Voices from the Arab Press: The Sultan who trades in religion

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world.

POSING FOR a selfie in front of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey, on July 11 (photo credit: MURAD SEZER/REUTERS)
POSING FOR a selfie in front of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey, on July 11
(photo credit: MURAD SEZER/REUTERS)
Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, July 10
The problem with the popular Egyptian preacher Abdullah Rushdi is not with his destructive ideas pertaining to Islam. Islam is an ancient religion that will not be destroyed by fanatic clerics. The problem with Rushdie is that he puts words in the mouths of millions of young Egyptians, especially those who are undereducated and impoverished.
These young men and women repeat Rushdie’s statements without any critical thinking or social awareness. Like a sponge, they absorb anything he says, amplifying his messages of ignorance and hatred. It doesn’t really matter that Al-Azhar authorities disavowed Rushdie and ejected him from their ranks. The young preacher continues his work even outside the institution, claiming to speak on behalf of Egypt’s religious authorities.
He uses deceitful and intentionally ambiguous language in an effort to spew hatred. For example, Rushdie recently claimed that Christians are “infidels” and implied that it is legitimate for Muslims to burn down churches and openly massacre Christians. When Al-Azhar attacked him for these slanderous stances, Rushdie denied the allegations, claiming: “I meant that they [Christians] disbelieved in my faith, just as I disbelieve in theirs.” Needless to say, his original message had already been proliferated by the masses before he issued this clarification.
Unfortunately, today, Rushdie found a new group to pick on: women. In a recent interview, he claimed that women experience sexual harassment – and even rape – only because of how they dress. When he faced pushback from civil society organizations, Rushdie resorted to his usual linguistic sophistry, claiming that a woman’s clothing, alone, is not a reason for harassment; however, it is one of many reasons.
He then proceeded to explain that “women are like cars”: that is, they can get broken into for many reasons, one of which is leaving the doors unlocked. A woman who dresses provocatively, according to him, does exactly that. You see, Rushdie doesn’t believe in male culpability. Men are nothing but instinctive creatures lured by the promiscuity of unveiled women, in his mind. Harassers are not harassers because of who they are, but because of who their victim is.
Values, morals, and religious principles play no role in Rushdie’s world. The harassment and rape of women and girls is not an issue pertaining to sexual predators. These idiotic remarks are a shame to us all. They must spark outrage not only among women but among all Egyptians and Muslims. In Egypt and beyond.
–Fatima Naout
Al-Okaz, Saudi Arabia, July 11
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tweeted last week that converting the Hagia Sophia Museum into a mosque is a prelude to the liberation of al-Aqsa Mosque. However, Erdogan’s tweet in Arabic dramatically differed from the one he posted in English, in which he explained that a section of the museum would be converted into a mosque, where anyone, including non-Muslim foreigners, would be welcomed. He then added: “With its new status, Hagia Sophia, the shared heritage of humanity, will continue to embrace everyone in a much more sincere and original way.”
The stark difference between the contents of the two tweets is yet another reminder of Erdogan’s shameful deceit and cheap attempt to manipulate the emotions of millions of Muslims around the world. The goal of the first tweet was to draw an unsubstantiated link between Hagia Sophia and Al-Aqsa Mosque and position Turkey as the supposed “liberator” of both. The goal of the second tweet was to emphasize that the site would be open to all non-Muslims.
This paradoxical stance is nothing more than a desperate effort on behalf of Erdogan to save his continually declining popularity both at home and abroad. To do so, he resorts to the mockery of Islam.
–Khalid Tashkndi
Al-Mada, Iraq, July 10
Last week, masked gunmen shot and murdered Hisham al-Hashimi, one of Iraq’s most respected researchers on religious fundamentalism.
Dear Hisham: When those bullets pierced your body moments before you walked into your home, you left behind you the highest form of bequest: an unequivocal call to action. The truth is that you were not afraid to die. You knew very well that this might happen to you. You were determined not to let this fact deter you or dissuade you from doing your important work. You were fighting to unveil brutality; you weren’t afraid of it.
Therefore, in a way, your tragic assassination now proves the immense importance of your work. Your smile – the one that was always on your face – will continue to illuminate us, even in your absence. It will continue to give Iraq’s young men and women hope that they can join a rising generation of patriotic revolutionaries that seek to build a better country for themselves. Your murder was not merely an assassination of a human but an assassination of freedom of thought, culture, and expression.
It was also a political assassination meant to silence dissenting voices within our country. Like other heroes who have died in the defense of our nation, your death will never be forgotten. It will forever be enshrined in our collective memory, where your legacy will be celebrated for all that you have done to bring an end to the bloodshed in Iraq and to save the lives of innocent victims.
There is no political assassination without a political killer, a political agitator, a political enabler. Political assassination is not committed by individuals but rather by systems and institutions that normalize and legitimize violence. We will never lose sight of the goal you set for us. We will carry out the mission for which you lived. We will free Iraq of the apostates who killed you and rid our political system of its cronies and their masters. The image of your gentle smile will be against our eyes while we do so.
–Fares Kamal Nazmi
Al-Etihad, UAE, July 10
The concepts of legality and legitimacy are often confused. This confusion occurs in political forums and the media, and even in some academic writings. Legitimacy is a legal concept. When we describe an institution as “legal,” we mean that its legal status complies with the laws in force.
As for “legitimacy” (whether internal or international), this is a political concept that means acceptance or general consent to the government of a particular country. The government will be legitimate internally when it receives the consent of its people, and internationally when it receives the recognition of other countries and international organizations like the United Nations.
In this sense, the authority in Tripoli, called the Government of National Accord, is neither legal nor legitimate. It is just a de facto ruling authority that managed to get temporary support from international mediators following the agreement signed in Skhirat in 2015. However, it did not gain internal legitimacy and has no legal backing whatsoever. This authority did not gain internal legitimacy because most Libyan people were dissatisfied with the formation of the bodies established by the Skhirat Agreement, chief of which are the Supreme Council of State, the government, and the Muslim Brotherhood militias.
It also lacked legality from the very outset, because the elected Libyan parliament did not approve it or support it. Despite both of these factors, the international community hoped that by backing this government, Libya’s political factions would gradually come to accept it. But this has not happened. Instead, it has become clear that the Tripoli authority lost even the international legitimacy it rested upon.
In the absence of international legitimacy, internal legitimacy, and legality, the Tripoli government has become an illegitimate authority exploiting the volatile situation in Libya since 2011. Despite that, for nearly two-and-a-half years, not a single international player was willing to call for change in Libya. The UN’s envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame, who signed the Skhirat Agreement, was finally forced to resign in March, joining five envoys who preceded him and had to prematurely quit their duty.
Geopolitical rivalries have prevented the international community from saving Libya from the hands of Brotherhood-backed armed militias and Turkish mercenaries. Thus, the crisis in Libya has reached a boiling point. The only way out of it is to take a step back and recognize that the authority in Tripoli must go. An entity cannot represent the people and claim to be part of a long-term solution when it is neither legal nor legitimate.
–Waheed Abdul Majeed
Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb