Coptic unity in Washington D.C. area starts to gel since Morsi ouster

For years, Steve Messeh watched his small Egyptian American Coptic Christian community remain splintered in a jumble of weak advocacy groups. But now, since the violent ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, the young Virginia financial analyst is seeing something new: an effort toward real influence.

Messeh belongs to Coptic Solidarity, which on Thursday pulled together perhaps the largest local Egyptian American effort in memory. About 500 people gathered at the White House and outside several media organizations (including at The Washington Post’s building in Northwest) to voice their support for the military’s removal of Morsi in June. Like-minded Copts who Messeh knows are lobbying Capitol Hill policymakers on the topic this month, and a contingent from political parties was in town this week in a drive to mold the Egyptian Americans who supported the coup into a more unified, effective voice.

The same burst of organizing is happening among Egyptian Americans who oppose the military’s removal of Morsi, who was democratically elected. New groups have popped up since Morsi’s overthrow, including Egyptian Americans for Democracy and Human Rights, which is focused on the hundreds of civilians killed by the military in recent weeks.

But if the sudden activism this summer among Egyptian Americans, who for decades during the rule of Hosni Mubarak tended to be largely quiet, has solidified and motivated the two camps, it has also embittered them, activists and experts say. People’s positions have become hardened, and Egypt’s politics have become too fraught to discuss among friends and even family.

 

“There is an extremely deep polarization going on among Egyptian Americans,” commented Dalia Mogahed, a Washington-based native of Egypt who is the co-author of “Who Speaks for Islam?” and is a consultant to Muslim groups.

 

Ahmed Ghanim sees the same energy, but from the other side. The Michigan-based activist, who has 35,000 Facebook followers for his Egypt updates, is working with Egyptian Americans who oppose the coup. He’s now working with groups starting in Michigan and Texas.

“Even if we didn’t agree with Morsi, it’s a black comedy when you see an elected president in prison and Mubarak going free,” he said.

The new activism is tempered by the polarization, he said.

The revolution created a lot of Egyptian American interest in Egypt.

“Now everyone is accusing one another of being for or against democracy, or for or against revolution.”

D.C. area Egyptians celebrate Morsi’s ouster

Zeinab Mansour, 70, a librarian from Chevy Chase, returned to her native Cairo two years ago to participate in the democratic revolution that toppled Egypt’s longtime dictator, Hosni Mubarak. Last year, the dual citizen voted in Egypt’s first free elections, which led to the presidency of Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

 

On Saturday, Mansour was out on the streets again, this time joining a rally in front of the White House to celebrate Morsi’s ouster by the Egyptian army Wednesday and to ask the Obama administration to support a second chance for democracy in her homeland after a year of turmoil and religious pressure under Morsi and his Islamist followers.

 

But even as many members of the Washington area’s large, middle-class Egyptian American community welcomed Morsi’s overthrow, calling it a “revolution, not a coup,” others warned that the sudden power vacuum and ongoing violent clashes involving secular, Islamist and security forces could lead to wider religious and social conflict in the poor Middle Eastern nation of 90 million.

 

“This is a very, very dangerous situation,” said Nancy Okiel, an Egyptian Muslim and staff member at the nonprofit rights group Freedom House in the District. “I am not optimistic at all when I see people dying in the streets, and I don’t think the issue is whether there was a coup or not. The country is very divided, and no matter how it settles, a lot of lives will be lost first.”

The demonstrators, along with many online Egyptian American commentators, expressed frustration at the Obama administration’s cautious reaction to the unfolding events in Egypt. Many suspect that Washington seeks to restore stability in Egypt at the expense of popular demands. The administration, which provides huge amounts of aid to Egypt, accepted Morsi’s election but also has close ties to the army.

 

“A lot of people are very angry at President Obama, and what he said has been lost in translation,” said Samia Harris, who heads a private school in Woodbridge. “The Egyptian people want freedom, human rights, justice and respect for law, and we want Mr. Obama and his administration to listen to them. This was not a coup. It was a marching order from the Egyptian people.”

 

Commentator Arrested for Defacing Anti-Jihad Subway Poster

An Egyptian-American columnist, who rose to prominence on social media last year for her commentary during the revolution in Egypt, was arrested in the Times Square subway station on Tuesday for spraying pink paint on a pro-Israel poster that calls Islamist opponents of the Jewish state “savage.”

The poster was one of 10 placed in subway stations across the transit system this week, on the heels of violent and sometimes deadly protests across the Muslim world in response to an American-made video mocking the Prophet Muhammad.

The columnist, Mona Eltahawy, is a former Reuters correspondent now based in New York who became a dual citizen of Egypt and the United States last year. Her Twitter feed, which has more than 160,000 followers, became popular last year as a source of information on the Egyptian revolution.

Ms. Eltahawy, initially known for her commentary on the Egyptian revolution from afar, became personally involved in the protest movement last November, when she used her Twitter feed to document her physical and sexual abuse by Egyptian police officers following a crackdown on a demonstration near Tahrir Square in Cairo.

In May, she earned the enmity of many Egyptians for writing a Foreign Policy cover story on women’s rights in the Middle East published with the headline “Why Do They Hate Us?

News of Ms. Eltahawy’s arrest made headlines in Egypt and earned her praise from like-minded Internet activists. A Lebanese blogger, who was less impressed with the stunt, wrote a satirical blog post accusing Ms. Eltahawy of attention-seeking.

After flap over pro-Israel ‘savage’ ad, NY subway ads on politics, religion to get disclaimers

NEW YORK — The Metropolitan Transportation Authority approved new guidelines for advertisements on Thursday, prohibiting those that it “reasonably foresees would imminently incite or provoke violence or other immediate breach of the peace.”

Under a policy adopted Thursday by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, ads expressing political, religious or moral viewpoints will have to include legends cautioning that the views being expressed aren’t necessarily endorsed by the MTA. The disclaimers also will carry the names of the people or groups sponsoring the advertisements.

The ad, which began running in the nation’s biggest transit system this month as a result of the court order, says, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”

This week, an Egyptian-born U.S. columnist was arrested for spray-painting one of the advertisements in a Manhattan subway station. The columnist, Mona Eltahawy, who calls herself a liberal Muslim who’s spoken publicly against violent Islamic groups, said as police officers were arresting her, “I’m an Egyptian-American, and I refuse hate.”

In a statement, the MTA said it had considered banning political speech and restricting ads to only those with commercial messages.

Walsh: Muslims “trying to kill Americans”

Exclusive: U.S. Rep Joe Walsh tells a town hall meeting that radical Islam has infiltrated the Chicago suburbs

U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh went on another anti-Islam tirade Wednesday, calling for an end to “political correctness” in dealing with the “radical strain of Islam” he described as an imminent danger to America.

“It’s a real threat,” Walsh said at a town hall meeting in Elk Grove Village, Ill.  “And it’s a threat that is much more at home now than it was right after 9/11.”

“It’s here,” he continued, referring to “radical Islam” in the suburbs of Chicago. “It’s in Elk Grove, it’s in Addison, it’s in Elgin. It’s here.”

The remarks — captured on tape — came in response to an Egyptian-American audience member who said Muslims are taking over America and charged the freshman congressman to take a more aggressive stance against the religion.

The Tea Party Republican, who serves on the Homeland Security Committee, has been known for his incendiary remarks since winning his House seat in 2010. He set off a media firestorm last month when he appeared to question the heroism of his opponent, Democrat Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war vet who lost both her legs in combat.

American Muslim Catch-22

Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy writes in a recent piece of Catch-22 of Muslim Americans, caught in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t world when it comes to politics. Eltahawy describes what it’s like for a Muslim American supporter of Barack Obama, concerning the belief – and specifically negative belief by many that the Democratic nominee is Muslim. Faced with confrontation that the world isn’t ready for a Muslim president, and being unsure of how to even respond to such a statement, has left many Muslim Americans at a loss for words on how to both defend themselves, while correcting misinformation. Eltahawy includes responses and conversations with several Muslim Americans trying to deal with this dilemma in a truthful, honest, respectful, and fair manner.