New Cairo University Leader Advocates for Progressive Islam

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_EGY130828AA002.jpegCAIRO—The new president of Cairo University wants Egypt’s flagship higher education institution to be at the vanguard of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s agenda.

Mohamed Osman Elkhosht is sympathetic to President El-Sisi’s drive for what he calls a “new religious discourse” envisioning a contemporary Islam that is open to scientific breakthroughs and tolerant of other faiths. 

Read more at Al Fanar Media

Egypt's latest crackdown on gays creates fear in LGBT community

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_EGY130826aa001.jpegCAIRO — Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community are living in fear in Egypt after a spike of arrests aimed at repressing LGBT people.

In the latest of a series of moves to harass gay people, armed officers swept into a popular cafe in downtown Cairo last week and detained at least a dozen gay men at a nearby police station. 

Read more at USA Today

Egypt moves Palestinians toward reconciliation, pressuring Israel on broader peace deal

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_ISR130226AA001.jpegCAIRO — It’s been a decade since the Palestinian terrorist group turned political party Hamas took over the Gaza Strip.

In that time, neither the Hamas nor the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, whose president, Mahmoud Abbas, and secular Fatah ruling party officially lead the Palestinian strongholds in both Gaza and the West Bank, has made strides toward reconciling their bitter differences or meaningful progress toward their shared dream of statehood. But reconciliation talks hosted by Egypt signal a new seriousness between the competing movements on a political truce, one that could have far-reaching consequences for the Palestinians, Israel and the region as a whole.  

Read more at The Washington Times

Unrelenting killing of Coptic Christians intensifies debate over martyrdom

    CAIRO (RNS) – As a little boy in Sunday school, Bassem Al-Janoubie was fascinated by the illustrated stories about the martyrs of Egypt’s Coptic Church.

“Even more than cartoon comic books, the dramatic events and details of the ordeal of each saint held my attention,” remembers the now-40-year-old graphic designer. “They were like superheroes – not accepting attempts to change their beliefs or efforts to get them to deny their Christianity despite torture and even death.” 

Read more at Religion News Service

Hamas and Fatah sign 'last chance' reconciliation deal in Cairo

The secular nationalist Fatah movement and the Islamist group Hamas signed a Palestinian reconciliation deal on Thursday that aims to return a semblance of security and economic opportunity to the Gaza Strip.

The agreement includes arrangements to bring western-trained Palestinian Authority (PA) police to the beleaguered territory, administrative concessions on civil service salaries, and the removal of Hamas forces from the Rafah border crossing into Egypt, according to Egyptian security sources.   

Read more at The National

Activists on trial in Morocco for violating national security after using app

MARRAKECH, Morocco – The trial of seven Moroccan writers and pro-democracy activists has again been postponed, some accused of undermining national security, amid a crackdown on pro-democracy voices.

The seven have been accused for allegedly promoting independent journalism, after teaching citizen journalists how to use Story Maker, a smartphone app that produces and publishes news stories.

Read more at Middle East Eye

Hopeful voters seek change as Sirleaf exits

    MONROVIA, Liberia | After waiting in line all day on Tuesday to cast her vote at the St. Theresa Convent school for girls near this capital city’s seafront, Mary Monji and others sat on plastic lawn chairs in a bar waiting for the election results to start streaming on television.

“We are anxiously waiting for change,” said the 30-year-old mother of three. “We want a good leader who will solve our problems, not a dictator. We are praying so that God listens to us.” In a continent where democracy and political freedoms are frequently under siege, the peaceful transfer of power in this poor but proud nation stands out as a rare reason for hope.

Read more at The Washington Times

Can a Middle Kingdom nobleman named Userhat help save Egypt’s tourism industry?


LUXOR, Egypt — Egypt’s crucial tourism industry has been rocked by political instability and terrorism concerns, but help has arrived from a venerable source.

A series of stunning archaeological discoveries from the days of Egypt’s ancient glory are giving hope to those who depend on foreign visitors to make a living.  

Read more at The Washington Times

Here's why Egypt's Nile River is in danger

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_EGY130607aa001.jpegCAIRO — About 2,500 years ago, the Greek historian Herodotus called Egypt the “Gift of the Nile."

Today, Egyptians say their ancient ancestors would have done anything to protect their indispensable Nile River, and so should they. 

Read more at USA Today

Tunisian women welcome repeal of interfaith marriage ban

 TUNIS, Tunisia (RNS) — A few months ago, Amina El Mahdhi was forced to go abroad to marry the man she loved.

That’s because he is a Christian. And it was illegal in Tunisia for a Muslim woman to marry a man of another faith unless he converted to Islam.

Read more at Religion News Service

Can former Boko Haram terrorists be rehabilitated? This program aims to change their lives

    GOMBE, Nigeria — Aminu Usman sat facing his interrogators and answered questions thrown at him about his life as a Boko Haram terrorist.

“We were told that we were in the service of God,” said Usman, 35, a laborer and father of five. “That if we die, we would go to paradise.”

Read more at USA Today

Referendum on Kurdistan’s Independence Echoes in Education

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_IRQ150315aa001.jpegThe expected resounding “yes” vote in the Kurdish independence referendum on September 25 will throw the fate of non-Kurdish students and the governance of the region’s 30 universities into uncertainty.

“The situation now is unpredictable,” said an arts instructor at a private Kurdish university who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisals from pro-independence groups.   

Read more at Al Fanar

Why Kurds' vote for independence could disrupt U.S. campaign to defeat ISIS

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_IRQ150318aa001.jpegIRBIL, Iraq — From the scrappy town of Zakho on the Turkish border to the gleaming new office towers of this provincial capital, the Kurdistan flag is flown throughout northern Iraq on apartment balconies, storefronts and construction cranes.

Demonstrators wave it at the almost daily rallies to support a yes vote in Monday's controversial referendum on Kurdish independence from Iraq.   

Read more at USA Today

Homeless, helpless refugees use theater to push for a better life in squalid Iraqi camp

    DAQUQ, Iraq — On a bare stage with only two chairs and a table, Samahir Farhan portrayed before 300 people the sense of helplessness that refugees feel. It was easy to play the role and for the audience to empathize: They all are refugees.

“Our problems have become too many — we cannot bear it anymore,” Farhan said during one performance at a refugee camp near Kirkuk in northern Iraq, “We are tired of all this. It's been an entire year in this camp.”  

Read more at USA Today

Trump's "Deal of the Century" doesn't resonate with Arab leaders

PSE171002MA002CAIRO -- At a White House summit in, Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah El Sisi told President Donald Trump he was confident that working together, the two leaders would “find a solution to the problem of the century in the deal of the century.”

President El Sisi had high hopes to co-broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace with the Americans, securing a good relationship with Trump and reaping economic benefits from a new arrangement in the region that would place Egypt at the center of an Eastern Mediterranean energy hub and attract international investment.

Yet despite ongoing high-level consultations between Cairo and Washington, Egyptian zeal to partner with President Trump’s special envoys, son in law Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, a lawyer with 20 years of service in the Trump Organization – and no prior diplomatic experience – has dimmed in recent months and the pessimism is spreading to other Arab capitals.

Meanwhile, the situation in Gaza has been heating up.

On Thursday, at least 18 Palestinians were wounded As Israel’s air force struck a building in central Gaza City after more than 180 projectiles were fired from the Hamas-ruled enclave into the Jewish state, injuring nearly 20.

It was just the latest in an escalation since May when the Gazans organized mass protests on the Israel border which drew Israeli fire and renewed international attention to the Palestinian cause.

“American endorsement of Jewish claims in Jerusalem, a perception that the US wants to make Gaza an Egyptian problem and increasing doubts that Trump can to find a solution to the Palestinian issue have moved opinion here against the current process,” said Mustafa Kamal, a researcher at Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a Cairo think tank with close ties to El Sisi’s administration.

That situation is following a meeting on Tuesday between Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Greenblatt, Trump’s Special Representative for International Negotiations at the Egyptian Embassy in Washington.

Shoukry warned the Americans that Israeli military actions in the Gaza Strip together with political moves including the recently passed Jewish State Law and expanded Israeli construction in East Jerusalem were escalating tensions and threatening Palestinian rights.

The first signs of divergence between Cairo and Washington over Middle East peacemaking came in December 2017 when the Trump administration swept away decades of US policy toward Jerusalem by opening an embassy to Israel in the Western part of the city – with no plan in place to open a similar diplomatic mission to the Palestinians in the Eastern sector of the contested Holy City.

That was detrimental to the peace process, say analysts.

“The continuing American identification with Israel’s positions is harming the confidence of the US’s Arab allies – Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia – and kills any idea that the Trump Team can be a neutral intermediary in the peace process,” said Kamal explaining the impact of American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital even as the Netanyahu government dismissed all Palestinian claims to the city.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas returned the slight by severing contact with Kushner and Greenblatt in December following Trump’s Jerusalem embassy announcement.

Most recently Abbas rebuffed an Egyptian attempt to schedule a meeting when the American envoys toured the region in June.
Observers say Jerusalem is not just a bone of contention between the Palestinians and Israelis.

In Amman, Jordan’s King Abdullah is concerned about provisions in the plan to give the Saudis a symbolic presence as security guards in Jerusalem’s Temple Mount area – home to the Al-Aqsa mosque, the third most important site for Muslims after Mecca and Medina.

Facilities at Al-Aqsa mosque have been traditionally managed by a Jordanian religious trust.

Meanwhile, the key ingredient for any peace is missing, says Mohamed Soliman, an Egyptian political analyst based in Cairo.
“Any peace agreement that doesn’t clearly include Eastern Jerusalem as a capital for the Palestinian state will not be acceptable to the greater Arab and Muslim populations,” he said.

“From college campuses to company boardrooms, the feeling is this deal is simply too risky even for our president who was willing to go a long way to keep a special relationship with Trump,” added Soliman. “The consensus now is that Egypt is taken for granted to solve the region’s problems at the expense of its own sovereignty and national interest, and that Trump’s term will certainly last less long than El Sisi’s.”

American attempts to persuade Egypt into opening its territory in the Sinai to Gaza Palestinians particularly rankle the security establishment in Cairo which fought three wars with Israel over control of the peninsula.

And anxiety over the deal has intensified in Egypt as the American negotiators have focused increasingly on fast-tracking an Egypt-Palestinian free-trade zone with plans for construction of a solar-power grid, desalination plant, and airport to be built on the Egyptian side of the border with Gazans moving to the North Sinai to work and even possibly live.

“I am sure our president will not accept a resettlement plan under any circumstances,” said Saeed Okasha, an Israeli affairs analyst at the Al Ahram Institute in Cairo. “We can allow infrastructure for Gaza to be built in the Sinai but there is no flexibility in terms of ceding our lands to solve someone else’s problem.”

Critics of the Kushner/Greenblatt plan to broker a peace place Egypt at the center of energy development say it’s impossible to address the pressing economic needs in Gaza before tackling the long-standing questions of borders and refugees that come with establishment of a Palestinian state.

The refugee issue came into focus again this week after reports came from Amman documenting Kushner’s attempt to get Jordan to remove this status for more than two million registered Palestinians living in that country.

Washington has called for the abolition of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East – the main international body providing services to the Arab population that left the territory, now Israel, during the 1948 War.

“Trump is stirring the pot and increasing the fire thinking he will get faster results from Palestinians,” said Sherif Fathi Elhelwa, chairman of iQ Power, Inc., a Cairo energy development company specializing in renewables. “But stability requires a more carefully scheduled process and if Palestinian, Jordanian and Egyptian needs are ignored, the entire plan for Eastern Mediterranean energy production and processing including exports to Europe will collapse.”

El-Sisi’s diplomatic deputies have made it clear that they will continue talking about regional peace with the Trump administration. At the end of July, Washington released $195 million in military aid to Egypt, funds withheld earlier due to concerns over the country's human rights record.

“We agree on the importance of consultations and coordination between Egypt and the United States in the upcoming period to de-escalate the situation in the occupied Palestinian Territories and to overcome the current stalemate,” said Foreign Minister Shoukry after Tuesday’s meeting with Greenblatt.
But outside of diplomatic quarters, Egypt’ alienation from with the “deal of the century” is bluntly apparent.

"The Americans need to know that other countries who are really interested in a just solution for the Middle East would work with Egypt to pursue one," said Kamal, the Al Ahram researcher. "We will support the Palestinians in their steps toward statehood either by participating in the implementation of the French initiative (to expedite Palestinian statehood without US mediation) or by going to the UN Security Council."

Photo: Oct 2, 2017-Gaza, Palestine - People gathered to welcome the Palestinian Government and to support the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas in October 2017.
Credit: Mohammed Atallah/ ARA Network Inc.

Story/photo published date: 08/12/18

A version of this story was published in The Washington Times.

Depth of war carnage comes into focus as Syrians start long struggle to rebuild their lives

CAIRO — In a grim irony, as a series of cease-fires in major portions of the country take hold in Syria, local activists around the country say the de-escalation of violence is revealing for the first time the scale of destruction wreaked by the 6-year-old civil war and the massive needs of the survivors to rebuild their homes and their lives.

But amid the carnage are signs that the slow business of rebuilding has begun.

Read more at The Washington Times

The Palestinian Museum Hosts Its First Exhibit

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_IRQ150410aa001.jpegBIRZEIT, West Bank—Sipping lemonade and orange juice, the crowd of local and international luminaries who attended the Palestinian Museum’s first exhibition this weekend hoped they were witnessing a new dawn for art and politics in the troubled region.

The museum’s director, Mahmoud Hawari, views the new institution and its first show, “Jerusalem Lives,” as a crucial step in fulfilling the Palestinian dream of an independent state asserting its rightful claims to Israeli-occupied territory.  

Read more at Al Fanar

Atheists in Muslim world: Silent, resentful and growing in number

BABYLON, Iraq — Lara Ahmed wears a headscarf and behaves like a pious Muslim.
But the 21-year-old Iraqi woman hides a secret from her peers at the University of Babylon: her atheism.

“I was not convinced by the creation story in the Quran,” she said. “Besides, I feel religions are unjust, violate our human rights and devalue women’s identities.”    

Read more at The Washington Times

Pakistan Prime Minister Sharif removed from office for corruption

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_PAK130912aa001.jpegLAHORE, Pakistan — Pakistan's highest court removed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from office Friday over corruption charges in a landmark decision expected to throw the nuclear-armed nation into political turmoil.

Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf said Sharif was "disqualified for life," although the court did not explicitly ban him from running again. It ordered that criminal charges be filed against him and his family.   

Read more at USA Today

In a bid to promote diversity, Egypt plans to restore Alexandria synagogue

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt (RNS) — A $2 million restoration of Egypt’s largest synagogue is the start of a government effort to keep alive the legacy of the Jewish community, whose members have largely left for Israel, France and elsewhere since the middle of the last century.

“We are experiencing a renaissance,” said Samy Ibrahim, vice president of the Cairo Jewish community, which, like the one in Alexandria, counts a population of less than a dozen members. “The government is elevating the profile of the heritage of Egyptian Jews.” 

Read more at Religion News Service

A Mexican-Syrian Friendship Sparks a Refugee Program

Adrian Melendez, a Mexican, first met Jackdar Mohammed, a Syrian, at a freshly constructed refugee camp in northern Iraq in March of 2013. Mohammed, both a refugee and a volunteer at the camp, jokingly offered the Mexican a spicy meal. A year later that encounter had changed both of their lives—and many others’ lives as well.

When Melendez first met Mohammed, he was working for Un Ponte Per, an Italian NGO partnered with the United Nations to support Syrian refugees in Iraq.

Read more at Al Fanar

Syrian rebels fear Bashar Assad benefits from Trump-Putin truce

CAIRO — Diaa Sroor recently watched as Russian troops move to the outskirts of his hometown of Daraa in southwest Syria, supposedly to act as observers under a cease-fire agreement recently struck between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at their much-anticipated Group of 20 meeting in Germany this month.

The Syrian acknowledged in an interview to having mixed feeling about the deal from the start. “The airstrikes have stopped,” said Dr. Sroor, 35, a medical doctor, “but the regime artillery units are still active outside the de-escalation zone.”

Read more at The Washington Times

10 Iraqi Universities Rebuild In Wake of Islamic State


Ten Iraqi universities closed their doors as the Islamic State seized swaths of northwestern Iraq three years ago.

Their campuses became battlefields. Bombs and mortar shells destroyed many of their buildings.

Read more at Al Fanar

Hard-fought victory in sight: Iraq close to retaking Mosul from Islamic State

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_IRQ150315aa001.jpegBAGHDAD — The culmination of the long, harder-than-expected battle to drive Islamic State from Iraq is at hand.

Following weeks of steady but bloody progress, Iraqi government forces announced Thursday that they were close to recapturing the landmark Nuri mosque in Mosul, a hugely symbolic victory retaking the holy site where Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his only known public appearance in 2014 and from which he declared the establishment of a radical Islamic “caliphate.”   

Read more at The Washington Times

First elephants, then rhinos — now donkeys are under threat


Ashley Ness was tracking down smugglers in the South African countryside earlier this year when she came upon an unexpected sight — hundreds of donkey hides hanging on tree branches.

The hides were on a homestead rented out to Chinese immigrants, said Ness, an inspector with Highveld Horse Care, a nonprofit animal rights group. Tractors, shipping containers and other detritus littered the property. Inside one of the containers, Ness and police officers found at least 3,000 donkey skins stacked.

 Read more at PRI
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