Mohamed Iqbal Pallipurath

10 vegetables that have more protein than eggs

 
Updated: 25 Sep 2018, 1752 hrs IST
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Muslim children in Chinese county banned from attending religious events over break

Muslim children in Chinese county banned from attending religious events over break

 

Youngsters also prohibited from reading scriptures in classes or in religious buildings, district education bureau says

 
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 January, 2018, 5:23pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 January, 2018, 5:23pm
 
 

Education authorities in a mostly Muslim county in northwestern China have banned schoolchildren from attending religious events over a winter break, as authorities step up control of religious education.

 

Pupils in Linxia county in Gansu province, home to many members of the Muslim Hui ethnic minority, are prohibited from entering religious buildings over their break, a district education bureau said in a notice published online.

They must also not read scriptures in classes or in religious buildings, the bureau said, adding that all pupils and teachers should heed the notice and work to strengthen political ideology and propaganda.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the authenticity of the notice.

A man who answered the telephone at the Linxia education bureau hung up when Reuters asked about the notice. A woman at the district education bureau declined to comment on the document’s authenticity.

Xi Wuyi, a Marxist scholar at the state-backed Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and an outspoken critic of rising Islamic influence in China welcomed the apparent move by the authorities.

With the notice, the county was taking concrete action to keep religion and education separate, and sticking strictly to education law, she said on the Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

New regulations on religious affairs released in October, and due to take effect next month, aim to increase oversight of religious education and provide for greater regulation of religious activities.

Last summer, a Sunday School ban was introduced in the southeastern city of Wenzhou, sometimes known as “China’s Jerusalem” due to its large Christian population, but Christian parents found ways to teach their children about their religion regardless.

Chinese law officially grants religious freedom for all, but regulations on education and protection of minors also say religion cannot be used to hinder state education or to “coerce” children to believe.

Authorities in troubled parts of China, such as the far western region of Xinjiang, home to the Turkic-speaking Uygur Muslim minority, ban children from attending religious events.

But religious communities elsewhere rarely face blanket restrictions.

Fear of Muslims’ influence has grown in China in recent years, sparked in part by violence in Xinjiang.

The Chinese-speaking Hui, who are culturally more similar to the Han Chinese majority than to Uygurs, have also come under scrutiny from some intellectuals who fear creeping Islamic influence on society.

 
 
 
 
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Inside the camps where China tries to brainwash Muslims

Inside the camps where China tries to brainwash Muslims until they love the party and hate their own culture

 

Former detainees, including foreign nationals, describe brutal treatment and ‘re-education’ sessions inside mass detention centres

 
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 May, 2018, 7:50pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 May, 2018, 10:44pm
 
 

Hour upon hour, day upon day, Omir Bekali and other detainees in far western China’s new indoctrination camps had to disavow their Islamic beliefs, criticise themselves and their loved ones and give thanks to the ruling Communist Party.

 

When Bekali, a Kazakh Muslim, refused to follow orders each day, he was forced to stand by a wall for five hours at a time.

A week later, he was sent to solitary confinement, where he was deprived of food for 24 hours. After 20 days in the heavily guarded camp, he wanted to kill himself.

“The psychological pressure is enormous, when you have to criticise yourself, denounce your thinking – your own ethnic group,” said Bekali, who broke down in tears as he described the camp.

“I still think about it every night, until the sun rises. I can’t sleep. The thoughts are with me all the time.”

 

 

Since last spring, Chinese authorities in the heavily Muslim region of Xinjiang have ensnared tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of Muslim Chinese – and even foreign citizens – in mass internment camps. This detention campaign has swept across Xinjiang, a territory half the area of India, leading to what a US commission on China last month said is “the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.”

Chinese officials have largely avoided comment on the camps, but some have been quoted in state media as saying that ideological changes are needed to fight separatism and Islamic extremism. Radical Muslim Uygurs have killed hundreds in recent years, and China considers the region a threat to peace in a country where the majority is Han Chinese.

The internment programme aims to rewire the political thinking of detainees, erase their Islamic beliefs and reshape their very identities. The camps have expanded rapidly over the past year, with almost no judicial process or legal paperwork.

Detainees who most vigorously criticise the people and things they love are rewarded, and those who refuse to do so are punished with solitary confinement, beatings and food deprivation.

The recollections of Bekali, a heavyset and quiet 42-year-old, offer what appears to be the most detailed account yet of life inside so-called re-education camps.

The Associated Press also conducted rare interviews with three other former internees and a former instructor in other centres who corroborated Bekali’s depiction. Most spoke on condition of anonymity to protect their families in China.

Bekali’s case stands out because he was a foreign citizen, of Kazakhstan, who was seized by China’s security agencies and detained for eight months last year without recourse.

Although some details are impossible to verify, two Kazakh diplomats confirmed he was held for seven months and then sent for re-education.

The detention programme is a hallmark of China’s emboldened state security apparatus under the deeply nationalistic, hardline rule of President Xi Jinping.

It is partly rooted in the ancient Chinese belief in transformation through education – taken once before to terrifying extremes during the mass thought reform campaigns of Mao Zedong, the Chinese leader sometimes channelled by Xi.

“Cultural cleansing is Beijing’s attempt to find a final solution to the Xinjiang problem,” said James Millward, a China historian at Georgetown University in Washington.

Rian Thum, a professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, said China’s re-education system echoes some of the worst human rights violations in history.

 

 

“The closest analogue is maybe the Cultural Revolution in that this will leave long-term, psychological effects,” Thum said. “This will create a multigenerational trauma from which many people will never recover.”

Asked to comment on the camps, China’s Foreign Ministry said it “had not heard” of the situation. When asked why non-Chinese had been detained, it said the Chinese government protects the rights of foreigners in China and they should also be law-abiding.

Chinese officials in Xinjiang did not respond to requests for comment.

However, bits and pieces from state media and journals show the confidence Xinjiang officials hold in methods that they say work well to curb religious extremism.

China’s top prosecutor, Zhang Jun, urged Xinjiang’s authorities this month to extensively expand what the government calls the “transformation through education” drive in an “all-out effort” to fight separatism and extremism.

In a June 2017 paper published by a state-run journal, a researcher from Xinjiang’s Communist Party School reported that most of 588 surveyed participants did not know what they had done wrong when they were sent to re-education. But by the time they were released, nearly all – 98.8 per cent – had learned their mistakes, the paper said.

Transformation through education, the researcher concluded, “is a permanent cure.”

On the chilly morning of March 23, 2017, Bekali drove up to the Chinese border from his home in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, got a stamp in his Kazakh passport and crossed over for a work trip, not quite grasping the extraordinary circumstances he was stepping into.

Bekali was born in China in 1976 to Kazakh and Uygur parents, moved to Kazakhstan in 2006 and received citizenship three years later. He was out of China in 2016, when authorities sharply escalated a “People’s War on Terror” to root out what the government called religious extremism and separatism in Xinjiang, a large Chinese territory bordering Pakistan and several Central Asian states, including Kazakhstan.

The Xinjiang he returned to was unrecognisable. All-encompassing, data-driven surveillance tracked residents in a region with around 12 million Muslims, including ethnic Uygurs and Kazakhs. Viewing a foreign website, taking phone calls from relatives abroad, praying regularly or growing a beard could land one in a political indoctrination camp, or prison, or both.

The new internment system was shrouded in secrecy, with no publicly available data on the numbers of camps or detainees. The US State Department estimates those being held are “at the very least in the tens of thousands.”

 

 

A Turkey-based TV station run by Xinjiang exiles said almost 900,000 were detained, citing leaked government documents.

Adrian Zenz, a researcher at the European School of Culture and Theology, puts the number between several hundreds of thousands and just over 1 million.

Government bids and recruitment ads studied by Zenz suggest that the camps have cost more than US$100 million since 2016, and construction is ongoing.

Bekali knew none of this when he visited his parents on March 25. He passed police checkpoints and handed over his decade-old Chinese identity card.

The next day, five armed policemen showed up at Bekali’s parents’ doorstep and took him away.

They said there was a warrant for his arrest in Karamay, a frontier oil town where he lived a decade earlier. He couldn’t call his parents or a lawyer, the police added, because his case was “special.”

Bekali was held in a cell, incommunicado, for a week, and then was driven 800 kilometres (500 miles) to Karamay’s Baijiantan District public security office.

There, they strapped him into a “tiger chair,” a device that clamped down his wrists and ankles. They also hung him by his wrists against a barred wall, just high enough so he would feel excruciating pressure in his shoulder unless he stood on the balls of his bare feet. They interrogated him about his work with a tourist agency inviting Chinese to apply for Kazakh tourist visas, which they claimed was a way to help Chinese Muslims escape.

“I haven’t committed any crimes!” Bekali yelled.

They asked for days what he knew about two dozen prominent ethnic Uygur activists and businessmen in Kazakhstan. Exhausted and aching, Bekali coughed up what he knew about a few names he recognised.

The police then sent Bekali to a 10 by 10-metre (32 by 32ft) cell in the prison with 17 others, their feet chained to the posts of two large beds. Some wore dark blue uniforms, while others wore orange for political crimes. Bekali was given orange.

In mid-July, three months after his arrest, Bekali received a visit from Kazakh diplomats. China’s mass detention of ethnic Kazakhs – and even Kazakh citizens – has begun to make waves in the Central Asian country of 18 million.

Kazakh officials say China detained 10 Kazakh citizens and hundreds of ethnic Kazakh Chinese in Xinjiang over the past year, though they were released in late April following a visit by a Kazakh deputy foreign minister.

Four months after the visit, Bekali was taken out of his cell and handed a release paper.

But he was not yet free.

 

 

Bekali was driven from jail to a fenced compound in the northern suburbs of Karamay, where three buildings held more than 1,000 internees receiving political indoctrination, he said.

He walked in, past a central station that could see over the entire facility, and received a tracksuit. Heavily armed guards watched over the compound from a second level. He joined a cell with 40 internees, he said, including teachers, doctors and students. Men and women were separated.

Internees would wake up together before dawn, sing the Chinese national anthem, and raise the Chinese flag at 7.30am. They gathered back inside large classrooms to learn “red songs” like Without the Communist Party, there is no New China, and study Chinese language and history.

They were told that the indigenous sheepherding Central Asian people of Xinjiang were backward and yoked by slavery before they were “liberated” by the Communist Party in the 1950s.

Before meals of vegetable soup and buns, the inmates would be ordered to chant: “Thank the Party! Thank the Motherland! Thank President Xi!”

Discipline was strictly enforced and punishment could be harsh. Bekali was kept in a locked room almost around the clock with eight other internees, who shared beds and a wretched toilet.

Cameras were installed in toilets and even outhouses. Baths were rare, as was washing of hands and feet, which internees were told was equated with Islamic ablution.

Bekali and other former internees say the worst parts of the indoctrination programme were forced repetition and self-criticism. Although students didn’t understand much of what was taught and the material bordered on the nonsensical to them, they were made to internalise it by repetition in sessions lasting two hours or longer.

“We will oppose extremism, we will oppose separatism, we will oppose terrorism,” they chanted again and again. Almost every day, the students received guest lecturers from the local police, judiciary and other branches of government warning about the dangers of separatism and extremism.

In four-hour sessions, instructors lectured about the dangers of Islam and drilled internees with quizzes that they had to answer correctly or be sent to stand near a wall for hours on end.

“Do you obey Chinese law or sharia?” instructors asked. “Do you understand why religion is dangerous?”

One by one, internees would stand up before 60 of their classmates to present self-criticisms of their religious history, Bekali said. The detainees would also have to criticise and be criticised by their peers. Those who parroted official lines particularly well or lashed into their fellow internees viciously were awarded points and could be transferred to more comfortable surroundings in other buildings, he said.

“I was taught the Holy Koran by my father and I learned it because I didn’t know better,” Bekali heard one say.

“I travelled outside China without knowing that I could be exposed to extremist thoughts abroad,” Bekali recalled another saying. “Now I know.”

A Uygur woman told AP she was held in a centre in the city of Hotan in 2016. She said she and fellow prisoners repeatedly were forced to apologise for wearing long clothes in Muslim style, praying, teaching the Koran to their children and asking imams to name their children.

Praying at a mosque on any day other than Friday was a sign of extremism; so was attending Friday prayers outside their village or having Quranic verses or graphics on their phones.

While instructors watched, those who confessed to such behaviour were told to repeat over and over: “We have done illegal things, but we now know better.”

 

 

Other detainees and a re-education camp instructor tell similar stories.

In mid-2017, a Uygur former on-air reporter for Xinjiang TV known as Eldost was recruited to teach Chinese history and culture in an indoctrination camp because he spoke excellent Mandarin. He had no choice.

The re-education system, Eldost said, classified internees into three levels of security and duration of sentences.

The first group typically consisted of illiterate minority farmers who didn’t commit any ostensible crimes other than not speaking Chinese. The second class was made up of people who were caught at home or on their smartphones with religious content or so-called separatist materials, such as lectures by the jailed Uygur intellectual Ilham Tohti.

The final group was made up of those who had studied religion abroad and came back, or were seen to be affiliated with foreign elements.

In the latter cases, internees were often were sentenced to prison terms of 10 to 15 years, Eldost said.

While he was teaching, Eldost once saw through the window 20 students driven into the courtyard. Two rows of guards waited for them and beat them as soon as they got out of the police van. He later heard that the internees were recent arrivals who had studied religion in the Middle East.

Violence was not regularly dispensed, but every internee AP spoke to saw at least one incident of rough treatment or beatings.

Eldost said the instruction was aimed at showing how backward traditional Uygur culture is and how repressive fundamentalist Islam is compared to a progressive Communist Party. The internees’ confessions of their backwardness helped drive the point home.

“Internees are told to repeat those confessions to the point where, when they are finally freed, they believe that they owe the country a lot, that they could never repay the party,” said Eldost, who escaped from China in August after paying a bribe.

Eldost said he tried in little ways to help his internees. Tasked with teaching the Three Character Classic, a Confucian standard taught widely in junior schools, he would make up mnemonic devices to help his students – including elderly or illiterate Uygur farmers who barely knew their own language – recite a few lines.

He also advised students to stop habitually saying “praise God” in Arabic and Uygur because other instructors punished them for it.

Every time he went to sleep in a room with 80 others, he said, the last thing he would hear was the sound of misery.

“I heard people crying every night,” he said. “That was the saddest experience in my life.”

Another former detainee, a Uygur from Hotan in southern Xinjiang, said his newly built centre had just 90 people in two classes in 2015. There, a government instructor claimed said that Uygur women historically did not wear underwear, braided their hair to signal their sexual availability, and had dozens of sexual partners.

“It made me so angry,” the detainee said. “These kinds of explanations of Uygur women humiliated me. I still remember this story every time I think about this, I feel like a knife cut a hole in my chest.”

Kayrat Samarkan, a Chinese Kazakh from Astana who was detained while running errands in a northern Xinjiang police station in December, was sent to an internment camp in Karamagay in northern Xinjiang with 5,700 students.

Those who did not obey, were late to class or got into fights were put for 12 hours in a loose body-suit that was made of iron and limited their movement, he said. Those who still disobeyed would be locked in a tiger chair for 24 hours. As one form of punishment, he said, instructors would press an internee’s head in a tub of ice and water.

After three months, Samarkan couldn’t take the lessons any more, so he bashed his head against a wall to try to kill himself. He merely fell unconscious.

“When I woke up, the staff threatened me, saying if I did that again they would extend my sentence to seven years there,” he said.

After 20 days, Bekali also contemplated suicide. Several days later, because of his intransigence and refusal to speak Mandarin, Bekali was no longer permitted to go into the courtyard. Instead, he was sent to a higher level of management, where he spent 24 hours a day in a room with 8 others.

A week later, he went to his first stint in solitary confinement. He saw a local judicial official walking into the building on an inspection tour and yelled at the top of his lungs. He thought even his former detention centre, with the abuse he suffered, would be better.

“Take me in the back and kill me, or send me back to prison,” he shouted. “I can’t be here any more.”

He was again hauled off to solitary confinement. It lasted 24 hours, ending late in the afternoon on November 24.

That was when Bekali was released, as suddenly as he was detained eight months earlier.

A policemen from Baijiantan who had always gone easy on Bekali during interrogation appeared and checked him out of the facility.

“You were too headstrong, but what the department did was unjust,” he told Bekali as he drove him to his sister’s home in Karamay.

Bekali was free.

 

 

The next morning, a Saturday, the police opened their immigration office for Bekali to pick up a unique, 14-day Chinese visa. His original had long expired. Bekali left China on December 4.

Seeking compensation from the Chinese government is out of the question. But Bekali keeps a plastic folder at home of evidence that might prove useful someday: his passport with stamps and visas, travel records and a handwritten Chinese police document dated and imprinted with red-ink seals.

The document is the closest thing he has to an official acknowledgement that he suffered for eight months. It says he was held on suspicion of endangering national security; the last sentence declares him released without charge.

At first, Bekali did not want the AP to publish his account for fear that his sister and mother in China would be detained and sent to re-education.

But on March 10, back in China, the police took his sister, Adila Bekali. A week later, on March 19, his mother Amina Sadik was led away. In early April, Bekali called his father, Ebrayem. He told Bekali to take good care of himself, as if to bid farewell before the inevitable.

Bekali changed his mind and said he wanted to tell his story, no matter the consequences.

“Things have already come this far,” he said. “I have nothing left to lose.”

 
 
 
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Chinese Arabic school to close as areas with Muslim populations are urged to study the Xinjiang way

Chinese Arabic school to close as areas with Muslim populations are urged to study the Xinjiang way

 
  • Teacher in Gansu says authorities are denying underprivileged an education
  • Ningxia political chief says Xinjiang’s ‘religious and terrorist’ curbs are good model
 
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 December, 2018, 7:02am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 December, 2018, 11:15pm
 
 
Mimi joined the Post in 2007 covering Hong Kong education before she was transferred to the China desk as Guangzhou correspondent in 2009. After completing a seven-year stint, Mimi is back to Hong Kong with a focus on human rights, religious affairs and civil society development in China. ” data-title=”<a href="/author/mimi-lau">Mimi Lau</a>” data-html=”true” data-template=”” data-original-title=””> 
 
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The imminent closure of a 34-year-old Arabic language school in China’s northwestern province of Gansu has raised fears that draconian religion policies adopted in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region are applied to other Muslim-populated areas.

 

Pingliang Arabic School, a charity that caters to underprivileged students, has been told by city education officials to close by December 17 and send its 200 students and 20 teachers home.

Officials claim the school does not have the operational permits it needs although it has been in business since 1984. Pingliang is a small city on the border between Gansu and Shaanxi province – one of China’s poorest areas.

“It seems that the officials are not interested in talking to us at all,” said a teacher who requested anonymity.

In an effort to save the school from closure, teachers last week sent a petition containing more than 1,000 signatures to the education bureau.

“Our students are all from very poor families. With the language training, many of our graduates are able to find jobs such as translators for Middle Eastern traders who do business in provinces like Guangdong,” the teacher said. “If the school is closed, they could end up as dropouts on the street.”

The demise of Arabic language schools is a symptom of Beijing’s increased control of Muslim-populated regions and was urged on by a call three years ago from President Xi Jinping to “Sinicise religions”, assimilating them with traditional Chinese culture and socialist values.

The push has stoked fears that the authorities are purging influences such as Islam and Christianity, afraid that the growing popularity of such faiths would pose a threat to the Communist Party’s absolute authority.

Muslims make up less than 2 per cent of China’s population, or about 22 million people. There are 10 predominantly Muslim ethnic groups, the largest of which is the Hui, an ethnic group closely related to the majority Han population and largely based in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region and Gansu, Qinghai and Yunnan provinces.

The Uygurs are Turkic-speaking Muslims who primarily live in Xinjiang. Unlike the Uygurs, Hui Muslims have been able to enjoy greater religious freedom. While they also wear the white caps and headscarves according to Muslim traditions, they are otherwise indistinguishable in appearance from the majority Han Chinese population.

The restive Xinjiang has exercised tight controls over the Uygurs keeping close tabs on their overseas contacts and visitors, and monitoring their daily lives. A United Nations human rights panel recently claimed that the region was holding up to more than 1 million Uygurs and other Muslims in internment camps.

However, officials in other Muslim-populated regions have looked to Xinjiang as an example.

Zhang Yunsheng, party secretary in charge of political and legal affairs in Ningxia, was quoted by the local media as saying the region should learn from the Xinjiang model in curbing “religious extremism and terrorism” – China’s code for anti-government activities.

“We should draw experiences from the good practices and measures of Xinjiang,” he said after visiting the neighbouring province.

 

 

According to official Ningxia Daily, Zhang learned how law enforcement authorities in Xinjiang “operate an integrated social management platform and police data centres in maintaining social stability”.

A former State Council official familiar with ethnic policies said that he expected exchanges among officials between Xinjiang and Ningxia would increase soon.

“Ningxia would be most likely to adopt similar extreme [control] standards over Hui Muslims. Practices such as the wearing of headscarves and big beards, for example, could be prohibited,” he said.

A visit to Ningxia by the Post in April found that Islamic imagery and Arabic street signs had been removed from across towns and counties. Some mosques have been ordered to cancel public Arabic classes, while a number of private Arabic schools have been told to close.

A Hui Arabic teacher said that the crackdown on Islamic culture had increased.

“There are fewer uses of Arabic in road signs, names of products and restaurant food menus. Some food products have even dropped the word halal – an Arabic word meaning permissible under the Muslim law – translated in Chinese from their packing,” he said.

In August, Ningxia authority’s plan to demolish the Weizhou Grand Mosque in Tongxin was halted after it met with a rare protest by hundreds of Hui Muslims.

 

 

An Ran, a Chinese poet of Hui ethnicity, criticised Chinese authorities for introducing the extreme social control measures used in Xinjiang to other parts of China.

“To replicate Xinjiang’s practices in other provinces is essentially turning a regional catastrophe to a national one,” he said.

An also worried that the extreme measures could be extended to other social, religious and ethnic groups that are deemed destabilising by the authorities.

 
 
 
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Saudi Arabia Declares War on America’s Muslim Congresswomen

Gulf Arab monarchies are using racism, bigotry, and fake news to denounce Washington’s newest history-making politicians.

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar speaking to a group of volunteers in Minneapolis, Minnesota on Oct. 13, 2018. (Kerem Yucel/AFP/Getty Images)
Congresswoman Ilhan Omar speaking to a group of volunteers in Minneapolis, Minnesota on Oct. 13, 2018. (Kerem Yucel/AFP/Getty Images) 

Ever since the midterm election, conservative media in the United States have targeted with special zeal Ilhan Omar,

an incoming Somali-American Democratic congresswoman and a devout Muslim who wears hijab. In response to

Democrats’ push to remove a headwear ban on the House floor to accommodate Omar, conservative commentator

and pastor E.W. Jackson complained on a radio show that Muslims were transforming Congress into an “Islamic republic.”

The Democratic Party has several rising political stars with Arab or Muslim backgrounds, all of whom have become

objects of such conspiracy theories. But it’s not only American conservatives who have been indulging in this culture war.

The organized attacks have also been coming from abroad—specifically, from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The midterm elections have amplified an existing suspicion in Middle Eastern media of Muslim political activism in the United States. Academics, media outlets, and commentators close to Persian Gulf governments have repeatedly accused Omar, Rashida Tlaib (another newly elected Muslim congresswoman), and Abdul El-Sayed (who made a failed bid to become governor of Michigan) of being secret members of the Muslim Brotherhood who are hostile to the governments of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. On Sunday, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya published a feature insinuating that Omar and Tlaib were part of an alliance between the Democratic Party and Islamist groups to control Congress. The article accused the two of being “anti-Trump and his political team and options, especially his foreign policy starting from the sanctions on Iran to the isolation of the Muslim Brotherhood and all movements of political Islam.”

In another example, a talk show on Saudi-owned station MBC discussed the Muslim congresswomen and more broadly the implications of Democrats taking the House. Prominent Arab anchor Amr Adib debated the matter with Egyptian political scientist Moataz Fattah, who suggested that Trump’s successful combating of Islamists would be undermined by the Democrats’ victory. The attacks have become so ubiquitous in the Persian Gulf that the trend itself is the subject of debate, both online and on television.

Occasionally these attacks have been made by officials of those governments, in apparent anxiety that their countries’ expensive public relations and lobbying efforts might be undermined. Just hours after Omar won her election, for example, a staffer at the Saudi Embassy in the United States accused her of following the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, which he said has permeated the Democratic Party. “She will be hostile to the Gulf and a supporter of the political Islam represented in the Brotherhood in the Middle East,” tweeted Faisal al-Shammeri, a cultural advisor at the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission to the United States, which is part of the embassy, and a writer for Al Arabiya.

El-Sayed, an American born to Egyptian immigrants, noticed the attacks from the region during his campaign. Media in the Middle East amplified accusations by a Republican candidate for governor, Patrick Colbeck, that El-Sayed had links to the Brotherhood. Egyptian newspaper Youm7, for instance, reported that El-Sayed likely lost the election to his link to the “radical” Nation of Islam, and his relationship with Muslim-American activist Linda Sarsour, “known for her radical views.”

El-Sayed told me that political elites in places like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE felt threatened by American politicians who are also Muslim. For average Middle Easterners, his story is inspiring. (The clearest instance of Middle Easterners drawing such inspiration, ironically, was the first presidential election victory of Barack Obama, who faced false accusations of being a Muslim.)

The rise of politicians like El-Sayed, Omar, and Tlaib also undermines a core argument advanced by dictators in the Middle East: that their people are not ready for democracy. “People would not have access to power in their countries but they would if they leave; this destroys the argument by Sisi or bin Salman,” El-Sayed said, referring to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. “What’s ironic is there is no way I would aspire to be in leadership in Egypt, the place of my fathers.”

American allies in the region also fear that the Democratic Party’s new Arab leaders will advocate for political change in their countries. Having spent millions of dollars for public relations campaigns in Western capitals, the Persian Gulf countries feel threatened by any policymakers with an independent interest in and knowledge of the region. They have thus framed these officials’ principled objections to regional violations of human rights and democratic norms as matters of personal bias. One commentator, who is known to echo government talking points and is frequently retweeted by government officials, recently spread the rumor that Omar is a descendent of a “Houthi Yemeni” to undermine her attacks on the Saudi-led war on Yemen.

The most common attack online by the Saudi-led bloc on the Muslim-American Democrats has been to label them as members of the Muslim Brotherhood, or more generally as ikhwanji, an extremist catch-all term. These attacks started long before this year’s elections. In 2014, the UAE even announced a terror list that included the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) for its alleged links to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The attacks attempting to tie Omar and Tlaib to the Muslim Brotherhood started in earnest after CAIR publicly welcomed their election to Congress. One UAE-based academic, Najat al-Saeed, criticized Arabic media for celebrating the two Muslim women’s victories at the midterms, and pointed to CAIR’s support for them as evidence of their ties to the Brotherhood.

The attacks on Omar have also indulged in racism. While Tlaib and Omar have both been the targets of smears, it’s been easier for Gulf Arabs to single out Omar for insults because of her African heritage. Negative stereotypes about Africans— who serve as poorly treated migrant workers in the Gulf’s oil economy— are widespread throughout the region.

This was evident in the social media campaign launched last month against Omar by Ahmad al-Farraj, a Saudi writer and researcher with UAE-based Trends Research and Advisory—a firm founded by a former Dubai police official and consultant. He attacked Omar for criticizing Trump’s muted response to the CIA assessment that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman likely directed the murder of former U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. “These miserable beings coming from the underdeveloped worlds are more hateful to their race and to you than any enemy,” Al Farraj tweeted to his more than 60,000 followers. A steady stream of racist attacks followed in response. One person tweeted a picture of Omar accompanied by the caption “whenever you buy a slave, buy a stick along with the slave. The slave is miserable filth.”

Other than the flurry of racist comments, Omar was trolled based on two false accusations: that she was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and that she had married her brother. Hashtags also began trending with dozens of anonymous accounts tweeting slightly different variations of the same language, and echoing known government-affiliated accounts. The pattern is typical of Twitter troll armies that seem to be used regularly by Mohammed bin Salman to silence the kingdom’s critics.

It should be little surprise that America’s authoritarian allies have responded with panic and fear to voices like Tlaib and Omar. These regimes have always benefited from the false choice they present to policymakers in the West—in Muslim countries, they say, extremists are the only alternative to dictators. That argument is eloquently undermined by American politicians who share those regimes’ religion, but not their cynicism about democracy.

 
Ola Salem is a British-Egyptian journalist with a decade of experience covering the Middle East. She is currently an MS candidate at New York University.
 @Ola_Salem

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