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Shedding Light on Islamic Politics in the Middle East

March 2014 | by Victor Atallah

In Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria Islamists tried to hijack the freedom-thirsty uprisings of their people. Being well organized as movements the Muslim Brotherhood branches in these countries outmanoeuvered others and did well in local elections. Their plan, however, was to fanatically impose their narrow Islamic agenda on the rest of their countrymen.  This has backfired on them in every one of these countries.  In Egypt the Islamic president was deposed through a popular uprising. In Tunisia the secularists forced the Islamic government to resign and replaced it by a coalition government committed to religious and political freedom. In Libya, the Islamists have not succeeded in gaining a majority in the elected assembly. In Syria, the attempts of the Islamists to use violence to topple the secular government have miserably failed leading to stronger grassroots for a secular movement accepting the government’s plan for gradual reforms.

The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists have a well-known slogan posted widely in Muslim communities: “Islam is the Solution.” A popular Egyptian short story writer, Alaa Aswani, has a weekly column on several Arabic websites with his perspective on developments in the Arab World. He concludes every article with the short slogan – “Democracy is the Solution.” It seems to be his secular response to the Islamist slogan.  Aswani is often publicly condemned by Islamists as a heretic and some even call for his death.  Yet, he is only one of growing numbers of very courageous Arab writers. A few years ago they would not have even dared to express much milder views.  Amazingly, their blogs are packed with responses from supporters from all over; though they also receive nasty comments and even death threats.

At Christmas, Nader Bakkar, a spokesman for an Egyptian Islamic group called “Party of Light” (Hizbu el-Nour), announced an anti-Christmas edict: “the idea of Christmas is anti-Islamic.” He strongly exhorted Muslims not to recognize Christmas celebrations or make Christmas greetings to Christians. The vast majority of Muslim responses strongly denounced his exhortation and a number poked fun at it.  Some wrote that they were actually going to participate in the celebrations.  A very popular Cairo-based Muslim cleric, Mazhar Shahin, went even further. He called on the government to ban the “Party of Light” as a “terrorist party of darkness!” (Such daring Muslim clerics are provided with armed guards by the Egyptian government to protect them against attacks by fanatics.)

A lady with a very Muslim name, Zainab, blogged: “Jesus is the Solution” (Issa Howa al-Hal).  She went on to exhort Bakkar: “You seem fully ignorant of the real meaning of Christmas…to me it represents the beauty, grace and love of Allah…” A fanatic responded, accusing her of being a Christian who pretends to have a Muslim name.  She wrote back to say: “I am an Iraqi Sunni living in Syria and I ask Issa in my prayers to open the eyes of people like Nader and yourself to truly love Allah…”

A little after Christmas, a young Christian phoned me to share his excitement at receiving text messages from Muslim friends wishing him a Merry Christmas.  I told him about Zainab’s testimony. He shouted “Halleluiah” three times in my ears and added: “God is doing great things!”

Our interactive Arabic ministry website –“Sayings of Jesus the Christ”(Aqwalu Issa al-Masih) daily introduces one saying of Christ. Many positive responses are written by Muslims readers. They are obviously attracted by the beautiful teachings of Christ which sharply contrast with the fanatical edicts of the Islamists.

Victor Atallah



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