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Arab "Spring”? Or Arab Fall?

Last week I pointed out how Tunisia is starting the seemingly inevitable slide toward Islamic extremism.

Egypt too has failed to keep the promise of the “Arab Spring” uprising that saw Hosni Mubarak ousted from power.  There the Muslim Brotherhood has gained power and the Army seems intent on keeping power – at least in the short term.  We now are seeing deadly riots again in Tahrir Square in Cairo where the Army is clashing with protesters.  Thus far it is reported that 35 are dead in the three days of those clashes.

The eruption of violence, which began Saturday, reflects the frustration and confusion that has mired Egypt’s revolution since Mubarak fell in February and the military stepped into power.

It comes only a week before Egypt is to begin the first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections, which many have hoped would be a significant landmark in a transition to democracy. Instead, it has been clouded by anger at the military’s top body, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which will continue to rule as head of state even after the vote. Activists accuse the generals of acting increasingly in the same autocratic way as Mubarak’s regime and seeking to cling to power.

The military says it will only hand over power after presidential elections, which it has vaguely said will be held in late 2012 or early 2013. The protesters are demanding an immediate move to civilian rule.

Again, in a country which has no democratic traditions or institutions the “hope” is the parliamentary elections will be “a significant landmark in the transition to democracy” has no foundation in reality.  Right now it appears that the Egyptian people have simply exchanged on boss for another.  And the result of the parliamentary elections, if they’re ever held, may see the ushering in of a third “boss”- the Muslim Brotherhood which has not really promised “secular democracy” if they take the majority in the Egyptian Parliament. Instead it seems clear they intend a steady move toward an Islamic state.

And the traditions of the Islamic state are to pay lip service to “democracy” (see Iran), no secularism (in fact one of the only secular Arab states, Syria, is in deep trouble right now – any guess what may replace that government?) and rule by Islamic law. 

I don’t think that the “spring” most of the initial protesters (and their supporters in the West) were hoping for when they turned out to oppose Mubarak and call for secular democracy.

As usual, it is the most organized and ruthless who will claim power.  Right now that’s the Army.  If and when an election is held and the Muslim Brotherhood takes enough seats to form a government it is likely the Army will reach an agreement with them to somehow share power.  And secular democracy?

No time soon in Egypt, count on it.  And watch Libya carefully as well.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Libya: Muslim law and secular dreams

If your hope for the latest version of “Arab Spring” to be found in Libya was a secular democratic state, you can quickly forget the secular part of the dream.

The leader of the transitional government declared to thousands of revelers in a sunlit square here on Sunday that Libya’s revolution had ended, setting the country on the path to elections, and he vowed that the new government would be based on Islamic tenets.

Indeed, what has immediately happened is the roll back of many of Gadhafi’s decrees that those who’ve now taken over contend violate Sharia law and Islam’s tenets:

Mr Abdul-Jalil went further, specifically lifting immediately, by decree, one law from Col. Gaddafi’s era that he said was in conflict with Sharia – that banning polygamy.

In a blow to those who hoped to see Libya’s economy integrate further into the western world, he announced that in future bank regulations would ban the charging of interest, in line with Sharia. "Interest creates disease and hatred among people," he said.

I’d love to tell you this comes as a complete surprise, but then I’d be acting like some politicians I know. 

I’m certainly not going to contend that keeping Gadhafi was the best thing we could do, but let’s be clear, what has happened darn sure doesn’t seem to be an outcome that we’d have hoped to see either.  At least as it now seems to be shaking out.

In that area of the world, secular dreams seem to me to be the most foolish.  How that particular dream manages to stay alive among the elite of the West is beyond me.  It isn’t now nor has it ever been a probable outcome of any of these so-called “Arab Spring” revolutions.  The revolutions are steeped in Islam because the governments being replaced were relatively secular for the area and the Islamic groups now rising were the ones being repressed.

How someone could believe that out of that situation, secular democracy would emerge still remains beyond me.  No democratic history, no real established democratic institutions and no real democratic experience by the people there.  Yet somehow we’ve determined that this bunch is superior to the last bunch.

Based on what I’ve always wondered?

Yet, we continue to hear the hope proclaimed in each upheaval even as reality seems to dismiss the hope at every turn.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Secular democracy in Egypt? The devil is in the details

The committee empaneled to rewrite the Egyptian Constitution and given 10 days to do so has named it’s head

Egypt’s new ruling military council has appointed an Islamist judge to head the committee drawing up a new constitution, angering some of those who argued last week’s revolution would deliver the country to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Of course there are some who continue to argue this is all a secular movement (how does one conclude a group calling itself the Muslim Brotherhood is somehow a “secular” group as the West would define “secular?) and that the end result will be a strong democracy as demanded by the people.

Uh, probably not.  Careful monitoring says that most likely the next government will be anything but “secular” as defined by the West:

But the make-up of the new committee, and the fact it has been given just ten days to come up with a new constitution, has dashed hopes that it will remove Article 2, which makes Islam the state religion and says Shariah is the main source of law.

There is something very concrete for you to watch for and monitor – the status of “Article 2” in any new constitution.  The double-talk isn’t just confined to the word “secular”.  “Moderate” gets a going over too.   What anyone in the West would consider a “moderate” here would most likely be called a “secular liberal” there.   The West might consider Egypt’s “moderates” as fairly radical here.   As an example of having to read carefully, look at this:

"Al-Bishry is a figure who is accepted by all Egyptians," said Aboul Ella al-Madi, leader of Al-Wasat. "He has criticised the Coptic Church but he has also criticised the Muslim Brotherhood and the former regime.

Sounds great right?    But what is “Al-Wasat”?  It’s an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.  And you have to love the fact that he feels qualified to speak for “all Egyptians”.

Another claim made by those appointing the committee is it includes a “Coptic Christian” (The NYT names him as Maher Samy Youssef, a judge and Coptic Christian).  Or maybe not:

But Bishop Markos, a member of the Coptic Church’s Holy Syndicate, said no one from the Military Council had been in touch since it came to power.

He said: "We do not know the result of this but we hope the committee will be wise enough to take into account the rights of all Egyptians."

And Islamists in general (using “Islamist” in the generally accepted sense of “religious radical”)?

In another sign of increased freedoms for Islamists, the Gama’a Islamiya, the radical group responsible for a wave of terror attacks in the 1990s, held a public meeting in a town in southern Egypt on Monday night, according to a local newspaper, Al-Masry al-Youm.

Nice – radical terror groups go main stream and hold public meetings. 

Back to the head of the committee …. a person who knows Egypt pretty well has weighed in:

Wael Abbas, the best-known human rights blogger in Egypt, who was sentenced to prison by the Mubarak regime last year, said it was a "worrying" choice.

"There is no such thing as a moderate Islamist," he said. "We want a secular state that respects all religions and which belongs to all religions."

Take that one sentence to heart – “there is no such thing as a moderate Islamist”.  We’ve come to understand that over the years, yet many of us seem to want to ignore that when it comes to Egypt.  Note that Abbas wants a real secular state as you and I might define it, not one as the Muslim Brotherhood would.

This move by the military council is one, I think, that is calculated to further calm fears that the military plans to continue to hold on to control.  The NYT says:

Though the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which seized power with Mr. Mubarak’s exit, has repeatedly pledged to uphold the goals of the Egyptian revolution, many in the opposition have questioned the army’s willingness to submit for the first time to a civilian democracy after six decades of military-backed strongmen.

So appointing the committee helps calm those fears:

“The move to appoint the panel is the first concrete thing the army has done since taking over,” said Hossam Bahgat, a prominent civil rights lawyer and Mubarak critic. “We have only had communiqués. We have been analyzing the rhetoric. But now is the first concrete move, and there is nothing about it that concerns us.”

That last sentence is very telling, especially the claim “there is nothing about it that concerns us”.  The fact that Bahgat isn’t concerned doesn’t mean others shouldn’t be concerned.   An Islamist judge heads the committee and:

The biggest surprise was the inclusion of Sobhi Saleh, an Alexandria appeals lawyer and former member of Parliament who is a prominent figure of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Mubarak government repeatedly portrayed Mr. Saleh as extremist. Mr. Saleh has espoused some views many here might consider excessive, like advocating a ban on public kissing in most places, and he was released from an Egyptian intelligence prison recently.

Is that a “moderate” position?  Would such bans be “secular” in scope?  My guess is the answer would be  “yes” from someone like Saleh if passed by a Parliament (using the democratic process to pass authoritarian laws).   Anyway, you then have to love this analysis of the committee by Saleh:

“The committee is technical and very balanced,” Mr. Saleh said. “It has no political color, except me because I was a member of Parliament.”

Well yeah, so who is it that will lend “political color” to this work?  A radical member of the Muslim Brotherhood on a committee headed by an Islamist judge.

There’s no question there’s a lot of “hope” going on in Egypt right now – but as when “hope” was a prominent word here in the US during the last election cycle, everyone is being left to write their own interpretation on the large blank page “hope” has provided.   The problem there, as it was here, is what the people of Egypt “hope” will come about and what they will actually get out of this process – as it appears to be lining up – are probably not the same thing at all.

~McQ


Atheists whine about not being included in religious event

I get tired of this sort of nonsense:

Atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other nontheistic Washington, D.C. residents will have no representation at Mayor-Elect Vincent Gray’s first official inaugural event—an ecumenical prayer service entitled “One City … Praying Together” at 8 a.m. Sunday, January 2, 2011.

“We would prefer that a government function such as an inauguration not be entwined with religion,” said Amanda Knief, a Humanist Celebrant and government relations manager for the Secular Coalition for America (SCA). “However, we find it overtly discriminatory when we request to be part of an ecumenical prayer service that is supposed to unite the entire city and are told there is no place for nontheists.”

How can a prayer service unite an entire city if atheists don’t believe in prayer or a deity?  Obviously, the word “prayer” is key to the phrase as it refers to those who both believe in prayer and a deity. Just as obviously, the prayer service is aimed a those in the city who do.  And why would an atheist want to go to a prayer service in the first place?

Oh, I know – “inclusion”.

Well, in reality,  they wouldn’t want to attend – “inclusion” is a false flag.  And they’re not “left out” of anything – atheism is their choice.  With that choice comes consequences – like not being invited to attend prayer meetings.

Instead this is really about banishing such services altogether.  And their assumed leverage here is it is a government event – a city government holding an “ecumenical” service, i.e. not touting a single religion and in perfect conformance with the 1st Amendment (which, btw, doesn’t apply below federal level, but I thought I’d point it out anyway).  But it isn’t “inclusive”.

Love the line, “we would prefer that a government function such a an inauguration not be entwined with religion.”

Cool.  Go out and win an election and then you can run the inauguration any way you wish.   That’s the basic message here.  Freedom is choice – and you can choose to not have such an inauguration if you win.  But if you won’t make the attempt or lose, tough nuts – the winner gets to “choose”, note the word,  how he or she will run the inauguration within the confines of the law.

A prayer meeting isn’t about anything in particular which will effect an atheist that I know of.  It’s a meeting of like minded people to ask for help and guidance of their deity of choice.   How that is “overtly discriminatory” against those who don’t believe in prayer or a deity is beyond me.

Oh, and in case you were wondering:

A Humanist Celebrant is the nonreligious equivalent of a clergyperson. He or she may receive national certification from several organizations, including The Humanist Society, the American Ethical Union, and the Society for Humanistic Judaism; and may conduct marriages, civil unions, memorial services, funerals, and other life ceremonies.

So they were supposed to invite a “nonreligious equivalent” of a “clergyperson” to a religious event?  What is a “nonreligious equivalent” to a clergyperson?   There is no equivalency in terms of belief.  The fact that the Humanist Celebrant can conduct marriages, civil unions, (so can a justice of the peace) etc.  doesn’t make them equivalent where it counts (and no one would argue a JP is the “equivalent” of a priest).

Look whether you believe in a deity or not, this is just nonsense on a stick.  Religion is a personal choice.  And nothing that I know of precludes government officials from conducting “ecumenical” prayer meetings if it is their desire. 

My guess is had the atheists – or Humanist Celebrant – shown up at the meeting he or she would have been graciously included.   Then what?

This is just more whining by the militant atheists of the country.  If you don’t want to participate in religion, don’t.  Don’t demand your “equivalency” be accepted by the religious or that they must include you in something, that in reality, you have no real desire to be included in at all.  The religious are not welcome in your camp and it shouldn’t surprise or upset you that you’re not particularly welcome in theirs. 

Such is life.  Grow up, drop the false “inclusion” argument and quit whining, for goodness sake.

~McQ

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