The most persecuted religious minority

 

I do not write normally on topics which affect religion. But the continued silence in the West about the continuing attacks on Christians in the Middle East, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Pakistan has drawn my attention. We do not write or talk about it. Not about the Yazidis, the Orthodox Christians, Catholics or Copts who have suffered and suffer open discrimination or worst, from the Muslim majority.

In Egypt, the Copts have been relegated as second-level citizens: They do not occupy the top positions in politics, in the judiciary, and even less in the military. They suffer discrimination in public life, and obstacles to the construction or reformation of churches. The intriguing thing is that nobody like them represents the pure essence of the country, since the name ‘Copt‘ comes from the Greek term ‘Egyptian‘, but Islam has condemned them to vassalage just for their fidelity to the Christian faith. The Copts are the ancient Egyptians’ descendants, who were later Christianized, and were therefore a community much earlier than the Egyptian Islamic. Coptic Christians are between 10 and 15 percent of the nearly 90 million Egyptians, though there are also Coptic communities in Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan. In total, the Copts are about 65 million. The Copts are nine million people in Egypt and belong to all strata of civil society, from the humblest to the most brilliant of the national business. Copts are some of the Egypt’s oldest families, such as former UN Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali.

The Copt’ prosecution has been aggravated during recent years with the frequent burning of churches and attacks, perpetrated by violent Islamist groups, events which often go unpunished. During the secular regimes of Nasser, Mubarak or the current Al Sisi, the things have not changed. The is a new stigma on them based on the popular rumor that they contributed to the 2013 coup that put an end to the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement that is now considered Salafist.

The Egyptian Christians suffered last week again. At least 25 people died after a car bomb attack near the entrance of the Coptic cathedral of St. Mark’s in Cairo. The Egyptian President Al Sisi has announced the identity of the alleged terrorist: a 22-year-old men who would have carried a belt of explosives. The rapidity with which the Egyptian government has pointed out to a suicide bomber carrying an explosives’ belt has surprised and it has raised doubts about its veracity, since the Egyptian intelligence services have not an impeccable record. The Coptic Egyptians are a common target of sectarian violence. During 2016, the Eshhad group, which analyzes episodes of religious violence in Egypt, accounted for 54 sectarian violence’ incidents: “the Copts have always been targets of sectarian violence in Egypt. This attack is just one more, consequence of some preachers’ sectarian discourse against other religions,” said Mina Thabet, a Minorities’ researcher within the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF).

In 2013, the Christians were among the groups who supported to the military leader Abdelfatah Al Sisi, as they were frightened by the sectarian violence’ rising incidents during the ruling years of Islamist Mohamed Morsi. The wanted to be protected against the wave of attacks, fires and churches looting throughout the country, including St. Mark’s Cathedral. However, the Al Sisi regime has proved ineffective in protecting the Copts: perpetrators of crimes against the Christians are often not judged and those destroyed churches remain unrestored. “The Copts feel that the government is not keeping their promise to protect them,” says Timothy Kaldas, a researcher at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. After the very last attack, Al Sisi lamented the death of ‘Copts and Muslims’. He also exalted the ‘heroic struggle’ of the security forces and the army. “Terrorism is directed against the homeland of Christians and Muslims, but Egypt will be strengthened under these circumstances, as usual,” Al Sisi stated.

Once again, the Christian Egyptians feel threatened and once again, the Christian leaders hold divided opinions on how they should respond. At the highest levels of the Coptic Orthodox Church there is an effort not to make much noise and work together with the administration, with the aim of presenting an image of unity and calm. The Christian community in Egypt has long had a symbiotic relationship with the state. The government provided security in an increasingly hostile environment, and the Christian leaders helped building an image of religious tolerance and freedom. This agreement was eroded during the presidency of Hosni Mubarak and collapsed after he was overthrown, and President Mohammed Morsi was elected. The attacks on churches led by young Islamists increased. In total, Coptic authorities have recorded 37 attacks in the past three years, not including the 300 attacks occurred just after Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were removed from power in 2013.

Across the Middle East, Christian minorities have been targeted in conflicts that ensued from what were supposed to be transitions to democracy. Some Western leaders, including Pope Franciscus and Prince Charles of Wales expressed concern about the threat to Christians in the region that gave birth to the faith. And yet, in the United States, it has drawn relatively little attention outside of a few Christian groups and lawmakers. Republican Congressman Christopher Smith has chaired several hearings on the matter recently: “We are witnessing grievous violence and other forms of intimidation directed against religious and political minorities, particularly the Copts and other Christians about which our government and the media have said far too little,” he told a House of Representatives subcommittee.

But the activists concede that it’s hard to press the issue because in the West, Christians are not widely seen as a vulnerable minority. Hisham Melhem of Al Arabiya Television says the issue has little traction on both sides of the American political divide. “The plight of the Christians may be lost on the left, because the victims are too Christian, and lost on the rightist groups, the conservative groups here, because they are foreign.

Marshall, of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom says it was “the worst pogrom on Christians in Egypt for about 700 years.” Although almost no one speaks about them, the global war against the Christians in the world is becoming a worldwide genocide. According to the organization Open Doors, 75% of the world’s population, would be living in countries with serious restrictions on the exercise of religious’ freedom, and 100 million Christians, equal 5% of the total, are suffering persecution in over sixty countries. For the ‘political-correctness’ people, seems like this subject isn’t catching any interest at all.


The “Nica Act”

Daniel Ortega won in Nicaragua his third consecutive election victory in November, the elections in which the FSNL (Sandinista National Liberation Front) vetoed any presence of observers, national or international: “Scoundrel observers. The observation is over here, go observing to other countries,” said the president when he was proclaimed candidate. Ortega entered in the election along with his wife Rosario Murillo, candidate for the vice presidency, after having the main opposition group excluded from the ballots.

The controversial presidential couple recalls Frank and Claire Underwood, the main characters of the award-winning ‘House of Cards’ series: Two ambitious main character who end up deciding in pairs the United States’ fate. The plot has its simile in Nicaragua. Only it is not a TV series. This time the characters are real and will come out in the history books.

The main actor of the plot is 70 years old, he fought a war, is a former revolutionary commander and is the current President of Nicaragua. Daniel Ortega is part of the FSLN, the group who made the revolution against the cruel dictator Anastasio Somoza in the late 70s, and it is the party which Ortega has led the country between 1979 and 1990. His Vice-president is his wife Rosario Murillo, and for many, she is the person who leads the destiny of the second poorest country in America, only surpassed by Haiti. Husband and wife in the same election ticket which has caused much controversy in the region.

Ortega and Murillo have seven children, all of them very well known in Nicaragua. The Ortega’ stems are coordinating the macro project of the country’s inter-oceanic canal, like the Panama’ Canal, but in Nicaragua, a $ 50 billion Chinese investment which does not seem to move forward; They are also managers of TV channels, 33% of the TV grid in the country, as well as most radio stations and they also have interests in the oil industry. “Nicaragua now competes for the continent’ first place in family tyrannies. It is impossible to separate clearly the economic interests of the ruling family and Nicaragua’s economic interests” says a high-ranked former Sandinista and currently in the opposition, because of his differences with Ortega.

Some analysts compare the current political situation with the dictatorship of the Somoza, dislodged from power by the Sandinista guerrillas in the late 1970s. “There is a lot of ‘Somocism’ in the Ortega regime. The wealth’ concentration, the presidential family as a source of power, and the decision not to jeopardize the power into free elections, are the common features between Ortega and Somocism. The FSLN has ceased to be an ideological project and has become a machinery at the service of Ortega’s real project, which is power and money. He has gone from being a socialist revolutionary to a tyrant, ” adds the former high rank Sandinist, and now dissident.

The opposition’s pessimistic view contrasts with Ortega’s great popularity: The president has 64% approval, according to a Gallup poll conducted in mid-October, just before the election. Many of those who support Ortega mention the security of the country as an incentive to continue voting for him. The National Police has managed to contain the violence which are suffering in neighbouring states. Nicaragua is an oasis of tranquillity compared to Honduras and El Salvador, two of the most dangerous countries on the region.

Tourism has grown exponentially with  Ortega’s rule. It has benefited from the country’s low prices, the security and the improved industry’ supply. The economic boom has also been possible by Venezuelan oil cooperation for the recent years. The country would have received from Venezuela oil worth over $ 4 billion  over the last decade. Part of that money has been invested in social policies. What will it happen now when Venezuela stopped sending the money, or worst, the debt must be paid?

At the end of September, the North American legislative body passed a resolution, the so-called ‘Nica Act’, which will prevent multilateral financial institutions from making loans to Nicaragua until Ortega guarantees ‘free, fair and transparent’ elections. This is a bipartisan initiative, driven by Republican and Democratic congressmen. The text, promoted by Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lethinen  and the Democrat Albio Sires, both of Cuban origin, criticizes Ortega’s re-election in 2011. A court statement allowed Ortega to stand for the election, despite of the fact that the Nicaraguan Constitution prohibits the re-election of presidents. It also includes election fraud’ reports submitted by the international observers during the 2011 election; the dismissal of opposition deputies of the Assembly; the lack of transparency in the public funds’ management; the expulsion of US Government’ officials; the obstacles to freedom of expression, freedom of the press and the Ortega’ control of the powers of the State, especially the Supreme Court, among other points.

The freezing of loans from multilateral financial institutions would mean the annual losses of US $ 250-300 million, coming from the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank. The Washington text leaves out of the prohibition those sums dedicated to meet the basic human needs and the promotion of democracy.

There is also the sceptical position of other countries, mostly European, who have also withdrawn their cooperation. “When Ortega came to power, he found 22 countries in the cooperating community. But there are only four of those left, ” said the analyst Norman Caldera, a former liberal Minister of Foreign Affairs. The deficit has been so far covered with money from Venezuela, which is no longer available.

Ortega’s authoritarian drift is also on the Organization of American States (OAS) discussion’ agenda. The OAS Secretary General, Luis Almagro, has produced a particularly critical report, whose publication is pending a meeting requested by Ortega. There seems to be no good times coming for Ortega and his wife.

Populism is the referendum

 

The defeat of Matteo Renzi in the referendum held last in Italy Sunday on the constitution’ reform, is due to different factors, ranging from the antipathy that the Italian Prime Minister arouses, to the generated protest by the economic crisis and the defense of the Constitution.

In the referendum was a high turnout and a high percentage of voters who rejected the reform, suggesting that people is fed up and tired, and especially the impoverished middle class, the unemployed youth, the workers who feel threatened with the massive arrival of immigrants and, those employees whose wages are not enough to live. It is the same people who was in favor of Brexit in Britain, who voted for Donald Trump in the United States and now has positioned to Italy in a new crisis. Italy’s referendum cannot be compared to Brexit, although it must be understood as a request for change, just as in the UK and the United States.

Matteo Renzi (Florence, 1975), has been the youngest PM in the history of the Italian Republic. He was first a very famed Florence’ Mayor, who went on a bike to work and became PM because it was his party’ wish, (Democratic Party, social-democratic), after several months of political uncertainty. So, Renzi occupied the head of Government without going through the polls. He was the third minister who had Italy without elections in little more than three years, after Mario Monti and Enrico Letta. His conquest of power was fast, but nothing improvised. His political models are Blair, Clinton and Obama although he has been accused of resembling too much Silvio Berlusconi. Both are two great communicators and have the same taste for impact’ statements. The two of them have a crazy ego, although today, about self-esteem nobody surpasses Renzi: “Renzi has an exuberant ego. It is normal in politicians to have a marked ego. For three years until today, I would put Renzi at the head of all “, affirmed the writer and journalist, Eugenio Scalfari, founder of the prestigious Italian daily ‘La Repubblica’.

Renzi insisted during the campaign that the consultation was not about him, but about the Constitution’ change. But he made a serious mistake which has been the personalization of the referendum, making it practically a plebiscite. The consequence has been a terrible campaign, with the country divided and the opposition asking for the ‘No’ to eliminate Renzi from the political scene. It seems like it has been achieved for the time being.

The economic question was very important in the defeat of Renzi: In the districts with low unemployment’ rate, the ‘Yes’ overcame by 59%. In the 100 districts with the highest unemployment’ rate, the ‘No’ achieved 65.8%. In the south, the poorest Italian region, people voted massively for No.

The constitutional question is of great importance, as it was back in 2006, when the Italians rejected with more than 60% of the votes another Constitution’ change promoted by Silvio Berlusconi. Most Italians stated that they do not want to touch the complex balance achieved in 1948’ Constitution, drafted after World War II and after the twenty years of fascist government, and whose objective is to avoid the emergence of another dictator as Benito Mussolini. According to Gianfranco Rotondi, who was Minister of Silvio Berlusconi, “ Italians are a conservative country in constitutional matters.”

Renzi is already history. For this very time, the polls have not been wrong and the Italians have rejected a reform that would have gave more power to the central government and would avoid the eternal difficulty in Italy to create stable administrations: Italy is the country which in the nineties, had up to seven different PM’s.

Are this events good news for Spain? In part, because the bad relationship between Renzi and the Spaniard PM, Mariano Rajoy is widely known and documented. Spain and Italy are very similar countries, with a poorer south and a rich selfish north which wants to become independent; the uncontrolled public spending and a similar life’ style.

Latest August, Renzi convened a summit on Ventotene Island to ‘relaunch Europe’ after the Brexit fiasco and take a common stand towards Britain. There were, Merkel, François Hollande and Renzi himself. As the press revealed, Rajoy was the great absentee. The official excuse: he was ‘acting PM’. Then the Italian Premier was the main opponent for Rajoy participating in the mini Europe-United States summit that Merkel organized in Berlin to say goodbye to Obama. Finally, the Spanish PM was at the table, thanks to his friend and German ally, Mrs. Merkel.

Why these disagreements between Rajoy and Renzi? Because they are competing for being the most important country in Southern Europe; Because Rajoy is conservative and Renzi is left-wing and above all, because the Italian complains that Rajoy chose to get along with Merkel than making an alliance with him so that of the economic austerity’ conditions were relaxed. The predictable chaos and misrule in Italy will strengthen Spain’ position, which grows and fulfills its duties, as a preferred partner in southern Europe.

After Renzi, no one knows what might happen: the already weakened European Union and the Euro itself especially, are at risk, even to survive.

Some media already call it ‘Rexit’, in a play of words that conjugates the name of Renzi and the similarities that his case keeps with the UK Brexit. After all, in both cases, most the population took advantage of a referendum to show their disaffection with the political establishment, and to show through the polls their deep dissatisfaction with their reality.

A referendum on a complex and technical issue was transformed into a political fact, into a political choice. Renzi’s personality, his great arrogance and ambition, arouses antipathy and the Italians voted against the establishment, but also against Renzi’s rule. “57% of voters decided to vote based on his government,” Fabio Bordignon, an academic at the University of Urbino, told to Rai3, the public TV.

Democracy has become unpredictable. Or maybe it is becoming very predictable: always the “No” win and the establishment loses. After the Brexit and the Italian referendum there is a clear conclusion which we must be aware of: what constitutes ‘populism’ is the calling of citizens by the legitimately elected representatives, in the form of a referendum or similar consultations. The referendum is Populism.

Populism: the turn of Italy?

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There are just a few days left for the important and unnecessary referendum in Italy on the constitutional reform, and the ‘No’ continues leading the polls. The constitutional referendum has become a popular reprobation move to Matteo Renzi, the Italian PM, and although no one in Brussels wants the president of the Consiglio to lose, everyone assumes that this might be the case and prepares for chaos.

Matteo Renzi is not the most popular leader in Brussels. He had repeated and noisy confrontations with Jean-Claude Juncker and his commissioners. Inside the European Council, he is considered a bully and melodrama’ addict, with a lust for headship and excessive ambition. But in both institutions and most European capitals it is believed that a defeat will bring, at best, a turn of his policies not favorable to Europe. And at worst, the return of Italy once again, the fourth country of the Union, to chaos and instability.

To change the bad omens which the polls are forecasting, PM Matteo Renzi has announced a package of measures to be included in the 2017 budget. The main objective of these measures is to get more support for a reform which has turned into one of the fundamental pillars of his government, consultation that has become a judgment on Renzi himself, on the Italian economic situation and the role that should be played in Europe. If Renzi loses on December 4th, his mandate and his political project could end abruptly and immediately.

Renzi has risked a lot by convening this referendum, and the ‘No’ could mean the loss of investors’ confidence in the Italian economy, confidence which has already begun to glimpse after Trump’s victory in the US Presidential election, since Renzi was positioned in a reckless manner in favour of Clinton. Some see it as the next clash between the moderate and liberal center, and populist forces, as the opposition to Renzi is dominated by anti-system parties such as the Five Star Movement, led by Beppe Grillo, and the Northern League. Both have questioned the Italian permanence in the Eurozone and both are against the political establishment. Other analysts have called populist the fact of convening this referendum.

There was no need for this referendum. The reforms which are intended to be achieved, the reduction of the powers and size of the Italian Senate, which will make it difficult to block key projects for the regional administrations, could have been carried out from the Parliament with the necessary support. Then, Renzi thought he would win, while now he is fighting to save his own skin. Renzi personalized the result of the referendum too much in himself and about his leadership, a fact that the opposition has taken advantage to turn the voting into an opportunity to dismiss him, either to weaken Renzi or expel him from power.

The PM, who yesterday sent a message of ease to the markets, maintains that his constitutional reform will increase the Italian weight in the decision-making process of the EU, at the current turbulent moment for Europe after the Brexit and the coming elections in France and Germany in 2017.

Regarding the Italian weight in Europe, Renzi officially protested about Spanish PM, Mariano Rajoy being invited into a summit held two weeks ago in Berlin. At that summit were Merkel, Obama, Theresa May and Hollande. Renzi did not consider appropriate for Rajoy to attend, since it seems to take away some of “his” political weight, so he protested angrily. Merkel did not flinch: she considers Rajoy a reliable ally, and even possible more stable personally and in his position than Renzi.

The Italians are very polarized, with such a virulence not seen for years. From north to south, through the islands, in Italy there is no other talk but this consult. In the cafes, in the social networks and even in public transport, many express their indecision before this election. “There is a lot of talk, indeed, but there is also a lot of confusion. People do not quite understand what the reform is about,” some analysts say. The Italians are confused by the consult itself, but also by the vanity of Renzi, as he has projected it as a judgment on his person and what he has done since 2014, when he started as Italian PM, and so have interpreted the Italians. Meanwhile, the Italian and international media predict scenarios as apocalyptic as Italy will abandon the Eurozone if the PM loses.

It is very difficult to predict exactly what will happen. Per some political analysts, might be possible that Renzi presented his resignation to the President of the Italian Republic who will reject it. Everything is possible, although no one in Italy nor in Europe, want the country to fall into chaos or new elections. It seems like Renzi ‘s magic is gone, despite his involvement in TV shows, after hiring Jim Messina, Obama’s advisor and former campaign manager, to help him win now.

Renzi has been considered a Machiavellian politician and is now a prisoner of his own bluff. If he loses, Italy will again enter a period of political instability, will be a new hole in EU integration and a new threat to the Euro. This context has probably motivated the support received from Obama and Chancellor Merkel, with whom Renzi has lately publicly fought. On the contrary, winning this consult would undoubtedly reinforce the Italian PM figure as well as his margin of action, something he desperately needs.

The real political leaders are required to fix problems, not to create them. Renzi has created the problem that has now become its own big problem. Win or lose, he need a cure of humility and more unpretentiousness.