Brother Hesham El Ashry, the host of the Egyptian talk show The Court of the Scholars, lured me on the air with a tantalizing offer: the chance to ask a Muslim cleric anything I wanted, on live television. “Anything?,” I asked.
“Anything,” he said. “You can even ask”—and here his eyes twinkled—“whether the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was a child-molester.”
Read more. [Image: Nasser Nasser/AP]
For all the damage that mobs and armed groups have done in majority-Muslim nations in the past week, there is one target that they missed. The mobs in Cairo, one of many cities where protests followed the Innocence of Muslims video ridiculing the Prophet Muhammed, overlooked the Egyptian TV station that had actually broadcast it, Al Nas TV. Egyptian prosecutors have now issued arrest warrants for eight people in the United States with connections to the film — but they, too, overlooked the TV station.
While the film’s creators have received the attention they craved, it’s more illuminating to focus on Al Nas TV, which made them famous. The station’s story even suggests one possible answer to the problem of offensive speech in a number of volatile majority-Muslim societies.
Read more. [Image: YouTube]
The U.S. Embassy in Cairo is an unusual building.
For one thing, as you can see in the center photo above, it’s over 10 stories high — most embassies are much shorter. For another, it’s right in the middle of downtown Cairo, in a posh area called Garden City, a stone’s throw from the Nile and a short walk from Tahrir Square.
On normal days, this prominent location underscores that the U.S. is an engaged and important presence in Egyptian affairs. This past week, it made the building a quickly accessible assembly point for protesters and the site of a violent stand-off.
Issues like these are the subject of serious debate in the world of embassy design, where architects try to construct buildings that will, in good times and bad, represent American values while they withstand the force of bombs. For the people who build embassies, that’s a difficult balance, and one that has shifted many times in the last few decades between two competing schools of thought: isolation and civic engagement.
Read more. [Images: State Department/SOM]
If the foreign-policy controversy currently engulfing the campaign is just a matter of timing and propriety, it’s not a particularly revealing contrast between the candidates. The real question is what substantive critique lies behind Romney’s criticism, and what it tells us about how he would conduct foreign policy differently. And here, beneath the campaigns’ petty back-and-forth, there is a real and revealing debate to be discerned[…]
To Obama and his team, the best leadership is cautious, thoughtful, and situationally based. To Romney, true leadership means being at the front of every parade. It means reacting with clarity, certainty and a ringing reiteration of American strength to every crisis, a certainty born of underlying ideals so secure that it is not altered by intervening events or changing facts on the ground.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
Many Egyptian liberals rejoiced at Tuesday’s news that three of the most polarizing — and popular — presidential candidates, including those representing the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultra-conservative Salafists, would not be allowed to compete. The final ruling from the Supreme Presidential Elections Commission followed a lower court decision a week earlier that disbanded the lopsided and widely detested constitutional convention, which had been forced through by the Muslim Brotherhood and its Salafi allies.
On the surface, the decisions about the presidential race and the constitutional convention both thwart some serious electoral shenanigans by the Muslim Brotherhood and others, but this is hardly progress for liberalism in Egypt. Unfortunately for Egypt’s prospects, both rulings came from opaque administrative bodies with questionable authority and motives. In the case of the presidential commission, there is no avenue for appeal. And in the potentially more important matter of the constitution, a decidedly political question was buried in a layer of obfuscating legalese.
No one in Egypt can explain the rules governing the two most important hinge points in Egypt’s pivot away from authoritarianism: the selection of the president and the drafting of the constitution.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
Like it or not, this is the year of the Islamist.
Fourteen months after popular uprisings toppled dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, Islamist political parties - religiously conservative groups that oppose the use of violence - have swept interim elections, started rewriting constitutions and become the odds-on favorites to win general elections.
Western hopes that more liberal parties would fare well have been dashed. Secular Arab groups are divided, perceived as elitist or enjoy tepid popular support.
But instead of the political process moving forward, a toxic political dynamic is emerging. Aggressive tactics by hardline Muslims generally known as Salafists are sowing division. Moderate Islamists are moving cautiously, speaking vaguely and trying to hold their diverse political parties together. And some Arab liberals are painting dark conspiracy theories. […]
Months after gaining power, moderate Islamists find themselves walking a political tightrope. They are trying to show their supporters that they are different from the corrupt, pro-Western regimes they replaced. They are trying to persuade Western investors and tourists to trust them, return and help revive flagging economies. And they are trying to counter hardline Salafists who threaten to steal some of their conservative support.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
Tens of thousands of Egyptians swarmed Tahrir Square on Wednesday to mark the one-year anniversary of protests that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak, but the demonstrations show that the revolution is far from over. Despite the fact that Mubarak is now on trial for crimes against his people, the country is still controlled by a military council and a soon-to-be elected parliament dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. Some observers are saying that Wednesday protests show an Egypt that is even more divided than it was a year ago, as many activists remain frustrated by the lack of change. Read more. [Image: Reuters]