Dispatches From Cairo: Who’s the Bad Wolf Today?
We asked Lauren Unger-Geoffroy, an Arabic-speaking American who lives in Cairo, to share her perspective of life in Egypt after the revolution. In this entry, she writes about the emergence of Islamic liberalism.
“Don’t feed the bad wolf.” I tweeted that a few days ago.
That’s from a Cherokee legend: The wise man tells about the two wolves that fight inside all of us until one wins. One is evil and one is good. And who wins? the child asks. And the wise one says, “The one you feed.”
The view from Cairo is like a kaleidoscope of images of struggle crises hope despair joy misery loyalty betrayal beauty ugliness. The forces of light and darkness compete across a range of shifting shades.
Egypt, O Egypt, forgive me for being distracted by the dynamics of world power in general — and by the weight that will roll from the drama at the United Nations about Palestine, Obama, Arab Spring, Israel, USA, world dominance, political psychoses, tragedy, ethnosocial demographic shift, religious exclusionism, complicity, ascension and decline.
In Friday’s sermon from my neighborhood mosque, our imam blasted out with conviction and emotion a shorter sermon than usual of late. Here’s a summation:
The people must pray to Allah, and pray for the Palestinian people to be free of the strangling oppression of the tyrant Israel. Allah tells us that we must protect our brothers of relation and of the Quran. The Quran teaches that we cannot allow them to be robbed of their life and freedom, put out of their homes and the children to be made to feel like less than animals to live without dignity.
We cannot allow our brothers to be exterminated like vermin by the Jews who have oppressed them since al Nekhba (“the catastrophe” of 1948 when 711,000 to 725,000 Palestinian Arabs left, fled or were expelled and a series of laws passed by the first Israeli government prevented them from returning to their homes or reclaiming their property).
And who is Obama? His name may be Baraka (“blessing”) Hussein (“beautiful”). He showed us one face and talked of the country of Palestine but now he shows us the truth. He is no blessing to the Muslim people! And if Obama is a puppet of the Zionists then he is an enemy of Islam.
The Quran teaches that we must return blow for blow that which is inflicted of oppression. Only if it stops we will forgive and accept to make peace. If they will oppress our people we will return the blow!
As the people poured out of the mosque on the corner below and the men lined up outside to shake each other’s hands in greeting, I noticed a few neighborhood people whose faces seemed less animated than usual. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that there were clouds in the sky and the afternoon light was not as bright as usual. The sun is beginning its autumnal retreat. The relentless summer sun scorched us, but we know it and we love it. And fall means winter is not far behind. Changes of seasons remind us of all the uncertainties that are to come.
Depending on your half-full or half-empty perspective, it has only been or has already been more than seven months since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, and still we are unsure about the actual changes and the revolution in Egypt. It is now clear that Mubarak’s regime lives on under a new, thinly veiled disguise, but most here are not fooled and will not allow the ascendance of any special interests to hijack their revolution: not the military, not the new old regime, not foreign interests and not Islamists.
Though at Islamist rallies, by their speeches and the crowds and the banners they carry, it is obvious that the Islamists want a religious and not a democratic state, the secularists and moderates still seem to be the majority, for now. The pro-Islamist Labor Party has spoken out against “diluting the Egyptian Arab and Islamic character.” But the verdict is still out. Egypt hasn’t yet decided if this country will turn into a Salafist or a Muslim Brotherhood state or it will choose to become a modern globalist country with all the positives and negatives that entails.
Islamic liberalism seems to be a new idea that is being tasted tentatively here.
“Liberalism has so many good sides that do not run afoul of the universal principles of the Islamic Shariah,” Nageh Ibrahim of the Islamic Group said in speaking before Wafd Party members in July. “We have to search for a form of Islamic liberalism compatible with the norms of Egyptian society while not alienating other forces.” He argues that Islamists and secularists have more common ground than differences, and he, along with most of the people, attributes sabotage campaigns to partisans of the former regime.
Even the cleric Mohammed al-Zoghbi, a hero of the Salafis and self-proclaimed enemy of secularism, recently called the country’s secularist activists “brothers with kind, good and patriotic hearts that just need to know the Islamists better.” However, a few weeks earlier, he insulted secular Tahrir Square protesters, calling them “scruffy homeless, forced into Tahrir Square, after they were beaten up by their wives back home.”Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al Azhar, the great mosque and center of Sunni Islam scholarship that prides itself on embracing a moderate form of Egyptian Islam, issued a document that seeks to integrate secular attitudes and conservative theories.
The Azhar Charter, drafted in August, declares that a civil state governed by law will not contradict Islam and that individual liberties should be guaranteed in the future constitution and laws.
The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s most organized political group, has promised not to monopolize the drafting of the national constitution and has said that people of all political orientations, including the country’s 6 million Christians, should take part.
Though the average person is fed up with the abstract discussion of politics and wants to return to his or her media distractions, TV series, prayer, family life, walks along the Nile, etc., both sides are hoping for a government where the law and citizenship guarantee security and freedoms and where there will be a peaceful change of power.
There is one thing can unify all of these movements into a united sentiment of Islamic loyalty, and that is a common enemy/oppressor/threat to their basic values — which is the Israel/USA.
And one thing that would solidify the authority and regain total support of the military would be military action of some kind … not that I would imagine any covert symbiotic collusion, or crazy conspiracy theories.
Meanwhile, I receive more and more Internet spam about the Dajjal, the antichrist, being Israel/Obama/USA etc.
I found strangely few references to the 1992 Oslo Accords, which were supposed to lead to mutual recognition of Palestinian statehood and peace. And none about the Obama administration’s quietly supplying Israel with bombs capable of destroying buried targets. Should we Americans be worried about our global arms market? Time to start selling those precision nukes? What happened to all that stuff?
Well, we know that the U.S. transfer of bunker-busting bombs to Israel, first reported in a new online article by Newsweek, began in 2009. National Public Radio wrote Saturday in reporting on the Newsweek investigation, “Two years ago, the Obama Administration secretly authorized the sale of 55 deep-penetrating bombs—or bunker busters—to Israel.” [To see a Truthdig report on the Newsweek disclosure, click here.]
In a New York Times article Friday, George Little, the Pentagon press secretary, declined to comment on the reports of a weapons transfer. “We’re not going to comment on these press reports, but make no mistake about it: the United States is committed to the security of Israel and Israel’s ability to maintain its qualitative military edge,” Little said.
The Times said, “Israel had sought this class of weapons for many years. In 2005, the Bush administration notified Congress of a pending transfer to Israel of bombs designed to destroy buried targets. ‘This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country,’ a news release from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency stated. Subsequent notifications of plans to sell Israel different models of bunker-busting weapons were sent to Congress by the agency again in 2007 and 2008.”
The Pentagon is frustrated over Israel transferring military technology to China. There is deep concern among many Americans that if the United States has supplied bunker-busting bombs to Israel, that action might be viewed as a tacit endorsement of an attack on Iran.
Though Israel developed its own bunker-busting bomb, the American variants are viewed as more cost-effective, not to mention alliance-enforcing.
Egyptian armed forces are the largest on the African continent, in the Arab world and 10th largest in the world, consisting of the Egyptian army, Egyptian navy, Egyptian air force and Egyptian Air Defense Command. They receive an undisclosed amount of armaments from the USA, but imported weapons do not come exclusively from the USA. The behemoth global arms industry is well aware of the Middle East as its greatest market.
* * *
Walking the other night through the rubble-strewn, broken streets of an upper-class neighborhood, I saw that on one side of the street a section of sidewalk had been cleared of a mountain of debris, and, surprise!, underneath was a beautiful red-cobbled sidewalk. The piles of broken rubble and dirt all around were covering a perfectly intact sidewalk — who knew? And when did the people here give up resistance to the ever-encroaching desert and its constant recalling everything back into its primordial sand? Would globalization bring back the lost concern with quality … of effort … of things?
Got a call from an old friend last week. Last time I had seen him, his lighter blew up in my face as he tried to light my cigarette. Singed my bangs and eyelashes. A cheap, slapped-together lighter like many things here, made either in China or here, no quality standard, no sense of safety. Everything at your own risk. My ladder has one significantly shorter leg. My telephone works sporadically. Would all that change? Is that important?
Anyway, the friend owes me now. He is an officer in the Central Security forces, under the Ministry of the Interior, not the military. We joked; he is a funny guy. Though we usually keep it light and never talk about sensitive topics, which are off limits, he did tell me to be circumspect about what I put online, in articles, blogging, tweets, even emails. But not to worry, so far pretty much everything is OK. Just show the competing Egyptian sides fairly, he said pointedly. And be clean, he added.
“Hmm,” I said. “Well, I have nothing to hide. I am just waiting for my invitation to come to the security office to answer a few questions.”
“Yes,” he said with a laugh, “and you may have to bring your laptop, so get all those haraam sexy photos of you for your boyfriend off.”
“Very funny,” I said, my face turning strawberry red. “I don’t … ,” I sputtered. The call to prayer suddenly blared out in the background, a call to purity.
He laughed again, “Saw your morals story on twitter — feeding the wolves, good and evil. … So who’s the bad wolf today?”
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