Sheikh Dr. Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of Cairo's Al-Azhar University, the seat of Sunni Islam, yesterday delivered a courageous, historic speech in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, urging reform in religious education to curb extremism in Islam. Al-Tayyeb's address was the result of an even more courageous and historic speech, delivered a few weeks ago by Egypt's devoutly Muslim President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, at Al-Azhar University.
El-Sisi's monumental statement, truly worthy of a Nobel Prize, is having a seismic result. Al-Sisi directed his remarks, about the ills of Islam to Islamic clerics in Egypt and around the world. It was enormously brave of him. He did not single out radical Islam, but he did call on all Muslims to examine themselves, carry out a religious revolution and renew their faith.
El-Sisi, a man of monumental courage, urged Muslims not to behave according to the ancient, destructive interpretations of the Qur'an and Islam that make the rest of the world hate them, destroy Islam's reputation and put Muslim immigrants to Western countries in the position of having to fight their hosts. He claimed that it is illogical for over a billion Muslims to aspire to conquer and subdue six billion non-Muslims.
Egypt's President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, delivered a historic speech to top Islamic scholars and clergy at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, December 28, 2014. (Image source: MEMRI)
Islam deals in depth with uniting the Muslim nation (umma) and mutual responsibility among Muslims, as though they were one entity. The Prophet Muhammad (S.A.A.W.) said that every drop of Muslim blood is more precious than the entire Kaaba. Thus the liberty ISIS took upon itself to burn alive a Jordanian pilot and 45 Egyptians, to spread terrorism throughout Syria, Iraq and Egypt and to kill other Muslims in various locations around the globe, claiming they were "infidels," is heresy in and of itself.
The calls for the deaths of "a million shaheeds" and the killing of Jews for the sake of Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, as was done by Arafat in the past, and is being done now by his heirs in the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, are a crime; they are extremist incitement that is opposed to the forgiving and compromising spirit of Islam. The murder and terrorism carried out by terrorist organizations such as ISIS, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad [PIJ] and other Islamist organizations against Jews, Christians and other non-Muslims is contrary to the modern Islam needed in the contemporary era.
El-Sisi was correct that the Muslim Brotherhood's Sunni ideology, which drives most of the extremist Islamist organizations around the world, preaches forced conversion of "infidels" to Islam at any price, or death. Some of the "infidels" are supposed to join Islam of their own accord (targ'ib), out of self-serving interest, and some not of their own accord (tarhib), out of fear and death threats. Such conversions are also contrary to the original Islam, which states that no one is to be forced to convert to Islam and that a calm religious dialogue should be held.
However, a few days after President el-Sisi's speech, which attempted to unify Muslims and Christian Copts, the Muslim Brotherhood and their affiliated terrorist organizations increased their attacks on Egyptian civilians and security forces throughout Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula, as well as murdering 21 Egyptian Christian Copts in Libya. The Muslim Brotherhood knows that behind the scenes, U.S. President Obama supports the movement, especially the branch in Egypt seeking to overthrow President Sisi. This approval from the U.S. encourages the Muslim Brotherhood to be even more determined to subvert and undermine Egypt's stability, sabotage its economic rehabilitation and destroy the el-Sisi regime.
In this atmosphere of American support, the Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis terrorist group in the Sinai Peninsula operates under Muslim Brotherhood protection. It recently changed its name to the "Sinai Province" of the Islamic State and swore allegiance to the "Caliph," Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. It is currently working hand-in-hand with Hamas in the Gaza Strip to weaken el-Sisi's Egyptian forces in the Sinai Peninsula.
Other Islamist terrorist organizations also kill Egyptian civilians and security forces with bombs and assault rifles. In the name of the Muslim Brotherhood's ideology, they indiscriminately attack people on public transport, in airports and in public places, with the intent of retaking control of Egypt.
For this reason, an Egyptian court recently designated Hamas a terrorist organization, along with its military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, and outlawed both of them. In response, Qatar, a slippery agent in the service of America but also, treacherously, in the service of Iran, allowed armed Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades operatives to be interviewed by its Al-Jazeera TV. The operatives called the Egyptian president a traitor to the Islamic-Arab cause and to those seeking to "liberate Palestine."
At the same time, Qatar continues to use its Al-Jazeera TV to broadcast hate propaganda targeting the el-Sisi regime, to disseminate videos and to fabricate insulting quotes intended to cause friction between el-Sisi on one side and the leaders of the Arab world and the Gulf States on the other -- and to keep them from giving hungry Egyptians economic aid.
As the date for the economic conference in Sharm el-Sheikh (in the Sinai Peninsula) nears, Al-Jazeera's propaganda machine has moved into ever-higher gear. Apparently, some of the Sunni Arabs states have not yet realized that their own national security and ability to withstand Iran depend on how strong Egypt is.
The U.S. Administration could easily halt the subversion of Egypt, but not only does it turn a blind eye, it suffers from a peculiar form of ignorance that makes it fight ISIS while at the same time supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, the hothouse of most Islamic terrorist organizations, including ISIS. The damage done to Egypt and the cracks in the weak Sunni Muslim ranks in the Middle East will eventually harm American interests and expose the Gulf States to the increasing Iranian threat.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the current American administration's great friend, is the tree whose fruit is the Islamist terrorism embodied by ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Al-Nusra Front, Boko Haram and others. This linkage has become obvious to all the Arab states, while the U.S. and Europe steadfastly ignore the danger to their own survival, and refuse to outlaw them.
It is possible, in fact, that U.S. policy is to weaken the Sunni world that is seeking to unite under el-Sisi's flag of modernity. With European complicity, the U.S. Administration is trying to defraud the Arabs and turn the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a center of Middle Eastern chaos, in order to hide the nuclear deal they are concocting with Iran. That is why the West does not really want to rehabilitate the Palestinian refugees by settling them in the Arab states, and why the West continues to nourish false Palestinian hopes that perpetuate this conflict.
The treachery of the U.S. Administration is the reason why Egyptians' faith in America, which is supposed to defend the Arabs against a nuclear Iran, has effectively evaporated.
In the meantime, Iran's Houthi proxies have taken over Yemen, threatening the entire Persian Gulf from the south. The el-Sisi regime is currently in the market for new allies, such as Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin recently paid a visit to Egypt to examine the possibilities of building a nuclear reactor, sounding the first chord of a regional nuclear arms race.
The problems of the Middle East begin in the United States: that was the claim of participants in the Al-Jazeera TV show, "From Washington." They described American policy towards Egypt as hesitant, indecisive and undemocratic. They claimed that the U.S. Administration had not yet decided whether or not to support el-Sisi, who heralded change and the willingness to fight radical Islam (a fight America used to participate in) or to remain neutral and waffle, in view of Egypt's presumed instability. The Americans seem to be putting their all money on the extreme Islamists, who they seem to think will eventually win the bloody conflict currently being waged in Egypt.
The Americans have forgotten that under Mubarak, the regime turned a blind eye to attacks against Israel that were carried out by the Muslim Brotherhood and their carefully fostered agents. Unfortunately, since el-Sisi was elected, Egypt itself has become a victim of radical Islamic terrorism. The U.S. Administration, however, appears clearly to hate el-Sisi, and seems to be doing its utmost to undermine him and see him thrown out.
Under ousted President Mohamed Morsi, Egypt was tolerant and patient toward the U.S. Administration's best friends, the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as Islamist and Palestinian terrorist organizations such as Hamas, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, Al-Qaeda, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, all of which set up camp in the Sinai Peninsula. These terrorist groups smuggled weapons in from Iran, Sudan, Libya and Lebanon; dug smuggling and attack tunnels; developed missiles and carried out terrorist attacks "only" against Israel, the current U.S. Administration's other apparent enemy, even though so many American Jews foolishly voted for them.
Now those same Islamist and Palestinian terrorist organizations are striking a mortal blow to the security or Egypt, and killing its civilians and security personnel.
The Muslim Brotherhood, mindful of America's pro-Islamist policy toward it, is deliberately indulging in a wave of terrorism in Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula. Muslim Brotherhood operatives there are targeting civilians, public transport, airports and natural gas pipelines, all to undermine Egypt's internal security and bring down el-Sisi's regime in favor of extremist Islamists and a nuclear-threshold Iran.
In the current international situation, the U.S. Administration has apparently finally cut a deal with Turkey -- which will be flimsy and ethereal -- that allows Turkey to do the only thing it really cares about: to bring down the regime of Syria's President, Bashar al-Assad.
The U.S. is also trying to cut a deal with Qatar, which along with Turkey openly supports the Muslim Brotherhood and its terrorist proxies in Egypt, Gaza, Syria and Iraq, who in general work against Western interests.
The ironic result is that Turkey plays host to both NATO and senior Hamas figures, while it deliberately ignores the slaughter by ISIS of Kurds and other ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria. The Muslim Brotherhood, in effect, actually rules Turkey. Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP party make it easy for foreign fighters to cross the Turkish border into Syria and join the ranks of ISIS. Meanwhile, the Turkish government wages a diversionary propaganda war against Israel. According to recent rumors, Turkey is also planning to build a nuclear reactor, "for research and peaceful purposes."
Another surreal result is that Qatar hosts the U.S. military bases, while it finances and encourages terrorist organizations operating against Israel and the Egypt. It also panders to Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the spiritual mentor of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist terrorist who issues fatwas permitting the murder of civilians and approves death sentences for apostasy.
And now the greatest American insanity of all time: the U.S. and Turkey are arming and training Islamist terrorist operatives in Turkey, on the grounds that they are "moderates" opposed to Bashar Assad's regime in Syria. They either ignore or are not aware that there is no such thing as a moderate Islamist terrorist.
The other name of the "moderates" opposing Bashar Assad is ISIS; Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei and Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah are now even saying that the U.S. is arming ISIS.
In the meantime, the Egyptian army continues its struggle against Islamist terrorist targets in the Sinai Peninsula and Libya, unaided, and even undermined, by the U.S.
In view of the U.S. Administration's collaboration with the Muslim Brotherhood and terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip, I am persuaded that in the near future it will be possible to find a joint Egyptian-Israeli-Palestinian formula for eradicating the Hamas-PIJ enclave of terrorism, this time by Arabs.
Most ironically of all, in the shadow of American zigzagging, a joint Arab-Israeli front is developing against Sunni and Shi'ite radicalism, and the Palestinians can only profit from it. Thus el-Sisi, who, with towering vision and courage, dares to speak openly about the tree of radical Islam and its fruit, when others are afraid, is a truly great Islamic hero.
Bassam Tawil is a scholar based in the Middle East.