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The minaret ban in Switzerland continues to draw much ink and cynic reactions in the Arab world. The ban provided another opportunity for authorities  to regain the tempo domestically on the issue of democracy and human rights.  Echorouk, Algeria’s populist most popular Arab newspaper carried two scathing opinion pieces. The reactions lambasted the West for its “hypocrisy” towards human rights and its perceived high horse attitude towards the Arab world. They cite multiple issues and come to the conflusion that the West is not different from the Arab world after all – only more intelligent, in its anti human rights campaigns. Pieces like this suggest that the western human rights demands are just post colonial meddling in internal affairs.

AqassemThe first piece is written by Fayssal Alqassem, one of the most popular journalists in the Arab world. His syndicated column is printed in almost every Arab country. He is one of the BBC trained journalists who helped shape Aljazeera’s image with taboo destroying programmes. In his piece, titled “The Myth of Indiviual Liberty in the West” he is as usual, abrasive and confrontational. He amusingly subtitles his column “Careful, a camera is watching you”.  He contrasts Arab countries’ anti-Human Rights record, describing it as rather dumb and too obvious –  with the West’s, which is according to him cleverer, by using technology such as DNA databases and cameras in public places. The latest minaret ban is just the west accidently getting into the dumb anti human rights ways. Some selected quotes (paraphrasing):

I don’t want to suggest that the Arab countries’ have a crisp human rights record – far from it. But the Arab intelligence and security institutes are still behind in terms of technology and logistics of spying, monitoring and citizen surveillance , at least the Arab can try and evade his country’s incompetence. But in the “west”, who is often riding the moral high horse on human rights, citizens are under surveillance 24 hours a day. The big brother that George Orwell warned us from is watching everywhere. Rarely can you walk through a street in Europe without noticing dozens of cameras watching even the ants. In London alone there are more than 4 million cameras…

And then some attacks on the United States:

Uncle Sam does not only want to monitor his citizens alone, he wants to monitor the whole world. We need not cite the spying network and its surveillance operations around the world […] I also want to congratulate Europe on their new European law that makes it possible to allow the CIA to get access to , lawfully, the banking details of  its citizens.

I don’t know what law he is referring to, that is scary if true. Fayssal’s punch line is rich:

Oh George Orwell, if you still lived you’d wish the old soviet style surveillance tactics are still in force instead!

The second piece is written by Fawzi Oussedek, a local Algerian journalist. He titled it “Human rights in Switzerland, melting like chocolate in Minarets [sic]”. He contrasts the perceived reaction of the West, governments, institutes and individuals alike towards the Minaret ban with their reactions to any similar measure in the Arab and Muslim Worlds. There are a lot more Muslims in the West than say, Christians in Muslim countries so the difference in reactions seems even more absurd to him. On Western reactions he says:

Since the Minaret ban I have been waiting the views of human rights organisations […] that made a habit of criticising some places for their human rights record […] since the ban I have been listening to commentators in the west trying to justify the unjustifiable […] Governmental reactions amounted to only expressing mere dismay, a tactic that they used to diplomatically evade their moral stance on human rights.

Then he contrasts this reaction to reactions towards the Muslim world:

I wonder, what if such a vote was made in a Muslim country to ban some other religious symbol, what would be the reaction? simply, we will hear many descriptions about the whole muslim world, from backwardness to being hateful, the reaction can amount to using economic pressure sometimes, and to scare the countries in question by threatening to include them in the “black list”!! […] but in Switzerland some considered democratic referendums as saintly, it’s just sometimes possible to use them unwisely – evading the moral stance towards the ban.

The author then suggests that the muslim community try and fight this ban all the way in Swiss and European courts.

The ban and other similar measures around Europe, such as the previous veil ban in France , France and Netherlands’ flirtations with banning certain types of clothing and Britain’s “English Defence League”  will provide more fuel for criticism, and will sadly have ramifications on democratic reform in the whole Arab world.

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In an earlier post about the Swiss Minaret ban, I mentioned the problems that actions like this ban pose to advocates of Democracy in the Arab world.  I believed that oppressive regimes will turn to criticising the ideal of democracy that is often lectured to them by Europe et al.

Aboul Gheit

Aboul Gheit

Well, that didn’t take long. As reported by the AFP and commented about at The Arabist , the Egyptian foreign affairs minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, weighed in…  literally asking Europe not to give any more lessons on democracy, and declaring that the human rights record of the Egyptian government is good. More direct words could not have been spoken by him. The quote, given below, is just too rich!

Egypt’s top diplomat said on Thursday that a Swiss vote to ban the construction of minarets was a “grave mistake” and Europe could no longer lecture his country on human rights.

“The Swiss people will some day come to realise what a grave mistake they have made,” Ahmed Abul Gheit told Egyptian television in comments carried by the official MENA news agency.

The human rights situation in Egypt is good… Europe cannot talk to Egypt about its human rights record at a time when Switzerland is supporting a ban on minaret building,” Abul Gheit said.

“People who live in glass houses should not throw stones,” the minister said in the interview which focused on Egyptian-European relations.

On Sunday, more than 57 percent of Swiss voters approved a right-wing motion to ban minarets on mosques, a decision that was met with an international backlash and charges of intolerance.

Abul Gheit expressed “regret that there is an increasing fear of Muslims in (European) societies as a result of the acts of some groups,” in allusion to attacks committed in the name of Islam.

Undoubtedly the guy believes he struck a very big note and achieved a huge political point for the Egyptian government.  Undoubtedly the voice of democracy and reform has been dealt a blow in this row and has been pushed a step back in its quest to counter the government plans. The president’s son is being groomed to replace him, amid more clampdown on the people of Egypt and more closing down of the political scene to make it almost impossible for any opponent to run. The government has reacted negatively to Ahmed AlBaradei’s initiative and has been trying with great effort to sabotage a possible candidacy by Amr Mousa and others.

So, again, thanks to the Swiss People’s Party, and thanks to any more xenophobic measures like this that may come in te next months/years!

‘s top diplomat said on Thursday that a Swiss vote to ban the construction of minarets was a “grave mistake” and Europe could no longer lecture his country on human rights.”The Swiss people will some day come to realise what a grave mistake they have made,” Ahmed Abul Gheit told Egyptian television in comments carried by the official MENA news agency.

“The human rights situation in Egypt is good… Europe cannot talk to Egypt about its human rights record at a time when Switzerland is supporting a ban on minaret building,” Abul Gheit said.

“People who live in glass houses should not throw stones,” the minister said in the interview which focused on Egyptian-European relations.

On Sunday, more than 57 percent of Swiss voters approved a right-wing motion to ban minarets on mosques, a decision that was met with an international backlash and charges of intolerance.

Abul Gheit expressed “regret that there is an increasing fear of Muslims in (European) societies as a result of the acts of some groups,” in allusion to attacks committed in the name of Islam.

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Commentary and views of an Algerian about the Middle East and Algeria, Democracy and Human Rights, Islam and Reform, as well as whatever pair of topics the author wishes to write about.

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