Monday, August 28, 2006
Where do you think the current fanaticism is coming from?
Poor areas, because the poor are desperate. The current regime here is dealing with them in an inhuman way, arresting and torturing them. Religion is being used as a cover for social unrest, a way to empower these people who are not empowered. In Egypt, there is an Islam for the rich and an Islam for the poor. And these two Islams have their own mosques, their own sheikhs. The rich use religion to ensure the status quo. They don't want any change. But poor people do want change, because they are now deprived of so much.
How do you think the Arab world sees 9/11?
The question is rather, how has 9/11 been introduced to the Arab world? I saw 9/11 as a crime, and I have written against it. But I believe that events are always manipulated by regimes for their own purposes. Just as the American government has used Osama bin Laden to deflect attention away from its own problems, many of the Arab governments used 9/11 to play on anti-American emotions. They were hoping to convert the negative emotions people harbored against their regimes and channel those emotions onto a foreign entity. They also need the problem of Israel for the same reason. I do not agree with Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, but Arab regimes use anti-Israel sentiment to postpone moving toward democracy.
You've talked about the importation of Saudi values to Egypt, would you elaborate on that?
Over the past 25 years, about a quarter of the Egyptian population has gone to Saudi Arabia at some point to work. Those workers were often uneducated Egyptians, and the Saudis were rich. The Egyptians were influenced by the Saudi interpretation of Islam and brought it back with them when they returned to Egypt. That interpretation—Wahhabism—is very strict and concerned mostly with form, from wearing the veil to enforced prayer five times a day. It is an aggressive, intolerant approach that institutionalizes Islam as a state religion rather than allowing people to interpret it in their own individual ways. The Saudis have spent millions to export Sunni Wahhabism throughout the Middle East, in part because many Arabs in the Gulf States are Shiite. The Saudi princes fear the spread of the Iranian Shiite brand of Islam, which is more revolutionary and allows for more individual rights. Throughout much of Islamic history, Sunni governance has been in the hands of sheikhs who were in league with governments. The Shiites were usually shut out of power, so they had time to think and come up with a new, more humanist interpretation. I'm not comparing Iranian human rights to those in England, but in relation to Saudi Arabia, Iran has more respect for individual political rights and the people's right to know what's happening. And I must remind you that the American administration has been the most powerful supporter of the medieval Saudi regime because of Saudi oil. To support them is like having a tiger in your house.
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