The Complexity of Islamism in Egypt and the Middle East

Categories Writing

El-Watan News reported this morning that Egyptian security services uncovered and detained 13 jihadists involved in planning to set up a local chapter affiliated to the Islamic State (IS).

The most striking part of the article is the following:

وقال أبوصهيب الليبى، القيادى بـ«داعش»، فى فيديو مصور بثته مواقع جهادية، أمس الأول، بعنوان «رسائل من أرض الملاحم»، … ، إن أول من سيبدأ بقتله تنظيم الدولة الإسلامية، حال دخوله مصر، هو الرئيس المعزول محمد مرسى، الطاغوت والمجرم الأكبر، لأنه كان يتمسح بالدين ويتستر به، مضيفاً: «العوام والغلابة كانوا يقولون إنه أكثر حافظ للقرآن، ويقيم الصلاة، لكنه مجرم، وقريباً نتقرب إلى الله بقتل المرتدين والطواغيت فى مصر».

My own translation:

Suhaib el-Libi said 2 days ago in a recorded broadcast, entitled “Messages from the Epic Lands” on a jihadist website … that [upon his entry into Egypt] the first one to be killed is the ousted president Mohamed Morsy because he flirted with the use of religion and used it as protection. He added that common people and the poor would say of him that he knew the Quraan well and attended to his prayers but he is a criminal. Soon we will near ourselves to God by killing the [Muslim] apostates and oppressors in Egypt.

El-Libi won’t be able to achieve this because he died in a military operation in Syria after the broadcast of the video. Clip about Egypt below:

For most commentators and viewers, this is a strange and confusing message. Middle Eastern and Western governments have developed their rhetoric by lumping together all Islamists under one term “terrorism”. But, here is a militant Islamist hoping for the blood on his hands of another Islamist. With this report and yesterday’s piece by Omar Ashour on Al-Jazeera English, a different picture emerges. Key sections of Ashour’s essay below:

In the 1990s, during a low-level insurgency led by the Egyptian Islamic Group (EIG) and the Egyptian al-Jihad Organisation (EJO), the MB offered “assistance” to the Mubarak regime to combat these groups. These political positions aroused the ire of a younger, radical generation of Islamist activists, represented by Ayman al-Zawahiri’s 1993 book, The Bitter Harvest of the Muslim Brothers, in which he criticised the MB’s pragmatic behaviour and gradualist ideology in general and the post-1970 changes in particular.

When the “de-radicalisation” process of the EIG ensued in 1997 with their unilateral ceasefire declaration, the MB supported the transition. In 2002, the leadership of the EIG renounced its radical literature, and declared that it replaced its curricula with those of the MB, to signal an acceptance of non-violent gradualist reformism. Overall, from the 1970s onwards, the MB presented itself as a transnational movement that upholds the “correct” form of Islamist sociopolitical activism, which is anti-jihadi and anti-takfiri. From the 1980s, the MB was perceived as an alternative and a rival to Saudi-style Wahabbi form of Islamism. 

It seems more likely that the ties between different Islamist groups are more fluid, morphing with the times, circumstances, and political conditions of their respective countries. An example of this is that IS was a part of Al-Qaeda until February this year.

Going back to Egypt, understanding the dynamics and shifting ties between different groups becomes very critical. It may help to understand who burnt the Coptic churches last year in southern Egypt after the violent dispersals of the sitins at Rab’aa and Nahda squares.

 

 

 

The Pointless Furor over “The Beauty of Roh” (حلاوة روح)

Categories Film

Egyptian Prime Minister banned the controversial film The Beauty of Roh, directed by Sameh Abd-el Aziz, in April 2014 after deeming certain scenes in the film ‘culturally inappropriate sexualized scenes’, as reported by Egypt Independent. The banning was welcomed by swathes of Egyptian society as a much-needed blow to the decadent immorality portrayed in the film and others produced by the megaproduction house of El-Sobky.

Public outcry centered on the rape scene of Haifa Wahby’s character Roh by Mohamed Lotfy’s ‘Jaguar’ (nickname for the character in the film). It would be very dishonest to call the action of the scene rape and it would be very generous to call this a controversial film.

The scene is drenched in the well-lit, overacted, unrealistic melodrama of the main glut of mainstream Egyptian films. This is sad given that a few of el-Sobky’s past films (Ahmed Abdallah’s The Wedding and Cabaret) bucked the trend and chose to eschew realism. However, The Beauty of Roh gives into the temptation and builds as its centerpiece a strange scene, which looks more like non-consenual heavy petty and clothes-ripping. The neurotic and overpowering musical score screams “This is horrid! This is horrid” more than the sheer brutality of a man assaulting and raping a woman. I understand that as someone living outside Egypt and one used to the blunt reality of Western films, this film still is jarring to the average Egyptian viewer. Still, I found it very hard to suspend belief while watching this scene.

I wonder if people in Egypt don’t understand what rape is all about or if directors are so wearied by censorship that their storytelling muscles have atrophied. It becomes easier to just suggest the fuck out of something rather than depict it frankly with cinematic tools.

After watching the film, I was reminded of El-Karnak (The Karnak) – another infamous and controversial film with a rape scene. I had not seen the film but decided to find the scene for the purposes of this review.

I can see where The Beauty of Roh gets its inspiration. Watch.

It’s awkward to watch because it looks or feels nothing like sexual assault. If you’re not going to watch The Beauty of Roh, I’ll save you the money for the cinema ticket or data used and tell you that it’s almost the same. No penetration or sexual abuse. Just physical violence, exposed cleavage, screaming, crying, and a lot of writhing on the floor.

Discounting the supposed horror of the rape scene, the rest of The Beauty of Roh is a poorly constructed and boring film. It’s not clear, not even at the end of the film, if it’s about the relationship between Sayed and Roh or about Roh and her life without her husband or the questionable sources of income of Bassem Samra’s character or a clumsy take on sexual politics and women’s bodies in Egypt.

Bassem Samra is the only redeeming aspect of the film with his visceral and deft characterization. It’s a confused and glossy film with little content, a lot of Wahby’s body, and a dream sequence/music video with Hakeem. The film can’t even manage sending a message out about people to stand up against sexual assault without resorting to a Brechtian “IT’S ABOUT TO GET MORAL UP IN HERE” moment.

You won’t lose much by skipping this film. For a more honest and well-made film about sexual assault, watch 6,7,8, starring Bushra, Bassem Samra, and Nilly Kareem.

Human Rights Watch release report on Rab’aa massacre in August 2013

Categories Journalism

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released its extensive report Tuesday 12 August, after a year-long investigation, on the Rab’aa Square killings last year August. Executive director Kenneth Roth and Middle East director Sarah Lead Whitson were detained yesterday at Cairo International Airport before being denied entry into the country. They were due to present the report at a press report entitled All According to Plan.

Roth commented on the authorities’ decision to deny him and his colleague entry:

“We came to Egypt to release a serious report on a serious subject that deserves serious attention from the Egyptian government… instead of denying the messenger entry to Egypt, the Egyptian authorities should seriously consider our conclusions and recommendations and respond with constructive action.”

You can download and read the report here after watching a summary video below:

After reading the report, some questions remain:

1) Who were the armed protestors at Rab’aa and Nahda, regardless of their number? Were they armed out of self-defense or were they provided arms by groups or entities?

2) Were the protestors at the sit-in really notified of the dispersal in a timely fashion?

Stockholm Iraqi, Syrian, Lebanese call on government to stop IS violence against Christians

Categories Journalism

A reported 10,000 people attended a demonstration Sunday afternoon 10 August outside the Sensus public swimming pool at Medborgarplatsen, downtown Stockholm. The protest, put together by various religious and secular organizations, aimed to unite Iraqi, Syrian, and Lebanese Christians in Stockholm to call on the government to intervene in the reported violence against Christians in Iraq.

“Religious, ethnic ethnic cleansing and the driving out of Syriac/Aramaic [people]”

On left: “Convert to Islam, disappear, or die” On right: “Autonomous zone for Christians”

Political leaders from across the spectrum took to the podium to show solidarity with the plight of Christians and add their voices to the call on government to take action against the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria.

Christian Democrat MP Robert Halef spoke first in Aramaic before switching to Swedish.

Schlomo is peace in Aramaic, close to its Hebrew version shalom.

Liberal People’s Party MP Fredrik Malm’s speech was met with resounding cheers from the crowd:

For context, he said that Sweden must give back to your homelands as you have given to Sweden.

Christian religious leaders also attended and spoke at the rally, representing the Roman Catholic, Syrian Orthodox, and Antiochian Orthodox churches. Artists, singing in both Swedish and Arabic, provided time for reflection and prayer, away from the steady stream of political statements.

Halfway through the protest, groups carrying the ethnic Syriac and Assyrian flags were seen waving them despite calls by organizers to take them down.