Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A00072 - Louis Farrakhan, Nation of Islam Leader

Farrakhan, Louis
Farrakhan (Louis Farrakhan) (Louis Eugene Walcott) (b. May 11, 1933).  Nation of Islam national leader.  Born in New York City, the son of a schoolteacher and a domestic worker.  His birth name was Louis Eugene Walcott.  Farrakhan was an outstanding student at Boston English High School and then attended Winston-Salem Teacher’s College in North Carolina, but the rhetorical skills he honed there would take him to the pulpit rather than the classroom.

Farrakhan was an excellent musician.  He played the violin and was a calypso singer.  Indeed, while living in Boston, Farrakhan performed a nightclub act under the name of Calypso Gene.  In this act, Farrakhan would sing political lyrics to Caribbean style music.  

It was as a singer that Walcott earned his livelihood prior to converting to Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam in the 1950s.  It was his talents as an entertainer which caught the eye of Malcolm X, the renowned black activist who was then the most powerful and charismatic of Elijah Muhammad’s ministers.  Louis Walcott was recruited into the organization and began calling himself Louis X, preaching impressively and receiving the name “Farrakhan” from Elijah Muhammad himself.

Louis Farrakhan quickly worked his way up to a leadership position, becoming the minister of the Boston mosque.  He grew close to Elijah Muhammad and began to be groomed for prominence in the organization.  In 1963, Malcolm X left the organization in favor of a more inclusive and secular black activism.    

Malcolm’s departure angered Elijah Muhammad prompting Elijah Muhammad to initiate a campaign designed to undermine the activities of Malcolm X.   Louis Farrakhan, Elijah Muhammad’s then new protégé, loudly denounced Malcolm X after the latter split with Elijah Muhammad.  Farrakhan then replaced Malcolm X as the chief minister of the Harlem mosque.  Eventually (in 1972), Farrakhan would take over as the Nation’s press spokesman -- a position which was also previously held by Malcolm.

The Nation of Islam advocated religious and political militancy, proclaiming that civilization had begun with black men who were God’s chosen people.  Whites, according to this doctrine, were devils, the subhuman creation of an evil magician named Yakub.  These malevolent beings were said to be committed to the destruction of the black race, as evidenced by centuries of oppression and slavery.  Allah would punish Allah’s enemies, and Nation of Islam literature brims with reference to Armageddon.  

Upon close analysis, it is evident that the Nation of Islam’s doctrines differ significantly from those of orthodox Islam.  The sermons of Elijah Muhammad, and later of Farrakhan, combine ideas and beliefs from the Muslim Qur’an (also known as the Koran, or book of sacred writings) with Christian principles and images.  They reportedly even invent “scripture” at times.  In fact, when Elijah Muhammad’s son Wallace Deen Muhammad traveled to the East to study Islam, he decided his father was a fake and renounced the Nation’s earlier teachings.  Elijah, who died in 1975, willed the holdings of the organization to his sons -- mainly Wallace -- much to Farrakhan’s disappointment.  But Wallace’s disavowal of his father’s philosophy eventually drove many of Elijah’s followers into Farrakhan’s derivative group.  

Elijah Muhammad and Louis Farrakhan -- and Malcolm X while he was in the group -- were greatly influenced by the Black Nationalist movement.  This movement has existed as long as the United States itself and argues that American blacks can only achieve freedom and independence by establishing their own nation.  Some nationalists imagined this territory within the United States, others envisioned it in Africa.  Elijah Muhammad wrote in his speech “What Do the Muslims Want?” that the black nation might be “either on this continent or elsewhere.”   The Nation of Islam has long asked the United States government to provide reparations to black citizens -- like those paid to Japanese-American internees of United States detention camps during World War II -- to pay for a black nation.   

After Elijah Muhammad’s death in 1975, he briefly supported Muhammad’s son and designated successor, Warith Muhammad (Wallace Deen Muhammad), as leader of the Nation of Islam.  Shortly after Warith Muhammad began accepting European Americans as members within the Nation of Islam, now renamed the World Community of Al-Islam in the West, Farrakhan split from him and established a rival organization with about 10,000 members.  

Farrakhan’s vigorous support for Jesse Jackson’s presidential candidacy in 1984 quickly became an issue after Farrakhan made several controversial statements, most notably calling Judaism a “gutter religion.”  Farrakhan’s attacks on Judaism and Jews reflect a belief held by his constituency that Jews were an integral part of the American power elite and, therefore, an integral part of the systematic discrimination that blacks have historically encountered.  Jews also receive condemnation for supporting Israel, a region which the Nation of Islam and many other analysts of world politics accuse of mistreating its Arab neighbors.  Thus, for the members of the Nation of Islam, the many-sided conflicts of that region become a racial conflict -- a conflict of black versus white rather than a religious conflict.

Overshadowed in the controversy over Farrakhan’s anti-Jewish rhetoric was the involvement of the Nation of Islam in American electoral politics for the first time.  Previously, Black Muslims had generally followed Elijah Muhammad’s counsel not to vote or to take part in political campaigns.  But, in 1984 and 1988, the Nation of Islam supported Jackson as he ran for President.

In 1985, Farrakhan started the organization he called POWER (People Organized and Working for Economic Rebirth), a parent company for business endeavors like Clean ‘n Fresh.  The principle underlying the venture maintains that black people in America needed to build their own economic base. This could best be accomplished by recruiting black salespeople to sell black produced products in black neighborhoods.  To this end, Farrakhan secured a $5 million interest free loan from the nation of Libya.  However, because of the negative publicity generated by Farrakhan’s anti-Jewish statements, Farrakhan’s manufacturers backed out.

In January of 1995, Qubilah Bahiyah Shabazz, daughter of the slain black nationalist leader Malcolm X, was arrested and charged with trying to hire an FBI informant to kill Farrakhan, who some believe was involved in the 1965 assassination of her father.  Farrakhan publicly defended Shabazz, claiming that the charges were an FBI attempt to entrap her.  On May 1, 1995, Shabazz avoided a trial and possible prison sentence by accepting responsibility for the plot.  The court ordered her to seek psychiatric counseling, enter a drug and alcohol treatment program, and to obtain a steady job.

On October 16, 1995, African American men from across the United States convened in Washington, D. C. for the Million Man March, a rally masterminded by Farrakhan; organized by the Nation of Islam; and promoted by the National African Mexican Leadership Summit.  Billed as a “holy day of atonement and reconciliation,” marchers were urged to make a commitment to improve themselves, their families, and their communities.  Those who could not attend the march were urged to stay home from work and avoid spending money at businesses as a show of solidarity with the marchers.  The march was deemed a success on many levels and did much to help shake the myth of all black men as convicts, hustlers, and pimps and replaced that image with one of responsible, self-confident, culturally aware men.  

In early 1996, Farrakhan embarked on a controversial 18 nation tour of Africa and Southwest Asia.  During the tour, he visited Iran and Libya, nations which the United States government believes support international terrorism.  Although he claimed that the trip was designed to promote peace and reconciliation, Farrakhan was widely criticized by United States officials for several anti-American statements he made while overseas.

In the early 21st century, the core membership of Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam was estimated at between 10,000 and 50,000—though in the same period Farrakhan was delivering speeches in large cities across the United States that regularly attracted crowds of more than 30,000. Under Farrakhan’s leadership, the Nation was one of the fastest growing of the various Muslim movements in the country. Foreign branches of the Nation were formed in Ghana, London, Paris, and the Caribbean islands. In order to strengthen the international influence of the Nation, Farrakhan established relations with Muslim countries, and in the late 1980s he cultivated a relationship with the Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi.  After a near-death experience in 2000 resulting from complications from prostate cancer (he was diagnosed with cancer in 1991), Farrakhan toned down his racial rhetoric and attempted to strengthen relations with other minority communities, including Native Americans, Hispanics, and Asians. Farrakhan also moved his group closer to orthodox Sunni Islam in 2000, when he and Imam Warith Deen Mohmmed, the leading American orthodox Muslim, recognized each other as fellow Muslims.

In spite of his fiery pronouncements as a speaker, Farrakhan led a quiet and decidedly comfortable domestic life in an opulent mansion of marble and limestone in the Hyde Park section of Chicago in the house that Elijah Muhammad built.  He was married to Khadijah and they had nine children.   

Louis Eugene Walcott see Farrakhan
Walcott, Louis Eugene see Farrakhan
Calypso Gene see Farrakhan
Louis X see Farrakhan

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A00071 - Gamal el-Ghitani, Egyptian Author

Gamal el-Ghitani, (Arabic: جمال الغيطانى‎, b. May  9, 1945 –  d. October 18, 2015) was an Egyptian author of historical and political novels and cultural and political commentaries and was the editor-in-chief of the literary periodical Akhbar Al-Adab ("Cultural News") until 2011.

Gamal El-Ghitani was born in Guhayna, Sohag Governorate in Upper Egypt and moved with his family to Cairo as a child. He began writing at a young age and had his first short story published when he was only 14. He was originally trained to be a carpet designer and received his diploma in 1962. He continued to write on the side and was imprisoned from October 1966 through March 1967 for his critical commentary on the regime of  Gamal Abd el-Nasser.  In 1969, he switched careers and became a journalist for the Egyptian newspaper Akhbar El Yom ("The Day's News").

After becoming a journalist, el-Ghitani continued to write historical fiction, and many of his stories are set in Cairo. He also wrote about many cultural and political topics, notably the level of censorship in modern-day Egypt. In an effort to help promote the Arab literary culture, he helped found the literary magazine "Gallery 68".

In 1980, he was awarded with the Egyptian National Prize for Literature, and in 1987, the French Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.  In 1985, he became editor-in-chief of Al Akhbar ("The News") and continued to be a contributing editor to Akhbar El-Yom's literary section. From 1993 to 2011, he was the editor-in-chief of Akhbar Al-Adab, one of Egypt's primary literary magazines. In 2005, he won a French Award for translated literature "Laure Bataillon", one of the highest French awards to be bestowed upon non-French writers. He was earned this award for his giant work "Kitâb al-Tagalliyyât" or "Book of Illuminations". In 2009, he was awarded the Sheikh Zayed Book Award for Ren, the award is worth about $200,000 and is one of the world's richest literary awards. 

Gamal El-Ghitani was married to the Egyptian journalist Magda El-Guindy, editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram's children's magazine "Alaaeddin". He died on October 18, 2015 at the El Galaa Hospital For Armed Forces Officers Families in Cairo.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A00070 - Mathieu Kerekou, The "Chameleon" President of Benin

Kerekou, Mathieu
Mathieu Kérékou (September 2, 1933 – October 14, 2015) was a Beninese politician who was President of Benin from 1972 to 1991 and again from 1996 to 2006. After seizing power in a military coup, he ruled the country for 17 years, for most of that time under an officially Marxist-Leninist ideology, before he was stripped of his powers by the National Conference of 1990. He was defeated in the 1991 presidential election, but was returned to the presidency in the 1996 election and controversially re-elected in 2001. 

Kérékou was born in 1933 in Kouarfa. in north-west French Dahomey.  After having studied at military schools in modern-day Mali and Senegal, Kérékou served in the military. Following independence, from 1961 to 1963 he was an aide-de-camp to Dahomeyan President Hubert Maga, following Maurice Kouandete's seizure of power in December 1967, Kérékou, who was his cousin, was made chairman of the Military Revolutionary Council. After Kérékou attended French military schools from 1968 to 1970, Maga made him a major, deputy chief of staff, and commander of the Ouidah paratroop unit.

Kerekou seized power in Dahomey in a military coup on October 26, 1972, ending a system of government in which three members of a presidential council were to rotate power (earlier in the year MagKérékou a had handed over power to Justin Ahomadegbe). 

During his first two years in power, Kérékou expressed only nationalism and said that the country's revolution would not "burden itself by copying foreign ideology ... We do not want communism or capitalism or socialism. We have our own Dahomean social and cultural system." On November 30, 1974, however, he announced the adoption of Marxism-Leninism by the state. The country was renamed from the Republic of Dahomey to the People's Republic of Benin a year later; the banks and petroleum industry were nationalized. The People's Revolutionary Party of Benin (Parti de la révolution populaire du Bénin, PRPB) was established as the sole ruling party. In 1980, Kérékou was elected president by the Revolutionary National Assembly; he retired from the army in 1987.

It has been suggested that Kérékou's move to Marxism-Leninism was motivated mainly by pragmatic considerations, and that Kérékou himself was not actually a leftist radical; the new ideology offered a means of legitimization, a way of distinguishing the new regime from those that had preceded it, and was based on broader unifying principles than the politics of ethnicity. Kérékou's regime initially included officers from both the north and south of the country, but as the years passed the northerners (like Kérékou himself) became clearly dominant, undermining the idea that the regime was not based in ethnicity. By officially adopting Marxism-Leninism, Kérékou may also have wanted to win the support of the country's leftists.

Kérékou's regime was rigid and vigorous in pursuing its newly adopted ideological goals from the mid-1970s to the late 1970s. Beginning in the late 1970s, the regime jettisoned much of its radicalism and settled onto a more moderately socialist course as Kérékou consolidated his personal control.

Kérékou survived numerous attempts to oust him, including an invasion of the port city of Cotonou by mercenaries contracted by a group of exiled Beninese political rivals in January 1977, as well as two coup attempts in 1988.

It was hoped that the nationalizations of the 1970s would help develop the economy, but it remained in a very poor condition, with the state sector being plagued by inefficiency and corruption. Kérékou began reversing course in the early 1980s, closing down numerous state-run companies and attempting to attract foreign investment. He also accepted an International Monetary Fund (IMF) structural readjustment program in 1989, agreeing to austerity measures that severely cut state expenditures. The economic situation continued to worsen during the 1980s, provoking widespread unrest in 1989. A student strike began in January of that year. Subsequently, strikes among various elements of society increased in frequency and the nature of their demands grew broader: whereas initially they had focused on economic issues such as salary arrears, this progressed to include demands for political reform.

In the period of reforms towards multi-party democracy in Africa at the beginning of the 1990s, Benin moved onto this path early, with Kérékou being forced to make concessions to popular discontent. Benin's early and relatively smooth transition may be attributed to the particularly dismal economic situation in the country, which seemed to preclude any alternative. In the midst of increasing unrest, Kérékou was re-elected as president by the National Assembly in August 1989, but in December 1989 Marxism-Leninism was dropped as the state ideology, and a national conference was held in February 1990. The conference turned out to be hostile to Kérékou and declared its own sovereignty; despite the objections of some of his officers to this turn of events, Kérékou did not act against the conference, although he did label the conference's declaration of sovereignty a "civilian coup". During the transition that followed, Kérékou remained president but lost most of his power.

During the 1990 National Conference, which was nationally televised, Kérékou spoke to the Archbishop of Cotonou, Isidor de Souza, confessing guilt and begging forgiveness for the flaws of his regime. An observer described it as a "remarkable piece of political theater", full of cultural symbolism and significance. In effect, Kérékou was seeking forgiveness from his people. Such a gesture, so unusual for the African autocrats of the time, could have fatally weakened Kérékou's political standing, but he performed the gesture in such a way that, far from ending his political career, it instead served to symbolically redeem him and facilitate his political rehabilitation, while also "securing him immunity from prosecution". Kérékou shrewdly utilized the timing and setting.  Culturally as well as theologically it would prove impossible to refuse forgiveness on these terms.

World Bank economist Nicephore Soglo, chosen as prime minister by the conference, took office in March, and a new constitution was approved in a December 1990 referendum. Multi-party elections were held in March 1991, which Kérékou lost, obtaining only about 32% of the vote in the second round against Prime Minister Soglo; while he won very large vote percentages in the north, in the rest of the country he found little support. Kérékou was thus the first mainland African president to lose power through a popular election. He apologized for "deplorable and regrettable incidents" that occurred during his rule.

After losing the election in March 1991, Kérékou left the political scene and "withdrew to total silence", another move that was interpreted as penitential.

Kérékou reclaimed the presidency in the March 1996 election. Soglo's economic reforms and his alleged dictatorial tendencies had caused his popularity to suffer. Although Kérékou received fewer votes than Soglo in the first round, he then defeated Soglo in the second round, taking 52.5% of the vote. Kérékou was backed in the second round by third place candidate Adrien Houngbedji and fourth place candidate Bruno Amoussou, as in 1991, Kérékou received very strong support from northern voters, but he also improved his performance in the south. Soglo alleged fraud, but this was rejected by the Constitutional Court, which confirmed Kérékou's victory. When taking the oath of office, Kérékou left out a portion that referred to the "spirits of the ancestors" because he had become a born-again Christian after his defeat by Soglo. He was subsequently forced to retake the oath including the reference to spirits.

Kérékou was re-elected for a second five-year term in the March 2001 presidential election under controversial circumstances. In the first round he took 45.4% of the vote; Soglo, who took second place, and parliament speaker Houngbédji, who took third, both refused to participate in the second round, alleging fraud and saying that they did not want to legitimize the vote by participating in it. This left the fourth place finisher, Amoussou, to face Kérékou in the run-off, and Kérékou easily won with 83.6% of the vote. It was subsequently discovered that the American corporation Titan gave more than two million dollars to Kérékou's re-election campaign as a bribe.

During Kérékou's second period in office his government followed a liberal economic path. The period also saw Benin take part in international peacekeeping missions in other African states.

Kérékou was barred from running again in 2006 on two counts. The constitution not only limited the president to two terms, but also required that presidential candidates be younger than 70 (he turned 70 in 2003, through his second term). Kérékou said in July 2005 that he would not attempt to amend the constitution to allow him to run for a third term. "If you don't leave power," he said, "power will leave you." There was, however, speculation that he had wanted it to be changed, but faced too much opposition.

On March 5, 2006, voters went to the polls to decide who would succeed Kérékou as President of Benin. Yayi Boni defeated Adrien Houngbédji in a run-off vote on March 19, and Kérékou left office at the end of his term, at midnight on April 6, 2006.

Kérékou allegedly converted to Islam in 1980 while on a visit to Libya, and changed his first name to Ahmed, but he later returned to the use of the name Mathieu. This alleged conversion may have been designed to please the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, in order to obtain financial and military support. Alternatively, the conversion story may have been a rumor planted by some of his opponents in order to destabilize his regime. In any event, Kerekou subsequently became a born-again Christian. Some Vodun believers in Benin regarded him as having magical powers, explaining his ability to survive repeated coup attempts during his military rule.

Nicknamed "the chameleon" from an early point in his career, Kérékou's motto was "the branch will not break in the arms of the chameleon". The nickname and motto he adopted were full of cultural symbolism, articulating and projecting his power and ability. Unlike some past rulers who had adopted animal symbolism intending to project a violent, warlike sense of power, Kérékou's symbolic animal suggested skill and cleverness; his motto suggested that he would keep the branch from breaking, but implicitly warned of what could happen to "the branch" if it was not "in the arms of the chameleon"—political chaos. To some, his nickname seemed particularly apt as he successfully adapted himself to a new political climate and neo-liberal economic policies in the 1990s.

Kerekou used the campaign slogan, "Experience in the service of youth."

After leaving office in 2006, Kérékou stayed out of politics and spent time at his homes in Cotonou and Natitingou in northwestern Benin, his native region. He suffered a health crisis in 2014 and was taken to Paris for treatment. Although he recovered, he continued to suffer health problems, and he died in Benin on October 14, 2015 at the age of 82. 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

A00069 - Ali Salem, Egyptian Writer Who Drove Across Israel

Ali Salem, also transliterated Ali Salim, (Arabic: على سالم‎; b. February 24, 1936 – d. September 22, 2015) was an Egyptian playwright, author, and political commentator known for controversially endorsing cooperation with Israel. The Los Angeles Times once described him as "a big, loud man known for his satiric wit".

From the premiere of his first play in 1965, he wrote 25 plays and fifteen books. One of the best known, The School of Troublemakers, debuted in 1971 and featured a rowdy class of children transformed by a kind teacher. His plays The Phantom of HeliopolisThe Comedy of OedipusThe Man Who Fooled the Angels, and The Buffet became classics of the Egyptian theater. Salem's plays often include allegorical critiques of Egyptian politics with a strong vein of humor and satire.

In 1994, he wrote a book entitled My Drive to Israel about a trip he took to the country to satisfy his curiosity about it following the signing of the Oslo Accords. He later claimed that the trip was not "a love trip, but a serious attempt to get rid of hate. Hatred prevents us from knowing reality as it is". He spent 23 nights in Israel and concluded that "real co-operation" between the two nations should be possible. Though the book sold more than 60,000 copies, a bestseller by Egyptian standards, it provoked controversy, and Salem was subsequently ostracized from the Egyptian intellectual community and expelled from its Writer's Syndicate as a result of his "propaganda." He did not have a play or movie script produced in Egypt after the book's publication, though he continued to contribute columns to foreign media such as the London-based Al Hayat.  Salem's memoir was later adapted by Ari Roth into the play Ali Salem Drives to Israel, which had its world premiere in the United States in 2005.

In 2008, he won the Train Foundation's $50,000 Civil Courage Prize in recognition of his opposition to radical Islam and his support of cooperation with Israel.  He also received an honorary doctorate from Israel's Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in 2005.  He died on September 22, 2015 after a long illness.