The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

Archive for the ‘Internet’ Category

Baby Steps Toward Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia

Posted by vmsalama on May 11, 2013

MAY 11, 2013

By Vivian Salama

Daily Beast 

When King Abdullah succeeded his late half-brother to become ruler of Saudi Arabia eight years ago, many believed he brought with him an air of reform. Known for his relatively moderate views, Abdullah promised to achieve a great many changes for women, who were barred from driving and were required by law to seek the approval of a male “guardian” to work, travel abroad and, in some cases, to undergo surgery.

Saudi Women

Muslim women, the king said in a 2011 speech, have given “opinions and advice since the era of Prophet Muhammad” and “we refuse to marginalize women in society in all roles that comply with Sharia,” or Islamic law, the octogenarian ruler added.

This week, as Saudi Arabia marked the eighth anniversary since King Abdullah ascended the throne, according to the Islamic Hijri calendar, the government announced that it would lift a ban on sports at private girls’ schools across the kingdom. It comes weeks after the government made another concession—lifting a ban on females riding bicycles and buggies, albeit in the presence of a male guardian. The decisions were hailed by many reformers as positive “baby steps,” but several major issues continue to stall the women’s-rights movement in Saudi Arabia from celebrating true progress, including the right to drive, the right to operate without male approval or supervision, as well as the right to win custody of a child or legally defend herself in cases of domestic violence.

Women have been fighting for equality in Saudi Arabia long before the rumble of discontent erupted in countries like Egypt and Tunisia. Since regional uprisings began in 2011, the Saudi government, apprehensive that its citizens would join in the call for change, has tried to placate the opposition with concessions in the form of housing allowances, government handouts, and new social liberties. But women say the time has come for real change.

“All these baby steps do count, but they are not enough,” says Aiyah Saihati, a Saudi businesswoman and writer. There is a need for “removing any constraints that make [women] unequal to men in terms of self-determination, be it the need for guardian permits for education, travel, hospitalization, as well as being treated with full citizenship, as men, in rights to housing or citizenship for her children.” (more…)


Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, Culture, discrimination, Domestic Abuse, Education, Elections, Employment, Freedom of Speech, Internet, Islam, Media, Middle East, Politics, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Sexual Assault, Sexual Harassment, Social Media, Women | Leave a Comment »

Middle East Activists Muzzled and Arrested in Arab Gulf States

Posted by vmsalama on April 5, 2013

April 4, 2013

The Daily Beast (click here for original link)

By Vivian Salama

Within hours of being handed a two-year jail term for allegedly insulting the ruler of Kuwait, 27-year old Hamed Al Khalidi turned to Twitter– the very apparatus that got him into trouble—with a poem:

“I said: why prison?

I’m not a thief; I’m not a criminal…

neither deliberate nor accidental.

But when I realized my sentence serves my country,

I began to enjoy prison as though it is paradise.”

gulf activismAl Khalidi is part of a growing list of young activists in Kuwait and across the Arab Gulf being targeted for “electronic crimes”—for voicing the very same longing for freedom, justice, and opportunity as those in countries like Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, where online activism catalyzed mass street protests. Days before Al Khalidi’s sentencing, the Kuwaiti appeals court extended the jail term of another opposition Twitterer, Bader al-Rashidi, from two to five years on charges that he attempted to instigate a coup and insulted the country’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah. Kuwait, home to the most dynamic political system in the Gulf, has already sentenced some 10 online activists to various prison terms on charges ranging from insulting members of parliament (or the Emir) to inciting protests.

“The government of Kuwait and other Gulf governments have begun to feel the danger of Twitter that toppled presidents and governments in the Arab countries and it is clear from the way they are abusing many Twitter users with these false charges,” said Mohammed Al Humaidi, a lawyer and director of the Kuwait Society for Human Rights. “Most of the Gulf governments don’t have a law specifically linked to electronic crimes, and so this is unconstitutional.” (more…)

Posted in Abu Dhabi, Algeria, Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Bahrain, Bloggers, Censorship, corruption, dictatorship, discrimination, Dubai, Economy, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Hosni Mubarak, Internet, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Journalism, Khalidi, Media, Middle East, Mohamed Morsi, Muslim Brotherhood, Oman, Persian Gulf, Politics, Protests, Qatar, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Skype, Social Media, Television, Tunisia, Twitter, United Arab Emirates, Viber, Whatsapp | Leave a Comment »

Saudi Arabia: The Internet’s Enemy Cracks Down on Skype, Whatsapp, and Viber

Posted by vmsalama on March 29, 2013

by Vivian Salama

Mar 29, 2013

The Daily Beast 

Infamous for the severe measures it uses to crack down on alleged security threats, Saudi Arabia is now picking on web-based communication apps, which teens rely on heavily for daily contact. Vivian Salama reports.

Photo by HASSAN AMMARSkype, Whatsapp and Viber are subject to a ban in Saudi Arabia, as it demands the rights to monitor all communications via these web-based communications apps.

Despite a medley of applications now available to help Internet users avert such a ban, the kingdom declared that it would block the services within its borders unless the operators grant the government surveillance rights. The companies have until Saturday—the start of the Saudi workweek— to respond to Saudi Arabia’s Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC), local news reports said.

While Saudi Arabia is infamous for taking authoritarian measures to crack down on perceived security threats, it has increasingly shifted its attention toward the telecommunications sector in recent months. The CITC announced in September that all pre-paid SIM card users must enter a personal identification number when recharging their accounts and the number must match the one registered with their mobile operator when the SIM is purchased. The country’s second-largest telecom company, known as Mobily, was temporarily banned from selling its pay-as-you-go SIM cards after it failed to comply with the new regulations.

“A proposal for a ban would be driven by political and security concerns as opposed to economic concerns,” said Aiyah Saihati, a Saudi businesswoman and writer. “The Saudi government is refraining from taking an extremely authoritarian style dealing with its critical youth population. Saudi may try, without censorship, to find ways to monitor communications.”

As revolution gripped much of the Arab world in 2011, Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, spearheaded a counterrevolution—working to appease its critics with monetary and political concessions, while suppressing protests via brutal crackdowns. Reporters Without Borders lists Saudi Arabia as an “Enemy of the Internet,” saying last year that “its rigid opposition to the simmering unrest on the Web caused it to tighten its Internet stranglehold even more to stifle all political and social protests.” (click here to read more…)


Posted in Abu Dhabi, Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Bahrain, Blackberry, Bloggers, Business, Censorship, dictatorship, Dubai, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Film, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Google, Human Rights, Internet, Islam, Israel, Jihad, Journalism, Kuwait, Libya, Media, Middle East, Oman, Politics, Protests, Qatar, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Sexuality, Shi'ite, Skype, Social Media, Television, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Viber, Whatsapp, Women, YouTube | Leave a Comment »

Egypt’s Cities Wage Satirical Secession Campaign

Posted by vmsalama on December 14, 2012

The Daily Beast (click here for the original link)
by Vivian Salama

A burly wall of a man in a leather jacket and traditional ankle-length jellabiya stood guard outside the city council headquarters in Mahalla El-Kubra, a large industrial city along Egypt’s Nile Delta. As we approached the two-story complex, the poker-faced, no-nonsense guard asked for a visa—that is to say, a traveler’s document for entering the city of Mahalla, located two hours north of Cairo. Like any perfectly timed comedian, he waited just long enough for concern to peak on our faces before letting out a thunderous laugh.

“You don’t need a visa!” he said, his belly still jiggling from laughter. “Our independence is a concept, but Mahalla is open to all Egyptians!”


As Egypt’s latest political crisis over an Islamist-proposed constitution threatens to tear the country in two, several of its largest cities have found unity online once again, triggering a sovereignty campaign in which several cities—including Alexandria, the country’s second largest—would secede from the nation, albeit satirically. It began after hundreds of protesters enclosed around the Mahalla City Council, hanging signs for the “Front of Revolutionary Salvation” around town and, on city buses, for “Mahalla Airlines.” The photos went viral within days and a secession campaign was born, with photo-shopped images later circulating on Twitter of men carting in the chair for “The Republic of Mahalla” into the U.N. General Assembly. And on Friday at protests outside the Presidential Palace in Cairo, a sign on one tent reads: “temporary headquarters for the embassy of Mahalla.”

Mahalla, a city of about 450,000, was home to the first “April 6″ secular revolutionary protests and has been the scene of several uprisings and labor protests since the fall of Hosni Mubarak last year.

The six-month old regime of President Mohamed Morsi has come under fire in recent weeks, after the president shocked Egyptians with a decree granting him sweeping powers and immunity from judicial interference. The constitutional committee, which had been toiling on a revised version of the country’s political framework these recent months, is also protected under the new decree. After almost three dozen committee members walked off in protest, the Islamists who remained wrapped up the draft constitution in haste and presented it to the president. Egyptians will vote “yes” or “no” in a referendum that begins on Dec. 15. (click here to read more…)

Posted in Arab Spring, Arabic, dictatorship, discrimination, Economy, Education, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Hosni Mubarak, Internet, Islam, Media, Middle East, military, Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Newsweek, Politics, Religion | Leave a Comment »

Egypt’s Historic Vote is Underway!

Posted by vmsalama on May 24, 2012

At long last, voting is underway in Egypt!!! Citizens queued from early hours to vote for the first president since overthrowing Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. It’s been a tumultuous road to get to this day, but even from thousands of miles away I can sense the excitement of my Egyptian friends and family, many of whom voted today for the first time in their lives. I happen to be a junkie of political cartoons and have been collecting many along the way to Election Day.

Here are a couple I wanted to share. (I will be writing an editorial on the election in a few days when we have a better indication of how the people voted).

Which one is your favorite?!! (I think the one of Obama is my favorite!)


Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, Bahrain, Bloggers, burqa, dictatorship, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Freedom of Speech, halal, Human Rights, Internet, Islam, Lebanon, Libya, Media, Middle East, military, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Obama, Persian Gulf, Politics, Protests, Religion, Salafi, Saudi Arabia, State of Emergency, Succession, Syria, Television, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates | Leave a Comment »

Al Jazeera’s (R)Evolution?

Posted by vmsalama on May 20, 2012

Here’s a study I was pleased to contribute to a new-ish e-zine called Jadaliyya which focuses on Arab affairs.

by Vivian Salama

Jadaliyya (click here for original link)

In March of 2011, an unusually forthright editorial by an anonymous writer made its way into The Peninsula Qatar, an English language daily bankrolled by a member of the emirate’s ruling family. At the time of publication, protesters had already toppled the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt, uprisings were in full swing in Libya and Yemen, and in the Persian Gulf, Bahrainis were gearing up for what would prove to be a bloody battle, only days after the op-ed ran.

“Businesses and institutions are treated as ‘holy cows,’” the author wrote in the editorial, entitled “Why are we so timid?”

“What essentially ails the Qatari media (English and Arabic-language newspapers) is the absence of a comprehensive law that specifies its role in a clear-cut way and seeks to protect it against the people and interests opposed to free expression or those who cannot appreciate criticism,” the op-ed read.

It was at about the same time that this editorial ran that Al-Jazeera Arabic, the renowned television network that essentially put Qatar on the map, started facing a dilemma. The network has found it increasingly difficult to distance itself from the growing political ambitions of its patron, Qatar, particularly as it is kept alive by the one hundred million dollars it receives annually from the Qatari government. Moreover, the wave of information now available to the masses via the Internet and satellite television has exposed the gaps in its reporting of issues that do not fall in line with the government’s agenda, while also highlighting its biases in the various uprisings. (more…)

Posted in Al Jazeera, American, Arab, Arab Media & Society, Arab Spring, Arabic, dictatorship, discrimination, Dubai, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Film, Hosni Mubarak, Internet, Iraq, Islam, Israel, Journalism, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Middle East, military, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Palestinians, Politics, Qatar, Saddam Hussein, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Television, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, United States, Yemen | Leave a Comment »

Greetings from Algeria

Posted by vmsalama on May 19, 2012

I’ve had a fascinating week in Algeria, learning about the culture and political climate. Many saw Algeria as an inevitable candidate for an “Arab Spring,” but on the ground, I found the people to be experiencing major war fatigue and would prefer a diplomatic approach to their issues. I will post some photos in the coming days, but here is one of my articles:

Why Algeria’s Grievances Don’t Spark a Revolution

By Vivian Salama

Time.com (Click here for original link)

Earlier this month, a policeman offering no explanation simply confiscated the cigarettes that Rachak Hamza, 25, had been vending in a desperate effort to make ends meet. Local papers in the easter Algerian port city of Jijel, say Hamza erupted in a “fit of rage,” returning to the scene with a tank of gas which he used to drench his body before lighting a match. But unlike the similar act of outrage by vegetable vendor Mohammed Bouazizi that triggered last year’s revolution in neighboring Tunisia, Hamza’s story was quickly forgotten. Indeed, it was just one of at least 50 acts of self-immolation as protest reported across Algeria since January last year, according to local health authorities. None of them has, thus far, inspired a revolt.

"We want freedom" -- in Ain Taya, Algeria/Photo by Vivian Salama

“We want freedom” — in Ain Taya, Algeria/Photo by Vivian Salama

Closer to the capital, the words “we want freedom” are spray-painted in Arabic alongside mobile homes in the suburb of Ain Taya. Down the road, in French, the words “On Vuet Vivre” — we want to live — decorate another building.

Algeria’s ruling party took nearly half the seats in parliamentary elections last week, a stunning deviation from previous votes that saw significant opposition victories, particularly among Islamist parties. The ruling National Liberation Front said Wednesday the vote confirmed the electorate’s desire “to safeguard national stability,” but opposition groups have cried fraud. If the wave of religious conservatism sweeping this North African country is any indication, Islamists are far more influential in Algeria than its election results reflect.

On the street, beleaguered citizens believe change is beyond reach. Unemployment is too high; youth activism is too low; and memories are still seared by the decade-long bloodbath that followed the military’s overturning of the 1991 election that looked set to bring the Islamists to power. Corruption is rampant, draining the country of much of the wealth generated by its oil exports. “The issue here, very simple, is democracy,” says Makri Abderrazak, a former member of parliament and vice president of the Movement for the Society of Peace, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which swept elections in Tunisia and Egypt. “People want jobs, people want basic rights, people want to benefit from the country’s resources, but this government is not giving them the chance and this fraudulent election means things will only get worse.”  (more…)

Centre Ville Algiers/By Vivian Salama

Centre Ville Algiers/By Vivian Salama

Posted in Africa, Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Bloggers, Economy, Education, Elections, Employment, Europe, France, Internet, Islam, Middle East, Muslim Brotherhood | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

“The Protester”: A Photo Journal of the Egyptian Revolution

Posted by vmsalama on December 15, 2011

Thanks to TIME Magazine for recognizing the revolutionaries all over the world… I’ve been meaning to write this for quite some time but only finding the chance to do it now.

A year ago when Mohammed Bouazizi, a fruit vendor in Tunisia, burned himself out of frustration from a political system that neglected him, I was en route to Beirut ahead of the Christmas holiday and writing, mainly, about the credit crunch in the Arab Gulf states and mounting concerns that the banking system would not soon recover from the blow. Days after I returned from Beirut, my host, Rania Abouzeid, came to stay with me in Dubai in a desperate attempt to fly to Tunisia, where flights were almost entirely grounded amid an uprising across the country. It was hard to imagine then that the desperate act of this young man not only set in motion a revolution in his country, but around across the region.

Jan. 27, 2011: me and Rania Abouzeid heading to Cairo (at 3am -- ughhh!!!)

On January 14, 2011, following a month of violent protests against his rule, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali – Tunisia’s president since 1987 — was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia along with his wife and their three children.  A week later, Rania and I were on a flight to Cairo where calls for a revolution had begun to circulate on social media websites. They were days I will never forget, and with TIME Magazine’s 2011 Person of the Year issue being dedicated this year to The Protester, I want to share with you all a few memories and photos of the protesters I met in Cairo this year. (Click here to read some of my stories on the Arab Spring)

On January 27, two days after the protests officially begun, Internet and mobile phone service was completely cut off in Egypt and we were left guessing where crowds were gathering. After trying a few spots around town, Rania and I decided to go toward the Mohendiseen neighborhood near the Moustafa Mahmoud mosque. It was a good guess! About 500 protesters had gathered after Friday prayers where they came face to face with riot police chanting slogans like “The people want the end of the regime” and “Hosni Mubarak: illegitimate.”

We began to march, with the intention of going toward Tahrir Square. (Rania and I were quickly separated in the crowd and were each forced to continue reporting on our own). Weaving through side streets and alleys in the Cairo neighborhood, people watched us from balconies, throwing bottles of water, garlic and onions, and bottles of vinegar – all simply remedies for tear gas inhalation, because everyone knew what lie ahead.  The longer we marched, the more the crowd swelled, with protesters called on those people in their homes not to be afraid.
Photo by Vivian Salama

Cairo, January 27, 2011/Photo by Vivian Salama

photo by Vivian Salama

Cairo, January 27, 2011/Photo by Vivian Salama

Photo by Vivian Salama
Jan 27: Protesters Near Moustafa Mahmoud Mosque/Photo by Vivian SalamaS

Sure enough, we were quickly confronted by tanks and soldiers firing tear gas at the crowd. I’ve never seen so much camaraderie in my life. Soldiers at a nearby military hospital threw medical masks at the protesters and pharmacists handed them out to the crowds. At one point I felt quite ill from the tear gas. A man approached from behind me and pressed a vinegar-covered mask against my mouth and nose. A nearby vendor (who probably struggles to feed his own family with the pennies he earns) emptied his refrigerator, handing out water bottles and cans of soda to the fatigued protesters.

Every where I looked, people were helping each other, helping strangers tie their masks, sharing water bottles, aiding those who were most affected by the gas.

There was one point, marching with the crowd from Mohendiseen, when we approached a major intersection and I heard roaring cheers. I jumped up on a car to see what had happened and was personally overcome by emotion. From three different directions, massive groups of protesters were approaching the intersection – the other groups coming from as far as Giza and the Nasr City. They did this without Internet or mobile phones.

Photo by Vivian Salama

Cairo, January 27, 2011/Photo by Vivian Salama

Groups of young men pushed to the front of the crowd and began to battle riot police, taking over their vehicles and chasing them away. Our group, now numbered in the hundreds of thousands, pushed slowly across the historic Qasr El Nil bridge in an attempt to move into Tahrir. There were moments when I worried that an attack by the military would trigger a stampede – we were stuffed tightly onto the bridge. But every time protesters began to push back, the young men in the crowd would grab the women in the crowd and push them against the bridge railing so to protect them from being knocked down.

photo by Vivian Salama

Some were more prepared than others!! Cairo Jan. 27, 2011/Photo by Vivian Salama

It was a long night with protesters burning the ruling National Democratic Party headquarters and battling with soldiers in Tahrir. Riot police trucks were set on fire (and the Semiramis Hotel, where many journalists took refuge) was partially on fire for part of the evening. I was trapped in Tahrir for the night and forced to take a last minute room at the Semiramis. I woke up early the next morning to a different Cairo, where charred military tanks stood in the middle of Tahrir Square and smoke billowed from the NDP headquarters and, sadly, from the adjacent National Museum. It would take another two weeks (only!) to overthrow Hosni Mubarak but that first Friday was by far the most memorable. There is an Arabic expression that often refers to the Egyptian people as being “light blooded” (light hearted/good senses of humor). They definitely showed their spirit throughout the frustrating 19 days (and 30 years) it took to shake up their political system.

Photo by Vivian Salama

Tahrir Square, January 28, 2011/Photo by Vivian Salama

Photo by Vivian Salama

Tahrir Square, January 28, 2011/Photo by Vivian Salama

me in Tahrir (late January 2011)

I visited Bahrain in the weeks that followed and I spent a lot of time covering the uprisings in Yemen and, less so, the ongoing crisis in Syria. After years of battling misguided stereotypes of terrorism and violence, these protesters have showed the world that they desire freedom and a decent standard of living and they have the right to demand it just as those in Europe and the US demand of their governments.

The Tunisians, Egyptians and all the other citizens around the world fighting for democracy have a very long and bumpy road ahead.  The TIME Magazine Person of the Year issue questions whether there is a global tipping point for frustration. I believe what happened this year is, in large part, because of overpopulation and because of the global economic slowdown touched societies rich and poor – but toppled those that were already on the brink before markets crash. The world is smaller than ever thanks to the Internet and various technologies that allow us to share experiences with people on opposite corners of the world. As we continue to get closer, and the world, smaller, it will become impossible to distance ourselves from even the most seemingly remote events.

Photo by Vivian Salama

Cairo, January 27, 2011/Photo by Vivian Salama

Posted in American, Arab, Arab League, Arab Spring, Arabic, Bloggers, Cairo University, Censorship, Coptic, Culture, dictatorship, discrimination, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Environment, Foreign Policy, Hosni Mubarak, Internet, Journalism, Libya, Media, Middle East, military, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Negotiation, Obama, Politics, Qaddafi, Qatar, Recession, Refugees, Religion, State of Emergency, Succession, Syria, Terrorism, Tunisia, United Nations, United States, Yemen | Leave a Comment »

Facebook and the NYPD

Posted by vmsalama on December 6, 2011

There’s an interesting story in the New York Times today about officers with the New York Police Department making malicious comments on Facebook about parade goers at the recent West Indian American Day Parade in Brooklyn. The officers in question referred to people as “animals” and “savages.” One comment said, “Drop a bomb and wipe them all out,” according to the report by William Glaberson.

I’m a bit torn on how i feel about this. While I’m certainly an advocate of free speech (and not naive to prejudices in the world and, certainly, among police forces across the country), I do feel that certain professions must do more to punish their own for expressing certain opinions on the web when it goes against their practice. The NYPD apparently has restrictions on officers who post “disrespectful remarks” on the internet — but how can they “police” all the remarks of the 34,500 officers in the NYPD?

In Journalism, for example, I am a big fan of restricted social media because while journalists are entitled to their opinions, certain opinions run the risk of jeopardizing objectivity. If that journalist is linked to a news organization, it threatens the objectivity of the entire newspaper/network, or whatever.For police officers, I suppose it goes back to any amendment that judges a man based on color or creed. The fourteenth amendment, for example, states that: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

But by not posting their opinions on Facebook or any other social media platform change the fact that these men have an obvious bias? Would their treatment of anyone from, in this case, the West Indies, be any different or any less apparent had they not posted their remarks? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts!

On a related note, I’d love any recs on good articles or books on policing the internet/internet security — it relates to a project I’m working on. Thanks in advance!

Photo by Kirsten Luce for The New York Times

Photo by Kirsten Luce for The New York Times

Posted in discrimination, Internet, New York, NYPD, racism, Social Media, West Indies Parade | Leave a Comment »

Muslim Brotherhood Measuring Political Possibilities in Post-Mubarak Egypt

Posted by vmsalama on February 2, 2011

By Vivian Salama, Dahlia Kholaif and Caroline Alexander

Bloomberg (Click here for original story)

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood didn’t immediately join the spontaneous street demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak. Now the Islamist group, the country’s largest opposition faction, is positioning itself to help shape the country’s political future.

The Brotherhood waited a few days after the uprising began and then publicly supported the protesters, saying it shared their goals: an end to Mubarak’s 30-year rule, a new constitution, open elections and a new all-party government. Mubarak’s Feb. 1 announcement that he won’t seek another presidential term may allow the Brotherhood, brimming with grassroots skills, to take advantage.

Photo by Vivian Salama

Photo by Vivian Salama

“They are the most organized and most popular, with a hierarchy in Egypt in terms of membership and leadership,” said Omar Ashour, an Egyptian lecturer on Arab politics at the University of Exeter in England. “In the post-Mubarak period, they may have a role,” even though “their involvement right now isn’t major.”

Founded in 1928, the same year Mubarak was born, the Muslim Brotherhood has influenced Islamist movements across the globe, including Hamas in the Palestinian territories, which the U.S., European Union and Israel consider a terrorist organization. As conditions change in the Arab world’s most populous country, the group may have to allay concerns about the role it will play. The Brotherhood is banned from politics in Egypt, and members have had to run for office as independents.

Equal Rights

Essam al-Erian, a senior Brotherhood leader who was arrested several times under Mubarak, says the opposition is united. The Brotherhood is working with “liberals, secularists, communists and every section” to ensure “the transition from a tyrannical corrupt regime to a civil democracy that guarantees equal rights to all,” he said in a telephone interview from Cairo.

“The Muslim Brotherhood is part of Egypt’s people, and we acquiesce in the verdict of the people, whatever it may be,” al-Erian said, adding that the group seeks “a democratic regime with the Islamic Sharia as a reference,” which he said already is enshrined in Egypt’s constitution. Sharia is based principally on laws from the Koran, sayings by the Prophet Mohammed and the opinions of Muslim scholars, and it’s the basis of some areas of Egyptian law though not the penal code.

That stance may conflict with other vested interests. Egypt’s military leadership is committed to the foreign policy pursued by Mubarak, who has helped Israel blockade the Hamas- ruled Gaza Strip and sought to rally Arab support against Islamic extremism.

Democratic Process

While President Barack Obama’s administration has reached out to a range of Egyptian contacts since the uprising began, it isn’t talking to the Brotherhood, State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said Jan. 31 when asked at a press briefing how America would view its involvement in a future government. Any group that wants to play a role must be “committed to nonviolence” and “respect a democratic process,” he said.

U.S. foreign-policy experts and former diplomats are evaluating America’s position as they gauge how the strife in Egypt might spread across the Arab world. Protests continued early this morning in Cairo, as demonstrators who demand Mubarak’s ouster clashed with supporters of the president’s regime, hurling rocks at each other in Tahrir Square.

Anti-government turmoil already has spilled over into neighboring Jordan, where King Abdullahon Feb. 1 sacked his prime minister. Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh said yesterday he’ll step down when his term ends in 2013, and protesters in Algeria have been killed in clashes with security forces.

Photo by Vivian Salama

Photo by Vivian Salama

‘Calamitous’ for Security

The Brotherhood “would be calamitous for U.S. security,” Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council of Foreign Relations in New York and a former U.S. assistant secretary of state, wrote Jan. 29 on the Daily Beast website. The group opposes the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1979 and “would endanger counterterrorism efforts in the region and worldwide,” he said. “That is a very big deal.”

It “supports Hamas and other terrorist groups, makes friendly noises to Iranian dictators and torturers,” and would be “uncertain landlords of the critical Suez Canal,” he added.

The canal carries about 8 percent of global maritime trade. Crude-oil prices have risen more than 5 percent since the protests began Jan. 25 on concern that the turmoil in Egypt may disrupt supply.

The Brotherhood is “committed to all international agreements and treaties at this phase,” Mohamed al-Beltagy, a senior leader of the group, said in a phone interview. “Later, it should be left to the people to decide.”

Hijack Rebellion

The idea that the Brotherhood could hijack the anti-Mubarak rebellion has been dismissed byMohamed ElBaradei, the former United Nations atomic agency chief and one of the opposition movement’s leaders. Mubarak stoked such fears to perpetuate U.S. support, ElBaradei told ABC News on Jan. 31.

“This is what the regime sold to the U.S. and the West: It’s either us and repression, or al-Qaeda type extremist groups,” ElBaradei said of the Brotherhood, describing the group as religiously conservative and nonviolent. “You have to include them.”

International companies including Amsterdam-based brewer Heineken NV, which bought Egypt’s Al Ahram Beverages Co. for $287 million in 2002, have halted operations in the country or pulled expatriate staff since the protests began. As the turmoil continued yesterday, businesses were trying to forecast the future and the likelihood of a government with Islamist influence.

‘Less Friendly’

Such a government may pursue “economic policies which cater more to social welfare but are less friendly to foreign investment from the West and business in general,” London-based risk consultant Maplecroft said in report this week.

The Brotherhood’s history fuels the concern. While its radical wing was accused of trying to assassinate Gamal Abdel Nasser, a former president, in 1954, the group has been a persistent critic of the Mubarak regime for decades without pursuing violence.

It has survived widespread jailings of its leadership over the years to emerge as the main opposition in parliament after 2005, when it won about one-fifth of parliamentary seats by running candidates as independents. It lost ground last year when the government disqualified a quarter of its candidates from the November elections.

Broader Appeal

The Brotherhood has sought to avoid being identified as a religious movement and to broaden its appeal. Its former Supreme Guide, Mahdi Akef, instructed members in 2005 not to brandish the Koran at anti-government protests, saying that would undermine their politicking. Still the Brotherhood raised objections from other opposition groups, and dissent within its own ranks, when it proposed in 2007 that women and non-Muslims shouldn’t be eligible for the presidency.

It has fostered social and health programs for Egypt’s poor that, in turn, have helped its political prospects. The social- service model has been followed by other Islamist groups in the region with varying success.

“One could quite easily see the Muslim Brotherhood picking up 20 to 25 percent of the vote” in a free election, said Paul Rogers, a specialist in international security at Bradford University inEngland.

While the group is conservative, its brand of Islam isn’t “puritanical,” and “the idea that we are going to get an Islamic revolution in Egypt like in Iran is very unlikely, just nuts,” Rogers said.

Political Impulses

Michele Dunne, who tracks the evolving political situation in Egypt for the Carnegie Endowmentin Washington, said differences between Hamas and the Brotherhood, and their political impulses, have to be explored.

“They founded Hamas. There is a relationship,” she said of the Brotherhood. “The big difference is Hamas has used violence and arms to pursue its goals. And the Brotherhood hasn’t used violence in 40 years.”

Dunne said the U.S. likely will have to reconcile itself with whatever transpires.

“At this point, it’s irrelevant what we think about the Brotherhood. Things are moving very fast in Egypt,” she said. “If the political leadership opens up, the Brotherhood will be there.”



Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Plans to Establish Official Party — by Mariam Fam and Vivian Salama

Mubarak Orders Egyptian Army to Aid Police as Protests Against Rule Widen — by Vivian Salama, Ola Galal and Caroline Alexander


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