Category Archives: Egypt

AND  WHAT ABOUT EGYPT?

BLOG 405 October 8, 2018

WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST ~ Each week Robert L. Wise, PhD, explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

Egypt hasn’t been in the headlines lately, but that doesn’t mean nothing is going on. Let’s take a second look.

I can never forget the morning I first drove into Cairo with the locals alongside my vehicle. Men rode fifty-year old bicycles next to women on burros. Traditional robes that looked like they had never been washed flapped over sandals worn to the core. A few more affluent appearing business men joined the parade next to a hollowed out wooden cart on rubber tire wheels driven by a bearded guy who must have been 90 years old.

Our parade going to work made a good analogy for contemporary Egypt.

The “Arab Spring” (meaning a new awakening) has become the “Arab Winter” (meaning a return to the past). The man leading the country in the midst of chaos is former general Abel Fattah el-Sissi. While it had been hoped Sissi would prove to be moderate, that has fundamentally not happened. The Egyptian Count just sentenced over 700 demonstrators to death for participation in s public brawl a couple of years ago.  Ousted President Mohamed Morsi remains in jail. The Muslim Brotherhood has been completely outlawed though it remains underground and ready to strike again. Sissi has proven to be a strong man who will not tolerate dissent.

How one views this situation depends on what is brought to the table. The West sees little democracy and views el-Sissi as a dictator. Egypt remains under suspicion. President Obama shut-off aid to the country following the arrest of the former president, but that only sent Sissi’s government looking to Russia and China.  

On the other hand, persons living in Egypt know the country’s instability demands an iron fist at the top. If the Muslim Brotherhood gained control again, the country would be under Muslim Sharia law much like Iran is. The country has too much instability to have a free-wheeling democracy. Police and army control is necessary for balance.

Egypt’s economy has not shown much progress and remains on the down side. On the other hand, Egypt and Israel have developed a good and positive working relationship that puts the Palestinians on the outside. Melania Trump’s just been there and got bad press for her outfit that looked like a business man or colonialist. Come on, folks, who cares what people wear these days.

The story is not over in Egypt. There is much that cannot be foreseen, meaning we will have to watch and see.

Leave a comment

Filed under Arabs, Egypt, middle east

ANGER IN THE MIDDLE EAST

BLOG 402 September 17, 2018 

netanyahu-druze

WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST Each week Robert L. Wise, PhD., explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the  surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

Last week we took a look at Israel’s new Nation-State Law that has upset the Arabs and Druze population within Israel. The anger that has boiled over reflects a number of issues now simmering in the region. While this new law was a ‘big deal” to a majority of Israelis, it is seen as exclusive and divisive by both the Arabs and Druze communities within the country.

Israel  has never had a constitution because the religious parties oppose such a document unless it is based on the Torah. The “Basic Laws” document grants universal rights to the citizens and serves much the same purpose. Consequently, this new law pushes the rights of Jews while leaving out these other two groups.

How one feels about the situation depends on one’s presuppositions. Firm supporters of Israel’s right to be a state unto itself will see no problems. On the other hand, people who favor inclusiveness and want no one pushed into a second-class status will not be happy. One side will believe Israel has a right to declare such laws; the other side will cry apartheid.

That’s where the anger starts to get confrontational.

Across the way in Egypt, a Cairo court sentenced 75 people to death for their involvement in the 2013 sit-in protests in Cairo. This included leaders in the now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. Eight-hundred and seventeen people were killed when security forces broke up the demonstration. You can bet anger will abound!

A photojournalist received a five year sentence for taking pictures of the anti-government protests. He plans to appeal. Amnesty International said the court’s decision was disgraceful and noted that not a single police officer had been brought to trial for killing at least 900 people in the Raban and Nahda protests. They saw the trial as a mockery of justice.

Shortly after the 2013 demonstrations, General Abdel el-Sisi ran for president virtually unopposed and won 97% of the vote. The hope had been that he would softening these crackdowns, but that has not been the case. Such has not followed.

Much like the divided opinion in Israel, Egypt has a great deal of anger that continues to simmer over this situation. In the Middle East, anger does not tend to evaporate and just go away. There will be more to come!

Leave a comment

Filed under Egypt, Israel, middle east

PUBLIC TRUST

BLOG 387 March 19, 2014

The issue of “so-called Fake” news has reached an all time high with the prompting of the Trump Administration, leaving an impression with the public that their charges are an attempt to cover the real story (whatever that might be). The issue also has ramifications for the Middle East.

A reported in Politico.com indicated 54% of the American public believe the mass media while only 36% believe President Trump and trust his charges above the media. The low figure represents about the same numbers for those who support Trump come hell or high water. In 2016, Israel Democracy Institute index pointed to an all-time low in Israel for the public press. In 2017, the trend was reversed with a 4% rise in trust for the media.

The fact is that people don’t like to read about what they already disagree with. The result is that the bearer of bad news is blamed for the story.

A significant divide also exists in how American political parties feel about Israel. The Pew Research Center found 79% of Republicans sympathetic with Israel compared to 27% of Democrats. Never has there been a greater divide between Democrats and Republicans in 40-years of polling. Americans favorably inclined for Israel are less like to believe a two-state solution is possible. The Pew organization noted that the younger a person is, the more likely they are to believe in the possibility of reaching an agreement.

The issue of trust and honesty in the press came to a head again a week ago when it was discovered that Egypt had ties with North Korea.  The media discovery turned up the fact that missiles made in Pyongyang were being sold in Cairo. The  realization that the Egyptians had a connection with an American enemy angered the State Department.

On an island in the Suez Cannel is a statue presented by North Korea of a towering AK-47 rifle with the muzzle and bayonet pointed toward the sky, symbolizing and enduring alliance. The monument remains as a commemoration of the 1973 war against Israel when a North Korean fought and was killed, flying for Egypt.

The world now knows that Egypt buys armaments from North Korean and has allowed North Korean diplomats to use the Cairo embassy for military sales across the region. Washington is currently down on President Abel Fattah el-Sisis’s case over this situation.

Egypt’s cozy relationship with the US has been severely jarred over these economic transactions with an aggressive country under American sanctions. Tensions are probably ahead because the United Nations will eventually report on the cargo inside a rusty North Korean freighter intercepted off the coast of Egypt in 2016. Apparently, the ship was carrying armaments with 30,000 rocket-propelled grenades worth around $26 million dollars. Egypt has denied being the intended recipient.

So far, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Public trust has been jarred.

Leave a comment

Filed under America, Egypt, middle east

A NEW YEAR!

BLOG 377 January 8, 2018

Wow! We’re in a New Year. Now, that eight days have passed, you’ve probably already forgotten about those resolutions. Whatever – we have a new year of possibilities and problems before us. What shall we say?

The curtain came down on 2017 with riots in the streets of Iran, the longest since 2009. The younger generation and merchants struggling to survive had enough of the regime spending millions on spreading terrorism and building bombs. The latest report indicates ten deaths, and hundreds arrested. Where will this revolt go in 2018? Probably nowhere because several years ago the Revolutionary Guard wiped out the last group of protestors and probably would do so again.

But problems with Iran won’t go away.

The Arab Spring has fairly well turned into winter. In Egypt the economy is no better than it was before all the rioting. Egypt’s currency is now worth less than half what of what it was in 2011. Tourists are staying away. The killings of 395 worshippers in a mosque didn’t help the country.

The Egyptian Christians possibly had an even rougher time.  Hundreds of Muslims attacked a Coptic Christian diocese south of Cairo. The church’s contents were destroyed and members assaulted before security arrived. The Coptic of Egypt may possibly be the oldest institutional expression of Christianity. However, Christians constitute only 10% of the Muslim population. On December 30, a gunman on a motorcycle opened fire on a Coptic Church in a Cairo suburb. Eight Coptic Christians were killed before the lone assassin was felled. President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi tried to prevent yearly attacks, but failed.

Of course, the world is aware of President Trump’s arbitrary decision to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem. The world responded that he further damaged peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Trying to get the United Nations behind the move, America received a rebuke from friends and foes. After the embarrassment, Ambassador Nikki Haley threatened the world that the US was “taking names” and would retaliate financially against everyone in sight. All of which made America look like a bully and further denigrated diplomacy.

Trump’s actions have only isolated Israel further and diminished American’s influence to negotiate for peace. Isolationists could care less while folks struggling for a better world can only mourn.  

With a total unpredictable White House, who can predict what will happen in 2018. Putin will run for office in an already rigged election – but doesn’t take a prophet to predict that result. The rest is up for grabs.

When I was with Pope Francis last June, we discussed the critical situation in the world. The Pope suggested that everyone should pray for peace. I can’t think of a better word for what’s ahead.

Leave a comment

Filed under America, Egypt, middle east

EXPLOSIONS IN EGYPT

BLOG 374 December 4, 2017

The first time I went to Egypt, I was almost overwhelmed by how ancient the entire land is as well as Cairo proved to be. Towns like Bir al-Abd in northern Sinai are equally ancient in appearance as well as fact. Therefore, turning on the television for the morning news and discovering that at least 305 Muslims were killed while praying in a local Bir al-Abd mosque left me speechless. How could this happen?

The West remains stunned by the fact that ISIS terrorists kill Sufi Muslims. The differences between Sufis and Sunnis amounts to contrary opinions about visiting the graves of holy figures, praying to Muslim saints, and worshiping at their tombs. The Sunnis consider this heresy – and therefore a call to arms!

What these distinctions amount to might be compared to the differences between Methodist and Baptists over baptism. One group immerses; the other sprinkles. Therefore, the Baptist round up their members with shot guns and go marching on the Methodist worshiping on Sunday morning. Shooting up the church amounts to purifying the believers. Really?

Sound crazy? Certainly, but the people of Bir Al-Abd are paying for having a divergent viewpoint.

The story within the story is that the villagers were warned to stop collaborating with Egyptian Security forces and suspend their worship. A week before the attack they were warned not to commemorate the birth of the Prophet Mohammad with their rituals. Three weeks earlier, the villagers had detained three suspected militants and handed them over to the security forces. These two issues brought the wrath of ISIS down on the worshippers.

Egypt’s shortcomings in providing security and fighting ISIS were exposed by the militants attack. As a result the government is now under fire for not being more effective. Of course, the war with militants in the Sinai is not a new story. I have commented on this problem in earlier blogs.

The Bir Al-Abd attack may reveal a shift in ISIS targets. In Egypt they seem to be hitting soft areas like the Coptic Christians as well as the Sufis. Their point would be to further undermine President Sisi and the central government.

Coptic Christians remain one of the oldest, if not the oldest, churches in the world even pre-dating Rome. Traditionally, the start of Christendom was 42 CE when St. Mark started the first church in Alexandria. ISIS has already attacked the Coptic Christians.

A sad story indeed to start December! Unfortunately, there will be more to come.

WANT MORE ON EGYPT?

GET ROBERT L. WISE’S BOOK

BIBLE LANDS: AN ILLUSTRATED GUIDE

TO SCRIPTURAL PLACES.

Barbour Books

Leave a comment

Filed under America, Egypt, middle east

MORE ON PERSECUTED CHRISTIANS IN EGYPT

Blog 347 April 24, 2017

           A number of readers wanted to know more about last week’s report on the deaths of Coptic Christians in Egypt. Many Westerners have not been acquainted with the ancient Coptic Church than began in 64 CE when St. Mark came to Alexandria and befriended a shoemaker who in time became their first bishop. Where the first church began now stands a great Cathedral with giant chandeliers. Supposedly, the head of Mark is in a vault in the Cathedral.

            As reported last week, ISIS attacked the Christians because they are Christians and particularly vulnerable in Egypt with only 10% of the population in a Muslim oriented country where Muslims have a long history of persecuting Christians.

Muslim President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi visited Pope Tawadros (the name of the head of the Coptic Church) in Cairo on the Thursday after the attack and vowed to apprehend the parties responsible for the killings. A state of emergency was imposed. However, a local Christian resident responded with the accusation that the state of emergency was called not to protect Copts, but to prevent a revolt by them.

For Coptic Christians, this remains an ancient story. Roman Emperors such as Diocletian began persecuting them even in the first century. The remains of many of these martyrs were buried at the Monastery of St. Mina, an hour’s drive from Alexandria. The seven Christians killed in the Sunday massacre were also buried there as a symbol of high honor and sign of respect. Bishop Kyrillos Ava Mina, who leads the monastery, said the seven are now eternally one with the heroic deaths of Christians through the centuries.

Will this killing stop? Coptics say no. ISIS has only become a new part of the destructive equation. The issues with the Egyptian government and police are both ineptitude and indifference. Christian experience from across the entire country ranges from apathetic shrugs to outright discrimination. Few Christians ever serve in the top ranks of the military and academia. Egyptian expert at New York’s Century Foundation, Michael Wahid Hanna notes that the highest-ranking people in the country will never be Christians.

You are probably asking yourself, “How can this be?” May I recommend a movie that I am telling everyone to see. The Promise is a current well-done movie that is emotionally powerful. The story starts at the beginning of World War I. The basic plot is about what the Muslim Turks did to the Christian Armenians. Once you’ve followed the story line, you will have a deeper insight into what today’s Coptic Christians face in Egypt.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bible Lands, Christians, Egypt, middle east

CHRISTIANS CAUGHT IN THE CROSSFIRE

Blog 346 April 18, 2017

            Before we start, I need to inform you of a change. Cancel the internet radio show! I had too much trouble in getting an acceptable quality of sound – among other things. So, I am shutting down that operation. Moreover, this summer I am beginning a new website that will fascinate you to no end. The time required for these efforts makes the radio broadcast marginal. Stay tuned for future information on the new website.

Since this is Easter weekend, I am taking a break from the ominous events boiling in North Korea and Syria for a closer look at the Christian experience. Sorry to say that being a Christian in the Middle East is dangerous business. If you follow the regular media, you read of the attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt. Making up only 10% of the population, (about 9 million) they are highly vulnerable to attacks by the Muslim majority. I have known some of these Coptis and found them to be fine, sensitive Christians. I have a deep concern for the price they pay for their faith.

Coptis date their origins to St. Mark working in Alexandria during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius around the year 42 CE. (only 9 years after the Resurrection). They are arguably the oldest Christian community in the world.

ISIS has called Middle Eastern Christians their “favorite prey.” In December, twenty Egyptian Copts (mostly women and children) were massacred in their church by ISIS. Many more were wounded. Such horrendous incidents are not only an ongoing struggle of Christians for their faith, but they also offer a measure of insight into how Arab governments respond to persecution and hate crimes – particularly against Christians and similar minorities.

Recently, ISIS produced a “hit list” of Christians it intends to murder. So far seven have been murdered with one beheading. One person was burned alive. A father and son were dumped on the side of the road after the father was shot and the boy burned alive. These acts reflect a Muslim symbol, saying that the victims do not even deserve human burial, but should be left to be eaten by animals. ISIS sees all Christians in this light.

And how is Egyptian President al-Sisi responding? Hardly a blip in the media. Since the Copts aren’t considered by him to be in the mainstream, they get little attention. Because the Copts have no presence in the West, there is no one to take up their cry for protection. Copts are Orthodox Christians and not connected to Roman Catholic and Protestants groups. Strangely enough, the only people who seriously take up their cause are Jews in Israel. Israelis know that if such atrocities go unnoticed, they could well be next. Israelis know that only moderate regimes can keep the region stable. Protecting Christians is protecting Israel and the region.

A necessary if unhappy message for this year’s Easter.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christians, Egypt, middle east

ISRAEL AND HAMAS

Blog 343 March 27, 2017

I am often asked if I foresee a military conflict on the horizon for Israel with the militants. Answering that question correctly is like guessing what outlandish “tweet” we will get next from President Trump. Unpredictability seems to be the new order of the day. However, we can discover a few certainties that are probabilities.

Hamas has just appointed Yahya Sinwar as Gaza’s new leader. He succeeds Khaled Mashaal who has his eyes on taking over the PLO and replacing Mahmoud Abbas as the Palestinian president. With no specific title, Sinwar will become the de facto head of Gaza. As you may know, the city of Gaza is still little more than a heap of rubble. As for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the election of Sinwar is another nail in the coffin. When Trump and Netanyahu met in February, Trump’s statements only added to the Middle-East chaos.

The Jerusalem Report, March 6, 2017, states that Sinwar knows the Islamist Palestinian movement is under full siege by Israel and Egyptian blockades will continue. As the same time, the rift between the PLO and Hamas is predicted to widen. He will have to work within that framework. Before any military action can occur, Sinwar must collaborate with colleagues in a collective and elaborate process. At this point, columnist Yossi Melman does not believe that Hamas wants a military engagement anywhere in the near future.

And who is Yahya Sinwar?

The former director of both the political arm and the military wing of Hamas, he could be compared to a general. For his murderous terrorist’s acts, Israel sentenced him to four life terms. During his time in prison, he rose to prominence among the Palestinian inmates. From his cell, he communicated with Hamas leaders the idea of using prisoners as “bargaining chips” in prisoner swaps with captured Israeli citizens and soldiers. After 22 years in prison, he was released in the controversial exchange for Gilad Schalit.

Once released, Sinwar told a gathering of 200,000 Gazans that he stood for uncompromising military confrontation with Israel. It now appears he will press for better relations with Iran in hopes of collecting more money and arms. Even in Hamas terms, Sinwar is considered an extremist. Of course, he rejects all attempts at compromise with Israel and the PLO. His election reflects the ascendency of the military wing of Hamas.

Shaul Mishal, an expert in Palestinian politics, believes Sinwar will be a new test for Israel’s political and military leaders. They know he remains more than ready to resort to violence.

Stay tuned. More to come.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bible Lands, Egypt, Gaza, Israel, middle east

AND WHAT ABOUT EGYPT?

egypt

 

Blog 322 October 16, 2016

With the crazy, bizarre twists and turns of the current political campaign for the Presidency, other stories have been pushed out of the headlines. The American electorate wakes up every morning to a new revelation or accusation that leaves them dumbfounded. Ah! But you have more profound concerns that keep your interest percolating around the larger situation occurring across the world – and the Middle East in particular.

Congratulations!

While they have hardly even been on the back page, the Egyptians continue to dig out from under the revolt that threw out the Moslem Brotherhood and put Morsi in jail. A number of significant events have occurred that you should know about.

While not an alliance, the relationship between Egypt and Israel continues to improve and becomes increasingly significant. There now exists an unprecedented level of mutual understanding and cooperation between the two countries. Israel has agreed to allow Egypt to exceed their treaty agreement by bringing in larger number of troops and heavy weapons into the Sinai. The eruption of radical Muslim attacks from the Sinai has been a concern for both countries and increased military presence is an asset for both sides.

Both countries agree on the problem of Hamas as well as the unwelcome efforts of Turkey to assume a large role in the region. Israel and Egypt see Iran as attempting to assert more power at a high cost to the whole area. Both countries have now exchanged ambassadors. Egypt’s new position represents somewhat of a crack in any Arab alliance.  However tension continues to exist between the Muslim majority and the Coptic Christian minority in Egypt. Muslim clerics continue to harass the Coptics and attacks on churches is common. However, an important step was taken in August that would facilitate the acquisition of building permits for churches. Egypt’s new constitution states a guarantee of freedom of religious rituals for Christians. This is an important step forward for the Christian community.

The three Christian denominations in Egypt – Coptics, Anglicans, and Roman Catholics—recognize problems in the new Constitution, but continue to hope for improvements in the near future. Probably few will be achieved even with the backing of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

In 2011, there were an estimated 2,860 churches compared with 108,000 mosques. The numbers tell the tale. Egypt remains a Muslim country. Change is cumbersome because of a corrupt Egyptian bureaucracy. Eighty percent of the Muslims believe Sharia law must be the basis for an Egyptian constitution. Nevertheless, it is hoped that something approaching civil society may be emerging in Egypt.

Certainly, Egypt is changing and from a democratic point-of-view the country is on an uphill climb. The extreme fears created by the Muslim Brotherhood appear to have disappeared and a more equable society seems to be emerging.

Such change is good for Israel, the Middle East, and certainly the Egyptian people.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Egypt, Israel, middle east

TOUGH TIMES IN EGYPT

BLOG 299 April 18, 2016

The pot continues to boil. The Middle East remains the hot spot and important for us to understand. Peace talks to end the Syrian war remain shaky. Sporadic fighting between rival groups, the Kurds, and the government threaten the entire process. Russia has sought to reassure Israel over the meaning of its withdrawal of airplanes and troops from Syria – but Israel is still scratching its head, trying to figure out what’s really going on.

Meanwhile, politicians screaming at each other grab the American headlines. More for entertainment than insight, Americans watch everyday as a new truckload of crazy is unloaded. Unfortunately, their attention is diverted from the Middle East where updated insight is far more important. Take Egypt for instance. How long has it been since you read anything about the Sisi government and struggles in Egypt?

Here’s a quick catch up.

ISIS forces and their affiliates operating in Sinai along with Hamas dominance in Gaza have created an important positive relationship between Israel and Egypt. The government of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi recognized the danger that the Muslim Brotherhood brought against the established state and overthrew Morsi government to stop the armed chaos. Of course, the Israeli government was highly encouraged by these actions and supported General el-Sisi’s shift to a civilian politician and becoming the president of Egypt.

The honeymoon has not stopped.

However, the larger Egyptian public continues to view Israel as their enemy and see the Israelis as a hostile force. Sisi is caught in the pinchers between what is militarily positive and negative public opinion. He knows Hamas continues to aid jihadist groups in Sinai that attack Egyptian soldiers and personnel. Egypt stood with Israel in rejecting the lifting of restrictions imposed on the Gaza Strip. The world recognizes that the 1.8 million Gaza inhabitants are on the verge of a serious humanitarian crisis, but Egypt and Israel also recognize the danger that underground re-armaments could produce.

Sisi’s problems are not with Israel but at home. Only financial aid from Saudi Arabia and their Gulf State allies kept Egypt from going bankrupt. A $30 billion grant kept Egypt from sinking. Today, growing unemployment and the devaluation of the Egyptian pound is profoundly affecting spiraling prices. Only a draconian law prohibiting demonstrations and curbing free speech has kept rioters off the streets. The backlash has produced a growing anger at Sisi and his government.

The continued warfare in Sinai (even with Israeli help and backing) is taking a toll at home with Egyptians increasingly resentful with the bloody fighting. Growing socioeconomic hardships deepen public frustration and fuel the arguments that Sisi has failed to control their problems. The revolution in Egypt is far from over and the future is covered with depressing clouds. No one is sure of where it’s all going.

Stay tuned.

Leave a comment

Filed under Egypt, Israel, middle east