Don’t exploit the martyr

Don’t exploit the martyr

The racist killing of pharmacist Marwa El-Sherbini and rumours that President Mubarak will dissolve parliament dominated the news for the second week running. Independent and opposition newspapers seized Friday”s mass funeral of Marwa El-Sherbini, the Egyptian pharmacist who was brutally killed in a courtroom in the German city of Dresden two weeks ago, to launch a scathing attack on European countries, taking their policies to task for fomenting hatred and racism against Muslims.

The banner headline of the weekly independent Al-Fagr read, “The martyr of Nazi Germany; German police seized Marwa”s personal copy of the Quran to use as evidence that she is a member of Al-Qaeda and that she is a suspected terrorist; psychiatrist Ahmed Okasha urges Marwa”s parents to tell her son that his mother went to God and that she is now sleeping there”. Al-Fagr published several photos of El-Sherbini while playing with her son Mustafa in a city playground in Dresden where Axel W, the man who killed her, hurled abuse at her, including calling her a terrorist. El-Sherbini, 31, was stabbed 18 times by Axel W who is now under arrest in Dresden for suspected murder. His full name has not been revealed.

El-Sherbini was dubbed “the martyr of the head scarf” in the independent leftist weekly Al-Osbou. Under the headline “What crime has she committed to be killed?” Al-Osbou “s Chief Editor Mustafa Bakri asked, “What if the victim was a German or American? The answer is that Germans or Americans will find a new reason to tarnish the image of Muslims, describing them as terrorists.” Bakri asked why the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar Mohamed Sayed Tantawi was absent from El-Sherbini”s funeral while Pope Shenouda of Alexandria was keen to send an envoy representing Christians of Egypt to the funeral.

Al-Arabi, the mouthpiece of the leftist Nasserist Party, alleged that Jews dominate the German press and that they play a major role in fomenting hatred against Muslim communities in Europe. Adding insult to injury, said Al-Arabi, was the indifference of the Western press. German papers at first ignored the story, while it took papers in other European countries several days to highlight it.

Local state-owned newspapers, however, covered El-Sherbini”s funeral in full. Osama Saraya, editor of Al-Ahram, argued on Sunday that the killing of El-Sherbini should open the file of Muslim minorities living in Europe. Saraya took European politicians to task for the proliferation of violent acts against Muslims in Europe. “No longer are the words of these politicians about tolerance enough to contain the growing racist acts of new Nazi groups in Germany and Europe.” Saraya warned, however, that the incident could be used to describe that “all Germans have anti-Muslim sentiments.” Saraya asked, “Why blame a country for the actions of one individual?”

Joining forces with Saraya, Abdel-Ati Mohamed, editor of the weekly Al-Ahram Al-Arabi, said the incident should not be exploited by some to mobilise Muslims against the West. “This is completely wrong and we should not allow some to use the Dresden incident to drive a new wedge between Islam and the West or create an artificial confrontation between Egypt and Germany,” said Abdel-Ati. He also argued that Egypt enjoys a historic cultural relationship with the West and that the country boasts a moderate form of Islam that has always called for a dialogue with the West.

Ismail Montasser, board chairman of Dar Al-Maarif, argued in the weekly October magazine that El-Sherbini has become a martyr but this should not be an easy or an emotional means to distract Muslims from their domestic woes. “We should all know that the extremist acts of some Muslims are also to blame for the growth of racism and anti-Muslim sentiments in the West,” Montasser said.

Rumours that President Hosni Mubarak will dissolve the People”s Assembly, Egypt”s lower house of parliament, next month continued to reverberate on the front pages. Opposition and independent newspapers refuelled speculation that the dissolution of parliament is a signal that President Mubarak will resign from office. Abdullah El-Sinnawi, chief editor of the Nasserist Al-Arabi, spoke about the scenarios in Egypt on the day after Mubarak”s projected resignation. El-Sinnawi asserted that President Mubarak faces pressure from his son Gamal and a cabal of politicians in the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) to resign and appoint Gamal. El-Sinnawi said the inheritance of power in Egypt has been the focus of many Israeli and Western newspapers in recent weeks. He cited a report by the daily English Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post as alleging that “the recent arrest of senior leaders of the outlawed opposition group the Muslim Brotherhood is a step aimed at obliterating any kind of opposition to the policy of grooming Gamal Mubarak to be the next president of Egypt.” In JP “s words, said El-Sinnawi, “Brotherhood members are periodically arrested and brought before military tribunals as a means of keeping the group within limits acceptable to the Mubarak regime and the succession scenarios.” El-Sinnawi concluded his long article by urging President Mubarak to settle the succession issue so that Egypt remains safe from political chaos that might ensue after him.

Adel Hammouda, editor of Al-Fagr, also notes that the influence of Gamal Mubarak has grown dramatically and that he has become the most likely figure to inherit the presidency from his father just as Bashar Al-Assad did in Syria.

Abdel-Moneim Said, the recently appointed board chairman of Al-Ahram, remarked in a lengthy article on Saturday that rumours about the dissolution of the People”s Assembly not only did not stem from strong foundations but also lacked credibility. “Instead of preparing themselves seriously for the 2011 presidential elections and parliamentary elections in 2010, opposition and independent newspapers are choosing to concoct rumours and baseless stories about succession and elections,” said El-Said.

The visit of President Mubarak to the US next month made the headlines of independent newspapers in the last two days. The independent daily Al-Dostour noted that Mubarak is expected to meet US President Barack Obama on 18 August, emphasising that this will be the first time for Mubarak to visit Washington since 2004. The independent daily Al-Shorouk said Mubarak”s trip to the US had been scheduled for May but was postponed after the sudden death of his grandson Mohamed Alaa.

what a bad joke

It was hard to find one positive item this week. The situation in Iran is still unstable after elections held more than a month ago. Talks between Fatah and Hamas remain unresolved with almost no possibility of a breakthrough. And Muslims and Arabs are seething with anger over anti-Muslim sentiments expressed by the West.

Hossam Al-Ittani asked the question in an opinion piece in Al-Hayat, the pan-Arab daily: “Who wants peace?”

Peace, as well as war, and as well as the notorious state of no war and no peace, are states of affairs that must involve clear benefits for the peoples of the region so that they may choose one of them. But the current situation suggests that the benefits of peace in the region are outside the Middle East so long as the “camp of peace” remains, as we can see, in a state of weakness and frailty.

For Al-Ittani, all routes are blocked. Binyamin Netanyahu is again using his long-winded talk with Arabs, filling his statements with promises that he himself cannot keep.

The majority of Israelis refuse returning the Golan Heights to Syria. The Syrians are announcing the death of the peace process regularly without burying it, and the Lebanese are busy monitoring what they consider are Israeli preparations to resume the offensive against them, whether to end what the Israelis view as an “anomaly” in Southern Lebanon or as part of the conflict with Iran regarding its nuclear programme.

The Israeli-Palestinian track is getting more and more complicated. The Palestinians are divided. Those among them who gave Hamas a large majority in the legislative elections over three years ago support continued armed resistance against the occupation whereas supporters of the Palestinian National Authority have fallen into such despair, after the collapse of the agreement and the increase of Israeli settlement building, that they threaten to return to armed struggle once every few months. This is not to mention how deep- rooted Israeli crimes against civilians have made one so vengeful that it transcends Palestinian political divisions.

This all brings us back to Al-Ittani”s catch phrase “Who wants peace?” The writer reached the conclusion that a consensus between those who hold authority and the populations of their countries — their “masses” — and the possibility of maintaining the status quo with no end in sight, is abundantly clear.

In the meantime, the renowned columnist Jihad Al-Khazen sent a clear warning to both Hamas and Hizbullah, describing them as “resistance and national liberation factions confronting Israeli terror” not to be caught in the trap being laid by “Israeli, Likudist and American fascists”. Al-Khazen”s message was clear enough and not far- fetched. Hizbullah and Hamas are being told not to make any mistakes. Campaigns against both parties are an extension of the campaign against Iran.

In Al-Hayat, Al-Khazen wrote he was concerned by the rising threat of Israeli air strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities. This, he said, will spark a confrontation in the Middle East, one in which the US will be drawn into. And inevitably a spillover will affect Iran”s allies Hizbullah and Hamas. According to Al-Khazen, the argument now is made clear in the international media. Hizbullah is planning foreign operations, along with the addition of Hamas to this scenario. This said, it is only natural that anyone who is attacked will respond to the attacker. But one has to think why Hizbullah is being singled out for something that everyone does. Al-Khazen”s reply: “it is the Likudist channelling their hopes.”

Helmi Moussa, an expert in Israeli affairs in the daily Lebanese Assafir, put speculation into fact by referring to Uzi Arad”s interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Arad ruled out the possibility of reaching a peace agreement on any of the Arab-Israeli tracks as Israel believes there is no real partner on the Arab side to forge a comprehensive deal. Moussa granted importance to Arad”s words since he is a close associate of Netanyahu and is believed to be Israel”s number one strategist.

In his story, Moussa wrote that Arad had pronounced the main objective of Netanyahu”s electoral campaign as being “Iran as Israel”s existential priority”.

Taking it from there, Ezzat Al-Kamhawi, an Al-Quds Al-Arabi opinion writer, called Netanyahu”s bid to halt his country”s settlement policy in return for full Arab normalisation a silly joke that was not even worth laughing at. The joke took the form of a request from Netanyahu and later declared as US assurances that seek Arab acceptance to open its air space to Israeli jets as an attempt to stop building new settlements. It is a joke, as Al-Kamhawi said, whether instigated by the enemy or the mediator and was meant to save Israel”s construction labourers from consecutive heat waves; it has nothing to do with a peaceful settlement. It is yet another time frame given by Netanyahu to appease a US administration.

An earlier rendezvous was in 1998 with Bill Clinton when Netanyahu and former Palestinian president Yasser Arafat went to Wye River to talk peace. Netanyahu was witty enough to know that Clinton could not pressure him and only wanted to make up for his reputation after his scandal with Monica Lewinsky. The Israeli premier was also aware then that Arafat had nothing, after losing a great deal of his popularity in favour of Hamas and Jihad, but to keep alive his endless pursuit of peace. He wanted to play games with the two leaders and when things got stuck and a deal had to be forged he packed to leave, asking Clinton to release Israel”s spy in the US Jonathan Polard. Netanyahu is a professional in mixing cards and raising the ceiling of negotiations to forge an unfair security arrangement with the Palestinians, thus ending the whole scene in his favour. Netanyahu could have agreed to some political concessions with the Palestinians because he knew that agreements with the Israelis could be easily shelved and not implemented.

Yet today, as Al-Kamhawi stated, the situation is much worse. Palestinians are divided, Arab governments are not more united or coherent both domestically and internationally, and Netanyahu himself is governing his country in a coalition government with far-right extremists who dwell on blood and revenge. Kuwait is the only Arab state that announced its rejection of “the joke”.

It is our right, Al-Kamhawi declared, to know what Arab governments are planning to do. “If taking off our clothes is obligatory, the Arab masses have to ask for the price,” Al-Kawhawi concluded in his piece in the pan-Arab Al-Quds Al-Arabi.