, pp. 3–21. Islamic Education Series. Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, 1982

[19] Shaykh  Muhammad al-Ghazali, A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an, trans. Ashur A. Shamis, rev. Zaynab Alawiye, IIIT, 2000, pp. 516-517

17 August 2013

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The National Interest

When President Obama visited Cairo on June 4, 2009, he made a special point of declaring that he had come to establish a new beginning between the United States and the Arab world. This beginning, he said, would be based “upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive…they overlap, and share common principles—principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.” Now, in Egypt, an authoritarian government, headed by the military, is slaughtering followers of Islam, and what does Obama have to say?

Not much, it appears. What is emerging from the president and his advisers is a few worried murmurs of protest, coupled with studied indecision. Where are the human-rights activists such as UN ambassador Samantha Power? Where is national-security adviser Susan Rice who vowed to stick up for the oppressed after she remained silent during the genocide in Rwanda? Do they agree with Secretary of State John Kerry’s earlier assessment that the military is “restoring democracy” in Egypt?

Instead of protesting the Egyptian military’s actions, or even threatening to cut off military aid, the administration is refusing to deem the events in Egypt a coup. The Washington Posteditorial page says that the administration is “complicit” with the military’s actions. It adds,

It is difficult to imagine how the assault on the Brotherhood, which won multiple elections and is still supported by millions of Egyptians, can be followed by a credible transition to democracy. More likely, it will lead Egypt toward still greater violence. It may be that outside powers cannot now change this tragic course of events. But if the United States wishes to have some chance to influence a country that has been its close ally for four decades, it must immediately change its policy toward the armed forces.

If a serious case could be made that Egpyt is headed towards stable, authoritarian rule, it would be one thing. In that instance, it might be plausible to invoke Henry Kissinger’s famous comment about Chile and add that a country shouldn’t be allowed to go hardline Islamist. But the problem is this: Is Obama being a realist when it comes to Egypt? Or is he being utterly unrealistic about what the future holds for Washington’s ties with Cairo? America’s track record, when it comes to supporting corrupt and authoritarian regimes, particularly in the Middle East, is a mixed one. Obama, you could even say, is inadvertently doing what he said he wanted to end in his Cairo speech: “empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and…promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity.”

For Egypt appears to be headed toward, at best, an armed truce, and, at worst, a civil war. The Islamists are being further radicalized. America will be blamed. How does this end the “cycle of suspicion and discord” that Obama identified and lamented in June 2009?

Indeed, it may well be that the conflagration that the neoconservatives hoped would erupt in the Middle East is indeed erupting. Syria is already in flames. Now Egypt may be engulfed. How long can it be before Jordan is afflicted by the tumult?

Obama, aloof as ever, wants nothing to do with foreign policy. But a renewed debate is going to erupt in America over continuing aid to what amounts to an armed junta in Egypt. Senator Rand Paul was widely ridiculed when he proposed an amendment ending aid to Egypt, but perhaps he no longer looks so ridiculous at a moment when the Washington Post is calling for suspending it until the generals move to restore democracy. At a minimum, Obama should threaten suspension. Surely he does not want to go down in history as the enabler of tyranny?

There may not be much that America can do to calm Egypt, but Obama doesn’t even seem to be trying. Leon Trotsky once remarked, “You may not be interested in the dialectic, but the dialectic is interested in you.” Obama could be about to learn that he may not be interested in foreign affairs, but foreign affairs is interested in him.

16 August 2013

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Hurriyet Daily News

The attack of the Egyptian police and military on the supporters of the ousted president Mohamed Morsi gathered in Adawiya and Nahda squares of Cairo started in the early hours of Aug. 14, as it was started to be reported in social media a while before the international agencies.

The interim government had warned a few days ago that they would “gradually” put pressure on the demonstrators to empty the streets, but perhaps no one expected such a merciless attack by the security forces that resulted in killing of so many people. That may include governments who gave a silent approval to the military coup, which toppled the elected president of the country, like the U.S. and EU governments and those who applauded the coup, like Saudi Arabia and Qatar; they have a responsibility for yesterday’s massacre in Cairo.

Qatar condemned the yesterday’s move by the Egyptian security forces and joined Turkey to denounce it as “unacceptable”; perhaps thanks to a telephone call by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu. The first statements from the European Union were calling all political sides to “renounce violence,” as if it was same thing to have street demonstrations against a military coup and opening fire on them. Later on the statement from the EU was a more careful one asking the Egyptian security forces to stop attacking peaceful demonstrators.

But right after the attack, some of the protesters were no longer as peaceful as before, showing a reaction. The incidents quickly spread to other cities of Egypt in such a way that the interim government declared state of emergency, perhaps dragging the country a step closer to martial law. The United States’ condemnation of the killings was particularly against the declaration of the state of emergency, too.

Actually the country is being dragged into a civil war like Syria. Pointing at that threat, Turkish President Abdullah Gül said Egypt was getting down into chaos and it might take long years from now for the country to adopt democracy.

No one has ever seen such a situation before. A part of the Egyptian people are resisting against a coup, claiming their votes and do not want to lose the power they have achieved after decades, and part of the people are against the protesters, even supporting the military with the fear that the democratic majority could turn the country into a theocratic state; a terrible picture indeed.

Egypt, despite its thousands of years of history and tradition of statehood, has never experienced a democratic life. The Arab Spring, which resulted in the toppling of its former ruler Hosni Mubarak, was regarded as an opportunity for a journey toward a democratic life. It started to turn sour when Morsi felt that he could transform the long established Egyptian state apparatus into a Muslim Brotherhood machine overnight, and it took a big blow when the military, betraying its new boss, overthrew Morsi on July 3. Now it seems democracy in Egypt is a dream that cannot become true so quickly.

But it should be noted that this situation is no way sustainable for either the Egyptian military or the international community in support of them. The U.S. administration must see that the support that they give the military-backed interim government in Egypt will not be able to eradicate the Muslim Brotherhood, which has deep roots in the society, but it will possibly radicalize many proud and angry men and women in Egypt and in other Arab countries into the trenches of al-Qaeda and the like. That would be the bitter cost of the hypocrisy over the bloodshed in Egypt.

14 August 2013

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Al-Jazeera

Some are calling it a fitting end to political Islam, others ‘difficult moments’ and yet others equivocated about ‘military intervention’. So, why are the supposed flagship democracies like the US and the EU unable or unwilling to call a coup a coup? Germany did slightly better by describing what happened in Egypt as “a major setback for democracy in Egypt,” even as the rest of the West attempted to mask its diabolical positions by merely calling for restraint and the avoiding of violence.  But the failure to refer to it as a coup, let alone condemn it, bespeaks the double standards of these democracies.

Tunisia condemned the overthrow as a “flagrant coup”, which undermined democracy and would feed radicalism. In a speech in Istanbul on July 5th, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan condemned it: “No matter where or against whom, coups are damaging, inhuman and against the people, national will and democracy.”

In this impassioned denunciation, Erdogan is not just giving a knee-jerk response but articulating Turkey’s lessons of history. It is in this shared past that Egypt may yet be able to find new hope for a destiny akin to Turkey’s, undoubtedly a thriving democracy with a painful and bitter history of military interventions.

Thus, in one fell swoop, the fragile edifice of Egypt’s newly minted constitutional democracy came tumbling down. No amount of window dressing – such as appointing a Supreme Court chief judge to head an ‘interim government’ – will change the fact that the iron hand of the military has turned back the clock of the Arab world’s most populous country.

Some have justified the June 30 military coup on the grounds that the January 25th Revolution of 2011 that ousted Mubarak was itself backed by the Egyptian army. But that analogy is false. While the Revolution saw the overthrow of a dictator who had ruled by force for close to three decades, this was the ouster of a president who had been democratically elected through free and fair elections. The contrast could not be more glaring: one had been in power because of the military. The other came to power with the people’s mandate but is forced out by the military.

Western silence

By remaining silent when the military issued its ultimatum to President Morsi, the West became complicit. The failure to condemn the coup after the fact sealed its culpability, reigniting the debate about inconsistencies in Western foreign policy when it concerns countries governed by democratically elected parties oriented towards political Islam.

Some commentators have talked about a clash between Islamists and liberals as being the main cause for the fall of Morsi. Egyptians, it is contended, do not want a Taliban-style government. Apart from the fact that there is little substance to that argument, it is also framed in a false context. Morsi did not fall – he was cut down by the military in a blatant coup. Furthermore, though there might have been some autocratic exuberance in passing that ill-fated presidential decree, equating Muslim Brotherhood with the Taliban betrays sheer ignorance or worse Islamophobia.

Closer to the truth perhaps is that remnants of the Mubarak regime have seized the day to take back the power that was being whittled down, not immediately in the aftermath of the revolution, but after the Muslim Brotherhood came to power. Indeed, it may be no exaggeration to say that a counter-revolution has been set in place by those forces bent on reasserting their lost glory.

All major appointments to office after the coup have been made by the military. Their names resonate with those who are not averse to seeing a return of Egypt’s praetorian past but send chills to those who had believed that Mubarak’s minions had been given a decent burial. The lessons of history are writ large here.

Turkey’s recent past reminds us of the unceasing attempts by the military to stage one coup after another in its bid to seize back power and privileges. The Turkish people were never handed democracy on a silver platter. Just as what we are witnessing now in Egypt, the Turkish people had to fight hard for it and even harder to keep it. It was fought with the blood, sweat and tears of those united by the love for freedom and democracy and the conviction that the role of the military must remain that of defending the nation’s realm, not determining the government of the day. That can only be done through the ballot box.

It was a heavy price to pay but the hardship and suffering under military rule was even heavier. As Prime Minister Erdogan puts it, “each military coup paralysed the economy of Turkey, wasted Turkey’s assets and caused the country, the nation, and especially the youth, to pay a heavy price.” Egyptians too paid their price for the revolution and now is being burdened once more to pay the price for defending it. This is exacted on the Egyptian people culminating tragically in the massacre of more than 100 pro-Morsi supporters and members of the Brotherhood around the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo.

Army chief Gen Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the leaders of the illegitimate interim government have blood on their hands and must be held to account. This slaughter of innocent people must be condemned. Attempts to justify the coup on ‘peculiar circumstances’ such as the incompetence of Morsi’s administration, its exclusivist nature, and the protests by millions of Egyptians, are facile and highly subjective.

Furthermore, reliable evidence has emerged indicating that many of the purported spontaneous street demonstrations demanding Morsi’s ouster were funded by foreign aid and regional state run bodies. In any event, since when could mass protests be a vindication of a military take over? In a democracy, pressure can always be brought to bear on a ruling government through street demonstrations so that it may be kept in check but a democratically elected government cannot be justifiably overthrown either by street protests or military cannons.

What’s next for Egypt? 

Talk of reconciliation is futile in as much as it is empty rhetoric. Calling for unity and reconciliation is one thing but when it emanates from the side that’s been the usurper it rings hollow. Reconciliation cannot proceed from a foundation of illegitimacy. Nor can it take place with a gun pointed against one’s head.

With the rest of justice minded and democracy loving advocates, I add my voice to the call on the West, particularly the United States to do the right thing. The billions in military and economic aid to Egypt should also be aid in the name of democracy and human rights, not in support of military coups. They must demand for the immediate release of President Morsi and his supporters. President Morsi must be reinstated to his rightful office and he in turn must immediately initiate a national dialogue that includes all sides.

This is not a failure of the revolution. This is a military coup in the borrowed garb of a people’s revolt, turning the Arab spring into its winter of discontent. The course of true democracy never did run smooth. What more a nascent democracy such as Egypt’s. Those democratically elected must be allowed to complete the tasks they were elected to do, or at very least where there is overwhelming demand from the people for a fresh mandate, be allowed to call for fresh elections. As long as they stay true to the constitutional process and uphold the rule of law, there is neither moral nor legal justification to remove them.

The people of Egypt stood united and fought tooth and nail in ending six decades of military dictatorship so that they could taste real freedom and democracy. Let us not be complicit to this unconstitutional and immoral coup but instead be among those on the right side of history. Let us do our part to see the people of Egypt regain the glory of their great January 25 Revolution.

ANWAR IBRAHIM

31 July 2013

Pendapat

Pendapat Anda?

Huffington Post

In what looked more like a scene from “The Dictator” than real life, Egypt’s leading general and de-facto head of state Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi addressed cheering crowds in his full military fatigue and Gamal Abdel Nassir sunglasses on Wednesday. He congratulated them for “making their will known” to the world on June 30th (when mass protests began) and July 3rd (the day Morsi was ousted), and declared that “the will of the people” delegitimizes the results of elections. He then called on “all noble Egyptians” to march on Friday in the millions to give him “the popular mandate to fight terrorism.”

The Tamarrod campaign enthusiastically endorsed his call on their official Facebook page, encouraging Egyptians to support the army in “the coming war against terrorism” and its “cleansing” of the country, widely understood as references to cracking down on The Muslim Brotherhood.

The head of Egypt’s security apparatus does not need a popular mandate to pursue those involved in criminal activity. However, a ruling junta in the Arab world’s most populous country concerned with its global image does need the theatrics of “popular will” to use force to wipe out an entire political movement and its supporters, one that by the most conservative estimates comprises no less than a quarter of the Egyptian people. Not only is the general fanning the already white hot flames of anti-Muslim Brotherhood fervor in Egypt, but he is exploiting it to gain political cover for mass repression and violence. In the current climate of ultra nationalism and deep polarization, sadly, many Egyptians are all too willing to provide it.

Far from eradicating terrorism, such an approach would only empower those who call for violence against the state.

Unless Egypt’s military junta decisively corrects its current course, and pursues a peaceful, inclusive and reconciliatory approach to putting Egypt back on a democratic path, it will be feeding rather than draining militants’ ideological fuel.

This is because Al Qaeda was conceived in the prisons of Egypt, contrary to conventional wisdom, not the caves of Afghanistan. Gamal Abdel Nassir’s torture chambers produced Al Qaeda’s intellectual foundation, whose original target was not the United States, but corrupt Arab governments the superpower was seen as propping up. Sayed Qutb, whose writings inspired many militant groups, including Al Qaeda, was radicalized and eventually executed in Nassir’s jail. Decades later, Ayman El Zawahri, Osama bin Laden’s deputy and chief strategist, turned to militancy in these same confines, and went on to advocate for violence as the only way to correct perceived injustice.

The Egyptian people proved him wrong in the spring of 2011. Eighteen days of mass protests accomplished what decades of militancy could not: ridding Egypt of a thirty-year dictator. The January 25th revolt was the single greatest blow to Al Qaedaism since its bastard birth in Nassir’s jail. Islamists worked with liberals and leftists to rid their nation of a common enemy. When Iran’s supreme leader congratulated Egypt on its “Islamic Revolution”, it was the Muslim Brotherhood that corrected him. “This was an Egyptian People’s Revolution,” the Islamists declared. Former militants formed political parties, not terrorism cells, working within the system rather than seeking to destroy it. According to years of Gallup nationally representative surveys, while the majority of Egyptians (60 percent) said that “oppressed people can improve their situation through peaceful means alone” before the revolution, this number rose to 79 percent after it successfully ousted Hosni Mubarak, and to 85 percent after the first parliamentary elections. The January 25th revolution was a victory for not only “people power” but for peaceful means of change.

The threat to extremist ideology was apparently so acute that Ayman El Zawahri went out of his way in February 2011 to put out a statement responding to the Egyptian uprising, where he denounced democracy as unIslamic. It seemed that Egypt, the birthplace of Al Qaeda, would also be the land of its celebrated death.

After the military’s mass arrests and violent crackdown on supporters of the former president in the past weeks however, it might be El Zawahri who is celebrating.

In the early morning on Monday, July 8th, several days after the fall of Morsi, the military opened fire on a pro-Morsi sit in at the Republican guard leaving 51 dead, one soldier and 50 Morsi supporters. A grainy video of the incident shows people running in a panic as soldiers blast the crowd with gunshots. Human rights groups, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as Western media outlets, including theNew York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Foreign Policy Magazine, reported the military used excessive force. Within hours, the military issued a statement saying it acted in self-defense. In response to the incident the armed forces made a number of arrests — not of officers allegedly responsible for the incident as a nod to accountability and reconciliation — but of senior Brotherhood leaders, including the Supreme guide Mohammad Badie, on charges that they incited their own massacre.

With few exceptions, Egypt’s so-called “liberals” hardly object. Many formally anti-military activists and human rights NGO leaders, who have themselves witnessed violence against protesters at the hands of Egypt’s security apparatus, now fiercely defend the military, scorning dissidents in their ranks. With eerie irony, Tamarrod spokesman has stated that, “Nassir’s Egypt will not tolerate the continuation of Morsi’s Egypt” apparently glorifying a time in the country’s history when it was anything but a democracy.

If democracy were established, Egypt could still be Al Qaeda’s ideological death bed. But if the military pursues its current path, the country also has the potential to become the site of the network’s philosophical second coming. This risk was made clear in a social media exchange I had with a prominent Egyptian blogger named Ali shortly after the Republican guard shooting.

Ali: “They’re pushing us to be extremists, if they kept arresting pres. Morsy & refuse every democratic process” 

I responded in four parts:
“1. No one can force us to extremism. We have a choice. We must choose Islamic ethics over self defeating impulse. 1/4″
“2. Nothing would please your enemies more. Perfect pretense for mass repression and political exclusion. Choose wisdom. 2/4″
“3. Turning to extremism dishonors the blood of the martyrs. 3/4″
“4. Remember God said ‘don’t let a people’s hatred of you cause you to be unjust.’ God rewards patience. 4/4″

Ali:
“He also said “And if you punish an enemy, punish proportionally to that which you were harmed”[1]”

Me:
“Yes, within what is permitted. Responding in like in this case is wrong and unwise. Results disastrous.”

Ali:
“We are dying anyway, u should advise the one who kill not the victim”

Me:
“I have. See my timeline. They wish for nothing more than a pretense for more repression. Don’t give it to them.”

I might give Egypt’s ruling generals, and their advisors in Washington and Brussels, similar advice: Ayman El Zawahri and those who agree with him wish for nothing more than a pretense for violence. Don’t give it to them.

 
Dalia Mogahed is Chairman and CEO of Mogahed Consulting. With John L Esposito she co-authored “Who Speaks For Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think”

[1] The same verse goes to say, “But if you are patient – it is better for those who are patient.” It is understood to allow and limit Muslims to “proportional retaliation” in war, as opposed to massive or punishing retaliation, while encouraging forgiveness.

18 July 2013

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Pendapat Anda?

Project Syndicate

Putting an end to Egypt’s deepening polarization and rising bloodshed requires one urgent first step: the reinstatement of Mohamed Morsi as Egypt’s duly elected president. His removal by military coup was unjustified. While it is true that millions of demonstrators opposed Morsi’s rule, even massive street protests do not constitute a valid case for a military coup in the name of the “people” when election results repeatedly say otherwise.

This illustration is by Chris Van Es and comes from <a href="http://www.newsart.com">NewsArt.com</a>, and is the property of the NewsArt organization and of its artist. Reproducing this image is a violation of copyright law.
Illustration by Chris Van Es

There is no doubt that Egyptian society is deeply divided along sectarian, ideological, class, and regional lines. Yet the country has gone to the polls several times since the February 2011 overthrow of Mubarak’s 30-year rule. The results have demonstrated strong popular support for Islamist parties and positions, though they also make clear the country’s schisms.

In late 2011 and early 2012, Egypt held parliamentary elections. Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party, created by the Muslim Brotherhood, secured a plurality, and the two major Islamist blocs together received roughly two-thirds of the vote. In June 2012, Morsi defeated his rival Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s final prime minister, by a margin of 52-48% to win the presidency. In a national referendum in December 2012, a 64% majority of those voting approved a draft constitution backed by the Muslim Brotherhood (though turnout was low).

The secular argument that Morsi’s lust for power jeopardized Egypt’s nascent democracy does not bear scrutiny. Secular, military, and Mubarak-era foes of the Muslim Brotherhood have used every lever at their disposal, democratic or not, to block the Islamist parties’ democratic exercise of power. This is consistent with a decades-old pattern in Egyptian history, in which the Brothers – and Islamist political forces in general – were outlawed, and their members imprisoned, tortured, and exiled.

Claims that Morsi ruled undemocratically stem from his repeated attempts to extricate the popularly elected parliament and presidency from anti-democratic traps set by the military. After the Islamist parties’ huge victory in the 2011-2012 parliamentary elections, the military leadership and the Supreme Court (filled with Mubarak-era judges) worked to derail the new parliament and prevent it from establishing an assembly to draft a new constitution.

The key action came in June 2012, when the Supreme Court, staffed entirely with Mubarak-era holdovers, nullified the results of the parliamentary elections on specious grounds. The military was set to reassert full legislative powers.

Morsi’s subsequent victory in the presidential election therefore set up an epic battle over the future of the parliament and the constitution, as Morsi attempted to protect the democratically elected parliament while the military fought to dissolve it. In the end, Morsi insisted that the elected parliament create a constitutional assembly, which produced the draft approved in the December 2012 referendum.

As is typical of political revolutions, Egypt’s economic situation has gone from bad to worse in the course of these power struggles. Revolutions tend to confront new governments with steeply rising social demands (for wage increases and higher welfare spending, for example) at a time of capital flight, financial turmoil, and deep disruptions of production. In Egypt’s case, the crucial tourist sector contracted sharply after the revolution. Unemployment soared, the currency depreciated, and food prices rose dangerously.

None of this is surprising, and little of it can be managed by a new government that lacks experience, market confidence, and full control of the levers of power. Historically, outside parties have thus played a decisive role. Will foreign governments and the International Monetary Fund extend vital finances to the new government, or will they let it flounder and drown in a tsunami of currency depreciation and inflation?

Here, the feckless West – torn between its democratic rhetoric and its antipathy to the Islamists – showed its hand. The result was equivocation and delay, rather than commitment and assistance. The IMF has talked with the Egyptian government for two and a half years since Mubarak’s overthrow without so much as lending a single cent, sealing the Egyptian economy’s fate and contributing to public unrest and the recent coup.

It appears from press reports that the West finally gave the green light to the Egyptian military to overthrow Morsi, arrest the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership, and repress the Islamist rank and file. US President Barack Obama’s unwillingness to stand up for Egypt’s elected leaders, or even to label their overthrow a “coup” (thereby protecting the continued flow of US funds to the Egyptian military), shows that when push came to shove, the West sided with the anti-Islamists in subverting democracy. Of course, in classic Orwellian fashion, the West did so in democracy’s name.

The coup and the West’s complacency about it (if not complicity in it) could devastate Egypt. The Islamists are neither a marginal political group nor a terrorist force. They represent a large part of Egypt’s population, perhaps half or more, and are certainly the country’s best-organized political force. The attempt to repress the Muslim Brotherhood and to deny Morsi the presidency to which he was elected will most likely lead to massive violence and the strangulation of democracy, however the West and Egyptian anti-Islamists try to justify their actions.

At this point, the correct course for the West would be to call on Egypt’s military to reinstate Morsi; to offer prompt financing to help stabilize the Egyptian economy; and to support true pluralism, not the kind that reverts to military coups when elections produce inconvenient results.

True pluralism means accepting the strength of Islamist political forces in the new Egypt and other countries in the region. Short of this, the West will most likely end up as an accomplice to Egypt’s continuing downward spiral into violence and economic collapse.

Read more at http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/democracy-in-egypt-requires-reinstating-mohamed-morsi-by-jeffrey-d–sachs#hrJ27OEjLwtQgv8S.99

13 July 2013

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Pendapat Anda?

Ikhwan Web

Columnist Fahmi Howeidi describes exclusionary measures and atrocities by security services and certain politicians against the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of President Mohamed Morsi and democratic and constitutional legitimacy as neo-fascism.

Egyptian elite and intellectuals calling for reconciliation and defense of the democratic process in Egypt are being subjected to a fierce, unfair and unjustified campaign of slander and intimidation these days.

This takes place at a time when Egypt is facing tumultuous uncontrolled emotions and feelings, with no way to calm tension except through calls to reconciliation and commitment to the values ??of democracy and democratic process and tools.

 I say this after I read the writings of several journalists who set out to try and stifle those voices and exercise various pressures in order to silence them. Some have gone so far as to ridicule the idea of ??reconciliation and discredit the talk about democracy and the rule of law, while disproportionately praising ‘Military-dom’, and implying and making-believe that any criticism of the military and its regime is a kind of political profanity and blasphemy which inevitably lead the ‘perpetrator’ to a fateful end.
 This is in addition to all forms of intimidation and ridicule – which is utterly absurd, especially from mature writers who have professional status and enjoy high prestige in the media world.
 This gets even more shocking as we learn that the pressures and intimidation faced by rational voices in the media do not come exclusively from sensationalists, propagandists and agents provocateurs in the media. Indeed, I heard some of these voices complain of pressures exerted on them from certain commanders of the security apparatus that regained vitality and activity in the wake of recent developments.
 The sad thing is that charging the people with feelings of hatred and estrangement, in many cases, makes the worst of them. Now, those wise people are exposed every now and then to a barrage of insults and obscenities on social networking websites that profanes their dignity and honor.
 A fellow ‘journalist’ was bashing, vilifying and slandering one of those wise liberals, he wrote: “He filled our heads with nauseating talk about democracy, the rule of law, peaceful transfer of power, and other elite paraphernalia, while insisting, implicitly or explicitly, on standing against military rule, fighting with all his philosophization and pedantry to prevent the army from even approaching the political arena.”
 No less surprising is the fact that our esteemed colleague denounced that liberal politician’s rejection of the exclusion of the Muslim Brotherhood, of the “ruinous discourse of revenge, hatred and spite adopted against them, and of his reservations about shuttering their satellite TV stations”.
 In conclusion, our colleague said of the Muslim Brotherhood, “We cannot integrate them into any culture or society. Nor should any sane person reach out to them, because they are advocates of subversion and sabotage. They are professionals at conspiracy and betrayal. We do not want them among us. We do not want them to breed, multiply and thrive in our midst like poisonous insects. Their trials must be neither fair nor impartial, because their justice is not like ours, and their Islam is not our Islam”, as published in Al-Watan on July 7.
 I included the long quote above because it brings together almost all others have been repeating in various articles with headlines like: “Yes to the exclusion of the Muslim Pretenders (referring to the Muslim Brotherhood)”, “Fascist traitors must get out of our lives completely”, “Say rehabilitation, not national reconciliation”… etc.
 Interestingly, one of those antagonists began his satirical verse by saying, “We will not tolerate traitors, murderers or conspirators. But we must open our hearts to all those who differ with us in attitudes and opinions!”
After an enthusiastic colleague wrote an article calling for prosecution of Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi – the renowned Muslim scholar, another colleague of hers added that the death penalty is not enough for Dr. Mohamed Badie, the Muslim Brotherhood Chairman!
Meanwhile, another colleague simply used a poem called ‘No reconciliation’ by Amal Dunqul (in which he urged Sadat to make no reconciliation with the Israelis), and considered this appropriate to pre-empt the idea of ??reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood.
The campaign of intimidation and physical exclusion does not stop with that torrent of incitement, insults and obscenities with which Egyptian media overflows. In fact, it goes in parallel with other measures, such as preventing Brotherhood writers and journalists from getting published in national newspapers, closing down some religious TV channels, expanding arbitrary arrests and detentions of Islamist leaders, blacking out news of mass rallies and sit-ins by supporters of Dr. Morsi, and adopting the point of view of the regime and the security apparatus in the way current events are presented, including the dawn massacre outside the Republican Guard compound.
 Even more, some of these colleagues called for a boycott of Al-Jazeera TV channel, forcing its crew out from a press conference in which representatives of the ministries of interior and defense talked, just because Al-Jazeera presented the other point of view as well as the ministry of interior’s perspective regarding the ongoing events.
 When I searched for a definition that sums up what we are witnessing these days, I could not find any appropriate term but ‘neo-fascism’. The saddest thing about this neo-fascism is not only the fact that it is there at all, but that some hail and welcome it gleefully! Woe to them all! Woe to neo-fascism!

6 July 2013

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Malaysiakini

In the real world, you’d imagine that rejection by the majority of voters would be a wake-up call to any government. But not, it seems, to Malaysia’s BN regime, whose return to business as usual following its recent near-death electoral experience is beyond unbelievable.

As a sports commentator down here in Sydney once made himself famous for saying, this is déjà vu all over again.

Same old slaughter of ‘suspects’ in police custody, and the same old reluctance to bring the suspects to book. Same old ravishing of the environment and robbery of natural resources by timber tycoons and crony palm-oil plantation companies. Same old immunity for all these and other regime-connected criminals from proper investigation, let alone prosecution. The same old mess of lies, spin and omission from the regime’s so-called mainstream media.

And if there’s one topic that best illustrates BN’s continued criminal career it’s the seemingly endless stink surrounding the electoral indelible ink.

Or rather, I should say, the now-infamously delible ink. Which was a joke on the populace from the very start, as it was the only one of eight ‘clean and fair election’ demands by Bersih that the regime made the slightest effort to meet.

But BN couldn’t even play it straight with this single miserable token of its honest intent. First having its crooked election commission claim that the ink would persist for a week, and then, when it proved to wash off in a matter of hours if not minutes, coming up with a series of increasingly stupid excuses.

It’s been pretty hard to keep up with them all, but from memory they’ve included stories that the bottles weren’t properly shaken, then that the silver nitrate content had been diluted for fear of causing finger cancer, and finally that the accursed ink had contained no silver nitrate whatever, but just food colouring.

So that at least if it wasn’t indelible, the ink was apparently edible. Though many Malaysians still consider the RM7 million cost of the ink and its allegedly ‘special’ bottles and labels to be absolutely incredible.

Yet the heads of the EC still resolutely refuse to resign in disgrace for this distasteful situation, let alone the other electoral outrages they committed and/or condoned, and the BN regime similarly refuses to remove them.

Puzzled by majority rejection

In light of such evidence of BN’s determination to continue in its career of crime and grime, it’s amusing, in a gruesome kind of way, that the inventor of ‘1Malaysia’ and now head of 47 percent Malaysia, Najib Abdul Razak, is puzzled by his majority electoral rejection.

So puzzled, in fact, that he says he intends to set up a “political laboratory” to try and analyse the situation he and BN find themselves in and “formulate strategies” for the future.

According to Malaysiakini, Najib announced the formation of thepolitical lab following a meeting of the BN supreme council, explaining that “it is about the future of BN, taking into account the existing political landscape as well as our performance in the last general election.”

Adding that the lab would look into various strategies that could be implemented in changing BN, he said that “we will consider whether it requires a structural change, whether it is just branding the BN, or whether it is to be a change in policies or all three of them together as a package.”

It would be encouraging to think that this lab might be different from the one that formulated the EC’s incredible, edible and above all delible ‘indelible’ ink. And also a somewhat less sinister lab than the one employed by Dr Mahathir Mohamad back in the 1980s to create the Frankenstein-style monster that BN has since become.

But let’s not get our hopes up. Far from any honest research, scientific or otherwise, all that Najib and his fellow BN lab-rats have any intention of doing is perfecting their tried-and-true formula for ruling, robbing and otherwise ruining Malaysia.

Far from working to improve the racial and religious chemistry of the nation, as they so piously claim to intend, all they will do in Najib’s so-called lab is to put racial and religious harmony on the back burner in favour of continuing putting the heat on non-Malays through the likes of Perkasa and Utusan Malaysia.

And as for their coming up with a cure for corruption with a genuine Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), or a remedy for the ongoing custodial killing spree in the form of an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC), forget it.

On the contrary, in fact. They’re far more likely to emerge from the lab with new and even cleverer ways to put the acid on the Chinese for allegedly “betraying” them by voting for the opposition in the general election.

Deflecting public criticism

Or new and more devious ways to deflect public criticism of their cronies for causing the so-called ‘haze’ than Najib’s lame claim that nothing could be achieved by blame, and that instead people should pray for rain.

Or to invent a more plausible resolution to the stink about the vastly overpriced edible, delible ink than the recent declaration by Federal Territories Minister Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor that “Malaysia does not need to have indelible ink as part of its electoral process because we are not a Third-World country.”

Claiming that use of the ink was only agreed on because “the opposition wanted it”, he then went on to declare that the chemical content of the ink had been reduced “because the government cares for the people.”

A statement so patently, painfully false as to illustrate the fact that BN and its members and accomplices are way beyond the scope of any ordinary lab, and should by rights be examined by a forensic facility.

Because lying, along with stealing, is in their very DNA. And thus however hard Najib tries to rebrand or reinvent himself and his accomplices, all that’s likely to emerge from his so-called political lab is an even more incredible stink.

10 June 2013

Pendapat

Pendapat Anda?

Malaysiakini

Dataran Merdeka is symbolic. It is our metaphorical Berlin Wall and its significance cannot be exaggerated.

Umno Baru leaders and the police have refused to allow the use of Dataran Merdeka for the ‘Black 505’ rally in Kuala Lumpur on June 15.

NONEEtched in the memories of older Malaysians is the lowering of the Union Jack and the raising of the Malayan flag at midnight, at the Selangor Club padang as Dataran Merdeka was then known. The younger generation would have learnt about its historical role.

When the 154.5km Berlin Wall – a concrete structure built by the East Germans to divide the east from the west – came down, the city of Berlin was reunited, communist rule in eastern Europe fell and the process of re-unification of East and West Germany started.

If the opposition coalition were to hold this rally at Dataran Merdeka, it would score a great moral victory, just as Bersih did. The violence during the Bersih 3.0 rally was perpetrated by the police. A weak regime is one which does not know how to use arguments and discussion as weapons, but resorts to violence.

If the place that is connected with Merdeka and the Tunku were to become the focal point for the ‘Black 505’ rally, attention would be focused on the reasons for the rally, and Umno-Baru would be forever linked with cheating in elections. Umno-Baru is desperate to deny the opposition the publicity.

A common tactic of Umno-Baru is to give the rally organisers the runaround. Even when Umno-Baru lies, it fails to do it with a concerted effort. When the opposition coalition applied to use Padang Merbok as an alternative venue, the Dang Wangi district police chief Zainuddin Ahmad claimed that another event was scheduled to take place there.

Police chief Khalid Abu Bakar claimed that the opposition’s application was incomplete, while Federal Territories Minister Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor claimed that indoor venues and closed spaces, like stadiums, would be more suitable.

He said: “…..But to me, Padang Merbok is an open space… when it comes to open spaces, we will not give (our permission) because we know the law and abide by it.”

If Tengku Adnan claims to be well-versed with the law and would happily abide by it, what explanations can he give for alleged widespread electoral fraud and cheating during GE13?

How does he explain the money politics which is synonymous with his party Umno-Baru? Can he account for the increasing acts of police brutality which suggest that police personnel are breaking the law and getting away with murder?

Don’t expect reform

Some of you may disagree with street protests but only the naïve would think that GE14 could be the solution. The electoral boundaries are being skewed in Umno Baru’s favour by the Election Commission (EC), even as you read this. Umno Baru and the EC will never negotiate or reform.

How much longer have the marginalised Indians to suffer? How many more election promises will their self-appointed leaders be taken in by? This minority government promised that they would implement many reforms before GE13 if elected; but after the election, they say the implementation will take five years.

azlanIn GE11, the EC made a last minute claim that the indelible ink would prevent Muslims from performing their prayers.

In GE12, the EC claimed that there was a national security scare and certain parties were planning to sabotage the elections by marking the fingers of people before they could vote. It was claimed that several people had been arrested while trying to smuggle election ink into Malaysia.

In GE13, the EC diluted the ink, saying it could be harmful.

In GE14, the EC will be just as creative.

It is ironic that, in 2010, Najib Abdul Razak had warned delegates at the BN convention, held in Wisma MCA, that the opposition coalition was attempting to take over Putrajaya and that the federal government had to be protected from the greedy and the power crazy.

He said: “BN is a responsible coalition. You can place your hopes and trust in us. The people can trust us to do not only what is right, but what is in their best interests.”

Around the world, repressive regimes have been toppled by non-violent civil resistance movements – Chile, Poland, South Africa, the Philippines. Armed resistance is not the answer, as military training and the supply of weapons is expensive. Nor should we expect foreign countries to intervene; they have to protect their own interests.

Only we can help ourselves. This sham Malaysian democracy can expect more marches and more resistance from the rakyat.

If Najib continues to exploit the rakyat, it is possible that even the police and security personnel will shift their allegiance and loyalty, as happened in Egypt.

In the current economic climate, the rakyat is forced to tighten its belt further. Graduates are finding it more difficult to get jobs, unlike politicians’ children who are given choice appointments or who become directors of companies with a paid-up capital of RM2, which receive multi-million ringgit government contracts.

Young adults cannot afford to live away from home. Skilled workers are refused employment, as foreign workers, both legal and illegal, are cheaper.

Symbols of oppression

As living conditions become more intolerable, NGOs, human rights activists, students, opposition politicians, religious organisations and the rakyat will unite as one movement against oppression.

Najib can arrest a few such as Adam Adli, Haris Ibrahim, Tian Chua, Safwan Anang or Tamrin Ghafar, but more leaders will emerge.

Thirty-nine years ago, the education minister who gagged our academia and students with the Universities and University Colleges Act was Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Today, Najib will attempt to do the same.

In the Tunisian uprising, Mohammed Bouazizi immolated himself, when the police stopped him from making a living as a street pedlar to feed his family. He became the symbol of the Jasmine revolution.

In the recent protests in Turkey, ‘The Woman in Red’ whose face was sprayed with tear-gas has become a global symbol of police brutality and oppression. The demonstrations, which began as a protest against the redevelopment of a park, have escalated into public fury against the creeping Islamicisation and the increasing authoritarian rule of the government.

In Malaysia, we are not short of symbols of oppression. Two National Union of Bank Employee (Nube) officials, vice-president Abdul Jamil Jalaludeen from Pulau Tikus, Penang and general treasurer Chen Ka Fatt, from Ipoh Garden in Ipoh, were sacked from Maybank because they made a stand against its treatment of workers.

In the late 1970s, as Minister for Trade and Industry, Mahathir clipped the power of unions.

Today, Najib honours Abdul Wahid Omar, who was CEO of Maybank, by making him a minister in the PM’s Department.

Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi may order a crackdown on activists and opposition leaders. In doing so, he will only unleash a more determined rakyat who will retaliate with more marches, boycotts and strikes.

Najib may try to prevent the rakyat and the ‘Black 505′ rally from entering Dataran Merdeka, but he cannot curb our resolve to fight oppression. Perhaps, we should occupy Dataran Merdeka, our metaphorical Berlin Wall.

Najib may surround Dataran Merdeka with razor wire, but he cannot imprison our minds.

3 June 2013

Pendapat

Pendapat Anda?

Malaysiakini

Thirty-nine years ago, a little-known incident in Baling caused a seismic shift in Malaysian politics, but very few Malaysians are aware of the incident or realise its significance and the impact it created.

If the full details of this incident had been divulged in 1974, the government might have fallen. The Baling incident caused a nightmare for Abdul Razak Hussein, the prime minister at the time.

Today, the nightmare is recurring for Najib Abdul Razak, the leader of the current minority government. Najib feels he has no alternative but to instigate several crackdowns on the rakyat.

The Baling event referred to is not the historic meeting in 1955 of Tunku Abdul Rahman, who was the head of the Malayan government and Chin Peng, the leader of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM).

Nor was it the Memali Incident of 1985, the shameful massacre of a defenceless community by forces loyal to Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s government.

The Baling Incident (BI) which occurred in 1974 was shrouded in secrecy. It was a series of many small expressions of the bottled-up feelings of anger, betrayal, fear and resentment, of the rural poor.

In present-day Malaysia, the rakyat participated in democracy marches and rallies against oppression, injustice and the dictatorial rule of Najib and the BN government. In 1974, it was Abdul Razak, Najib’s father, who faced similar marches against social injustices.

The root cause of the BI was abject poverty and starvation. The rubber smallholders faced ruin when the global price of rubber plummeted. The farmers could not cope with the rising cost of living and rural families had to forage for food in the jungles.

NONEBizarrely, in 1974 Abdul Razak (right) announced in Parliament that the civil servants’ allowance would be increased by 50 percent, from RM1,000 to RM1,500.

When news broke of the deaths of a few children from eating ubi gadong, a type of poisonous wild yam, to stave off hunger pangs, the social unrest reached a tipping point. At its peak, around 25,000 of the rural poor took to the streets.

Like father, like son; both Abdul Razak and Najib unleashed the might of the FRU and the police on peaceful protesters. Najib is a politician without imagination, but he knew that brutal action had served his father well.

A dark chapter in our history

In 2013 Najib merely employed his father’s tried and tested methods of retaliation. The consequences of 1974 opened a dark chapter in our history.

Then, like now, information was heavily censored. Abdul Razak did not want the rakyat to know that an uprising had occurred in Kedah.

Five years earlier, the country had been overwhelmed by the May 13 clashes. The Chinese were convenient scapegoats.

Abdul Razak was in a quandary. The district of Baling was mainly populated by Malays. The significance of the BI had to be suppressed.

In the BI there was no Chinese element, or communist subversives at work. BI was social unrest – a revolt by Malay smallholders and farmers. Peaceful hunger marches throughout Baling spread outwards from Baling town, Kulim and Sik.

News travelled fast and despite media censorship in 1974, students at Universiti Malaya, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and Kolej Mara, as well as the universities’ teaching fraternity expressed their support for the uprising. They organised a series of meetings and urged the government to address the plight of the poor.

NONESyed Husin Ali (right), then an associate professor at Universiti Malaya, said: “At first they (the students) demonstrated within their campus. The police fired tear gas but some cannisters landed on the nearby squatter settlement, injuring some children.

“The students joined forces and gathered in the centre of KL. When the police acted against them, they took refuge in the National Mosque. Over 1,000 students were arrested and detained for a few days.

“Some squatters joined some students to ‘run riot’ at the highway, putting up blockades and smashing traffic lights.”

Abdul Razak warned of tough reprisals and over 40 students and lecturers were detained under the ISA. Among them was Anwar Ibrahim, who was detained for two years.

Syed Husin said: “I was detained for six years. I was an associate professor and considered recalcitrant for refusing to admit guilt.

“I was accused of being pro-communist and the brain behind the demos. They wanted me to serve as an example to create fear among those academic staff to prevent them from following my path.

“I think these are the reasons why I was incarcerated up to six years.”

universiti student auku uuca parliament protest 180808The education minister then was Mahathir. He and Ungku Aziz, the vice-chancellor of UM at the time, produced the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA).

The UUCA has effectively curbed students’ freedom and deprived universities of their autonomy. Students and lecturers are fearful of speaking out on issues which are deemed sensitive to BN. Our universities have never recovered from Mahathir’s despicable legacy.

Abdul Razak, his peers and successors’ children were sent abroad for their education, whilst the rest of the rakyat received a stifling Malaysian schooling.

Baling not an isolated incident

In 2013, history repeated itself and the nightmare which descended on Najib’s father is now his own.

Today, Najib has warned that he would get tough with students Adam Adli Abdul Halim and Safwan Anang as well as other dissenters. The ISA has been repealed, so what has Najib up his sleeve?

Let this column warn both Najib and Mahathir, the joint rulers of Malaysia that their efforts to subjugate the rakyat will not succeed. Baling was not an isolated incident.

Prior to BI, there were unreported acts of unrest against the BN government. In Tasik Utara, Johor Baru, poor urban Malays camped in front the residence of then MB Osman Saat to voice their disgust at being cheated of housing and land.

In 1974 and in 2013, the Malays opposed the government, but Najib has created a red herring and claimed that in GE13, it was a Chinese tsunami.

It is not! It is Malaysians fighting tyranny.

The wounds which Abdul Razak, Mahathir and Najib opened are still festering. Our awareness of their crimes and of their despotic rule are more acute.

Their policies have cast long shadows and there will be more Baling incidents until Najib and the illegitimate BN government step down.

31 May 2013

Pendapat

Pendapat Anda?

The Economist

Angry at an unjust defeat, Malaysia’s opposition has reasons to be hopeful

IN JAIL, Anwar Ibrahim read a lot of Shakespeare. To understand Malaysian politics, the opposition leader says, you have to know Macbeth, a tragedy of overweening political ambition. For the government, the ambition defacing the country’s politics is that of Mr Anwar himself, to become Malaysia’s prime minister. He had promised to retire if he lost the general election held on May 5th. “But we won,” he says.

That is not how the government sees it. Though the opposition coalition which Mr Anwar leads, Pakatan Rakyat, got 51% of the votes, it won only 40% of the seats in parliament. Years of gerrymandering favour the Barisan Nasional coalition that has ruled Malaysia since independence in 1957. Mr Anwar also alleges outright electoral fraud. He has been leading protest rallies around the country against the “theft” of the election.

In his Sisyphean struggle to reach the peak of Malaysian politics, he has come close before. In the 1990s he was deputy prime minister and prospective leader of the government he was to turn against. For a moment in 1998 it seemed as if a people-power movement might sweep him to office. Instead, he spent six years in jail on charges of sodomy (later overturned). After the previous election, in 2008, he again seemed on the brink, claiming enough members of parliament were ready to defect from the government to give Pakatan a majority. It came to naught.

So, most likely, will his current campaign. Pakatan is to file petitions challenging the result in as many as 31 of the 222 constituencies. But this drawn-out process is not likely to overturn the result, and neither is a lawsuit against the election commission—for allegedly defrauding the nation by marking voters’ fingers with “indelible” ink that soon rubbed off. The rallies’ purpose, admits a leader of Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), one of Pakatan’s three components, is “to keep the torch alight”. That is helped by anger at the arrest of three opposition leaders and a student activist under a sedition law the government had promised to repeal, and by raids on opposition newspapers.

No opposition leader wants the torch to light a conflagration on the streets in the hope of toppling the government in a Malaysian spring. Yet Mr Anwar argues that the rallies must continue nonetheless: “If we don’t force them to change now,” he says of the ruling coalition, “they will never change.”

For all that, it seems likely that the protests will eventually peter out and that Pakatan will have to knuckle down to another stint in opposition. Whether the next election will be fairer is another matter. Two of the biggest injustices are unlikely to go. The media, except online, are slavishly pro-government. Constituency boundaries are to be redrawn this year. But the opposition trusts neither the election commission, which will propose changes, nor the government, which will approve them.

Pakatan suffers friction among its disparate members—the Islamic, ethnic-Malay PAS, Mr Anwar’s multiracial Keadilan and the Democratic Action Party (DAP), whose support comes mainly from the ethnic-Chinese minority, about a quarter of the population. Barisan, a coalition dominated by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), may try to split Pakatan, by tempting the DAP or PAS, or both, into the government.

Mr Anwar says that, since the election, Barisan has already been trying to woo him. It has also emerged that, before an election he expected to win, he signed a secret agreement with his nemesis, the UMNO leader and prime minister, Najib Razak. Under the deal, brokered by Jusuf Kalla, a former vice-president of Indonesia and an old friend of both men, they promised that they would eschew personal mudslinging during the campaign, that the loser would accept the outcome, and that the winner would govern in a spirit of “national reconciliation”. Mr Anwar excised another clause promising a government of national unity. He says that he feared UMNO would not willingly give up power. Mr Anwar says the agreement was invalidated by government cheating at the polls. As it happens, Mr Najib never physically signed the deal, saying he needed to consult his coalition. But he did at least mention “national reconciliation” in his victory speech.

Reconciliation seems distant. And Mr Najib’s problems may be even bigger than the opposition’s. Unusually for a victorious incumbent, he argues for a change in “our attitude, strategy, programmes and approach”. A radical idea has been floated: turning the Barisan coalition, whose Chinese and Indian bits took a hammering at the election, into a proper, multi-ethnic party. And to show that he means to deal with corruption—the biggest reason for Barisan’s waning popularity—Mr Najib has appointed to his cabinet Paul Low, a former head of the Malaysian arm of Transparency International, an anti-corruption watchdog. Mr Low says his job requires “changing the system”. The system will resist.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow

Mr Najib has his job by dint of his leadership of UMNO. He comes up for re-election at a party congress later this year. His predecessor as prime minister and party leader was ousted by colleagues. By contrast, Mr Najib, more popular than his party, may survive. “I think the party will support him because of a lack of an alternative,” is the ringing endorsement from Mahathir Mohamad, who once dominated Malaysian politics. But UMNO hardliners may make reform difficult. Having lost the Chinese vote, for example, they may oppose further erosion of affirmative-action policies favouring ethnic Malays.

The opposition, meanwhile, is confident. Barisan is also losing the votes of growing numbers of city-dwellers and of the young. Pakatan has the momentum. Mr Anwar, however, is 65. With no obvious successor, he seems in a hurry. Lim Guan Eng, the DAP’s leader, is upbeat about the opposition’s hopes: “The future is not theirs; it’s ours.” But it is not necessarily Mr Anwar’s.

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