- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Muslim cleric hosting an Egyptian television show recently outlined his version of Islamic instructions for wife-beating. In another show, a cleric claimed that the Muslim Brotherhood, now governing Egypt, one day will rule the world.

“If not through peace, there is nothing preventing war. We welcome war,” said the second cleric, who added that “one of the tenets of the Muslim Brotherhood, which they cannot renounce,” is the goal of global dominance by an Islamic caliphate.

The shows aired on Egypt’s Al Nas network, a hard-line Salafist Muslim outfit that for years has flown largely under the radar of international observers.

The network was thrust into the spotlight last week when it broadcast Arabic-dubbed movie clips from what it described as an English-language film insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. Riots and protests erupted throughout the Middle East and other parts of the Muslim world.

Protesters breached the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo on Tuesday, destroyed the American flag and raised a black banner used by Islamic extremists.

In Libya, terrorists killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and others in an armed attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.

Protests continued Sunday when hundreds of Pakistanis clashed with police as they tried to storm the U.S. Consulate in Karachi. One protester was killed and more than a dozen were injured.

U.S. officials last week cited Al Nas’ attention to “Innocence of Muslims” — a crudely made independent film produced in the United States — as a flash point behind the wave of anti-American unrest.

Like Al Jazeera, CNN Arabic and other international satellite stations, Al Nas broadcasts live on YouTube and is piped into millions of homes across the Middle East.

A paradox of independence

A State Department official said “social media tracking” conducted by U.S. officials during the days leading up to the storming of the embassy in Cairo showed the programming was “being quite heavily watched.”

The situation seemed to underscore a paradox that faces U.S. diplomats attempting to understand how to conduct themselves in Egypt.

U.S. officials applaud the emergence of an independent Egyptian media spawned by the ouster last year of the nation’s longtime authoritarian leader, Hosni Mubarak. However, such independence appears to have made hard-line religious programming far more mainstream, especially for the strict, puritanical Islam of the Salafists.

Middle East analysts say it would be naive to credit a single Islamic TV network with spreading the rage sparked by “Innocence of Muslims.” They point to several catalysts, including the region’s sustained political instability and widespread unemployment plaguing its vast population of young people.

Salafist television programming has long existed in Egypt and was tolerated even under the authoritarian media restrictions imposed under Mubarak, who maintained a largely secular regime for 30 years.

Egypt is now ruled by a government backed by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, and that has given rise to an explosive intersection of religion and politics in a nation where both were oppressed.

Salafists in the open

“What the Salafis are saying on their TV channels is not something new to Egyptian society,” said Amr Bargisi, director of programs at the Egyptian Union for Liberal Youth, a nongovernmental organization based in Cairo. “It’s being said by cabdrivers, in schools and all the time.”

“What has happened,” Mr. Bargisi said during a recent email exchange with The Washington Times, is the “mainstreaming [of] Salafist preachers and politicians in other, ordinary TV stations. This also includes state-owned public stations.

“Having it out in the open, however, is to the advantage of its critics, not its proponents,” Mr. Bargisi said. “Believe me, since Salafists became ‘mainstreamed,’ this has made them far more susceptible to attacks from everyone.”

Indeed, sociologist Saadudin Ibrahim created controversy with an appearance on the politically liberal Egyptian network ONTV when he asserted that the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists were attempting to “hijack” Egypt’s revolution. Such criticism of the nation’s leadership would not have been allowed under Mubarak.

“The young people who carried out the revolution are not in power,” Mr. Ibrahim said, according to an English translation of remarks posted on the website of the Middle East Media Research Institute, a Washington nonprofit organization that monitors Arabic media.

“It’s the latecomers who are in power. Some of them, like the Salafis, did not participate in the revolution at all,” Mr. Ibrahim said. “This is an indication of their plan to hijack, control and monopolize.”

His fears appeared to have been vindicated a few weeks later when Egyptian cleric Safwat Higazi spoke of Muslim aspirations for world dominance during his appearance on the Al Nas network.

An apparently neutral host on the network asked him whether new fronts of war would need to be opened against Israel — including an Egyptian front — to ensure that Jerusalem can be made the capital of a new “United States of the Arab.”

Mr. Higazi replied, “Muslims are not warmongers.”

“We seek peace,” said the cleric, although he added that “if not through peace, there is nothing preventing war. We welcome war.”

“The day will come when we will be the masters of the world,” Mr. Higazi said.

His remarks make up the political side of the largely religion-focused content that fills the programming slots of Al Nas and such other Salafist networks as Al Rahma and Al Hikma.

“Islam instructs a man to beat his wife as a last resort before divorce so that she will mend her ways,” Egyptian cleric Abd Al Rahman Mansour said during a show on Al Nas in mid-August.

Such a beating will teach the woman to treat the man with “respect, and that her husband has a higher status than her,” Mr. Mansour said, raising his opened right hand as if to slap the air above his head for dramatic effect.

The cleric did, however, add the following directive: “I say to every husband, do not rush to beat her whenever a problem arises.

“One should not beat her out of anger,” he said. “This you must know: If the wife utters the name of God, the beating must stop.”

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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