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A Muslim voice for peace and human rights

Samuel Shropshire, founder of Muslim Voice for Peace & Reconciliation, addresses human rights and peace activists on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC (Photo: Suhaib Mallisho)

Samuel Shropshire, founder of Muslim Voice for Peace & Reconciliation, addresses human rights and peace activists on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC (Photo: Suhaib Mallisho)

MVPR announced in Washington, DC

Sam presents Diane Randall, executive director of the Friends National Legislative Committee with a copy of the newly published photo history The Heart of Mekkah by renowned photographer Khalid Khidr. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

Sam presents Diane Randall, executive director of the Friends National Legislative Committee with a copy of the newly published  anthology The Heart of Makkah by renowned photographer Khalid Khidr. (Photo: Suhaib Mallisho)

Muslim Voice for Peace & Reconciliation (MVPR) made its debut on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, at a luncheon on Tuesday, April 7, 2015. “This was the public announcement of our human rights work,” says Samuel Shropshire, MVPR founder. “I am grateful for the advice and encouragement of all who attended.”

Shropshire was accompanied to Washington by Suhaib Mallisho of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Present at this important meeting were leaders from numerous humanitarian non-government organizations that are already advocating for human rights and world peace in the US capital.

Among attendees of the MVPR-sponsored luncheon, were Diane Randall, Friends Committee on National Legislation; Lisa Sams, Middle East Sub-Committee/Global Missions Committee of St. Albans Episcopal Church; Richard Parkins, Friends of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan; Stephanie Kinney, former diplomat with the US Department of State; Thomas Johnson, Companion Diocese of Jerusalem; Nate Hosler, Office of Public Witness, Church of the Brethren; Sayyid Syeed, Islamic Society of North America; Ambassador Warren Clark, Churches for Middle East Peace; and Raed Jarrad, Policy Impact, American Friends Service Committee.

Shropshire and Marina Buhler-Miko, acting MVPR chief operations officer, presided over the meeting.

“Washington, DC, is an important city. MVPR advocacy has found a lot of friends here,” Shropshire said.

Sam with Marina Buhler-Miko. Marina has agreed to serve as MVPR chief operating officer.

Sam with Marina Buhler-Miko at the Washington National Cathedral. Marina has agreed to serve as MVPR chief operating officer.

Shropshire says, MVPR will do its best to let the American people know that Islam cares about human rights and all peoples facing oppression and injustice. He says, “MVPR will collaborate with Jewish, Christian and other religious and secular groups that seek to relieve the world of human misery.”

“We are Muslim men and women who care about others, regardless of their faith tradition,” he said. “And in that capacity we will seek to ally with others who have the same mission to change the world for the better.”

Shropshire also met with Patty Johnson, Canon Missioner for Outreach of the Washington National Cathedral, and Grace Said, Chair of the Cathedral’s Palestine-Israel Advocacy Group.

Shropshire said MVPR is seeking to provide leadership in peacemaking and human rights, especially in the Middle East. He emphasized that political and religious reconciliation is of utmost importance since, today, many faiths have been divided and hijacked by radical elements.

Shropshire has been living in the Mecca Region of Saudi Arabia for the past three years. He believes that the Abrahamic faiths, working in solidarity, hold the key to solving many of the world’s problems.

“One thing is certain,” he says. “No one will gain from a violent war that seeks to pit Muslims, Christians and Jews against each other. Working together we can end the conflicts and find a better way.”

The history of human rights

There are more refugees in the world today as a result of war and repression than at any time since World War II.

There are more refugees in the world today as a result of war and repression than at any time since World War II.

Shropshire points out that today is an age that is striking in its unprecedented technological sophistication and many advances. “But unfortunately, the prejudices and inequities that have plagued the human race for millennia continue to exist, and are responsible in our day for untold human suffering.”

Throughout history, especially in the Middle East, there have been individuals who have stood up for the rights of others.

Shropshire insisted, “We must ensure that these God-ordained rights are guaranteed to all the world’s citizens? There can be no exceptions.”

Shropshire says there is a firm foundation that has been established for all mankind–beginning in the Middle East with Cyrus the Great’s cylinder and the Prophet Mohammad’s Constitution of Medina, followed by the British Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights as enshrined within the United States Constitution, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the eventual Geneva Convention that laid the groundwork for the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Here is some detail about each of these human rights documents in the order of their appearance:

Cyrus the Great and his Akkadian language cylinder 

The decrees Cyrus the Grreat made on human rights were inscribed in the Akkadian language on a baked-clay cylinder. It is the first known attempt to innumerate the rights and privileges of peoples.

The decrees Cyrus the Grreat made on human rights were inscribed in the Akkadian language on a baked-clay cylinder. It is the first known attempt to innumerate the rights and privileges of peoples.

In 539 BC, the armies of Cyrus the Great, the first king of ancient Persia, conquered the city of Babylon. But it was his next actions that marked a major advance for all humankind. He freed the slaves, declared that all people had the right to choose their own religion, and established racial equality. These and other decrees were recorded on a baked-clay cylinder in the Akkadian language with cuneiform script.

Known today as the Cyrus Cylinder, this ancient record has now been recognized as the world’s first charter of human rights. It has been translated into all six official languages of the United Nations, and its provisions parallel the first four Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

From Babylon, the idea of human rights spread quickly to India, Greece and eventually Rome. In Rome the concept of “natural law” arose, in observation of the fact that people tended to follow certain unwritten laws during the course of life, and Roman law was based on rational ideas derived from the nature of things.

Islam, human rights and the Constitution of Medina

The Constitution of Medina, also known at the Medina Charter, was created by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in the year 622 CE, it was the first written constitution in the Islamic world.

The Constitution of Medina, also known at the Medina Charter, was created by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in the year 622 CE, it was the first written constitution in the Islamic world.

To the surprise of many, another early attempt at formally enumerating human rights is the Charter of Medina, also known as the Constitution of Medina. It was drafted by the Islamic prophet Muhammad (pbuh) shortly after his arrival at Medina in 622 AD, following the Hijra (immigration of Muslims) from Mecca to Medina.

The charter constituted an agreement between the various native Muslims of Medina (the Ansar), the Muslim immigrants from Mecca (the Muhajarun), Jewish believers, Christian groups in Medina and even pagans, declaring them to constitute ummah wāḥidah (“one nation”). The Constitution formed the basis of a multi-religious Islamic state in Medina.

The Constitution of Medina was created to end the bitter inter-tribal fighting between the rival clans of Banu Aws and Banu Khazraj in Medina, and to maintain peace and cooperation among all Medinan groups for fashioning them into a cohesive society. It ensured freedom of religious beliefs and practices for all citizens. It assured that representatives of all parties, Muslim or non-Muslim, should be present when consultation occurs or in cases of negotiation with foreign states, and that no one should go to war before consulting the Prophet. It also established the security of women, a tax system for supporting the community in times of conflict, and a judicial system for resolving disputes. It declared the role of Medina as a ḥaram (“sacred place”), where “no weapons can be carried and no blood spilled.”

The Constitution of Medina serves as an example of finding resolve in a dispute where peace and pluralism were achieved, not through military successes or ulterior motives, but rather through an agreed upon mutual respect, acceptance, and denunciation of war – aspects that reflect some of the basic tenets of the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) own faith and commitment to God. These guiding principles of early Islam brought peace and stability to Medina. Religious pluralism and friendship and mutual respect were the law of the land!

A careful study of this document could help avoid many of the divisions and misunderstandings plaguing the world today. The principles embodied in the Constitution of Medina could easily be used to unite Muslims, Christians, Jews and peoples of other faiths.

The Constitution of Medina not only guaranteed the equal rights and protections of all citizens (Muslims, Christians and Jews), it spelled out the only conditions of what could be considered legal defensive just wars and the proper military conduct during the conduct of defensive war. (Offensive war was considered illegal and un-Islamic.)

Islam’s early contribution to human rights is best appreciated when viewed against the backdrop of world history as well as the realities of modern times.

As in all times, greed, prejudice and hate drive nations to war and conflict. Economic and social disparities have resulted in the oppression of poorer populations; racial prejudices have been the cause of subjugation and enslavement of people with darker skin; women have been weighed down by chauvinistic attitudes, and pervasive attitudes of religious superiority have led to widespread persecution of people with different beliefs.

“However, when considering the question of human rights and Islam,” declares Shropshire, “it is important to distinguish the divinely prescribed rights promoted by Islam from potential misinterpretation and misapplication by imperfect human beings.”

“Just as Western societies still fight against racism and discrimination, many Muslim societies continue to struggle to fully implement human rights as outlined in Islam,” he says.

The English Magna Carter

Magna Carta is one of the most celebrated documents in history. This document was signed in June 1215 between the barons of medieval England and King John.

Magna Carta is one of the most celebrated documents in history. This document was signed in June 1215 by the barons of medieval England and King John.

Magna Carta, meaning ‘The Great Charter’, is one of the most famous documents in the world. Originally issued by King John of England (r.1199-1216) as a practical solution to the political crisis he faced in 1215, Magna Carta established for the first time the principle that everybody, including the king, was subject to the law. Although nearly a third of the text was deleted or substantially rewritten within ten years, and almost all the clauses have been repealed in modern times, Magna Carta remains a cornerstone of the British constitution.

Most of the 63 clauses granted by King John dealt with specific grievances relating to his rule. However, buried within them were a number of fundamental values that both challenged the autocracy of the king and proved highly adaptable in future centuries.

Most famously, the 39th clause gave all ‘free men’ the right to justice and a fair trial. Some of the Magna Carta’s core principles were written into in the United States constitution in the form of the Bill of Rights and in many other constitutional documents around the world, as well as later in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.

The United States Constitution

The United States Constitution and Bill of Rights was ratified in 1787.

The United States Constitution with its Bill of Rights was ratified in 1787. It is the oldest constitution still in use.

The American democracy and its constitution is a foundation stone for a long tradition of human rights and personal freedoms.

Written during the summer of 1787 in Philadelphia, the Constitution of the United States of America is the fundamental law of the US federal system of government and a landmark document of the Western world. It is the oldest written national constitution still in use and defines the principal organs of the US government, describing the balance of powers of the legislative government (President, Congress and the Supreme Court), outlining their jurisdictions and the basic rights of American citizens.

The early establishment of American human rights laws was in no way perfect as slavery and discrimination against African Americans, Native Americans and other minorities would persist for decades, but the US Constitution would lay the groundwork for an evolving, more humane nation.

The Bill of Rights were incorporated as an important part of the US Constitution, protecting the basic freedoms of all American citizens.

These human rights came into effect on December 15, 1791, limiting the powers of the federal government of the United States and protecting the rights of all citizens, residents and visitors within American territory.

The Bill of Rights protects freedom of speech, freedom of religion, outlines the right to keep and bear arms, the freedom of assembly and the freedom to petition the government. It also prohibits unreasonable search and seizure on private premises.  “Cruel and unusual punishment” was strictly forbidden, and it outlawed compelled self-incrimination.

The Bill of Rights prohibits the government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion” and prohibits the federal government “from depriving any person of life, liberty or property” without due process of law. In federal criminal cases it requires indictment by a grand jury for any capital offense, or infamous crime, guarantees a speedy public trial with an impartial jury in the district in which the crime occurred and prohibits double jeopardy.

France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789, is a major human rights document resulting from the French Revolution.

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789, is a major human rights document resulting from the French Revolution.

The inspiration and content of this document emerged largely from the ideals of the American Revolution. The key drafts were prepared by the Marquis de Lafayette, working at times with his close friend Thomas Jefferson. In August 1789, Honoré Mirabeau played a central role in conceptualizing and drafting the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

The last article of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen was adopted on 26 August 1789 by the National Constituent Assembly, towards the end of the French Revolution. It was the first step toward writing a constitution for France. Inspired by the Enlightenment, the original version of the declaration was discussed by the representatives on the basis of a 24 article draft.

The draft was later modified during the debates. A second and lengthier declaration, known as the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1793, was written in 1793 but never formally adopted.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Eleanor Roosevelt reviews the Spanish version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Eleanor Roosevelt reviews the Spanish version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

With the end of World War II and the creation of the United Nations, the international community vowed never again to allow atrocities like those of that international conflict to ever happen again.

World leaders decided to complement the UN Charter with a road map to guarantee the rights of all peoples. The document they considered, and which would later become known as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was taken up at the first session of the General Assembly in 1946. The Assembly reviewed this draft Declaration on Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms and transmitted it to the Economic and Social Council “for reference to the Commission on Human Rights for consideration.

The Commission, at its first session early in 1947, authorized its members to formulate what it termed “a preliminary draft International Bill of Human Rights”. Later the work was taken over by a formal drafting committee, consisting of members of the Commission from eight States, selected with due regard for geographical distribution.

The Commission on Human Rights was made up of 18 members from various political, cultural and religious backgrounds.

Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, chaired the Universal Declaration of Human Rights drafting committee. With her were René Cassin of France, who composed the first draft of the Declaration, the Committee Rapporteur Charles Malik of Lebanon, Vice Chairman Peng Chung Chang of China, and John Humphrey of Canada, director of the UN’s Human Rights Division and preparer of the declaration’s blueprint. Eleanor Roosevelt was recognized as the driving force behind the declaration’s eventual adoption.

The final draft, presented by Cassin, was handed to the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1947, which was being held in Geneva.

The entire text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was composed in less than two years. At a time when the world was divided into Eastern and Western blocks, finding a common ground on several points proved to be a colossal task.

The unfinished work of championing peace and human rights

During the 20th century a number of great individuals have made their mark on human rights. Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton crusaded for women’s suffrage in the United States. Mahatma Gandhi in India was most effective in gaining India’s independence and championing the rights of Indian citizens. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, brought an end to segregation in the United States and Nelson Mandela was greatly used to dismantle apartheid in South Africa,

Many other men and women have stood up at various times, against all odds, to champion world peace and human rights. And, today, 21st century activists are answering the call.

Take a few minutes to learn more. Watch this short United Nations video about the incredible history of human rights:

Sources: United Nations, Encyclopaedia Britannica, wikipedia.org, US Library of Congress, A History of England, Oxford Bibliographies, Notes in History, humanrights.com, Youth for Human Rights

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July 7, 2015 Posted by | Geography, Human Rights, Interfaith, Islam, Mecca, Peace, Religious Reconciliation, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Visiting the King Abdullah Interfaith Center

KA Interfaith Center Vienna

Saudi Prince Saud Al-Faisal and faith leaders from around the world at the opening ceremony of KAICIID, November 2012.

The King Abdullah Interfaith Center, Vienna, Austria

Sam Shropshire with Fahad Abualnasr, chief of staff of KAICIID, Vienna, Austria.

Sam Shropshire with Fahad Abualnasr, chief of staff of KAICIID, Vienna, Austria.

It was my privilege to meet the first of September with Fahad Abualnasr, chief of staff, of the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) in Vienna, Austria.

KAICIID was founded to enable, empower and encourage dialogue among followers of different faiths and cultures around the world. The Centre is an independent, autonomous, international organization, free of political or economic influence.

The Founding States are the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Republic of Austria and Kingdom of Spain. They constitute the “Council of Parties” responsible for overseeing the work of the Centre; the Roman Catholic Holy See has been admitted as a Founding Observer to the Centre.

The Board of Directors comprises high-level representatives of the major world religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism) and cultures. The Centre is headed by a Secretary General. An Advisory Forum of up to 100 members of other religions, cultural institutions and international organizations provide a further resource of interreligious and intercultural perspective.

Our discussion at the KAICIID Vienna offices

KAICIID’s mission, to facilitate interreligious and intercultural understanding, and enhance respect for diversity, justice and peace is reflected in the diversity of its staff from 19 countries, four continents, and a wide range of cultural and religious affiliations. Respect for diversity is a cornerstone of KAICIID’s recruitment policy.

The Foreign Minister of Austria, Sebastian Kurz, the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Spain, Gonzalo de Benito Secades, and Reverend Father Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot of the the Founding Observer, the Holy See, signed the declaration during a Ministerial Meeting of the Council of Parties to the KAICIID Dialogue Centre in New York on 25 September 2014.

The Foreign Minister of Austria, Sebastian Kurz, the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Spain, Gonzalo de Benito Secades, and Reverend Father Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot of the the Founding Observer, the Holy See, signed the declaration during a Ministerial Meeting of the Council of Parties to the KAICIID Dialogue Centre in New York on 25 September 2014.

My discussion with Fahad Abualnasr centered on current religious extremism among all faiths its resulting conflicts. We spoke of my work with Muslim Voice for Peace & Reconciliation and about the need for Islam itself to be known as a more vigorous partner in initiatives promoting world peace, human rights and environmental concerns, recalling that the founding document of KAICIID cites principles enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, especially, “the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”–with emphasis on “human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.”

I was, indeed, blessed and encouraged to have learned more about the work of KAICIID and by meeting Fahad Abualnasr and members of his staff.

KAICIID statement condemns religious extremism

On 25 September, meeting at the KAICIID offices in New York, the foreign ministers of the Republic of Austria, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the Kingdom of Spain signed a declaration affirming dialogue as a path to lasting peace and social cohesion. This was in response to the current deplorable violence and humanitarian crisis in Northern Iraq and in Syria, as well as in other parts of the world. KIACIID hopes, with the combined support of all faith, to develop international solidarity n ending sectarian violence in various parts of the world.

The released statement said, “We condemn violent conflict in the world, more so violence committed in the name of religion, and call for an end to violent hostility. We deplore loss of life and commend those who seek to alleviate suffering, as well as those who strive to promote well-being, harmony and peace.”

The statement, as well, opposed the instrumentalization of religion to make war and strongly condemned “terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, committed by whomever, wherever and for whatever purposes.

Hate speech and extremism that incite violence and fuel prejudice were also singled out.

Enjoy this sand-art performance during the opening ceremony of KAICIID on 26 November 2012:

Sources: Ecumenical Review, Time Magazine, KAICIID.org

September 29, 2014 Posted by | Human Rights, Interfaith, Islam | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In search of democracy Egyptians take to the streets

Sam Shropshire with protesters on Tahrir Square in Cairo.

Sam Shropshire with protesters on Tahrir Square in Cairo. Sam went to Cairo to meet with Muslim Brotherhood members and their opposition.

 

(last updated 6 July 2013, 12:00 noon)

The whole world is watching

Media around the world are broadcasting live from the streets of Egypt as that nation is once more in the midst of political upheaval. With much of the international network reporting; however, comes a lot of sensational misinformation.

Millions of Egyptians pour into streets throughout Egypt to express their disappointment with President Morsi.

Millions of Egyptians pour into streets throughout Egypt to express their disappointment with President Morsi.

I’ve just returned from Cairo. While there, I had incredible discussions with both Egyptians who support the Mohamed Morsi government and with the opposition who are claiming some of the “biggest street demonstrations in the history of mankind.”

In Tharir Square I found the Egyptian people more than willing to speak freely and openly—to express opposing views.

I sat down with two groups—members of the Muslim Brotherhood and also members of the the Tamarod, or liberal “Rebel” movement. All of this comes on the first anniversary of the birth of what was hoped to be a new democratic Egypt.

As I entered discussions with the rebels, I could feel the drama building up to a potential showdown in Egypt. Pro-Morsi adherents boast that Morsi was democratically elected. Opponents to the Morsi government say Morsi has not kept his promises to include minority political views in his government.

The Egyptian military has announced both sides must develop consensus for a inclusive plan to  eliminate national unrest.

All agree that these continuing street battles are about freedom, democracy, transparency in government, about a sound economy that benefits all the Egyptian peoples.

What is clear is that happened last ear in Egypt is but the first stage of a new order that is sweeping across North Africa and the Middle East. Citizens are expressing their opinions, and they will no longer be silent.

Add to the current chaos in Egypt our world economic turmoil and threats from the Egyptian army to “enforce the will of the people,” and the situation is volatile and could lead to violence.

Morsi had accepted the resignations of several cabinet ministers and has apologized for “mistakes” he had made during the first year of his administration—specifically for failing to include youth and other political minorities in his government.

To his credit, Morsi has repeatedly called for dialogue with opposition groups, but his administration says the opposition has declined.

Morsi has said, “We are changing Egypt for the better—through a free and democratic way.”

Cairo discussions with Muslim Brotherhood

I first met with members of the Freedom and Justice Party—the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. Waleed Alsharif was quick to point out that his Muslim Brotherhood friends seek to represent the concerns of all Egyptians—including minorities like Christians and Jews.

I had not brought up the subject of religious minorities, but Waleed quickly brought it up.

“We love Christians and Jews,” Waleed pointed out. “The Quran commands that we show them respect and that we advocate for their concerns as well.”

Pro-Morsi Muslim Brotherhood seeks to bolster support for the president.

Pro-Morsi Muslim Brotherhood seeks to bolster support for the president.

I asked, “What should Morsi do differently to gain the support of other Egyptian minorities?”

Waleed responded, “Morsi must be quick to include peoples of different faiths, different political perspectives and ages.”

The opposition Tamarod

Throughout Cairo one views opposition posters and graffiti condemning Morsi. Most of the posters call for Morsi to immediately resign, clearing the way for new elections.

Oppositionist Sahad Saleh, of the Tamarod, is quick to boast of anti-Morsi groups having collected more than 22 million signatures on a petition calling for the beleaguered Egyptian president to step down.

“The opposition will help complete the revolution,” Sahad proudly says. “We have corrupt officials leading our country. They must go.”

When I asked him for specific examples of corruption, he rattled off quite a few accusations, but was unable to come up with specifics, although with any new government greed and corruption seems to find a way.

Sahad and other opposition leaders are also quick to state that Morsi is not experienced and has no ability to lead Egypt, but then who does have such experience in Egypt?

As has been pointed out in recent days, the Egyptian opposition includes a melee of fractious political groups—including some Islamists even more radical than the Muslim Brotherhood.

One year ago, “free and fair” elections held

There is room for debate as to whether the hastily called elections held just over a year ago were indeed free and fair, given the short period of time various political parties had to organize themselves and conduct legitimate election campaigns.

After just one year, it’s easy to point out the many failures of the Morsi government, but what nation on earth has had an easy time at establishing a democracy as well as writing a constitution and developing laws to assure that all peoples have equal access to government and the freedoms that are necessary to guaranteeing a better future?

After the American revolution, it took the United States several years to write its Constitution and Bill of Rights. And it has taken many more years, through various amendments to the US Constitution, to make certain that the values encouraged by America’s Founding Fathers were applied to all its citizens and minorities. After all, in the US African slaves would not be freed for another 90 years, and once freed, they would not have the same rights as other Americans for another 100 years when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was finally enacted. American women would not be able to vote until 1919.

More recently, the new governments of Central and Eastern Europe have not had an easy go at democracy. Since the fall of communism in 1989 and 1990, many of these governments, while having made significant progress at democratization, are still struggling to make a go of it.

With the breakup of the former Yugoslavia came years of war and revolution, horrific genocide and retribution.

Outright lies and false reporting

Some Islamophobic American radicals have had a heyday attacking the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic groups. Tabloid journalism and false reporting by some American extremists have been beyond belief.

Jay Sekulow who heads televangelist Pat Robertson’s Washington, DC, American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), has printed blatant lies about Egyptian “jihadists” said to be in control of Egypt’s future—sensational untruths. Sekulow claims Egyptian Christians are literally being burned on crosses in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. (There is absolutely no evidence of such atrocities!)

Most recently, the ACLJ and a handful of radical US congressmen have put out several “action alerts” claiming “the Obama Administration’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood is out of control.”

I have on numerous occasions phoned the ACLJ office in Washington, DC, to point out that no Christians are being crucified in Cairo. I have repeatedly requested documentation for their unsubstantiated claims. They have provided none, but they persist with their disinformation quickly followed by the words “Contribute Now!”

It’s most disconcerting when a few religious extremists (be they Christian, Muslim or Jewish) re-write stories, manipulating “facts” to their own ends, in apparent attempts to hurt people who don’t believe exactly as they do.

Egyptian army helicopters hoisting the national flag fly over demonstrators on Tahrr Square.

The army, seemingly in support of the opposition, fly helicopters hoisting the Egyptian flags over cheering demonstrators on Tahrir Square.

Egyptian military intervenes

Last week the situation in Egypt is became critical. The Egyptian military high command said last Monday that “if the demands of the people are not met” within 48 hours, the military would intervene with a “roadmap” to end the standoff. This announcement, broadcast on TV, was applauded by millions of men and women rallying in Tahrir Square and across Egypt demanding that Morsi step down.

Morsi deposed; the world reacts

As expected, Morsi refused to give in to the demands of the military. He pointed out that it was impossible to solve all the economic and political challenges in a single year. He readily admitted that mistakes had been made. “What example,” he said, “does it set if a democratically elected government can be easily dismissed before its four-year term has been completed?”

But by Wednesday evening, Egypt’s army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi suspended the new constitution, dissolved parliament and ousted President Mohamed Morsi. Pro-Muslim Brotherhood radio and TV stations and newspapers were shut down. It was announced that the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court would be the new “caretaker” leader of Egypt.

For now, Morsi remains under house arrest. He claims the military has orchestrated a coup. The military says its wasn’t a coup but simply the armed forces imposing the “will of the people,” and  millions of Egyptians continue to declare their future as democracy continues to evolve, not a the ballot box but in the streets.

US President Barack Obama was quick to release a statement expressing caution and concern, saying, “As I have said since the Egyptian Revolution, the United States supports a set of core principles, including opposition to violence, protection of universal human rights, and reform that meets the legitimate aspirations of the people. The United States does not support particular individuals or political parties, but we are committed to the democratic process and respect for the rule of law.”

Obama said the US would be closely monitoring the Egyptian situation. “I now call on the Egyptian military to move quickly and responsibly to return full authority back to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible through an inclusive and transparent process.”

UK Foreign Minister William Hague has said the UK “will work with the people in authority in Egypt” but condemned the ousting of its president as “a dangerous thing.”

Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called the ousting of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi from office a “major setback for democracy in Egypt,” and warned of repercussions for the entire region, as he emphasized the urgency that Egypt gets back to constitutional order as quickly as possible.

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has sent a cable of congratulations to the interim president of Egypt Adli Mansour. In his message to Mansour, King Abdullah appealed to God to help him “shoulder the responsibility given to him and to achieve the hopes of his people.”

For now, millions of opponents to the Morsi government celebrate the military’s intervention, while supporters of Morsi are shocked and in disbelief at the quick fall of their democratically elected president.

Some elements within the Muslim Brotherhood are vowing revenge and martyrdom rather than accept Morsi’s ouster. Fareed Zakaria has given us this excellent comment about the Egyptian crisis.

But common among all the Arab Spring democracies is talk about pluralism and human rights. Various political parties are battling for consensus.  For sure, democracies don’t just happen–they evolve.

Sources: on-site interviews, CNN, The Guardian, Arab News, Al Jazeera, BBC, Der Spiegel

July 2, 2013 Posted by | Human Rights, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Women in Saudi Arabia — slow, positive changes?

Saudi women in Red Sea city Jeddah, many now with advanced college degrees, are demanding change.

Saudi women, many now with advanced college degrees, are demanding change.

Many have inquired

A number of people have asked me about women in Saudi Arabia. Society here is known to be one of the most gender-segregated in the world. So one might be taken aghast at the recent unofficial revelation that women, under certain circumstances, may now ride bikes!

The Al Yaum daily recently cited an unnamed official from the state’s religious police as saying women can now ride bikes in parks and recreational areas, but they have to be accompanied by a male relative and dressed in the full Islamic head-to-toe abaya. The article states that women may not use the bikes for transportation but “only for entertainment” and that they should shun places where young men gather “to avoid harassment”!

However, today, even this modest sign of progress may have been an illusion. The pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat spoke to the country’s religious police chief who called the matter “funny,” adding that because riding bikes is uncommon in Saudi society, officials never considered the practice as something to either be banned or allowed for women.

Saudi Arabia follows an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam and bans women from driving cars and trucks. Some religious leaders have assured me that these gender-segregation laws are in place to protect Saudi women from modern-day decadence and from being subjugated to incessant male sexual harassment; however, others disagree.

The King Khalid Foundation is now running ads in Saudi newspapers and on TV about spousal abuse.

The King Khalid Foundation is now running ads in Saudi newspapers and on TV about spousal abuse.

Domestic violence

All Saudi women, regardless of age, are “guarded” by a male (father, brother, or husband). Not surprisingly, most domestic abuse goes unreported.

In 2008, the Saudi prime minister ordered the expansion of “social protection units” in large cities. These are Saudi Arabia’s version of women’s shelters. Also that year, the prime minister ordered the government to draft a national strategy to deal with domestic violence.

Some Saudi royal foundations, such as the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue and the King Khalid Foundation, organized education and awareness campaigns against domestic violence.

A first-ever ad dealing with domestic violence is now being run in newspapers and on TV, and it’s making waves. According to the King Khalid Foundation, female abuse is often a “phenomenon cloaked in the darkness of shame”; especially true  in a nation dominated by males.

Dr. Isobel Coleman, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, New York.

Dr. Isobel Coleman, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, New York.

Major issue of women’s rights

Dr. Isobel Coleman, noted women’s advocate and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is promoting her new book Paradise Beneath Her Feet.

The author asserts that the pace of change for women in the Arab world and, in particular, Saudi Arabia, is slowly changing. Coleman says she’s under no illusion about the nature of the challenges facing Arab women, “It’s going to be one step forward, one step back in some cases. It’s just not going to be a straight line change for women.”

But of all of the Islamic countries one might observe, Coleman says, perhaps the progress of women in Saudi Arabia has been the most consistent and the most clear cut. “You just have progress after progress there compared to other countries where you have seen progress and set backs.”

Coleman pointed out that change was the “new Saudi normal,” especially for young people, who are being educated by the hundreds of thousands in western colleges and universities.

She says it’s important to remember that Saudi Arabia has a very young population. “There’s a massive youth bulge coming through the system,” she points out. “The largest cohort in terms of population in Saudi Arabia is in the age group between 10 and 16. This youth bulge is growing up in a world where they now see that women can be on the Shura Council. They see women having more prominent positions in society.” Coleman says this is going to change the way people think.

So even though there are only incremental changes in Saudi Arabia in respect to women’s rights–slow changes that are very disappointing to many people, she says these things will progress more quickly for women as this younger generation grows up in a different environment.

Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques is the deeply respected King of Saudi Arabia

His Majesty Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, is the deeply respected King of Saudi Arabia

Women appointed to council

Most recently, King Abdullah signaled an easing of its practices of sexual segregation by appointing women to the country’s senior representative state body for the first time.

The Shura Council, which advises the government on legislation, the king says, should have 20 per cent female membership, meaning 30 women will sit on the 150-person council.

In a sign that the change is modest, the decrees require female members to be “committed to Islamic shariah disciplines without any violations” and be “restrained by the religious veil”–a partition that has been installed in the council’s building in the capital city Riyadh.

The building is now being altered to install a screen to keep male and female members apart along with a new communications system to enable them to talk to each other without being in direct eye contact.

Enter a princess–Princess Ameera

Saudi activist poster.

Saudi activist poster.

For many in the country, these very slow “step by step” changes are not enough.

In 2011, Princess Ameera Al-Taweel sounded a battle cry of sorts when she spoke at a special session of the Clinton Global Initiative titled “Voices for Change in the Middle East & North Africa,” in which she discussed her views on the current movements for change in the region with President Clinton.

The Princess has since frequently appeared as a featured guest on US radio and TV, having appeared on NBC’s Today, CNN, and NPR. She has also been interviewd by Time and Forbes magazines where she has strongly supported both a woman’s right to drive. She has also been an activist supporting the overall empowerment of women to head businesses and provide government leadership in a future in a more progressive Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

However, the power of conservative religious teaching should not be under-estimated in this the Holy Land of all Muslims around the world.

Saudi women, as a whole, do appear to be making significant progress as they campaign for a future that will bring them more freedom and greater respect and increased opportunities.

Below is an interview with Saudi Princess Ameera in which she speaks openly about here future hopes for all Saudi women:

Sources: CNN, BBC, The Telegraph, Arab News, Al Jazeerah News, Wikipedia, Saudi Gazette, Clinton Global Initiative, Council on Foreign Relations, Al Yawm, The King Khalid Foundation

April 6, 2013 Posted by | Human Rights | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments