I put Middle Earth Journal in hiatus in May of 2008 and moved to Newshoggers.
I temporarily reopened Middle Earth Journal when Newshoggers shut it's doors but I was invited to Participate at The Moderate Voice so Middle Earth Journal is once again in hiatus.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Weekend Snapshots -- Syria and Egypt

Here are a few links I came across this morning not likely to get attention elsewhere.

Anyone following events in Syria is aware that the Internet has gone dark in that country. I have heard conflicted reports about why that is so, but the consensus is that the regime deliberately disabled Web access for tactical reasons. One response has been Speak to Tweet, a feeble but admirable effort to give voice (literally) to those inside Syria trying to send messages elsewhere. Sampling the messages is a heartbreaking exercise. It makes me feel helpless. Most waste a lot of air time and I couldn't find one in English.
Responding to this electronic darkness is the following blog post.

Huna Dimashq -- "Syria is not offline.The rest of this world, is."
I was born in the US but never lived there. My parents went to KSA where we lived for 10 years in Jaddah. Then they went back to Syria and now we’re based in Damascus. After I graduated from English literature department in Damascus University, I wanted to pursue my studies so I went to Lebanon and spent five years of my life there. I enjoy photography, drawing cartoons, and writing Arabic articles which I do not do most of the time. I am vegetarian and kind of pissed of at everything. But a person who cries genuinely while watching Daddy Long Legs cartoon. About Razan Ghazzawi
Syrians in diaspora are now writing on Facebook all together, line by line, hear by heart: Huna Dimashq (This is Damascus).
Syria is not offline. You can’t. You cannot silence this revolution by unplugging a cable. Don’t you understand?
We are here to stay, till you fade away.
Our hearts ache not only in worry for our comrades, those legendary comrades. Our hearts ache for longing for their posts, their thoughts, their power and contagious strength. Oh you’ve just missed a revolution, if you think they’re offline. Syria is not offline. The rest of this world, is.
I miss you, comrades. It hurts.
A little clarification on the historical meaning of “This is Damascus”: On the 2nd of November 1956, during the tripartite Aggression on Egypt, French and British aircrafts stroke Egyptian targets for two days and succeeded in destroying Egyptian radio Antennas in the Desert of Abi Za’aabal north from Cairo just before President Abdul Nasser could give his speech from a Mosque. The Egyptian Broadcast stopped and there was the big surprise that shocked who wanted to mute the voice of Cairo, when Damascus Radio started broadcasting and said: 
Today, all Syrians are sharing this status in compassion with the oldest capital in history, capital of Omayyads, which Bashar Al-Assad, the criminal, thinks he can isolate it from the world by cutting off communication and internet. Syrians allover the world wanted to remind the world that Damascus lives in the heart of each one of us, in every capital, every city and corner.
Events in Egypt are moving quickly again.
In the wake of his diplomatic triumph as a key player in the most recent chapter in the Israel/ Palestine conflict, President Morsi (affirming the worst fears of American Islamophobes, though not for that reason) abruptly announced he was taking control of Egypt in a manner reminiscent of Hosni Mubarak.
This puts a little egg on the face of US diplomacy, still patting him on the back for using his good offices with Israel.
Thank goodness for Obama's earlier cautionary neither ally nor enemy remark. Those who criticize this man's foreign policy instincts should take note.
It didn't take long for Morsi to show his true colors. Politically, he appears to be an Egyptian Mitt Romney, holding his cards close until he gets what he wants then pulling the rug from under any opposition.
What he failed to appreciate (just like you-know-who) is the depth of his countrymen's commitment to revolutionary plans for a more democratic Egyptian future. .

Disempowering Egyptian citizens 
By Khaled Diab Despite its democratic aspirations, Egypt’s draft constitution excludes millions of Egyptians from enjoying full citizenship. 
Here is a review of the new constitution drawn up by the Muslim Brotherhood, which was hastily approved about forty-eight hours ago by what is clearly a puppet parliament.
This was written a few weeks ago. It's longish, but too well-written to parse.
 Monday 29 October 2012 Congratulations to all conservative, middle-aged male Muslims in Egypt. According to the draft constitution, you qualify as the model Egyptian “citizen”, and the state will be there for you all the way to uphold your rights and defend your freedoms.
However, if you happen to be a woman, a Christian, a follower of a non-Abrahamic faith or an atheist, or simply young, then Egypt’s contradictory constitution – which attempts but fails to strike a balance between secular liberal and conservative religious forces – leaves you vulnerable to the whims and wiles of the powers that be.
The document reflects the raging battle for the soul of Egypt between conservative Islamic and liberal revolutionary forces.This is nowhere more apparent than in the constitution’s attitude to a full half of the population – women. Article 68 (one of the most hotly debated) begins promisingly by informing us that “the state will do everything to promote equality between women and men”, before delivering the sting in its tail, “without abandoning the judgments of Islamic law”.
The state will also patronisingly help women to “strike a balance between their family duties and their work in society”. So, the constitution is basically telling Egyptian women they are “equal” to men, as long as they obey their husbands or fathers and accept their secondary religious status.
In other respects, the new constitution contains numerous articles that, at first sight, are music to the ears of advocates of democracy and individual freedom. Article 1 tells us that Egypt is governed by a “democratic regime” which, according to article 6, is founded on “consultation, equal citizenship … pluralism [and] respect for human rights”. Other articles guarantee equality for all – regardless of gender, race or faith – and recognise personal freedom as a “natural right” and the right of everyone to a sense of “human dignity”.
Freedom of thought and expression is also safeguarded, and journalists, who have faced decades of draconian restrictions, should, in theory at least, rejoice at the constitution’s protection of their right to pursue their profession freely and to set up media outlets, with the only stipulation being that they notify the authorities.
Unfortunately, however, a lot of what the constitution giveth, it promptly taketh away.
Though the constitution guarantees freedom of belief, albeit only for Abrahamic religions, article 2 describes Islam as the “state’s religion” and vaguely refers to the “principles of shari’a” as the primary source of legislation. This is a ticking time bomb for Christians, whose current marginalisation could become open persecution if this stipulation is exploited to the full by radical Islamists.
Fortunately, the demand by some Islamists that Islamic law should be the sole source of legislation did not make it into the constitution, though the current statement that it is the “primary” source leaves the door ajar both to the modern reinterpretation of Islamic jurisprudence and to the continued reliance on other, secular sources of legislation.
 Nevertheless, no matter how liberally shari’a is interpreted, there is an essential tension between Islamic and modern, liberal secular law – at least in the mainstream view of it. This is eloquently expressed in other parts of the constitution. For instance, article 38 prohibits attacks on and affronts to “the prophets” – essentially an anti-blasphemy measure.
While for many pious Egyptians this will appear to be an even-handed way of protecting the sanctity of not just Islam but every religion, it conflicts with the principles of free expression the constitution claims to uphold. For instance, if I, as an agnostic atheist, express my heartfelt conviction that the Qur’an was authored by Muhammad or another human hand, and that the devil, who does not exist, had no hand in the “satanic verses“, will the state defend my freedom of expression or prosecute me for insulting the prophet?
Even among the religious, there is a wide spectrum relating to what is regarded as “insulting” to people’s essential beliefs. In fact, as I’ve pointed out before, the very presence of Judaism, Christianity and Islam can be regarded as a tripartite insult, since each exists because it believes the others contain falsehoods. This was dramatically demonstrated by the Egyptian Islamist preacher Abu Islam Ahmed Abdullah who, taking a scorched leaf out Pastor Terry Jones’s book, recently set fire to a Bible.Defending himself against legal charges that his action was insulting to Egyptian Christians, he claimed – rather offensively – that “There is no such thing as the Bible or the Torah, there is only the Qur’an.” This sounds remarkably similar to Pastor Jones – who is apparently running for president of the United States – attitudes to the Qur’an.  In a free country, and in a state that does not wish to turn wackos into martyrs, both Abu Islam and Terry Jones should be left to express their burning hatred, as long as they do not actually hurt or call for the hurting of others.
Even more troubling are the parts of the constitution that transform the state into a sort of Big (Muslim) Brother. Article 10 empowers the government to “safeguard and protect morality and public decency” and to “maintain a refined level of upbringing, religious and nationalist values and scientific facts”, while article 69 tasks the authorities with overseeing, among other things, “the spiritual, moral and cultural development” of young people.
This is not only a paternalistic insult to the generation that taught Egyptians the value of their dignity and freedom, it also raises the thorny question of whose morality. And what should happen to those youth who do not wish to live by the conservative Islamic morality that the authors almost certainly intended?
And the powers of this religious nanny state do not end there. Describing the family as the “cornerstone of society”, article 9 grants the state the power to preserve the “authentic nature of the Egyptian family … protecting its traditions and moral values”.
My personal experience of Egyptian families is that they possess thousands of different “traditions and moral values” – so which will the state enforce and does it have the right or power to impose its own vision?
And what will the state do to families that refuse to abide by its vision? “Re-educate” them? Take their children into its care? This is a truly scary prospect. For instance, my wife and I are raising our child without religion and have decided to let him choose whichever system of beliefs suits him once he is old enough.
If we move back to Egypt, will the state preserve our “natural right” to personal freedom and our constitutional right to human dignity or will it try to force us to raise our child as a “decent Muslim”?
The inherent contradictions in Egypt’s draft constitution, if it ever enters into force, will leave it wide open to individual interpretation and so Egypt’s future as a progressive, enlightened and tolerant state rests in the ability of liberal, secular, pluralistic forces to seize the upper hand from the Islamists.
Why do Conservatives imagine they can impose their will on others without anyone taking notice?
The reader can include me among those who didn't see the super-Conservative stripes of Mohamed Morsi. Since he spent so long in America, was on staff at an American university and has two natural-born American citizens among his four children I couldn't imagine he still didn't "get it," that representative democratic political systems have been the source of diversity and strength for the modern world.
It shouldn't come as any surprise. The recent  clown show  Republican primary race illustrates how many Americans are as reality-challenged as Morsi. The previous link's mention of Pastor Jones is another example.
Which is why the parallels between Morsi and Romney are so clear. Both live in closed echo-chambers. They are not guilty of deception. Both truly believe they are taking the right course.
Why Won’t Morsi Back Down? Read His Resume
...Morsi’s assurances were only verbal and, as his colleagues in the Muslim Brotherhood emphasized, the original declaration remained unchanged. And rather than conceding anything, Morsi doubled down on Wednesday, commanding the Islamist-dominated constitution-writing body, which non-Islamists had almost entirely abandoned, to finish its work within 24 hours despite secularists’ mounting protests.
Nobody should have expected otherwise, because Morsi’s political biography suggests that he is not a compromiser. Prior to last year’s uprising and his subsequent emergence as Egypt’s first civilian president, Morsi was the Muslim Brotherhood’s chief internal enforcer within the Guidance Office, steering the organization in a more hardline direction ideologically while purging the Brotherhood of individuals who disagreed with his approach.
In this vein, Morsi led the Brotherhood’s 2007 efforts to draft a political platform that called for restricting the Egyptian presidency to Muslim men and establishing a council of Islamic scholars to approve all legislation for its sharia-compliance. When Brotherhood youths blogged their disapproval with these provisions, Morsi reprimanded them sternly, and some of them abandoned the Brotherhood shortly thereafter. Two years later, when deputy supreme guide Mohamed Habib and longtime Brotherhood leader Abdel Monem Abouel Fotouh advocated for more open political procedures within the executive Guidance Office, Morsi purged them as well.
Of course, Morsi tried to appear more outreach-oriented during his brief presidential campaign. Thus, in the week before the elections results were announced declaring him president, Morsi met with a broad spectrum of non-Islamist leaders and revolutionary youths, and promised to rule collaboratively, including by appointing female and Christian vice-presidents. But unsurprisingly, Morsi declined to deliver: he ultimately surrounded himself with Brotherhood-affiliated advisers and filled his cabinet primarily with Muslim Brothers and non-ideological technocrats.
Morsi is also unlikely to compromise because of his intimate familiarity with the Brotherhood’s unparalleled mobilizing capabilities....
Since pictures are worth a thousand words, here is a link with pictures of Egyptians once again taking to the streets, this time to show their disapproval of Mubarak's successor.
Egypt: Back to the Square 
 Thousands of Egyptians marched to the different ‘Tahrir’ Squares in Egypt over the past week. The protests started after President Mohamed Morsi announced a new constitutional declaration on November 23rd.

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