Wednesday, April 2, 2014

UK Islamists heading to Beirut to rally for Bakri

[Originally posted at NOW]

NOW speaks to Anjem Choudary, British protégé of Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, who plans to protest the “satans” of the Lebanese army this Friday.

Within the coming 36 hours, a group of European Islamists, including two Britons formerly jailed for solicitation to murder, plan to arrive in Beirut to hold a protest Friday afternoon against the Lebanese authorities’ attempt Tuesday to arrest Tripoli-based cleric, Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad.

The group, comprising at least six Britons and one Swedish national, is headed by Anjem Choudary, a former leader of several now-banned British Islamist organizations. Choudary was a protégé of Bakri’s during the latter’s residence in the UK in the 1990s and early 2000s, when he led Hizb ut-Tahrir, among other parties. The other members of the delegation are also followers of Bakri – two, indeed, are his sons, Muhammad Fustuq and Abd al-Rahman Fustuq.

Their plan, according to statements posted by Choudary on his Twitter account, is to rally this Friday at 2pm, either outside the Lebanese Armed Forces headquarters at Yarzeh, or outside the Beirut office of the United Nations in Riad al-Solh Square (the details have yet to be finalized). When NOW spoke to Choudary via telephone Wednesday morning, he said the aims of the “peaceful” protest were four-fold.

“Our main message is, hands off the Muslims in north Lebanon,” Choudary told NOW. “Number two, hands off Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad and his family.”

“Thirdly, we will be condemning the conspiracy of the Bashar al-Assad regime and the Lebanese regime, who have a long history of cooperation,” said Choudary, adding, “I think there’s a man called [Maj. Gen. Abbas] Ibrahim, I forget his name now […] the one in charge of security, this one, I think he’s the one now just arresting people and sending them [to Syria].”

Finally, Choudary told NOW, “Our message will be to call for the sharia [Islamic law] and the khilafa [caliphate]. The only solution for this region, the only time we ever had peace, was when we had the khilafa system. As soon as the British and the French started to support their respective parties, the Druze and the Maronites, a couple of hundred years ago, we never had anything but sectarian strife. So I think it’s about time we went back to the law of God, and implemented it, and I think that is the solution for the whole region, not just Lebanon, but obviously Iraq, and Syria, and other countries in the Middle East.”

It’s unclear how warm a reception the group will get from Lebanese officials upon their arrival either Thursday or Friday morning, particularly at a time when authorities are cracking down on hardline Sunni Islamist movements across the country. While Lebanese law requires the interior ministry’s permission for all public demonstrations, Choudary told NOW his delegation had not obtained such permission and did not plan to seek it.

“We don’t need permission. We don’t recognize the Lebanese government […] so why should we ask permission from people who we don’t believe are legitimate in the first place?” he said.

NOW was unable to get an official reaction from the ministry to the planned demonstration, though an advisor to Interior Minister Nuhad al-Mashnouq, who spoke on condition of anonymity, reiterated that any protest carried out without ministerial approval would be in violation of the law.

Also uncertain is how significant the turnout will be on Friday, assuming the protest does go ahead. Several prominent clerics in Tripoli, including Sheikh Dai al-Islam al-Shahhal and Sheikh Nabil Rahim, told NOW they had not even heard of it. Sheikh Bilal Duqmaq, head of the Read Association, told NOW he doubted the protest would go ahead at all, saying it was merely a media stunt intended to exaggerate Bakri’s limited influence on the ground.

In any case, by Choudary’s own admission, the demonstration is not being coordinated with any established Lebanese parties or movements, being instead initiated “by the extended family of Sheikh [Bakri] and others who we are in contact with,” whom he declined to “put in jeopardy” by naming. When NOW called a Lebanese number provided in one of Choudary’s press releases, a man confirmed there would be no official parties taking part in what was “an independent call by [Bakri’s] supporters.” As soon as NOW asked the man his name, he hung up and subsequently switched off his phone.

Thus, we may not know until Friday afternoon itself what exactly will transpire. Choudary, however, continues to make preparations in the meantime. On Wednesday afternoon, he posted a link on Twitter to readymade placard templates that prospective attendees can print at home. It’s safe to say the slogans, if used, may raise a few eyebrows: “Khilafah For Bilad Ash-Sham [“The Levant”]! Lebanese Army Shiateen [“Satans”]! Shia Raafidah [Rejecters] You Will Pay! Ahlus Sunnah [The Sunnis] On Their Way!”

Nadine Elali contributed reporting.

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