Saturday, January 9
Warning to Egypt's President Sisi
The video was created to commemorate the opening of the extended Suez Canal earlier this year but it's meant as a celebration of Egyptians and features a catchy tune sung by two Egyptian vocalists. The video is included in a New York Times report today by yeoman journalist Declan Walsh,
Egypt’s President Turns to Religion to Bolster His Authority:
In the latest decree, the Ministry of Religious Endowments on Monday instructed preachers that any call to protest on Jan. 25, the fifth anniversary of the revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, would lead to “sabotage, murder and destruction,” and constituted a “full crime.”
Such tactics are not novel: Arab leaders have tried for decades to use Islam to boost their legitimacy. Mr. Sisi, the former head of the armed forces, has also presented himself as a reformer, calling publicly for a “religious revolution” to help combat extremism. But rather than spurring discussion about Islam, his approach — shutting unregistered mosques and banning unauthorized preachers while drawing the religious establishment into an uneasy embrace — has had the effect of constricting the debate here.
Those tensions came to the fore recently when a television host who appeared to take up Mr. Sisi’s call for change was assailed by Al Azhar, the 1,000-year-old bastion of Sunni Muslim scholarship in Cairo and Mr. Sisi’s designated vehicle for religious change.
Islam Behery, a popular satellite TV host known for challenging Islamic orthodoxy, has urged Muslims to think critically about some of the sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad that jihadists have used to justify violence.
“We must confront those books, and break the taboo,” said Mr. Behery, a 37-year-old law graduate, in an interview early last month.
To some Western observers, Mr. Behery seemed to be taking Mr. Sisi’s call for a revolution in Islam at Al Azhar last January. In that address, Mr. Sisi urged Egypt’s clerical leaders to purge Islam of the ideas he said were used by extremists to justify violence and had made the religion “an enemy of the world.”
“It is inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire Islamic world to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world,” Mr. Sisi warned.
But Mr. Behery’s ideas offended the scholars at Al Azhar, who accused him of “violating the foundations of Islam” and, with others, brought a slew of court cases against him. One of those cases resulted in a criminal prosecution, and on Dec. 28 Mr. Behery began serving a one-year sentence.
“Egypt is the country of injustice,” Mr. Behery wrote in a Facebook post before he was imprisoned.
The prosecution appeared to signal the limits of Mr. Sisi’s approach to modernizing Islam. Al Azhar, which is state-funded, has hewed closely to Egypt’s rulers for the past six decades, yet at the same time jealously defended its position as Egypt’s premier authority on Islam.
Here I recall one of the pithy sayings of George Gurdieff's uncle although whether this uncle actually existed, one never knew with G:
"If you want to lose your faith in God, make friends with a priest."
I understand that technically Islam does not have priests but whether one calls them clerics or imams or muftis, it has authorities on the doctrine. Once these authorities are backed by the army of the state, there is no surer way to become confused about one's religion and confuse others than to get involved with them.
This observation applies to every religion; it happened to Christianity and even to the Buddha's teachings. Once religion passes from the control of the vernacular to control of the state, it is no longer religion; it is an imitation of the real thing.
And so it is no surprise that even now, as I write these words, a mysterious religious movement is sweeping through the Middle East that while Islamic in several respects has nothing to do with the Islam preached by state-backed Sunni and Shia religious authorities.
Although the movement might be destroyed, another would rise in its place. Ever thus; people always find their way home.
So I would say this to President Sisi, who by his own efforts inspired many Egyptians to reject despair:
Few things are worse for a person than to watch the religion that has guided him ground into the dirt of contempt. And yet it is not our place to save religion, for it exists to help save us. The best we can do is use its gifts to save ourselves, and in such acts are the best defense of our religion.