Imam Bocelli: the creation of Cairo Steps.

They say music is the sole common language of humanity. Indeed, especially that we all listen to music and songs from all over the world. How about even mixing melodies, lyrics and folklore of different origins and styles? still nothing new? How about an Imam singing Opera? and how about mixing a Christian Coptic Hymen with Muslim chants and Adan (prayer call)? That is what Cairo Steps a music band is producing.

Cairo Steps that performed at Egypt Opera House a concert featuring a Coptic Hymn called Je Nai Nan (Lord have mercy), had been the talk of the social media. The band manager is Basem Darwisch, an Egyptian talented musician who have worked on many interesting projects. Basem is not just a musician, he is more of a music scientist , historian and peace ambassador. He studied Egyptology, Islamic studies and German language and Music ethnology, all of which contributed to his success which is based on his deep knowledge of folklore and music history. Basem definitely had an exciting and successful career in which he had the chance to work on several projects with prestigious musicians like Mohamed Munir, the famous music producer Nasr Mahrous, the Grammy winner Hassan Salama, and collaborated with the nobil prize winner of literature Gunter Grass. Basem career is actually a long term project of documenting the Arab music and tunes, while the final goal is to promote peace and harmony between different religions and ethnicities.

Cairo Steps

The performance starts with “Gnossienne no 1” of the famous French composer Erik Satie. You hear a piano, which is usual. Then oud is introduced, spicing it up. You listen and interest grows. E-bass and Kanoun sounds kick in, sensationally. Feelings are intensifying, the mixture is unique. Sax hits in as well along with other strings, you start to wonder whether it is the piece of Satie, or Ali Bab. It is really striking and overwhelming composition that takes the audience in a sort of a spiritual journey not knowing where you are heading. However, you are sure to feel the luxury of the symphonies, the breeze of the desert wind and you sink into another reality of Aladdin who might be in Chateau de Bolois. Wait…wait, all of this happening while you are wondering what is a blind Imam doing in the middle of the stage standing still lost in the music and living in it. You forget about him, as the music is fascinating. Suddenly a dim voice strikes you. It is not the usual opera shrilling voice. You start to realize it is Arabic, while the voice is getting louder, yet soft. The magical voice suits well the music and the loud note the Imam hits makes you wonder if he is Bocelli. What an experience the audience lived that night. What is more interesting, the Imam singing opera? or the orientelized Gnosseinne piece? Or is it the blind man singing “Ya Rab” Oh God as he is reciting a religious Islamic Sufi chanting.

The band which is composed of 8 Egyptians and 6 German musicians is the latest project of Basem. The band is led by the German conductor Sebastian Müller-Schrobsdorff. Basem expressed deep concerns prior to the concert, “what will be the reaction of the Egyptian audience?” he asked. The project was either to fail miserably and with loads of heavy criticism, attack and hate, or to find its way to glory. This extreme views comes from the knowledge of the recent tension in the Muslim-Christian community in Egypt. Basem was relieved when the first chant ended in huge applauds and cheers from the audience. “They understood my message and I reached their hearts” he said. “I was stressed out, but as Imam Ehab started to sing it all went away” he added. As you can see in the video above, Basem even stopped playing, as he was completely wandered by his voice.

Finding an Imam – Ehab Yonis

The journey of finding “monshed” the chanter was not easy. How to find a chanter -whom comes usually from a religious school and background, to perform in an Christian hymn in a jazz band? Well Imam Ehab Yonis didn’t mind the idea at all right from the beginning. Actually it is a bit surprising that his first reaction was completely rational and open to the idea. Especially that Basem found an acceptable understanding that suited everyone; they would only sing about God and to avoid controversial topics like crucifixion.

The only concern he had was how will he communicate with the other members, as such concerts needs a high level of coordination and practice. The issue was also the concern of the German members of the band. The secret solution was actually quite simple. Basem came with a brilliant code of communication, which is simply to use musical instruments to deliver messages. For example, certain Oud tunes means Imam Ehab has to hit a high pitch and so on. All of this happened over a night, as actually Imam Ehab only participated once in a rehearsal a night before the concert due to some issues.

Opera struggle

As Basem’s ultimate goal is to promote coexistence in Egypt, he aimed to perform in Egypt. Egypt Opera house refused his first proposal, as they would not let “a man wearing a jelbabl on the biggest Arabic opera stage”. Not to mention, the contempt over the idea of mixed religious concert. Basem relentlessly tried to make it happen, and he successfully convinced the head of the opera of the importance of the concert message. The night of the concert finally arrived, bearing the concerns of the German band, the Opera issue, lack of time and practice, religious concerns, and finally whether the audience of high society would appreciate the unusual dress and theme. As soon as the band finished their first piece, the audience preceded it with a 10 minutes applauds. Basem eyes was filled with tears throughout the night as he saw “hijabs” (veils)  and “crosses” among the audience. setting next to each other enjoying the music.

 

 

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Istanbul attack reveals worrying extremism symptoms in the society.

The new year evening in Istanbul came in bloodily. The year started with a terrorist attack targeting a nightclub and the surrounding shops as well. The attack was random and was aimed to have the biggest number of causalities. However, the treatment of the story on social media sparked a debate about the society’s opinion and revealed maybe more about the mentality of the Arab society. It could be even revealing some dangerous symptoms of extremism.

Laian a martyr or not?

Laian Zaher a 19 years old Israeli of Palestinian origin was one of the victims of the attack. Laian was visiting Turkey with her friend to celebrate the new year’s eve. Little that she knew it will be her last trip as she was murdered during the attack. Laian along with all the victims were announced martyrs according to Islam. A martyr is someone who died while: fighting for his nation or country, being targeted by a terrorist attack (including a rubbery), working, a woman being on labor, burned, or died during a plague. A martyr is considered the ultimate honor in Islam, thus the martyr is considered sacred. The Palestinian media over the social medias focused on her story and the follow up of her death. Surprisingly, her death reaction was least to say shocking. Some people were furious over her presence in a nightclub for one, and for traveling on her own only for leisure purposes. Comments on articles or news covering her death, were slamming her and some even seen it as “deserved punishment”. One comment by a Palestinian guy: “This is a bad final destiny, she will go to hell with everyone that died during the attack”. Another guy on the same post commented: “She is a night girl, a nightclub girl, a whore, a money gatherer”. Those were two comments out of some targeting the 19 years old. The comments went to expiate the girl “takfir” which means considering a Muslim to be a non-believer any more, consequently considering her an infidel or traitor. It more of considering her impure enough to be a martyr or someone going to heavenOthers on the other hand took her defense, considering her a martyr of terrorism. One quoted multiple Hadiths prohibiting judging others or “takfir” expiation. “Do not expiate any Muslim for any reason, even if they committed the biggest sins”a guy commented. Another comment was : “Laian traveled because it’s her right to, she was in a restaurant because she is free. She laughed, danced, singed, and ate because it’s her right to do whatever she wants”. Most of the viewers condemned the extreme opinions that they consider to be out of Islam. Some commentators asked about where those weird and extreme judgements come from; considering the prohibition of expiation “takfir” and judement of others in Islam. The Arab-Israeli Parliament Member Ahmed Al Tibi furiously asked those comment badly on Liana to stay silenced. 

Sign of extremism, is it?

The dispute was fierce and intense between the two sides. Most of the comments were on Laian side, however the number of criticizing comments is worrying. How could one blame the victim of a terrorist attack? Are we judged upon what we dress, eat, dance or whether we celebrate a non Muslim holiday? After tracking some of the commentators to get some clues about their background and mentality, I must say it is not easy to spot the problem. Some had Facebook accounts with religious “signs” like Islamic images or background photos. While others were on the contrary, some had no religious signs whatsoever. They were sharing images of hangouts and even filthy jokes. It seems that religious extremism is a serious issue in our society besides the obvious extremists like ISIS followers. It was shocking to see how people demonized a victim just for not following what they consider an appropriate lifestyle. We can endure that look of resentment someone could have over a short dress or drinking alcohol, but it seems that things escalated from a look to a public expiation. What is even more shocking is going from maybe a little rebuke, to gloat over the death of innocents just for having a non-strict Muslim lifestyle -in their opinion-.

A similar incident happened in Jordan over the same attack’s victims. Some social media’s commentators in Jordan also targeted the victims of the attack for hanging out in a nightclub at new year’s eve. Jordanian government had a different response to this phenomena. The electronic crime combat police department announced tracing all the hateful and insulting comments back to pursue the commentators. The Jordanian electronic crime law punishes for hateful speeches, insults and racism. This is one of the first times an Arab country takes such measures to fight extremism. Actually, 50 Imams were either fired or suspended over their offensive comments of the victims. While the court is on the course preparing the suit cases against the offensive commentators over the social media. Some other Arab countries had the same reaction as well, making it a general phenomena that is hard to trace and study.

Is it Islam to blame?

The incident reflects a sign of a religious problem in the area that suffers from extreme groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda . As we can see, the criticism focused on what they claim to be “Islamic reasons” such as lifestyle and nightlife. The main argument was that Islam does not allow dancing or mixing as well as celebrating non-Muslim holidays such as Christmas and new year. They took the extra step by thinking that whoever does these “sins” deserve death. Such Idea could be considered the core of extreme mentality or what leads to it under the right circumstances.

But does Islam really say so? Actually not at all. In Islam death penalty is only and only related to murder according to the famous Muslim Scholar Adnan Ibrahim. Important to realize that in case of forgiveness by the victim family, the sentence is waived. So where does the idea of killing come from? It is hard to say exactly but it could be due the current religious teaching curriculum and some extreme Islamic sects. The same sects that denies the mixture of genders for no obvious reason and prohibits celebrating the non-Muslim holidays. For example, in Saudi Arabia’s 12th grade “tawhid” Oneness of God book, they state that infidel-ism justifies killing. Not forgetting that ibn taymiyyah’s -who is considered a main source of teaching in many Muslim countries- books have many controversial texts that allows or even encourages killing in many cases like encouraging fighting different Muslim sects.

This incident must open our eyes on the sleeping extremism -those who did not crystallize their ideology yet- in our society that is caused by extreme religious ideas. We always knew about having some strict Muslims in our society, but never I thought the issue is that serious, giving the number of carriers of these extreme ideas. If we link this incident to the big fuzz over greeting Christians for Christmas or even celebrating it, then we can start to realize the seriousness of this phenomena. 15 to 20 years ago, the Arab society was more on the moderate side, almost free from religious extremism except for fanatics whom every society has in the world. These issues started to appear in the recent years following the destabilization of the Middle East -starting with the invasion of Iraq-. Islam the religion that once carried out the duty of enlightening and liberating humanity, is now suffering from extremism. The same religion that empowered women, called for mercy and peace, and fought the idea of religious supervision. Islam is the first religion to counter slavery by  enacting laws to free them. It is the Muslim empire that produced the core of sciences like medicine, math and astronomy. Muslim scholars preserved and transmitted Greek philosophy books when they were prohibited in Europe, making it the biggest transmission of ideas in history. How could some Muslims interdict greeting other religions, while Islam is the first religion to embrace Jewish and Christian communities under their rule.

Counter-fighting extremism

It is more obvious that we need to address these issues sooner rather than later. The Arab society has always been blaming the west for the creation of ISIS, but can’t we see that the potentiality of carrying ISIS ideology is already there? Jordan that suffered from terrorist attacks recently decided to counter the issue and track down any signs of extremism. As mentioned above, the efforts already resulted in jailing and fining those showing extreme ideology. The result was noticeable almost immediately. A controversial Jordanian Facebook page that used to be full of hatred comments, had shown way less -almost none- hateful or aggressive comments. The result of the new law was surprisingly effective, clearing up the social media of hatred speeches. In UAE as well, It has been almost since ever the case, where you could be jailed for any violence incitement, or  hateful speech. UAE social media is also known to be clear of extremists and their aggressive speeches. UAE also known for their tolerant Islamic school curriculum, is free from terrorism and extreme groups. They have a very moderate and love teaching school curriculum, and they are even reforming it to be better and better. Egypt and Al Azhar -biggest Sunni establishment-, are also living a transition period of reform and rectifying the mistakes. A lot of the teaching curriculum topics are being revise, and Al Azhar graduates -clerks- are known to be pushing for reforming the institute. Consequently, Egypt is living a phenomena of “open-minded” or “enlightening” Imams, that are trying to start an era of Islamic renaissance according to some. It is still early to assess the success of this new movement, but it sure has created a buzz that is effecting the Egyptian religious situation.

We could see a silver lining in the new generation of Islamic Scholars like Adnan Ibrahim and similar scholars (Tariq Ramadan, Hassan Al Maliki, Muhammad Shahrur) who are always countering extremism and misinterpretation of Islamic texts. Adnan Ibrahim is definitely helping reshaping Islam as a concept and an ideology. His videos have gone viral and made its way to many houses and families. He is considered one of the most popular Imams at this time. He is famous to preach against violence, against, gender segregation, expiation, and for Muslims to integrate into their societies. With these Imams Muslims are finding their ways to a moderate lifestyle that is compatible with today’s world. Nevertheless, these scholars lack both governmental and organisational support. They are mostly self funded, and working on their own. Adnan Ibrahim efforts are based on social media, where it is free and easy to access. He managed on his own to deliver his voice despite the sharp and aggressive criticism he received by the Slafists’ medias which are well financed and supported. It was not easy for him, and a lot of T.V. channels dedicated a lot of their time to attack him while hosting Imams of extreme views. They attacked him and his alikes (Hassan Al Maliki) and called even for their execution. These attempts were not enough to stop or discourage Adnan Ibrahim who already manged to create a huge fan base, who admired his preach for love, peace and tolerance.

The first step to solve a problem is the diagnose. I think we are almost there, admitting the religious problem that we have, despite of a big portion of our society denying it. The second step is counter fighting and this also already started with measures mentioned above. In addition, to the new generation of Muslim Clerks who managed to attract the average Muslim with their moderate speeches. The remaining question is whether the current efforts are enough, giving that the roots of the problem still exists -poverty, Middle East political instability, social injustice-? Those problems that led for extremism even in well-developed countries like France, Germany and Britain. Time will tell, but I sure feel optimistic about those efforts that successfully made their way into a huge level of the Arab and Muslim world.

Why the UN anti-settlement resolution is important? What is the aftermath?

Netanyahu probably didn’t leave his phone away, and 4 countries at least received threatening phone calls or notes from Israel. Up to an hour before the vote Netanyahu was still pressuring New Zealand’s Prime Minster warning him as if it was a declaration of war against Israel].   While Palestinians were busy as well pushing in the other direction.

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Credit to Thierry Ehrman 

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) last resolution denouncing the illegal settlements in Palestine has created a huge buzz over the last week. Some saw it as a victory while others think its only another UNSC resolution that is not binding, thus changes nothing in reality.  The resolution calls the settlement activity a “flagrant violation” of international law that have “no legal validity” and demands Israel to stop such activity and to fulfill its obligation as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention.[¹] The Palestinian Authority claimed the resolution as huge diplomatic victory. Meanwhile Israelis expressed extreme anger and rejected it, claiming that USA betrayed them and abandoned their commitment towards Israel. The question that the average Palestinian citizen is asking is about usefulness of such resolution and how will it impact their conflict.

Short-term influence

The resolution was made under the 6th UN charter which means it will not be enforced. That being said, nothing will really change immediately on the ground. Israeli PM also announced that Israel will not comply with the resolutions` terms. Neither settlements will stop being built nor will Israel retreat from the Palestinian territories. Yet there is an immediate effect on the diplomatic level that is shocking. The Israeli government reacted on the spot recalling its ambassadors from New Zealand and Senegal, (Israel does not have diplomatic relations with Venezuela or Malaysia.[2]) and have also cancelled the aids program to Senegal. The Israeli government also cancelled scheduled visits of the Ukrainian PM, Senegalese foreign minister and other officials from the 14 other countries.  Israel also summoned and reprimanded the ambassador  of the United States along with 10 other countries. These panicking and extreme measures will have their immediate influence on the Israeli international diplomatic statues. The UNSC resolution led by the Palestinian Authority succeeded to disturb and irritate the Israeli government. Mahmoud Abbas the Palestinian president have controversially adopted a resistance plan that depends solely on peaceful international diplomatic efforts[³]; and now he is reaping the steady patient strategy outcomes. Israel actually helped a lot by isolating themselves and creating new enemies or least to say new disputes. On the flip side, Abbas managed to polish the Palestinian image and convey the peacefulness of his efforts. Palestine now has new friends that they did not imagine to have; as New Zealand shocked even the Palestinian foreign minister by adopting the resolution. Last but not least the resolution will renforce the role of BDS ( Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions). With such a UN resolution, BDS will strengthen their position in front of other international organisations and inside the countries of their operation. BDS is more legit than anytime before and the resolution will break down the current pressure they are having from the zionist lobbies in many countries like UK, USA and France.

Long-term influence

The historical UN resolution can be used at the International Criminal Court (ICC) to sue Israel; making it a very dangerous resolution that could create one day the grounding to a massive prosecution against the Israeli government leaders. It might look like a fantasy, but this is not far from reality as we saw the prosecution of Serbian leaders and apartheid system leaders in South Africa. Not forgetting to mention the current ongoing Palestinian suitcase against Israel regarding the illegal settlements at ICC the Hague. The court is still gathering information and evidences and there is nothing  better than a sister organisation -The UN- resolution to rely on. The timing of the resolution couldn’t be better; as the resolution will give legitimacy to the Palestinians claims over the illegality of the settlements.

Secondly, the UNSC resolution makes up the ground rule for many other organisations like the EU. The EU already had a remark to sanction the settlements` products, however it is not applied well. The resolution will reinforce such remarks; making it a legal decision that will be binding. The Palestinian can convince all kind of international organizations to sanction the illegal settlements based on the very important resolution article: “to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.”[¹] This is a clear incitement from the UN for its members not to recognize those settlements and to sanction them.

The aftermath of the resolution

Life is pink again for Mahmoud Abbas as he considers the UNSC resolution as a conclusion to his international diplomatic efforts. IT WORKS !! This must be Abbas replying to all those who criticized him for his political approach. The UNSC resolution will encourage the PA to continue their diplomatic efforts and to strengthen their domestic reputation as they face an outraging nation over the “useless” political methods; but this view could start to change. PA also improved their ties with other countries and it seems they managed to convince the world of their peaceful approach. On the other side, Israel could not have reacted worse; as they worsened their diplomatic relation with yet more countries and the list can go on. Netanyahu even threatened to withdraw from UN. Israel already lost their voting rights at UNESCO 2 years ago along with USA; which left UNESCO without any power to stop pro-Palestine resolutions. USA in light of the unusual vote, had its share of domestic reactions. Trump as well threatened to stop funding UN which will mean also losing their voting rights once again. If this is to happen, then the Palestinians will be having the ground to pass resolutions in their favor in most of the international organisations. Will the next US government pull out of UN? It is unlikely but again, Trump can always surprise the world by his un-orthodox style. As for the moment the resolution is considered a first step on a long political battle between the Palestinians and the Israelis, with yet no impact on the ground.

Where are the oil prices heading? : An in depth analysis on the current oil situation. Can Saudi Arabia regulate the market?

By Ahmed Al Shanti

With all what is going on politically all over the world adding to it the long lasting economical recession, it is hard to tell the future of the oil prices. The middle east – where the major countries of oil production are- is currently overwhelmed with 4 wars running and ever lasting Iranian-GCC countries potential clash. In addition, Russia -the largest oil producer- is suffering from the American-European economical sanction. While in Latino America, oil producing countries are on the verge of a complete break down due to the tight economic crisis -Venezuela -. Despite all of these severe situations, there is still a glimpse of hope for the oil prices to sharpen again. The major oil producing countries are trying to correctly influence the market in their favor. The last attempt resulted on a historical OPEC led agreement that included Russia -non OPEC member- to cut down their production of oil. The Saudi led efforts came to a success, with them committing to have the biggest oil production cut of almost 486,000 barrels. The question is: will these efforts succeed to sharpen the prices again or not?

Lets take a look over the constraints of improving the oil prices and whether current efforts are enough to regain control over the market.

1- OPEC produces only 40% of the crude oil production. There are more oil producers today than in the 70s. USA produces today more than 8 million barrels, in comparison of 4 million barrels in 2009. This sudden increase in oil production was out of OPEC control.

However, the last OPEC agreement succeeded to include Russia which will strengthen OPEC position and widen their control of oil producers.

2- The last OPEC agreement exempted Iran, Libya and Nigeria from the cut down in production for different reasons. The new nuclear agreement means lifting the sanction on Iran, who is desperate to resume exporting oil to the international market once again.

3- OPEC members past of abiding to agreements. Who will guarantee the execution of the OPEC Novembre deal? absolutely no one ! Monitoring each member and obliging them to abide by the agreement is near to impossible and will depend on each countries motives to stick the agreement. The past record is not so encouraging, however the situation is different today with a great urge for a change. Only time can tell whether Russia -the major success determent- will succeed to stick to lowering their production to the 300,000 barrels agreed on. The first statement was: the cut down of production is “conditional on its technical abilities,” Energy Minister Alexander Novak said in Moscow.

4- Shale oil by US. It is no secret that Saudi Arabia decision to swamp the world with oil was to protect their share of oil, in addition to bankrupt American shale oil producing companies. Shale oil production cost is relatively high compared to crude oil. The break even price for shale oil is 80$-100$ a barrel. Saudi Arabia managed with their trick to shut down 32 companies out of the 40 American oil producing companies. However, the steeping prices also meant for the shale oil business to improve their technology to cut costs. Which came in successful as they managed to cut down costs by almost 40%, while crude oil managed only to cut production costs by 10% in the same period. Shale oil companies are stubborn -continuing oil production despite price crisis- and now with new Congress legislative and the support of the government, they will survive.

5- Some experts argue that oil prices are not dependent much on production and availability. The argument is based on the fact that even during production stability prices kept swinging sharply up and down. Actually in 2009, despite the slight drop in oil production, prices kept falling drastically. Some experts believe that oil prices are more linked to the overall world economic situation. It is safe to say that even when oil prices drop very low, producers don’t stop producing. It is due to running costs which are low, while the initial capital cost is high given the interest and loans that have to be paid back. Also oil demand does not increase rapidly after a drop from a high rice caption.  So lets see if that has any truth in it, especially when mentioning that the Arab embargo in 1973 resulted in a historical price jump from 3$ per barrel to 12$ per barrel.

Figure 1: World oil Supply and Prices based on EIA data

Conclusion:

After the OPEC November agreement, oil prices flourished a bit. In short term the Saudi Arabia led efforts may lead to improving the oil prices, and maybe it can reach 60$ per barrel by 2017. However, for the long term, current efforts are by far not enough to control the market. We must put in mind that countries like Iraq, Libya and Iran are hungry to export and thus will not be able to cut down their production of oil for long. Rebuilding these countries will need a massive budget that will be financed definitely by oil money. Also Russia who agreed with a lot of conservation to collaborate with OPEC will not resist to compensate their deficit resulted form European-American sanction by selling oil. Not to mention the potentiality of the American shale oil. Despite being hit hardly by the current low oil prices, shale oil seems to find its way for low cost production to be one day -soon to be- competitive price wise.