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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler

Here's Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler for Monday, December 12.
1) UNESCO and Hebron

Back in 1999, IMRA (Dr. Aaron Lerner) interviewed Deputy Mayor Kamal Dweik of Hebron. (h/t In Context) Here is part of the exchange:
IMRA: What do you expect there to be in the future?
Dweik: It is a mosque, not a synagogue. It will be open to all visitors. It will not be divided. It is a mosque. Not a church. Not a synagogue. It is a mosque. It will be returned to being a mosque and the Jews who want to visit the mosque are welcome.

IMRA: Visit but not pray.
Dweik: Look, Jewish prayer would mean that it is a synagogue. But it will be open for those wishing to visit the holy places.

IMRA: Under Islamic laws a Jews cannot pray in a mosque?
Dweik: For Jews to pray in a mosque would mean that it is changed into a synagogue. And we refuse this thing. But to visit the Tomb of Avraham and the others, as visitors, that's OK.

IMRA: You would expect that if the Mosque of Ibrahim came under Palestinian control that it would be only a mosque.
Dweik: It would only be a mosque. At no time was it a synagogue. At no time in the last thousand years. It is not a synagogue, it is a mosque. But for anyone wanting to visit it as a holy place:welcome.
This past October, the New York Times reported in UNESCO accepts Palestinians as Full Members:
Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian spokesman in the West Bank, urged Washington to provide the funds for Unesco regardless of the law. He called the action on Monday “a vote of confidence from the international community” and said it was “especially important because part of our battle with the Israeli occupation” involves defining history and heritage.
Palestinian officials on the West Bank rejected the notion that they had harmed Unesco and embarrassed Washington by pressing for the vote. “Washington has to look at these laws that should have been changed ages ago,” said Muhammad Shtayyeh, a close aide to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. “The P.L.O. is not a terrorist organization anymore. It exchanged letters of recognition with Israel back in 1993.”
Unesco, perhaps best known for designating world heritage sites, is a major global development agency whose missions include promoting literacy, science, clean water and education, including sex education and promoting equal treatment for girls and young women.
The focus of the article is on the good UNESCO does and the possible loss of funding, which is portrayed as a knee jerk reaction. Shtavyeh's comment is laughable as the PLO was encouraging terror at least until 2003 and even now tries to work with Hamas. But the article doesn't give any hint as to why the Palestinians might be interested in joining UNESCO, other than a way of expressing their national aspirations.

Karl Vick of Time Magazine reports (h/t Honest Reporting):
Now that Palestine has been voted into UNESCO, the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, officials are preparing applications for the organization’s marquee designation: a World Heritage Site. Candidates are abundant. Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity stands atop the cave where believers kneel to kiss the spot, confidently marked by a starburst, said to be where Jesus Christ was born. Jericho, which marked its 10,000th birthday last year, is among the oldest continuously inhabited cities on the planet. And Hebron boasts the final resting place of Abraham, whose covenant with the Almighty led to Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Genesis 23 lays out the details of his grave in Deed Office detail, including the price (30 shekels) paid for the cave and the adjoining field from Ephron the Hittite. There’s not much about the site that’s in doubt, including what Palestinian officials aim to do with the property if they get control of it — stop Jews from praying there.
The stated reason: The massive stone structure built atop the cave by King Herod, a Jew, and held for a time by Christian Crusaders, has since the 14th century been a Muslim house of worship. The Ibrahimi Mosque has minarets, rugs, washrooms for ablutions and anterooms lined with racks for storing shoes.
Karl Vick isn't careful in his reading of the bible - it was 400 not 30 shekels - but it's interesting that he acknowledges that the Palestinian effort to get the Cave of the Patriarch's recognized as a "heritage" site, is to limit Jewish access to the holy place. (His history is incomplete as the massacre of 1929 and subsequent expulsion of the Jews are never mentioned.)

Despite the protestations of Palestinian officials that they see negotiations as the only way to end the occupation, the UNESCO bid was clearly an effort to circumvent negotiations. It's also an effort to deny Jewish history - not merely spite, which Vick mentions - which is a component of Palestinian nationalism.

2) How to downplay Salafism

David Kirkpatrick reports in In Egypt, a Conservative Appeal Transcends Religion:
Ten months after a broad popular uprising overthrew President Hosni Mubarak, the Salafis’ new brand of religious populism has propelled Al Nour and its allies to claim more than a quarter of the vote in the first round of parliamentary elections, surprising even the most seasoned Egyptian analysts and Western diplomats. The Salafis have outpaced the liberals to emerge as the principal rival — or potential partner — of the Muslim Brotherhood, the mainstream Islamist group whose party won 40 percent of the vote and is positioned to lead Parliament.
In the aftermath of the vote, Egyptian liberals, Israelis and some Western officials have raised alarms that the revolution may unfold as a slow-motion version of the 1979 overthrow of the shah of Iran: a popular uprising that ushered in a conservative theocracy. With two rounds of voting to go, Egypt’s military rulers have already sought to use the specter of a Salafi takeover to justify extending their power over the drafting of a new constitution. And at least a few liberals say they might prefer military rule to a hard-line Islamist government. “I would take the side of the military council,” said Badri Farghali, a leftist who last week won a runoff against a Salafi in Port Said, northeast of Cairo.
A closer examination of the Salafi campaigns, however, suggests their appeal may have as much to do with anger at the Egyptian elite as with a specific religious agenda. The Salafis are a loose coalition of sheiks, not an organized party with a coherent platform, and Salafi candidates all campaign to apply Islamic law as the Prophet Muhammad did, but they also differ considerably over what that means. Some seek within a few years to carry out punishments like cutting off the hands of thieves, while others say that step should wait for the day when they have redistributed the nation’s wealth so that no Egyptian lacks food or housing.
There are various journalistic tricks for downplaying the threat of Islamism. One is to quote leaders of groups like the Muslim Brotherhood or Hamas in English and ignore what they say in Arabic. Another is to add adjectives like "mainstream" to describe such groups. What we see here regarding the Salafists is that Kirkpatrick informs us that their appeal is more than just based on religion. The Salafists, we learn, represent the lowest tiers of Egyptian society who otherwise would have no voice.

From what I've seen Kirkpatrick is probably right about the Salafists not being organized. But that doesn't mean that within the context of governing that they won't work together to radicalize Egypt politically.

MEMRI presents a roundup of Salafi views. Most surprising is that (on paper) they seem to be more tolerant of Copts than I would have expected.

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