Sectarianism overshadows Iraq's elections; the winner will be Iran

Sunnis and Shias are on the brink of civil war, and Islamism is emboldened. Two years after US withdrawal, Iraq is unraveling

 Candidate Rabba Mohammed pastes a campaign poster on a wall in Ramadi, Iraq. Photograph: Stringer/Iraq/Reuters

Iraq holds national elections on Wednesday, its first since the US left in December 2011. Relations between its Sunni and Shia communities have deteriorated and the country is on the brink of civil war as well as territorial disintegration.

The elections are likely to sustain and exacerbate these problems. The country has struggled to contain domestic instability and regional volatility since the US withdrawal, to the extent that many believe it is no longer a question of if, but when, the 2006 sectarian civil war is repeated. That conflict, also between Sunni and Shia communities, took the country to the brink, claimed thousands of lives and divided Baghdad along sectarian boundaries.

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Egypt’s ’Secular’ Gov Uses Religion as Tool of Repression

 By MOHAMAD ELMASRY

MINYA, Egypt — An Egyptian court here on Monday sentenced to death the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and more than 680 other people after a swift mass trial on charges of inciting or committing acts of violence that led to the destruction of a police station and the killing of an officer.– New York Times, April 28, 2014

Egypt’s military-backed government has followed a pattern established by a long line of Egyptian political leaders who have exhibited public religiosity and presented themselves as men of God. Notably, the recently-ratified constitution—drafted by a group of fifty people hand-selected by the nation’s military-installed president—did not do away with an article dictating Islam as the official religion of the state and Islamic Shari’ah as the primary source of legislation.

Three factors make the current Egyptian regime’s use of religion significant, however. First, the regime took power in a cataclysmic event apparently aimed at saving the country from a group, the Muslim Brotherhood, allegedly bent on exploiting religion for political gain; second, the post-coup government has suggested that secularism is a safer political path, as evidenced by its decision to ban religious parties; and third (and arguably most importantly) the regime has employed religion to justify a host of repressive policies.

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Iran says 'blood money' saved 358 from death penalty

The payment of "blood money" spared 358 Iranians from execution last year, the country's prosecutor general said today. 

The practice, made possible under the Islamic sharia law of diya (restitution), allows a convict to be pardoned by a victim's family if they receive financial recompense. 

The 358 cases fell in the last Iranian calendar year, between March 2013 and March 2014, the Fars news agency quoted prosecutor general Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie as saying. 

According to the United Nations, more than 170 people have been executed in Iran since the beginning of 2014. 

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Vow of Freedom of Religion Goes Unkept in Egypt

CAIRO — The architects of the military takeover in Egypt promised a new era of tolerance and pluralism when they deposed President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood last summer.

Nine months later, though, Egypt’s freethinkers and religious minorities are still waiting for the new leadership to deliver on that promise. Having suppressed Mr. Morsi’s Islamist supporters, the new military-backed government has fallen back into patterns of sectarianism that have prevailed here for decades.

Prosecutors continue to jail Coptic Christians, Shiite Muslims and atheists on charges of contempt of religion. A panel of Muslim scholars has cited authority granted under the new military-backed Constitution to block screenings of the Hollywood blockbuster “Noah” because it violates an Islamic prohibition against depictions of the prophets.

The military leader behind the takeover, Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, often appeals to the Muslim majority in a language of shared piety that recalls Anwar el-Sadat, nicknamed the believer president, who invoked religious authority to bolster his legitimacy and inscribed into the Constitution the principles of Islamic law.

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Couple claimed £1,900 all-inclusive holiday was 'ruined' by the Adhan

Man and woman allege 'noise' five times a day meant they couldn't relax

Holidaymakers lose compensation bid after claiming break to Turkey was 'ruined by noise of Muslim call to prayer'

A couple has lost their bid for compensation from a travel agent after they said their holiday to Turkey was ruined by the call to prayer from a nearby mosque.

The man and woman, who have not been named, demanded half of the £1,900 they spent on the all-inclusive break, claiming they were disturbed by the sound of the Adhan repeated five times a day.

They alleged their holiday, to the Turkish town of Doganbey on the Aegean coast, was ruined by the 'noise', which summoned Muslim worshippers to prayers from a loudspeaker mounted on a nearby mosque from 6am.

The German couple filed the complaint against a travel agent in Hannover, saying they were not able to relax at the five-star Angora Beach Resort Hotel.

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Is a Secular System Right for Egypt?

This month, as reported by Reuters, the Egyptian government announced new measures to increase “supervision over all Egypt's mosques so that they do not fall into the hands of extremists and the unqualified.” The removal of thousands of clerics—numbering 12,000, according to the government’s statement—comes in the context of the ongoing struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military-backed regime. 

Outside observers of this struggle may be tempted to frame it as a contest between an Islamist theocracy and a secular state, albeit an alarmingly iron-fisted one. However, as revealed in a discussion of the future of Egyptian democracy by academics, journalists, and activists convened at The Immanent Frame, the situation is far more complex. 

While the government’s recent measures will strike many as draconian, they’re unfolding within an environment of established law, as presented in a fine-grained analysis by Amr Ezzat, a journalist and researcher on religious freedom with the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. By law, all sermons, religious instruction, and charitable activities taking place in and around the country’s mosques are subject to the oversight of the Ministry of Endowments, which seeks compliance with a “moderate” Sunni conception of the faith as represented by the intellectual orthodoxy of al-Azhar.

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EGYPTIAN DOCTOR TO FACE NATION'S FIRST TRIAL OVER FEMALE GENITAL CUTTING

A doctor in Egypt is set to stand trial on Thursday in relation to the female genital mutilation (FGM) of a child who died of complications. It is the first attempt to prosecute over a procedure banned in Egypt since 2008.

Thirteen-year-old Soheir al-Batea, from the small northern village of Diyarb Buqtaris, succumbed to an allergic reaction to penicillin on June 6, 2013, allegedly after being cut by Dr. Raslan Fadl, according to forensic reports seen by Equality Now, an international rights NGO that has pushed for the prosecution.

The teenager’s death has formed what is being seen as a test case on the issue in a country where four in five young women reportedly undergo the procedure, despite the ban.

Some Egyptian women and feminists say they hope the prosecution of Raslan Fadl will start a precedent to enforce laws against the practice. But others say the share of girls who undergo the procedure behind closed doors at home — often in less sanitary conditions — may grow. At present, UNICEF estimates that around 70 percent of procedures are carried out surreptitiously at a medical clinic.

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