By Barry Rubin
1. Fleeing Christians
Christians are fleeing the Middle East and Western Christians are indifferent. More than half of Iraqi Christians, threatened with death and terrorism are out of that country, though many are in neighboring Syria. Virtually all Christians have fled the Islamist Gaza Strip and Syrian Christians generally (though not all) support the regime there, fearing an Islamist takeover.
But Egypt is home to millions of Christians that dwarf these numbers. In fact, the number of Christians in Egypt exceeds the populations of Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, and Tunisia.
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Copts have emigrated in the past, but they have been so rooted in Egypt as to tend to remain there. Now the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organizations reports that 95,000 Christians have emigrated since March 2011. If Egypt continues to look as if it is going down an Islamist road, or at least if the government and military appear ready to tolerate such assaults, one can easily imagine one million or so Copts heading for the exits in the next few years. How would Europe like to receive these people who—in contrast to many other immigrants—would be legitimate asylum seekers with a genuine fear for their lives?
2. Mad Turkish Prime Minister
It’s rather clear that Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist regime hates Israel. What’s less apparent to many people is that Erdogan has gone off the deep end into antisemitic insanity. If you didn’t know who was speaking you’d think Erdogan was Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
While Turkey, like other countries, isn’t perfect, in modern times the Turkish Republic has been a rather sane and development-oriented countries. It’s quite a change to have a Turkish leader literally foaming at the mouth, to the point where the opposition leader asked a few months if Erdogan was planning to go to war against Israel. Now that the regime—with no international opposition or criticism—has crushed the armed forces, there’s nothing to hold Erdogan back.
On a CNN interview, Erdogan ridiculed the idea that Israelis need fear massive rocket and mortar barrages from the Gaza Strip because few Israelis were killed, while in contrast Israel had killed—according to the CNN translation “hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.” The Turkish government responded that he had not said that figure but merely “tens of thousands.”
It’s nice to know that Israel is just being accused of being a mass murder on a smaller scale. Eogan also says that the world is a slave to the UN Security Council (a precise copy of Ahmadinejad’s long-standing theme) and demands sanctions against Israel. He also copies Ahmadinejad in asking why Israel can have nuclear weapons and Iran not have them. (Aside from Iran’s threats of genocide, one reason is that Iran’s program breaks an international agreement signed by that country.) At times, Erdogan has talked about war against Israel, his main complaint being the blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has been ruled legal under international law and, anyway, is made pretty irrelevant by the opening of the Egypt-Gaza border.
Israel cannot be trusted, Erdogan says; it is the villain that has prevented peace. It’s just plain evil. One almost expects Erdogan to break out in German. Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, famously said that his country’s foreign policy was one of “peace at home, peace abroad.” Erdogan sounds more like: Today Gaza, tomorrow the world!
The idea that such a huge and powerful country as Turkey is led by a guy acting like a madman who throws temper tantrums (his performance at the Davos conference is a case in point) has not prevented the Obama Administration from doing nothing and, indeed, increasing hi power. After all, Turkey is now co-chair of the new U.S. counterterrorism organization and the designated mediator for the future of Syria. And the same applies to the escalating repression and crushing of democracy within Turkey.
3. Syria’s New Stage: Civil War
–Can Assad hold on?
The simple answer is that nobody knows. One thing is for certain: looking at other dictator having been hung, put on trial, or fleeing into exile, the family of President Bashar al-Asad and his allies will not go quietly. Only if they are forced out of power at gunpoint will they be displaced.
The wider problem is that the government does have a strong base of support among the Alawite minority, Christians, and some Sunni Muslims. These people are worried about being targeted by a revolution, even with the possibility of massacres against the first two groups, which comprise roughly one-quarter of the population.
In other words, the battle will continue for months, will probably become more violent, and the outcome is not certain.
–What are the prospects for civil war?
I think we are now entering the civil war phase.
–Is there a signifcant danger of Islamists wielding great power like in Egypt?
There is a very real chance of an Islamist takeover but it is lower than in Egypt. The Syrian are more urbanized, more secular, and most important of all far more diverse. Remember that in Egypt 90 percent are Sunni Muslim Arabs while in Syria that figure is about 60 percent. The Syrian Brotherhood has never been as strong as its Egyptian counterpart.
The best assessment, then, is that the danger is less. But what is very worrisome–even insane–is the Obama Administration’s insistence on using Islamist Turkey as mediator, a mediator that favor the Islamists!
–Would a post-Assad Syrian govt likely be friendlier to the US?
There is some real anti-Americanism in the opposition. The Obama Administration has put the Untied States into the position of being regarded by many Syrians as protector of the Asad regime. It’s one thing to have that happen in Egypt–a government that was allied with America–but why in Syria, the most anti-Ameriican of all Arab regimes?
If a non-Islamist regime emerges it would be less hostile to the United States but whether that’s by a small or significant margin is open to question.
4. “Moderate Imam”
In a June 23, 2011 article, Ahmad al-Tayeb, the head of al-Azhar, took a quite moderate line in interpreting Islam and showing openness toward Christianity and Judaism. A MEMRI articledoes a good job of describing what he wrote. For
example, he said:
“A Muslim cannot imagine all of mankind sharing a single creed or turning to a single religion – even if this religion is Islam. As long as this remains the case, the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims [must be] one of mutual recognition.
But why did he write it? I suggest that the Muslim Brotherhood has made it clear that al-Tayeb is not welcome to continue in his job under the new order. It wants to put in one of its own people, both as head of al-Azhar and as Egypt’s qadi (leading Islamic official). The Brotherhood wants to use these positions to revolutionize Islam in Egypt and turn it into a radical Islamist institution.
Remember that even if the Brotherhood doesn’t take over the government or control the presidency it is likely to make deals with other parties: We will support what you want in exchange for your giving us control over religious institutions.
And why, just a little later did he launch a virulent attack against Shia Muslims? Because he is defining his position as being hostile to Iran and Hizballah as Egypt’s enemies. This anti-Shia position is more congenial to the Brotherhood which shares this hotility.
So Tayeb is carving out for himself the position of moderate Muslim who backs Egyptian national interests in order to build a support base against the Islamists. This aligns him not only with reformists but also with nationalists. The political battle in Egypt may be mirrored by a struggle over the control of Islam in that country.
A third plank in the al-Azhar platform was put forward by one of Tayeb’s deputies a few days later in a virulently antisemitic tirade that hints at genocide against the Jews, reminding us that Middle East “moderation,” after all, almost always has its limits.
5. Egypt’s Election: Party Maneuvers
The Wafd Party has ended its electoral alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party because it thinks it can do better on its own. The Wafd wasn’t satisfied with the number of seats the Brotherhood offered in the deal.
Note that this has nothing to do with differences between a liberal democratic add an Islamist party. The problem is merely how much the Brotherhood would pay. As the Wafd spokesman explained:
“We withdrew from the electoral alliance because we had a lot of candidates and the available places in the list weren’t enough,”
There are now three blocs led by the Muslim-Brotherhood and Wafd—with members of their now-defunct alliance choosing sides—and a 14-party group called the Egyptian Bloc, led by the left-leaning liberal Justice party. Note how the “liberal” parties are splitting their vote while the Islamists have united.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, will be published by Yale University Press in January. Latest books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com