Ed Husain

The Arab Street

Husain examines politics, society, and radicalism in the greater Middle East.

Questions from Cairo

by Ed Husain Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Women walk beside an election poster for the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party outside a polling station in Cairo on November 28, 2011 (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Toshiba’s profits in Egypt will have soared of late. With stern-looking military guards at the door of every polling station, confused first-time voters turn to civilian volunteers from the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party for guidance. No other political party was omnipresent across Cairo with party-supplied Toshiba laptops, makeshift information desks, campaign literature, and immediate, uncontested instructions for voters on: a) how to vote and b) how to vote for the Muslim Brotherhood.

I am not blaming the Muslim Brotherhood for their efficiency and monopolized presence, however, I do question the lack of a presence by other political forces in Egypt. The liberal, urban, and elite Facebook and Twitter generation of Egyptians may have led the January revolution, but they simply do not possess the real-world resources, unified thought patterns, and socio-political networks of their Islamist rivals.

So what happens next? As election fever grips a justifiably proud Egypt, I am concerned about the following: Read more »

When the French Liberated Mecca

by Ed Husain Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Muslim pilgrims perform Friday prayers around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Mecca on November 4, 2011, as seen from Al-Masjid al-Haram (Hassan Ali/Courtesy Reuters).

For seven long days, the Saudi authorities lost control of Islam’s holiest site in Mecca. With the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini contesting for leadership of the world’s Muslims, the Saudis were caught napping at the wheel during this week in 1979.

Led by the notorious Juhaymin al-Uteybi, hundreds of Salafist extremists from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Kuwait, Egypt, and even some from the United States seized control of the Grand Mosque after dawn prayers, holding thousands of worshippers from across the world hostage. They declared that Uteybi’s brother-in-law, Mohammed Abdullah al-Qahtani, was the long-awaited messiah, or Mahdi, to whom Muslims around the world were to pledge allegiance. Read more »

Lest We Forget: Lessons from Luxor, Egypt

by Ed Husain Thursday, November 17, 2011

A tourist examines Queen Hatshepsut Temple in Luxor. Members of al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya killed fifty-eight tourists in an attack at the temple in 1997 (Goran Tomasevic/Courtesy Reuters).

On this day in 1997, fifty-eight foreign tourists and four Egyptians were killed by Islamist militants in Luxor, Egypt. Known as the “Luxor Massacre,” the attack was carried out by six men who met with no resistance until they left in a taxi, and later hijacked a bus. It was several hours before the police confronted and killed the gunmen after chasing them through the desert hills around Luxor.

To this day, any visitor to Egypt cannot miss the security presence and bag searches at major hotels. Egypt’s tourism industry was dealt a major blow as a result of the Luxor massacre. As we remember the fourteenth anniversary of the massacre, three lessons should be borne in mind by U.S. policymakers engaging with counterterrorism officials in Egypt:

First, the killers were university students. As Egyptian society undergoes democratic change, and the discontented elements of extreme Salafism lose at the ballot box, it is worth asking ourselves: will this jihadi frame of mind re-emerge on Egypt’s university campuses? Even if Egypt becomes a free society, this is no guarantee against the rise of extremism. British university campuses are among the freest in the world, yet they host hotbeds of Islamists in alliance with left-wing, anti-American apologists for terror. Read more »

Grandpa Zawahiri’s Al-Qaeda Story Show: Part 1

by Ed Husain Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri (Hamid Mir/Courtesy Reuters).

Al-Qaeda has just released the first in a series of forthcoming videos in which its new leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, sits on a sofa—without his favorite prop, a Kalashnikov—and waxes lyrical about bygone days with Osama bin Laden.

Devoid of his usual yelling, threatening, and jabbing—although he can’t resist wagging his finger—Zawahiri tries to bolster the mythology and symbolism of Osama bin Laden for the orphaned jihadi movement. By using his own personal experiences with Bin Laden, Zawahiri is attempting to consolidate his position as undisputed leader to prevent possible rebellion within al-Qaeda’s ranks. Often accused of being ruthless and cold-blooded, Zawahiri relates stories of Bin Laden’s joys, tears, frustrations, and loyalty to show that Zawahiri, too, has a side that empathizes with and grasps the sheer difficulties of the jihadi lifestyle. Read more »

No Women, Christians, or Music: What Next?

by Ed Husain Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The following is a political ad released in Egypt in support of the Salafist political party Hizb al-Noor.

To view this video on YouTube.com, click here.

Products of Saudi Arabian Islam, protected and nurtured by Egypt’s former president Mubarak, Salafists are a rising force in Egypt: a country that is increasingly torn between the false political choice of secularism and Islam.

Initially opposed to the Egyptian revolution, Salafists have now created several political parties in an attempt to out-Islam other Islamists, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood. Salafists matter because they practice, preach, and seek to popularize a puritanical form of Islam that is alien to Egypt. Their entry into politics is part of their strategy to attempt to introduce their reading of shariah as state law.

The video above is a slick production of the campaign anthem of the largest Salafist political party, Hizb al-Noor, meaning “Party of Light.” Despite the beauty of shots of the countryside and everyday life in the three-minute clip being distributed on DVD across Egypt, it is telling that no women appear and imagery of  Egypt’s Copts is absent in this propaganda tool. The omission of Copts is important because Salafists have been accused repeatedly of whipping up anti-Christian sentiment in Egypt. Adhering to hard-line, literalist, and contested interpretations of Islam, no music is allowed, but acoustic humming is used to get around the self-imposed music ban. Read more »

A Poor Response from the Muslim Brotherhood

by Ed Husain Monday, November 14, 2011

Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie speaks to the media after casting his vote for a referendum at a polling station in Cairo on March 19, 2011 (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

The good news is that the Muslim Brotherhood officially responded to my argument last week that they could be guilty of bribery and voter manipulation in the run-up to Egypt’s elections. The bad news, however, is that there is no meat in their response. In the spirit of democratic engagement and dialogue, I will say three things:

First, if the Muslim Brotherhood can tweet and comment on Egypt from New York (as they do), then so can I and others. Being in the West does not nullify our observations, as suggested in the Brotherhood’s response. After my last set of meetings with the Brotherhood, I wrote this piece for Foreign Policy magazine. In short, I maintain contact with the Brotherhood and others in Egypt for research purposes. Read more »

Guest Post: Arab Transitions, Turkish Ambitions

by Ed Husain Friday, November 11, 2011

A view of Istanbul's financial district from the city's Asian side (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters).

This post is written by my colleague, Charles Landow, associate director of the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Whether for its economic dynamism or its increasingly visible role in the Middle East, Turkey today is much in the news. I recently visited the country and found good reasons for the attention. The purpose of the trip was to attend a conference on “The Economies of the Arab Spring” organized by the Hollings Center for International Dialogue, a small but energetic think tank that fosters policy conversations and connections between the United States and the Muslim world.

What I saw made clear that Istanbul is the hub of a booming economy with growing ambitions. The IMF projects that Turkey’s GDP, less than $200 billion as recently as 2001, will exceed $1 trillion by 2015. Per capita GDP has reached $10,000, on its way to nearly $15,000 in the next five years. This growth has many Turks thinking big. For example, the massive Marmaray Tunnel, which will traverse the Bosphorus to connect Istanbul’s European and Asian sides by rail, is under construction to address the city’s transport woes. Even the U.S. transportation secretary has praised its engineering prowess. And in April Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced plans for a colossal new canal that would keep freighters and their often hazardous cargo out of the jammed Bosphorus. Read more »

Is the Muslim Brotherhood Bribing Voters in Egypt?

by Ed Husain Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Essam El Erian, deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, speaks during a news conference in Cairo on April 30, 2011 (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).

Free meat, subsidized vegetables, and sweets for children are the Muslim Brotherhood’s bribes for votes from Egypt’s poor. This charm offensive by Egypt’s most organized political force was in full force during last weekend’s religious celebrations. During sermons on Eid al-Adha, Brotherhood representatives conveyed the message that voting for Islamist parties was synonymous with being an upright Muslim. This flawed appeal for support—as it is perfectly coherent to be a pious Muslim and vote for a secular party—was supplemented by pro-Brotherhood clerics’ anti-Western messages, documented in this report on the website of state-run newspaper Al-Ahram.

None of this is particularly surprising. Hamas in Gaza has used social services to secure the sympathy of Palestinians, Hezbollah does so in Lebanon, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has used welfare support for more than three decades as a means of recruiting new supporters and legitimizing its continued presence in communities across Egypt. Where the state failed, the Muslim Brotherhood entered with charity work, building low-cost hospitals, supporting orphans and widows, and running vocational training programs. Read more »

Alcohol, Bikinis, Secularism, and Islam

by Ed Husain Monday, November 7, 2011

Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist Ennahda movement (Zoubeir Souissi/Courtesy Reuters).

Westerners often struggle to understand what is going on inside Islamist groups—newspaper headlines do not always tell the full story. There is an enlightened, mature, and global conversation happening among Islamist movements. The acceptance of wearing bikinis on beaches or the commitment to permitting alcohol in Tunisia, which many view as bellwether issues in Islamist thinking, is an outcome of that debate.

In a recent television exchange between Rachid Ghannouchi, Tunisian leader of the Ennahda party, and Saudi Arabia’s leading Salafi scholar, Salman al-Awdah, we witnessed encouraging intellectual pronouncements that bode well for the Arab uprisings. Read more »

Our Man in Pakistan?

by Ed Husain Friday, November 4, 2011

Pakistan's former president Pervez Musharraf gives a news conference at the launch of his party, the All Pakistan Muslim League (Luke MacGregor/Courtesy Reuters).

His close proximity to former U.S. president George W. Bush earned him the popular moniker, “Busharraf.” So it was with some intrigue that I went to hear Pakistan’s former president, Pervez Musharraf, address a prestigious and influential U.S. audience at a packed meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations’ headquarters in New York this week.

I was struck by what was, essentially, his appeal for U.S. political sponsorship of his bid to contest elections in Pakistan next year. He spoke eloquently about the poor state of U.S.-Pakistan relations, the need for a peace settlement with elements of the Taliban, and his country’s—and his own—unhelpful Machiavellian attitude toward India and Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the following facts left me worried:

First, for a man who prosecuted the war on terror with such vigor, it was unforgivable for him to say to an Indian journalist who asked about Pakistan’s export of terrorism, ‘Sir, your terrorist is someone else’s freedom fighter.” This moral equivocation is the same justification used by terrorists to inflict harm on innocent lives around the world. Musharraf should know better.

Second, a major cause for widespread, ongoing anti-American radicalization in Pakistan is the CIA-led drone attacks in the country’s tribal regions.  Musharraf did not make any references to the drones, their many innocent victims, and the perceived violation of Pakistani sovereignty. It would have been wiser to reassure the audience that a Pakistan under his control would be a nation in which the United States would not need to use drones because terrorists would be brought to justice. Ignoring the issue of drones is self-defeating all around. Read more »