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Walking Egypt Back From the Brink of Anarchy

By Ebrahim Rasool and Ebrahim Moosa

The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions holds South African Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool in highest esteem for his dedication to peacemaking. Ambassador Rasool, pictured here from the 1993 Parliament (from left) with CPWR Chair Emeritus Howard Sulkin, championed the 1999 Cape Town Parliament as Chair of the African National Congress and has continued on as a trusted CPWR advisor on interfaith resolution for peacemaking over his years as the Premier of the Western Cape, most recently visiting Parliament leaders in December 2012 as Ambassador to the United States from South Africa.

August 16, 2013 – Originally published in The Washington Post.

Ebrahim Rasool is South Africa’s ambassador to the United States and the founder of the World For All Foundation. Ebrahim Moosa is a professor of Islamic studies at Duke University.

Preventing Egypt from sliding into civil war is a global security issue, as young militants who a year ago trusted the ballot box could potentially turn into the next generation of extremists.

What’s urgently needed is a multi-pronged strategy involving people of moral authority and leaders from countries trusted by the Muslim Brotherhood, the military and secular and liberal groups who can help Egypt walk back from the brink of anarchy and its growing loss of life. We believe an internationally constituted group of eminent persons should jump-start such an effort by brokering conditions for talks between all Egyptian players in an inclusive manner.

Such a group should include Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu of South Africa, former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, Tunisia’s Renaissance Party leader Rachid Ghannouchi, former U.S. national security adviser Jim Jones, former Irish president Mary Robinson and veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi. With the support of the African Union, South Africa, Turkey and Qatar on the one hand, and the United States, the European Union and the Gulf Cooperation Council on the other, the group should immediately engage credible Egyptian leaders to facilitate breakthroughs, a task no one inside Egypt can accomplish now.

A first priority for the group is to urge all parties to end the political deadlock by reconstituting an interim but inclusive civilian government of all the political players, including members of the Muslim Brotherhood, along with skilled technocrats. This requires the release of political detainees. These measures should de-escalate tensions despite the already-high recent death toll.Egypt’s interim civilian government should have six immediate priorities:●Lift the state of emergency and free up the political process. Doing so would restore confidence to a damaged political process and start the healing process.●Use Egypt’s current constitution as a draft for discussion on a final document. This would provide continuity with a legitimate, existing political process while acknowledging its shortcomings.

Ebrahim Moosa is Professor of Islamic Studies in the Department of Religion at Duke University. His interests span both classical and modern Islamic thought with a special interest in Islamic law, ethics and theology. In 2007 he delivered the prestigious Hassaniyyah lecture on the invitation of his Majesty King Mohammed VI in Fez. He was named Carnegie Scholar in 2005 to pursue research on the madrasas, Islamic seminaries in South Asia.
Dr Moosa is the author of Ghazali and the Poetics of Imagination, winner of the American Academy of Religion’s Best First Book in the history of religions (2006). He is he editor of books on Modern Islam, Muslim family law and Islamic revival with multiple publications on issues related to classical and modern Islamic thought. He is a Senior Fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University. 

●Restrict the army to its barracks, enforced by pressure from the United States. If the army retreats, the specter of authoritarian rule will be removed and democratic initiatives will be encouraged.●Deploy police forces to provide effective security with external monitoring. Such a move is necessary to establish law and order in all major cities, one of the grievances of the anti-Morsi protesters.

●Facilitate free and fair elections within a reasonable timeframe, say 12 months.

●Foster institutions for democratic rule and economic recovery. This could include a major aid package from the International Monetary Fund to support economic development plus a donor package targeting the restoration of Egypt’s tourism industry and other infrastructure needs.

For their part, the United States and the European Union must exercise their strategic and economic leverage to rein in the Egyptian army before it entrenches itself and reverses all the gains of the Arab Spring. President Obama’s condemnation of the past week’s bloody violence must be bolstered with decisive U.S. and E.U. action to restrain the army: withholding military aid until an inclusive political process is achieved.

Egypt’s security and stability are vital to the geostrategic politics of Africa, Europe and the Middle East, especially as they relate to the United States. Egypt’s ability to be free and democratic has the potential to forge these values in the broader Arab and Muslim world.

Moreover, with Syria’s civil war already spilling over into Iraq and Lebanon, continued violence in Egypt will seriously jeopardize regional security — something that fits al-Qaeda’s agenda.

The cost of doing nothing and simply managing our respective interests is to witness a major Arab country becoming a failed state, a prospect responsible leaders would not wish even on their enemies.

Learn More about Ebrahim Moosa.  Born in South Africa, Dr. Moosa earned his MA (1989) and PhD (1995) from the University of Cape Town. Prior to that he took the `alimiyya degree in Islamic and Arabic studies from Darul `Ulum Nadwatul `Ulama, one of India’s foremost Islamic seminaries in the city of Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. He also has a BA degree from Kanpur University, and a postgraduate diploma in journalism from the City University in London.

Previously he taught at the University of Cape Town and was visiting professor at Stanford University 1998-2001 prior to joining Duke University. As a journalist he wrote for Arabia: The Islamic World Review, MEED (Middle East Economic Digest) and Afkar/Inquiry magazines in Britain and later became political writer for the Cape Times in South Africa. He contributes regularly to the op-ed pages of the Washington-Post, New York Times, Atlanta-Journal Constitution, The Boston Review and several international publications and is frequently invited to comment on global Islamic affairs.

Faith and Freedom: Religious Minorities in Egypt and the U.S.

By Calvin Skaggs

Documentary films root themselves in the ground of truthfulness. We filmmakers base our documentaries on the premise that if we look clearly enough at a subject and edit thoughtfully all the material we collect, we can put on film a new set of truthful insights.

Today few subjects need new insights more than religious conflict. Look at the headlines:

66 People Killed Exiting Church in Nigeria….Settlers Torch West Bank Mosque….Egypt’s Copts Fear Islamic State….Woman Jailed in Denmark for Wearing Niqab

As founder and president of Lumiere Productions—a film company that has been creating a diverse array of films that engage hearts and open minds for over 25 years—one of the premises of the films I make is the belief that true freedom of religion—the freedom to worship as one pleases, or not; to change religions if one chooses; and to publicly identify with one’s religion without negative repercussions professionally or economically—is a cornerstone of representative democracy.

Yet most minority religions cannot claim all three of these prongs, even in progressive democracies.

In the U.S., it is Muslims who are struggling to move us one step further toward true freedom of religion. Though 62% of Americans say they have never met a Muslim, recent polls show between 39% and 49% say they do not trust Muslims. Since 66% of the U.S. media coverage of Muslims focuses on fundamentalist or militant groups, Americans tend to associate Muslims with violence. As a result, as one Muslim said to me, when people find out you’re a Muslim, they want you to “apologize for something you didn’t do.”

In contrast to the U.S., where Christians tend to dominate the culture but are largely required to abide by our laws, some Muslim-dominated countries offer little pretense of freedom of religion. In Egypt, for example, one can see a jobs advertisement headed “Coptic Christians need not apply.” Indeed the 2011 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life ranks Egypt in the top 5% of all countries with “both government restrictions and social hostilities involving religion.” In sum, religious minorities around the world suffer from mild to severe repression or persecution as they try to live their everyday lives and practice their faiths.

Lumiere’s film Faith and Freedom will show the hurdles such minority religions face and the ways they strive to leap them.

In order to allow our audience to empathize with how some practitioners of minority religions feel, we’ll go inside the lives of several members of two religious congregations–a Sunni mosque in Paterson, New Jersey, and a Coptic Orthodox Church in El-Matariya, Cairo, Egypt. We’ve chosen to explore individual lives in depth on the premise that being able to live one’s everyday life fully is the foundation of an open society. It means being able to live your life as you define yourself, not as others define you, and being able to assume a life free of unwarranted prying or interference by government or other institutions. As one of our characters from the Paterson mosque explains, “We’re being defined by others; we’re not being allowed to define who we are.”

Yet we believe that being allowed to define who you are is essential to true religious freedom.

The verité filmmaking we prefer doing will allow us to spend time with selected men and women who attend the Paterson, NJ, mosque and a handful of members of the Coptic congregation in El Matariya. We’ll see them at their jobs, on the basketball court, cooking and eating meals with their families, worshipping together or praying alone. The characters will be showing their own lives and telling their own stories.

We believe this kind of filmmaking can take viewers at least one step toward feeling what it is like to live in another’s skin, even one different from oneself. In an era in which Americans fear our economy might never recover and fear our political system grows ever more dysfunctional, in which greed plagues our bankers and pedophilia our priests, it is tempting to roll all our fears into one form: Islamophobia. The long-denied possibility of true freedom can also push Egyptian Copts to be even more fearful of Muslims, or Muslims of Copts. But once we can begin to conceive of, indeed to undergo the experience of living in another’s skin, then perhaps we can begin to overcome the fears all human beings seem to harbor.

Then perhaps our film will be a small bridge over the chasm of religious conflicts that divides each of our countries, and the world.

This is why I began producing films nearly two decades ago on the porous border between religion and politics in the U.S., the first example being a 6-hour documentary series on the rise of the American religious right after World War II: With God on Our Side. Since then I’ve produced other films on American evangelicals’ interaction with American culture and politics—for PBS, Channel 4 UK, Arté, and various U.S. cable channels. Producing other films having nothing directly to do with religion also led me to Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Russia, where religious strife simmered constantly behind the story I was telling, whether it was based in Kano, Kandahar, or Chechnya.

 

I make these films foregrounding or backgrounding religion because I want to understand how other people’s minds work. I want to get to the heart of how religious differences drive economic and political forces that seem to have little connection with religion. I also make these films because they fulfill me personally. They are premised on my belief that a person’s religious needs are at the heart of his or her identity, whether or not he or she exercises or nourishes the needs. They are also premised on my belief that the three Abrahamic faiths’ core principles dedicated to monotheistic worship, the cultivation of human spirituality, and the furtherance of human justice unite them far more than theological nuances differentiate and divide them.

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Calvin Skaggs, founder and president of Lumiere Productions, has produced or directed over 30 dramas and documentaries for television and theatrical exhibition. His first theatrical feature, On Valentine’s Day, was the official American entry in the Venice Film Festival; his hip-hop drama Fly By Night won the Sundance Filmmakers’ Trophy in 1993. He has executive produced two major documentary series for PBS—With God On Our Side and Local News—and produced numerous films for Discovery, PBS, HBO and Channel 4 UK. Before founding Lumiere, Skaggs earned a Ph.D. from Duke University, and served as Professor of English and Cinema at Drew University.

Egypt’s New President to Pick Woman, Christian VPs

Egypt’s president-elect, Mohamed Morsi, is in the process of putting together a government. Photo from CNN.

from CNN

Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, will appoint a woman as one of his vice presidents and a Christian as another, his policy adviser told CNN.

“For the first time in Egyptian history — not just modern but in all Egyptian history — a woman will take that position,” Ahmed Deif told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday. “And it’s not just a vice president who will represent a certain agenda and sect, but a vice president who is powerful and empowered and will be taking care of critical advising within the presidential Cabinet.”

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July 3rd, 2012 at 9:55 am

Jimmy Carter: the Role of Faith in Peace Talks, Politics, and Private Devotions

by Paul Brandeis Raushenbush
from Huffington Post

Jimmy Carter is the 39th president of the United States, founder of the Carter Center and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. He has authored many books, the most recent being “Through the Year with Jimmy Carter: 366 Daily Meditations from the 39th President.” In this wide-ranging interview, HuffPost’s Senior Religion Editor spoke to President Carter by phone about the role faith played in the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty, the time of his greatest alienation from God, faith in the White House and his personal daily devotional practice.

In addition to being a Governor of Georgia and President of the United States, you are known as a Sunday School teacher. Are you comfortable with that identity?

I started teaching Sunday school when I was 18 at the Navel Academy Chapel. I led services when we were out at sea while I was in the navy; taught Sunday school 14 times when I was U.S. President at First Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. I just finished my 650th lesson at Maranatha Baptist Church, so you might say I have been a Sunday school teacher all my life.

Who were some of your most influential religious teachers?

Well, my father was the main one. He was a Baptist deacon and Sunday school teacher, and I started going to Sunday school when I was 3. He shaped my early knowledge of Jesus, and I was baptized as a Christian when I was 11 years old.

Later, Billy Graham was probably the closest one to me. I believed what my father taught me about the separation of church and state, so when I was President I never invited Billy Graham to have services in the White House because I didn’t think that was appropriate. He was injured a little bit, until I explained it to him.

Among the theologians, I think Paul Tillich is probably the one I have read the most because he shaped my thoughts about the relation between religion and politics and the fact that religious faith was not incompatible with political service. I tried to apply my religious beliefs when I was governor and later president without being ostentatious about it.

But I don’t claim to be knowledgeable about theology. Most of my knowledge comes out of my experience and the lessons in the Bible. Every Sunday I’m home I teach 45 minutes and we boiled them down to one page for the new book, “Through the Year with Jimmy Carter.”

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Young Egyptians Use Facebook Coffee to Bring Religions Together

By Shahira Amin
From CNN

A group in Cairo is using a Facebook page to unite Egypt’s different religions at a local coffeehouse in the upper-class suburb of Maadi.

Over a cappuccino and a muffin, an orthodox Christian, a liberal Muslim and an ultra-conservative Islamist discuss their differing ideologies in the hopes of changing stereotypes.

They are known as the Salafyo Costa group, and they say one of their aims is to change the public perception of the Salafists, a puritanical branch of Islam that dictates only the followers of the prophet Mohammed practice the correct Islam. Salafists are often perceived as terrorists, the group says.

As Egyptians come to the end of the first round of voting in the country’s historic elections, Islamist parties appear headed for a decisive majority in the first freely elected parliament since the ouster of former dictator Hosni Mubarak.

So far, the Freedom and Justice Party operated by the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest and best-organized political movement, has won nearly 40% of the vote, followed by the ultraconservative Salafist parties with another 25%.

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December 20th, 2011 at 10:45 am

Egyptian Muslims and Christians: “If You Don’t Communicate, You Don’t Exist”

By Safia Aoude
from Common Ground News Service

Alexandria, Egypt – “We can write anything now!” said an editor of the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram to some visiting Danish participants in Cairo as a part of a recent Alexandria-based conference called “Media´s Role for Changing Society and Democracy”. The Egyptian revolution has certainly become a catalyst for free speech and for more political debate in Egyptian media. Yet, the chaotic climate of the revolution has also suffered some backlash. Another editor at Al-Ahram warned that the media in Egypt is now in a political limbo, and can sometimes even motivate the Egyptian public towards sectarian violence and false information.

The conference and the changing media landscape made it clear to all participants that both mass media communication, as well as Muslim-Christian dialogue, were of immense importance during this time of transition in Egypt. And participants did note that the media has the potential to promote positive dialogue. New media, especially social media sites like YouTube, Facebook or Twitter, has brought new players into the game of mass communication and challenged the hegemony of the “old” regular mass media.

Danish participant Peter Fisher-Nielsen pointed out that the limitations created by state censorship have loosened after the revolution, but that the current absence of any limits on what can be discussed in the media also poses a danger for more confrontation. That is why direct dialogue between religious minorities and groups has become more important than ever.

The conference brought together Muslim and Christian activists and leaders to do just that through discussion of the religious media and the on-going Egyptian revolution. Co-organised by the Egyptian Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services (CEOSS) and the Danish Christian organisation Danmission, the conference was conducted by the Forum for Intercultural Dialogue the first week of October.

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New Ground in Egypt, New Perspective in America

by Sarah Bassin
from State of Formation

It is no coincidence that moments of national crisis are often coupled with sharp increases in interfaith engagement.  Laurie Goodstein wrote in The New York Times, “In the months and years after 9/11, in communities large and small, mosques opened their doors for Friday prayers and iftar dinners to break the Ramadan fast. Churches and synagogues deluged imams with speaking requests. Muslim, Jewish and Christian performers hit the clubs on comedy tours,”

It seems slightly absurd at first thought – the idea that a comedy show somehow responds to a major national threat.  But a recent delegation visiting from Egypt reminded me just how essential such forums are to the health and security of our society.

Nobody needs to convince me of the importance of interfaith work; she would be preaching to the choir.  I serve as the executive director of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change.  We equip American Muslims and Jews with skills and resources to improve the relationship between the two communities and work toward a common good.

Sometimes, though, I am guilty of relying too heavily on the philosophical justifications for such pluralistic work.  Of course it is good to reach out to others.  My religious tradition compels me to do so.  In turning to the abstract, I overlook the mundane and practical arguments for interfaith relations.  Sometimes, the mundane and the practical are the most compelling.

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Webinar: Learning from the Egyptian Revolution

Ahmed Rehab

Ahmed Rehab

Register Now Rescheduled! New Time: 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011
10:00am U.S. Central Time

The Egyptian Revolution saw one of the largest and most comprehensive peaceful revolutions in history. 12 million people took to the streets in a period of 18 days to oust a 30 year autocratic president and a 60 year entrenched regime. The Egypt revolution was non-ideological, non-partisan, and non-sectarian, and as thus represents a case study in the psychology, process, and implementation of unifying mass movements. What were the key ingredients that helped pull off one of the greatest revolutions in history? Ahmed Rehab, who participated in the Tahrir Square movement, shares his first-hand account.

Ahmed Rehab is an American Muslim activist and writer with a focus on contemporary social issues including civil rights, media relations, and Islam-West relations. Rehab is a regular contributor to the Chicago Tribune, the Huffington Post, and CNN.com.  He is currently the Executive Director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Chicago), a Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization which under Rehab’s tenure has developed from a start-up into one of the most notable not-for-profit civil rights offices of its kind anywhere in the United States.

Title: Lessons from the Egyptian Revolution
Date: Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Time: 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM CDT
After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar.

System Requirements
PC-based attendees:
Required: Windows® 7, Vista, XP or 2003 Server

Macintosh®-based attendees:
Required: Mac OS® X 10.4.11 (Tiger®) or newer

Space is limited.
Reserve your Webinar seat now at:
https://www3.gotomeeting.com/register/514505998

An Interfaith Generation Unwilling to Wait

By Frank Fredericks
Executive Director, World Faith

When religious tension between Muslims and Christians rocked northern Nigeria on January 8th of this year, the refrain of religiously fueled violence sounded so much like it had before. The ‘other’ was at fault for the problems of a region, country, and world. But when the tensions boiled over and violence broke out, resulting in burning down of churches and mosques and the death over 100 people, the response was profoundly different.

This time, young volunteers from World Faith Nigeria took action. Responding to a distress call, they rescued seventy-two passengers from a bus that was set on fire by young attackers.  On both sides were young adults taking action. But this time one set of young adults was responding to save lives and, ideally, prevent future violence.

Nigeria, like many countries around the world, hosts interfaith dialogues marked by the convening of religious leaders to counter acts of violence.  While this work is groundbreaking and necessary, it alone is not enough to turn the trends of religious violence. Violence perpetrated by youth can best be countered by equally motivated youth working toward the greater good.

World Faith helps answer the challenge of engaging young people internationally who have the potential to either cause or resolve inter-religious tensions.  Mobilizing religiously diverse youth to engage in community service projects in conflict-prone regions, World Faith enables local youth leaders to address the local needs of their communities and resolve underlying sources of strife — which are often economic or social rather than religious. World Faith has chapters in nine countries and is continuing to rapidly expand.

Not convinced that youth are the answer?  The Arab Spring stands as the greatest example of what happens when young people take action.  Movements for democratic reform have been led by the youth, who organize, mobilize, and remain endlessly resilient. Egypt stands out as a defining example of this, with Tahrir Square becoming the epicenter for Millennials with a mission.

I have spent a good amount of time in Egypt, developing World Faith’s Cairo Chapter.  As I watched the events unfold, I realized that Tahrir Square not only represented a historic moment for the power of the youth, but also stood as the greatest example of pluralism in our generation.  Most of these young people have little interest in theology, ideology, or religious separatism.  Rather than trumping secularism, they embraced pluralism.  While Muslim protesters prayed, the Christian protesters stood guard.  In short, youth worked together, took action, and transcended religious boundaries that their parents could not.

World Faith is utilizing the social entrepreneurship capacity of young people across the world.  In particular, those from the marginalized communities have stepped forward to develop and lead projects in their communities.  These projects are in direct competition with the allure of violence.  Violence, after all, is often the act of last resort — when youth feel they have no other way of being heard and have little stake in their communities.

The world is no longer the same as it was before the Arab Spring. Young people have demonstrated their potential to initiate change and profoundly impact world politics — beginning at the local level. The interfaith movement must adapt and catch up, and not only engage religiously diverse youth, but let them take the lead. We must empower the youth, a generation unwilling to wait.

Muslims rush to restore torched Egypt church

st mary's churchBy Sami Aboudi
From Reuters

CAIRO - Mohammed Fathi worked his brush gently over an icon of Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, removing soot from its surface inside a church gutted in an attack by Islamist militants this month.

“It takes a lot of careful work to do that,” Fathi said. “We have to do a lot of tests with chemicals to try to restore the icon to its original condition.”

The 26-year-old is one of a vast group of mostly Muslim craftsmen tasked with restoring St Mary’s Church in the Cairo suburb of Imbaba after militants set it on fire on May 7.

Egypt’s military rulers have ordered its restoration at a time when tensions between Christians, who account for about 10 percent of Egypt’s population, and Muslims are on the rise.

Attacks have triggered protests and pose a challenge for Egypt’s new rulers, under pressure to impose security while seeking to avoid the tough tactics against Islamists used by deposed President Hosni Mubarak.

The ground floor of the four-storey church was gutted in the fire, destroying 10 out of 27 old icons beyond repair.

Wednesday, a team of mostly Muslim restorers — working for one of Egypt’s biggest construction firms known as The Arab Contractors — huddled in one corner, using special chemicals, paint and brushes to rescue the remaining paintings.

“My job is to restore historic art pieces, be they Muslim, Coptic or Jewish,” Fathi said.

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