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November 29, 2011 3:36 PM
CBS News

ASSIUT, Egypt — Ahead of elections, Egypt's Coptic Church discreetly told followers to vote for an alliance of leftist and liberal parties sponsored by a Christian tycoon. The move by a Church normally wary of inserting itself into politics showed how deeply Egyptian Christians fear that Islamists will come to power.

The country's Christian minority turned out in droves for voting Monday and Tuesday in the first parliamentary elections since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in February.

Many indeed said they had "voted for the eye" — a reference to the Egyptian Bloc, the coalition that the Church pointed to. Each party has a campaign symbol so that illiterate voters can identify their choices on the ballot, and the Bloc's symbol was the eye.

In pockets where their community is concentrated, the flow of Christians to the polls was strong. In the Cairo district of Shubra, men and women with cross tattoos on their wrists — a common tradition among Egyptian Christians — kept lines full through the day. White-haired elders, equipped with chairs and bottles of water for the long wait, waited with young men and women who took time off from jobs to get to the ballot box.

Almost all expressed a common motivation: Stop the Islamists.

"We are voting for liberal parties as a means of survival," said Farid George, a Christian in the southern city of Assiut. "Egypt is our country. My kids were raised here and I will die here."

The prospect of an Islamist victory in the election has Egypt's Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population of 85 million, terrified that one day strict Islamic law will be imposed. Talk of leaving Egypt has increasingly circulated among many Christians since Mubarak's fall, raising fears over the fate of a community that predates the coming of Islam to the country in the 7th century.

Islamist parties are expected to be the biggest winners in the election — likely to gain a plurality or even a majority in the new parliament. Most prominent is the Muslim Brotherhood, the best organized political force in Egypt. Christians are nervous enough about the Brotherhood, but even more daunting to them are the Salafis, ultraconservatives whose ideology is close to the puritanical doctrines of Saudi Arabia.

Assiut, a rural province with a capital of the same name 320 kilometers (200 miles) south of Cairo, has the biggest Christian population in the south. It also has a strong presence of Islamic hard-liners. In the 1990s, it was a main battleground between the government and Islamic militants trying to overthrow the state.

The Islamic Group, or Gamaa al-Islamiya, a former militant group that renounced violence and is now a political party, is believed to have been behind fliers distributed in Assiut warning that Christians were trying to block an Islamist victory and that "the enemies of Islam" must be countered at the ballot box.

"This is dangerous, very dangerous," George, a prominent businessman with several car dealerships in Assiut, said while talking about the fliers with his employees. George is himself a candidate in the vote, though not with the Egyptian Bloc. "I will not have a man in a beard tell me how dress my wife, how to raise my kids, how to run my business."

Under Mubarak's nearly 30-year rule, Christians — most of whom belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church — complained of discrimination by the Muslim majority and of a second-class status. Their general reaction only increased their ghettoization: They drew closer to the Church and relied on Mubarak to protect them. Mubarak did little to advance Christian civil rights, but his police state ensured certain lines were not crossed.

Now with Mubarak gone, the election turnout marks a shift for Christians: They increasingly feel they can't shelter isolated in a corner; they have to engage with the country and assert themselves.

"Our country has been stolen from us for 30 years, and we didn't feel like we lived in our own country," said Hani Mikhail, who runs the Citizenship League at the All Saints Church in the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria. The league is a Church organization formed to spread awareness of citizenship rights.

"After the revolution this strange feeling came over us — the country started to feel like ours again and that we want to do something for Egypt."

The All Saints Church was hit by suicide bombers on New Year's, killing more than 20 people. Anti-Christian violence accelerated since Mubarak's fall, blamed by Christians on increasingly bold Islamists. Salafi preachers have spoken out against the building of churches and accused Christians of seeking to take over "Islamic" Egypt.

The Church's quiet backing of the Egyptian Bloc and other liberal factions highlights how it wanted to ensure the community's voice is heard.

The Coptic Church denies making any official endorsement. Reports of the list raised an outcry from Islamist groups who accuse the Church of meddling. Prominent Copts close to the Church leadership have defended the list in TV appearances — without confirming the Church issued it — pointing out that many parties are unknown so Christians needed guidance and that they have a right to ensure their interests.

The Bloc is made up of three liberal, secular-leaning parties, including one founded and financed by Naguib Sawiris, a Christian telecoms tycoon who is one of the country's richest men. The alliance is running a mix of Muslim and Christian candidates.

The Church leadership put the Bloc at the top of a list of candidates its advised Christians to vote for and distributed the list to the community through Youth Assemblies, according to multiple Coptic voters who received the list. The Assemblies are a church body that usually gives social guidance to youth. The list also circulated on Coptic Facebook pages.

Five days before the election, the third-highest church official in Assiut met with Youth Assembly heads and gave them the list to distribute, saying Christians must not split their vote, according to a person who attended the meeting. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Pastor Al-Qis Baki Sadaqa, head of the Anglican Church in Assiut, says he won't choose "out of religious motives" but will vote for "the person who is most qualified. That is modernity." He's voting for Muslims, though not the Muslim Brotherhood. He's not concerned about the Brotherhood, saying it's the most moderate of the Islamists. But Salafis, he says, are the more worrisome because of their "fanaticism" and "narrowmindedness."

"It's not only Christians who are in danger, but moderate Muslims," the 83-year-old pastor said.

Youssef Sedhoum, a prominent Coptic analyst, said he hopes the various liberal and secular factions in parliament will unite to balance the Islamists.

"They are in one boat, and they have to join ranks."


Michael reported from Cairo. AP correspondent Hadeel al-Shalchi in Alexandria contributed to this report.

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November 29, 2011 - 1:10pm
by Khadija Ismayilova


The recent death of writer Rafiq Tagi has sparked a fresh debate in Azerbaijan on three of the country’s most sensitive topics -- relations with Iran, the role of Islam and the government’s track record on freedom of speech.

Tagi, a 61-year-old essayist highly critical of Islam and Iran, was stabbed six times in downtown Baku on November 19 by an unknown assailant, and died four days later in a Baku hospital. In a hospital interview with RFE/RL shortly before his death, Tagi, who also worked as an emergency-room doctor, claimed that the attack was revenge by unidentified Iranian agents and Muslim fundamentalists for two of his articles.

In 2006, Tagi first fueled the anger of many Muslim believers with a strongly worded article in the Sanat (Arts) newspaper, a literary weekly. The article asserted that Islam and democracy are incompatible, and contained references perceived as critical of the Prophet Muhammad. In response, several Iranian ayatollahs issued fatwas that sentenced him to death. In 2007, Tagi and Sanat Editor-in-Chief Samir Sadagatoglu spent eight months in an Azerbaijani Ministry of National Security prison for allegedly having incited religious hatred by insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

But the fatwas and prison term did not stop his writings. In a November 10 blog piece for, Tagi tackled Iran itself, charging that “[m]odern Iran is a myth that is easy to break.” He also questioned the sanity of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

That criticism, along with the earlier fatwas, prompted many Azerbaijanis to believe that Iran is a prime suspect in the attack on Tagi. Baku’s relations with Tehran have been tense in recent months.

A statement on the website of the late Iranian Ayatollah Fazil Lankarani, who issued one of the fatwas against Tagi, and signed by his son, Ayatollah Haji Sheykh Muhammad Javad Lankarani thanks God that “a hand of revenge was found among the honorable Muslims of Azerbaijan and sent the evil individual who insulted Islamic sanctuaries and Allah’s messenger to hell.”

Representatives at the Iranian Embassy in Baku denied any connection with the attack.

One expert on Islamic theology, though, dismisses the belief that the attack is linked to Ayatollah Lankarani’s fatwa. “Tagi was here for five years after that fatwa. He was walking to work and back, using public transportation, and nobody thought of implementing the sentence while Fazil Lankarani … was alive,” said Elchin Askerov, chair of the International Eurasian Council within the Islamic Youth Conference Forum for Cooperation and Dialogue, in an interview with RFE/RL’s Azeri service. Askerov similarly dismissed the notion that an Azerbaijani believer could have carried out the stabbing. “An Azerbaijani Muslim is not [a] backward, radical. We have to wait for the result of the investigation.”

State prosecutor’s office spokesperson Eldar Sultanov told reporters that his office is aware of Ayatollah Lankarani’s statement and will respond if necessary. Other details about the government’s investigation have not been released. Muslim community leaders in Baku have not commented publicly on Tagi’s death.

By keeping silent, government officials in Azerbaijan, always cautious in their relations with Tehran, risk inviting similar criticism for inaction, some observers believe.

Government critics blame law enforcement agencies for not providing protection for Tagi similar to what was offered by the British government to the Indian-British writer Salman Rushdie, who was condemned to death in a 1989 fatwa. “The government should have protected its citizen and arrested those who were calling for Rafiq Tagi’s death in Azerbaijan, and should demand international sanctions against those who were issuing fatwas abroad,” said Arastun Orujlu, director of the East-West Research Center.

Some critics have gone further, saying that the authorities will use Tagi’s apparent assassination as an excuse to tighten restrictions on practicing Muslims. Parliament recently adopted legislation that, among other measures, restricts sales of approved religious literature to official shops and imposes long-term prison sentences on those who sell or distribute unsanctioned religious writings.

“The whole world is discussing this assassination, except the Azerbaijani government,” said Intigam Aliyev, head of the Legal Enlightenment Center, a human rights organization, in a statement published by several Azerbaijani online and print media outlets. “The government’s silence is the answer. They are as silent as they were when [slain newspaper editor] Elmar [Huseynov] was killed, journalists were kidnapped and injured under car wheels, when people’s houses were destroyed.”

Two journalist advocacy groups, the New-York-City-based Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, have urged the Azerbaijani government to bring the perpetrator(s) to justice. The Azerbaijani government maintains it’s working on precisely that. In a November 25 interview to Media Forum, Ali Hasanov, the influential head of the presidential administration’s Political-Public-Policy Department, declined to “make any assessment” about the culprit’s identity. Instead, he urged patience. “The government is trying to solve all cases,” Hasanov said. “We don’t single this one out.”

Editor's note: 
 Khadija Ismayilova is a freelance reporter in Baku and hosts a daily program on current affairs broadcast by the Azeri Service of RFE/RL.


Fox News
November 22, 2011

NEW YORK -- As New York City police tracked what they called a "lone wolf" terrorism suspect for more than a year, federal authorities declined to join the case, believing the man did not pose a serious threat, people familiar with the matter told the Wall Street Journal.

The FBI was aware of the case against Jose Pimentel, a 27-year-old unemployed Manhattan resident, but agents were concerned about the New York Police Department's use of a confidential informant, who recorded hours of conversations with the suspect but could be a shaky trial witness, a law enforcement official familiar with the case said.

The FBI also had doubts over whether Pimentel would be capable of carrying out a terror plot on his own, because they believed he had mental problems.

Pimentel was characterized as a "stoner" who was not a real danger to anybody other than himself, a federal source told the New York Post.

His mental faculties were also questioned, considering he once tried to circumcise himself, said another source.

Pimentel also seemed clueless about the gravity of his situation, suggesting that cops give him just a slap on the wrist for the crime and set him free, sources said. "Am I going to get a desk-appearance ticket?" he asked before insisting, "I'm not a terrorist."

Federal officials -- who sit on a joint terrorism task force with the NYPD -- were noticeably absent Sunday night from a news conference announcing Pimentel's arrest on state charges, but no federal ones.

But Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Monday, "There was no question in my mind we had to take this case down. This was an imminent threat."

Pimentel has pleaded not guilty and is being held without bail.

New York officials said they decided to arrest Pimentel because he had nearly finished assembling a pipe bomb built from match heads, Christmas lights, and an alarm clock. Law enforcement officials said they had become concerned the bomb components might pose a danger to neighbors in the apartment buildings where Pimentel and the informant lived. Pimentel, they said, planned to use the bombs against police officers, returning military veterans, and post offices.

His mom apologized Monday for her malcontent son -- and said he has to face "justice."

"I want to apologize to the City of New York," Carmen Rosa, a 57-year-old immigrant from the Dominican Republic, said. "I've been here since 1987, and I'm disappointed with what my son was doing. I love New York."

"I'm sorry for what my son did," she added. "I just want to say I love him. I didn't raise him that way -- he changed."

Rosa said that Pimentel, who is Muslim, first became interested in Islam after 9/11 and converted about five years ago.

"He liked religion. He liked being Muslim. He liked to read and write about what happens in the Muslim world," she said.

Posted at 11:16 AM ET, 11/22/2011
Washington Post
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has assembled a new team of advisers on national security just in time for Tuesday’s debate on ... foreign policy and national security.

According to the Gingich campaign, the team will be led by Herman Pirchner, the founder and president of the American Foreign Policy Council, and will include Robert McFarlane, Bill Schneider, James Woolsey, David Wursmer and several others.

The announcement provides still more evidence that Gingrich’s campaign is expanding quickly in an effort to harness his recent surge in public polls. Following his campaign’s implosion in June, Gingrich’s campaign shrank to a dozen staffers. Now, it’s back up to 40, and money is flowing in at a fast enough clip to allow him to build up his operations in all the key early states, he said during a swing through New Hampshire on Monday.

Some of Gingrich’s national-security advisers will be on hand during Tuesday’s Republican debate, which is co-hosted by CNN and the Heritage Foundation and is being held in Washington.

Here is a complete list of Gingrich’s new team and the biographies supplied by the campaign:

Norman A. Bailey is an adjunct professor of economic statecraft at the Institute of World Politics in Washington and president of the Institute for Global Economic Growth.

Bailey served as a professor at the City University of New York until 1981, when President Reagan appointed him special assistant to the president for National Security Affairs and senior director of International Economic Affairs on the staff of the National Security Council. Since 198, Bailey has been an international economic consultant to governments, government agencies, corporations, banks, investment banking firms, trade associations and trading companies on five continents.

Ilan Berman is vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC. An expert on regional security in the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Russian Federation, he has consulted for both the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Department of Defense. Berman is a member of the associated faculty at Missouri State University’s Department of Defense and Strategic Studies. He also serves as a member of the reconstituted Committee on the Present Danger, a columnist for, and as editor of The Journal of International Security Affairs.

Ken de Graffenreid is currently professor of Intelligence Studies at The Institute of World Politics. Following service in the US Navy as a naval aviator and intelligence officer, he was appointed to President Reagan’s National Security Council in 1981.

Mr. deGraffenreid was senior director of intelligence programs at the National Security Council from 1981 to 1987, when he was charged with evaluating and coordinating a broad range of intelligence, counterintelligence, security countermeasures, space policy, arms control, strategic nuclear and command, control and communications issues. He served at the Pentagon in the second Bush administration as deputy under-secretary of Defense for policy, then as deputy national counterintelligence executive at the Central Intelligence Agency.

John Fonte is a senior fellow and director of the Center for American Common Culture at Hudson Institute. His book, Sovereignty or Submission: Will Americans Rule Themselves or be Ruled by Others? was published by Encounter Books in August 2011.

Previously, Fonte was a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute where he directed the Committee to Review National Standards under the chairmanship of Lynne V. Cheney. He also served as a senior researcher at the U.S. Department of Education and a program administrator at the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

Robert McFarlane has had a distinguished record of public service including ten years in the White House and State Department, serving variously as military adviser to Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft, counselor to the secretary of state and rising ultimately to serve President Reagan as his national security advisor.

He is a graduate of the US NavalAcademy and served in the US Marine Corps.

Herman Pirchner is the founding President of the American Foreign Policy Council. Prior to founding AFPC, Pirchner worked for current Iowa Senator Charles Grassley and former Iowa Senator Roger Jepsen.

Tina Ramirez is the director of international and government relations for the Becket Fund, a non-profit, public-interest legal and educational institute that protects the free expression of all faiths. Previously, she served in a number of positions in Congress as a senior foreign policy advisor and expert on international religious freedom, and helped establish and direct the Congressional International Religious Freedom Caucus.

Bill Schneider is president of International Planning Services, Inc. and an adjunct fellow of the Hudson Institute. Schneider served as under secretary of state for security assistance, science, and technology (1982-86) under President Reagan, following service as associate director for national security and international affairs at the Office of Management and Budget (1981-82). He served as dhairman of the General Advisory Committee on Arms Control and Disarmament from 1987-93, then as chairman of the Defense Science Board (DSB) from 2001-9, and currently serves as a Senior Fellow of the DSB.

Kiron Skinner is the W. Glenn Campbell Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, where she is a member of the Shultz-Stephenson Task Force on Energy Policy. She also is an associate professor of international relations and politics at Carnegie Mellon University and director of the university’s Center for International Relations and Politics.

Abraham Wagner teaches in the areas of national security and intelligence at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, and is also a senior research fellow at the Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies.

R. James Woolsey is chairman of Woolsey Partners LLC, a Venture Partner with Lux Capital Management, and chair of the Board of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. A former CIA director from 1993 to 1995, Woolsey was also: Ambassador to the Negotiation on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), Vienna, 1989-1991; Under Secretary of the Navy, 1977-1979; and General Counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services, 1970-1973.

David Wurmser is the executive and founding member of the Delphi Global Analysis Group, LLC, where he provides analysis on the geopolitics and economics of Israel and the Middle East. Dr. Wurmser was the senior advisor to Under Secretary of State John Bolton at the State Department until 2003, then rose to senior advisor to Vice President Richard Cheney on Middle East, proliferation and strategic affairs.

Stephen Yates has been the president of DC International Advisory, a consultancy, since 2006. Before opening DC International Advisory, Yates served in the White House as deputy assistant to the vice president for national security affairs from 2001 through 2005. During his tenure in government, he was deeply involved in the development and execution of U.S. foreign policy priorities in Asia, Latin America and Africa.



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