June 29, 2013
Special Report: Myanmar gives official blessing to anti-Muslim monks | Reuters
(Reuters) - The Buddhist extremist movement in Myanmar, known as 969, portrays itself as a grassroots creed.
By Andrew R.C. Marshall
June 27, 2013
Its chief proponent, a monk named Wirathu, was once jailed by the former military junta for anti-Muslim violence and once called himself the “Burmese bin Laden.”
But a Reuters examination traces 969’s origins to an official in the dictatorship that once ran Myanmar, and which is the direct predecessor of today’s reformist government. The 969 movement now enjoys support from senior government officials, establishment monks and even some members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), the political party of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
Wirathu urges Buddhists to boycott Muslim shops and shun interfaith marriages. He calls mosques “enemy bases.”
Among his admirers: Myanmar’s minister of religious affairs.
"Wirathu’s sermons are about promoting love and understanding between religions," Sann Sint, minister of religious affairs, told Reuters in his first interview with the international media. "It is impossible he is inciting religious violence."
Sann Sint, a former lieutenant general in Myanmar’s army, also sees nothing wrong with the boycott of Muslim businesses being led by the 969 monks. “We are now practicing market economics,” he said. “Nobody can stop that. It is up to the consumers.”
President Thein Sein is signaling a benign view of 969, too. His office declined to comment for this story. But in response to growing controversy over the movement, it issued a statement Sunday, saying 969 “is just a symbol of peace” and Wirathu is “a son of Lord Buddha.”
Wirathu and other monks have been closely linked to the sectarian violence spreading across Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. Anti-Muslim unrest simmered under the junta that ran the country for nearly half a century. But the worst fighting has occurred since the quasi-civilian government took power in March 2011.
Two outbursts in Rakhine State last year killed at least 192 people and left 140,000 homeless, mostly stateless Rohingya Muslims. A Reuters investigation found that organized attacks on Muslims last October were led by Rakhine nationalists incited by Buddhist monks and sometimes abetted by local security forces.
In March this year, at least 44 people died and 13,000 were displaced - again, mostly Muslims - during riots in Meikhtila, a city in central Myanmar. Reuters documented in April that the killings happened after monks led Buddhist mobs on a rampage. In May, Buddhists mobs burned and terrorized Muslim neighborhoods in the northern city of Lashio. Reports of unrest have since spread nationwide.
The numbers 969, innocuous in themselves, refer to attributes of the Buddha, his teachings and the monkhood. But 969 monks have been providing the moral justification for a wave of anti-Muslim bloodshed that could scuttle Myanmar’s nascent reform program. Another prominent 969 monk, Wimala Biwuntha, likens Muslims to a tiger who enters an ill-defended house to snatch away its occupants.
"Without discipline, we’ll lose our religion and our race," he said in a recent sermon. "We might even lose our country."
Officially, Myanmar has no state religion, but its rulers have long put Buddhism first. Muslims make up an estimated 4 percent of the populace. Buddhism is followed by 90 percent of the country’s 60 million people and is promoted by a special department within the ministry of religion created during the junta.
EASY SCAPEGOATS
Monks play a complex part in Burmese politics. They took a central role in pro-democracy “Saffron Revolution” uprisings against military rule in 2007. The generals - who included current President Thein Sein and most senior members of his government - suppressed them. Now, Thein Sein’s ambitious program of reforms has ushered in new freedoms of speech and assembly, liberating the country’s roughly 500,000 monks. They can travel at will to spread Buddhist teachings, including 969 doctrine.
In Burma’s nascent democracy, the monks have emerged as a political force in the run-up to a general election scheduled for 2015. Their new potency has given rise to a conspiracy theory here: The 969 movement is controlled by disgruntled hardliners from the previous junta, who are fomenting unrest to derail the reforms and foil an election landslide by Suu Kyi’s NLD.
No evidence has emerged to support this belief. But some in the government say there is possibly truth to it.
"Some people are very eager to reform, some people don’t want to reform," Soe Thein, one of President Thein Sein’s two closest advisors, told Reuters. "So, regarding the sectarian violence, some people may be that side - the anti-reform side."
Even if 969 isn’t controlled by powerful hardliners, it has broad support, both in high places and at the grass roots, where it is a genuine and growing movement.
Officials offer tacit backing, said Wimala, the 969 monk. “By letting us give speeches to protect our religion and race, I assume they are supporting us,” he said.
The Yangon representative of the Burmese Muslim Association agreed. “The anti-Muslim movement is growing and the government isn’t stopping it,” said Myo Win, a Muslim teacher. Myo Win likened 969 to the Ku Klux Klan.
The religion minister, Sann Sint, said the movement doesn’t have official state backing. But he defended Wirathu and other monks espousing the creed.
"I don’t think they are preaching to make problems," he said.
Local authorities, too, have lent the movement some backing.
Its logo - now one of Myanmar’s most recognizable - bears the Burmese numerals 969, a chakra wheel and four Asiatic lions representing the ancient Buddhist emperor Ashoka. Stickers with the logo are handed out free at speeches. They adorn shops, homes, taxis and souvenir stalls at the nation’s most revered Buddhist pagoda, the Shwedagon. They are a common sight in areas plagued by unrest.
Some authorities treat the symbol with reverence. A court in Bago, a region near Yangon hit by anti-Muslim violence this year, jailed a Muslim man for two years in April after he removed a 969 sticker from a betel-nut shop. He was sentenced under a section of Burma’s colonial-era Penal Code, which outlaws “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings”.
QUASI-OFFICIAL ORIGINS
The 969 movement’s ties to the state date back to the creed’s origins. Wimala, Wirathu and other 969 preachers credit its creation to the late Kyaw Lwin, an ex-monk, government official and prolific writer, now largely forgotten outside religious circles.
Myanmar’s former dictators handpicked Kyaw Lwin to promote Buddhism after the brutal suppression of the 1988 democracy uprising. Thousands were killed or injured after soldiers opened fire on unarmed protesters, including monks. Later, to signal their disgust, monks refused to accept alms from military families for three months, a potent gesture in devoutly Buddhist Myanmar.
Afterwards, the military set about co-opting Buddhism in an effort to tame rebellious monks and repair its image. Monks were registered and their movements restricted. State-run media ran almost daily reports of generals overseeing temple renovations or donating alms to abbots.
In 1991, the junta created a Department for the Promotion and Propagation of the Sasana (DPPS), a unit within the Religion Ministry, and appointed Kyaw Lwin as its head. Sasana means “religion” in Pali, the liturgical language of Theravada Buddhism; in Burma, the word is synonymous with Buddhism itself.
The following year, the DPPS published “How To Live As A Good Buddhist,” a distillation of Kyaw Lwin’s writings. It was republished in 2000 as “The Best Buddhist,” its cover bearing an early version of the 969 logo.
Kyaw Lwin stepped down in 1992. The current head is Khine Aung, a former military officer.
Kyaw Lwin’s widow and son still live in his modest home in central Yangon. Its living room walls are lined with shelves of Kyaw Lwin’s books and framed photos of him as a monk and meditation master.
Another photo shows Kyaw Lwin sharing a joke with Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt, then chief of military intelligence and one of Myanmar’s most feared men. Kyaw Lwin enjoyed close relations with other junta leaders, said his son, Aung Lwin Tun, 38, a car importer. He was personally instructed to write “The Best Buddhist” by the late Saw Maung, then Myanmar’s senior-most general. He met “often” to discuss religion with ex-dictator Than Shwe, who retired in March 2011 and has been out of the public eye since then.
"The Best Buddhist" is out of print, but Aung Lwin Tun plans to republish it. "Many people are asking for it now," he said. He supports today’s 969 movement, including its anti-Muslim boycott. "It’s like building a fence to protect our religion," he said.
Also supporting 969 is Kyaw Lwin’s widow, 65, whose name was withheld at the family’s request. She claimed that Buddhists who marry Muslims are forced at their weddings to tread on an image of Buddha, and that the ritual slaughter of animals by Shi’ite Muslims makes it easier for them to kill humans.
Among the monks Kyaw Lwin met during his time as DPPS chief was Wiseitta Biwuntha, who hailed from the town of Kyaukse, near the northern cultural capital of Mandalay. Better known as Wirathu, he is today one of the 969’s most incendiary leaders.
Wirathu and Kyaw Lwin stayed in touch after their 1992 meeting, said Aung Lwin Tun, who believed his father would admire Wirathu’s teachings. “He is doing what other people won’t - protecting and promoting the religion.”
Kyaw Lwin died in 2001, aged 70. That same year, Wirathu began preaching about 969, and the U.S. State Department reported “a sharp increase in anti-Muslim violence” in Myanmar. Anti-Muslim sentiment was stoked in March 2001 by the Taliban’s destruction of Buddhist statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, and in September by al Qaeda’s attacks in the United States.
Two years later, Wirathu was arrested and sentenced to 25 years in jail for distributing anti-Muslim pamphlets that incited communal riots in his hometown. At least 10 Muslims were killed by a Buddhist mob, according to a State Department report. The 969 movement had spilled its first blood.
969 VERSUS 786
Wirathu was freed in 2011 during an amnesty for political prisoners. While the self-styled “Burmese bin Laden” has become the militant face of 969, the movement derives evangelical energy from monks in Mon, a coastal state where people pride themselves on being Myanmar’s first Buddhists. Since last year’s violence they have organized a network across the nation. They led a boycott last year of a Muslim-owned bus company in Moulmein, Mon’s capital. Extending that boycott nationwide has become a central 969 goal.
Muslims held many senior government positions after Myanmar gained independence from Britain in 1948. That changed in 1962, when the military seized power and stymied the hiring and promoting of Muslim officials. The military drew on popular prejudices that Muslims dominated business and used their profits to build mosques, buy Buddhist wives and spread Islamic teachings.
All this justified the current boycott of Muslim businesses, said Zarni Win Tun, a 31-year-old lawyer and 969 devotee, who said Muslims had long shunned Buddhist businesses. “We didn’t start the boycott - they did,” she said. “We’re just using their methods.”
By that she means the number 786, which Muslims of South Asian origin often display on their homes and businesses. It is a numerical representation of the Islamic blessing, “In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate and Merciful”. But Buddhists in Myanmar - a country obsessed by numerology - claim the sum of the three numbers signifies a Muslim plan for world domination in the 21st century.
It is possible to understand why some Buddhists might believe this. Religious and dietary customs prohibit Muslims from frequenting Buddhist restaurants, for example. Muslims also dominate some small- and medium-sized business sectors. The names of Muslim-owned construction companies - Naing Group, Motherland, Fatherland - are winning extra prominence now that Yangon is experiencing a reform-era building boom.
However, the biggest construction firms - those involved in multi-billion-dollar infrastructure projects - are run by tycoons linked to members of the former dictatorship. They are Buddhists.
Buddhist clients have canceled contracts with Muslim-owned construction companies in northern Yangon, fearing attacks by 969 followers on the finished buildings, said Shwe Muang, a Muslim MP with the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party. “I worry that if this starts in one township it will infect others,” he said.
"OUR LIVES ARE NOT SAFE"
For Zarni Win Tun, the 969 devotee, shunning Muslims is a means of ensuring sectarian peace. She points to the Meikhtila violence, which was sparked by an argument between Buddhist customers and a Muslim gold-shop owner. “If they’d bought from their own people, the problem wouldn’t have happened,” she said.
Her conviction that segregation is the solution to sectarian strife is echoed in national policy. A total of at least 153,000 Muslims have been displaced in the past year after the violence in Rakhine and in central Myanmar. Most are concentrated in camps guarded by the security forces with little hope of returning to their old lives.
A few prominent monks have publicly criticized the 969 movement, and some Facebook users have launched a campaign to boycott taxis displaying its stickers. Some Yangon street stalls have started selling 969 CDs more discreetly since the Meikhtila bloodbath. The backlash has otherwise been muted.
Wimala, the Mon monk, shrugged off criticism from fellow monks. “They shouldn’t try to stop us from doing good things,” he said.
In mid-June, he and Wirathu attended a hundreds-strong monastic convention near Yangon, where Wirathu presented a proposal to restrict Buddhist women from marrying Muslim men.
In another sign 969 is going mainstream, Wirathu’s bid was supported by Dhammapiya, a U.S.-educated professor at the International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University in Yangon, a respected institution with links to other Buddhist universities in Asia.
Dhammapiya described 969 as a peaceful movement that is helping Myanmar through a potentially turbulent transition. “The 969 issue for us is no issue,” Dhammapiya told Reuters. “Buddhists always long to live in peace and harmony.”
NO MOSQUES HERE
The only mass movement to rival 969 is the National League for Democracy. Their relationship is both antagonistic and complementary.
In a speech posted on YouTube in late March, Wirathu said the party and Suu Kyi’s inner circle were dominated by Muslims. “If you look at NLD offices in any town, you will see bearded people,” he said. Followers of Wimala told Reuters they had removed photos of Suu Kyi - a devout Buddhist - from their homes to protest her apparent reluctance to speak up for Buddhists affected by last year’s violence in Rakhine. Suu Kyi’s reticence on sectarian violence has also angered Muslims.
The Burmese Muslim Association has accused NLD members of handing out 969 materials in Yangon.
Party spokesman Nyan Win said “some NLD members” were involved in the movement. “But the NLD cannot interfere with the freedoms or rights of members,” he said. “They all have the right to do what they want in terms of social affairs.”
Min Thet Lin, 36, a taxi driver, is exercising that right. The front and back windows of his car are plastered with 969 stickers. He is also an NLD leader in Thaketa, a working-class Yangon township known for anti-Muslim sentiment.
In February, Buddhist residents of Thaketa descended upon an Islamic school in Min Thet Lin’s neighborhood which they claimed was being secretly converted into a mosque. Riot police were deployed while the structure was demolished.
A month later, Wimala and two other Mon monks visited Thaketa to give Buddhists what a promotional leaflet called “dhamma medicine” - that is, three days of 969 sermons. “Don’t give up the fight,” urged the leaflet.
Today, the property is sealed off and guarded by police. “People don’t want a mosque here,” said Min Thet Lin.
As he spoke, 969’s pop anthem, “Song to Whip Up Religious Blood,” rang over the rooftops. A nearby monastic school was playing the song for enrolling pupils.
(Additional reporting by Min Zayar Oo.; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Michael Williams)
Copyright © 2013 Thomson Reuters.
[Photo: Buddhist monk Wirathu (C), leader of the 969 movement, greets other monks as he attends a meeting on the National Protection Law at a monastery outside Yangon June 27, 2013. (© REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun)]

Special Report: Myanmar gives official blessing to anti-Muslim monks | Reuters

(Reuters) - The Buddhist extremist movement in Myanmar, known as 969, portrays itself as a grassroots creed.

By Andrew R.C. Marshall

June 27, 2013

Its chief proponent, a monk named Wirathu, was once jailed by the former military junta for anti-Muslim violence and once called himself the “Burmese bin Laden.”

But a Reuters examination traces 969’s origins to an official in the dictatorship that once ran Myanmar, and which is the direct predecessor of today’s reformist government. The 969 movement now enjoys support from senior government officials, establishment monks and even some members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), the political party of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Wirathu urges Buddhists to boycott Muslim shops and shun interfaith marriages. He calls mosques “enemy bases.”

Among his admirers: Myanmar’s minister of religious affairs.

"Wirathu’s sermons are about promoting love and understanding between religions," Sann Sint, minister of religious affairs, told Reuters in his first interview with the international media. "It is impossible he is inciting religious violence."

Sann Sint, a former lieutenant general in Myanmar’s army, also sees nothing wrong with the boycott of Muslim businesses being led by the 969 monks. “We are now practicing market economics,” he said. “Nobody can stop that. It is up to the consumers.”

President Thein Sein is signaling a benign view of 969, too. His office declined to comment for this story. But in response to growing controversy over the movement, it issued a statement Sunday, saying 969 “is just a symbol of peace” and Wirathu is “a son of Lord Buddha.”

Wirathu and other monks have been closely linked to the sectarian violence spreading across Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. Anti-Muslim unrest simmered under the junta that ran the country for nearly half a century. But the worst fighting has occurred since the quasi-civilian government took power in March 2011.

Two outbursts in Rakhine State last year killed at least 192 people and left 140,000 homeless, mostly stateless Rohingya Muslims. A Reuters investigation found that organized attacks on Muslims last October were led by Rakhine nationalists incited by Buddhist monks and sometimes abetted by local security forces.

In March this year, at least 44 people died and 13,000 were displaced - again, mostly Muslims - during riots in Meikhtila, a city in central Myanmar. Reuters documented in April that the killings happened after monks led Buddhist mobs on a rampage. In May, Buddhists mobs burned and terrorized Muslim neighborhoods in the northern city of Lashio. Reports of unrest have since spread nationwide.

The numbers 969, innocuous in themselves, refer to attributes of the Buddha, his teachings and the monkhood. But 969 monks have been providing the moral justification for a wave of anti-Muslim bloodshed that could scuttle Myanmar’s nascent reform program. Another prominent 969 monk, Wimala Biwuntha, likens Muslims to a tiger who enters an ill-defended house to snatch away its occupants.

"Without discipline, we’ll lose our religion and our race," he said in a recent sermon. "We might even lose our country."

Officially, Myanmar has no state religion, but its rulers have long put Buddhism first. Muslims make up an estimated 4 percent of the populace. Buddhism is followed by 90 percent of the country’s 60 million people and is promoted by a special department within the ministry of religion created during the junta.

EASY SCAPEGOATS

Monks play a complex part in Burmese politics. They took a central role in pro-democracy “Saffron Revolution” uprisings against military rule in 2007. The generals - who included current President Thein Sein and most senior members of his government - suppressed them. Now, Thein Sein’s ambitious program of reforms has ushered in new freedoms of speech and assembly, liberating the country’s roughly 500,000 monks. They can travel at will to spread Buddhist teachings, including 969 doctrine.

In Burma’s nascent democracy, the monks have emerged as a political force in the run-up to a general election scheduled for 2015. Their new potency has given rise to a conspiracy theory here: The 969 movement is controlled by disgruntled hardliners from the previous junta, who are fomenting unrest to derail the reforms and foil an election landslide by Suu Kyi’s NLD.

No evidence has emerged to support this belief. But some in the government say there is possibly truth to it.

"Some people are very eager to reform, some people don’t want to reform," Soe Thein, one of President Thein Sein’s two closest advisors, told Reuters. "So, regarding the sectarian violence, some people may be that side - the anti-reform side."

Even if 969 isn’t controlled by powerful hardliners, it has broad support, both in high places and at the grass roots, where it is a genuine and growing movement.

Officials offer tacit backing, said Wimala, the 969 monk. “By letting us give speeches to protect our religion and race, I assume they are supporting us,” he said.

The Yangon representative of the Burmese Muslim Association agreed. “The anti-Muslim movement is growing and the government isn’t stopping it,” said Myo Win, a Muslim teacher. Myo Win likened 969 to the Ku Klux Klan.

The religion minister, Sann Sint, said the movement doesn’t have official state backing. But he defended Wirathu and other monks espousing the creed.

"I don’t think they are preaching to make problems," he said.

Local authorities, too, have lent the movement some backing.

Its logo - now one of Myanmar’s most recognizable - bears the Burmese numerals 969, a chakra wheel and four Asiatic lions representing the ancient Buddhist emperor Ashoka. Stickers with the logo are handed out free at speeches. They adorn shops, homes, taxis and souvenir stalls at the nation’s most revered Buddhist pagoda, the Shwedagon. They are a common sight in areas plagued by unrest.

Some authorities treat the symbol with reverence. A court in Bago, a region near Yangon hit by anti-Muslim violence this year, jailed a Muslim man for two years in April after he removed a 969 sticker from a betel-nut shop. He was sentenced under a section of Burma’s colonial-era Penal Code, which outlaws “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings”.

QUASI-OFFICIAL ORIGINS

The 969 movement’s ties to the state date back to the creed’s origins. Wimala, Wirathu and other 969 preachers credit its creation to the late Kyaw Lwin, an ex-monk, government official and prolific writer, now largely forgotten outside religious circles.

Myanmar’s former dictators handpicked Kyaw Lwin to promote Buddhism after the brutal suppression of the 1988 democracy uprising. Thousands were killed or injured after soldiers opened fire on unarmed protesters, including monks. Later, to signal their disgust, monks refused to accept alms from military families for three months, a potent gesture in devoutly Buddhist Myanmar.

Afterwards, the military set about co-opting Buddhism in an effort to tame rebellious monks and repair its image. Monks were registered and their movements restricted. State-run media ran almost daily reports of generals overseeing temple renovations or donating alms to abbots.

In 1991, the junta created a Department for the Promotion and Propagation of the Sasana (DPPS), a unit within the Religion Ministry, and appointed Kyaw Lwin as its head. Sasana means “religion” in Pali, the liturgical language of Theravada Buddhism; in Burma, the word is synonymous with Buddhism itself.

The following year, the DPPS published “How To Live As A Good Buddhist,” a distillation of Kyaw Lwin’s writings. It was republished in 2000 as “The Best Buddhist,” its cover bearing an early version of the 969 logo.

Kyaw Lwin stepped down in 1992. The current head is Khine Aung, a former military officer.

Kyaw Lwin’s widow and son still live in his modest home in central Yangon. Its living room walls are lined with shelves of Kyaw Lwin’s books and framed photos of him as a monk and meditation master.

Another photo shows Kyaw Lwin sharing a joke with Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt, then chief of military intelligence and one of Myanmar’s most feared men. Kyaw Lwin enjoyed close relations with other junta leaders, said his son, Aung Lwin Tun, 38, a car importer. He was personally instructed to write “The Best Buddhist” by the late Saw Maung, then Myanmar’s senior-most general. He met “often” to discuss religion with ex-dictator Than Shwe, who retired in March 2011 and has been out of the public eye since then.

"The Best Buddhist" is out of print, but Aung Lwin Tun plans to republish it. "Many people are asking for it now," he said. He supports today’s 969 movement, including its anti-Muslim boycott. "It’s like building a fence to protect our religion," he said.

Also supporting 969 is Kyaw Lwin’s widow, 65, whose name was withheld at the family’s request. She claimed that Buddhists who marry Muslims are forced at their weddings to tread on an image of Buddha, and that the ritual slaughter of animals by Shi’ite Muslims makes it easier for them to kill humans.

Among the monks Kyaw Lwin met during his time as DPPS chief was Wiseitta Biwuntha, who hailed from the town of Kyaukse, near the northern cultural capital of Mandalay. Better known as Wirathu, he is today one of the 969’s most incendiary leaders.

Wirathu and Kyaw Lwin stayed in touch after their 1992 meeting, said Aung Lwin Tun, who believed his father would admire Wirathu’s teachings. “He is doing what other people won’t - protecting and promoting the religion.”

Kyaw Lwin died in 2001, aged 70. That same year, Wirathu began preaching about 969, and the U.S. State Department reported “a sharp increase in anti-Muslim violence” in Myanmar. Anti-Muslim sentiment was stoked in March 2001 by the Taliban’s destruction of Buddhist statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, and in September by al Qaeda’s attacks in the United States.

Two years later, Wirathu was arrested and sentenced to 25 years in jail for distributing anti-Muslim pamphlets that incited communal riots in his hometown. At least 10 Muslims were killed by a Buddhist mob, according to a State Department report. The 969 movement had spilled its first blood.

969 VERSUS 786

Wirathu was freed in 2011 during an amnesty for political prisoners. While the self-styled “Burmese bin Laden” has become the militant face of 969, the movement derives evangelical energy from monks in Mon, a coastal state where people pride themselves on being Myanmar’s first Buddhists. Since last year’s violence they have organized a network across the nation. They led a boycott last year of a Muslim-owned bus company in Moulmein, Mon’s capital. Extending that boycott nationwide has become a central 969 goal.

Muslims held many senior government positions after Myanmar gained independence from Britain in 1948. That changed in 1962, when the military seized power and stymied the hiring and promoting of Muslim officials. The military drew on popular prejudices that Muslims dominated business and used their profits to build mosques, buy Buddhist wives and spread Islamic teachings.

All this justified the current boycott of Muslim businesses, said Zarni Win Tun, a 31-year-old lawyer and 969 devotee, who said Muslims had long shunned Buddhist businesses. “We didn’t start the boycott - they did,” she said. “We’re just using their methods.”

By that she means the number 786, which Muslims of South Asian origin often display on their homes and businesses. It is a numerical representation of the Islamic blessing, “In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate and Merciful”. But Buddhists in Myanmar - a country obsessed by numerology - claim the sum of the three numbers signifies a Muslim plan for world domination in the 21st century.

It is possible to understand why some Buddhists might believe this. Religious and dietary customs prohibit Muslims from frequenting Buddhist restaurants, for example. Muslims also dominate some small- and medium-sized business sectors. The names of Muslim-owned construction companies - Naing Group, Motherland, Fatherland - are winning extra prominence now that Yangon is experiencing a reform-era building boom.

However, the biggest construction firms - those involved in multi-billion-dollar infrastructure projects - are run by tycoons linked to members of the former dictatorship. They are Buddhists.

Buddhist clients have canceled contracts with Muslim-owned construction companies in northern Yangon, fearing attacks by 969 followers on the finished buildings, said Shwe Muang, a Muslim MP with the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party. “I worry that if this starts in one township it will infect others,” he said.

"OUR LIVES ARE NOT SAFE"

For Zarni Win Tun, the 969 devotee, shunning Muslims is a means of ensuring sectarian peace. She points to the Meikhtila violence, which was sparked by an argument between Buddhist customers and a Muslim gold-shop owner. “If they’d bought from their own people, the problem wouldn’t have happened,” she said.

Her conviction that segregation is the solution to sectarian strife is echoed in national policy. A total of at least 153,000 Muslims have been displaced in the past year after the violence in Rakhine and in central Myanmar. Most are concentrated in camps guarded by the security forces with little hope of returning to their old lives.

A few prominent monks have publicly criticized the 969 movement, and some Facebook users have launched a campaign to boycott taxis displaying its stickers. Some Yangon street stalls have started selling 969 CDs more discreetly since the Meikhtila bloodbath. The backlash has otherwise been muted.

Wimala, the Mon monk, shrugged off criticism from fellow monks. “They shouldn’t try to stop us from doing good things,” he said.

In mid-June, he and Wirathu attended a hundreds-strong monastic convention near Yangon, where Wirathu presented a proposal to restrict Buddhist women from marrying Muslim men.

In another sign 969 is going mainstream, Wirathu’s bid was supported by Dhammapiya, a U.S.-educated professor at the International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University in Yangon, a respected institution with links to other Buddhist universities in Asia.

Dhammapiya described 969 as a peaceful movement that is helping Myanmar through a potentially turbulent transition. “The 969 issue for us is no issue,” Dhammapiya told Reuters. “Buddhists always long to live in peace and harmony.”

NO MOSQUES HERE

The only mass movement to rival 969 is the National League for Democracy. Their relationship is both antagonistic and complementary.

In a speech posted on YouTube in late March, Wirathu said the party and Suu Kyi’s inner circle were dominated by Muslims. “If you look at NLD offices in any town, you will see bearded people,” he said. Followers of Wimala told Reuters they had removed photos of Suu Kyi - a devout Buddhist - from their homes to protest her apparent reluctance to speak up for Buddhists affected by last year’s violence in Rakhine. Suu Kyi’s reticence on sectarian violence has also angered Muslims.

The Burmese Muslim Association has accused NLD members of handing out 969 materials in Yangon.

Party spokesman Nyan Win said “some NLD members” were involved in the movement. “But the NLD cannot interfere with the freedoms or rights of members,” he said. “They all have the right to do what they want in terms of social affairs.”

Min Thet Lin, 36, a taxi driver, is exercising that right. The front and back windows of his car are plastered with 969 stickers. He is also an NLD leader in Thaketa, a working-class Yangon township known for anti-Muslim sentiment.

In February, Buddhist residents of Thaketa descended upon an Islamic school in Min Thet Lin’s neighborhood which they claimed was being secretly converted into a mosque. Riot police were deployed while the structure was demolished.

A month later, Wimala and two other Mon monks visited Thaketa to give Buddhists what a promotional leaflet called “dhamma medicine” - that is, three days of 969 sermons. “Don’t give up the fight,” urged the leaflet.

Today, the property is sealed off and guarded by police. “People don’t want a mosque here,” said Min Thet Lin.

As he spoke, 969’s pop anthem, “Song to Whip Up Religious Blood,” rang over the rooftops. A nearby monastic school was playing the song for enrolling pupils.

(Additional reporting by Min Zayar Oo.; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Michael Williams)

Copyright © 2013 Thomson Reuters.

[Photo: Buddhist monk Wirathu (C), leader of the 969 movement, greets other monks as he attends a meeting on the National Protection Law at a monastery outside Yangon June 27, 2013. (© REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun)]

June 29, 2013
timelightbox:

Cover Photograph by Adam Dean—Panos for TIME
The self-proclaimed “Burmese bin Laden,” Buddhist monk Wirathu travels the country spreading a message that “crackles with hate,” TIME’s China Bureau Chief & East Asia Correspondent Hannah Beech writes in her report on rising radical and violent strains of Buddhism in Southeast Asia. She traveled through Burma and Thailand from May to June this year along with photographer Adam Dean, who spoke to TIME’s Eugene Reznik about his portrait of Wirathu on the cover of TIME International this week. 
LightBox: Tell us about your subject, Wirathu. How much time did you spend with him and what was he like?Adam Dean: Initially I spent a few hours with Wirathu at the monastery he is based at in Mandalay while Hannah Beech interviewed him.After the interview, I had about 15 minutes to shoot some environmental portraits and also some tighter options for possible cover consideration.
Following that, I got to spend a few days with him and his entourage as he attended various events and gave sermons to his followers around Mandalay and the surrounding countryside.Wirathu was very genial and charismatic and often had a cheeky grin on his face which makes it all the more jarring when you hear what comes out of his mouth.How did you envision the portrait session going?You never really know with these kind of situations how amenable the subject will be to being photographed. At best, I hoped I would get a bit of time after the interview to shoot a few environmental portraits. He was actually very accommodating and was happy to be photographed in a few locations I had scouted out during the interview around the monastery.What was the dynamic like between you and your subject during the shoot?It is always hard when you have a language barrier and are relying on a translator to help you direct a subject when taking portraits. You can’t really create the bond or connection that you might be able to if you have a common language. Having said that, he didn’t seem to mind being photographed.Was there concern on his part on how you would portray him?I don’t think so. He seemed happy to pose for portraits where I suggested.Tell us about the frame that made it on the cover of TIME International. How did you make it and what about it stood out to you?I much prefer to shoot more natural, spontaneous moments and the idea of directing a subject goes against my instincts as a photojournalist. So for this situation, I really just wanted to find a few locations and backgrounds that might work and then photograph him after the interview.
There was a doorway with a dark background that I thought might work well for a tight head and shoulder shot. So, as an afterthought to the environmental portraits, I asked him to pose there and took some pictures with the black background and available light coming through the doorway onto his face.
See more of Adam Dean’s photos on LightBox.

timelightbox:

Cover Photograph by Adam Dean—Panos for TIME

The self-proclaimed “Burmese bin Laden,” Buddhist monk Wirathu travels the country spreading a message that “crackles with hate,” TIME’s China Bureau Chief & East Asia Correspondent Hannah Beech writes in her report on rising radical and violent strains of Buddhism in Southeast Asia. She traveled through Burma and Thailand from May to June this year along with photographer Adam Dean, who spoke to TIME’s Eugene Reznik about his portrait of Wirathu on the cover of TIME International this week.

LightBox: Tell us about your subject, Wirathu. How much time did you spend with him and what was he like?

Adam Dean: Initially I spent a few hours with Wirathu at the monastery he is based at in Mandalay while Hannah Beech interviewed him.

After the interview, I had about 15 minutes to shoot some environmental portraits and also some tighter options for possible cover consideration.

Following that, I got to spend a few days with him and his entourage as he attended various events and gave sermons to his followers around Mandalay and the surrounding countryside.

Wirathu was very genial and charismatic and often had a cheeky grin on his face which makes it all the more jarring when you hear what comes out of his mouth.

How did you envision the portrait session going?

You never really know with these kind of situations how amenable the subject will be to being photographed. At best, I hoped I would get a bit of time after the interview to shoot a few environmental portraits. He was actually very accommodating and was happy to be photographed in a few locations I had scouted out during the interview around the monastery.

What was the dynamic like between you and your subject during the shoot?

It is always hard when you have a language barrier and are relying on a translator to help you direct a subject when taking portraits. You can’t really create the bond or connection that you might be able to if you have a common language. Having said that, he didn’t seem to mind being photographed.

Was there concern on his part on how you would portray him?

I don’t think so. He seemed happy to pose for portraits where I suggested.

Tell us about the frame that made it on the cover of TIME International. How did you make it and what about it stood out to you?

I much prefer to shoot more natural, spontaneous moments and the idea of directing a subject goes against my instincts as a photojournalist. So for this situation, I really just wanted to find a few locations and backgrounds that might work and then photograph him after the interview.

There was a doorway with a dark background that I thought might work well for a tight head and shoulder shot. So, as an afterthought to the environmental portraits, I asked him to pose there and took some pictures with the black background and available light coming through the doorway onto his face.

See more of Adam Dean’s photos on LightBox.

June 29, 2013
Unpacking Anti-Muslim Brotherhood Discourse | Jadaliyya
By Mohamad Elmasry
June 28, 2013
Noam Chomsky’s Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda argues that effectively crafted and controlled media messages can turn otherwise rational people into “hysterical” warmongers. Chomsky’s analysis focuses on how western governments and elite-led media in democratic societies have successfully employed propaganda campaigns to achieve political aims. Egypt has experienced its own propaganda program in recent months. What is perhaps unique about Egypt’s propaganda campaign is that it is an anti-government campaign initiated by a diverse group of oppositional forces.
In post-revolution Egypt–which is, perhaps, not actually as “post” revolution as many think–Hosni Mubarak-era media owners, Mubarak regime loyalists, and key members of Egypt’s liberal and secular opposition have teamed up to create arguably one of the most effective propaganda campaigns in recent political history. In a matter of months, these forces have managed to demonize Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails, to the extent that many Egyptians openly call for the overthrow of the democratically elected government and the imprisonment of Brotherhood members. Brotherhood members have also been the victims of systematic violence–which has included the live burning of Muslim Brotherhood youth, the killings of Brotherhood members, and the arsons of Muslim Brotherhood buses and offices across Egypt. Government buildings have also been vandalized, and the presidential palace and other government buildings were set ablaze by firebomb-hurling youth in December.
Since inheriting Egypt’s mess of an economy and myriad environmental, health, transportation, education, and energy crises, Morsi and the Brotherhood have made some progress on several political fronts. They have also made mistakes, which have included releasing reckless statements about women, failing to share enough political decision making with liberals, and mishandling political crises surrounding the Ethiopian Dam project, Morsi’s controversial November decree, and the appointment of a hardline Islamist as governor of Luxor, among other things. I would argue, however, that none of their mistakes warrant systematic demonization, terrorism, or overthrow. There is a massive disconnect between the Brotherhood’s mishandlings and the reaction that they instigated, thanks to the propaganda that the Brotherhood’s challengers have spread.
As someone who has studied discourse for eleven years, the anti-Brotherhood, anti-Morsi propaganda is unlike anything I have ever seen, primarily because news reporters and organizations–rather than political figures–seem to spearhead the propaganda efforts. The lack of objectivity in Egyptian news is perhaps unsurprising, given the reality that many Egyptian journalists perceive themselves more as political activists than as watchdogs, and other research suggesting that Egyptian journalism suffers from an overall lack of professionalism. The opposition’s propaganda machine–aided by a plethora of private television networks and newspapers owned by Mubarak-friendly businessmen like Ahmad Bahgat, Salah Diab, and Mohamed al-Amin–has successfully manufactured discourses designed to designate the Brotherhood and Morsi as lacking in basic integrity and unworthy of political participation. To be sure, Islamist media, having begun in recent years to discuss politics on otherwise exclusively religious satellite television channels, dish out their own fair share of propaganda. Their political impact, however, pales in comparison with independent news outlets that are devoted to political news reportage, have greater reach, can boast well known commentators, and that proclaim the goal of covering political affairs in an objective manner.
Relatively greater levels of professionalism at some news outlets (and by a handful of television news personalities) notwithstanding, the anti-Brotherhood bias in independent Egyptian news media is obvious and overwhelming. As part of a pre-reading of Egyptian news broadcasts designed to develop a coding scheme for an upcoming research project, I watched the 25 March 2013 episode of OnTv’s From Anew. The program featured nine consecutive anti-Islamist guests over a period of about seventy-five minutes. Such blatant imbalance is not uncommon. Frequently, talk shows–such as OnTv’s Respectable People and From Anew, and CBC’s From the Capital and As Clear as the Sun–invite multiple guests, all of the same anti-Islamist persuasion, for lengthy discussions of political events. Other programs, such as Wael Al-Ibrashi’s The 10 p.m. Show on the Dream Network and Ibrahim Isa’s From Cairo on the al-Qahira wa-al-Nas network, I would argue, have blatantly one-sided slants, as evidenced by their story ideation, guest selection, and interview questioning processes. One of the few independent news stations in Egypt that consistently tries to provide some balance and debate is Al Jazeera Live Egypt. Because the channel usually features the Brotherhood perspective alongside that of the opposition, critics often call it “Al Jazeera Muslim Brotherhood.”
One consistent discourse that has emerged in recent months in Egypt defines the Muslim Brotherhood as un-Egyptian, and caring more about their own narrow agenda than the country’s national interests. For example, reports routinely claim that Morsi is not a president for all Egyptians, but rather only for his Islamist comrades. Other reports discuss the Muslim Brotherhood’s relationship with Hamas, and their desire to sell off parts of Egypt to foreign countries. A 30 May 2013 article in online newspaper: 24 summarized novelist and political commentator Gamal al-Ghitani’s views on Brotherhood politics in its headline, which read: “Gamal al-Ghitani: The Brotherhood are a foreign organization and their rule of Egypt constitutes a foreign occupation.” On 21 June 2013 al-Ghitani appeared on the OnTv program The Complete Picture boasting that he began writing about the “occupation” thesis last summer, immediately after Morsi’s election. For weeks in early 2013, President Morsi’s office and the Qatari government were forced to fend off baseless rumors–given major attention on television news and in newspapers–that deals were in place for Egypt to lease the Pyramids and sell the Suez Canal to Qatar.
This discourse—that the Brotherhood are not true Egyptians and do not have Egypt’s best interests at heart—is used to justify sub-discourses about the Muslim Brotherhood. Those include discourses that the Brotherhood is occupying all state institutions, produced a catastrophically bad constitution that suits only its own interests, and intimidates and kills the opposition with its “militias.” The next few sections will examine these discursive sub-constructions contributing to the anti-Brotherhood, anti-Morsi fervor in Egypt.
The “Brotherhoodization” of the State
A dominant theme in Egyptian media and political discourse argues that the Muslim Brotherhood is bent on occupying all state institutions and hoarding power. This “brotherhoodization” (“akhwana,” in Arabic) thesis dovetails nicely with other discourses about the Brotherhood’s alleged desire to sell off Egypt and its disloyalty to the nation.
The akhwana (brotherhoodization) thesis is the most damning, and oft repeated, of all anti-Brotherhood discourses. It has become so hegemonic that many Egyptians take it as a given. It is difficult to find an independent talk show that does not regularly obsess over the Brotherhood’s takeover, a topic which opposition figures often use as a political battle cry. Some western news outlets have also reported uncritically about the alleged Brotherhood takeover. I would argue that the “brotherhoodization” thesis holds very little weight, if any at all.
Opposition forces in Egypt claim that, having secured the presidency, the Brotherhood has moved to take over various government ministries, the judiciary, the armed forces, the media, and other aspects of Egyptian society and culture. The opposition points to Morsi’s administrative appointments and the domination of the constitutional assembly.
Lost on those who advance the “brotherhoodization” thesis is the fact that the Brotherhood has won multiple free and fair elections and thus has the political and democratic right to control at least part of the government until their term expires. Also lost on people is the fact that the new Egypt will experience regular elections, as stipulated by the constitution, and whoever wins elections after the Brotherhood will have the similar chance to hold sway. This is how democratic politics works: groups who win elections have the right to govern for a few years, implementing their political program along the way. In the United States, it is hardly controversial that the two major parties vie to control both the executive and legislative branches of government. In fact, it is seen as an admirable goal for any given party that believes its program is the most suited to serve the country’s well being. Interestingly, a 2000 Wall Street Journal survey of political science, law, and history professors concluded that–according to respondents–many of the most productive presidents in US history had control of both the executive and legislative branches of government for the entirety of their terms in office.
The United States and arguments about the relative merits of divided versus unified control of government aside, it remains that the Brotherhood does not have, and will not have, a stronghold on the Egyptian state. First, the Brotherhood does not control the army, and it would be impossible for them to do so in the foreseeable future. For starters, it would be unconstitutional and illegal for the president or anyone else to install Muslim Brotherhood members as high-ranking army officers. Even in Egypt, such appointments can only occur naturally and with requisite qualifications and years of experience. Not surprisingly, there has been no indication that anyone inside the presidency or the Brotherhood is attempting to commit such a gross violation.
The situation is similar with respect to the judiciary, which is also subject to a formal system of appointment that depends on qualifications and experience. Brotherhood opponents have, however, criticized the Islamist-dominated Shura Council’s proposal to reduce the retirement age for judges from seventy to sixty. Critics say the judicial authority bill could give the Brotherhood a chance at padding the judiciary with its loyalists, while Shura Council members say that the bill is necessary to purge the judiciary of judges loyal to Mubarak. The deposed president had gradually increased the retirement age from sixty to seventy in order keep judges loyal to him active. In any case, the argument that the Brotherhood could use the law as a means to “Brotherhoodize” the judiciary is unconvincing for two reasons. First, the Brotherhood does not have a community of potential loyal judges who are ready for promotion. Second, the new age limit would apply equally to all judges and not favor Islamists over liberals.
The intimation that the Brotherhood controls the interior ministry is similarly out of place. If it was not initially clear that the interior ministry was, and is, controlled by most of the same faces that controlled it during the Mubarak era, it should be now. There is fervent anti-Brotherhood sentiment within the police and security forces, who in recent months have protested against the Brotherhood, organized strikes against Morsi, and–in spite of repeated anti-Brotherhood arsons–have refused to protect the Brotherhood headquarters from angry protesters. Morsi and the Brotherhood can be criticized for not doing more to purge the ministry now–indeed, the merits of a gradualist strategy are debatable–but the Brotherhood’s more gradual approach to purging the ministry cannot also be the subject of a “brotherhoodization” argument.
In government, even after recent Morsi appointments, only ten out of a total twenty-seven governors and eleven of thirty-five cabinet members hail from the Muslim Brotherhood. The opposition is up in arms at these ratios, but it is both logical and fair for an elected president faced with repeated attempts to remove him from power to rely on governors and cabinet members who are loyal to him. And, at any rate, thirty-five percent representation is hardly excessive for a ruling party. Moreover, and importantly, Morsi has offered numerous government positions to opposition politicians, but they have declined for various reasons. Some simply have not wanted to affiliate themselves with a Brotherhood government. Others have declined because of fears that it would be difficult to engage in substantive work given the extreme anti-Brotherhood program ongoing in Egypt. Vice President of the liberal Ghad al-Thawra Party, Mohamed Mohie El-Din, confirmed to me in a 23 June telephone interview that Ayman Nour, who heads the Ghad al-Thawra Party, has been offered the position of Prime Minister on several different occasions since the start of the Morsi presidency. Also, April 6 Movement founder Ahmed Maher was offered the position of presidential advisor, and declined. On 4 July 2012, just days after Morsi took over as president, former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi acknowledged on Mahmoud Saad’s talk show Akher al-Nahar that Morsi offered him the position of Vice President. Sabbahi, too, declined. Prime Minister Hesham Kandil, who is not himself a member of the Muslim Brotherhood or any Islamist party, has said on multiple occasions, including most recently in a televised interview on 21 June 2013, that he has offered numerous ministerial posts to opposition figures. Most have declined, with some indicating they might accept a post when “things calm down.” Morsi’s 26 June 2013 national address also mentioned that non-Brotherhood ministers from the previous government had been given the chance to stay on the job, but declined. Given that non-Brotherhood politicians have regularly rejected participation in government, it is anything but surprising that President Morsi has found little choice but to tap Brotherhood members for government posts.
The “brotherhoodization” argument picked up steam in mid-November 2012, when liberal members of the constituent assembly withdrew from the assembly citing what they called the Muslim Brotherhood’s inordinate influence on the constitution drafting process. Those who complain that the Brotherhood dominated the drafting of the new constitution overlook the fact that Egypt’s constituent assembly was formed by a democratically elected parliament, and that twenty-two Egyptian parties—which formed the near entirety of Egypt’s political spectrum (at that time)—signed off on the basic composition of the constituent assembly in June 2012. Interestingly, current hardline opposition and al-Wafd Party leader al-Sayed al-Badawi led the press conference announcing the agreement on the breakdown of the assembly. The agreement dictated that the assembly would give thirty-nine out of one hundred total assembly seats to members of parliament, with these seats being divided up according to parliamentary proportions. The remaining sixty-one seats would be divided amongst scholars of constitutional law, al-Azhar University and Church representatives, and various labor and social groups. Because some of the sixty-one non-parliamentary seats could go to individuals affiliated with political parties and movements, the agreement further outlined the ways in which these seats would be divided up, according to Mohie El-Din, who was a member of the assembly. He said it was agreed that the final one hundred-member assembly was to include thirty-two members of the Muslim Brotherhood, eighteen members of al-Nour Party, eighteen representatives of “the state,” and thirty-two liberal party members. This specific breakdown was designed to give fifty seats to Islamists and fifty seats to non-Islamists, Mohie El-Din told me. However, since some of the eighteen “state” representatives (for example al-Azhar University scholars) could reasonably be considered “Islamists” (depending on how the term is defined), the agreement dictated, in practical terms, that more than fifty percent of committee members would be of “Islamist” persuasion, Mohie El-Din said. In other words, Islamist currents may have enjoyed a majority inside the Constituent Assembly and its committees, but the important point is that all of this was specified, understood, and agreed to by all twenty-two parties, despite what the opposition now claims.
It is plausible that many of the liberal parties viewed these proportions as relatively favorable, since it is likely that a national referendum would have yielded a much higher number of Brotherhood members. The Brotherhood-led coalition had, after all, won forty-seven percent of parliamentary seats in Egypt’s first post-revolution democratic elections, with an additional twenty-five percent of seats going to the more conservative Salafist coalition. It is not ideal for popular parties to have significant representational advantages in constitution drafting assemblies, and scholars such as Linz and Stepan have argued that majoritarian rules are unhealthy for constitution building, while also acknowledging that the practice has been prevalent (p. 83). As scholars Patrick Fafard and Darrel Robert Reid note in their Constituent Assemblies: A Comparative Survey, constituent assemblies are usually governed by the rules of “partisan politics.” The researchers posit: “It has generally been assumed and accepted that the political and economic elites who dominate the political process will exercise a similar dominance in the process of drafting or amending the constitution” (p. 22). Discussing the example of the United States, Fafard and Reid note that, “proceedings of the Philadelphia Convention itself were characterized by a remarkable federalist consensus throughout” (p. 26).
The fact that some non-Islamists withdrew from the Egyptian constituent assembly is undeniably problematic. Some of the liberal members of the assembly undoubtedly had legitimate concerns about some of the document’s articles. However, they withdrew before exhausting discussion, and refused to return to the assembly after repeated official invitations to come back for discussion of contentious articles. More damning, perhaps, for non-Islamist claims of an unfair constitution building process, is that many of the assembly’s liberals seemed to abandon the process early on, and well before it was exhausted.  For instance, according to Mohie El-Din, some members of the assembly seemed bent on withdrawing from the outset. “We had [non-Islamist] people who withdrew upon entering the assembly. [Their attitude seemed to be,] ‘Good morning, we withdraw,’” said Mohie El-Din, in a 20 December debate held on the campus of the American University in Cairo. Mohie El-Din also claimed that many of the non-Islamists who withdrew were systematically absent from assembly sessions throughout the process of drafting the document. He said that he was sometimes the only non-Islamist representative in attendance. During other sessions, liberal assembly members would only show up for “ten minutes” before exiting. “Can you, given these circumstances, say that you have had an influence? Of course not,” Mohie El-Din said.
Also, some of the complaints of inordinate Islamist influence over the document’s content are ill conceived. For example, liberals have criticized Article 4, which gives Al-Azhar oversight on matters pertaining to Islamic law. What many overlook, though, is that this article was a liberal suggestion. The thinking of liberals inside the assembly may have been that al-Azhar would be a safeguard against the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and more conservative Salafists. Islamists in the Constituent Assembly agreed to Article 4, and other proposals submitted by non-Islamist representatives. For example, an article about religious freedoms specifically requested by the assembly’s four Church representatives was included as is, word for word, said Mohie El-Din at the AUC debate. The article was not removed, and no one suggested it be removed or edited, even after the Church representatives withdrew from the assembly, he said.
An overwhelming majority of voters (sixty-four percent) approved Egypt’s new constitution despite hysterical propaganda against the assembly and the document, which included the distribution of fake constitutional drafts. Importantly, a national dialogue held in January announced that Morsi had agreed to form a pluralistic committee to revise controversial articles in the constitution. Many key members of Egypt’s liberal opposition have rejected dialogue and Morsi’s proposal to revise the constitution, however, and have instead insisted on pursuing their ongoing “rebel” campaign, which aims to remove Morsi from power, select a new constituent assembly, and draft a new constitution. The National Salvation Front, the largest and most organized opposition bloc, has refused any dialogue with the president until all of their preconditions – the sacking of the Prosecutor General, an independent committee to revise the constitution, and a national unity government – are met.
The Muslim Brotherhood “Militias”
The Mubarak regime consistently propagated talk of “Muslim Brotherhood militias.” Such claims have increased since Morsi took power, as newspaper headlines and television news talk shows have casually and matter-of-factly discussed the “Brotherhood militias.”
When, in isolated instances, individual Brotherhood members have responded in kind to anti-Brotherhood violence (in ways that the Brotherhood has later condemned in official statements), the violence has been immediately attributed to the “Brotherhood militias.” The claim that the Muslim Brotherhood maintains so-called militias, however, is unconvincing. For one, if the Brotherhood really had militias, why did it not deploy them during Mubarak’s rule, or during the violent stages of the 2011 eighteen-day uprising?  Why has the Brotherhood not relied on these “militias” to prevent the burning of thirty of its offices in late 2012?
The events of the past year indicate that the Brotherhood has often been the victim, rather than the instigator, of violence. In all, thirty Muslim Brotherhood offices have been set ablaze or destroyed, and some members of the Brotherhood have been killed or burned alive. Graphic images of anti-Brotherhood violence, and evidence of what has transpired in recent months, has prompted even some liberals to acknowledge, finally, that the Brotherhood “militias” do not exist. Liberal activist and writer Mahmoud Salem, known as Sandmonkey in the social media world, was one of the first liberals to publicly acknowledge this reality in a 26 March 2013 Daily News Egypt article. He wrote the following about what he called the “myth” of Muslim Brotherhood militias: “From everything we have seen in every major clash with the MB and its members, this myth is also simply false. The MB is organized and can mobilize its members, but its members are mostly educated middle class and are not trained in militant warfare.”
It is worth nothing that Salem’s “myth” article came in the aftermath of violent 22 March protests organized outside the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in al-Muqattam. During these clashes, the Brotherhood, again, suffered major casualties–one hundred seventy six injuries, twenty six of them serious, and one fatality–as they attempted to protect their headquarters, after police appeared unable or unwilling to do so. Playing a key role in the al-Muqattam protests was political activist Ahmed Douma, who said on multiple occasions prior to the 22 March clashes that burning down Muslim Brotherhood offices is a “revolutionary act.”
What is arguably most troubling about the anti-Brotherhood violence is the callousness with which at least some supporters of the opposition discuss these events, sometimes suggesting that Brotherhood members deserve violent treatment. I recall a widely circulated photo of a Muslim Brotherhood activist set ablaze, his upper body completely on fire. Many Egyptians praised and joked about the incident in the comment field below the photo on Facebook, and some circulated a “Muslim Brotherhood: before and after” photo mocking the burned activist. It is important to note that the 2011 uprising against the Mubarak regime was, with some rare exceptions, overwhelmingly nonviolent. After Mubarak’s ouster, both liberal and Islamist revolutionaries credited the peaceful nature of the protesters as one mark of the revolution’s greatness. In a short period of time, some in Egypt have become convinced that violence against an elected president and ruling political group is legitimate.
Conclusion
Anti-Muslim Brotherhood propaganda may be the result of a concerted effort by media tycoons unfriendly to the Brotherhood, a consequence of decades of anti-Brotherhood fear mongering, or both. The general lack of professionalism that plagues much of Egyptian journalism–something which I discussed at length in my dissertation research in 2009, and which helps create a systematically imbalanced discussion–almost certainly plays a key role.
In any case, what becomes clear from any serious reading of Egyptian politics is that there are groups in Egypt–Mubarak regime remnants, media figures, and members of the opposition–that refuse to let the Brotherhood rule the country. It is true that anti-Brotherhood sentiment has increased in recent months, and that Morsi’s politics have turned off many Egyptians. It is also true, however, that Morsi’s mistakes have been exaggerated and, importantly, that there were many Egyptians not prepared–from the start–to accept a democratic Egypt ruled by Islamists. Here, it is important to note that the first arsons of Brotherhood offices occurred well before Morsi’s controversial 22 November decree, which lasted all of eighteen days and has been exaggerated by the opposition. It is also worth noting that calls for a new “revolution” began last August, just two months after Morsi took power and when his approval rating was higher than seventy percent; and that members of Egypt’s opposition, including 2012 presidential candidates Hamdeen Sabbahi and Amr Moussa, have been calling for an early end to Morsi’s term since last summer–just after they lost the presidential race. Indeed, it seems some in Egypt’s opposition were ready to move away from Brotherhood rule almost as soon as it began.
At best, the Muslim Brotherhood is struggling to solve Egypt’s myriad problems, simultaneously battling thugs in the street, a seditious opposition, corruption in the judiciary, and a state that is in shambles at many levels. At worst, they are incompetent rulers. Even if the incompetence theory proves true, the Brotherhood does not deserve violence or overthrow, despite what the propaganda war against them may suggest.
Copyright © 2013 The Arab Studies Institute (ASI).
[Photo: Wall graffiti in reference to the media propaganda in Egypt. (© Gigi Ibrahim)]

Unpacking Anti-Muslim Brotherhood Discourse | Jadaliyya

By Mohamad Elmasry

June 28, 2013

Noam Chomsky’s Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda argues that effectively crafted and controlled media messages can turn otherwise rational people into “hysterical” warmongers. Chomsky’s analysis focuses on how western governments and elite-led media in democratic societies have successfully employed propaganda campaigns to achieve political aims. Egypt has experienced its own propaganda program in recent months. What is perhaps unique about Egypt’s propaganda campaign is that it is an anti-government campaign initiated by a diverse group of oppositional forces.

In post-revolution Egypt–which is, perhaps, not actually as “post” revolution as many think–Hosni Mubarak-era media owners, Mubarak regime loyalists, and key members of Egypt’s liberal and secular opposition have teamed up to create arguably one of the most effective propaganda campaigns in recent political history. In a matter of months, these forces have managed to demonize Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails, to the extent that many Egyptians openly call for the overthrow of the democratically elected government and the imprisonment of Brotherhood members. Brotherhood members have also been the victims of systematic violence–which has included the live burning of Muslim Brotherhood youth, the killings of Brotherhood members, and the arsons of Muslim Brotherhood buses and offices across Egypt. Government buildings have also been vandalized, and the presidential palace and other government buildings were set ablaze by firebomb-hurling youth in December.

Since inheriting Egypt’s mess of an economy and myriad environmental, health, transportation, education, and energy crises, Morsi and the Brotherhood have made some progress on several political fronts. They have also made mistakes, which have included releasing reckless statements about women, failing to share enough political decision making with liberals, and mishandling political crises surrounding the Ethiopian Dam project, Morsi’s controversial November decree, and the appointment of a hardline Islamist as governor of Luxor, among other things. I would argue, however, that none of their mistakes warrant systematic demonization, terrorism, or overthrow. There is a massive disconnect between the Brotherhood’s mishandlings and the reaction that they instigated, thanks to the propaganda that the Brotherhood’s challengers have spread.

As someone who has studied discourse for eleven years, the anti-Brotherhood, anti-Morsi propaganda is unlike anything I have ever seen, primarily because news reporters and organizations–rather than political figures–seem to spearhead the propaganda efforts. The lack of objectivity in Egyptian news is perhaps unsurprising, given the reality that many Egyptian journalists perceive themselves more as political activists than as watchdogs, and other research suggesting that Egyptian journalism suffers from an overall lack of professionalism. The opposition’s propaganda machine–aided by a plethora of private television networks and newspapers owned by Mubarak-friendly businessmen like Ahmad Bahgat, Salah Diab, and Mohamed al-Amin–has successfully manufactured discourses designed to designate the Brotherhood and Morsi as lacking in basic integrity and unworthy of political participation. To be sure, Islamist media, having begun in recent years to discuss politics on otherwise exclusively religious satellite television channels, dish out their own fair share of propaganda. Their political impact, however, pales in comparison with independent news outlets that are devoted to political news reportage, have greater reach, can boast well known commentators, and that proclaim the goal of covering political affairs in an objective manner.

Relatively greater levels of professionalism at some news outlets (and by a handful of television news personalities) notwithstanding, the anti-Brotherhood bias in independent Egyptian news media is obvious and overwhelming. As part of a pre-reading of Egyptian news broadcasts designed to develop a coding scheme for an upcoming research project, I watched the 25 March 2013 episode of OnTv’s From Anew. The program featured nine consecutive anti-Islamist guests over a period of about seventy-five minutes. Such blatant imbalance is not uncommon. Frequently, talk shows–such as OnTv’s Respectable People and From Anew, and CBC’s From the Capital and As Clear as the Sun–invite multiple guests, all of the same anti-Islamist persuasion, for lengthy discussions of political events. Other programs, such as Wael Al-Ibrashi’s The 10 p.m. Show on the Dream Network and Ibrahim Isa’s From Cairo on the al-Qahira wa-al-Nas network, I would argue, have blatantly one-sided slants, as evidenced by their story ideation, guest selection, and interview questioning processes. One of the few independent news stations in Egypt that consistently tries to provide some balance and debate is Al Jazeera Live Egypt. Because the channel usually features the Brotherhood perspective alongside that of the opposition, critics often call it “Al Jazeera Muslim Brotherhood.”

One consistent discourse that has emerged in recent months in Egypt defines the Muslim Brotherhood as un-Egyptian, and caring more about their own narrow agenda than the country’s national interests. For example, reports routinely claim that Morsi is not a president for all Egyptians, but rather only for his Islamist comrades. Other reports discuss the Muslim Brotherhood’s relationship with Hamas, and their desire to sell off parts of Egypt to foreign countries. A 30 May 2013 article in online newspaper: 24 summarized novelist and political commentator Gamal al-Ghitani’s views on Brotherhood politics in its headline, which read: “Gamal al-Ghitani: The Brotherhood are a foreign organization and their rule of Egypt constitutes a foreign occupation.” On 21 June 2013 al-Ghitani appeared on the OnTv program The Complete Picture boasting that he began writing about the “occupation” thesis last summer, immediately after Morsi’s election. For weeks in early 2013, President Morsi’s office and the Qatari government were forced to fend off baseless rumors–given major attention on television news and in newspapers–that deals were in place for Egypt to lease the Pyramids and sell the Suez Canal to Qatar.

This discourse—that the Brotherhood are not true Egyptians and do not have Egypt’s best interests at heart—is used to justify sub-discourses about the Muslim Brotherhood. Those include discourses that the Brotherhood is occupying all state institutions, produced a catastrophically bad constitution that suits only its own interests, and intimidates and kills the opposition with its “militias.” The next few sections will examine these discursive sub-constructions contributing to the anti-Brotherhood, anti-Morsi fervor in Egypt.

The “Brotherhoodization” of the State

A dominant theme in Egyptian media and political discourse argues that the Muslim Brotherhood is bent on occupying all state institutions and hoarding power. This “brotherhoodization” (“akhwana,” in Arabic) thesis dovetails nicely with other discourses about the Brotherhood’s alleged desire to sell off Egypt and its disloyalty to the nation.

The akhwana (brotherhoodization) thesis is the most damning, and oft repeated, of all anti-Brotherhood discourses. It has become so hegemonic that many Egyptians take it as a given. It is difficult to find an independent talk show that does not regularly obsess over the Brotherhood’s takeover, a topic which opposition figures often use as a political battle cry. Some western news outlets have also reported uncritically about the alleged Brotherhood takeover. I would argue that the “brotherhoodization” thesis holds very little weight, if any at all.

Opposition forces in Egypt claim that, having secured the presidency, the Brotherhood has moved to take over various government ministries, the judiciary, the armed forces, the media, and other aspects of Egyptian society and culture. The opposition points to Morsi’s administrative appointments and the domination of the constitutional assembly.

Lost on those who advance the “brotherhoodization” thesis is the fact that the Brotherhood has won multiple free and fair elections and thus has the political and democratic right to control at least part of the government until their term expires. Also lost on people is the fact that the new Egypt will experience regular elections, as stipulated by the constitution, and whoever wins elections after the Brotherhood will have the similar chance to hold sway. This is how democratic politics works: groups who win elections have the right to govern for a few years, implementing their political program along the way. In the United States, it is hardly controversial that the two major parties vie to control both the executive and legislative branches of government. In fact, it is seen as an admirable goal for any given party that believes its program is the most suited to serve the country’s well being. Interestingly, a 2000 Wall Street Journal survey of political science, law, and history professors concluded that–according to respondents–many of the most productive presidents in US history had control of both the executive and legislative branches of government for the entirety of their terms in office.

The United States and arguments about the relative merits of divided versus unified control of government aside, it remains that the Brotherhood does not have, and will not have, a stronghold on the Egyptian state. First, the Brotherhood does not control the army, and it would be impossible for them to do so in the foreseeable future. For starters, it would be unconstitutional and illegal for the president or anyone else to install Muslim Brotherhood members as high-ranking army officers. Even in Egypt, such appointments can only occur naturally and with requisite qualifications and years of experience. Not surprisingly, there has been no indication that anyone inside the presidency or the Brotherhood is attempting to commit such a gross violation.

The situation is similar with respect to the judiciary, which is also subject to a formal system of appointment that depends on qualifications and experience. Brotherhood opponents have, however, criticized the Islamist-dominated Shura Council’s proposal to reduce the retirement age for judges from seventy to sixty. Critics say the judicial authority bill could give the Brotherhood a chance at padding the judiciary with its loyalists, while Shura Council members say that the bill is necessary to purge the judiciary of judges loyal to Mubarak. The deposed president had gradually increased the retirement age from sixty to seventy in order keep judges loyal to him active. In any case, the argument that the Brotherhood could use the law as a means to “Brotherhoodize” the judiciary is unconvincing for two reasons. First, the Brotherhood does not have a community of potential loyal judges who are ready for promotion. Second, the new age limit would apply equally to all judges and not favor Islamists over liberals.

The intimation that the Brotherhood controls the interior ministry is similarly out of place. If it was not initially clear that the interior ministry was, and is, controlled by most of the same faces that controlled it during the Mubarak era, it should be now. There is fervent anti-Brotherhood sentiment within the police and security forces, who in recent months have protested against the Brotherhood, organized strikes against Morsi, and–in spite of repeated anti-Brotherhood arsons–have refused to protect the Brotherhood headquarters from angry protesters. Morsi and the Brotherhood can be criticized for not doing more to purge the ministry now–indeed, the merits of a gradualist strategy are debatable–but the Brotherhood’s more gradual approach to purging the ministry cannot also be the subject of a “brotherhoodization” argument.

In government, even after recent Morsi appointments, only ten out of a total twenty-seven governors and eleven of thirty-five cabinet members hail from the Muslim Brotherhood. The opposition is up in arms at these ratios, but it is both logical and fair for an elected president faced with repeated attempts to remove him from power to rely on governors and cabinet members who are loyal to him. And, at any rate, thirty-five percent representation is hardly excessive for a ruling party. Moreover, and importantly, Morsi has offered numerous government positions to opposition politicians, but they have declined for various reasons. Some simply have not wanted to affiliate themselves with a Brotherhood government. Others have declined because of fears that it would be difficult to engage in substantive work given the extreme anti-Brotherhood program ongoing in Egypt. Vice President of the liberal Ghad al-Thawra Party, Mohamed Mohie El-Din, confirmed to me in a 23 June telephone interview that Ayman Nour, who heads the Ghad al-Thawra Party, has been offered the position of Prime Minister on several different occasions since the start of the Morsi presidency. Also, April 6 Movement founder Ahmed Maher was offered the position of presidential advisor, and declined. On 4 July 2012, just days after Morsi took over as president, former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi acknowledged on Mahmoud Saad’s talk show Akher al-Nahar that Morsi offered him the position of Vice President. Sabbahi, too, declined. Prime Minister Hesham Kandil, who is not himself a member of the Muslim Brotherhood or any Islamist party, has said on multiple occasions, including most recently in a televised interview on 21 June 2013, that he has offered numerous ministerial posts to opposition figures. Most have declined, with some indicating they might accept a post when “things calm down.” Morsi’s 26 June 2013 national address also mentioned that non-Brotherhood ministers from the previous government had been given the chance to stay on the job, but declined. Given that non-Brotherhood politicians have regularly rejected participation in government, it is anything but surprising that President Morsi has found little choice but to tap Brotherhood members for government posts.

The “brotherhoodization” argument picked up steam in mid-November 2012, when liberal members of the constituent assembly withdrew from the assembly citing what they called the Muslim Brotherhood’s inordinate influence on the constitution drafting process. Those who complain that the Brotherhood dominated the drafting of the new constitution overlook the fact that Egypt’s constituent assembly was formed by a democratically elected parliament, and that twenty-two Egyptian parties—which formed the near entirety of Egypt’s political spectrum (at that time)—signed off on the basic composition of the constituent assembly in June 2012. Interestingly, current hardline opposition and al-Wafd Party leader al-Sayed al-Badawi led the press conference announcing the agreement on the breakdown of the assembly. The agreement dictated that the assembly would give thirty-nine out of one hundred total assembly seats to members of parliament, with these seats being divided up according to parliamentary proportions. The remaining sixty-one seats would be divided amongst scholars of constitutional law, al-Azhar University and Church representatives, and various labor and social groups. Because some of the sixty-one non-parliamentary seats could go to individuals affiliated with political parties and movements, the agreement further outlined the ways in which these seats would be divided up, according to Mohie El-Din, who was a member of the assembly. He said it was agreed that the final one hundred-member assembly was to include thirty-two members of the Muslim Brotherhood, eighteen members of al-Nour Party, eighteen representatives of “the state,” and thirty-two liberal party members. This specific breakdown was designed to give fifty seats to Islamists and fifty seats to non-Islamists, Mohie El-Din told me. However, since some of the eighteen “state” representatives (for example al-Azhar University scholars) could reasonably be considered “Islamists” (depending on how the term is defined), the agreement dictated, in practical terms, that more than fifty percent of committee members would be of “Islamist” persuasion, Mohie El-Din said. In other words, Islamist currents may have enjoyed a majority inside the Constituent Assembly and its committees, but the important point is that all of this was specified, understood, and agreed to by all twenty-two parties, despite what the opposition now claims.

It is plausible that many of the liberal parties viewed these proportions as relatively favorable, since it is likely that a national referendum would have yielded a much higher number of Brotherhood members. The Brotherhood-led coalition had, after all, won forty-seven percent of parliamentary seats in Egypt’s first post-revolution democratic elections, with an additional twenty-five percent of seats going to the more conservative Salafist coalition. It is not ideal for popular parties to have significant representational advantages in constitution drafting assemblies, and scholars such as Linz and Stepan have argued that majoritarian rules are unhealthy for constitution building, while also acknowledging that the practice has been prevalent (p. 83). As scholars Patrick Fafard and Darrel Robert Reid note in their Constituent Assemblies: A Comparative Survey, constituent assemblies are usually governed by the rules of “partisan politics.” The researchers posit: “It has generally been assumed and accepted that the political and economic elites who dominate the political process will exercise a similar dominance in the process of drafting or amending the constitution” (p. 22). Discussing the example of the United States, Fafard and Reid note that, “proceedings of the Philadelphia Convention itself were characterized by a remarkable federalist consensus throughout” (p. 26).

The fact that some non-Islamists withdrew from the Egyptian constituent assembly is undeniably problematic. Some of the liberal members of the assembly undoubtedly had legitimate concerns about some of the document’s articles. However, they withdrew before exhausting discussion, and refused to return to the assembly after repeated official invitations to come back for discussion of contentious articles. More damning, perhaps, for non-Islamist claims of an unfair constitution building process, is that many of the assembly’s liberals seemed to abandon the process early on, and well before it was exhausted.  For instance, according to Mohie El-Din, some members of the assembly seemed bent on withdrawing from the outset. “We had [non-Islamist] people who withdrew upon entering the assembly. [Their attitude seemed to be,] ‘Good morning, we withdraw,’” said Mohie El-Din, in a 20 December debate held on the campus of the American University in Cairo. Mohie El-Din also claimed that many of the non-Islamists who withdrew were systematically absent from assembly sessions throughout the process of drafting the document. He said that he was sometimes the only non-Islamist representative in attendance. During other sessions, liberal assembly members would only show up for “ten minutes” before exiting. “Can you, given these circumstances, say that you have had an influence? Of course not,” Mohie El-Din said.

Also, some of the complaints of inordinate Islamist influence over the document’s content are ill conceived. For example, liberals have criticized Article 4, which gives Al-Azhar oversight on matters pertaining to Islamic law. What many overlook, though, is that this article was a liberal suggestion. The thinking of liberals inside the assembly may have been that al-Azhar would be a safeguard against the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and more conservative Salafists. Islamists in the Constituent Assembly agreed to Article 4, and other proposals submitted by non-Islamist representatives. For example, an article about religious freedoms specifically requested by the assembly’s four Church representatives was included as is, word for word, said Mohie El-Din at the AUC debate. The article was not removed, and no one suggested it be removed or edited, even after the Church representatives withdrew from the assembly, he said.

An overwhelming majority of voters (sixty-four percent) approved Egypt’s new constitution despite hysterical propaganda against the assembly and the document, which included the distribution of fake constitutional drafts. Importantly, a national dialogue held in January announced that Morsi had agreed to form a pluralistic committee to revise controversial articles in the constitution. Many key members of Egypt’s liberal opposition have rejected dialogue and Morsi’s proposal to revise the constitution, however, and have instead insisted on pursuing their ongoing “rebel” campaign, which aims to remove Morsi from power, select a new constituent assembly, and draft a new constitution. The National Salvation Front, the largest and most organized opposition bloc, has refused any dialogue with the president until all of their preconditions – the sacking of the Prosecutor General, an independent committee to revise the constitution, and a national unity government – are met.

The Muslim Brotherhood “Militias”

The Mubarak regime consistently propagated talk of “Muslim Brotherhood militias.” Such claims have increased since Morsi took power, as newspaper headlines and television news talk shows have casually and matter-of-factly discussed the “Brotherhood militias.”

When, in isolated instances, individual Brotherhood members have responded in kind to anti-Brotherhood violence (in ways that the Brotherhood has later condemned in official statements), the violence has been immediately attributed to the “Brotherhood militias.” The claim that the Muslim Brotherhood maintains so-called militias, however, is unconvincing. For one, if the Brotherhood really had militias, why did it not deploy them during Mubarak’s rule, or during the violent stages of the 2011 eighteen-day uprising?  Why has the Brotherhood not relied on these “militias” to prevent the burning of thirty of its offices in late 2012?

The events of the past year indicate that the Brotherhood has often been the victim, rather than the instigator, of violence. In all, thirty Muslim Brotherhood offices have been set ablaze or destroyed, and some members of the Brotherhood have been killed or burned alive. Graphic images of anti-Brotherhood violence, and evidence of what has transpired in recent months, has prompted even some liberals to acknowledge, finally, that the Brotherhood “militias” do not exist. Liberal activist and writer Mahmoud Salem, known as Sandmonkey in the social media world, was one of the first liberals to publicly acknowledge this reality in a 26 March 2013 Daily News Egypt article. He wrote the following about what he called the “myth” of Muslim Brotherhood militias: “From everything we have seen in every major clash with the MB and its members, this myth is also simply false. The MB is organized and can mobilize its members, but its members are mostly educated middle class and are not trained in militant warfare.”

It is worth nothing that Salem’s “myth” article came in the aftermath of violent 22 March protests organized outside the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in al-Muqattam. During these clashes, the Brotherhood, again, suffered major casualtiesone hundred seventy six injuries, twenty six of them serious, and one fatality–as they attempted to protect their headquarters, after police appeared unable or unwilling to do so. Playing a key role in the al-Muqattam protests was political activist Ahmed Douma, who said on multiple occasions prior to the 22 March clashes that burning down Muslim Brotherhood offices is a “revolutionary act.”

What is arguably most troubling about the anti-Brotherhood violence is the callousness with which at least some supporters of the opposition discuss these events, sometimes suggesting that Brotherhood members deserve violent treatment. I recall a widely circulated photo of a Muslim Brotherhood activist set ablaze, his upper body completely on fire. Many Egyptians praised and joked about the incident in the comment field below the photo on Facebook, and some circulated a “Muslim Brotherhood: before and after” photo mocking the burned activist. It is important to note that the 2011 uprising against the Mubarak regime was, with some rare exceptions, overwhelmingly nonviolent. After Mubarak’s ouster, both liberal and Islamist revolutionaries credited the peaceful nature of the protesters as one mark of the revolution’s greatness. In a short period of time, some in Egypt have become convinced that violence against an elected president and ruling political group is legitimate.

Conclusion

Anti-Muslim Brotherhood propaganda may be the result of a concerted effort by media tycoons unfriendly to the Brotherhood, a consequence of decades of anti-Brotherhood fear mongering, or both. The general lack of professionalism that plagues much of Egyptian journalism–something which I discussed at length in my dissertation research in 2009, and which helps create a systematically imbalanced discussion–almost certainly plays a key role.

In any case, what becomes clear from any serious reading of Egyptian politics is that there are groups in Egypt–Mubarak regime remnants, media figures, and members of the opposition–that refuse to let the Brotherhood rule the country. It is true that anti-Brotherhood sentiment has increased in recent months, and that Morsi’s politics have turned off many Egyptians. It is also true, however, that Morsi’s mistakes have been exaggerated and, importantly, that there were many Egyptians not prepared–from the start–to accept a democratic Egypt ruled by Islamists. Here, it is important to note that the first arsons of Brotherhood offices occurred well before Morsi’s controversial 22 November decree, which lasted all of eighteen days and has been exaggerated by the opposition. It is also worth noting that calls for a new “revolution” began last August, just two months after Morsi took power and when his approval rating was higher than seventy percent; and that members of Egypt’s opposition, including 2012 presidential candidates Hamdeen Sabbahi and Amr Moussa, have been calling for an early end to Morsi’s term since last summer–just after they lost the presidential race. Indeed, it seems some in Egypt’s opposition were ready to move away from Brotherhood rule almost as soon as it began.

At best, the Muslim Brotherhood is struggling to solve Egypt’s myriad problems, simultaneously battling thugs in the street, a seditious opposition, corruption in the judiciary, and a state that is in shambles at many levels. At worst, they are incompetent rulers. Even if the incompetence theory proves true, the Brotherhood does not deserve violence or overthrow, despite what the propaganda war against them may suggest.

Copyright © 2013 The Arab Studies Institute (ASI).

[Photo: Wall graffiti in reference to the media propaganda in Egypt.Gigi Ibrahim)]

June 28, 2013
"I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, on New York City’s stop and frisk program.

(via Capital New York)

(Source: officialssay)

June 28, 2013
fuckyeahmarxismleninism:

Pretoria, South Africa: Workers and students protest the visit of U.S. President Barack Obama, June 28, 2013. One said he viewed Obama as a “disappointment” and thought Nelson Mandela would too.
Great, great signs!

fuckyeahmarxismleninism:

Pretoria, South Africa: Workers and students protest the visit of U.S. President Barack Obama, June 28, 2013. One said he viewed Obama as a “disappointment” and thought Nelson Mandela would too.

Great, great signs!

June 28, 2013
muslimsattheirbest:

Muslims protesting the NYPD’s racist Stop-and-Frisk policy

muslimsattheirbest:

Muslims protesting the NYPD’s racist Stop-and-Frisk policy

June 25, 2013
"As an American, I find it embarrassing that a guy who exposed abuses of my privacy and freedom has no choice but to seek protection from China, Cuba, Russia, and Venezuela."

— Radley Balko pointing out the stinging irony of a whistleblower fleeing the grasps of the United States government, supposedly a free country. (via antigovernmentextremist)

June 24, 2013
The Unromantic Slaughter of the Civil War | The Atlantic
By Ta-Nehisi Coates
June 20, 2013
Was the Civil War avoidable — or was it the culminating violence of a quieter war that had already been going on for centuries?

The great Tony Horwitz has a good piece up at the site on the new movement among historians questioning the civil war as a good war:

"We’ve decided the Civil War is a ‘good war’ because it destroyed slavery," says Fitzhugh Brundage, a historian at the University of North Carolina. "I think it’s an indictment of 19th century Americans that they had to slaughter each other to do that." Similar reservations were voiced by an earlier generation of historians known as revisionists. From the 1920s to 40s, they argued that the war was not an inevitable clash over irreconcilable issues. Rather, it was a “needless” bloodbath, the fault of “blundering” statesmen and “pious cranks,” mainly abolitionists. Some revisionists, haunted by World War I, cast all war as irrational, even “psychopathic.”World War II undercut this anti-war stance. Nazism was an evil that had to be fought. So, too, was slavery, which revisionists — many of them white Southerners—had cast as a relatively benign institution, and dismissed it as a genuine source of sectional conflict. Historians who came of age during the Civil Rights Movement placed slavery and emancipation at the center of the Civil War. This trend is now reflected in textbooks and popular culture. The Civil War today is generally seen as a necessary and ennobling sacrifice, redeemed by the liberation of four million slaves. But cracks in this consensus are appearing with growing frequency, for example in studies like America Aflame, by historian David Goldfield. Goldfield states on the first page that the war was “America’s greatest failure.” He goes on to impeach politicians, extremists, and the influence of evangelical Christianity for polarizing the nation to the point where compromise or reasoned debate became impossible.Unlike the revisionists of old, Goldfield sees slavery as the bedrock of the Southern cause and abolition as the war’s great achievement. But he argues that white supremacy was so entrenched, North and South, that war and Reconstruction could never deliver true racial justice to freed slaves, who soon became subject to economic peonage, Black Codes, Jim Crow, and rampant lynching.Nor did the war knit the nation back together. Instead, the South became a stagnant backwater, a resentful region that lagged and resisted the nation’s progress. It would take a century and the Civil Rights struggle for blacks to achieve legal equality, and for the South to emerge from poverty and isolation. "Emancipation and reunion, the two great results of this war, were badly compromised," Goldfield says. Given these equivocal gains, and the immense toll in blood and treasure, he asks: "Was the war worth it? No."

One thing that World War II taught me is that there is no such thing as a “good war.” It’s true the North did not go to war free the slaves. It’s also true that no nation in Europe went to war to save European Jews. It’s true that white racism had infected the North and the South. It’s also true that anti-Semitism had infected the European and American allies. Faced with the actual horrors of mass killing, I don’t know that there is any war that can objectively said to be “worth it.” But with that said, I think the idea that the Civil War reflects some unique failure of 19th-century Americans — a failure equally born by Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee — is quite wrong.
It should always be remembered that America did not “go to war” in 1860. America was attacked in 1860 by a formidable rebel faction seeking to protect the expansion of slavery. That faction did not simply want slavery to continue in America; they dreamed of a tropical empire of slavery encompassing Cuba, Nicaragua, and perhaps the whole of South America. This faction was not only explicitly pro-slavery but explicitly anti-democratic. The newly declared Confederacy attacked America not because it was being persecuted, but because it was unable to win a democratic election.
Understanding that, it is not enough to simply say the war was not “worth it” or to indict the failure of 19th-century Americans. A responsible thinker must offer a plausible alternative to the one Lincoln ultimately chose. Should Lincoln have allowed the South to depart? Should he have compromised with the South and vowed to support slavery’s continuance and expansion? If the Civil War represents the failure of 19th-century Americans, what represents success? How — specifically — should that have been achieved?
It’s very important to follow the logic of alternatives all the way through. If the Civil War was not “worth it,” then the logical conclusion is that my ancestors should have remained enslaved and should have continued to be subject to having their wives, husbands, fathers, and children sold away until some undetermined point that was more convenient for white people.
The fact is that the Civil War didn’t represent a failure of 19th-century Americans, but that the American slave society — which was itself war — represented a failure of humanity. That failure was the price America paid for its conception. The bill came due in 1860. No one knew this better than Lincoln himself:

If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through his appointed time, he now wills to remove, and that he gives to both North and South this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to him? Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn by the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, “The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

I am very sorry that white people began experiencing great violence in 1860. But for some of us, war did not begin 1860, but in 1660. The brutal culmination of that war may not have allowed us to ascend into a post-racial heaven. But here is something I always come back to: In 1859 legally selling someone’s five-year-old child was big business. In 1866, it was not. American Slavery was a system of perpetual existential violence. The idea that it could have been — or should have been — ended, after two and a half centuries of practice, with a handshake and an ice-cream social strikes me as really wrong.
Copyright © 2013 The Atlantic Monthly Group.
[Photo: District of Columbia. Company E, 4th U.S. Colored Infantry, at Fort Lincoln. (© Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)]

The Unromantic Slaughter of the Civil War | The Atlantic

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

June 20, 2013

Was the Civil War avoidable — or was it the culminating violence of a quieter war that had already been going on for centuries?

The great Tony Horwitz has a good piece up at the site on the new movement among historians questioning the civil war as a good war:

"We’ve decided the Civil War is a ‘good war’ because it destroyed slavery," says Fitzhugh Brundage, a historian at the University of North Carolina. "I think it’s an indictment of 19th century Americans that they had to slaughter each other to do that." Similar reservations were voiced by an earlier generation of historians known as revisionists. From the 1920s to 40s, they argued that the war was not an inevitable clash over irreconcilable issues. Rather, it was a “needless” bloodbath, the fault of “blundering” statesmen and “pious cranks,” mainly abolitionists. Some revisionists, haunted by World War I, cast all war as irrational, even “psychopathic.”World War II undercut this anti-war stance. Nazism was an evil that had to be fought. So, too, was slavery, which revisionists — many of them white Southerners—had cast as a relatively benign institution, and dismissed it as a genuine source of sectional conflict. Historians who came of age during the Civil Rights Movement placed slavery and emancipation at the center of the Civil War. This trend is now reflected in textbooks and popular culture. The Civil War today is generally seen as a necessary and ennobling sacrifice, redeemed by the liberation of four million slaves. But cracks in this consensus are appearing with growing frequency, for example in studies like America Aflame, by historian David Goldfield. Goldfield states on the first page that the war was “America’s greatest failure.” He goes on to impeach politicians, extremists, and the influence of evangelical Christianity for polarizing the nation to the point where compromise or reasoned debate became impossible.Unlike the revisionists of old, Goldfield sees slavery as the bedrock of the Southern cause and abolition as the war’s great achievement. But he argues that white supremacy was so entrenched, North and South, that war and Reconstruction could never deliver true racial justice to freed slaves, who soon became subject to economic peonage, Black Codes, Jim Crow, and rampant lynching.Nor did the war knit the nation back together. Instead, the South became a stagnant backwater, a resentful region that lagged and resisted the nation’s progress. It would take a century and the Civil Rights struggle for blacks to achieve legal equality, and for the South to emerge from poverty and isolation. "Emancipation and reunion, the two great results of this war, were badly compromised," Goldfield says. Given these equivocal gains, and the immense toll in blood and treasure, he asks: "Was the war worth it? No."

One thing that World War II taught me is that there is no such thing as a “good war.” It’s true the North did not go to war free the slaves. It’s also true that no nation in Europe went to war to save European Jews. It’s true that white racism had infected the North and the South. It’s also true that anti-Semitism had infected the European and American allies. Faced with the actual horrors of mass killing, I don’t know that there is any war that can objectively said to be “worth it.” But with that said, I think the idea that the Civil War reflects some unique failure of 19th-century Americans — a failure equally born by Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee — is quite wrong.

It should always be remembered that America did not “go to war” in 1860. America was attacked in 1860 by a formidable rebel faction seeking to protect the expansion of slavery. That faction did not simply want slavery to continue in America; they dreamed of a tropical empire of slavery encompassing Cuba, Nicaragua, and perhaps the whole of South America. This faction was not only explicitly pro-slavery but explicitly anti-democratic. The newly declared Confederacy attacked America not because it was being persecuted, but because it was unable to win a democratic election.

Understanding that, it is not enough to simply say the war was not “worth it” or to indict the failure of 19th-century Americans. A responsible thinker must offer a plausible alternative to the one Lincoln ultimately chose. Should Lincoln have allowed the South to depart? Should he have compromised with the South and vowed to support slavery’s continuance and expansion? If the Civil War represents the failure of 19th-century Americans, what represents success? How — specifically — should that have been achieved?

It’s very important to follow the logic of alternatives all the way through. If the Civil War was not “worth it,” then the logical conclusion is that my ancestors should have remained enslaved and should have continued to be subject to having their wives, husbands, fathers, and children sold away until some undetermined point that was more convenient for white people.

The fact is that the Civil War didn’t represent a failure of 19th-century Americans, but that the American slave society — which was itself war — represented a failure of humanity. That failure was the price America paid for its conception. The bill came due in 1860. No one knew this better than Lincoln himself:

If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through his appointed time, he now wills to remove, and that he gives to both North and South this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to him? Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn by the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, “The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

I am very sorry that white people began experiencing great violence in 1860. But for some of us, war did not begin 1860, but in 1660. The brutal culmination of that war may not have allowed us to ascend into a post-racial heaven. But here is something I always come back to: In 1859 legally selling someone’s five-year-old child was big business. In 1866, it was not. American Slavery was a system of perpetual existential violence. The idea that it could have been — or should have been — ended, after two and a half centuries of practice, with a handshake and an ice-cream social strikes me as really wrong.

Copyright © 2013 The Atlantic Monthly Group.

[Photo: District of Columbia. Company E, 4th U.S. Colored Infantry, at Fort Lincoln.Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)]

June 24, 2013
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It should not be possible to read nineteenth-century British literature without remembering that imperialism, understood as England’s social mission, was a crucial part of the cultural representation of England to the English. The role of literature in the production of cultural representation should not be ignored. These two obvious “facts” continue to be disregarded in the reading of nineteenth-century British literature. This itself attests to the continuing success of the imperialist project, displaced and dispersed into more modern forms.

If these “facts” were remembered, not only in the study of British literature but in the study of the literatures of the European colonizing cultures of the great age of imperialism, we would produce a narrative, in literary history, of the “worlding” of what is now called “the Third World.” To consider the Third World as distant cultures, exploited but with rich intact literary heritages waiting to be recovered, interpreted, and curricularized in English translation fosters the emergence of “the Third World as a signifier that allows us to forget that “worlding,” even as it expands the empire of the literary discipline.

It seems particularly unfortunate when the emergent perspective of feminist criticism reproduces the axioms of imperialism. A basically isolationist admiration for the literature of the female subject in Europe and Anglo-America establishes the high feminist norm. It is supported and operated by an information-retrieval approach to “Third World” literature which often employs a deliberately “nontheoretical” methodology with self-conscious rectitude.

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— Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Three Women’s Texts and Critique of Imperialism  (via loohn)

(Source: takhtee)

June 19, 2013
newsweek:

There are more African-Americans on probation, parole, or in prison today than were slaves in 1850. It is not a crisis of crime, it is a crisis of people being left behind. For this week’s Newsweek, President Obama’s former spiritual advisor, Joshua DuBois, writes, ‘The Fight for Black Men.’ 
“If we’re honest,” DuBois writes, “we’ll have to admit that when one single group of people is conspicuously left behind, it never bodes well for society as a whole. In many ways, black men in America are a walking gut check; we learn from them a lot about ourselves, how far we’ve really come as a country, and how much further we have to go.”

newsweek:

There are more African-Americans on probation, parole, or in prison today than were slaves in 1850. It is not a crisis of crime, it is a crisis of people being left behind. For this week’s Newsweek, President Obama’s former spiritual advisor, Joshua DuBois, writes, ‘The Fight for Black Men.’ 

“If we’re honest,” DuBois writes, “we’ll have to admit that when one single group of people is conspicuously left behind, it never bodes well for society as a whole. In many ways, black men in America are a walking gut check; we learn from them a lot about ourselves, how far we’ve really come as a country, and how much further we have to go.”