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Malaysia Today - Your Source of Independent News

Ideological divide in Egypt

Posted: 08 Jul 2013 03:34 PM PDT

This clash of opposing ideologies is at the heart of the struggle in Egypt, and may well play out in other Muslim countries with varying degrees of intensity. And here, there are many parallels to Pakistan: many said they preferred military rule to this kind of democracy. Egyptians should be careful what they wish for: many in Pakistan welcomed the army and believed their promise of early elections.

Irfan Husain, The Dawn

As I follow the ongoing turmoil in Egypt, I am reminded of a conversation I had with the Algerian ambassador to the United States. This was in Washington way back in 1991, but is very relevant to events in Egypt now. Then, the Islamic Salvation Army — or FIS, the French acronym — was poised to win the election.

Fearing this outcome, the ruling National Liberation Front — or FLN — cancelled the next round of voting.  FIS and its supporters were outraged, and thus began a decade of murderous civil war that caused between 50,000 and 250, 000 deaths. Although exact figures may never emerge, both sides committed many terrible atrocities.

I met the Algerian envoy just after the election was called off, and asked him if his government feared a violent backlash. He was very sure the ruling party and army would be able to control the situation. Clearly, he was either poorly informed, or was being diplomatic with a foreigner.

My fear is that a similar scenario might emerge in Egypt. Already, ferocious clashes between supporters of the deposed president, Mohammed Morsi, and his opponents, as well as the security forces, have claimed dozens of casualties. Understandably, the Muslim Brotherhood is outraged that its elected nominee has been ousted in a coup only a year after his election. Already, over 300 senior party members have been arrested.

For this anger to turn into a long campaign of protests and violence is only a short step.  We should not forget that the Brotherhood is used to repression. Ever since the party was formed in 1928, it has been a largely underground force, with hundreds of members arrested, tortured and executed.

As a result of this long persecution, it was the only organised opposition party to seize the opportunity offered by the popular uprising against Hosni Mubarak. In one sense, the mass demonstrations in Tahrir Square against the increasingly unpopular Morsi mirrored the protests in Istanbul's Taksim Square.  Both represent the fault line in many Muslim countries between conservative citizens and their secular brethren.

The former believe their countries should be governed by a strict Islamic code, and vote for religious parties who promise just that. But those with a secular worldview reject this vision, and want to transform their societies into modern states where religion is restricted to mosques and homes, and not allowed to intrude into the public sphere.

This clash of opposing ideologies is at the heart of the struggle in Egypt, and may well play out in other Muslim countries with varying degrees of intensity. This is not to suggest that only Islamists voted for Morsi: in the second round, many secular Egyptians cast their ballots for him to help defeat his rival, a Mubarak-era candidate. They also believed his promise that he would be a 'president for all Egyptians'. In the event, he bulldozed through a divisive Islamic constitution that confirmed the worst fears among secular Egyptians.

Even though Morsi has widely been viewed as an ineffective pawn of the Brotherhood, the fact is that he was hindered by the judiciary and the bureaucracy.  The economy suffered as tourism — Egypt's big foreign-exchange earner — was badly hit by the unrest that has shaken the country for two years. Finally, Morsi ploughed large amounts into subsidies to a nation hit hard by inflation.

In short, there are ample reasons for people to go into the streets, demanding Morsi's removal from office. And here, there are many parallels to Pakistan: over the duration of the last PPP-led government, I must have received hundreds of emails from people demanding Zardari's exit. Many said they preferred military rule to this kind of democracy. 

I counselled patience, and said that we ought to let the democratic process take its course, otherwise we would remain locked into the unending cycle of civilian governments followed by martial law. And fortunately, neither the military nor the opposition in Pakistan took advantage of the shambolic performance of the last government to topple it.

Sadly, this course was not followed in Egypt, with unforeseeable consequences.

In the West, the reaction has been one of quiet satisfaction. I'm sure champagne bottles were uncorked in Tel Aviv. The reality is that while many in Europe and the United States talk about democratic reform in the Middle East, the subtext is that they would prefer to see secular, pro-West governments in charge. And if these governments are headed by generals, so be it. 

Thus, when the elections in Algeria were cancelled, the move was welcomed in Washington, London and Paris. Nobody wanted to see an Islamist government in power in Algiers. One reason is the fear that once such a regime is installed, it will never let go of power.

Iran is a prime example of this: after the ayatollahs seized power, they have only permitted a tightly controlled democratic process. Candidates are carefully screened, and the Supreme Leader, an unelected religious leader, wields ultimate authority.

Here, then, is the conundrum: do religious parties have the right to transform the constitutional basis of a state if they are elected to office for a limited period? Or should they seek compromise and consensus that reflects the differences in society? And if they become unpopular and risk losing the next election, should they cling to power to ensure the continuation of the religious structure they have created?

There would be a strong temptation to hang on, based on the justification that rigging the elections would keep godless parties out of power. All these concerns reflect the deep anxiety about the real commitment religious parties and groups have towards democracy.

On the other hand, Islamic parties, viewing Morsi's fate, will be justified in asserting that democracy is not the path to power, and that violent means should be followed. After all, if street demonstrations can topple elected Islamic governments, why bother to be part of the process?

The Egyptian army, with its extensive corporate interests and sense of entitlement, was probably glad of a pretext to return to centre stage. Even though it has installed a judge to be the interim president, nobody is fooled by the fa├žade.

Egyptians should be careful what they wish for: many in Pakistan welcomed the army and believed their promise of early elections.


The rising cost of living

Posted: 08 Jul 2013 03:22 PM PDT

Malaysia's debt-to-GDP ratio is 53.4% as at the end of 2011, and therefore still relatively safe. But if government weans us off subsidies but installs new forms of spending, this brings us back to square one. 

Tricia Yeoh, The Sun Daily

A REPORT ranked Kuala Lumpur as the 74th most expensive city in the world, compared to 86th last year. Data from the Economist Intelligence Unit's (EIU) "Worldwide Cost of Living 2012" report showed that KL's cost of living index rose from 67 in June 2009 to 83 this month.

Of course, Malaysians do not need a report to believe that the cost of living is on the rise. Living in the city means expenses on food and transport take a big cut of your monthly income. It comes as no surprise that the consumer price index (CPI), which measures inflation, increased by 3.2% in 2011 compared to the previous year.

The groups that had the highest price rise were food and beverages (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic), transport, restaurants and hotels, and tobacco (Department of Statistics, Jan 18).

Malaysia sailed through the 1980s and 1990s, enjoying a steady growth rate of more than 7% on average, yet with a relatively low inflation rate. But times have changed. While we did achieve a 5.1% growth rate in 2011, inflation is steadily rising year on year. In the meantime, 60% of Malaysian households earn less than RM6,000 monthly, with 80% of households earning an average income of RM2,500.

Political implications

Coupled with global economic uncertainty, the economic climate in Malaysia is not too bright. And everyone knows that the cost of living is high on the list of electoral issues. The dilemma that the federal government has to face this year is how long it can hold off calling an election amid troubled times. The alternative is to wait till the full five-year term, but risk an even worse-performing economy.

Whichever the case, the government is well-aware that the increasing cost of living will inevitably affect voting outcomes. Public sentiment already flares whenever talk of subsidy removal, toll or tariff hikes surface. It is, after all, the bread and butter issues that people are ultimately concerned with.

Enter the flurry of financial schemes that have been announced by the federal government. There have been so many that one needs to pause to examine each carefully.

First was the New Civil Service Remuneration Scheme (SBPA) announced last year, in which civil servants would receive salary increments and bonus payments among others.

Then, the Skim Amanah Rakyat 1Malaysia (SARA 1Malaysia) scheme in which low-income Malaysians can take out a loan to invest in Amanah Saham 1Malaysia shares (which pays out RM13,000 at the end of a five-year lifespan if all dividends are re-invested).

Schemes need further clarification

Finally, the 1Malaysia Housing Programme, where low-income Malaysians can apply for a housing loan to buy affordable houses costing between RM150,000 and RM300,000.

The controversial part of this housing scheme, which interestingly enough has had members of parliament on both sides of the political divide commenting on, is that the scheme is being financed by Employees Provident Fund (EPF) money, as a loan to the government.

The Federal Territories and urban well-being minister announced that RM1.5 billion of EPF funds would be extended in loans to those who failed to secure commercial loans to buy their houses, helping some "20,000 eligible tenants and interested buyers".

Pakatan Rakyat MPs have cautioned that this puts EPF funds at risk, by increasing government debt through an external body. They claim that if these "guaranteed" loans default, the federal government will be directly exposed to the debt and thus trigger a debt-induced financial crisis.

Khairy Jamaluddin, Umno MP, also questions what risk management processes the government would institute before giving out the loans.

Yes, a large part of Malaysians are feeling the pinch of inflation. And yes, it is generally positive that the government is taking this seriously. All the schemes, for example, have as their common objective to assist the low-income group in managing the impact of the rising cost of living.

But these programmes must be carefully designed, with the lowest risk possible. Let's not forget that government funds equals the rakyat's funds.

In the 1980s, the Greek government ran large deficits to finance public sector jobs, pensions and other social benefits, resulting in an extremely high debt-to-GDP ratio of above 90%. Spending for short-term electoral gain at the detriment of long-term consequences sent Greece spiralling downward, to its current debt crisis.

Malaysia's debt-to-GDP ratio is 53.4% as at the end of 2011, and therefore still relatively safe. But if government weans us off subsidies but installs new forms of spending, this brings us back to square one.

In the rush to implement popular schemes that could boost electoral ratings, such important public policies must ensure that short-term spending must not come at the cost of the country's future generations.

Tricia Yeoh is director at a market research consultancy. She writes on national and socio-economic issues. Comments:


The time for consultation is over

Posted: 08 Jul 2013 02:33 PM PDT

Zaid Ibrahim, TMI

The Government's decision to withdraw the Conversion Bill is welcomed. Although the Deputy Prime Minister was quick to add the decision to withdraw had been made "for now", implying that it could reintroduce the Bill in the near future, let's hope the Government will let the lessons from this experience guide its actions from this point forward.

The first lesson is this: the Cabinet must never again succumb to outside pressure when formulating laws and policies. When the Law Reform Act (Marriage and Divorce) 1976, Administration of Islamic Law Act (Federal Territories 1993) and Islamic Family Law Act 1984 (collectively the Bills) were introduced in 2009, they were withdrawn purportedly because the Conference of Rulers had objected to certain parts of the Bills pertaining to the religious conversion of a minor. The Government had tabled the Bills as a comprehensive solution to the issues of custody and religious conversions after conflicts arose between Muslim and non-Muslim parents.

These Bills had taken years to be formulated and the Attorney-General's Chambers had been diligent and meticulous in making sure all relevant stakeholders, including the muftis and religious councils, had been consulted. So it came as a surprise when the Bills were withdrawn at the behest of Conference of Rulers. Had the Government stood firm, as it should have, then we wouldn't have to endure the fracas of recent days. The three Bills need to be reintroduced and the question of consulting with other stakeholders, as the DPM alluded to, is no longer necessary. These Bills have had their fair share of being the subject of consultation. How many years must we deliberate over a policy just because a segment of society is not happy with it?



Setting the tone

Posted: 08 Jul 2013 01:31 PM PDT

Our thoughts and opinions are guided by four principles; the rule of law, limited government, free markets, and individual liberty and responsibility.

The country is still grappling with the outcomes of GE13. Prior to GE13, only a small number of people believed that Barisan Nasional could do better than 2008. 

Wan Saiful Wan Jan, The Star

I AM really glad to start a fortnightly column in this newspaper. The Star has a long history with Almarhum Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, who was also our greatest Prime Minister.

When he was a columnist for The Star, he never shied away from making principled commentaries about difficult issues. The country owes him a lot, and his legacy is one that must not be forgotten.

As an organisation inspired by Almarhum Tunku's vision to see this land become a nation of "liberty and justice", we at IDEAS are always looking for the opportunity to follow in his footsteps.

The founding president of IDEAS, Tunku 'Abidin Muhriz, too, had a column in this newspaper. His wit and style of writing would be difficult to match, but the key messages that we all bring in our writings are similar.

Everyone in IDEAS is committed to classical liberal principles, and we look for opportunities to apply this political philosophy in public policy.

Our thoughts and opinions are guided by four principles; the rule of law, limited government, free markets, and individual liberty and responsibility.

In a publication that we released back in 2010 titled The Tunku's Great Ideas, we outlined how Tunku Abdul Rahman himself consistently advocated these four principles. The publication can be downloaded free from our website

However, since classical liberalism puts emphasis on individual liberty, it would be wrong to say everyone in the organisation always speaks with one voice.

We, in IDEAS, are opinionated individuals in our own rights and our interpretation of the philosophy may differ from one another. So, while the big picture may be the same, the details may differ.

I accepted the invitation to write in this newspaper following a chance encounter with The Star's group chief editor Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai. At the height of the campaign period for the 13th general election, we were both invited to be on a panel in RTM. While waiting for our slot, we chatted about the role the media played in the campaign.

We discussed the differences between mainstream press like The Star and party organs like PAS' Harakah.

As one of the accredited election observers, I told Chun Wai that many people I met have been complaining about how many of the mainstream media were very one-sided in their reporting.

I jokingly told him that if The Star did not change its tack, it would become an English version of Harakah.

Soon after GE13, I received an SMS from Chun Wai inviting me to be a columnist in this newspaper. He said he wanted new voices, and that The Star is not an English version of Harakah.

I was pleasantly surprised that he remembered what I said in jest, and I am delighted and humbled to be invited into this newspaper.

Actually, I am not new to The Star. I was once a columnist for The Star's iPad edition. But I started that venture at the wrong time and had to stop after just a few articles. At that time, IDEAS was not even two years old yet. As the founding CEO, I had to prioritise my time to build up the think tank and this made the column suffer. That's why I thought it would be fairer to the editor if I stopped the column instead of continuously missing deadlines.

I was hoping to start writing sooner, but unfortunately this first article had to be delayed a bit. My house caught fire on June 9 and most of my belongings were either burnt or damaged by water. Searching for a new house, buying furniture and clothes from scratch, and moving took a lot of my time (and bloated my credit card bill too!). But I do hope that from today I can play my little role to be a "critical friend" in The Star.

The country is still grappling with the outcomes of GE13. Prior to GE13, only a small number of people believed that Barisan Nasional could do better than 2008.

The vast majority of informed analysts have always said that BN would perform worse, but PR would not win. So, the outcome of GE13 was not really a surprise to many of us.

What was surprising to me, however, is to see how many of our politicians failed to prepare for the results. And today, we see several BN leaders keep making mistakes after mistakes. The biggest was when some suggested that Malaysian Chinese and urban voters of all backgrounds were ungrateful. To this, my response is that we citizens have nothing to be grateful about when dealing with politicians.

Instead, it is the politicians who should be grateful to us. We elected them. We pay their salaries, housing allowances, car allowances, and many more.

Every single sen they earn by virtue of being a salaried politician, including the money they use to support their families, is because of us. They owe their living to us, not the other way round.

The death of feudalism is certain and the true masters are we, the people. If these servants continue to think that they are the masters, then they are paving the road to retirement in GE14.

And I hope that sets the tone for my future articles in this newspaper!

> Wan Saiful Wan Jan is chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (


Al-Biruni, Comparative Religion and Malaysian leadership

Posted: 08 Jul 2013 09:33 AM PDT 

The Islamic bill has been withdrawn by the Government in tandem with protests from non-Muslim Members of Parliament (MP). However, Malaysians are in still in the dark with several religious issues in our Malaysian multi-religious society.

Natesan Visnu 

Prophet Muhammad sent a message to the monks of Saint Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai:

"This is a message written by Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, far and near, we are behind them. Verily, I defend them by myself, the servants, the helpers, and my followers, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be changed from their jobs, nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims' houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God's covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they (Christians) are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, this is not to take place without her own wish. She is not to be prevented from going to her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation is to disobey this covenant till the Day of Judgment and the end of the world."

The recent crisis with the conversion bill for children has sparked an uproar among the non-Muslims in Malaysia. The Islamic bill has been withdrawn by the Government in tandem with protests from non-Muslim Members of Parliament (MP). However, Malaysians are in still in the dark with several religious issues in our Malaysian multi-religious society.

The purpose of this article to explore the understanding between religions in a multicultural society. The writer is not a religious expert and the views are based on reading various religious literature available online. Constructive criticism and views are welcome to explore the subject for mutual benefit and understanding among fellow Malaysians.

Religious tolerance has been a debate for centuries. Many scholars have researched and produced works explaining the subject with great depth. However, the thoughts and opinions of these scholars have not resolved inter-faith issues and to date, humans have not resolved the differences among them. According to Al-Biruni (a Muslim scholar on the history of religion), "there is a common human element in every culture that makes all cultures distant relatives, however foreign they might seem to one another." (Rosenthal, 1976, p. 10). Biruni is a Muslim scholar that had studied Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, and other religions. He studied religion with an open mind and his motive was to understand all of them instead of vilifying other religions. To take it further, Biruni was responsible to study Hindu scholarly books, learned Sanskrit and translated Hindu books into the Arabic language. He wrote Tarikh al-Kinh (History of India) exploring culture, mathematics, astronomy and every aspect of Indian life.

Biruni is one of many scholars from the Muslim world that has explored in depth other religions and produced works towards religious tolerance. His main approach was to explore the common principles among the religions to promote religious harmony. Politicians with half baked knowledge on religion have been politicizing issues and misleading Malaysians in general for years. Translating the effort and approach of Biruni, a similar approach could be used in Malaysia to tackle the religious issues that have been plaguing our society for years and causing unnecessary grief for Malaysians. 

The religious issues in Malaysia have been provoked by racist leaders such as Ibrahim Ali attacking Christians on the 'Allah' word usage, Zulkifli Nordin condemning the Hindus, and other politicians making inane comments. If we analyse closely, the religious issues are caused by politicians for their personal political gain. In Malaysia, certain groups of irresponsible politicians are the major cause for religious conflict among members of the society. The first most important move is to stop the politicians from further confusing the public on religious issues.

In line with the above argument, the bill that needs to be studied and passed in Parliament is for politicians to stop making comments on religious issues. Politicians without the expertise on religion should be stopped from discussing religious issues in public. These issues should be addressed by experts with the similar wisdom of al-Biruni and the Dewan Rakyat should act based on their analysis on religious issues. Dewan Rakyat members should appoint an interfaith council consisting of scholars on comparative religion to provide advice on issues pertaining to religious issues. The approach will assist Malaysians to have a better solution on religious issues instead of relying on politicians who lack fundamental knowledge on religion attempting to debate the subject in Dewan Rakyat.

Prophet Muhammad has set a great example in leading the non-Muslim community. The Muslim leaders in Malaysia should further study the method used by Prophet Muhammad to promote religious harmony among Muslims and non-Muslims. Echoing Islamic terminology, the term hadith refers to actions and statements by Prophet Muhammad, teaching the world on leadership for a multi-religious society. Malaysians need to urge politicians to explore further, with the help of the correct experts, the underlying concepts and reforms of religious issues that have been plaguing our society for years.

Relating to the child conversion bill tabled recently, one particular verse of the Qu'ran: "let there be no compulsion in religion". Prophet Muhammad and his followers never practiced forced conversion on Pagan Arabs. The proposal for conversion of a child with only one parent's consent is a subject that requires indepth study. This writer's view is that the subject must be studied further by religious experts from all faiths and a collective recommendation be tabled in the Dewan Rakyat for debate. Politicians without indepth knowledge in comparative religion should consult the appropriate experts to explore the subject.

To encapsulate the above, a comprehensive resolution on religious issues is required for the progression of our society. The failure to address religious issues will cripple the nation and limit our ability to prosper as a multi-religious society. Politicians should set aside their differences, work along with scholars and formulate policies that will benefit the people in general; not their political mileage.



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