To Defeat ISIS, We Must Call Both Western and Muslim Leaders to Account

And that includes the Saudi kings whose funding of Wahhabi doctrine gave rise to the scourge of Islamic extremism.

 Flowers are put in a window shattered by a bullet as Paris mourns the victims of a terrorist attack. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
Flowers are put in a window shattered by a bullet as Paris mourns the victims of a terrorist attack. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

By Laila Lalami

 What happened in Paris on November 13 has happened before, in a shopping district of Beirut on November 12, in the skies over Egypt on October 31, at a cultural center in Turkey on July 20, a beach resort in Tunisia on June 26—and nearly every day in Syria for the last four years.

 The scenario is by now familiar to all of us. News of the killings will appear on television and radio. There will be cries of horror and sorrow, a few hashtags on Twitter, perhaps even a change of avatars on Facebook. Our leaders will make staunch promises to bring the terrorists to justice, while also claiming greater power of surveillance over their citizens. And then life will resume exactly as before.

Except for the victims’ families. For them, time will split into a Before and After.

We owe these families, of every race, creed, and nationality, more than sorrow, more than anger. We owe them justice.

We must call to account ISIS, a nihilistic cult of death that sees the world in black and white, with no shades of gray in between.

Read more at The Nation

How the Statue of Liberty Almost Ended Up in Egypt

By Dora Hasan Mekouar in Voice of America

The Statue of Liberty looks out on the lower Manhattan skyline, January 2014. (AP)
The Statue of Liberty looks out on the lower Manhattan skyline, January 2014. (AP)

Instead of imploring the world to “give me your tired, your poor”, the Statue of Liberty’s welcoming message might well have been “as-salamu alaykum”, the Arabic greeting used by Muslims around the world.

That’s right, the world’s most recognized symbol of freedom and the American dream, was originally intended for Egypt, which ultimately rejected it for being too old fashioned.

The decision came as a disappointment to Lady Liberty’s creator, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, who’d envisioned the Suez Canal as the ideal venue for his mammoth harbor structure.

The decision came as a disappointment to Lady Liberty’s creator, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, who’d envisioned the Suez Canal as the ideal venue for his mammoth harbor structure.
Statue of Liberty creator Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s original design for the mouth of the Suez Canal in Egypt.

“He was inspired by the Sphinx and the pyramids and the idea you could create something massive that could almost be eternal,” said Elizabeth Mitchell, who brings Bartholdi’s quest to life in her book Liberty’s Torch: The Great Adventure to Build the Statue of Liberty.

Mitchell was motivated to write the book after coming across Bartholdi’s diaries at the New York City Public Library. That’s when she first realized the iconic symbol wasn’t a gift from France as many Americans believe.

“In fact, the true story is more moving because what you have is this individual artist who had a vision and he really wanted to make this happen,” Mitchell said, “and he really had to go through every machination to get this thing built.”

After his failure in Egypt, the artist shifted his attention to America, which was prospering after the end of the Civil War.

“Maybe no other country at the time would understand the excitement and importance of having this bigger-than-life, colossal symbol,” Mitchell said.

Read more at Voice of America

Arab Nations Strike in Libya, Surprising U.S.

Islamist fighters in the Libya Dawn coalition guarded the main airport in Tripoli, Libya, after its capture on Sunday. Credit Mahmud Turkia/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK and ERIC SCHMITTAUG in The New York Times

CAIRO — Twice in the last seven days, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have secretly launched airstrikes against Islamist-allied militias battling for control of Tripoli, Libya, four senior American officials said, in a major escalation of a regional power struggle set off by Arab Spring revolts.

The United States, the officials said, was caught by surprise: Egypt and the Emirates, both close allies and military partners, acted without informing Washington, leaving the Obama administration on the sidelines. Egyptian officials explicitly denied to American diplomats that their military played any role in the operation, the officials said, in what appeared a new blow to already strained relations between Washington and Cairo.

The strikes in Tripoli are another salvo in a power struggle defined by Arab autocrats battling Islamist movements seeking to overturn the old order. Since the military ouster of the Islamist president in Egypt last year, the new government and its backers in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have launched a campaign across the region — in the news media, in politics and diplomacy, and by arming local proxies — to roll back what they see as an existential threat to their authority posed by Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.

Read more at The New York Times

Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi Elected President of Egypt.

A man reads a local newspaper with the headline in Arabic reading, “Egypt surprises the world,” outside a polling station in Cairo, May 27, 2014. (Voice of America – public domain)

Egypt: El-Sissi Wins Election by Landslide in The New York Times (AP)

CAIRO — With nearly all the ballots counted, Egypt’s former military chief has won a crushing victory over his sole opponent with more than 92 percent of the votes, according to results announced by his campaign early Thursday.

The campaign of retired field marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said he won 23.38 million votes, with left-wing politician Hamdeen Sabahi taking 735,285. Invalid votes were 1.07 million, or nearly 350,000 more than the number of votes for the 59-year-old Sabahi.

El-Sissi’s win was never in doubt, but the career infantry officer, also 59, had hoped for a strong turnout to bestow legitimacy on his ouster last July of Egypt’s first freely elected president, the Islamist Mohammed Morsi.

Read more at The New York Times

Egypt’s ‘Couch Party’ Silent on Third Day of Polls in Voice of America

By Heather Murdock

CAIRO — As voting in Egypt’s presidential elections winds down, residents say the silent majority has spoken by not showing up to the polls.

During the 2011 revolution, activists on the streets jokingly referred to Egyptians who stayed home as the ‘Hizb al-Kanaba’ or ‘The Couch Party.’ The name stuck and it applies to most Egyptians who want to live their lives, feed their families and do not care all that much who occupies the presidential palace.

Abdelrahman Hany is the opposite of the Kanaba: a human rights worker who took to the streets in 2011, later protested military rule and he joined the crowds in 2013, demanding the resignation of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s last president.

But this week, he did not vote.

He said in this election he is proud to be a Kanaba member because he does not support either candidate. Former army chief and de facto Egyptian leader Abdul Fatah el-Sissi will surely win, he said, and challenger Hamdeen Sabahi’s campaign lends legitimacy to the election.

Read more at Voice of America

Egyptians celebrate Sisi ‘victory’ ahead of final results in Al Arabiya


Supporters hold up posters of Egypt’s former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as they celebrate at Tahrir square in Cairo May 28, 2014. (Reuters)

Supporters of Egypt’s presidential frontrunner Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi held impromptu “victory” celebrations in different parts of Cairo late Wednesday, according to the Cairo-Based ONA News Agency, as partial results showed the former army chief was headed to a major election win.

One group gathered at the One Unknown Soldier Memorial group in the Nasr City district of the capital, unfurling the largest banner ever made of Sisi, who is almost certain to win the crucial election.

Read more at Al Arabiya

Egypt: sentencing to death of more than 500 people is a ‘grotesque’ ruling

Relatives cry sitting outside the courthouse after hearing the verdict. © AFP/Getty Images

‘This is the largest single batch of simultaneous death sentences we’ve seen … anywhere in the world’
Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East & North Africa Director

Numbers are more than total death sentences in Egypt in last three years combined

The handing down of mass death sentences by a court in Egypt today has been condemned as a grotesque move by Amnesty International. According to state media reports in Egypt, in a single hearing this morning the Minya Criminal Court sentenced 529 supporters of former President Mohamed Morsi to be executed for their alleged role in violence following his ousting last July.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:

“This is injustice writ large and these death sentences must be quashed. Imposing death sentences of this magnitude in a single case makes Egypt surpass most other countries’ use of capital punishment in a year.

“This is the largest single batch of simultaneous death sentences we’ve seen in recent years, not just in Egypt but anywhere in the world.

“Egypt’s courts are quick to punish Mohamed Morsi’s supporters, but ignore gross human rights violations by the security forces.

“While thousands of Morsi’s supporters languish in jail, there has not been an adequate investigation into the deaths of hundreds of protesters. Just one police officer is facing a prison sentence for the deaths of 37 detainees.”

The Egyptian authorities do not release figures on death sentences and executions, despite repeated Amnesty requests. However, Amnesty knows that Egyptian courts handed down at least 109 death sentences in 2013. There were at least 91 death sentences in 2012, and at least 123 in 2011. The last known execution in Egypt was carried out in October 2011, when a man was hanged for the killing of six Coptic Christians and a Muslim police guard in a drive-by shooting in 2010.

via Amnesty International UK

Egypt’s White December: First Snowfall in Cairo in 100 Years

(Credit: Twitter user @omarsa2r)

In the early morning of Friday the 13th 2013, parts of Cairo witnessed the first snowfall in more than 100 years. The city known for its hot weather and historical monuments amazed both Egyptians and foreigners. This cold snap is not limited to Egypt, with snowfall across the Middle East.

Below are a few of the best photographs from Cairo and elsewhere taken today.

Read more at Egyptian Streets

First Evidence Found of a Comet Strike on Earth

Comets haven’t been observed entering Earth’s atmosphere (shown here: Hale-Bopp in 1997).

Saharan glass and a brooch belonging to King Tut provide the first evidence of a comet directly impacting Earth, a new study claims. The finding may help unlock some of the mysteries surrounding the birth of our solar system.

A brooch owned by Tutankhamun. Photograph courtesy Jon Bodsworth via University of the Witwatersrand

About 28 million years ago a comet exploded over Egypt, creating a 3600°F (2000°C) blast wave that spread out over the desert below. The fiery shockwave melted the sand, forming copious amounts of yellow silica glass scattered over 2,300 square miles (6,000 square kilometers) of the Sahara.

Polished into the shape of a scarab beetle, a large piece of this glass found its way into a brooch owned by the famed Egyptian boy king Tutankhamen.

“Because there is no sign of an impact crater, it has been a mystery as to what kind of celestial event actually could have caused this debris field, but a small, black stone found lying in the middle of the glass area caught our attention,” said study co-author David Block, an astronomer at Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Saharan Surprise

A tiny slice of the black pebble was put through isotopic analysis, which definitely ruled out that it came from a meteor. Instead, the analysis showed that the pebble possessed the unique chemical signature of a comet, measured in terms of elements such as argon and carbon.

“It was then basically a matter of running the movie backwards in time and predicting what temperatures were needed to create the conditions we find that make up the fragment today,” Block says. “So when I saw the result of the analyses, I was completely ecstatic to realize that such a piece of cosmic history has been found for the first time right on our doorstep.”

Read more at National Geographic

Exploiting Egypt’s Rape Culture for Political Gain | The Nation

In Egypt, as well as in the West, outrage over rampant sexual assault has too often been about political agendas rather than concern for the actual victims.

Women shout slogans against Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and members of the Muslim Brotherhood during a march against sexual harassment and violence against women in Cairo February 6, 2013. (Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

by Anna Lekas Miller August 8, 2013

Since the most recent wave of protests began in Tahrir Square on June 30, there have been 186 recorded sexual assaults—including eighty the night that former President Mohamed Morsi was overthrown. Many of these attacks are mob-style sexual assaults, often involving between fifty and 100 assailants, in which a woman is surrounded, stripped, groped and in some cases beaten and gang-raped until she needs medical attention. And in some recent cases, women were attacked and penetrated with knives and other weapons.

In Egypt, they call this the “Circle of Hell.”

Since the Egyptian Revolution began more than two and a half years ago, hundreds of thousands of women have been sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square. And over the past two and a half years, not a single assailant of the thousands who participated in hundreds of attacks has been prosecuted.

“These men attack women because they know they can get away with it,” said Yasmine, an Egyptian activist who doesn’t wish to give her last name.

Many of the women surveyed agree that sexual violence has gotten worse since former President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown. Up until the most recent wave of protests, during which the Muslim Brotherhood pointed to sexual assaults in Tahrir Square in an attempt delegitimize anti-government opposition, the rampant attacks that happened under President Morsi’s leadership have gone largely ignored.

According to a recent survey from UN Women, 99.3 percent of all Egyptian women report being sexually harassed, and 91.5 percent have experienced unwelcome physical contact. The country has three laws in the penal code that address sexual harassment, assault and rape—and though the punishments range from fines to imprisonment, including life sentences and the death penalty, these laws are rarely enforced. Instead, most women are discouraged from reporting their sexual assaults to the authorities. For most, the high risk of shame and humiliation in publicly outing oneself as a sexual assault survivor—and the assumption that one is tainted or, if unmarried, now unfit for marriage—far exceeds the likelihood that the assailant will be held accountable.

Like in the West, women’s attire is often blamed for attacks, particularly Western-style clothing that many conservative Egyptians claim attracts assailants and in some cases even justifies rape. According to a 2008 survey with the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, 53 percent of all men believe that a woman invites harassment through what she is wearing. Many of the women surveyed agree.

Despite these stereotypes, a woman’s clothing doesn’t have much bearing on the likelihood of an attack. One of the most famous photographs of the recorded history of Egypt’s sexual assault epidemic is of a woman sprawled on the floor in only her blue bra, her traditional niqab veil ripped and shredded next to her after her attack.

Read more @ The Nation

Under siege: the uncertain fate of Arab Christians – Al Arabiya

Hisham Melhem

Rarely do I write about my personal feelings and passions. The situation is different this time. I write with pain, nay, I write with anger. While watching with horror the savage assaults against the Christians in the Eastern Mediterranean, one of the first and oldest Christian communities in the world, I am shocked. From the beginning of the season of Arab uprisings I kept reminding myself, and others, that when we analyze and assess the rapidly unfolding events we should not lose sight of the fundamentals: the civil and human rights of all the peoples living in theses societies regardless of their ethnic and religious backgrounds or their gender. By that I meant that we should denounce and resist repression and injustice inherent in transitional times when the old entrenched powers, along with absolutist radical groups, continue to undermine peaceful inclusive change. Both state and “revolutionary” repression and intimidation should be confronted, although state repression is more dangerous because it is systemic and institutional.

Events in Syria

I was shocked by, and denounced, the destruction of the great Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo, a jewel of a structure with its elegant 11th century minaret. This was a beastly act perpetrated by a cruel regime and primitive gangs of fanatic Islamists. Also shocking was the shelling and looting of the historic Jobar synagogue in Damascus, one of the oldest Jewish houses of worship in the world. Now, I am seized with deep anger because the terror of both the Syrian government forces and elements of the radical Islamists Jabhat al-Nusra or Nusra Front have visited the iconic town of Maaloula, a truly unique and special Christian sanctuary nestled in the rugged mountains not far from Damascus where many inhabitants still speak Aramaic, the language of Christ . Maaloula’s Christian inhabitants, with their family tree going back to the first Christian communities in ancient Syria, fled the town when it was taken and retaken by the marauding gangs of Assad and al-Nusra.

I was born, and grew up, in Beirut in a decidedly conservative Christian (Maronite/Catholic) environment. I still remember the pride we felt as youngsters when we used to pray and chant Syriac/Aramaic hymns written in Arabic script. In my teens I read Nahj al-Balaghah by Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (usually translated in English as “Peak of eloquence”) the cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad, who is considered by his Shiite followers as the most important figure in Islam after the Prophet. The book is truly a magnificent collection of speeches, invocations and aphorisms written by a man of wisdom, courage and compassion. This was the beginning of my love affair with the Arabic language. Another great Muslim Caliph I admired was Omar Ibn Al Khattab, the second of the four wise Caliphs that succeeded Prophet Muhammad. Omar, one of the most powerful and consequential figures in the history of Islam, was known for his strong sense of social justice. I named my son after him.

Even when I parted ways with religion and became a secularist, I remained attached to the rituals and aestheticism of Christianity and Islam and their civilizational legacies. When I find myself in a European capital I do my own version of (Gothic) church hopping. On my first visit to Cairo and Istanbul I was intoxicated with their charming mosques and ancient churches. All this is to say that what I am writing here is not emanating from my religious background but from my moral and political convictions.

Read more at Al Arabiya