November 8, 2007

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November 8, 2007

1. Islam, Democracy, and Post-9/11 Nation Building (Nov. 10)
2. TUNISIA: A Model of Middle East Stability or an Incubator of Extremism? (Nov. 13)
3. Muslim-Christian Reations in Nigeria (Nov. 13)
4. Religious Minorities in the Muslim World: A Reality Check (Nov. 15)

5. In Pakistan, Thousands Protest Emergency Rule (by Griff Witte)
6. Pakistan Police Attack Lawyers at Protest (by Jane Perlez and David Rohde)
7. Ousted Pakistani Chief Justice Urges Lawyers to Continue Protests (by Griff Witte and Howard Schneider)
8. Don’t expect Washington to push democracy on Cairo (by Hrach Gregorian)
9. Regression in the Muslim Brotherhood’s platform? (by Amr Hamzawy)
10. Debunking the myth of Islamist intransigence (by Mohammed Herzallah and Amr Hamzawy)
11. Tunisia’s Ben Ali set to extend 20-year rule (by Sonia Ounissi)
12. Tunisia – A textbook case in press censorship for the past 20 years (by Reporters Without Borders)
13. Mixed Reviews for U.S. from Erdogan’s Old Home (by Amar C. Bakshi)
14. U.S. ‘Studying’ Islamic School Report (by Valerie Strauss)
15. Mistrial for most defendants in Muslim charity trial (by David Koenig)
16. The new wars of religion (The Economist)
17. Post-Islamism (by Ali Eteraz)
18. The Art of The Possible (by Lee H. Hamilton)
19. Muslim superstar (The Guardian)

20. CSID: Office Space Available for Sublease (Washington DC)


The Regent Journal of International Law, in cooperation with Regent Law School, proudly announces its Fall 2007 Symposium:

“Islam, Democracy, and Post-9/11 Nation Building,” to be held on November 10, 2007.

Internationally recognized expert on modern Islam, Dr. Vali Nasr, will deliver the keynote address. The keynote lunch will begin at 11:45am.

The first panel, beginning at 9:30am, will focus on the question: “Is modern Islam compatible with constitutional democracy?” Panelists include:

Stephen Schwartz
Author and Executive Director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism

Mehrangiz Kar
Author, Attorney, and Iranian political exile

Dr. Radwan Masmoudi
President, Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy

For the second panel, beginning at 2:00pm, panelists will address the question: “What aspects of post-9/11 nation building are indispensable for success?” Speaking will be:
Dr. Vali Nasr

Dr. Joe Kickasola
Professor of International Affairs, Robertson School of Government, Regent University

Professor Jennifer Jefferis
Professor, Robertson School of Government, Regent University

Dr. John H. Johns
Professor and twenty-six year Army veteran.

The symposium and lunch are FREE for those with a valid Regent University email address. The cost without a Regent email address is $10 for the entire day. All attendees are requested to register at

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Tuesday November 13, 2007
Hart Auditorium, First Floor, McDonough Hall, Georgetown University Law Center

9:00 a.m. Registration
9:30 a.m. Welcome and Introduction
Representative of the organizers

9:45 a.m. Panel I: Stifling One of the Most Open Civil Societies in the Middle East and North Africa

Chaired by: Neil Hicks , Director of the Human Rights Defender Program at Human Rights First.


Clement Henry, Professor of Government at the University of Texas at Austin:
An Overview of Tunisia under Presidents Habib Bourguiba (1956-1987) and Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali (1987- ?): Did the “Architect of Change” Learn from the Mistakes of the “Supreme Combatant”?

Moncef Marzouki, former President of the Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH) and former Spokesperson of the National Council for Liberties in Tunisia(CNLT):
Tunisian Civil Society’s Achievements and Disappointments.

11:00 a.m.-11:15a.m.: Coffee Break

Khadija Cherif, President of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women (ATFD):
Threats and Challenges to Women in a Country that Claims Gender Equality.

Mokhtar Trifi, President of the Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH):
What Future Role for the Crippled and Oldest Human Rights Group in the Arab World?

-Representative of the Tunisia government (TBC)

12:30 p.m. Lunch Break

1:30 p.m. Panel II: A War on “Islamist Extremism” or on Freedom of Association and Expression?

Chaired by: Daniel Brumberg, Associate Professor in the Department of Government at Georgetown University, Washington D.C.

Naziha Rjiba, Deputy President of the Observatory for the Freedom of the Press, Publishing and Creation (OLPEC), and editor of online magazine Kalima:
Coping with the Intensifying Siege of Freedom of Expression and Association.

Ahmed Rahmouni, President of the Association of Tunisian Magistrates (AMT),
Mohamed Abbou, member of the International Association for the Support of Political Prisoners (AISPP) and the National Council for Liberties in Tunisia (CNLT):
The Need to Reform the Judiciary and to Protect its Independence.

2:30 p.m.-2:45 p.m.: Coffee Break

Omar Mestiri, member National Council for Liberties in Tunisia (CNLT) and managing editor of online magazine Kalima:
Presentation of a CNLT documentary on torture in Tunisian jails.

Radhia Nasraoui, president of the Association against Torture in Tunisia (ALTT):
The Intensification of the Use of Torture since the Adoption in 1988 of CAT and its Consequences.

3:45 p.m. Panel III: What Can the International Community do to Help Protect Basic Rights in Tunisia?

Chaired by: Sarah Leah Whitson, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Human Rights Watch.


Representatives of Tunisian human rights groups

Representative of Amnesty International

Joel Campagna, Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator, Committee to Protect Journalists

Claire Tixeire, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

Representative of International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX)-Tunisia Monitoring Group

5:30 p.m. Concluding Remarks by Clement Henry

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American Islamic Congress – Capitol Hill Distinguished Speakers Series

Religious Minorities in the Muslim World: A Reality Check
Thursday, November 15, 2007 Cannon Building 121, Capitol Hill 12 p.m. – Lunch provided

Diverse religious minorities challenge any monolithic image of the “Muslim world.” Druze in the Levant, Coptic Christians in Egypt, and Bahai’s in Iran are but a few of the minorities facing the on-going challenge of integration with the Muslim majority. This month’s Capitol Hill panel addresses pressing questions: What is the status of minorities in the Muslim world? How can these communities contribute to reform efforts in the region? And why do obstacles to genuine religious freedom remain?

Samuel Rizk
Director of the Forum for Development, Culture and Dialogue & former spokesperson for the Middle East Council of Churches in Lebanon

Edouard Al Dahdah
World Bank, Operations Office

Zahir Janmohamed
Amnesty International USA’s Advocacy Director for Middle East and North Africa

Moderated by:
Hussain Abdul Hussain
Media Analyst & former editor of Beirut Daily Star

The event is free. Kindly RSVP to and include your name, title, and affiliation.

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You are cordially invited to a public event:

Muslim-Christian Relations in Nigeria

Date: Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Time: 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM
Location: U.S. Institute of Peace
2nd Floor Conference Room 1200 17th St, NW Washington, DC 20036
Nigeria’s population is roughly evenly divided between Christians and Muslims, with Muslims dominant in the north and Christians in the south. While in many parts of the country, Muslim-Christian relations are amicable, religious violence has flared in some parts of Nigeria resulting in many casualties. Nigeria’s religious leaders are making increasing efforts to improve Muslim-Christian relations and to maintain religious peace.
Sa’ad Abubakar, the recently chosen Sultan of Sokoto, is recognized as the principal leader of Nigeria’s Muslim population. He will assess the state of Muslim-Christian relations in Nigeria and the efforts being made to maintain religious peace and harmony. He will also analyze the extent to which so-called religious conflict in Nigeria is actually religious in character.


Sa’ad Abubakar
Sultan of Sokoto

David Smock, Moderator
U.S. Institute of Peace

To RSVP, please send your name, affiliation, daytime phone number, and name of the event to Renata Stuebner

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In Pakistan, Thousands Protest Emergency Rule
Lawyers, Police Battle at High Court Complex

By Griff Witte
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, November 5, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 5 — Police used tear gas and baton charges Monday to break up protests as thousands of lawyers took to the streets across Pakistan in the first significant demonstrations against President Pervez Musharraf’s declaration of emergency rule on Saturday.

The largest rally took place in the eastern city of Lahore, where lawyers and police battled each other at the city’s High Court complex. Several lawyers were injured, and hundreds were arrested before the protesters were dispersed.

Lawyers vowed to continue their protests in the coming days.

“We are determined that until there is freedom for the judges and the overturn of emergency rule, this war will continue,” said Anwar Shaheen, a lawyer in Lahore. “They can’t quiet us.”

Clashes between authorities and protesters also took place in the western city of Peshawar, the southern city of Karachi and elsewhere on Monday. In Islamabad, hundreds of lawyers shouting “Go Musharraf, go!” and “Musharraf is a dog!” protested at the district courts but were blocked from taking their procession to the streets.

“He has held the whole nation of 160 million people hostage, just with the backing of the gun and the Western powers,” said one protesting lawyer, M.S. Moghul.

For several hours Monday, reports circulated across the country that Musharraf had been overthrown by a group of subordinate generals. The rumors proved untrue, but that did not stop some from distributing sweets in celebration.

Independent television stations remained off the air for the third straight day, and the security presence in Islamabad was noticeably greater than on Sunday. Army rangers poked their automatic rifles from the tops of sandbagged bunkers near critical government buildings. Lines of barbed wire sealed off the entire area within a quarter-mile of the Supreme Court, and police refused to allow journalists to enter.

The country’s deposed chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, remained under house arrest along with six other Supreme Court judges who had made a desperate attempt Saturday afternoon to block Musharraf’s declaration. All were fired.

The United States pressured Musharraf on Monday to go ahead with parliamentary elections that had been slated for January but which now may be delayed for up to a year, and also encouraged him to release those arrested in recent days. As of late Monday night in Pakistan, no decision had been made about the parliamentary vote, according to deputy information minister Tariq Azim Khan.

“We believe that the best path for Pakistan is to quickly return to a constitutional path and then to hold elections,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a news conference during a visit to the West Bank during a Middle East trip. She also called for Musharraf to step down from his job as army chief, as he had promised to do.

“We cannot support emergency rule or the extreme measures taken during the emergency,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said during a morning briefing. “Such actions are not in Pakistan’s best interest and damage the progress Pakistan has made on its path to democracy.

“The president and his advisers . . . right now are urging him to quickly return to civilian rule, to get back on the path of democracy, to restore the freedoms of the press as well as release detainees.”

In the first tangible step that Washington has taken against Musharraf since Saturday, the United States suspended annual defense talks with Pakistan that were due to begin Tuesday.

Opposition political parties stayed quiet Monday. Several have been hit hard by government sweeps that have netted more than 1,000 arrests.

The nation’s largest opposition party, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s center-left Pakistan People’s Party, has not taken to the streets. But Bhutto said in an interview Monday night that her supporters would protest in the garrison city of Rawalpindi on Friday.

“Our goal is to get Musharraf to revive the constitution, to retire as chief of army staff by November 15 and to have the elections held on schedule,” Bhutto said.

While other opposition parties have said they do not believe free and fair elections are possible now that Musharraf has suspended the constitution, Bhutto said there is still time.

“We can do it,” she said.

Pakistan’s government on Sunday executed a nationwide crackdown on the political opposition, the news media and the courts, one day after Musharraf imposed emergency rule and suspended the constitution.

Police throughout the country raided the homes of opposition party leaders and activists, arresting at least 500. Top lawyers were also taken into custody, and 70 activists were detained at the offices of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in the eastern city of Lahore. Police confiscated the equipment of journalists covering the raid and ordered them to leave the premises. The United States continued to express outrage at Musharraf’s decision, and Rice said Washington would review its $150 million-a-month assistance program to Pakistan.

In an address to the nation that ended in the early minutes of Sunday, Musharraf justified his declaration on the grounds that he needed a free hand to battle rising militancy in Pakistan.

But a top adviser conceded later Sunday that the final decision came only after a Supreme Court judge quietly informed the government last week that the court would rule against Musharraf’s effort to stay on as president.

“After that, there was no option,” said Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, president of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League. “He is not happy with this decision, frankly speaking. We are all not happy with the decision. But there was no other choice.”

The only televised news Sunday came from the state-run channel, which ran clips from Musharraf’s speech to the nation.

The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad issued a statement Sunday saying Washington was “gravely concerned” about the crackdown. “Such extreme and unreasonable measures are clearly not in Pakistan’s best interest, and contradict the progress Pakistan has made toward becoming a fully democratic society,” the statement said.

A close adviser to Musharraf said Sunday that the president’s inner circle believed that before he issued the order, the United States and Britain had grudgingly accepted the idea of emergency rule, despite earlier objections. He said he did not expect any action against Musharraf by the West. “When we convinced them that it would only be for a very short time, they said, ‘Okay,’ ” the adviser said.

A Western diplomat hotly disputed that contention. “The U.S., along with Britain and other countries in the E.U. and the Commonwealth, made every effort to try to dissuade Musharraf’s government from doing this,” the diplomat said on the condition of anonymity, adding that “Rice couldn’t have been stronger in several phone calls” to Musharraf.

It was unclear, however, whether U.S. disapproval would translate into punitive measures.

The police presence in Islamabad, the capital, remained heavy Sunday, and a tense calm prevailed in much of the city.

At the residence of former chief justice Chaudhry, hundreds of security officers kept visitors away. Musharraf fired Chaudhry on Saturday, along with at least six other Supreme Court judges.

Of 17 judges on the bench, five agreed to take an oath to uphold Musharraf’s new provisional constitution. The government pressured several others Sunday to sign the oath or lose their jobs, according to a Musharraf aide.

Near the Supreme Court, a small group gathered in hopes of starting a rally against Musharraf. But police ordered the crowd to disperse, citing a ban on public gatherings of more than three people in one place.

“We’re in despair, and we don’t know what to do,” said Sofia Shakil, an Islamabad resident. “Just when things looked like they couldn’t get any worse.”

The mood in the western city of Peshawar, too, was grim. “As a Pakistani today, I’m feeling so down that I wish I could be a citizen of India, Bangladesh, or even Afghanistan,” said Tariq Hussain, a pharmacist. “It’s really shameful to meet with people of other countries and introduce yourself as a Pakistani because of our greedy rulers.”

In Islamabad later in the afternoon Sunday, several dozen protesters attempted to march to Chaudhry’s house, shouting, “We want democracy now!” But police blocked their path and began making arrests.

“We don’t need martial law imposed on us,” said Laila Ashraf, a protester. “We need to assert our rights.”

Washington Post correspondent Emily Wax and special correspondent Imtiaz Ali in Peshawar contributed to this report.

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Pakistan Police Attack Lawyers at Protest

November 6, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 5 — Police officers armed with tear gas and clubs attacked thousands of protesting lawyers in the city of Lahore today and rounded up lawyers in other cities as the government of the Pakistani president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, faced the first signs of concerted resistance to the imposition of emergency rule on Saturday.

The opposition to emergency rule, which many here are describing as martial law, was led by lawyers, students and journalists. The main opposition political parties, however, mounted no immediate large-scale rallies or protests. The next few days will show whether they can organize in the current atmosphere, which is highly restrictive.

Benazir Bhutto, the leader of the country’s biggest secular political party, remained at her home in Karachi, although she said she would fly to Islamabad on Wednesday to take part in a protest rally. Ms. Bhutto has sharply criticized the emergency rule but so far has stopped short of criticizing General Musharraf himself.

Pakistani officials say an estimated 500 opposition figures have been arrested since emergency rule was imposed at the weekend, although lawyers and analysts said the figure could be far higher, probably around 2,000.

General Musharraf, in a televised address on Saturday night, cited the danger to the country posed by extremists and said only emergency rule could solve it. He suspended the Constitution, fired the judges of the Supreme Court, closed the transmission of privately owned television news channels and curbed the broadcasts of international broadcasters. Parliamentary elections scheduled for next January were delayed for up to a year, officials said.

Today, the Musharraf government deployed police forces and threatened political opponents with more arrests.

An estimated 150 lawyers were arrested in Lahore after a pitched battle between the police and lawyers who stood on the roof of the High Court throwing stones at the officers below. Some of the lawyers had bleeding heads as they were shoved into police vans, and some fainted in the clouds of tear gas. In Multan, another city in the province of Punjab, two new judges who had taken the oath of office under emergency rule Sunday were forced to leave the courtroom by hundreds of angry lawyers.

“We threatened them, saying: ‚Äö√Ñ√≤You’ve taken an unconstitutional oath. If you don’t go we will throw eggs at you.’ They left,” said Riaz Gilani, a lawyer from Multan.

Many lawyers in the capital, Islamabad, and the nearby garrison town of Rawalpindi said they did not go to the courts because they were warned they would be arrested and possibly beaten.

Despite the warnings, more than 100 lawyers demonstrated outside Islamabad’s main court complex today. The lawyers, clad in black suits and ties, shouted, “Musharraf, dog!” and “A Baton and a bullet will not do!” Haroon Rashid, president of the Islamabad Bar Association, instructed lawyers not to attack the watching police because he did not want to give the police a pretext for arrests, he said.

This is the second time this year that the country’s lawyers have emerged to fight the government. They led weeks of protests in the spring when General Musharraf fired the Supreme Court chief justice.

Liaquat Baluch, the deputy leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, an opposition Islamic party, told Reuters that the police had detained about 700 party supporters Sunday night.

In a showdown this afternoon between the government and the news media, hundreds of journalists and printers at the Jang Group, Pakistan’s largest media group, confronted the police and officials from the government’s press information department at the offices of Awam, the afternoon newspaper in Karachi.

The government officials ordered the newspaper’s editor, Nazeer Leghari, not to print a supplement, and the police threatened to close down the plant, according to a statement issued by the Jang Group. When the newspaper’s management refused to obey, the officials withdrew, the statement said.

Protests were held at two of the country’s top universities. Several hundred students and faculty members gathered at the Lahore University of Management Studies, shouted anti-government slogans and planned further protests, according to a faculty member. Several dozen students protested at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad.

In the first practical sign of international displeasure at the emergency rule, the United States said today it had suspended annual defense talks with Pakistan.

Eric Edelman, an under secretary of defense, was meant to head an American delegation to the talks, beginning on Tuesday, but the meetings will be delayed until conditions are “more conducive to achieving the important objectives of all those who value democracy and a constitutional role,” said Elizabeth Colton, a spokeswoman at the American Embassy.

To shore up the emergency rule, the government appeared to be bypassing the regular police channels and instead sending orders for arrests through regional, politically-appointed mayors, said Syed Fakhir Imam, a former speaker of the National Assembly.

Mr. Imam said he was receiving telephone calls about arrests across the country. One man was arrested in the press club in Quetta, the main city in Baluchistan, he said.

In his own relatively small district of Jhang in the western Punjab, 47 lawyers who were politically active, including a senior lawyer, Fareed Naul, had been jailed, he said.

The chief justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who was dismissed earlier this year and then reinstated, was again dismissed by General Musharraf on Saturday.

Mr. Chaudhry said in an interview in a newspaper, The News, this morning that “everything that is happening today is illegal, unconstitutional and against the orders of the Supreme Court.”

In a telephone interview, one of the seven Supreme Court justices now under house arrest, Rana Bhagwandas, urged the United States to support the restoration of democracy in Pakistan.

“The United States is a democratic government, and democratic governments should work for democratic values across the globe,” Mr. Bhagwandas said. “Pakistan is no exception.”

Analysts said the resistance to emergency rule would gain momentum only when, or if, the main political parties showed their hand.

“The resistance is unlikely to succeed unless the political parties come into the process,” said Hasan Askari Rizvi, an analyst in Lahore who teaches at the School for Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

In a telephone interview from her home in Karachi, Ms. Bhutto, who returned to Pakistan last month with the blessing of the United States, said she would fly to Islamabad on Wednesday, where she hoped to meet with other opposition political parties.

She insisted a rally planned by her party would go ahead on Friday in Rawalpindi. It would be staged as a protest rather than a political gathering, she said.

“We decided this would be a protest meeting where we would protest the imposition of military rule,” she said. “This protest movement will continue until the Constitution is restored.”

Even so, there was doubt among some of her supporters which way Ms. Bhutto would swing.

“I hope she resists,” said Syeda Abida Hussain, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States. “If she co-operates, she will be politically annihilated.”

Ms. Hussain said there were plans for Ms. Bhutto to meet a cross-section of political parties in Islamabad under the umbrella of the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy.

In a two-hour meeting with foreign ambassadors today, General Musharraf gave a lengthy explanation for the emergency rule, repeating much of what he said in his formal televised statement Saturday night, and dismissed criticism of the detention of his opponents.

Recounting the events of the last few days, Mr. Bhagwandas, the Supreme Court judge, said that he and seven other justices had gathered in the Supreme Court building very late Saturday night after General Musharraf suspended the country’s Constitution.

There they drafted a ruling declaring the emergency order unconstitutional and faxed it to Mr. Musharraf’s office, the country’s four governors and senior judges across Pakistan.

Police officers then allowed the seven justices to return to their houses, but since then they have been barred from leaving, he said. This morning he woke, he said, to find the gates to his house locked.

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Ousted Pakistani Chief Justice Urges Lawyers to Continue Protests

By Griff Witte and Howard Schneider
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 6, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 6 — Ousted Pakistani chief justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry urged the country’s lawyers to continue protesting against the emergency rules imposed by President Pervez Musharraf over the weekend, saying the country’s constitution had been “ripped to shreds” and they need to fight to restore it.

Under house arrest since his firing along with six other Supreme Court judges, Chaudhry reached a gathering of lawyers in the capital via cell phone and told them to “go to every corner of Pakistan and give the message that this is the time to sacrifice,” the Associated Press reported. “Don’t be afraid. God will help us, and the day will come when you’ll see the constitution supreme and no dictatorship for a long time.”

Chaudhry is as an influential critic of Musharraf. He survived an earlier attempt by Musharraf to remove him from office, and under his leadership as chief justice, the court was reviewing a challenge to Musharraf’s recent reelection as president.

His call for further protests comes amid continuing turbulence on the Pakistani streets, and reports that Islamic militants had overtaken the town of Matta in the northwest of the country. The area has been the scene of intense battles between militants and Pakistani troops. The wire service attributed the information to local police and a spokesman for a rebel cleric.

The Pakistani cabinet, meanwhile, was meeting to discuss the country’s security situation and debating whether to hold parliamentary elections as scheduled in January, or delay them by as much as a year. President Bush and other world leaders have urged that the elections be held on schedule.

Pakistani lawyers have so far taken the lead in demonstrating against the emergency declaration and continued those protests on Tuesday, vowing to keep up their dissent until Musharraf resigns.

After turning out across Pakistan by the thousands on Monday, the crowds were smaller but still substantial, with wire services reporting that roughly 1,000 lawyers had clashed with police in the central city of Multan.

While some political opponents and rights activists also participated in the protests — the most significant since Musharraf declared emergency rule Saturday — it was the lawyers who dominated. In recent months, they have clashed repeatedly with a government they accuse of interfering with the judiciary, and on Monday, they voiced outrage over the president’s decision to suspend the constitution and fire a group of dissident Supreme Court justices.

The Pakistani government made clear that it would brook no opposition, swiftly deploying police with tear gas and batons to beat back demonstrators.

Political parties are expected to join the protests in the coming days, although it remains unclear to what extent members will turn out in the streets. Opposition leaders said that several thousand party activists, human rights advocates and lawyers have been taken into custody since Saturday in a bid by the government to snuff out the anti-government movement before it can gain traction.

Authorities defied mounting domestic and international pressure to end emergency rule and schedule parliamentary elections that are supposed to be held by January. President Bush urged Pakistan to “restore democracy as quickly as possible,” but stopped short of saying that the moves by Musharraf, a top U.S. ally in counterterrorism efforts, would affect U.S. aid.

The largest rally Monday took place in the eastern city of Lahore, where lawyers and police battled at the city’s High Court complex. Several lawyers were injured, and hundreds were arrested. Musharraf adversaries said larger protests are expected later this week.

“We are determined that until there is freedom for the judges and the overturn of emergency rule, this war will continue,” said Anwar Shaheen, a lawyer in Lahore. “They can’t quiet us.”

Clashes between authorities and protesters also took place Monday in Islamabad, the capital, the northwestern city of Peshawar, the southern city of Karachi and elsewhere. “Today we make a solemn pledge that we will continue our struggle till our last breath,” Fida Gul, a lawyer, told a rowdy group of protesters in Peshawar.

For several hours Monday, reports circulated across the country that Musharraf had been overthrown by a group of subordinate generals. The rumors proved untrue, but that did not stop some people from distributing sweets in celebration, and they underscored the air of uncertainty that prevails in Pakistan.

Musharraf said in an interview with the Reuters news agency that the report of his ouster was “a joke of the highest order,” adding that he planned to play tennis later in the day.

On Saturday, Musharraf said he had declared an emergency in the interest of fighting terrorism. But top Musharraf aides have conceded that his primary motivation was an impending Supreme Court decision that would have disqualified him from serving another term.

Musharraf aides have said the government has no plans to use the emergency to launch an offensive against insurgents in the northwest, where the military has suffered embarrassing losses recently. On Sunday, authorities freed 30 Taliban fighters in exchange for more than 200 captured soldiers, even as police continued to round up activists from the mainstream political parties.

Musharraf met in the morning with dozens of foreign diplomats, telling them he had no choice but to declare an emergency and suspend the constitution.

“I can assure you there will be harmony,” he said, according to state-run television. “Confidence will come back into the government, into law enforcement agencies, and Pakistan will start moving again on the same track as we were moving.”

Musharraf declined to give details of when elections would be held or when he would step down as army chief, as he had promised to do. One Western diplomat called the meeting “uncomfortable and tense” and said that Musharraf was “dismissive” of objections to his decision.

The U.S. ambassador, Anne W. Patterson, told Musharraf of Washington’s concern about his government’s “extraordinarily heavy-handed measures,” including the arrest Sunday of 70 human rights workers. “It would be hard to imagine a group less threatening to the security of Pakistan and more in accord with the democratic values you have espoused,” Patterson said, according to the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In the first tangible step it has taken against Musharraf since Saturday, the United States postponed annual defense talks with Pakistan that were due to begin Tuesday. The Dutch government went much further, becoming the first country to suspend aid to Pakistan as a result of the emergency declaration.

The Pakistani government kept independent domestic news stations, as well as the BBC and CNN, off the air for the third straight day, and Pakistani journalists said they had been given no timetable for when transmissions might resume.

The opposition group led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, one of the main targets of the government’s raids, said it had decided to back the lawyers in a nationwide movement against Musharraf.

But the nation’s largest opposition party, the Pakistan People’s Party, led by former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, is in a trickier spot. Bhutto had spent months before the imposition of emergency rule negotiating a possible power-sharing arrangement with Musharraf that might have allowed her to become prime minister.

Musharraf’s announcement, she said in an interview Monday night, violated their agreement. Bhutto said that her supporters would protest in the garrison city of Rawalpindi on Friday, although she played down predictions of the kind of massive crowds that greeted her return from exile last month. She said she still hopes that Musharraf will reverse course, adding that protests would help.

“Our goal is to get Musharraf to revive the constitution, to retire as chief of army staff by November 15 and to have the elections held on schedule,” Bhutto said.

Other opposition parties have said they do not believe free and fair elections are possible under Musharraf, but Bhutto disagreed.

Asked if she would meet with Musharraf to possibly negotiate a government, Bhutto today said “No, and nor do I intend to meet Musharraf.”

Correspondent Emily Wax in Lahore and special correspondent Imtiaz Ali in Peshawar contributed to this report.

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Don’t expect Washington to push democracy on Cairo

Commentary by Hrach Gregorian
Monday, October 29, 2007

President Hosni Mubarak has ruled Egypt for over a quarter of a century. Almost 80, and reportedly in poor health, Mubarak appears intent on quashing all but token opposition and clearing the path for the ascension to the presidency of his son, Gamal, a 43-year-old former investment banker. It is no accident that the office of the vice president remains vacant, and the military, where all of Egypt’s presidents have come from, is being kept at a distance. The press is also on notice to temper its criticism or suffer intimidation, jailing, and perhaps worse at the hands of the state security apparatus.

While recently acceding to some of the demands of workers in one of the most widespread strikes seen in Egypt in modern memory, the regime was quick to shut down and ban the activities of the Center for Trade Union and Worker Services, which was instrumental in spearheading the labor protests. Mubarak has vowed to serve out his current term, which runs until 2011. During this period, there will be significant turnover in the political leadership of the United States as well as other key players in the Middle East.

The Mubarak regime’s key objective during this period of transition is to ensure stability and continuity. Regardless of who among the frontrunners in the current US presidential campaign ends up in the White House, it is highly likely that Washington will refrain from any further calls for regime change in the region, albeit quietly pressing for political and economic reform in Egypt. For the time being at least, the very public American campaign to champion democratic change in Egypt and in other key states in the Arab Middle East is over. Of course this does not mean that the US cannot or will not continue to exercise its considerable economic leverage to press Cairo for greater political openness; it does mean that in light of strategic interests in the region as well as the immediate fallout from the democracy experiment, the US will mute further public scolding of the regime and look for much more gradual change. In this regard, it is striking how dramatic the change in rhetoric has been.

It was just June 2005 when US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking on the campus of the American University in Cairo, delivered a speech apparently marking a major shift in US policy toward the Arab world. Rice noted: “For 60 years my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region, here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither. Now we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people.”

More arresting than this overarching theme was the explicit call on the Egyptian government to provide its citizenry with freedom of choice, free elections, the right to public assembly and political participation. Given the highly stunted nature of Egypt’s political culture, it is not entirely clear why the US administration assumed that such reforms would witness the rise to power of moderate, modernizing elements in the Egyptian polity. What did happen was that in the first round of parliamentary elections held late in 2005, candidates affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood won most of the races in which their names appeared on the ballot. Only the heavy-handed tactics and outright vote-rigging of the government ensured that these individuals would not achieve victory in subsequent rounds. Still, the Muslim Brotherhood made substantial gains in its share of parliamentary seats. This development, coupled with the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections in January 2006, appears to have substantially tempered the US zeal for democratization.

This was the context for Rice’s pronouncement in Cairo in early spring 2006 that in the parliamentary elections, President Mubarak had “sought the consent of the governed.” With Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abu al-Gheit at her side, she went on to say, “We can’t judge Egypt … We can’t tell Egypt what its course can be or should be.” And in what is likely to be the theme of US policy in the region for some time to come, the secretary added, “It [democratic change] takes time … We understand that.”

Time and space are what the US will give Egypt in the years to come. There are a number of reasons for this backpedaling on democracy. The Egyptian government has played a significant role in supporting the US-lead campaign against Al-Qaeda and other extremist elements in the region. It has even taken on the dirty work of forceful interrogation of suspects where US law would not permit such activity by an agency of the US government. Egypt has tightened the clamps on Hamas, to the point of imposing travel restrictions on the organization; it has increased border security to stem the flow of weapons from Sinai to Gaza; and it has declared its support for Fatah and its leader, the US-backed Mahmoud Abbas. Furthermore, the US can count on the Egyptians to act as a stabilizing force in Arab-Israel relations. Egypt is also lending Uncle Sam a helping hand in Iraq and Iran.

Most notably, the Mubarak regime is undertaking all these steps in the face of domestic sentiment that has been characterized as the most anti-American in the region. For now, at least, Washington’s strategic interests and the Mubarak government’s political interests are in close alignment. This being the case, there is little reason to believe that significant change in US-Egyptian relations is in the offing, regardless of who wins the upcoming presidential elections and as the mantle of power in Egypt is slowly passed from father to son.

Hrach Gregorian is president of the Washington-based Institute of World Affairs, a partner in the consulting firm Gettysburg Integrated Solutions, and associate professor in the Graduate Program in Conflict Analysis at Royal Roads University in Victoria, Canada. This commentary first appeared at, an online newsletter.

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Regression in the Muslim Brotherhood’s platform?

Commentary by Amr Hamzawy
Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Muslim Brotherhood’s draft party platform sends mixed signals about the movement’s political views and positions. Although it has already been widely circulated, the document does not yet have final approval from the movement’s guidance bureau.

The platform’s detailed treatment of political, social, and economic issues marks a significant departure from previously less developed positions, articulated inter alia in a 2004 reform initiative and the 2005 electoral platform for Brotherhood parliamentary candidates. This shift addresses one of the most important criticisms of the Brotherhood, namely its championing of vague ideological and religious slogans and inability to come up with specific policy prescriptions.

The document raises troubling questions, however, regarding the identity of a future Brotherhood political party as well as the group’s position on several political and social issues. Released in the context of an ongoing standoff between the Egyptian regime and the Brotherhood, it reveals significant ambiguities and perhaps regression in the movement’s thinking.

First, the drafters chose not to address the future relationship between the party and the movement. In doing so, they have deliberately ignored important ideas recently discussed within the movement, especially among members of the parliamentary bloc. Inspired by the experiences of Islamist parties in Morocco, Jordan, and Yemen, these members advocate a functional separation between a party and the movement, with the former focused mainly on political participation and the latter on religious activism. In addition to its superficial treatment of the nature of the party and its internal organization, the platform includes no clear statement on opening party membership to all Egyptians regardless of their religion, one of the requirements for establishing a political party according to the Egyptian Constitution.

Second, the draft Brotherhood platform identifies implementation of Sharia as one of the party’s main goals. Although this is consistent with the group’s interpretation of Article 2 of the Egyptian Constitution (“Islam is the religion of the state, and Islamic law is the main source of legislation”), it departs from the pragmatic spirit of various Brotherhood statements and initiatives since 2004 in which less emphasis was given to the Sharia issue. The return to a focus on Sharia in the platform has led to positions fundamentally at odds with the civil nature of the state and full citizenship rights regardless of religious affiliation.

The platform undermines the principle of a civil state by stipulating that senior religious scholars would have the right to veto legislation that does not conform to the principles of Islamic law. It calls for the establishment of a board of elected senior religious scholars, with whom the president and the legislature would have to consult before passing laws. In effect, this would put the legislature and the executive under the scrutiny of an extra-constitutional body. Setting aside impressionistic inferences regarding the Brotherhood’s adoption of a theocratic state model, these provisions constitute a significant departure in the movement’s thinking away from the more moderate positions articulated by its leadership in recent years. Over the past few years, the Brotherhood had consistently asserted that the Supreme Constitutional Court was the only body that can adjudicate the constitutionality of laws, and denied that a religious body could perform this task. The draft platform also discriminates against Egypt’s Copts by arguing – on religious grounds – that only Muslims are allowed to compete for the highest executive offices, the presidency and prime ministership. This constitutes a violation of basic principles of universal citizenship, which the Brotherhood’s discourse had once seemed to accept.

Finally, the party platform’s treatment of social and economic issues reveals a preference for a strongly interventionist state that would mitigate the effects of free trade. By contrast, the platform’s provisions regarding political reform and democratic change focus on a more limited role for the state and a greater role for civil society and nongovernmental organizations. Calling for a state that systematically intervenes in social and economic spheres while at the same time advocating limiting its political role is contradictory.

Ambiguity and regression in the Brotherhood’s party platform cannot be seen outside the current political context in Egypt. Since their strong showing in the parliamentary elections 2005, the Muslim Brothers have been once again facing a repressive state apparatus that places strict constraints on their political participation. In such an uncertain environment, it is highly unlikely that nonviolent religious opposition movements open up to fully embrace democratic norms and principles.

Amr Hamzawy is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Dina Bishara translated this article from Arabic. This commentary is reprinted with permission from the Arab Reform Bulletin, Vol. 5, issue 8 (October 2007) (c) 2007, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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Debunking the myth of Islamist intransigence

By Mohammed Herzallah and Amr Hamzawy
Friday, November 02, 2007

Recently the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood issued a draft of its first ever political party platform, making major strides toward a comprehensive public policy program espousing freedom of expression and pluralistic politics – ideals that were previously immaterial to Islamist discourse in Egypt. While the Brotherhood remains a movement without a political party – barred by the Egyptian government and a constitutional prohibition against parties based on religious preferences – the movement’s new party platform gives policymakers and experts plenty of reason to take notice.

By and large, the platform advances a fairly progressive understanding of freedom of religion and expression, of property rights, and of women’s enfranchisement. More than that, it advances the notion that the people are the source of state sovereignty – a clear departure from orthodox Islamic teachings that God is the undisputed origin of virtually all sovereignty.

Other key provisions in the document, however, have proven fiercely controversial among Egyptian intellectual and policy circles. Namely, the program calls for the establishment of a board of elected senior religious scholars with whom the president and the legislature would have to consult before authorizing any laws or decrees. This would effectively place the government under the scrutiny of an extra-constitutional entity. Setting aside accusations by critics that the Brotherhood is calling for an Iran-style theocratic state, the provision reveals a degree of regression in the movement’s thinking from more moderate positions upheld by the movement’s leadership in recent years.

Regrettably, the draft also contemplates legally sanctioned discrimination against women and non-Muslim citizens, who are explicitly denied the right to run for the highest executive offices – namely president and prime minister. The Muslim Brotherhood argues that these positions of authority involve religious duties that only Muslim men are enjoined to perform. Certainly, such a position represents a clear violation of the principle of equality, a fundamental element of modern democracies.

Nonetheless, the controversy obscures the fact that the Brotherhood’s positions are not born out of animosity toward non-Muslims, women, or democracy, but stem from cultural and religious norms that are continuously debated and modified by the Brotherhood’s leading members. To be sure, internal disputes over comprehensive equality, like many other disagreements over Shariah law, have yet to be settled, and the Brotherhood’s leading members do not pretend otherwise in public.

An example that bears special emphasis is the new platform’s endorsement of the right of the people, irrespective of their race, gender, religious or ideological affiliations, to form political parties and associations. Given that the founders of the movement were firmly opposed to factionalism and the political party system, the move illustrates the growing capacity of progressives within the Islamists’ ranks to shape the movement’s intellectual trajectory.

The story of today’s Muslim Brotherhood is one of struggle to advance liberal thought in a culturally conservative, religiously oriented movement. But the group’s religious inclinations are not entirely responsible for its somewhat sluggish march toward full-fledged commitment to liberal democracy. The Muslim Brotherhood’s reluctance to reverse some of its controversial positions is also partly rooted in Egypt’s hostile political environment. Since their strong showing in the 2005 election, the Muslim Brothers have been subjected to relentless government-sponsored waves of intimidation and repression. This has served to empower hard-liners and demoralize the forces of reconciliation and moderation among the Islamists.

Ultimately, when all is said and done, the movement that is today advocating freedom of expression and political participation has been once home to some of the darkest ideas ever to rock the precarious sphere of Arab politics, including those of Sayyed Qutb – who inspired the terrorist ideology of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawhri, and their Al-Qaeda followers. That the Brotherhood has renounced violence and relinquished the detrimental rhetoric of self-righteousness in the hopes of becoming legitimate political actors resembles the kind of raw and authentic progress that has been largely overlooked in the global war on terrorism; it should be welcomed, studied, and carefully cultivated.

Mohammed Herzallah is a junior research fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Amr Hamzawy is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. They wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.

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Tunisia’s Ben Ali set to extend 20-year rule

Tue 6 Nov 2007, 12:57 GMT
By Sonia Ounissi

TUNIS, Nov 6 (Reuters) – Supporters of Tunisian President Zine al Abidine Ben Ali predict he will seek another mandate when his latest term ends in 2009, confident the veteran leader will make the Maghreb’s most modern state more prosperous.

Critics say the continued leadership of the 71-year-old, who celebrates 20 years in power on Wednesday, risks perpetuating an authoritarian system with tight controls on politics and press.

Ben Ali has yet to confirm he wants to continue leading the north African country of 10 million. But his backers’ mood is reminiscent of their confidence in 2002, when he won the right in a referendum to stay in power for life if he chose to do so.

Streets in Tunis and other cities are decked with Tunisian red flags and portraits of Ben Ali and posters and other slogans declaring he would be the “best choice in 2009”.

Commentators say Ben Ali can take credit for making Tunisia the healthiest and best educated population in north Africa.

The country has north Africa’s biggest middle class. More than two-thirds of households own homes. A fifth of the population own a car, up from a 10th two decades ago. Access to schools and basic health care are available to all.

But they say he has much to do to close a democratic deficit that makes the political process a sterile exercise in state control.

“Tunisians do not suffer from poverty. … They suffer from mental hunger due to a lack of initiative and poor freedom of expression and press,” said political analyst Slah Jourchi.

“The political regime in Tunis had provided social stability during 20 years, adopting a liberal economic policy without harming the interests of Tunisia’s large middle class.

“But this development is unbalanced, with poor political initiative and superficial multi-party politics”, he added.


Long-serving rulers are nothing new in the Maghreb. Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi has clocked up 38 years — equalling the reign of former Moroccan King Hassan, whose son Mohammed ascended the throne in 1999. In Algeria, army-backed leaders have been the norm since independence from France in 1962.

Critics of Ben Ali say another term would push Tunisia towards a quasi-monarchical system, making a mockery of Ben Ali’s statement when he took over on Nov. 7, 1987, that Tunisia would never again have a president-for-life.

He became president in 1987, six weeks after becoming prime minister, when doctors declared president-for-life Habib Bourguiba, founder of modern Tunisia, senile and unfit to rule.

“Certainly we have recorded social stability and economic benefits over the past two decades. But we have recorded also a remarkable political regression,” said Maya Jribi, the head of the opposition Progressive Democratic Party.

“Before, there was a real political debate. Now it’s a become a complete desert. Without freedom of the press, without respecting the rights of assembly, without political rehabilitation, we risk blocking sustainable development.”

The International Federation for Human Rights has warned the country that it risks violence unless it allows wider freedom of expression and further improvement of dissidents’ rights.

“Tunisia’s human rights situation is difficult … Without an independent civil society … (Tunisia) will face more uncontrollable relapses like those events in the (Tunis) suburbs,” Federation President Souhayr Belhassen told Reuters.

Tunisia’s quiet atmosphere was hit at the turn of the year by rare shoot-outs between security forces and radical Salafist Islamists near Tunis in which 14 of the gunmen were killed.

The government bans Islamist parties on the grounds that political Islam is a cause of conflict and ultimately bloodshed.


Ben Ali said in March Tunisia must take more interest in developing its youth and “safeguard them against the currents of extremism, fatalism and terrorism”.

The government insists it is committed to further democracy and liberty, arguing that a minority of dissidents habitually attempt to discredit the country’s human rights record.

Multi-party politics began in the early 1980s and the government says it recently started granting legal opposition groups financial support to boost democracy.

The ruling party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally, dominates the legislature, as by law 80 percent of the seats in the 189-seat parliament are reserved for the ruling party. The remaining 20 percent are contested by six opposition parties.

“Tunisia is at a crossroads. It achieved satisfactory growth and a good economic performance,” said Azzam Mahjoub, an economist and professor at Tunis University.

“But we cannot have sustainable development if we block political aspects, unless we have a co-existence between economic and social progress and political issues.”

(writing by William Maclean, editing by Mary Gabriel)

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Tunisia – A textbook case in press censorship for the past 20 years

Reporters Without Borders
5 November 2007

In the run-up to 20th anniversary of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s takeover as president on 7 November, the pro-government newspapers, which constitute most of the Tunisian press, have of course been praising the “president of change.” The local media is making much of Tunisia’s economic and social development and is ignoring civil liberties and human rights, which have been flouted for the past 20 years.

President Ben Ali enjoys the support of most western countries because they seem him as a “bulwark against the Islamist threat.” This is the case with the European Union, which signed an association accord with Tunisia in 1995 that is nothing like as binding on human rights issues as the accords reached with countries of the Africa-Caribbean-Pacific regions.

His first years as president saw an easing of political tension, but Ben Ali lost no time in reining in the media. The early 1990s and especially the first Gulf war marked the end of media diversity and free expression in Tunisia. Independent newspapers, which had been very active in the latter years of Habib Bourguiba’s presidency, were closed one after another.

In the past 20 years, Ben Ali has neutralised all the checks and balances and brought them under his control, starting with the press and the justice system. At least 48 publications have been subjected to various forms of censorship (including seizure of issues, suspension and closure), half of them in his first six years in office.

During all these years, Ben Ali has never stopped silencing dissidents, both in the press and in civil society. Using either seduction, intimidation or repression, the authorities have taken over the main news media, which are nowadays managed by the government directly or by the regime’s supporters.

Yet another hunger strike in defence of freedom of expression and association has been waged by government opponents in the run-up to the 20th anniversary. This seems to be the only way to make oneself heard in Tunisia. Journalist Taoufik Ben Brik in 2000, lawyer Radhia Nasraoui in 2002, journalist Hamadi Jebali in 2003, journalists Abdallah Zouari and Lotfi Hajji, and lawyer Mohammed Abbou in 2005, and journalist Slim Boukhdir in 2006 are just some of the people who have gone hunger strike in order to appeal to the international community.

On 20 September, it was the turn of Maya Jribi, the general secretary of the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), and Mohamed N‚àö¬©jib Chebbi, the managing editor of the Arabic-language weekly Al-Maoukif (the PDP’s mouthpiece), to launch a hunger strike in protest against a court case aimed at evicting them from their premises in Tunis. The PDP says the authorities got their landlord to break the rental contract on the pretext of “misuse of the premises.” They finally ended the hunger strike after 30 days, when the government’s intervention paved the way for an agreement with the landlord.

Sham pluralism

Al-Maoukif (which means “The Viewpoint”) will therefore continue for the time being to be published. It has overcome many obstacles to double its circulation to 10,000 in the past two years ago. It is denied any state subsidy and it is boycotted by all private-sector advertisers bar one, who is in conflict with the authorities.

“Our problems are not just financial,” editor Rachid Khechana told Reporters Without Borders. “We have a lot of difficulty getting access to information. Officials refuse to answer our questions or to receive us. So we have to find other channels and sources of information.” Khechana added: “Printers and distributors are also subjected to a great deal of harassment, including on tax matters, which means they often have to distribute the newspaper up to 48 hours late.”

Two other publications that belong to opposition parties – the weekly Mouwatinoun and the monthly Attariq Aljadid – are subject to the same constraints. The Democratic Forum for Labour and Freedoms (FDTL) launched Mouwatinoun (Citizens) in January of this year after getting a permit – something that is extremely rare – in less than six months. Managing editor Mustapha Ben Jaafar told Reporters Without Borders that the newspaper nonetheless was subject to drastic discrimination as regards distribution.

“There are very few news stands that put it on display,” he said. “Mouwatinoun is invisible because that is what the government wants, and because vendors are scared.” These obstacles obviously have financial consequences for the newspaper, which has already reduced its print run from 5,000 to 3,000 copies. These party newspapers are not safe from censorship either. Sometimes issues are unofficially seized. “The police may confiscate an issue from the news stands without warning us and without giving us an explanation,” Ben Jaafar said.

Independent newspapers and magazines are in very short supply. Many applications for permission to create a new publication are unsuccessful. Since 1999, Sihem Bensedrine has applied four times to the interior minister to register and publish a weekly print version of the French and Arabic-language news website Kalima. Each time, the authorities have refused to issue her with the receipt that a printer needs in order to print a newspaper. As Kalima’s website is inaccessible in Tunisia, Bensedrine currently distributes it as an email newsletter.

Overall, the rest of the privately-owned media take a pro-government line tinged with proselytism. They have become the main vehicle for orchestrated attacks on regime opponents, whether journalists, hunger strikers, intellectuals or politicians. The journalists working for these media, like those working for the public media, are instructed to cover only information coming from the governmental news agency, Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP), which is under the interior ministry’s control. The Association of Tunisian Journalists (AJT) said: “The only subjects they are allowed to cover are those in the TAP’s news schedules, and most of the time these are official activities. Any additional initiative is unwelcome.”

Journalists working for the official press – the two government newspapers, La Presse and El-Sahafa, and the ruling RCD’s two mouthpieces, Le Renouveau and Houria – are allowed no room for manoeuvre and follow this directive strictly. They clearly fulfill the role of propaganda tools. Yesterday’s issue of La Presse, Tunisia’s leading French-language newspaper, had this perfect example of government cant:

“On this 20th anniversary of the Change that Tunisians of all categories and ages are celebrating with extraordinary pride, the gains of the economic, political and social achievements initiated and promoted by President Ben Ali continue to confirm our conviction that Tunisia’s development experience is clearly a model to be followed.”

The broadcast media are even more uniform. The state TV stations (Canal 7 and Canal 21) just broadcast news favourable to government policies. There are some commercial TV and radio stations, but they all belong to people who support the government. The foreign minister, for example, is the biggest shareholder in Mosa‚àö√òque FM, while Hannibal TV, which was inaugurated on a 7 November, is owned by a member of the First Lady’s family.

Only one privately-owned TV station, Al-Hiwar Attounsi (Tunisian Dialogue), offers a bit of diversity, but it broadcasts for just one hour a day because its resources are limited. Its chief executive, Tahar Ben Hassine, has never obtained the required permits to launch the station inside Tunisia. It has been broadcasting from Italy since 2002. “There is a complete lack of definition as regards the criteria for assigning broadcast licences,” Ben Hassine told Reporters Without Borders. “The reasons for refusals are never given. Any decision is directly subject to President Ben Ali’s approval.”

No favours for the foreign media

“If you are invited to Tunisia and you want to thank your hosts for their hospitality, bring them the latest issue of a newspaper that is censored inside the country,” a Tunisian journalist recommends. His advice highlights the news shortage suffered by his fellow-countrymen, for whom many foreign publications are banned. Le Canard Encha‚àö√Ün‚àö¬©, Al Hayat and Charlie Hebdo are among those that are no longer available. Many others are occasionally denied entry in an arbitrary manner, or are held up for several days at the port of entry. These seizures are not random. In most cases they are prompted by articles about the country’s leaders, above all Ben Ali.

The Qatar-based satellite news station Al-Jazeera has also had a lot of problems in Tunisia. The authorities have refused to issue accreditation to its correspondent, Lotfi Hajji, and have prevented it from opening a bureau. Tunisia even decided to close its embassy in Qatar in October 2006 in protest against Al-Jazeera’s “hostile campaign” after it broadcast an interview with opposition member Moncef Marzouki.

Foreign journalists generally have little problem in travelling to Tunisia, but once there, they are subject to surveillance by plain-clothes police who do not prevent them from working but, by their very presence, intimidate all those who would like to talk to them. The activities of local journalists working as stringers for foreign media is closely controlled and often banned.

Swiss TV reporter Flore Dussey of T‚àö¬©l‚àö¬©vision Suisse Romande (TSR) went to Tunisia on 2 November with a cameraman but could not interview members of the public. “We were constantly followed throughout our visit,” she told Reporters Without Borders. “We requested shooting permission from the Tunisian Agency for External communication (ACTE), but it was never granted. Instead, an official from the agency accompanied us everywhere we went. Our chaperone refused to allow us to be accompanied on a shoot by someone who works for Al-Hiwar Attounsi.”

Unusually, a visiting reporter from the French daily Libération, Christophe Boltanski, was stabbed in the back in November 2005 as policemen looked on without intervening. He had gone for a World Summit on the Information Society that the UN was staging in Tunis, and was preparing a story on the human rights situation.

Playing cat and mouse on the Internet

The Internet does not escape government control, either. Internet caf‚àö¬©s are watched. In the provinces, Internet users must often show ID in order to be able to sit down at a computer. And Internet caf‚àö¬© owners often ask them not to visit certain “subversive” sites in order to spare them problems. Under Tunisian law, they are responsible for their clients’ online activities. The regime thereby enlists their help in its policies of repression and control.

To download something or add an attachment to an email message, the client must go through the central server, in other words, the manager’s computer. Furthermore, under a post and telecommunications law adopted in 1998, the authorities can check the content of email messages at any time. The law authorises the interception of any message that could “jeopardize public order and national security. The communications ministry keeps information exchanged online under very close surveillance.

Bloggers and independent website editors are also exposed to sanctions. Lawyer Mohammed Abbou spend 28 months in prison because of what he posted on opposition websites. Since leaving prison on 24 July, he has been banned twice from leaving the country. In one case, he was supposed to go to London to record a programme about human rights.

The Reporters Without Borders website is not accessible within Tunisia, like the sites of many human rights organisations and foreign news media. The authorities regular block and unblock access to certain sites in order to protect itself from charges of censorship. The private connections of some journalists and opposition members are often cut because of “technical problems” or their speed is slowed right down so that web pages take a long time to load and surfing becomes almost impossible. Tunisia currently has around a dozen ISPs but, owned by one of Ben Ali’s daughters continues to have the lion’s share of the market.

President Ben Ali is on the Reporters Without Borders list of the world’s 34 worst press freedom predators. Tunisia was ranked 145th out of the 169 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index, issued last month.

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Mixed Reviews for U.S. from Erdogan’s Old Home

by Amar C. Bakshi

ISTANBUL – Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan shakes President Bush’s hand on the grainy television screen in Hodja Yashar’s Caf‚àö¬© on Yumak Street in Kasimpasa, Istanbul, just minutes from the flat Erdogan inhabited as a teenager. The old men light their cigarettes to celebrate.

“Miracles can happen!” says one of them, smiling as the anchorwoman reports that America will increase its support of the Turkish government in its battle against Kurdish guerillas in the southeast.

Another man who sells cleaning cloths to car mechanics is less optimistic: “I don’t expect anything from America.”

And so their banter goes back and forth, from praise for the U.S. to deep suspicion. They settle on neither.

They’re all well over sixty, with deep coughs and creased skin. Kasimpasa as a whole is an aging community of shopkeepers and laborers, many of them living off government checks of little over two hundred U.S. dollars per month. It’s not much, the men say, but they get by.

“When a place grows out of poorness, people help each other get by, and [they] become closer and closer,” explains the caf‚àö¬© owner Hodja. People on Kasimpasa’s windy, sloped streets know each other’s faces. They know who they can trust and who they cannot.

“We are allies of America,” says Hizir Balci, “but America cannot be trusted.” He’s a well regarded local council member who speaks with authority on both local issues and global ones. For years, Balci has watched the big powers play games on the TV set hovering above him, from the cold war to the Iraq wars. He and his friends talk about it all over tea. After all the years, he says he harbors a deep suspicion of the involvement of foreign powers in Turkey. But he has faith in Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).

This Islamist party has done remarkably well since its birth in 2001. It has appealed directly to the grassroots, which other Turkish parties have so far resisted. AKP organizes at the local level and provides social services in what some consider a populist fashion. This kind of local involvement helped the party win 34% of the popular vote in 2002 and 46% in 2007. The party claims to be moderately conservative and pro-Western, but its opponents fear it aims to undermine Turkey’s secular character through the gradual Islamicization of the country.

Kasimpasa natives are visibly more pious than residents in other parts of the city. Most women on the street wear the headscarves, and a few wear a full black chador, though younger girls do neither.

“We have always been true to our faith here. This is nothing new,” Hodja says. “Now there is more exposure to the world. It is more democratic, and we can display our faith‚Äö√Ѭ∂like in America. That is why Erdogan has sent his children, and his daughters, to study in America: so they can display their faith.”

This is the good of the U.S. — their acceptance of religion in public. But as a power on the global stage, and even as Turkey’s NATO ally, they say America is still not to be trusted.

“The main motivation of all foreign forces is to divide Turkey,” Hodja says. As proof, he recounts World War I history and the Treaty of Sevres, which threatened to carve Turkey into pieces and divide it between its allied neighbors.

Balci chimes in: “We are allies of America [but] they are still…tricking us.” He believes the U.S. is supporting the PKK as punishment for a 2003 Turkish parliamentary vote that blocked the U.S. from opening a northern front in the war in Iraq. He believes the U.S. arms the PKK to help the rebels carve out a Kurdish state from Turkey.

The day before Erdogan’s meeting with Bush he said, “We are one with America in the war against terror. But Americans do not realize this.”

Two days later, Erdogan left the White House with a smile on his face, saying cooperation was forthcoming. Bush called the PKK the common enemy of Iraq, the U.S. and Turkey. Did that make these men any more hopeful?

“America says the right things, but will it act?” asks one of the men. Hizir coughs, and replies, “We’ll wage war anyway, with or without America’s permission.”

But then Hodja, the owner of the store, steps in. “Let Erdogan decide,” he proclaims. “If he is happy with Bush, I am happy.”

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U.S. ‘Studying’ Islamic School Report
Officials Have Not Talked to Saudis Since Panel Urged Shutdown

By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 5, 2007

Saudi Embassy officials say no U.S. authorities have contacted them about a federal commission’s recommendation last month to close an Islamic school in Northern Virginia accused of promoting intolerance and violence.

State Department officials say publicly that they are “studying” the Oct. 19 report issued by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which includes a recommendation that the Islamic Saudi Academy be shuttered until it can prove it is not teaching religious extremism.

But State officials and others with knowledge of the issue, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing inquiry, said U.S. officials believe the commission was premature in asking that the school, supported by the Saudi government, be closed. They said the State Department was proceeding cautiously, speaking with Saudi officials about issues of religious tolerance and school curriculum, to avoid creating a crisis.

The school, whose main campus is in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County, remains open.

Commission members said their non-binding recommendation was made after careful study and a number of failed efforts to review a comprehensive set of textbooks from the Saudi government.

They said they were less concerned about intolerance than whether school officials are promoting violence.

A report last year by the nonprofit organization Freedom House showed that textbooks used in Saudi Arabia contained an ideology of hatred toward Christians, Jews and Muslims who do not follow Wahabism, a branch of Sunni Islam seen by many Muslims as extremist in its views toward women and non-followers. Osama bin Laden is perhaps the best-known follower of that branch.

An earlier review of textbooks at the Virginia academy was critical of some parts, and a 2003 report produced in Saudi Arabia by a former Saudi judge showed that parts of Saudi textbooks promoted violence against non-Wahabis.

Saudi officials say the books have since been revised. And officials at the Virginia school said they have created their own textbooks, in part by ripping out pages from books obtained from Saudi Arabia.

The criticism of the Virginia school reflects the delicate nature of U.S.-Saudi relations, according to academic scholars. It also casts light on the line the federal government must straddle as it tries to determine the difference between teachings that are intolerant and those that are violent and illegal.

“The challenge with Islamic schools is first of all the language barrier,” said Charles C. Haynes, senior scholar for religious freedom at the nonprofit First Amendment Center in Arlington County. “The reason there is so much controversy is that nobody knows what is being taught.

“Even if they were teaching things that sound to the outsider like it is hateful, the question is, ‘Are they teaching people to break the law and go and attack other people?’ ” Haynes said. “Those are the kinds of things they may not do. That’s the line.”

The Saudi academy, which operates on two campuses in Northern Virginia, was founded in 1984 to educate pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade children of Saudi diplomats; about 30 percent of the roughly 1,000 students are Saudi, the school said. The school has a governing board headed by the Saudi ambassador to the United States and receives much of its funding from the Saudi government.

The commission was created by Congress eight years ago and issues an annual report about religious freedom around the world. Its members are appointed by the White House and congressional leadership. The current chairman is Michael Cromartie, vice president of the D.C.-based Ethics and Public Policy Center, at which he directs the Evangelicals in Civic Life program.

The commission has been studying Saudi curricula for years, said Commissioner Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the D.C.-based nonprofit Hudson Institute.

Shea said the Saudi school is unlike any other private religious school in the country because of its connections to Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of most of the Sept. 11 hijackers, a number of whom were adherents of Wahabism.

She said Saudi officials have promised since 2004 to revise the school’s curriculum to remove material.

“Ronald Reagan used to say, ‘Trust but verify,’ ” she said. “I now believe we must verify and not take the Saudi government’s word on faith.”

School officials said the commission did not call and ask directly for the books. The commission said it asked the embassy and never received a response.

Nail Al-Jubeir, spokesman for the Saudi Embassy, said the Saudi ambassador has exchanged letters with Freedom House and invited officials to the school in the past few years. He said the last letter was sent Oct. 16, 2006.

“We never got a response,” he said. “This whole issue should never have been raised.”

Tom Melia, deputy executive director of Freedom House, said letters had been exchanged but called the embassy invitation “a red herring.”

“We’ve asked them for the textbooks, and they said, ‘Sure, when the new editions come in.’ We’ve never received them,” Melia said. “We’d still like to see them. . . . We are always interested in dialogue.”

Ali Al-Ahmed, founder of the nonprofit Saudi Institute, which monitors Saudi Arabia, said he has seen the revised textbooks and finds that they still contain unacceptable material that promotes extremism. “It is like trying to remove a piece of bread that has a lot of mold,” he said. “You can’t do it. You remove a spot, but the bread is bad.”

But Zenit Chughtai, who said she graduated from the academy and is attending Michigan State University, praised the school. “A terrorist school? A school of hate? This is the exact opposite of how I recall school,” she said in an e-mail. “We were taught respect, tolerance, love, and decency.”

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Mistrial for most defendants in Muslim charity trial

By DAVID KOENIG / Associated Press

A judge declared a mistrial Monday for former leaders of a Muslim charity accused of funding terrorism after jurors who spent 19 days deliberating deadlocked on most charges.

Prosecutors said they would probably retry leaders of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, which the federal government shut down in December 2001.

The jury found one former Holy Land leader, Mohammed El-Mezain, not guilty on 31 of 32 counts. Two other defendants were initially acquitted on most or all charges, but in a confusing courtroom scene, three jurors disputed the verdict.

The judge declared a mistrial against those men and two other former foundation leaders for whom jurors never reached any decisions.

Outside the courthouse, jubilant family members and supporters hoisted defendant and Holy Land chief executive Shukri Abu Baker on their shoulders and cried, “God is great!”

The mistrial came after two months of testimony in the biggest terror-financing trial since Sept. 11. President Bush personally announced the seizure of Holy Land’s assets in December 2001, calling the action “another step in the war on terrorism.”

FBI agents and Israeli officials testified that Holy Land funneled millions to the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which has carried out suicide bombings in Israel. The U.S. government designated Hamas a terrorist group in 1995, making financial transactions with it illegal.

Lawyers for Holy Land said the Texas-based group was a legitimate charity that helped Muslim children and families left homeless or poor by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A juror told The Associated Press that the panel found little evidence against three of the defendants and was evenly split on charges against Baker and former Holy Land chairman Ghassan Elashi, who were seen as the principal leaders of the charity.

“I thought they were not guilty across the board,” said the juror, William Neal, a 33-year-old art director from Dallas. The case “was strung together with macaroni noodles. There was so little evidence.”

Neal said the jury was split about 6-6 on counts against Baker and Elashi. He said the government should not retry the case ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ a call picked up by Holy Land’s supporters.

But lead prosecutor James Jacks said in court that he expected the government to try the case again.

Jacks, however, was not able to explain his decision to reporters. District Court Judge A. Joe Fish extended a gag order he placed on lawyers in the case, citing the possibility of prejudicing a new trial.

Jurors heard two months of testimony, mostly from FBI and Israeli agents who described thousands of pages of documents and hours of videotapes seized from Holy Land, from former associates of the group, and from Palestinian charities that got money from Holy Land.

The prosecution’s key witness was lawyer for the Israeli domestic security agency Shin Bet, who testified under a false name. He said Palestinian charities that got Holy Land money were controlled by Hamas.

Prosecutors hoped the Israeli agent’s testimony would complete a loop that started with Holy Land bank records, and show that the group secretly funneled millions to Hamas.

“A lot rested on how believable the jury found him and how concerned they were of not really knowing who he was,” said Jeffrey Kahn, a constitutional law professor at Southern Methodist University and former civil lawyer for the Justice Department.

Neal, the juror, said he found the Shin Bet officer’s testimony unconvincing ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ that he would expect an Israeli official to condemn an ally of Palestinians.

Holy Land was founded in California in the late 1980s and moved to the Dallas area in 1992. FBI surveillance of the group’s leaders goes back at least to 1993, when agents eavesdropped on a Philadelphia meeting in which participants talked of supporting Hamas’ goal of derailing a peace agreement between Israel and Palestinians.

The case stirred emotions in the American Muslim community, at least partly because prosecutors named dozens of Muslim groups as unindicted co-conspirators.

The Holy Land case followed terror-financing trials in Chicago and Florida that also ended without convictions on the major counts.

The government “failed in Chicago, it failed in Florida, it failed in Texas,” said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ one of those unindicted co-conspirators. “The reason it failed is the government does not have the facts; it has fear.”

Besides Baker, Elashi and El-Mezain, the other defendants were fundraiser Mufid Abdulqader and Abdulrahman Odeh, the group’s New Jersey representative, and Holy Land itself.

The men faced life in prison if convicted on the most serious charges and if their actions led to deaths, according to a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Associated Press Writer Anabelle Garay contributed to this report.
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The new wars of religion
An old menace has returned, but in very different forms

Nov 1st 2007
The Economist

EARLIER this year Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaking to his country’s parliament, posed two questions: “Who are our enemies?” and “Why do they hate us?” He described an axis of evil, with Iran’s enemies being “all the wicked men of the world, whether abroad or at home”. The root cause of their hatred was religious‚Äö√Ñ√Æa loathing of “whomsoever should serve the glory of God”. Having described George Bush’s atrocities, he told the cheering MPs, “Truly, your great enemy is the American‚Äö√Ñ√Æthrough that enmity that is in him against all that is of God in you.” Fortunately, Iran would not fight alone: it had the support of Muslims around the world. Be bold, he advised, and “you will find that you act for a very great many people that are God’s own.”
The Bridgeman Art Library Oliver’s army

For Mr Ahmadinejad, read Oliver Cromwell; for Iran, England; and for America, Catholic Spain. The quotes above come from a speech made by Cromwell to the English Parliament in 1656. Parliament then passed an oath of loyalty in which English Catholics were asked to disown the pope and most of the canons of Catholic belief, or face losing two-thirds of their worldly goods. Shortly afterwards Cromwell invaded Ireland.

“Faith is a source of conflict,” reads a sign at St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace in the City of London‚Äö√Ñ√Æadding that it can also be “a resource to transform conflict”. Appropriately, the centre was built in a church blown up in 1993 by Irish terrorists, brought up, no doubt, with tales of Cromwell’s atrocities.

Conflict, of course, does not necessarily equate to war. But there are some depressing echoes of Cromwell’s time.

•Faith is once again prolonging conflict. Religion is seldom the casus belli: indeed, in many struggles, notably the Middle East in modern times, it is amazing how long it took for religion to become a big part of the argument. But once there, it makes conflicts harder to resolve. A squabble over land (which can be divided) or power (which can be shared) or rules (that can be fudged) becomes a dispute over non-negotiable absolutes. If you believe that God granted you the West Bank, or that any form of abortion is murder, compromise is not really possible.

‚Äö√Ѭ¢Once again, politicians are stirring up religious passion. Mr Ahmadinejad may not have told Muslims that the Israeli “has an interest in your bowels” (as Cromwell did of Spaniards), but he has called for Israel’s removal and denied the Holocaust. Osama bin Laden rages that Islam is under sustained attack: any Muslim who “collaborates” with the West is an apostate.

American leaders have been more careful, but many use religious imagery. In his new book, “God and Gold” (see article), Walter Russell Mead compares Ronald Reagan’s denunciation of the Godless Soviet Union (the “Evil Empire”) to Cromwell’s speech. Franklin Graham spoke for many on the religious right when he denounced Islam as a “very evil and wicked religion”. American conservatives seem undecided on whether the battle against “Islamofascism” is the third world war (Newt Gingrich) or the fourth (Norman Podhoretz).

‚Äö√Ѭ¢Once again, outsiders are rushing to defend their religions: religious scraps attract money and soldiers. Just as Guy Fawkes, Britain’s most famous religious terrorist, hardened his radical beliefs when fighting for Catholicism in the Netherlands, European Muslims have gone to defend their faith in Kashmir, Chechnya and Iraq. Some of the most fervent supporters of India’s Hindutva movement come from the diaspora. Many migrants define themselves by their faith, not their new home.

‚Äö√Ѭ¢One of the world’s great religions, Christianity, split into Catholic and Protestant in the 16th century. Now Islam is having to contend with a sharpening split between Sunni and Shia. Once again nation states are weak: most Middle Eastern countries are recent creations. And there is a ring of instability on Islam’s southern frontier, which runs roughly along the 10th parallel from West Africa to the Philippines.

‚Äö√Ѭ¢Terrorist outrages are once again presumed to have religious connections, as they would have done in Cromwell’s time. In the 1970s terrorism seemed to be the preserve of Maoist guerrillas, middle-class Germans and Italians or the then very secular (and partly Christian-led) Palestine Liberation Organisation. Now three out of the four most likely flashpoints for nuclear conflict‚Äö√Ñ√ÆPakistan-India, Iran and Israel‚Äö√Ñ√Æhave a strong religious element. The only exception is North Korea.
Wars can be Godless too

It is possible that these similarities could escalate into something horrifying. A confrontation between nuclear Iran on one side and Israel and America on the other would reverberate around the globe. But the idea that the world is reverting to a former age is too simplistic.

Most obviously, humanity can find plenty of reasons for genocide and suffering without troubling God. “The 20th century was the most secular and the most bloody in human history,” argues George Weigel, a leading American conservative. What he calls “the Godless religions of Nazism and communism” killed tens of millions of people. Each had its theory of salvation, its rites, its prophets, its sacred places and its distinctive idea of morality; but communists and Nazis did not use God to stir up passions. The Cambodian genocide was similarly secular.

Where it does exist, religious conflict is now far less of a top-down affair. No government officially approves of killing people solely because of their religion, and no significant religious leader sanctifies that killing by blessing armadas or preaching crusades. Last year the pope took issue with Islam in a speech at Regensburg, but he also opposed the Iraq war. Most Islamic authorities preach non-violence. Ayatollah Sistani, the most revered Shia on the planet, has often urged restraint in Iraq.

Of course, this does not prevent individual clerics from committing appalling acts of brutality: Catholic priests helped torture people in Argentina, Buddhist monks have led murderous attacks in Sri Lanka and imams have encouraged suicide-bombing in Israel. But every zealot interviewed for this special report, including those with blood near their hands, insisted that his religion was peaceful.

Meanwhile, the power of governments to control religious politics has declined. The wars of religion took place in an age of “cuius regio, eius religio”, where the monarch dictated the religion. England once turned to Protestantism because Henry VIII found the Catholic church’s rules on matrimony irksome. Nowadays, nobody is trying to improve America’s relations with the Middle East by marrying off the Bush twins to Arab princes.
The new battles

With national armies no longer marching under religious banners, grievances have reappeared in several guises. None of them is easy for the West to deal with.

The one that gets most attention is terrorism—especially Islamic terrorism. States are certainly actors in this: Iran may not openly wage religious war, but it has been happy to back Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine. But then neither Hamas nor Hizbullah is a purely sectarian organisation. Like the IRA in Ireland, they both have political-territorial objectives.

Most of the main jihadist terrorist organisations are bottom-up affairs. Mr bin Laden would no doubt like to control another state (as he once did from Afghanistan). But his organisation has been able to mount attacks and recruit volunteers without help from a government.

The second way in which religion thrusts itself into politics is inter-communal violence. Once again, other forces are often at work, such as tribalism in Nigeria or nationalism in India. But religion supplies the underlying viciousness. Sectarian violence has been responsible for most of the killing in Iraq in the aftermath of the war. Some 68,000 Sri Lankans have died since 1983. Other, lower-level conflicts, such as Catholics and Protestants attacking each other in Mexico’s Chiapas, occasionally flare up. Outside parties can play a role in stoking up such struggles (and supplying arms), as Iran has done in Iraq and Syria has done in Lebanon. But most of these fights have a local, tit-for-tat feel. The violence is often set off by events such as marches, feast days or elections.

Third, there is state-based repression, where religion is either the target or the motivation. In the Muslim world the repression is sometimes by theocracies (like Iran or Saudi Arabia), against irreligious sorts, such as adulterers, heretics and homosexuals. But it also goes the other way, with secular states (Syria, Egypt, much of North Africa) discriminating against religious dissidents. In the most bizarre example, China recently banned Buddhist monks in Tibet from reincarnating without government permission. The religious-affairs agency explained that this was “an important move to institutionalise management of reincarnation”. The real purpose is to prevent the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, from being succeeded by someone from outside China.

Yet the foremost way in which religion has expressed itself around the world has been more peaceful: the ballot box. Religious people have either formed religious parties (such as India’s BJP) or converted secular ones into more faith-driven outfits (such as America’s Republican Party). In places where religion was frowned upon by the state, such as Mexico or Turkey, greater freedom has allowed the pious to form parties, such as the Catholic-oriented PAN party or the Islamic AK Party.

And it has not just been a case of democracy helping religion. Timothy Shah of the Council on Foreign Relations argues that it can go the other way too. By his calculation, more than 30 of the 80 or so countries that became freer in 1972-2000 owed some of the improvement to religion. Sometimes established churches helped to push for democracy (eg, the Catholic church in Poland), but more often it was pressure from the grassroots: religious people usually look for a degree of freedom (if only to pursue their faith).

All this means that the modern wars of religion are mercifully less violent and all-consuming than their predecessors; but also that tackling the politics of religion is more awkward than it used to be. Culture wars are now global (a subject to which this special report will return).

This complicates foreign policy enormously. Should America focus on the tiny number of angry Muslims with guns, or the millions who have voted for Islamic parties in Egypt, Pakistan, Turkey, Algeria and Palestine? If most religious fanatics were bent on conquest and terror rather than democracy, their causes would be easier to discredit. And if religion were the sole cause of the conflicts, it would be easier to work out “why they hate us”.

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The future of Islamic reform lies with post-Islamism – a recognition that politics rather than religion provides for welfare in this life.

Ali Eteraz
October 31, 2007

There is universal consensus that Muslim dictatorships, supported by the west, are the root of evil. They destroy political culture, kill extra-judicially and their repression foments violence.

The primary opponents of these dictators are the populist Islamists. They want to vote; except after voting they want to appoint an extra-constitutional body of clerics to strike down legislation they do not approve of.

Faced with only these two options – dictators or elected theocrats – in Muslim majority countries, the usual reaction by westerners is to throw their hands up in frustration and opt for apathy or give into a militaristic pessimism. These are both uninformed reactions. They fail to take into account the future of Islamic reform, which lies with the emergence of a post-Islamist political order in the Muslim majority world.

Post-Islamism is at hand because a new crop of Muslims have figured out how to reconcile liberal democracy with Islam. Upon doing so, they give up on creating religious organisations devoted to “da’wa” (Islamic evangelism) and move towards becoming organised as civil-political parties with platforms based on equality and pluralism. Incidentally, part of the credit for the popularity of post-Islamism goes to the theocratic Islamists. In their eagerness to merge religion with politics, they thought the result would be religion. Instead, the devout middle class realised that religion alone could not provide for their social concerns. Post-Islamism, thus, is the recognition that while religion may provide salvation in the next life, politics is what provides for welfare in this one. It is, at its barest, politics subsuming religion.

Today, post-Islamist groups are at work in various Muslim majority countries, including Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan. These parties look to Germany’s Christian Democratic Union as a model.

Egypt’s premier post-Islamist party (pdf) is called Center Party (Hizb ul-Wasat). It was founded in 1996, breaking away from the Muslim Brotherhood due to various factors. The reasons for the split included: the Brotherhood’s unwillingness to accept non-Muslims as members of the party or as citizens of Egypt, unwillingness to cease splitting the world between the “Abode of War” and “Abode of Islam”, and unwillingness to change their focus away from Islamic evangelism. Although Wasat calls itself an Islamic party, it is open to Christians and secularists. In fact, Rafiq Habib, a Protestant intellectual in Egypt, was among its founding members, and is on its five man board of operations. After a 10-year battle, Wasat was officially recognised as a political party in 2007.

One way to assure that Wasat is not Islamism in disguise is to note how much opposition from the Muslim Brotherhood it has faced, which went so far as to petition the hated Mubarak regime to not legalise it.

The fundamental point that makes Wasat post-Islamist is that instead of defining Islam as a religion, it defines Islam as a culture, or civilisation, which is inclusive of minorities. Thinking of Islam as a culture is similar to how certain people in the west refer to the west as “Judeo-Christian” while still leaving room for Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists to practise freely therein.

Further, the Wasat Party’s platform assures the separation of powers, rejects religious or gender-based discrimination, explicitly calls for pluralism and equality between men and women, and makes space for unions and syndicates. Most importantly, unlike the Brotherhood’s platform it does not set up an extra-constitutional body of clerics who can veto legislation (like they do in Iran). Oddly, having laid out such a liberal platform, Wasat insists that it will still uphold the sharia, a claim that has been described as “lip service.” For example, the Cairo Times stated in 1998 that Wasat considers “people rather than scripture as the ultimate source of authority”.

While Wasat’s location and its face-off against the Muslim Brotherhood make it the most intriguing of the post-Islamist groups, it is not the most successful. That designation belongs to Turkey’s ruling AKP Party, which, just as Wasat, originated by breaking away from a fundamentalist Islamist organisation.

Comprehensive analyses of the AKP positions vis a vis the three important benchmarks – women, the west and Israel – show that its breakaway from traditional Islamists has been clear and conclusive, and that it is nothing like the traditional Islamists such as the Brotherhood. For example, one of the first things that the AKP declared upon its election in 2002, as reported by the New York Times, was that “secularism is the protector of all beliefs and religions. We are the guarantors of this secularism, and our management will clearly prove that.” Certainly western liberals will be dissatisfied that in terms of social and economic policy AKP is center-right, but the dissatisfaction ought not be any different than that felt when a conservative in Paris or Rome comes to power.

Pakistan, in the form of Tehreek i Insaf Party, is also showing signs of developing a post-Islamist alternative, though there it is in its infancy. It has emerged only during the Musharraf years, led by cricketer turned politician, Imran Khan. One of the most notable elements about it is that while it is grounded in Islam, it rejects Wahhabism (opting for “Sufism”) and further, in its manifesto explicitly rejects having any “parallel” legal system in the country, which is a reference to the sharia courts in Pakistan that currently co-exist with the secular courts.

Tehreek’s other innovative solutions include, free education for women, legislation against sexual harrassment and setting aside 33% of the seats in all legislative assemblies for women. It justifies all of these by citing principles of Islamic welfare.

Interestingly, just as the Wasat has antagonised the Brotherhood in Egypt, Tehreek has criticised (link in Urdu) Pakistan’s hardline Islamist organisations for collusion with anti-democratic forces. This again shows that post-Islamists are more concerned with the democratic pie than appeasing Islamists. While Tehreek is nascent, it should be monitored closely, because it has increasing support among Pakistan’s youth and expatriate communities. It should be remembered that it took Turkey’s AKP party barely 10 years from formation to become the ruling party.

Today, political Islam is entering its third generation. The first round was revolutionary and violent. The second round, still with us, became more methodical but was still domination-oriented and supremacist. The third round – the post-Islamist push – is committed to the democratic process and has ceased to think of itself as a religious movement, instead adopting a civil-political platform. A paper (pdf) presented at the University of Virginia sets forth an interesting link between economic patterns and the post-Islamist push, stating that “economic liberalisation strengthens and expands the devout middle classes” who then push for “moderation in political Islam for they believe that democracy, rule of law, and a limited state would serve their interests betters”. If this is true, then it means that the way for the west to challenge traditional domination-oriented Islamists like Jamat e Islami and the Brotherhood is to engage citizens in business, paving the way for post-Islamism.

When post-Islamist groups come to power, they will be social conservatives focused on family and spirituality (though not Wahhabism). On the issue of religion in politics, a post-Islamist politician will sound somewhere between John Edwards and Mike Huckabee. In their foreign policy they will reject intrusions upon their sovereignty from all foreign groups, including on one hand Nato and other western coalitions, and on the other, al-Qaida and the Taliban. However, they will generally abide by international norms and not launch themselves into international conflicts, finding them to be fiscally and socially expensive. This makes sense because their largest support comes from the middle classes. Their biggest trouble will be local and national rebel groups, whether it’s Kurd separatists, al-Qaida or the Taliban. Finally, just as Europe’s Christian democratic parties gave birth to liberal democrats, it is likely that after consolidating power, post-Islamic parties will create space for openly secular parties to gain more traction.

As a conclusion to this seven-part series, I’d like to submit that since 2001 we have devoted far too much time to the Islamic reform cult of personality. Faced with an increasingly complicated world, the time for heightened sophistication is now. Structural and political discussions – for example, about separation of mosque and state, the making of a Muslim left, the ideas of Muslim secularists, the debate over Islamic liberal democracy and the emergence of a post-Islamist Islam – are a completely overlooked part of this thing called “Islamic reform”. The true and original goal of Islamic reform was to help voiceless Muslims and minorities. The social transformation necessary for creating such a landscape requires acknowledging that Islamic reform is at its heart a political, not merely religious, project.

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The Art Of The Possible

By Lee H. Hamilton
In The National Interest , Opinion
November 1, 2007

AMERICAN FOREIGN policy confronts a basic paradox. The United States stands alone as the world’s most powerful nation, with the strongest military, the largest economy, the highest level of technological capacity and the most extensive cultural influence around the world. Even after the setbacks of recent years, no other single power or grouping of states comes close to matching the United States. And yet America’s ability to accomplish things abroad has rarely‚Äö√Ñ√Æin recent memory‚Äö√Ñ√Æseemed so limited. Why?

Objectively, we are not the omnipotent power we appeared to be in 2003, nor are we the impotent power we sometimes appear to be today. But by President Bush’s own rubric, American foreign policy is failing. He declared in his second inaugural address: “It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.” When the standard for foreign policy is so high, failure is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Robust rhetoric renders the essential prioritizing of foreign-policy objectives impossible. If you look at any national security strategy or presidential campaign platform, the stated aims exceed our implementation capabilities. There are authoritarian regimes throughout the world. Does bringing democracy to Egypt take precedence over bringing it to Turkmenistan or Zimbabwe? Do democratization efforts in the Middle East take precedence over stabilizing Iraq, which, as the Iraq Study Group noted, will require assistance from Iran and Syria, not to mention authoritarian allies like Saudi Arabia?
Lofty oratory has a long and proud history in American politics, and it is a feature of our Union that will never disappear. But just as it can inspire, grandiose rhetoric can handcuff our policymakers, binding them to rhapsodic words that limit their freedom of action in confronting international challenges.

BOTH OUR overreach and the course correction that seems to be taking place today—with an increasing deference to diplomacy and international cooperation—have ample historical precedents. A foreign policy that avoids extreme ups and downs better suited to a roller coaster would serve us well. The unachievable goals we set for American foreign policy distort policy implementation. Our competence suffers as we seek to carry out hugely ambitious missions, and our leaders ask the American people to shoulder unbearable burdens.

We often hear about the balance between our interests and our ideals, as though they are mutually exclusive. But freedom and liberty are not just universal abstractions that flow freely in presidential addresses and opinion pieces. They have concrete meaning, real costs and there are limits to the lengths we will go in their name. This paints a stark contrast to today’s policy discussions. What we do not often hear is a frank discussion of what we can achieve and what we cannot achieve in the world; what we are prepared to sacrifice in terms of lives and resources; what we can accomplish on our own and what we must seek to achieve through international cooperation; which objectives we can realize quickly and which ones will take steady time and effort. American foreign policy would be better off if it reflected a core aspect of the American character that is often overlooked: pragmatism.

AFTER THE attacks of September 11, 2001, President Bush set astonishing goals for U.S. foreign policy—at a time when countries around the world, even hostile regimes like Iran, were offering support. We would defeat terrorism and states that sponsor terrorism, not hesitating to take pre-emptive action to do so. No longer would we rely on distasteful regimes in the Middle East to advance our interests; instead, we would create a network of democratic states that would enthusiastically embrace the American agenda for the region. We would ensure that no competitor to American hegemony was permitted to emerge, solidifying our global role and the existing international hierarchy.

To implement those goals, U.S. action was robust. We launched a global war against terrorism. We largely spurned an international system of our own making, rejecting several international norms and treaties—the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the Geneva Conventions, to name two. We invaded Afghanistan. We refused to engage our adversaries. Most notably, we invaded and occupied Iraq. It is hard now to take ourselves back to 2003. In the days running up to and following the toppling of Saddam Hussein, the mainstream debate in this country dealt openly with the transformation of the world with American power. Some spoke openly—and favorably—of American empire.

Today, we confront a very different international landscape, and the heady days of 2003 permanently belong to the past. Everywhere we turn, we confront the limitations of our power. In Iraq, the definition of success has been lowered to the containment of sectarian violence. In Afghanistan, we struggle against a resurgent Taliban and rampant opium trade. In Pakistan, Al-Qaeda has reconstituted its sanctuary and its top leaders elude capture. In Iran, a defiant president chastises us, foments instability in Iraq and continues to pursue a nuclear program. China and particularly Russia openly defy us‚Äö√Ñ√ÆPresident Putin has accused us of provoking a nuclear-arms race, acting “illegitimately” and has criticized our “hyper use of force.” In Latin America, Hugo Ch‚àö¬∞vez has consolidated his power and stands at the vanguard of a new generation of leftist leaders. Across the Islamic world, extremism only seems to be increasing, and the cause of democracy appears to have stalled.

THIS ALL appears catastrophic in the context of our unachievable goals. In articulating foreign policy, presidents aim for simple and dramatic frames that can rally the nation. A few rungs down the ladder, our policy elites’ approach to the world is by nature interventionist‚Äö√Ñ√Æthe aim of the specialist is to find solutions to every problem, not to set priorities about the key interests of the American public. Without executive prioritization and management, the political aims of presidents often find common ground with the policy aims of our foreign-policy elites on ambitiously interventionist goals. And these problems are not unique to our time.

Take President Kennedy’s vow to “pay any price, bear any burden” in defense of liberty or President Bush’s aforementioned goal of “ending tyranny” in the world‚Äö√Ñ√Æthe former sets the bar too high, the latter is simply impossible. But these goals have practical consequences. Vietnam becomes tougher to abandon when it is a test of our national will, not simply a distant nation with an internal conflict. The post-Saddam Hussein problems in Iraq can be attributed in part to the zeal to spread transformational democracy, not maintaining stability coupled with gradual reforms. The requisite identification of the costs we were willing to endure was markedly absent. In short, once set, such goals lead to dilemmas for everyone from the cabinet official in Washington to the diplomat to the soldier on the ground.

Our resources are not unlimited. We cannot effectively fight a war in Iraq, stabilize Afghanistan, deal with Iran and North Korea, and combat radical Islamist terrorism and nuclear proliferation around the world. When we try to do everything at once, we do things less well. And we certainly become even more reactive, wrestling with implementing these huge goals and not anticipating what might be over the horizon: the next 9/11 or the next nuclear domino to fall. In turn, we often have trouble sustaining our policies.

It is important for presidents to rally and inspire the nation and for specialists to consider ambitious solutions to the challenges that we face. Yet those efforts must be complemented—in both our political discourse and our policymaking process—with a greater focus on how these goals will be carried out in practice and how they will impact the lives of ordinary Americans. All of our policies should be able to pass the basic test of pragmatism: not just how proposals sound in speeches or what they would accomplish with limitless resources—but how would they work out in practice?

That means we should seek progress instead of perfection in our policies. And we should be more precise in our aims. Let’s take the War on Terror: Instead of conflating all terrorist and extremist groups, we should focus our resources on the core of Al-Qaeda. Instead of demanding the change of regimes we do not like, we should try to change their behavior‚Äö√Ñ√Æand we must decide what kinds of behavior deserve our immediate attention because there is plenty of egregious behavior in the world to go around. Instead of demanding the immediate transformation of closed governments into full-blown democracies, we should seek the extension of more rights and opportunities to their citizens, and more transparency and accountability by their governments. Instead of demanding American hegemony, we should try to shape a multipolar international system to serve our interests, as is the case with the Six Party Talks over North Korea and the Iraq Study Group’s proposed regional conference on Iraq’s future. We should be idealists without illusions and pragmatists with a vision.

ONE CANNOT discuss foreign policy today without mentioning democracy, but the democracy that demands the most attention is our own.

The understandable fact is that foreign-policy debates are driven by domestic politics. Thus, candidates often fall back on sloganeering‚Äö√Ñ√Ædebates about who is “tough” or “strong” or, as the cover of previous issue of The National Interest phrased it, who loves America more. Instead of looking ahead to how a candidate will govern in office, much of the debate revolves around a simplified or partisan analysis of the headlines‚Äö√Ñ√Æso as a candidate, George W. Bush decried “nation-building” in reference to Kosovo, but it became a central aspect of his own foreign policy; or Bill Clinton ran for re-election on a collection of domestic-policy platforms, and then focused his second term on the Balkans and Middle East peacemaking. When ethnic constituencies come into play‚Äö√Ñ√Æas they do, for instance, with Cuba or the Middle East‚Äö√Ñ√Æ?campaign positions can be shaped by our political map, not our overarching interests.

The political considerations of foreign policy are even more acute in Congress. Foreign policy rarely dominates congressional campaigns. When it does‚Äö√Ñ√Æor when it comes to votes‚Äö√Ñ√Æmembers are often driven by party discipline or ethnic politics. I’ll never forget talking to one member about a particularly contentious question involving U.S. policy toward Turkey. My colleague told me his district was 100 percent for taking a hard-line toward the Turks. When I asked him the basis of this determination, he said he’d heard about the issue at three Greek Orthodox churches over the last recess.

The problem with this simplified or distorted debate is that whereas education or health-care policies are subjected to extensive vetting by a broad cross-section of the American population, foreign policy ends up being debated and shaped by an elite group of people‚Äö√Ñ√Æacademics, pundits, lobbyists and activists who follow the issues closely. It is from this group that the president’s closest advisors are chosen. This was the case when I came to Congress in 1965, and it is very much the same today. With regard to military intervention‚Äö√Ñ√Æwhich takes place at an alarming clip of roughly one major intervention every two years‚Äö√Ñ√Æthis may be more pronounced today since we shifted to an all-volunteer fighting force, insulating the direct consequences of military action from the vast majority of the American people.

This is not to criticize America’s foreign-policy elite‚Äö√Ñ√Æmany talented and patriotic individuals rise through these ranks. But there are problems borne out of this disconnect between policymaking and the people. The decision-making responsibility that policymakers inside the beltway have is disproportionately greater‚Äö√Ñ√Æin astronomical terms‚Äö√Ñ√Æto the burdens they bear for those policies. The opposite is true of the American people. Ordinary Americans‚Äö√Ñ√Ænot just the troops and their families, but taxpayers who fund expensive endeavors, consumers and workers whose well-being is increasingly tied to our relations with other countries, or, most dramatically, the person going to work in the World Trade Center‚Äö√Ñ√Æpay the price for our policy follies. Yet the root of so many ambitious foreign-policy decisions‚Äö√Ñ√Ætake, for example, the decision to go to war in Iraq‚Äö√Ñ√Æis made by a strikingly small group of people.

After 9/11, Americans knew we needed to be more engaged in the world. After the shock of the last few years, Americans understand the limits of what we can accomplish. They are ready for leadership that speaks candidly about these questions: laying out goals that are achievable; setting priorities; using our awesome power not to transform the world, but rather to make the lives of ordinary Americans safer and better, moving the arc of history steadily in the right direction.

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Muslim superstar

Sami Yusuf is perhaps the most famous British Muslim in the world. Adored in the Middle East, his records sell millions and he has just sold out Wembley Arena. He talks to Aida Edemariam about music and faith, extremism and why he thinks Islam needs a marketing campaign

Monday November 5, 2007
The Guardian,,2205380,00.html

It’s a nondescript place, where Sami Yusuf is staying, a muted Quality Hotel in a west London suburb, but its neighbour rather makes up for it – Wembley Stadium, arching silver into clear, cold autumn air. And next to it, Wembley Arena, which Yusuf filled, a few nights ago. His concert, organised by Islamic Relief in aid of Darfur, was sold out: 10,000 people came to hear him sing.

“It was amazing,” he says. He is courtly, friendly, but obviously entirely strung out on sleeplessness and adrenaline. “Really amazing. I mean, I’ve performed for big crowds – 13,000 people in Cologne Arena, 200,000 people in Istanbul. It’s not about crowds. Wembley is very symbolic.” Here, I think he’s going to say that it’s because finally he was at home, singing in London, where he grew up, but he doesn’t. “It symbolised the true spirit of the British public, and among them the British Muslims.”

Unless you’re a British Muslim, or you live in the Middle East, or, say, Bosnia, you probably won’t have heard of him, but Sami Yusuf has good claim to being the most famous British Muslim in the world. He has sold more than 3m albums, though, “if you consider the bootlegging – no, really, because in the Muslim world copyright has no meaning – it’s millions. Dozens of millions.” His team was expecting only about 50,000 at that concert in Istanbul, and was taken aback when 200,000 came. He gets red-carpet welcomes when he lands in countries across the Middle East, must give press conferences to 50-odd journalists before he’s allowed even to leave the airport (where guards often let him bypass security checks, because they know who he is). A 10-minute walk down the street in Cairo, where he now lives part of the time, can take two hours, so many people want to talk to him and shake his hand.

Much of this adulation, in the letters he receives, from those who call in with questions when he is interviewed on, for example, al-Jazeera, is tinged with gratefulness. Yusuf really can sing – in swooping ballads, in the note-filigree of Arabic maqamat, against violins and rousing male choruses – but it is his subjects, and the modern-ancient hybrid with which he treats them, that seem really to strike a chord. So, for example, Hasbi Rabbi, his latest hit (and, incidentally, a ringtone heard everywhere from Cairo to Damascus) begins, jauntily, “Oh Allah the Almighty/Protect me and guide me/To your love and mercy.” The video shows him in a suit, walking down a London street, giving up his seat for an old lady on a bus, then, when the lyrics switch to Hindi, strolling around the Taj Mahal. My Ummah, the title song of his second album (Ummah means nation, and in this context, nation of believers) is a call to praise and pride: “Let’s become whole again/Proud again/’Cause I swear with firm belief in our hearts/We can bring back the glory of our past.” He is unafraid to be baldly political, to sing about Aids, about Beslan (“Would he [the prophet Muhammad] allow the murder of an innocent child? Oh no”), about the right to wear the headscarf. There is nothing subtle or particularly poetic about it, but it’s defiant and addresses the now: “Time and time again/ You speak of democracy/Yet you rob me of my liberty.”

It has been suggested that much of his popularity stems from recognition – from young Muslims seeing, finally, a role model they understand and who speaks to their own situation, but he’s defiant about this, too, for the understandable reason that it belittles his skill. “Possibly. But I do have to say that a lot of the time when I perform concerts, I get people coming, in huge numbers, who are perhaps nominally Muslim. It’s not about faith, it’s not because they like me because of faith. And then again, my second album isn’t that religious. My supporters – my fans, if you like – they don’t see me as a munshid, or in Arabic they call it a nasheed, a religious figure, they don’t see me as that, and in the Arab world they call me an international artist. Because they appreciate the fact that I play most of my own instruments, I compose my own music, I arrange my own music. What I’m trying to get at is, they like my music.”

Fine, but there’s something else going on there as well, isn’t there, apart from simple music appreciation? “Recognition. I think it does apply, but again, I think, quite frankly, what it boils down to is quality and music and the art. Because in the end everything else dies away. You know, I went to Azerbaijan, and in Azerbaijan – I mean, it’s a Muslim country, but they’re not particularly – I had 10,000 people in the stadium. And four of them were covered, wearing hijab. The niqab – that scares me.” Has he performed in Saudi Arabia? “I have. It was,” and he pauses, pointedly, “a very interesting experience. But they still knew my songs, and sang all my songs.”

Recognition and representation, he does point out, go both ways, and if there is something he would like to stand for it’s moderation, tolerance and anti-extremism. “Mecca and Medina are holy for Muslims. Saudi Arabia isn’t. They’ve got their own problems and their own issues and they need to deal with them. They don’t represent Muslims.” As for the Abu Hamzas of the world – they’re why he thought his Wembley gig so symbolic. “Just contextualise it, just for a second, the situation with Muslims in the UK. I think it was about time that they had something like this. Because Abu Hamza, and Abu this and Abu that – they don’t represent us. They can go back to wherever they came from, frankly. I’m serious. They really don’t represent us. I’m just sick and tired of seeing those ugly – and they are ugly, really they’re ugly. I’m scared of the guy with the hook – I mean, who is he? I’ve hardly come across people like that. It’s just in the media. And it scares me.”

He is as scornful of Muslims he sees as being on the other end of the spectrum, “opportunists” such as Dutch writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali: “She doesn’t attack extremism – she attacks Islam. And these people – they make money. They sell out halls. And this is sad. The world we’re living in wants to hear this kind of thing. What we need, in my opinion, are people to bring back everything and say, ‘Look, chill out. Cool down.’ That’s what I’m about.”

Yusuf was born to Azerbaijani parents, in Tehran. They moved to Britain when he was three, and he grew up in west London. (His parents now live in Stockport, where he also lives with his wife, some of the time.) “And this is the thing -” he turns vociferous again “- when I grew up, in school, we had Janet and Jack and Ahmed and Mohammed and Dipesh and Meninder – and we were just chilling together. Now you’ve got, ‘Oh, he’s a Muslim, and he’s a that, and he’s a this.’ D’you know what I mean? This is not what London’s about! This is not what I grew up with. And it’s scary! I don’t wanna see that.” The majority of his friends were English, “middle-class, white guys”, and even when, at 16, he went through a period of deepening spirituality and became a much more committed Muslim, he says there were no issues with peer pressure, no feeling that he was being left out because everyone else was experimenting with drink, for example; it’s discrimination against them to expect that, he argues, and anyway, “they were good people, they were good guys. They weren’t naughty.”

He started learning music from his father, a music teacher, and became an omnivorous student: he plays piano and violin, “from the western instruments. Eastern – most of the Persian instruments: santoor, taab, tombak, katar, daff – and the Arabic instruments – tabla, dufoof – and of course the Turkish instruments …” He says, “I used to be an addict of Classic FM. I used to listen to it from 14 to 16, every night it was on in my room. It’s a bit sad, but – I love classical music.” And though he always knew his future lay in music, he thought it would be in composition and arranging, not in singing. He didn’t even know he could sing, until his father heard him crooning in the bathroom one day and suggested he look after his voice.

The Royal Academy accepted him as a composition student, but he wasn’t there for long. “I left.” Why? “You’re making me feel really uncomfortable,” he says, laughing. “There’s an interrogation element.” As interrogation goes, “Why?” is not exactly being Jeremy Paxman, but Yusuf, his manager tells me later, is used to a very different interviewing style: more fawning, by fans who more often than not want an autograph, or have brought along a nephew to meet him. “It was kind of snobby,” he adds. “I felt a bit uncomfortable. And I had some personal problems at the time. And they were personal, so don’t ask me what they were – they were personal.”

I try but no elaboration is forthcoming, so why uncomfortable? “I think classical music has been hijacked by – certainly in my day – by a kind of upper-middle-class white-oriented population, whereas in fact classical music was the music of the people in Mozart’s time, in Beethoven’s time – opera, for example, would be like the movies. I felt a bit uncomfortable, but I think mainly I really had some … I just didn’t want to be there.”

His first album was accidental, self-produced, arising out of a personal need to sing praise songs, and no one was as surprised as he was when it sold out in its first week. He has been famous ever since, which has brought its own uncomfortablenesses. Yusuf has come in for criticism from other Muslims about the fact that he sings at all (the issue seems to be the atmosphere that surrounds singing, rather than the singing itself); and about his celebrity – something he himself sometimes feels uneasy about. At Wembley, as one audience member put it on YouTube, “The concert was gud and bad as all the girls were screaming wen he came bak as they all fancied him it was lyk get ova him. the atmosphea was gr8 tho”, but he is quick to dissociate himself from, say, the likes of Robbie Williams (though, it must be said, he wouldn’t mind competing on similar turf: “I’m an artist, I wouldn’t mind getting a Grammy or an MTV award. That’s how I see myself”). “The reason I never wanted to be a pop star was because of a lot of the things they get up to after concerts,” he says. “My father noticed something in me from a very early age and groomed me. But I just didn’t want to get involved in the pop industry. I was scared of it. I’ve seen what it can do and I didn’t want to get involved. I’m really glad that I’ve got this huge niche, if you like.”

And though he may slightly shrug off the suggestion, he knows it’s a niche that gives him power. He’s hoping to record a Christmas single, with an as yet un-named artist, to raise money for Darfur, and in the new year he and his record label, Awakening, will be launching a foundation called Exploring Islam, the aim of which will be to shatter, through ambitious national media campaigns, the misconceptions and stereotypes currently surrounding Islam here. They’ll be commissioning polls, by YouGov, for example, to discover the top five misconceptions about Islam, and then tackle them head-on. “We’ll treat it like a product that has a bad name,” says Sharif Banna, co-founder of Awakening, “and then market it. We don’t want people to convert, necessarily, just not to be afraid of it.” The tag is to be “mainstreaming Islam” ; the intent to drive home the message that Muslims are as normal as everyone else.

Yusuf is posing for the photographer when he calls over to me to make one thing absolutely clear. “You know something? I love human beings, I absolutely love human beings. It might sound a bit cheesy and corny, but I do. I love people, irrespective of their race and background. When people incite hate, it just gets to me, whether they be Muslims, or Christians.” And then he has to be off, racing to catch a plane to Cairo. “God bless you,” he says.

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The articles in this bulletin do NOT necessarily reflect the opinions of CSID, or its board of directors. They are included in the CSID bulletin to encourage and facilitate diversity of opinions, discussions, and debates about democracy in the Arab/Muslim world, and how best to strengthen and promote it.