BBC bias? Sharia Law and Egypt

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Above all – Allah is our goal… The shari’a, then the shari’a, and finally, the shari’a. This nation will enjoy blessing and revival only through the Islamic shari’a. I take an oath before Allah and before you all that regardless of the actual text [of the constitution]… Allah willing, the text will truly reflect [the shari'a], as will be agreed upon by the Egyptian people, by the Islamic scholars, and by legal and constitutional experts…

-Mohammed Mursi: Jihad Is Our Path, Death for the Sake of Allah Is Our Most Lofty Aspiration, the Shari’a Is Our Constitution. Misr-25TV, 13 May 2012. Video clip and translation provided by MEMRI.

From time to time it is important to remind readers (and me) about GetReligion‘s mandate. This site does not seek to discuss religious issues of the moment and their intersection with politics, culture, the arts, economics and the like. It critiques press coverage of religion. The underlying issues are not central to a GetReligion story line.

Nor is this a “gotcha” site. I have made mistakes as a writer and have suffered from the deprivations of sub-editors pruning and mis-titling my work. An example of a religion article that is not a proper GetReligion story is this article from the Seattle Times entitled: “Pakistani Christians flee after girl, 12, is accused of blasphemy”.

The subheading states: “A 12-year-old Muslim girl is in jail while Pakistani police investigate allegations that she burned a Quran, a crime that, if she is convicted, carries a life sentence.”

Now this is a dumb mistake. The girl is described as Christian in the article but called a Muslim in the subheading. This is not a question of the Seattle Times not getting religion, but a sub-editor’s mistake.

The mission of GetReligion is to point out what our editor TMatt calls “religion ghosts” — examples of an article misunderstanding, omitting or denigrating the role religion plays in a story. A classic example of this sort of religion ghost appears in a BBC story printed today entitled “Egypt requests $4.8bn loan from visiting IMF chief”.

The story opens:

Egypt has asked the International Monetary Fund for a $4.8bn (£3bn) loan to help revive its struggling economy. The request was made during talks in Cairo between President Mohammed Mursi and IMF chief Christine Lagarde.Ms Lagarde said the IMF would respond quickly, while Prime Minister Hisham Qandil said he hoped the deal could be finalised before the end of the year. It is needed to cover budget deficits resulting from shrinking tourism and foreign investment revenues.

The article unfolds as a straight forward international finance story, discussing Egypt’s parlous economy, its “balance-of-payments crisis and high borrowing costs”, summarizing negotiations with the IMF, exploring possible U.S., Qatari and Saudi aid, and describing the terms of the loan:

After meeting [IMF chief Christine] Lagarde on Wednesday, Prime Minister Qandil said he expected the IMF loan would be for five years, with a grace period of 39 months and an interest rate of 1.1%.

Perhaps you are asking yourself where the GetReligion angle lies? Is this not a straight forward, somewhat dull, international economics story? Yes — but go back to the top of the article and look at the comments made by candidate Mohammed Mursi to the Muslim Brotherhood. If elected he would govern Egypt under the dictates of Shari’a law — which means a banking system without interest.

Throughout its time in opposition and underground, the Muslim Brotherhood denounced Western banking as being contrary to Shari’a. Sayyid Qutb, the ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood, interpreted the Koran’s verses on riba (interest or usury) to apply to commercial banking.  He accused banks of “eating the flesh and bones” of the poor and “drinking their sweat and blood” through the charging of interest. Hasan al-Banna, the founder of the Brotherhood, in 1947 wrote to the leaders of Muslim state calling for them to repudiate Western banking practices in favor of interest-free Islamic banking.

The religion ghost in this story is whether Mohammed Mursi will jettison his protestations about Sharia law being the cornerstone of his administration in exchange for cheap interest loans from the West to keep his economy afloat.

Reuters and the Telegraph made no mention of the religion angle in their stories also, while the AP noted that past negotiations had been stalled by opposition from the Islamists.  The Financial Times reported:

Analysts say the IMF’s loan terms could impede its acceptance by an Islamist government with populist pretences and a rhetorical commitment to thinning the gap between rich and poor.

The religious ramifications of the interest bearing loans were not omitted in the Egyptian press however. The Egypt Independent reported:

The government should not borrow from the International Monetary Fund to boost the country’s cash reserve, the Salafi Nour Party stated on Wednesday.  “Borrowing from abroad is usury,” said Younis Makhyoun, a member of the party’s supreme committee. “God will never bless an economy based on usury.”Mahkyoun called on Prime Minister Hesham Qandil to find other ways to raise funds instead of “allowing foreigners to interfere in our affairs.” The government should reduce spending, apply an austerity policy, set a maximum wage, apply Islamic regultations to stock exchange speculations and repatriate funds siphoned abroad, Makhyoun added.

Al-Ahram reported the left was outraged too by the prospect of IMF loans.

Dozens of demonstrators, meanwhile, protested outside the Cabinet building in downtown Cairo during Lagarde’s visit. Protestors, consisting mainly of leftist and revolutionaries, called on Egypt to reject the loan.They chanted slogans and held signs against the proposed loan –and capitalism in general – such as “No to crony capitalism,” “Down with capitalism,” and “Reject the loans.””Why did we have a revolution? Wasn’t it to improve the living conditions of the people? We know that the money from these loans is pilfered by the authorities and will only lead to the further impoverishment of the people,” protest organiser Mary Daniel told Ahram Online.IMF and World Bank loans are notorious among leftist activists in Egypt, as in the rest of the world, as they are generally seen as a means of spreading capitalism throughout the world.

The state-run daily, which has the largest circulation of any newspaper in Egypt, also noted that  Islamists had been quiet.

Notably, Islamist political forces – which rejected a similar IMF loan offer last April – were nowhere to be seen in Wednesday’s protest.In April, Egypt’s Islamist-led parliament said that the government’s economic programme failed to provide details on how the key problems facing Egypt’s economy – namely, unemployment and security – would be solved.Some Islamists went so far as to say that such loans were haram (religiously proscribed) since they relied on interest, which is forbidden according to the tenets of Islam.

Let me offer a historical analogy. In the Fall of 1932 Adolf Hitler toned back his anti-Semitic tirades and played the bourgeois, wooing President Paul von Hindenburg, the army and Germany’s wealthy industrialists. When he was appointed chancellor in 1933 some expected the Nazi leader’s anti-Semitism would dry up as he had achieved his goal of power.

The liberal German-Jewish playwright Carl Zuckmayer wrote at that time:

… even many Jews considered the savage anti-Semitic rantings of the Nazis merely a propaganda device, a line the Nazis would drop as soon as they reached power.

At that time it seemed reasonable that Hitler would drop the anti-Semitic rantings that had helped bring him to power as it no longer served a rational political or economic purpose. Are we seeing something similar happening in Egypt?

Is the Morsi government shedding its ideology, its fundamental commitment to a state governed by the dictates of Sharia law in return for cheap Western loans? Now that the army has been neutered, parliament dissolved and the opposition broken Mohammed Morsi can do as he likes. It would seem to make rational sense that he would drop his anti-modernist religious views now that he has a modern state to run — but will he?

Is there a religious ghost in the IMF story? Is the BBC bringing a Western secular worldview to this story that misses its inherent non-Western faith-driven elements?

Should these two stories be kept separate? Keep financial news in the business section and religion in the Saturday lifestyle supplement? Or, is there a religion angle in this finance story that must be explored in order for the reader to understand? What say you GetReligion readers?

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About geoconger
  • michael reidy

    Any news that emanates from MEMRI about Muslims and the Middle East is highly dubious and slanted. and selected to present the mad mullah aspect and no other.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle_East_Media_Research_Institute
    The founder is an ex-colonel in Israeli Military Intelligence. Read the article and belief in the impartiality of MEMRI will be chastened.

    • geoconger

      I disagree with the assertion that MEMRI’s work should be set to one side due. The question is the accuracy of the translation. Is this Mohammed Morsi on the tape? Did he say what he is recorded as having said on the tape? Is the translation by MEMRI accurate?

  • Pingback: BBC Bias — Sharia law and Egypt: Get Religion, August 24, 2012 « Conger

  • tmatt

    George is responding to a post that I accidentally spiked this morning. Here it is, as submitted.
    Author : michael reidy

    Any news that emanates from MEMRI about Muslims and the Middle East is highly dubious and slanted. and selected to present the mad mullah aspect and no other.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle_East_Media_Research_Institute
    The founder is an ex-colonel in Israeli Military Intelligence. Read the article and belief in the impartiality of MEMRI will be chastened.

    • andom

      what is the problem? if you have doubts email the video to the Egypt embassy and ask for a reliable translation or send it to one of the many sites dedicated to defend Islam.

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  • Ben

    Completely agree on MEMRI as a dubious source in general. As we saw with the p***y riot lyrics, bad translation creates much misunderstanding. Also, when are we going to stop making comparisons to the rise of Nazi Germany whenever there’s a newcomer on the international stage that we are uncertain about? It really just muddies rational debate with unnecessary fear.

    • geoconger

      Have you any evidence that this is a bad translation? Are you saying this is a doctored video? What point are you making besides your dislike of MEMRI? For a challenge to be taken seriously one needs to impeach the translation not impugn the person. Otherwise it comes across as ill informed opinion.

  • Ben

    Geoconger — yes, the question is the accuracy of the translation. If the group doing the translating is all about raising alarm bells about Muslims, then you’re likely to get that bias in how things are translated. People relying on MEMRI’s work need to be conscious of that and seek out other sources to corroborate.

    • andom

      as I said, search for another translation on the web…
      It should be easy: we have hundreds of sites managed by enghish/arabic speacking people…
      Ask yourself because nobody translated the same speech; also ask yourself because nobody has debunked MEMRI’s translation…
      This is the perfect demostration of the topic of this blogpost.

  • Ben

    Nope, no challenge to this translation in particular. I don’t speak Arabic. But I do know that translation can be colored greatly depending on the viewpoint of the translator, not to mention the choices of what gets translated at all, and I know MEMRI has a political bent, so caveat emptor. I don’t think that’s ill-informed opinion, but useful caution.

  • JWB

    What’s not clear to me from this is whether the Muslim Brotherhood has traditionally taken a view of shariah that condemns the sort of “Islamic bonds” (structured in a way that is considered Shariah-compliant by enough Islamic jurists to work in practice where they’ve been issued) that have been issued to foreign investors by other governments such as those of Bahrain and Malaysia (often generating lucrative fees for Western/non-Islamic lawyers and bankers along the way — Western corporate issuers have also issued such bonds as a way of getting financing from wealthy Islamic investors with religious scruples about “normal” western-style debt instruments) or whether their platform if taken at face value would prevent even that.

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