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Posts tagged ‘Salafi’

Raymond Ibrahim: Blasphemy Charges Soar Against Christians in Egypt.

Raymond Ibrahim‘s Perspective: Dimyana Abdel-Nour a “pale, young Christian woman sat handcuffed in the courtroom, accused of insulting Islam while teaching history of religions to fourth-graders.” Her accusers are 10-year-old Muslim children who say she “showed disgust when she spoke of Islam in class.”

According to Islamic law, the word of inferior Christians cannot stand against that of superior Muslims — even if they are resentful or confused children.

Released on bail, Dimyana is unable to talk and “suffering a nervous breakdown.”

Criminalizing blasphemy was enshrined in the country’s Islamist-backed constitution that was adopted in December. Writers, activists and even a famous television comedian have been accused of blasphemy since then. But Christians seem to be the favorite target of Islamist prosecutors. Their fragile cases — the main basis of the case against Abdel-Nour’s case the testimony of children — are greeted with sympathy from courtroom judges with their own religious bias or who fear the wrath of Islamists, according to activists.

The result is a growing number of Egyptians, including many Christians, who have been convicted and sent to prison for blasphemy. Part of the Salafis’ antagonism toward Christians is rooted in the belief that they were a protected group under Mubarak’s regime while they, the Salafis, were persecuted.

Now empowered, they may be out to exact revenge on the Christians.

Indeed, before President Obama threw Hosni Mubarak under the bus in the name of “freedom” and “democracy,” Christians were at least legally protected. Muslim mobs were limited to lawless attacks on Christian churches and persons. But now that the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis are in charge, Egypt’s Christians are now also experiencing legal persecution in the courtrooms, especially in the context of blasphemy.

The following cases of blasphemy laws targeting Christians, some of which were never reported in the West, represent a mere sampling of post “Arab Spring” Egypt. For many more such cases, including all around the Muslim world, see my new book Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians (April, 2013, published by Regnery in cooperation with Gatestone Institute.

  • In November 2012, an Egyptian court decreed that eight Christians living in America — seven native Egyptians, and one American, Pastor Terry Jones — be sent to Egypt and executed in connection with the 16-minute YouTube Muhammad video. The prosecution offered no real evidence against the Christians, most of whom deny any involvement, and instead relied on inciting Muslims against the accused by replaying the video in the courtroom.
  • Last September, 27-year-old Copt Albert Saber was accused of posting clips of the Muhammad movie — which he had actually downloaded from a Muslim site, not YouTube. Muslims attacked and evicted him and his mother from their home; he was arrested and is currently awaiting a multi-year sentence.
  • In March 2012, Makram Diab, a 49-year-old Christian, was sentenced in a 10-minute show trial to six years in prison for “insulting Muhammad.” He had gotten into a religious argument with a Muslim colleague, who went on to protest that Diab had offended the prophet. The judge doubled the sentence to appease an angry mob, 2,500 strong, which had surrounded the courtroom demanding Diab’s death.
  • In August 2012, Bishoy Kamil, a Copt in his 20s who worked as a teacher, was arrested and given six years in prison for posting cartoons deemed insulting to Islam and its prophet on Facebook. Like Diab, he was given more than double the maximum penalty to appease mob calls for his death.
  • In April 2012, Gamal Abdu Massud, a teenage Christian student, was sentenced to three years on accusations that he had posted a Muhammad cartoon on his Facebook account, which had only some 135 friends. Apparently the wrong “friend” saw it, for it was not long before local Muslims rioted, burning the Coptic teenager’s house as well as the homes of five other Christians.
  • In June 2011, another Christian woman, Naima Wahib Habil, newly hired as director of a junior high school for girls, was sentenced to two years imprisonment on the accusation that she had torn a copy of the Koran in front of her students. The rumor inspired mob riots and calls for her death.

Human rights activist Magdi Khalil of Coptic Solidarity told me that in all these cases “Islamist prosecutors rely exclusively on circumstantial evidence. And the judges do not behave like impartial judges, but rather as demagogues haranguing an already frenzied mob, and then sacrificing the Copts to satisfy them. Nor do they allow any representation for the accused. Judges just show up and pass their verdicts in very brief mock trials.”

Such is the new Egypt that Obama helped create — despite all the glaring warning signs that it would develop just like this. Christian persecution in Egypt has gone from being a common, though technically illegal, phenomenon, to being widespread, and now legal.

Raymond Ibrahim is author of “Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians.” A Middle East and Islam expert, he is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and associate fellow at the Middle East Forum.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.
By Raymond Ibrahim

Muslim Extremist ‘Happy’ About Boston Marathon Bombings.

Jordan, U.S.
The head of a Jordanian Muslim extremist group says he’s happy to see the horror in America after the bombings in Boston. (CBN News)

The head of a Muslim extremist group says he’s happy to see the horror in America after the bombings in Boston.

Mohammad al-Chalabi is part of the Jordanian Muslim Salafi group.

In 2003, al-Chalabi was convicted in an al-Qaida-linked plot to attack the United States and other Western diplomatic missions in Jordan.

He said, “Let the Americans feel the pain we endured by their armies occupying Iraq and Afghanistan and killing our people there.”

Meanwhile, security has been beefed up around the U.S. Embassy in Amman.

A counter-terrorism expert based in Jordan said the blasts “carry the hallmark” of terrorists groups like al-Qaida but didn’t elaborate.


Islamist Group Owns Up to Rocket Attack.

Gaza Rocket
Israeli police officers stand near the remains of a rocket fired by Palestinian militants in Gaza after it landed in the southern Israeli town of Sderot March 21, 2013. (Amir Cohen/Reuters)

A small Islamist group claimed responsibility for firing rockets on Thursday at an Israeli border town from the Gaza Strip during U.S. President Barack Obama‘s visit to the region.

The small Salafi group called Magles Shoura al-Mujahddin said in an Internet statement that it fired the rockets to show that Israeli air defences could not stop attacks on the Jewish state during the visit.

Police said there were no casualties but some damage in the attack on Sderot near the Gaza frontier.

“Responding to the bragging of the Roman dog and the war criminals of their so-called Iron Dome, we assert that all their military techniques will not stop God’s destiny of tormenting them,” the statement, posted on the Ansar al-Mujahideen website, which is used by Islamist militants, said.

It was referring to the U.S. president, who is on a visit to Israel and the West Bank and who had mentioned the town in a speech on his arrival in Israel a day earlier.

The group had previously claimed a deadly attack in June 2012 on Israel from Sinai.

The Islamist Hamas group, which rules Gaza since 2007, has conducted sweeps against the armed Salafis, who espouse an austere form of Islam and who often try to fire rockets into Israel defiance of de facto Palestinian truces.



(Reporting by Ahmed Tolba in Cairo, writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Alison Williams)

© 2013 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved

Dispatch from Cairo: Egypt’s president is under attack from all sides.


Goodbye, consensus. Hello, violence

Seven months after he was elected amidst celebrations and optimistic expectations, President Mohamad Morsi and his Islamist Freedom and Justice party are finding themselves increasingly embattled and isolated.

Morsi’s much-lauded panel of advisors, initially made up of 21 luminaries from across the political spectrum, has been hit by a spate of resignations and dismissals, and has lost over half its members. The secularists and Christians began leaving late last year, complaining that Morsi was increasingly partisan and authoritarian. Now over the past week, ultra-conservative Salifi members of the council have been resigning as well, for once agreeing with their liberal rivals.

SEE MORE: Dispatch from Cairo: Will Egypt let Hosni Mubarak off the hook?

Though Islamist in ideology, Morsi was able to attract a broad base of support in last year’s election by positioning himself as a the face of post-revolution reform, promising to solve a host of social problems in his first 100 days, and most importantly by pledging to run a broad-based, non-ideological administration.

The council of advisors was instrumental in offering credibility on this last point. It was hoped that Morsi could hold together a coalition of Coptic Christians, strict secularists, moderate Islamists, and hardline Salifis. Now, the dissolution of his council is symbolic of the wider trend in Egypt away from consensus, unity, and dialogue and toward partisanship, division, and violence.

SEE MORE: Dispatch from Cairo: Is Egypt ready for a return to normalcy?

Morsihails from the Muslim Brotherhood — a sprawling, immensely influential Islamist group. Besides being the driving force behind the ruling Freedom and Justice party, the Brotherhood has an extensive charitable arm, and interests in successful for-profit businesses. The group is extremely divisive in Egypt and can arouse either suspicion or admiration, depending on who you ask.

These days, Morsi is often accused by both liberals and Salifis of appointing unqualified Brotherhood members to vital posts in government, and of the 10 advisors remaining on the council, five are Brothers.

SEE MORE: Is Egypt headed for another revolution?

Initially, the Muslim Brotherhood was seen as the only group capable of holding Egypt together. Given the immense popularity of both radical, Saudi-style Salifi parties and secularists, the Muslim Brothers and their moderate Islamism seemed like the perfect middle ground to ease Egypt into democracy.

However, Morsi’s perceived partisanship, combined with genuine ideological differences and continued economic hardship, is robbing the Muslim Brotherhood of its unifying credibility and much of its popular support.

SEE MORE: Dispatch from Cairo: Egypt on the brink

The liberals and Coptic Christian bloc have long since given up trying to deal with Morsi, and their leadership is now gleefully backing anti-government rioters who periodically turn much of downtownCairo and other cities into veritable war zones. Furthermore, while they are able to present a united front against the Islamists, there is no evidence that this disparate coalition of socialists, businessmen, and former regime figures agree on much else.

The Salifis, for their part, are increasingly split, with one faction cynically making overtures to the liberals (who hold values diametrically opposed to theirs) in order to put pressure on Morsi, and another faction doubling down on their support of Morsi with increasingly incendiary and violent rhetoric.

With new parliamentary elections supposed to happen in the next few months, it is increasingly possible that Morsi and his allies will take a beating from both the left and the right. In any case, Egyptians I know who once risked their lives in the fight for democracy are increasingly disengaging from the political process out of frustration and a perceived lack of good options.

A major pillar of Morsi’s presidential campaign was that he would make Egypt’s streets safe, improve Egypt’s awful public sanitation, and ease its notorious traffic congestion in his first 100 days in office. Now well past his self-imposed deadline, crime and chaos are seemingly getting worse by the day and the streets of Cairo remain clogged with traffic and filth of every kind.

And let’s face it: Regardless of which parties win or lose, it is almost certain that the streets will remain dirty, security will remain tenuous, and politics will remain intransigent.

Jake Lippincott earned a degree in Middle Eastern Studies at Hampshire College. He worked in Tunis during the popular uprising there, and is now based in Cairo.


By Jacob Lippincott | The Week

As vote nears, tensions flare among Egypt Islamists.

CAIRO (Reuters) – President Mohamed Mursi’s decision to fire a hardline Islamist as an adviser has laid bare rivalries between Egypt’s two biggest Islamist groups as parliamentary elections approach.

The sacking of Khaled Alameddin of the Salafi Nour Party on Sunday has led his movement to step up criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood that propelled Mursi to power, narrowing the already slim chances of the two movements working together in the election.

Alameddin broke down in tears during a news conference on Monday, saying he had been accused of abusing power. The presidency has yet to issue a statement on why Alameddin was dismissed.

“I formally demand an apology from the president. I won’t accept an apology less than that,” Alameddin said. Another of Mursi’s advisers from the Nour Party, Bassam El-Zarka, announced his resignation at the news conference, apparently in solidarity with Alameddin.

The Nour Party, which emerged from the ultra-conservative religious movement Daawa Salafiya, came second to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s last parliamentary elections, the results of which were overturned by a court ruling last June. New elections are due to begin in April or May.

Since the last legislative vote, the two movements have both cooperated and clashed.

Nour backed a Brotherhood rival, Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, in the first round of the presidential election. But it swung behind Mursi in the second-round run-off against Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s last prime minister.

Mursi employed several Nour Party members as advisers. The groups cooperated to drive through an Islamist-tinged constitution approved in a December referendum, deepening a national divide between Islamists and their opponents.


But in recent weeks the Nour Party has sought to distance itself from the Brotherhood, whose popularity has been dented by a deepening economic crisis and a stand-off with political rivals who say it wants to monopolize the institutions of state.

The Nour Party did not take part in a pro-Mursi rally called last Friday by another hardline Islamist party.

“The Brotherhood has become more radioactive from the Nour Party’s standpoint now,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center. “They (Nour) want to present themselves as the pure Islamic alternative.”

Nour has sought to defuse tension between Mursi’s presidency and Egypt’s liberal and leftist opposition, an apparent attempt to burnish its image as a responsible, mature political player.

The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has poured cold water on the initiative.

The FJP, which won about 40 percent of seats in the last elections, said last week it aimed to secure an outright majority in the next parliament.

Nour Party spokesman Nader Bakkar said Alameddin had been dismissed without proper investigation, and took a stab at Mursi over accusations that his family had recently benefited from connections by securing state employment for one of his sons.

A media furor over the appointment of Omar Mursi at a firm affiliated to the civil aviation ministry forced him to forgo the job on Sunday.

Hamid at the Brookings Doha Center said there was no “natural affinity” between the two Islamist groups. “There has always been a tense relationship,” he said.

(Writing by Shaimaa Fayed; Editing by Tom Perry and Tom Pfeiffer)


By Omar Fahmy | Reuters

Islamist adviser to Egypt’s president quits.

CAIRO (AP) — An ultraconservative Islamist adviser to Egypt’s president has resigned in solidarity with a fellow aide who was fired amid allegations of abusing his office.

The Monday resignation of Bassam Zarka, who is a member of the Salafi Al-Nour party, is the latest sign of tension between President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist ally months before parliamentary elections.

Zarka dramatically announced his resignation at a live press conference during which his Al-Nour colleague and former presidential adviser, Khaled Alam Eldin, broke down in tears as he denied the allegations that he had abused his office.

Eldin demanded an apology from Morsi for firing him. The presidency has refused.


Associated Press

Are the world’s worst fears about Islamists coming true?.



A liberal opposition leader in Tunisia is shot dead outside his home, endangering the country’s fledgling democracy

On Wednesday, Chokri Belaid, a leading critic of the Islamist-led government in Tunisia, was shot dead outside his home in Tunis, roiling a young democracy that sparked the Arab Spring in 2011 with the ouster of longtime dictator Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. Suspicion for the killing immediately fell on hardline Salafists who over the past year have waged a violent campaign against symbols of Tunisia’s secular tradition: Movie theaters, art exhibits, liquor vendors, intellectuals, artists, journalists, and human rights activists.

Belaid, a prominent leader of the opposition Popular Front coalition, had heavily criticized the government for protecting the Salafists, who seek to impose their interpretation of Islamic law on Tunisia. Belaid had recently accused the Salafists of attacking a meeting of his supporters. Human rights activists say the government, led by the moderate Islamist Ennahada party, is unwilling to crack down on more extremist elements in Tunisia. According to Abigail Hauslohner at The Washington Post:

Complaints filed by the victims of alleged Salafist violence to Tunisia’s police force and judiciary, for example, rarely yield serious investigations and prosecutions, said Eric Goldstein, the deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa for Human Rights Watch.

“There is a climate of laxness toward violence in Tunisia,” Goldstein said. “[The government‘s] response to these attacks by Salafi groups is that it’s better to have dialogue with them and bring them into the political process, rather than throw them in jail.” [Washington Post]

For its part, Ennahda strongly condemned Belaid’s killing, calling it a “heinous crime.” President Moncef Marzouki cut short an official visit to France, and called on law enforcement authorities to prosecute those responsible. He described Belaid as a “longstanding friend,” and also asked Tunisians to show “self restraint, and not to be hasty in analyzing this crime and cowardly act or to blame one side or another for it.”SEE ALSO: 10 things you need to know today: January 31, 2013

Despite that, Belaid’s supporters gathered to protest his death in front of the interior ministry — a reviled symbol of state repression under Ben Ali’s regime — and called for a “second revolution.” The scene was remarkably similar to those that have played out in recent days in Egypt, where protesters, alienated by an Islamist majority, have linked the government with the oppression exercised by its predecessor. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has been accused by his secular critics of hijacking the revolution, and becoming an Islamist version of former dictator Hosni Mubarak.

Ennahda has not conducted the type of worrisome, power-grabbing moves that Morsi has made in recent months, though Ennahda has been under pressure to include more secular parties in its ruling coalition. Indeed, Tunisia was considered something of a model for how the Arab Spring could play out, with a moderate Islamist party in power that respects liberal democracy. That is why Belaid’s killing is so troublesome and deflating for pro-democracy activists in the region, another sign that hardline Islamists, many of whom are fundamentally anti-democratic, will use any means necessary to derail progress. Belaid’s killing has also renewed questions of whether Islamism and democracy can coexist in the region.

SEE ALSO: President Obama and 6 other famous people who wrote excuse notes for students

It’s clear that the best way for Ennahda to show its commitment to secularism, democracy, and law and order is to bring Belaid’s killers to justice and crack down on the Salafists. Anything less would be seen as a victory for the fundamentalists — and might help fulfill Belaid’s prediction, before his death, that Tunisia would soon be awash in political violence.


By Ryu Spaeth | The Week

Hit by new unrest, Egypt’s tourism industry worries over future between turmoil, Islamists.

CAIRO – At Egypt’s Pyramids, the desperation of vendors to sell can be a little frightening for some tourists.

Young men descend on any car with foreigners in it blocks before it reaches the more than 4,500 year-old Wonder of the World. They bang on car doors and hoods, some waving the sticks and whips they use for driving camels, demanding the tourists come to their shop or ride their camel or just give money.

In the southern city of Aswan, tour operator Ashraf Ibrahim was recently taking a group to a historic mosque when a mob of angry horse carriage drivers trapped them inside, trying to force them to take rides. The drivers told Ibrahim to steer business their way in the future or else they’d burn his tourist buses, he said.

Egypt’s touts have always been aggressive — but they’re more desperate than ever after nearly two years of devastation in the tourism industry, a pillar of the economy.

December, traditionally the start of Egypt’s peak season, has brought new pain. Many foreigners stayed away because of the televised scenes of protests and clashes on the streets of Cairo in the battle over a controversial constitution.

Arrivals this month were down 40 per cent from November, according to airport officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

Tourism workers have little hope that things will get better now that the constitution came into effect this week after a nationwide referendum. The power struggle between Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and the opposition threatens to erupt at any time into more unrest in the streets.

More long term, many in the industry worry ruling Islamists will start making changes like banning alcohol or swimsuits on beaches that they fear will drive tourists away.

“Nobody can plan anything because one day you find that everything might be OK and another that everything is lost. You can’t even take a right decision or plan for the next month,” said Magda Fawzi, head of Sabena Management.

She’s thinking of shutting down her company, which runs two hotels in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh and four luxury cruise boats on the Nile between the ancient cities of Luxor and Aswan. In one hotel, only 10 of 300 rooms are booked, and only one of her ships is operating, she said. She has already downsized from 850 employees before the revolution to 500.

“I don’t think there will be any stability with this kind of constitution. People will not accept it,” she said.

Tourism, one of Egypt’s biggest foreign currency earners, was gutted by the turmoil of last year’s 18-day uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Scared off by the upheaval, the number of tourists fell to 9.8 million in 2011 from 14.7 million the year before, and revenues plunged 30 per cent to $8.8 billion.

This year, the industry struggled back. By the end of September, 8.1 million tourists had come, injecting $10 billion into the economy. The number for the full year is likely to surpass 2011 but is still considerably down from 2010.

For the public, it has meant a drying up of income, given that tourism provided direct or indirect employment to one in eight Egyptians in 2010, according to government figures.

Poverty swelled at the country’s fastest rate in Luxor province, highly dependent on visitors to its monumental temples and the tombs of King Tutankamun and other pharaohs. In 2011, 39 per cent of its population lived on less than $1 a day, compared to 18 per cent in 2009, according to government figures.

For the government, the fall in tourism and foreign investment since the revolution has worsened a debt crisis and forced talks with the International Monetary Fund over a $4.8 billion loan.

Morsi has promised to expand tourism, but hotel owners and tour operators say he has yet to make clear any plans.

Their biggest fear is new violence causing shocks like December’s. Ibrahim, of the Eagle Travels tourism company, said that because of this month’s protests, two German operators he works with cancelled tours. They weren’t even heading to Cairo, but to the Red Sea, Luxor and Aswan, far from the unrest.

But some in the industry fear that, with the constitution’s provisions strengthening implementation of Shariah, Islamists will ban alcohol or restrict dress on Egypt’s beaches, which rival antiquities sites as draws for tourism. Officials from the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails, are vague about any plans.

Ultraconservative Salafis, who are key allies of Morsi, have been more direct.

Nader Bakkar, spokesman for the Salafi Nour Party, told a conference of tour guides in Aswan earlier this month that tourists should not be allowed to buy alcohol but could bring it with them and drink it in their rooms. Tourists should also be encouraged to wear conservative dress, he said.

“We welcome all tourists but we tell them … there are traditions and beliefs in the country, so respect them,” he said. “Most tourists will have no problem if you tell them” to bring their own alcohol.

One Salafi sheik earlier this year said the Pyramids and Sphinx should be demolished as anti-Islamic — like Afghanistan’s then-Taliban rulers destroyed monumental Buddha statues in 2001. Bakkar dismissed the comments as the opinion of one cleric.

But tour guide Gladys Haddad sees the Salafis’ attitude as a threat, saying the constitution should have said more to protect Egypt’s pharaonic heritage. “We are talking about a civilization that they do not acknowledge. They see it as idolatrous.”

“Why would a tourist come to a resort if he can’t drink?” said Fawzi, of Sabena Management. “People are coming for tours and monuments, and to relax on the boats. If they feel that restriction, why should they come?”

Nahla Mofied of Escapade Travels said the Islamists might restrict what tourists can “wear and do” but, given its importance to the economy, “they may not destroy tourism fully.”

Complicating attempts to draw tourists back is the lawlessness gripping Egypt the past two years. With police supervision low, tourist touts increasingly assault guides and even tourists to demand business. In September, 150 tour guides held a protest against attacks by vendors.

“We have struggled with this problem since before the revolution, but now the situation is completely out of control,” Ibrahim said.

At the Giza Pyramids, police seem indifferent to the touts. Camel-riding police even join in, pushing tourists to take rides.

Gomaa al-Gabri, an antiquities employee, was infuriated at the sight, shouting, “You sons of dogs” and a slew of other insults at a policeman trying to get money off a tourist.

“They’re trying to take away my income,” said the father of 11. “In Mubarak’s time we wouldn’t dare talk to them like this. Now I can hit him with a shoe on his head and he can’t speak.”

For some tourists at the Pyramids, the chaos is part of the experience.

“I just love it,” British tourist Brian Wilson said. “You can’t blame people wanting to make money.”


By Aya Batrawy, The Associated Press | Associated Press

Islamists, opponents clash in northern Egypt.

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt (AP) — Thousands of Islamists clashed with their opponents Friday in Egypt’s second largest city, Alexandria, on the eve of the second leg of voting on the country’s contentiousconstitution that has deeply polarized the nation.

The two sides hurled rocks and stones at each other in the Mediterranean port city, prompting police to fire tear gas to separate them. Volleys of tear gas containers fell into the sea as security forces cordoned off the crowds to prevent further clashes between the Muslim Brotherhood members and ultraconservative Salafis on one side, and groups of young protesters on the other.

It was not immediately clear who started the fight, which added to the already tense political crisis over the draft charter.

The Islamists had called for a massive rally Friday outside the Qaed Ibrahim main mosque in the heart of Alexandria. About 20 political parties had issued a joint statement, saying they would not hold a rival rally in the city to avoid clashes.

Security forces cordoned off streets leading to the mosque as throngs of mostly long-bearded Salafi Islamists gathered for what they called “the million-man rally to defend clerics and mosques.” Islamists chanted “God is Great,” and warned opponents, “with blood and soul, we redeem Islam.”

The rally was called in response to last week’s violence, when a well-known Alexandria preacher and ultraconservative Salafi cleric, Sheik Ahmed el-Mahalawi, was trapped inside a mosque for 12 hours while his supporters battled rock-throwing opponents outside with swords and firebombs.

El-Mahalawi, 87, stirred anger with a sermon last Friday in which he denounced opponents of the Islamist-friendly draft charter as “followers of heretics” — something he denied in a sermon on Friday, accusing media instead of spreading “lies.”

He claimed that last week’s clashes were meant to prevent the voting from taking place.

“The real goal here is for the referendum not to take place,” he said Friday, adding that his backers had been ready with “teams of people equipped with all facilities to end the siege on the mosque” but he held them back because Salafis “don’t want to shed blood.”

The referendum on the constitution is to be completed Saturday with voting in the remaining 17 of Egypt’s 27 provinces. The first round was held in 10 provinces last Saturday, including in Egypt’s biggest cities, Cairo and Alexandria.

Rights groups and opposition filed complaints of vote violations after last week’s voting. Turnout was low, around 32 percent, and unofficial results showed the Islamists’ “yes” vote getting 56 percent of the ballots.

Controversy over the new constitution has in the past month plunged Egypt into political turmoil unprecedented since the February 2011 ouster of Hosni Mubarak, the longtime authoritarian and secular-minded ruler.

The draft has split the country into two camps. On one side are the Islamists from the country’s most organized group, The Muslim Brotherhood, from which President Mohammed Morsi hails, and their backers from various ultraconservative Salafi and former Jihadist groups.

The other camp is the opposition, led by the National Salvation Front. It’s an alliance of liberal parties and youth groups that is backed by Christians and moderate Muslims who fear Brotherhood’s attempts to monopolize power by passing a constitution that enshrines a greater role for clerics and Islamic Shariah law.

Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians from the two camps have taken to the streets and city centers over the past month to rally for their side. The crisis peaked when the two camps clashed as Brotherhood supporters attacked an opposition sit-in outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Dec. 5. The violence left at least 10 dead and hundreds of injured on both sides.

The crisis was compounded by Morsi’s decision to rush the draft constitution to a referendum after an Islamist-dominated panel approved it, as well as his move last month to grant himself near-absolute powers, which were later rescinded.

The moves have also split state institutions. The judiciary became another battleground, with the powerful Judges’ Club calling on its members to boycott the vote while Brotherhood sympathizers in the legal system and other independents insisted on supervising the vote.

Egyptian prosecutors held a sit-in protest to press Morsi-appointed prosecutor general Talaat Abdullah to resign on Monday. Abdullah resigned, then retracted his resignation on Thursday, raising the prospect of new protests by fellow prosecutors.

Also, Zaghloul el-Balshi, the secretary general of the election committee who is also a judge and an aid to the country’s justice minister, resigned Wednesday, citing health reasons. The media said his resignation was prompted by his inability to prevent vote violations in the first leg of the referendum.


By NAJIB JOBAIN | Associated Press

Egypt: Alexandria Islamists rally to back clerics.

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt (AP) — Thousands of ultraconservative Islamists chanting “God is Great” have rallied in Egypt‘s second largest city, Alexandria, on the eve of the second leg of voting on Egypt’s contentious constitution.

Security forces cordoned off streets leading to the Qaed Ibrahim mosque in the heart of the city on the Mediterranean coast, where thousands of Salafi Islamists staged a demonstration they called “the million-man rally to defend clerics and mosques.”

The rally came in response to last week’s violence, when well-known ultraconservative Salafi preacher Sheik Ahmed el-Mahalawi was trapped inside the mosque while his supporters battled opponents outside with swords and firebombs.

El-Mahalawi stirred anger with a sermon last Friday, when he denounced opponents of the Islamist-friendly constitution as “followers of heretics.”

The referendum on the constitution is set for completion Saturday.


Associated Press

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