Abbas: Without East Jerusalem there will be no peace with Israel

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas told a delegation on Saturday that without East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state, there will be “no peace between us and Israel.”

Speaking to a popular delegation from Jerusalem Saturday in his office in Ramallah, Abbas highlighted that the Arab Follow-up Committee would reiterate this stance during a meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday.

“He will be told that occupied East Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Palestine, and without this there will be no peace between us and Israel.”

The current round of negotiations has been limited to nine months after which “we are free to do whatever we want,” he said, highlighting that, “the time frame is limited and not open, and our unanimous position isn’t secret.”

He added that he heard that they (the Israelis) had refused to mention Jerusalem in any talks or negotiations.

“Let them say whatever they say. Unless it is mentioned clearly and marked in big fonts that it is the capital of the state of Palestine, there will be no peace with them and I want them to hear this.”

“Our language is understandable. We have been hearing lots of talks about the capital here and there. The (Palestinian) capital is Jerusalem and its surroundings in Jerusalem which were occupied in 1967.”

Jerusalem doesn’t mean Abu Dis, but Abu Dis is part of Jerusalem, he added, referring to a neighborhood of Jerusalem cut off by the separation wall from the rest of the city.

Abbas highlighted that he is adhering to a stance that has long been official policy.

“We have a right even though we are weak in the world. We will continue to demand our rights and we will realize them.”

Abbas added that the whole world had started to “know and understand our grievances and pains” and that European countries have started to support the Palestinian cause by boycotting products from Israeli settlements. Countries in North America, Latin America and Africa are doing the same, he added.

The Palestinian president denied Israeli claims that an agreement had been reached between the two sides to allow Israel to build more settlements when a group of Palestinian prisoners is released from Israeli jails.

“The Israelis link between prisoners and settlements. When a group is released, they build settlement units and claim this has been agreed on.”

“These are lies as there is definitely no relation between releasing prisoners and settlements. Settlements are illegal from the beginning to the end.”

Peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians were relaunched in July under the auspices of the United States after nearly three years of impasse.

Israel’s government has announced the construction of thousands of housing units in illegal settlements since peace talks began.

The Palestinian negotiating team resigned in protest against continued Israeli settlement construction in mid-November, dealing a major blow to negotiations between Israel and the PLO that had already been stalled.

Negotiator Mohammed Shtayyeh told AFP at the time that they resigned in response to “increasing settlement building (by Israel) and the absence of any hope of achieving results,” following Netanyahu’s announcement that Israel would build 20,000 new settlement homes in the West Bank.

The internationally recognized Palestinian territories of which the West Bank and East Jerusalem form a part have been occupied by the Israeli military since 1967.

(Source / 11.01.2014)

Asylum seekers’ perilous path to Sweden

Syrians risk their lives and their life savings to reach one of the few EU countries welcoming them.

Sweden allows Syrian refugees with permanent residence status to bring their families
Stockholm, Sweden – Over the past two years, Hussein witnessed the horrors of war in his hometown of Damascus. But the most frightening moment of his life did not come in Syria. Rather, it was during a stormy night in the Mediterranean Sea, when the small fishing boat carrying him and 15 other Syrians from Turkey to Greece was overturned by the waves.

Hussein – whose real name, like those of the other Syrians interviewed for this article, have been concealed for their families’ safety – managed to survive by swimming back to the capsized ship and holding on, in the frigid water, until the Greek coast guard rescued him. He said at least one of the other Syrians on board drowned.

The 24-year-old dentist recalled the terrifying experience while sitting in the warm reception centre of the Swedish Migration Board, in a Stockholm suburb. He feels lucky. He has reached one of the only European Union countries that promises Syrian refugees permanent residence.

Hussein’s journey to Sweden was dangerous and expensive. The only way for individuals to apply for asylum in Sweden – or anywhere else in the Schengen area – is to enter that country unlawfully. More than 23,000 Syrians have applied for asylum in Sweden since January 2012, and they all either entered with forged documents or by infiltrating an EU border. Sweden does not penalise asylum seekers who enter illegally, based on Article 31 of the Refugee Convention.

Let me tell you something maybe not a lot of people know. The rich people – they escape. The poor people who deserve to escape – they can’t.

– Khassan, Syrian asylum seeker


Hussein’s trip to Stockholm began with a car ride from Damascus to Beirut, where he boarded a flight to Istanbul. Following other Syrians he met, Hussein headed west to the coastal town of Bodrum, located 24 kilometres from the Greek island of Kos. The next step was sneaking in to Europe.

He paid a Turkish smuggler $2,750 for the 30-minute boat ride to Kos, the trip that left him stranded in the sea, clinging to life. He was sent directly to a detention centre after being rescued. After being freed, Hussein travelled to Athens and paid $2,000 for a fake Spanish passport and a plane ticket to Stockholm. The badly fabricated document, however, was exposed at the airport and he was not allowed to board the flight. With no other recourse, Hussein took a ferry to Italy, and then paid $2,000 for a 30-hour car ride with several other Syrians from Milan to Stockholm, finally arriving in the country on December 14.

“My family is in Syria – my parents, my brother and my two sisters. They stay there because they cannot go through the difficult ways to come here. It is very dangerous,” Hussein told Al Jazeera after applying for asylum. “If countries open the door for Syrians to come in a straight way, then many people will come.”

High-cost smuggling

The people Hussein is referring to are currently either in Syria or in overcrowded refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. The high number of refugees fleeing Syria make it one of the largest exoduses from one country in recent history, according to the United Nations’ refugee agency. But only those who with financial means can afford to leave the region and attempt to reach the welcoming but distant northern European countries.

The high costs of human trafficking have separated Khassan, a 28-year-old from Aleppo who arrived in Sweden in early November, from his wife and two children. None of his family members have passports, so the only way to reach Europe was to rely on smugglers to take them across the borders and provide forged identity documents and plane tickets.

The price tag for smuggling one person from Aleppo to Stockholm – $22,000 according to Khassan – made it impossible for the entire family to travel, so he left his loved ones behind and made the trip alone. “Let me tell you something maybe not a lot of people know. The rich people – they escape. The poor people who deserve to escape – they can’t,” Khassan said. “I hoped that I could bring my wife and my children with me, but I didn’t have enough money for everyone.”

He chose Sweden because it is the one country that has publicly declared that those Syrian refugees who are granted permanent residence will be allowed to bring over their spouses and children. Khassan’s plan is to apply for family reunification as soon as his asylum application is approved. For now, he is sharing a hotel room with three other Syrian asylum seekers, free accommodation provided by the Swedish Migration Board. He spends most of his days on the internet, following websites and Facebook contacts for any news coming out of Aleppo.

It takes the Migration Board an average of three months to make a decision on an asylum application. For Khassan, whose family is waiting in a war zone, this seems like an eternity. But he is grateful, well-aware that most other countries provide Syrians only a temporarily right of residence, which does not give them the right to family reunification.

EU’s ‘shame’

Sweden, which has traditionally held an open-door policy towards individuals escaping persecution or violence, is now facing the largest wave of asylum seekers since the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Despite accommodating refugee policies in Sweden and Germany, the EU as a whole has played a very limited role in the Syrian crisis, taking in only 0.5 percent of the 2.3 million people who have fled Syria.

The EU has miserably failed to play its part in providing a safe haven to the refugees who have lost all but their lives. Across the board European leaders should hang their heads in shame.

– Salil Shetty, Amnesty International


“The EU has failed to play its part in providing a safe haven to the refugees who have lost all but their lives,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s secretary-general. “Across the board European leaders should hang their heads in shame.”

In a recently published op-ed, Antonio Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Anders Danielsson, general director of the Swedish Migration Board, jointly called on European Union member states to “focus less on protecting borders and more on protecting people, and to turn into action their commitments for more solidarity and burden-sharing with the countries in the Middle East that host the vast majority of Syrian refugees”.

In an interview at the Swedish Migration Board’s office in Stockholm’s international airport, Danielsson stressed the urgency of the situation. “You have to give people a chance to get to Europe,” he said. “Otherwise they will seek other ways to get to Europe – across the Mediterranean – and then you put people into very dangerous situations. We all know what happened outside Lampedusa.”

To minimise human trafficking and limit the dangers asylum seekers face on their way to Europe, Danielsson suggests resettlement, which involves the transfer of refugees from camps in countries bordering Syria to host countries around the world.

The United Nations’ refugee agency has formed a core group of states – chaired by Sweden – whose goal is to promote international resettlement for up to 30,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2014. To date, 20 countries have confirmed pledges for resettling Syrian refugees, totalling more than 18,000 places. Danielsson is hoping more nations will join to create a global effort.

“We have to get used to the situation that we have. This is not a situation that will suddenly disappear,” he said. “Syria’s war might possibly or hopefully disappear, but in a couple of years somewhere else in the world – perhaps in the neighbourhood of Sweden – we will have a new crisis, so we have to have a continuous plan for receiving refugees.”

(Source / 11.01.2014)

PFLP warns against all attempts to normalize with Zionism

normalizationThe Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine warned against all attempts to open channels of normalization with the Zionist entity under various suspicious names and defeatist objectives, calling for accountability for the personalities responsible for sponsoring and participating in the normalization conferences held at the City Inn Ramallah and in Jerusalem on January 9 and 10.

These conferences were disrupted by strong protests from Palestinian youth who made clear their firm rejection of normalization. The Front saluted the young Palestinians who confronted these normalization events inside and outside the hotels where they took place; those Palesitnian youth expressed the true position of the Palestinian people which reject all forms of normalization and encounters with suspicious Zionist projects under any pretext whatsoever.

In a press release, the Front said, “Zionist assaults are continuing against cities, villages and refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza and the siege continues on Gaza, with starvation, bombardment and the killing of children. The participation of defeated Palestinian elements in the normalization conference in Ramallah under empty and defeatist slogans about so-called ‘peace’ and ‘ending the conflict between two peoples,’ aims first to market and to provide cover for the Zionist racist policies practiced against our people since the Nakba of ’48, which resulted in the imposition of control by force of arms on the entire Palestinian soil.”

Furthermore, the Front rejected such meetings and activities that threaten serious damage to the Palestinian national liberation struggle and work to legitimize the occupation, settlement, and the liquidation of the right of return.

(Source / 11.01.2014)

Israeli court convicts Palestinian minor of stone throwing

Israeli court convicts Palestinian minor of stone throwing | PalestinaSummer |

Israeli authorities released a 12-year-old Palestinian boy after he was detained and tortured for 4 days. Mustafa Khatib was convicted of throwing stones at Israeli soldiers and sentenced to seven months in prison, but was released on bale. Mustafa explained to press TV that he was arrested on the 6th of January, in his hometown of Hizma along with 5 other youths all less than fourteen years old. He was then taken to a detention centre without the presence of a lawyer or guardian in Israel, where he was beaten until he confessed. Mustafa’s uncle explained that the family searched for Mustafa because nobody gave them any information about his arrest until the following day. Rights group Defense for Children International say Israel is violating the UN convention on the rights of a child, which outlines that no child should be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. According to the DCI, since September 2000, Israeli forces have arrested more than 9,000 Palestinian children under military orders. Israeli forces seem to be systematically targeting Palestinian minors like Mustafa Khatib in order to intimidate the Palestinian population.

(Source / 11.01.2014)

The immense cruelty of Ariel Sharon

Ariel Sharon authorized the construction of Israel’s apartheid wall.

If it wasn’t for a brief encounter with Ariel Sharon, I may never have become a Palestine solidarity activist.

It was towards the end of 2001. I was among a number of reporters accompanying aEuropean Union “peace mission” to the Middle East. On a Sunday afternoon, we waited for Sharon, then Israel’s prime minister, to give a press conference in Jerusalem’s King David Hotel.

When Sharon eventually appeared, I was struck by how venomous he was. My memory has — naturally enough — faded a little in the interim. But I’m fairly sure that there was a smirk on his face as he spoke of how Palestinians sometimes blew themselves up.

The gist of his lengthy monologue was that all resistance to the Israeli occupation amounted to “terrorism.” He seemed to be rejoicing in Palestinian suffering.


At the time, I wasn’t properly informed about how the West mollycoddled Israel. In my naivety, I was impressed that EU leaders did not appear intimidated by Sharon.

There was some tension between Israel and Belgium, which held the Union’s rotating presidency. Sharon was being sued in Brussels for his role in the Sabra and Shatilamassacre that took place in Lebanon in 1982 (when he was Israel’s defense minister).

Quizzed by Israeli journalists, Belgium’s then prime minister Guy Verhofstadt insisted that his country was a democracy, where the justice system was free from political interference. The following day — during a turbulent flight on the Belgian government jet — Verhofstadt briefed us about how Sharon had called him to a meeting that Sunday evening. To break the ice, Verhofstadt had joked with Sharon about how prison conditions in Belgium were improving.

It was only later that I realized that Verhofstadt was a really a pushover. Although a public prosecutor had accepted that the case against Sharon could go ahead, Verhofstadt’s government intervened in 2003 to scuttle the proceedings.

The “universal jurisdiction” law under which the case was taken was watered down at Israel’s behest. So much for Belgian “democracy.”


Of course, I can’t claim to understand how Sharon’s mind worked from having once been in the same room as him. But I have studied his record in reasonable depth more recently. And I feel that I have learned enough to know that the articles now proliferating in the media about Sharon coveting peace are a travesty.

In a blog post for The Jerusalem Post, Eric Yoffie argued that Sharon was “the ultimate realist” as prime minister. “In order to assure Israel’s future as a Jewish state, he dismantled Jewish settlements and ended the occupation of 1.3 million Palestinians in theGaza Strip,” Yoffie added.

Only the first part of that sentence reflects the truth. Sharon did indeed strive to preserve Israel as a state where Jews have more rights than everyone else living there; the correct term for that system is “apartheid.”

Yet withdrawing Israeli settlers from Gaza in 2005 was not tantamount to ending the occupation there. Israel still controls Gaza’s air and sea borders. The “disengagement” paved the way for a siege and attacks on Gaza that have been enthusiastically supported by Sharon’s protégés such as Tzipi Livni.

Similar lies are being repeated elsewhere. Associated Press has reported that Sharon “directed a unilateral withdrawal of Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip, ending 38 years of military control of the territory.”

In The Guardian, Jonathan Freedland writes that Sharon was “acknowledging the truth that lay buried beneath the soil” through his “intriguing habit” of referring to places in present-day Israel with their original Arab names. According to Freedland, Sharon’s “final mission” could have been to close the wounds left by the Nakba, the forced displacement of Palestinians ahead of Israel’s foundation in 1948.


Speculating about what Sharon might have done had a stroke not ended his political career in 2006 is, in my view, pointless. And besides, nobody has yet produced credible evidence that he was on the cusp of delivering justice to the Palestinians.

What can be said with certainty is that he displayed immense cruelty both as a soldier and as a politician.

For a guide to just how cruel he was, I’d recommend Baruch Kimmerling’s book Politicide. It recalls that when Sharon was a military general, he launched a brutal operation in Gaza in August 1970. Thousands of homes were demolished and swathes of citrus groves were destroyed; orders were given to kill — without trial — any Palestinian suspected of involvement in resistance.

Sharon’s penchant for war crimes continued during his stint as prime minister. Operation Defensive Shield involved the destruction of schools, universities, clinics, mosques and churches in the occupied West Bank during 2002. An estimated 4,000 people were left homeless because of the sustained shelling of Jenin refugee camp.

Sharon kept on exulting in the loss of life. Eight Palestinian children and nine other adults were killed in a bomb attack on the leading Hamas member Salah Shehadeh in 2002. Sharon praised the operation as “one of our greatest successes.”

To those who still think that Sharon really was readying himself for a historic compromise, I say two words: “the wall.” It was he who approved the construction of that monstrosity which was explicitly designed to strengthen Israel’s grip on the West Bank.

I don’t believe in taking pleasure from anyone’s pain or ill-health, even when the person in question is a mass-murder like Ariel Sharon. So I have no plans to celebrate his death, whenever it comes. Like many others, I’ll be too busy working to destroy the wretched system of apartheid that he helped to build.

(Source / 11.01.2014)

Syrian Coalition: Participation in Geneva II Will Be Dependent On the Response of the International Community to Our Basic Demands

Louay Safi, spokesman for the Syrian Coalition, said that the Coalition’s participation in Geneva II will be dependent on the response of the international community to the basic demands set forth by the Syrian Coalition.” Safi points out that “no one can provide real guarantees for the success of Geneva II,” adding that “the only guarantees that may ensure the success of this conference is the ability of both sides to reach the proposed goals during the negotiations.” Furthermore, Safi stresses that “there must be a timetable for the negotiations, as this cannot be an open-ended process.” When asked about the Coalition’s participation in the Friends of Syria meeting scheduled for tomorrow, Safi said that this meeting aims to assess the commitment of the parties involved in the transitional process to put an end the tyrannical rule of the Assad regime. It also aims to gauge the commitment and the seriousness of the international community to bring about a political solution. We also seek to evaluate the positions of the countries that support the Syrian people and to probe their political attitudes.” Moreover, Safi echoed that the UN Secretary General statement that the objective of the conference is the formation of a transitional ruling body with full powers. “The invitations sent by the UN purportedly convey a very clear message, that the formation of this body is one of the top priorities of Geneva II. This undoubtedly indicates that the approval of any country to attend conference including the Assad regime, means they agree to the formation of a transitional governing body.” Safi stresses that “opening humanitarian corridors, the release of detainees, lifting the siege on Syrian cities,” are among the demands that the Syrian Coalition is going to present during the meeting with Friends of Syria Group. Safi concluded his statement saying that “Iran cannot attend the conference if it does not withdraw their militias from Syria and acknowledge all the terms of Geneva I.”

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 11.01.2014)

The situation at Ramon prison

prison-repressionThe situation at Ramon prison is potentially explosive at any moment, said Palestinian lawyer Rami al-Alami on January 11. Occupation prison administration continue to carry out raids, inspections of cells and sections of prisoners in light of the prisoners’ discovery of surveillance cameras planted in the walls of the cells.

Al-Alami said that this si the third consecutive week of brutal treatment of prisoners and harassing inspections accompanied by dogs and the attempted humiliation of prisoners.

Al-Alami reported that Palestinian political prisoner Shukri Abdul Salam reported that the “inspections” have included breaking electrical appliances, isolating prisoners in sections, forced strip searches and handcuffing, leading to clashes between prisoners and the intruding forces. The prisoners’ representative, Jamal Rajoub, has been isolated and several prisoners injured. Abdul Salam said that the situation may explode at any moment if the prison administration continues these steps.

He said that the prisoners began a gradual hunger strike on Saturday condemning the prison administration and that 49 petitions have been filed by prisoners about the assaults and destruction of personal property.

Meanwhile, on January 9, Israeli units stormed Palestinian prisoners’ sections in Ofer prison, reported Mohammed Abed of the Solidarity Foundation for Human Rights, who visited prisoners in Ofer.

He noted that an intense campaign of inspections claiming to be searching for mobile phones among the Palestinian prisoners has included confiscating and destroying prisoners’ personal belongings, including electrical appliances and collectibles.

Abed said that these inspections continue and that Palestinian political prisoners in Ofer are concerned that further attacks will continue in coming days.

Palestinian prisoners in Gilboa announced on January 10 that they will take steps to protest in solidarity with their comrades in Ramon prison following the vicious attack on prisoners there. In addition, prisoners in Gilboa donated 500 shekels of their salaries to support a relief campaign for Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk camp in Syria.

(Source / 11.01.2014)

Raghida Qawasmi detained after visiting her husband in Negev prison

raghida-qawasmiRaghida Qawasmi, 24, of al-Khalil, is being held in Hasharon prison, reported the Palestine Centre for Prisoners Studies.

She is the wife of Palestinian prisoner Moataz Qawasmi, being held in Negev prison and a mother of two children, the youngest being 18 months old. She was arrested on January 7, 2014 during her visit with her husband, accused of attempting to smuggle a mobile phone to her husband during the visit.

She was transferred to Hasharon prison but rather than being held with the other Palestinian women prisoners there, she is being held in a cell next to Israeli criminal prisoners, causing her fear and anxiety. She was brought for a hearing on Thursday, which was postponed.

Her family called for the immediate release of their daughter, arrested without charge, saying that her arrest was an act of revenge and that her husband has now been moved to an isolation cell. They demanded her release and her immediate transfer to the Palestinian prisoners’ area.

(Source / 11.01.2014)

Syrian opposition groups agree on unified position

Cordoba – Several Syrian opposition groups have agreed on a unified position ahead of talks to end the conflict in their country, the groups said late Friday.

Any political solution must include an end to the regime of President Bashar Assad and the establishment of a transitional government with full authority, the opposition groups said after a meeting in Cordoba, Spain.

The declaration was issued by about 150 representatives of opposition groups after they concluded a two-day meeting in the southern Spain.

The groups’ position heading into the talks scheduled to begin later this month in Geneva is that current members of the regime can play a role neither in the transitional government nor the future of Syria, the declaration added.

The opposition representatives also said they were convinced that a “conference of national rescue” must be organized by all representatives of the Syrian revolution.

They also called on the international community to advocate for the fall of the regime and for those responsible for crimes committed in Syria to be brought to justice.

The talks in Cordoba, which took place behind closed doors, were sponsored by the Spanish Foreign Ministry.

Madrid saw the conference as a contribution to opening a transitional phase in Syria that would lead to a political solution of the conflict. The gathering could represent “a first step to peace in Syria,” the ministry said on Thursday.

(Source / 11.01.2014)

Egypt: ultraconservative Salafis gamble on charter

Mideast Egypt Acquiescent Islamists

In this Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014 photo, Egyptian Salafis attend a conference to hear a lecture entitled “Know Your Constitution,” ahead of a two-day vote on a draft amendment in El-Saf village, 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of Cairo, Egypt. The conference, held to rally “yes” votes for the charter, highlights a striking alliance that has emerged since the military toppled Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and his democratically elected government last summer. Both the military-backed authorities and the Al-Nour party appear to be benefiting from it, despite the awkwardness

EL-SAF, EGYPT — Police cars crammed the courtyard of a youth center in this rural town outside Cairo, where an ultraconservative Islamist party was holding a conference on the draft national constitution. The new charter, written mainly by liberals and backed by the military, would ban political parties based on religion, give women equal rights and protect the status of minority Christians.

But the police were not out to harass the Al-Nour Salafi party, as they have the Muslim Brotherhood, which is organizing a boycott of this week’s referendum on the new constitution.

Bearded men in long, traditional robes shook hands warmly with police officers who also filled the hall to secure a lecture entitled “Know Your Constitution.” And what these Islamists know about their constitution is that they will support it — even if some may privately dislike it.

The conference, held to rally support for the charter, highlights a striking alliance that has emerged since the military toppled Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and his democratically elected government last summer. Both the military-backed authorities and the Al-Nour party appear to be benefiting from it, despite the awkwardness.

The authorities get a seal of approval from a popular Islamist party for a constitution drafted by a liberal-dominated committee they appointed. The charter, despite its progressive ambitions, accords the military special status by allowing it to select its own candidate for the job of defense minister and empowering it to bring civilians before military tribunals.

And Al-Nour secures a safe spot for itself — and perhaps even a hand in power — amid a relentless media campaign against Islamist groups and an intensive crackdown has left thousands of Morsi’s supporters behind bars or killed during violent clashes.

Statements from party leaders and senior clerics suggest they realize the government’s campaign has been effective. They blame Morsi for overreaching in so badly offending non-Islamists — in part by ramming through a more religion-based constitution that was approved in a referendum boycotted by many secular voters in December 2012.

“We are currently trying to minimize the effect of practices that led to a general alienation from the Islamic project,” said Yasser Burhami, an influential Salafi cleric, explaining to viewers on the group’s online Youtube channel in a recent video why it is acceptable to vote for a constitution that has removed religion-based articles his group once campaigned hard for. “We must acknowledge the new reality and put goals according to the new phase.”

There is irony there: during Morsi’s term many blamed Salafis for radicalizing his group and insisting on more Islamic-based legislation.

Salafis advocate strict segregation of the sexes and an unbendingly literal interpretation of the Quran, saying society should mirror the way the Prophet Muhammad ruled the early Muslims in the 7th century. They say they want to turn Egypt into a pure Islamic society, implementing strict Shariah, or Islamic law. Men are known for their long beards, with the mustache shaved off — a style they say was worn by Muhammad — while the women wear the “niqab,” an enveloping black robe and veil that leaves only the eyes visible.

They also reject democracy as a heresy, since it would supplant God’s law with man’s rulings — though they decided to set those concerns aside to enter elections after the 2011 ouster of former leader Hosni Mubarak.

The group’s rallies around the country have been held in carefully selected venues, most tightly secured and well-planned. A senior security official in the southern city of Aswan, where Al-Nour had a recent rally, said police and party leaders coordinate ahead of local events to ensure limited and vetted attendance.

The Brotherhood and other Islamist groups have increasingly targeted Al-Nour during their protests, with some of its offices outside of Cairo attacked and its politicians heckled.

On Friday, dozens of supporters of the Brotherhood and the more radical Gamaa Islamiya party in the southern city of Assiut chanted against Al-Nour following the weekly prayers. “Al-Nour is a traitor and an agent for the regime. They sold out Islamic law,” about 70 protesters chanted as worshippers trickled out of the mosque — until the police dispersed them with tear gas.

Authorities have been cracking down on people trying to distribute pamphlets calling for a “no” vote in the balloting to be held Tuesday and Wednesday, mostly on grounds they were representatives of the Brotherhood, which the government has declared a terrorist group. But the Brotherhood and other Islamist organizations have called for a boycott.

Founded after the 2011 revolution against Hosni Mubarak, Al-Nour party won about a quarter of the vote in the country’s first parliamentary election held later that year — coming behind only the Brotherhood. It soon broke with the Brotherhood, accusing it of monopolizing power. And today Al-Nour argues that it is not a religiously-based party, but rather one with a “religious background” that focuses on social priorities such as health insurance and economic development.

“The world needs to move forward,” said Ihab Mohamed Omar, a 25-year-old attending the gathering in Al-Saf, about 40 miles (60 kilometers) south of Cairo. “People who are against the constitution don’t say what the solutions are.”

Still, the road to Salafi support for the charter was rocky. The 50-member panel appointed by the interim military-backed president included only one Salafi representative, Bassem el-Zarqa. He said he asked the party to leave the committee after a few sessions because he felt it was too lopsided in favor of the secular members. Al-Nour nominated another representative.

Al-Nour is “the only representative of three quarters of (Egyptians who) voted for Islamist parties. They didn’t record my ideas or suggestions. It was worse than any dictator,” he told the AP.

El-Zarqa, who remains a party member, said the party will try to persuade its supporters to vote for the constitution. “But I think many think this constitution is much worse than the one from 2012.”

Some said the group is losing support because many see it as a fig leaf for the new authorities. “It will be a decoration,” said Youssri Hamad, a Salafi politician who broke away with Al-Nour during Morsi’s rule. Hamad said his new Salafi party, Al-Watan, will boycott the vote, but will prepare for future elections.

Al-Nour party’s backing of the military-backed government marks a return to an earlier political posture of ultraconservative Salafis, who had for long stayed out of politics and instead supported the party in power. Under Hosni Mubarak, Salafi clerics had urged their followers not to go against their leader. Some Salafi movements in Egypt discouraged their followers from joining the January 2011 uprisings.

Although highly critical of the Brotherhood’s time in power, Salafi leaders recognize the Brotherhood’s appeal— and have criticized the interim government’s designation of the group as a terrorist organization.

“It is hard to convince the grassroots of the merits of these extremely pragmatic twists, and many believe that they stabbed the Islamist president in the back,” said Ashraf Sherif, a political science lecturer at the American University in Cairo. The calculation, he said, is that even those they have upset “will still vote for them because they will prefer them to secularist parties.”

Sabah Mohammed, a 47-year-old government employee who wears the veil of conservative Muslim women, said she was confident Al-Nour was ultimately true to its Islamist principles.

“They are a religious party…I know they would apply (Islamic law). They are good. I’ve seen nothing from them that was bad,” she said, sitting at the back corner of the male-dominated gathering.

(Source / 11.01.2014)