INTERVIEW-Brotherhood Says Won’t Force Islamic Law on Egypt

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Yasmine Saleh

CAIRO, May 29 (Reuters) – The Muslim Brotherhood wants a diverse parliament after elections in September and is not seeking to impose Islamic law on Egypt, the head of the group’s newly formed political party said in an interview.

The Brotherhood, which has emerged as a powerful force after years of repression under ousted President Hosni Mubarak, has said it does not want a parliamentary majority, although rivals see it as well placed for a dominant position.

With secular politicians struggling to mount a challenge, Western investors are concerned about what a shift to an Islamic-leaning government would mean for Egypt, which relies on receipts from Western and other tourists and where tension between Muslims and the Christian minority have flared.

“We only use Islam as the basis of our party … which means that our general framework is Islamic sharia … We don’t issue religious rules in individual cases,” said Mohamed Mursi, head of the Brotherhood’s newly formed Justice and Freedom Party, which will contest the vote.

Liberal Egyptians in particular worry that the group could use for its own ends the second article of Egypt’s constitution, which makes sharia, Islamic law, a main source of legislation.
Egypt’s military rulers suspended the old constitution and introduced an interim one, but that article was unchanged.

Mursi, speaking in the group’s new five-storey headquarters in Mokattem on the outskirts of Cairo, dismissed such worries.

“We want to engage in a dialogue not a monologue,” he said. “The Brotherhood does not seek to control the parliament … We want a strong parliament … with different political forces.”
But he said Islamic law could have a place in a civil state in Egypt, where about 10 percent of the 80 million population are Christians. “Islamic sharia guarantees the rights of all people, Muslims and non-Muslims,” he said.

Mursi said he would stick by the Brotherhood’s pledge not to field a presidential candidate or support any Brotherhood member running, as one has already said he will do.

“The group said it will not field a candidate for the presidency or support one if decides to do so independently,” he said.

No Economic Platform Yet

The Brotherhood’s new offices are emblazoned with its emblem of crossed swords, a scene unimaginable in the Mubarak era when its members were rounded up in regular sweeps and it worked from two cramped apartments in Cairo.

Mursi, head of the engineering department in Egypt’s Zaqaziq University, led the Brotherhood’s parliament bloc in the 2000-2005 parliamentary session. The Brotherhood used to field its candidates as independents to skirt a ban on its activities.

The Brotherhood, which has spread deep roots in Egypt’s conservative Muslim society partly through a broad social programme, held 20 percent of seats in the 2005-2010 parliament.

It boycotted last year’s vote because of accusations of rigging, which rights groups said had been a feature of all votes under Mubarak.

Mursi said an economic platform had not yet been drawn up as the party, formed in April, was still organising itself.

But some secular politicians and other Egyptians are concerned that women and Christians could be sidelined and that alcohol could be banned, which analysts say is a concern as many tourists to Egypt are non-Muslims wanting a beach holiday and who might be deterred if alcohol is not served.

One in eight Egyptian jobs depend on tourism.

On Christians, he said: “We want everyone to be reassured … that we want to see our Christian brothers elected in parliament … We don’t want one group to control the parliament, neither the Brotherhood nor anyone else.”

Of the party’s 9,000 registered members, he said 100 were Christian and 1,000 were women, adding that the party’s deputy head, Rafik Habib, was a Christian.

When asked if the party could propose a law to prohibit alcohol, Mursi said such changes would be up to parliament to decide, not a single group, such as the Brotherhood.

“The Egyptian constitution is not the constitution of the Brotherhood but … of the Egyptian people,” said Mursi, adding that the constitution “says Egypt’s legislation is based on the principles of sharia, and not its details”.

(Editing by Edmund Blair and Elizabeth Piper)

13-24

Yemen’s Saleh Losing Grip as Fighting Rages

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adam Baron, McClatchy Newspapers

2011-06-01T151733Z_632357451_GM1E7611ST301_RTRMADP_3_YEMEN

An anti-government protester, his face painted with the colours of Yemen’s national flag, shouts slogans during a rally to demand the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa June 1, 2011. Renewed fighting in Yemen’s capital between a powerful tribal group and President Ali Abdullah Saleh forces this week has killed at least 19 people and rocked Sanaa with explosions, officials said on Wednesday.    

REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Sanaa, Yemen – After four months of widespread anti-government demonstrations, numerous defections of high-ranking officials and mounting pressure from powerful tribes, Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh appears to be losing his increasingly fragile grip on the southern Arabian nation.

Fighting raged all day Tuesday in the capital between Saleh’s forces and fighters loyal to Sheikh Sadiq al Ahmar, the leader of one of Yemen’s most powerful tribal federations, signaling the collapse of ceasefire negotiations. With the sound of shelling echoing until well after nightfall, Saleh’s forces bombarded the Hasaba neighborhood around Ahmar’s house, which includes several government ministries, but Ahmar’s fighters maintained their hold on the area.

The United Nations’ top human rights official condemned the government’s “intensified use of force” against protesters in the southern city of Taiz, a center of the anti-government movement 120 miles south of Sanaa. The U.N. said it had received unconfirmed reports that more than 50 people were killed and hundreds injured there since Sunday by pro-government forces using live ammunition.

In Sanaa, news reports said that Saleh’s forces targeted an army division headed by Ali Mohsin, a powerful general who defected from the government in March. The Yemeni Department of Defense denied the reports, however, and several top army defectors appear for now to have stayed out of the fighting.

Top members of the military, once Saleh’s most reliable base of support, have been deserting him since pro-government forces were ordered to fire on protesters in Sanaa in March in one of the bloodiest crackdowns of the so-called Arab Spring protests. Over the weekend, amid reports of mounting army defections, a group of anti-government generals put out a statement calling on members of the military to declare their support for the protests.

Many argue that support for Saleh is waning even in army divisions that remain ostensibly under his command.

“Many of us are waiting for the right time to join the revolution,” a member of the elite Republican Guard, which is led by Saleh’s son Ahmed Ali, said on condition of anonymity because he feared reprisals. “Even if we stay for now, we will leave if ordered to fire on our brothers.”

In power for 32 years, Saleh has managed to weather Yemen’s volatile political climate by keeping close ties with the military and cleverly striking deals with Yemen’s powerful tribes. He’s survived numerous attempted coups, a civil war in 1994 and insurrections from rebels in the country’s north and south — in part by positioning himself as a Western-friendly Arab leader who’s received hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. assistance to combat the influence of al Qaida-linked militants on Yemeni soil.

However, with demonstrations against his rule escalating, the U.S. and other powers have been pushing Saleh to agree to a deal brokered by Arab Gulf states under which he’d cede power within 30 days in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Opposition leaders have signed it, but Saleh has refused.

“Saleh seems to think he can escape this crisis as he has done in the past, but many in the country believe things have fundamentally changed,” said Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen analyst at Princeton University. “That, in essence, is the conflict.”

Clashes between government forces and anti-government tribesmen have continued in numerous areas in the countryside around Sanaa, while fighting between the Yemeni army and what it has called Islamist militants has re-emerged in the long-troubled southern province of Abyan.

In Taiz, independent reports said that the army, Republican Guards and other pro-government forces forcibly destroyed the main protest camp at Horriya Square using water cannons, bulldozers and live ammunition.

“Such reprehensible acts of violence and indiscriminate attacks on unarmed civilians by armed security officers must stop immediately,” said the U.N. human rights chief, Navi Pillay.

Speaking in Geneva, Pillay said that at least 100 people were believed to have been arrested over the weekend in Taiz, while dozens of others were unaccounted for, and that her staff had received many reports of ill treatment, torture and killings at the hands of security forces. She called on Yemeni authorities to investigate the cases.

In a statement Monday, the U.S. Embassy condemned recent attacks on demonstrators, while reiterating previous calls for Saleh to transfer power.

The growing instability has made daily life significantly more difficult in the Arab world’s most impoverished country, where nearly 40 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day.

Access to basic utilities is increasingly unreliable, as even the capital continues to experience widespread blackouts and gas shortages. Business has ground nearly to a halt in urban areas, with many Yemenis fleeing violence for the relative safety of the countryside.

Government figures estimate that the nation has lost up to $4 billion since the demonstrations began, as the value of the Yemeni rial continues to fall against the dollar; the black-market exchange rate is well above the official rate of 215 to 1.

The faltering economy hasn’t significantly affected Saleh’s ability to cling to power yet, but analysts say that the damage will likely have long-reaching effects.

“No matter what happens, economic issues are going to have a large effect on whoever comes next,” Johnsen said. “Yemen’s worsening economic issues will severely hamper any future government as it attempts to recover from over 30 years of misrule.”

13-23

Arabia’s Ancient Past Alive at Madain Saleh

April 27, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

Arabia’s Ancient Past Alive at Mada`in Saleh
By Siraj Wahab, Special to Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)
It may sound strange, but the first time I heard about Madain Saleh was when I was visiting Jordan in the summer of 2000 on a media junket organized by the Jordanian Tourism Board. The JTB guide, Odeh Al-Shobaki—I remember his name because he was a diehard Bollywood fan—while leading us through the beautiful valley where Petra is, said: “This is an extension of your Mada`in Saleh. The structures are similar to what you have in Saudi Arabia. The Nabataean tribes lived and flourished in this area around 500 B.C. Petra was their northern capital, while Madain Saleh was their southern one.”
We, or rather I, was clueless. Still, we nodded our heads. Mada`in Saleh remained in the back of my mind until one fine morning last month when Dr. Ausaf Sayeed, the Indian consul general in Jeddah, and his No. 2, Dr. Suhel Ejaz Khan, wondered if I had been north of Jeddah. If not, would I like to be part of a three-day diplomatic trip to Madain Saleh? “Yes,” was my instant response.
It is not every day that you get to travel with diplomats. Along with being a diplomat, Dr. Sayeed is also a geologist. In fact, he is a geologist first and a diplomat second. It was in geology that he did his doctorate and then joined the Indian Foreign Service. The unique rock formations of Madain Saleh thus hold a special attraction for him. He visited the area years ago when he was stationed at the Indian Embassy in Riyadh.
Day 1
We were a group of five families and we left Jeddah at 5 on a Wednesday evening. As the sun went down, we kept traveling until we reached the SASCO stop, which is midway between Jeddah and Madinah. We prayed maghreb there. It was cold and windy. The children—Shin, Malak, Aiko and Sania —came out of the vehicles but then scurried quickly back inside. We gulped down refreshing cups of tea.
It was here that we asked each other what we might expect at Mada`in Saleh. I had no idea. My friend, Danish Abdul Ghafour, was as clueless as I. Dr. Suhel Khan had only heard about it from the consul general. Saleem Quadri had some idea, thanks to what he had seen on the web. The only person who had been to Mada`in Saleh before was Dr. Sayeed but he and his wife, Farha, sons Faateh, Faaleh and Azhaan and another couple, Mr. and Mrs. Shafiq and their son, Ubair, were already in Madinah. They had started earlier and we planned to join them for dinner in the holy city. About 6:45 p.m., the caravan started for Madinah.
Madinah is the city of peace, the city of radiance and the city of our most beloved Prophet (s). For some reason, your eyes get moist the moment you enter the city’s holy precincts. We were cracking jokes and having fun all the way, but the moment we entered the Prophet’s (s) city we were in a different world. By the time we got to Madinah, ‘isha was over. Unlike the Grand Mosque in Makkah, which is open 24 hours every day, the Prophet’s (s) Mosque in Madinah is closed after ‘isha. We prayed the night prayers in our hotel rooms and had a delicious dinner at an authentic Hyderabadi restaurant called Meraj. During dinner, Dr. Sayeed told us the plans for the next day and what we should expect at Mada`in Saleh.
Day 2
At 5 a.m., we heard the call to prayer. We performed our ablutions and headed to the Prophet’s (s) Mosque. A cool breeze was blowing across the city. Praying in the Prophet’s (s) Mosque so far has been the most moving experience of my life. We prayed fajr and said our salaams to the beloved Prophet (s) and his Companions who rest next to him under the green dome. We then came out of the gate named after the Angel Gabriel, and it was a great sight. The minarets stood out against the light blue sky. Danish and I spent time in the area around the mosque’s majestic courtyard, sipping tea from a nearby “boufiya.”
By 8.30 we were ready to leave for Al-Ula. At this point, we were joined by our guide and his two daughters. Obaidullah Abro is a Pakistani working for a Makkah-based tourist company. He has a passion for Mada`in Saleh and all the Islamic sites and, in addition, he is very well-read. He had all the relevant Qur`anic and literary references about the area. It was he who informed us that Al-Ula is 380 km northwest of Madinah. And, at legal speed limits, it would take us about three hours to reach our destination. What we had not factored in was that long stretches of the road to Al-Ula were single track, and driving can become both hazardous and slow. Abro said plans were under way to build an airport at Al-Ula. Quoting local authorities, he said the airport would promote regional business and tourism and should be operational within three years.
We thought we would drive nonstop to Al-Ula, which is what Abro told us, but he and Dr. Sayeed had charted a different course. Our vehicles suddenly veered off the main road and we got into an area of ancient, crumbling mud houses. They were baking in the scorching sun. As we rolled along, in the distance we saw an imposing fort perched high on a cliff. As we got closer, cameras clicked away. This was Khaybar. It was here that a very important battle between non-Muslims and the Companions of the Prophet (s) was fought. The fort was almost impregnable and had given the holy warriors a tough time. After many failed assaults by different Companions, Prophet (s) finally asked Sayyidina Ali (ra) to lead the final battle and he was victorious. The spring where he performed his ablutions is still flowing. The shade of the palm trees was indescribable. The peace and tranquillity there has to be experienced to be believed.
Our caravan then rolled on, and soon we were in Al-Ula. It was an amazing landscape. The mountains had a red hue while Al-Ula was green. There were plenty of date farms, and the tall trees swayed in the wind. We soon arrived at the beautiful Mada`in Saleh Hotel (www.mshotel.com.sa), which sits in front of a huge mountain. The hotel is relatively new. Asghar Baig Younes, the hotel manager, was waiting for us. We were welcomed with cool drinks and then we had lunch. We were tired but excited.
That evening, we explored Al-Ula. Abro took us to the place where the Prophet (s) stayed after returning from the Battle of Tabuk. It is said that the Prophet (s) prayed at one of the mosques in Al-Ula, which is unfortunately now closed.
As the sun was about to set on the town of Al-Ula, we saw haunting silhouettes of the mountains. One particular peak looked as if it were a woman begging for mercy. From the other side, it gave a completely different impression, but an eerie one nonetheless. “Caravans never stopped here in ancient times,” Abro explained. “They scheduled their trips so that they would cross the valley before sunset.” When we returned to the hotel, we prepared for the next morning’s trip to Mada`in Saleh.
The word mada`in comes from the Arabic word madina. Madina means city, and mada`in is its plural. Many expatriates from the Subcontinent confuse the Arabic word mada`in with the Urdu maidaan, meaning a plain stretch of land. We were visiting “Mada`in Saleh,” (the cities of Prophet Saleh (as)).
Day 3
We got up early on Friday, and by 8:30, we were on our way to Mada`in Saleh, 22 km north of Al-Ula. The area was once the location of a significant city located on a major trade route from Yemen to Damascus. During the early Islamic period it became an important pilgrimage station for Syrians and Egyptians traveling to the holy cities of Madinah and Makkah. We saw tombs with massive facades decorated with eagles; there were dozens of tombs carved inside the rock. Someone has rightly mentioned that the first thing that strikes you is the Nabataeans’ skill at carving mountains into burial chambers. The symmetry of their work testifies to their knowledge of geometry. Outside each tomb there is an inscription.
Before arriving at Mada`in Saleh, we saw billboards telling people to discover Islam rather than discovering Mada`in Saleh. We were curious to know what was wrong in visiting an ancient Nabataean city. According to scholars, Prophet Saleh (as) was the son of Thamud. He came from the tribe of ‘Ad. Saleh’s tribe moved from Yemen and had moved to a place called “Hager.” This is what is known as Mada`in Saleh today.
Like the tribe of ‘Ad, the Nabataeans built their homes on mountaintops. They learned the art of building from the tribe of ‘Ad and they were also blessed by God as the tribe of ‘Ad before them had been blessed. They had power, riches and gardens rich in plants. However, they too, like the tribe of ‘Ad, worshipped idols. God sent them Prophet Saleh (as), who was one of them—from a good family and wise—people often came to him for advice. They admired and liked him, and had hopes that one day he would become one of their leaders. They were disappointed, however, when he began preaching to them about one God. They were so disappointed with him and angered by his teachings that they began to turn from him. They told him that they would believe in him if he performed a miracle—but not just any miracle. They pointed to a huge rock and told Prophet Saleh that they wanted to see the rock split in two and that they wanted a she-camel to come out of it. They wanted the she-camel to be 10 months pregnant, tall and beautiful. God allowed Prophet Saleh (as) the miracle and as the rock broke into two pieces a magnificent she-camel appeared from within. Some of Prophet Saleh’s people believed and became his followers, but most continued in disbelief.
There are a number of accounts of this camel and her miraculous nature. Some mention that she used to drink all the water in the wells in one day, and that no other animals could approach the wells. Others claim that the camel produced milk sufficient for all the people to drink, on the same day that she drank all the water and left none for them.
For a while, Prophet Saleh’s (as) people let the camel graze and drink freely but in their hearts they hated her. The unbelievers now began complaining that this huge camel with its unusual qualities drank most of the water and frightened their cattle. They hatched a plot to kill the camel. They watched her closely, observing all her movements. As she came to drink at the well, one of them shot her in the leg with an arrow. She tried to escape but was slowed by the arrow. Another followed the camel and struck her with a sword in the other leg. As she fell to the ground, he stabbed her with his sword. The killers were given a hero’s welcome, cheered with songs and poetry composed in their honor. They mocked Prophet Saleh (as), but he issued a warning. “Enjoy life for three more days, then the punishment will descend upon you.”
Prophet Saleh hoped that they would see the folly of their ways and change their attitude before the three days had passed. Instead, they plotted to kill him. Nine men were sent to kill him, but God protected him by sending large birds from the sky, killing all the nine assassins.
After three days, thunderbolts filled the air, followed by a rumbling noise and severe earthquakes that destroyed the entire tribe. The land was violently shaken, destroying all living creatures in it. Neither their strong buildings nor their rock-hewn houses could protect them. All were demolished before they realized what was happening. As for the people who believed in the message of Prophet Saleh (as), they were saved because they had left the place.
It is said that while Prophet Muhammad (s) was passing through the area on his way back from the Battle of Tabuk, he stopped to meet with the people there. The people fetched water from the wells from which the people of Thamud used to drink. They prepared their dough (for baking) and filled their water-skins from it (the water from the wells). The Prophet (s) ordered them to empty the water-skins and give the prepared dough to the camels. Then he went away with them until they stopped at the well from which the she-camel (of Prophet Saleh) had drunk. He warned them against entering the area where the people had been punished, saying: “I fear that you may be affected by what afflicted them; so do not enter upon them.”
In other `ahadith, it is narrated that the Prophet Muhammad (s) warned his people that should they enter Mada`in Saleh, they should think about what had happened to the unbelievers.
This is why people have not been encouraged to visit Mada`in Saleh. Now, however, the Supreme Commission of Tourism (SCT) is putting emphasis on tourism and in the future, tourist traffic to Mada`in Saleh is expected to increase considerably.
When we got back to the hotel, it was nearly 1 p.m., and we headed straight to the biggest mosque in the center of Al-Ula to say our Friday prayers. The imam had a sonorous voice, and the Qur`anic verses reminded the believers of the life in the Hereafter and God’s punishment for those who disobey. I was again reminded of the community of disbelievers who met such a fate in the mountains in Mada`in Saleh.
We got back to our hotel, had lunch and said good-bye to the hotel staff before setting off for Madinah. It must have been four in the afternoon. Abro wanted to take us to the exact place from where the she-camel had emerged and so we went, thanking him profusely for his knowledge and his skills as a guide. We were in Madinah by 8.30 and back in Jeddah by 1 a.m.
Mada`in Saleh is an excellent place to visit and learn about Saudi Arabia’s pre-Islamic past. One also can actually walk in the footsteps of Prophet Muhammad (s). The modern accommodations and good people in the area will welcome visitors who, I suspect, will hope as I do to return.
For those who are interested in a trip to Mada`in Saleh, Obaidullah Abro can be reached at 0502509688. His firm also organizes field trips for schoolchildren. The manager of the Mada`in Saleh Hotel, Asghar Baig Younes, can be reached on 04-8842888. The hotel’s e-mail address is: info@mshotel.com.sa. -