Commentary: Islamist Suppression Could Reach U.S. Shores

Photo courtesy Matthew Elmaraghi via Neon Tommy's Flickr stream

Aftermath from violence in Mabaa, Cairo, Egypt on Aug. 14, 2013. Photo courtesy Matthew Elmaraghi via Neon Tommy's Flickr stream

Egypt now teeters on the edge of an abyss. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was in Cairo earlier this month at President Obama’s request to mediate between the military-backed interim government and supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, told CBS News: “Oh my God, I didn’t know it was this bad. These folks are just days or weeks away from all-out bloodshed.”

The widely anticipated military crackdown against pro-Morsi demonstrators began last week, so we’d better brace for the blow-back.

The rising specter of repression in Egypt is difficult to watch for two reasons. First, it confirms that the counterrevolution is successfully restoring the deep state — the vast security apparatus upon which military autocracy in Egypt has been based since Gamal Abdel Nasser’s rule in the 1950s, effectively extinguishing any hope of transition to democracy. Second, the violent crackdown evokes bad memories of earlier efforts by Egypt’s military strongmen to crush their Islamist opposition.

On Scripture: From Egypt to South Africa, We Are Each Other’s Keepers

Egyptian flags in Tahrir Square. Photo courtesy nebedaay/

Egyptian flags in Tahrir Square. Photo courtesy nebedaay/

Nelson Mandela, the first democratically elected president of South Africa, has been in the hospital for more than two months. Nearly 20 years after his election South Africa remains, despite myriad troubles, a stable, multiracial, and democratic country.

Mohamed Morsi, the first democratically elected president of Egypt after the world-changing protests in Tahrir Square led to the resignation of former president Hosni Mubarak, has been out of office, by way of military coup, for more than one month. He is now being held by the military under house arrest at an undisclosed location, and the mere mention of his name divides the citizens of Egypt. This division has led to the death of more than five hundred Morsi supporters this week alone. In response, members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi supporters have attacked dozens of Coptic Christian Churches.

Egypt's Christians Under Attack: Interactive Map

Screenshot from USA Today's Interactive Map, "Egypt's Christians Under Attack."

Screenshot from USA Today's Interactive Map, "Egypt's Christians Under Attack."

Since the July 3 ousting of former president Mohammed Morsi, Christians in Egypt have faced a shocking spike in violent attacks. Human rights groups in the country claim that to date, Egyptian authorities have not prevented the persecution. 

Christians make up nearly one-tenth of Egypt's population of 80 million. While Egypt's Coptic Christians have faced longstanding persecution, many are reporting that tensions between Sunni Muslims and minority Christians are the highest they have been for decades. USA Today reports:

Churches, houses, monasteries, orphanages, schools and businesses belonging to Copts were attacked in nine provinces "causing panic, losses and destruction for no reason and no crimes they committed except being Christians," the Maspero Youth Union, a Coptic activist group, said Thursday.

Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of the Christian weekly Watani, said the recent attacks are painful and vicious but it be worse if they are allowed to divide the two faiths.

USA Today has created an interactive map with real-time updates on attacks on Christian institutions, stretching from Alexandria to Qena. View the map here.

Read more of USA Today's story here.

Learning to Love Complexity

Blue vintage globe map photo courtesy Shutterstock.

Blue vintage globe map photo courtesy Shutterstock.

Tumult in Egypt reminds me how complicated the world can be, especially for a culture like our own that is shaped by good guy vs. bad guy dramas.

Who are the “good guys” in Cairo? Is the ousted president a good guy for being democratically elected or a bad guy for pursuing isolationist Islamic policies? Is the military saving Egypt or preserving privileges?

It isn’t just the inherent complexity of any human situation. It’s the complexity of societies that have rules and histories quite unlike our own.

Poll Says Muslim Brotherhood Has Soured Americans on Egypt

The Islamic political party known as the Muslim Brotherhood has soured American attitudes towards Egypt, arguably America’s most important Arab ally, since its candidate Mohamed Morsi won presidential elections there in June 2012.

That’s according to a poll released Friday by the Arab American Institute in Washington, D.C.

Morsi’s term has been dogged by charges that he opts for authoritarian measures such as martial law. Muslim-Christian clashes have also shadowed his term; there were clashes on April 5 in the town of Khosus that killed four Coptic Christians and one Muslim, and violence also marred the April 7 funeral for the Copts who were killed in that conflict.

According to the Institute’s poll of 2,300 likely voters, only 36 percent of Americans had favorable views of Egypt, down from 66 percent in 1997. At least some of the decline has been attributed to the Muslim Brotherhood, which won Egypt’s parliamentary elections in January 2012, and to Morsi himself, who won the presidency last June by a 52-48 percent margin.

Transcript: Remarks by the President to the U.N. General Assembly

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

President Obama spoke to the United Nations general assembly at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.

Editor's Note: The following is a transcript of President Barack Obama's remarks to the UN General Assembly in New York City on Tuesday, in which he condemns global violence and extremism, framing the speech around the recent tragedy at the U.S. consulate in Libya. 

THE PRESIDENT:  Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentleman:  I would like to begin today by telling you about an American named Chris Stevens.

Chris was born in a town called Grass Valley, California, the son of a lawyer and a musician.  As a young man, Chris joined the Peace Corps, and taught English in Morocco.  And he came to love and respect the people of North Africa and the Middle East. He would carry that commitment throughout his life.  As a diplomat, he worked from Egypt to Syria, from Saudi Arabia to Libya.  He was known for walking the streets of the cities where he worked -- tasting the local food, meeting as many people as he could, speaking Arabic, listening with a broad smile. 

Chris went to Benghazi in the early days of the Libyan revolution, arriving on a cargo ship.  As America’s representative, he helped the Libyan people as they coped with violent conflict, cared for the wounded, and crafted a vision for the future in which the rights of all Libyans would be respected. And after the revolution, he supported the birth of a new democracy, as Libyans held elections, and built new institutions, and began to move forward after decades of dictatorship.

Chris Stevens loved his work.  He took pride in the country he served, and he saw dignity in the people that he met.  And two weeks ago, he traveled to Benghazi to review plans to establish a new cultural center and modernize a hospital.  That’s when America’s compound came under attack.  Along with three of his colleagues, Chris was killed in the city that he helped to save. He was 52 years old. 

U.S. Muslims, Copts Appeal to Rioters: Stop the Violence

Muslim and Coptic Christian leaders in the U.S. are pledging not to let a spate of violent protests in some 20 Islamic countries derail recent efforts to improve the sometimes troubled relations between the two communities.

On Sept. 18, the Egyptian government ordered the arrest of seven Egyptian-born Copts now living in the United States who were allegedly involved in an anti-Muslim film that portrayed Islam's Prophet Muhammad as a bumbling sexual pervert.

“We cannot allow the actions of a few deceived fanatical individuals to define our communities,” said Bishop Serapion, head of the Los Angeles Diocese of the Coptic Orthodox Church, speaking during a press conference on Sep. 17 with Muslim leaders in Los Angeles.

“We call on members of both religions to lean on our faiths to counter the hate and the violence with good speech and positive work,” added the Egyptian-born bishop.

The show of solidarity comes almost a week after protesters in Egypt, where about 10 percent of the 90 million Egyptians are Coptic, attacked the U.S. embassy, setting off protests in other Muslim countries, including neighboring Libya, where American ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

The ‘Maverick’ Egyptian-American Copt Behind the Anti-Muslim Film

RNS file photo by David Gard/The Star-Ledger

Terry Jones said he would promote a crude film that portrays Islam’s Prophet Muhammad as s sexual pervert. RNS file photo

When inflamed mobs stormed the U.S. embassies in Libya and Egypt on Tuesday, the media quickly looked to a likely spark.

Florida Pastor Terry Jones ignited deadly riots by threatening to burn Qurans in 2010, and by torching the Islamic holy text last year. Recently, Jones said he would promote a crude film that portrays Islam’s Prophet Muhammad as a foolish sexual pervert.

But in the days before the protests, Jones made no public mention of the film called Innocence of Muslims — even as he prepared to stage an “International Judge Muhammad Day” on Sept. 11.

Instead, the man who translated the film into Arabic, sent it to Egyptian journalists, promoted it on his website and posted it on social media was an obscure Egyptian-born Coptic Christian who lives near Washington and proudly touts his ties to Jones.

'Innocence of Muslims' Video Suggests a Fetish for Armageddon

Actor portraying Mohammed in “Innocence of Muslims,"via Christian Piatt

Actor portraying Mohammed in “Innocence of Muslims,"via Christian Piatt

I finally sat down and watched the entire 11-plus minute video, Innocence of Muslims, which is at the heart of the recent outrage in Islamic countries in Yemen and north Africa.  Suffice it to say, I lost a healthy share of brain cells in the process. The narrative – if you can call it that – is incoherent throughout, the sound is barely audible in places and the overall production values make the Annoying Orange series look like Scorsese.

That said, there’s plenty to anger Muslims in this clip, or anyone who values religious tolerance, plural coexistence, or even basic respect for human nature.