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Is Democracy Enough?

Others | 7 August 2011
Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali grew up in Karachi, Pakistan and was the Bishop of Rochester for 15 years. He has since devoted his time to advocating for the persecuted church, most recently as Director of the Oxford Centre for Training, Research, Advocacy & Dialogue. I had the privilege of meeting with him in July to get his thoughts about the future of the Middle East and North Africa in light of the recent protests... More

Islamists play kora sharaab

Youseef Sidhom | 7 August 2011
A former coach of Egypt’s National Football Team once said it was beyond him to understand the nature of the character of some of Egypt’s national team players. They carefully abided by training routines, they comprehended strategies and carried them out on the green field, and they knew very well their assigned roles. Yet when they played against foreign teams, he said, they started with remarkable commitment to plans, tactics and positions, until the other team scored an early goal. This would throw them into disarray; they would lose control and recklessly scramble for the ball to compensate for their loss. It would look, the coach said, as though they went back to the old ways of their childhood when they used to play kora sharaab, a haphazard football game played with a ball made of old socks, in the alleyways and lanes. Needles to say, he said, this method results in abject failure... More

Principles to govern the constitution

Youseef Sidhom | 31 July 2011
The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) recently declared that principles should be instated to govern the writing of a new constitution for Egypt. The SCAF made it very clear that it would not itself instate these principles but would decree the basis upon which the constituent assembly charged with writing the constitution would be formed. Notwithstanding, proposals for principles that would govern the drafting of a new Egyptian constitution have been inundating the public landscape, suggested by prominent political figures and various groups, and triggering heated debate across the Egyptian political divide. The situation proves that, contrary to claims by pundits and politicians, drafting the constitution ahead of holding parliamentary elections would not necessarily lead to a stable transitional period, but may generate a political tsunami that would imperil the entire nation... More

Dear Washington: We've had a revolution

Others | 31 July 2011
It seems that many American policy-makers and think tanks are unaware that Egypt has had a revolution. Even after the fall of Mubarak, they still want us to keep his domestic and foreign policies.They still handle Egyptian affairs in the same haughty manner, assuming the regime is prepared to make any foreign policy concessions to stay in power... More

Reining in the rage

Youseef Sidhom | 24 July 2011
I was never used to go along with the current, nor had I ever any qualms about swimming upstream. I thus express my disagreement with not-a-few events involving Chapter 2 of the Revolution: the 8 July “Friday of the revolution first” and the 15 July “Friday of the last warning”. I still share the enthusiasm of the revolutionaries in Tahrir Square and in all other town squares in Egypt, but I feel deeply concerned about the non-discipline, chaos and mob spirit which has come to dominate these squares. I defend the right of the revolutionaries to remain camped in Tahrir—our very own Hyde Park which has become the admiration and inspiration of the whole world—until the transfer to a legitimate civil State is achieved. However, I strongly condemn what Tahrir and the other squares have become in terms of threatening national security and societal and economic stability, and striving to impose the will of the revolutionaries over the legitimacy of the State, judiciary, and rule of law. .. More

Five constitutional principles

Others | 24 July 2011
Contemporary discussions about the state of Egypt are largely focused on avenging the past rather than pondering over the future. Whether in the country’s freedom squares or in the media, strategic plans are mixed up with tactical imperatives, and core issues that require national consensus are combined with marginal ones over which people may safely disagree... More

Awaiting the new law

Youseef Sidhom | 17 July 2011
The rapid turn of events in Egypt over the past few weeks has of necessity calmed down the heated debate over the unified law for building places of worship. What with the recent al-Azhar document reflecting the venerable institution’s enlightened vision of the future; the disgruntled revolutionaries back in Tahrir expressing severe discontent with the rulers’ failure to meet their aspirations; in addition to all the frenzied mobility on the political arena, Egyptians are out of breath to catch up with and respond to the sweeping turmoil. .. More

Transparency and borrowing

Others | 17 July 2011
In the midst of the excitement about our historic revolution, we as Egyptians are naturally facing challenges around our national budget. Should we accept loans from international financial institutions or should we seek alternative sources of financing? Should we accept loans with strings attached? If so, what should those strings be?.. More

Opinion: The Mickey Mouse connection

Others | 13 July 2011
CAIRO - Post-Mubarak Egypt is trying hard to chart a course for a democratic future, but the road ahead appears to be a bumpy one. Politics, religion and business, when overlapping, add to its woes. The formula seems to underline a heated dispute, pitting celebrated Christian business tycoon Naguib Sawiris against Islamists. The latter are campaigning for the boycott of companies owned by Sawiris for .. More

Politics of inclusion and exclusion

Youseef Sidhom | 10 July 2011
The press brought us two remarkable pieces of news during the last weeks. One was the announcement by US secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the Obama administration was “continuing the approach of limited contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood [MB] that have existed on and off for about five or six years”, stressing that the US would engage with all parties “seeking peace and non-violence”. The second was the emergence of an alliance between al-Azhar, the MB, and Salafis within the framework of the Islamic Authority for Rights and Reforms (IARF) headed by Egypt’s former Mufti Sheikh Nasr Farid Wassel. It is likely that these news will be highlighted by conspiracy theory advocates and those fond of terrifying the public... More

Egypt must embrace an independent South Sudan

Others | 10 July 2011
As the world warmly embraces South Sudan as the newest member of the global community, Egypt is not expected to give more than lukewarm wave from afar. For years the Egyptian establishment has seemed bitter that its initiative - centered around maintaining the unity of the Sudan, was developed jointly with the Libyans and peddled by the Arab League - was passed on by Sudanese parties at peace talks in the early 2000s in favour of the US-backed IGAD initiative which had at its core the right of self-determination for the Southern Sudanese... More

Why I’m against ‘The Poor First’

Others | 3 July 2011
A recent blog post entitled “The Poor First, You Bastards” has received a lot attention in the Egyptian media and cyber world. The blogger, Mohamed Abul Gheit, highlights the role the Egyptian poor played in violent clashes with the police during the revolution and draws attention to a set of pictures of lower-class martyrs – most of which were taken at popular studios with poses and colors that some may look down upon as tacky. Abul Gheit points out that these images never made it to the mainstream media, where photos of young, educated martyrs from the middle class dominated instead... More

A new national charter

Youseef Sidhom | 3 July 2011
The 25 January Revolution was a spontaneous upheaval of Egypt’s young, venting the anger Egyptians had for years sustained. Although some argue otherwise, I see the fact that it had neither programme nor leadership an asset rather than a liability. The miracle of the Revolution was that it succeeded where movements and protests by older generations had failed: it dealt a fatal blow to a despotic, corrupt regime and opened new horizons for building the country. In this light, it does not matter that the Revolution did not come up with a new line of thought. More important is that it restored the people’s enthusiasm for reshaping their future on their own: exactly what is taking place in the current transitional phase. Underway is a crucial process of shaping the future to take Egypt into a modern era of welfare and prosperity... More

Hijacking the unified law

Youseef Sidhom | 26 June 2011
The past couple of weeks in Egypt have witnessed intense discussions within the national political forces and the media regarding the recently-released draft of the unified law for building places of worship. There have also been disquieting attempts by sceptics, hard-liners, and extremists to hijack the long-awaited law. It has been years on end today that numerous political circles, among which was none less than the National Council for Human Rights, have untiringly called for the promulgation of the law. It was hoped that it would put an end to the attacks against Copts, which frequently erupted due to the lack of a law of the kind. Yet no sooner had the draft law been released—first as a bill by the Justice Ministry then a draft decree by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces—than a fierce campaign erupted criticising, rejecting, and condemning it. Some went so far as to go to court to prevent the law from seeing light. The irony of it is that the draft law never did come as a bolt from the blue, as if people had never heard it mentioned... More

Whose ‘civil state’?

Others | 26 June 2011
It appears we need to agree not only on major issues of controversy, but also on the meanings of the terms that we use. These days, many Egyptians are using the same concepts to mean different things. Take for instance the term “civil state”, which is currently the subject of intense public debate. Anyone following the current discussion will quickly discover that the term is used to mean various things... More

On the long-awaited law

Youseef Sidhom | 19 June 2011
Last Sunday, I wrote my comments on the draft of the unified law for building places of worship, issued by the Justice Ministry which said it had referred to the proposition of the National Council of Human Rights (NCHR) in this respect. During the week, however, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces issued a draft decree for a unified law governing the regulations and conditions for building places of worship in Egypt. The law decree reads as follows:.. More

Popular committees continue the revolution

Others | 19 June 2011
As dark clouds of smoke billowed out to sea, a blazing red sun set to end a day of street battles with no telling what was to come. On 28 January in Alexandria almost every police station in the city was on fire, state security trucks were upside down and ablaze and every uniformed element of the Interior Ministry had disappeared. The atmosphere was rich with a sense of triumph and an equal, if not overpowering, feeling of dread... More

Notes on the long-awaited law

Youseef Sidhom | 12 June 2011
The long-awaited unified law for building places of worship looks finally destined to see light, following six years of freezing in Parliament, and despite numerous, occasional crises which erupted owing to the lack of a law of the kind. As we applaud the move, we ought to give credit where credit is due: the brave man who took the first step to issue such a law was former MP Mohamed Guweili, chairman of Parliament’s proposals and complaints committee in 2005. Guweili submitted to Parliament a bill that would place places of worship of all religions in Egypt on equal footing. Two years later, in the wake of the violent attack against the Copts of the village of Bemha in Ayyat, Giza, four then MPs—Sayed Rustom, Ibtissam Habib, Yassin Eleiwa and Mustafa al-Hawary—again submitted a bill to that effect to Parliament. In June 2007, the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) formulated its own draft law, which proved more detailed, and charted the course for putting the bill into effect... More

The council's greatest challenge

Others | 12 June 2011
By definition, those who participated in the revolution rejected the Mubarak regime. The reasons for the revulsion varied however, and the associated conceptual gaps were often deep and wide. Take for example the issue of the transfer of power. There were those whose opposition to hereditary inheritance stemmed solely from political principles; they had no elemental quarrel with the person of Gamal Mubarak, with his worldview or with his lifestyle. Then there were those who resented the heir and his entourage principally because they perceived them as alienated, not only economically but also culturally. A huge conceptual and political chasm separates these two positions... More

Documented facts about the church in Ain Shams

Youseef Sidhom | 5 June 2011
Egypt today appears to be an open field for the free circulation of a host of fallacies and rumours. Subject to neither scrutiny nor correction, many people take them for the literal truth. Some of the most recent fallacies circulated concerned the church of the Holy Virgin in Ain Shams, the re-opening of which, after three years of closure, triggered a crisis some two weeks ago. The Islamists who violently opposed the reopening alleged that the building was a garment factory and had never been a church in the first .. More

Talking democracy

Others | 5 June 2011
Several years ago, I attended a posh dinner party where conversation turned to Gamal Mubarak’s chances of becoming president. Most guests said they didn’t mind the idea and even supported it. They were intelligent, well-travelled Egyptians who might have known better. "The people will never go for it," I said, "they’ve had enough of having nothing". Protests arose regarding the number of families who owned satellite dishes, as if this signaled some great achievement. Populist outrage overcame good manners as I accused both Mubarak fils and my dinner companions of not knowing much about where they lived or with whom. "Oh come on, he’s a good man," said a well-known businessman, "you can’t hold it against him just because he’s the son of the president". This bit of sideways logic silenced me; nothing I could say would matter and dinner was anyway about to be served. I didn’t see this circle of acquaintances much afterwards; some have lately gone to jail and others into politics... More