Dispatch

Brazil Is 'Totally Screwed'

The land of sun, sex, and soccer couldn’t be more down about the World Cup.

RIO DE JANEIRO — The morning after Carnaval this year, garbagemen in orange pennies walked the foggy beaches, sweeping together mountains of trash along Rio de Janeiro's famous coastal promenades. As they cleaned up from Brazil's annual mass party they sang in unison, while hung over passersby trudged through sand and shared with them wry smiles: "Packed airport, stopped traffic, chaos all over, ai ai, ai, ai ai ai / People on all sides, all hotels full, metro choked, ai ai ai, ai ai ai / Imagine during the Cup!" They had their work cut out for them: The majority of Rio's garbagemen had gone on strike during the celebration.

But just hours later, the scene on the freshly cleaned Ipanema Beach returned to the product Brazil sells best: no-worries happiness. Sweaty Brazilians in skimpy bathing suits gathered their beach chairs into semicircles facing the blue-green waves as they filled each others' cups with beer, laughing loudly about their Carnaval shenanigans as smiling vendors hawked fruit salad and traveling musicians kept everyone tapping their sandy toes to samba's catchy rhythms.

But if the piles of garbage seemed high after Carnaval, imagine during the World Cup. Hosting the world's biggest sporting event, which begins on June 12 and runs for a month, was supposed to be an opportunity for Brazil to showcase its organization, development, and competence. But with corruption rife, infrastructure crumbling, and constant street crime in the country, most Brazilians sense that this opportunity offers more bad than good. They await the Cup's arrival the way high school students might await a test they haven't studied for.

Nothing encapsulates this sense of impending doom like the phrase imagina na Copa, "imagine during the Cup." The three words first came to prominence through the popular song of the same name released last year by the superstar country duo Fernando e Sorocaba. The phrase is chanted throughout Brazil, echoing out from street protests and during a recent bus strike in São Paulo, and is now trending on social media as #imaginanacopa. The concept captures both the disbelief of Brazilians that the organization of the Cup will run smoothly as well as their dread of what impact the mega-event will have on day-to-day life in the 12 host cities. 

While in former host countries Germany and South Africa the local mood was celebratory upon the opening of the World Cup, here Brazilians are preparing for lockdown before soccer fans invade their country and Cup-related festivities crowd their streets. Those with the means to do so are fleeing the country ahead of the kickoff. Airlines have offered discounted "escape" fares over the past month for those desperate to get out. Rafael Pereira, a lawyer from the southern city of Porto Alegre, which will be hosting five of the 64 matches, said he saw no other option. "I'm not going to stick around to watch this disaster unfold. I love soccer as much as any Brazilian, but no way; I'm out of here. I'll be surfing in Peru."

But with a 2012 average monthly income of $850, according to a report released last week by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), most Brazilians can't afford to leave the country for a month. Instead, they say they will just lay low. "We're stocking up on everything," Yessica Souza Guimarães, a 28-year-old administrative assistant and mother of two, explained as she leaned over one of three shopping carts full of food at a grocery store in São Paulo. "I don't plan to leave the house until it's all over." 

Beyond the traffic and inconveniences the World Cup will bring to daily life, some fear it will bring something even worse. In the back of Sat's, a popular chicken joint in Rio's Copacabana neighborhood, the tone of a rowdy Saturday night darkened as the topic turned to the Cup. The bar owner, Sérgio Rabello, spoke with a burning intensity.

"Look at crime in our country. Our city is out of control. The police are underpaid and abusive. And now a bunch of gringos will be showing up rowdy and drunk. There's no way this mixture will go well. This cup is going to be like a bomba going off. People are going to die."

His fears are not unfounded. Rio is in the midst of a crime wave on the dawn of the World Cup. Homicide numbers are increasing in Rio state, with 1,459 people killed just since January, a number that nearly matches the high-water mark level of 2008, the year Rio's favela "pacification" program began, with its aggressive police sweeps through the city's roughest areas. The attempt to stamp out crime in the favelas may have even driven up street crime in other neighborhoods; street robberies and vehicle theft numbers jumped this year as well. Even the police are under fire: Police mortalities are up 40 percent from last year, driving some police to walk off the job, demanding higher pay.

In an attempt to avoid the perfect storm of police strikes and street protests during the World Cup, the government acceded to the threat of strikes by offering a 15.8 percent pay raise to federal police agents and calling an additional 5,300 federal troops from the military into Rio. Whether the additional cash and manpower will make an impact in preventing crime from marring the experience of the 900,000 visitors expected to descend upon the city remains to be seen.

And instability goes beyond crime, too. Major cities all across Brazil came to a halt last June with mass street protests set off by a five-cent hike in bus fares. The protests occurred during the Confederations Cup -- a sort of World Cup test run -- leaving the government shaken on the issue of domestic security during international events. The bus and police strikes over the past month underline the fragility of a functioning Brazilian state.

Imagining the Cup is an exercise in envisioning everyday inconveniences, but at a greater level, Brazilians worry about the longer-term consequences of an $11.5 billion event in a country plagued by corruption. In reality, the event is likely to cost closer to $13 billion; the $11.5 billion price tag for federal, state, and host-city preparations was last updated in September of last year, and many of the works included in the preparations are still unfinished. A recent Pew poll found that 61 percent of Brazilians "say hosting the World Cup is a bad thing for Brazil because it takes money away from schools, health care, and other public services." And while one-third of respondents believe the tournament will create more jobs and help the economy, that hope is tempered by an overwhelmingly negative perception of how President Dilma Rousseff is handling corruption. For Brazilians, part of the World Cup package is not just a suspicion of corruption but a virtual guarantee.

In 2013, Brazil ranked 72nd out of 175 countries on the Corruption Perception Index compiled by Transparency International, a precipitous drop from its 43rd-place ranking the year before. The ranking for 2014, many believe, is almost guaranteed to be worse. Further, a new anti-corruption law is so rife with loopholes that many observers believe it may, perversely, increase corruption.  

In 2007, when Brazil first won its bid to host the 2014 World Cup, the excitement was palpable, from the parties in the Amazon basin to the fireworks over the Christ statue in Rio. Famously soccer-crazed, Brazil is used to being near the center of attention every four years: The national team has won the famous golden trophy five times and been in the finals another two times. Brazilians collectively mourned the loss in the finals the last time Brazil hosted the event, in 1950, adding to the urgency for a thumping victory this time around. But for once, this time Brazilians are not so much worried about what happens on the field as they are about what happens off it.

Away from the glare of the stadium lights, many Brazilians are afraid of how their country will be perceived with all eyes on them. The recent Pew poll found that 75 percent of Brazilians think their country should be more respected abroad than it currently is. But they are evenly divided about whether the World Cup will help Brazil's image. Many fear that the world will view them as just another Third World country, not ready for primetime.

A series of structural failures during the stadium constructions, including the deaths of eight construction workers, have frayed the nerves of Brazilians. As she watched the news of the collapse of part of a stadium in São Paulo, Tânia Maria Martins, an environmental activist in the northern state of Piauí, said, "God help us if this happens when people are in the stadium during the Cup. What a shame it would be." Fernando Morimoto, a businessman in São Paulo, complained as he waited in line for a taxi at the São Paulo airport about how the electricity had gone out at the airport in Rio, leaving him stranded there for eight hours. "What do you think the gringos will think of us when they can't even use the airport because the electricity fails? Do you think they'll be impressed?"

Some Brazilians don't need to even ask these rhetorical questions. "We're not afraid of embarrassing ourselves because we know we will," says Thiago Baranda, a public servant from Manaus. 

Infrastructure remains a major challenge for Brazil. In the 12 host cities, the construction of new stadiums draws a stark contrast against the crumbling infrastructure that cries out for attention. But as with so many public works in Brazil, many of the stadiums are still being finished just days before the start of the Cup, and other facilities, such as Curitiba's media center or Fortaleza' s airport terminal, have been all but abandoned midstream.

In preparation for the Cup and for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, the government promised to organize its visitor reception infrastructure. But these efforts often seem to only exacerbate the problem. Waits for taxis at train stations and airports can be hours long, thanks in part to the "streamlined" system of check-in kiosks and taxi stands introduced ahead of the World Cup. And for tourists hoping to stadium-hop during the tournament, beware: Last-minute domestic flights are often prohibitively expensive, and robberies on buses are commonplace. In many places, the interstate freeway system is a broken patchwork of cement where driving the speed limit is a wild, swerving ride taken at the rider's own peril, and scores of Brazilians die in accidents each holiday weekend.

Preparations for the Cup were packaged into election promises during the last presidential election. Now many of those promises have been revealed to be unmet. For example, in 2010 a $300 million fund was set aside to bolster national park infrastructure in anticipation of the event under a project called "Cup Parks." It recently came to light, however, that only 0.15 percent of those funds were distributed.

On June 1, in both São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, a party was held to celebrate the inauguration of a bullet train connecting the two cities.* The party was tongue-in-cheek, of course: Construction on the project has yet to begin. During the recent Easter holiday, the 270-mile trip between the two cities on the potholed two-lane road took 12 hours. Millions of fans will be making this journey over the coming weeks. Brazilians would likely recommend imagining being somewhere else.

But "Imagine During the Cup" is not the only slogan Brazilians are using to communicate their dread about the imminent train wreck of the World Cup. Other sayings are scrawled across walls in every city across the country, with more appearing every day. The pedestrian crossings in Rio are now stamped with "FIFA Go Home." In the historical center of Salvador, a coastal northeastern city, "Copa Para Quem?" ("The Cup for Whom?") scars the brightly colored colonial buildings. And in early June, angry, underpaid teachers gathered outside Rio's courthouse, shouting, "Não Vai Ter Copa!" ("There will be no Cup!").

But while these other slogans often tend toward the political, there is something pure about the "Imagine During the Cup." It is not a demand. It is not a rhetorical question. Instead it speaks simply to the nationwide dread that cuts across all segments of society. It is Brazilians united as one, as equals, shaking their heads, looking each other in the eye, and muttering under their breath, "We're totally screwed."

 

*This sentence originally stated that the party was held in late May. It was June 1. Return to reading.

Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Dispatch

Islam's Lawyers in Arms

Syria's jihad is awash with religious jurists. No wonder there's as much arguing as fighting.

Syria's Islamist rebels unveiled a joint "Revolutionary Covenant" on May 17, a step meant to assuage fears of extremism among the international community and Syrian minorities. The document promised respect for Syria's multiethnic makeup and a "state of justice, law and freedom," albeit one bound by the rules of Islamic law.

The covenant, however, promptly provoked a backlash among Syria's jihadist wing, which was alarmed that the document didn't explicitly call for an Islamic state. Among those leading the charge was one of the jihadist groups' top shar'is -- essentially, in-house Islamic jurists and advisors. Sami al-Uraydi, a leading shar'i for the Syrian al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, issued one of the covenant's most pointed critiques: "Life in mountains and caves under the rule of sharia [Islamic law] is better than life in mansions without it, and we have the Taliban as evidence of that."

Uraydi's criticism provoked an irritated response from Hassan Abboud, the powerful rebel commander who had read the covenant on Al Jazeera. "Doctor [Uraydi], instead of all this misrepresentation and one-upmanship, why don't you clarify what we did wrong?" Abboud tweeted. "There are those who style their jihad so that they end up isolated from their Islamic nation, cut off in forests and mountains; this isn't the point of jihad."

Abboud heads Ahrar al-Sham, perhaps the largest single rebel force nationwide, and is among the top leaders of the Islamist mega-brigade, the Islamic Front. That he would be drawn into a public back-and-forth with another faction's shar'i reflects both how seriously many of Syria's Islamist rebels take their religious credibility, and the unprecedented public status that the shar'is now enjoy in the Syrian rebel scene.

Rebel shar'is have played a key part in deciding who their brigades could fight and how. And while this operational role apparently has some precedent, the celebrity of Syria's shar'is does not. The most hard-line Islamist brigades in particular have seen shar'is become their most visible and active representatives. In March, for example, Jabhat al-Nusra named three top shar'is (including Uraydi) as official spokesmen. The al Qaeda affiliate's top shar'i, "Abu Mariya al-Qahtani," is personally sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department. On Twitter, however, he has almost 60,000 followers, to whom he regularly (and prolifically) expounds on religion and war.

"You know how every company or organization has a lawyer consulted on legal affairs?" one Islamic Front fighter told Foreign Policy. "The shar'i is the same idea, but for Islamic legal matters."

Islamist rebels interviewed by FP via social media said that the shar'i is responsible for providing rebel fighters with religious inspiration, as well as consulting on issues with an Islamic or moral dimension. "The shar'i's role is, at base, the same in every group: religious guidance and fatwas [Islamic legal rulings]," said an Ahrar al-Sham shar'i in an interview. "But his authority differs from one group to another; in some, he has an authoritative role and a great amount of influence, whereas in others his role is limited to preaching."

In practice, a shar'i might be an advisor, a judge, or even a military commander who serves as a religious reference within the brigade. Some Islamist brigades might have a single shar'i, or none at all. Others, meanwhile, might have enough shar'is to assign them to individual rebel units; they might also feature sharia councils made up of the brigade's most senior jurists. They seem to have the most weight in the most conservative Syrian Islamist brigades, such as the Islamic Front, as well as in jihadist factions like Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

"With the Islamic Front, the sharia council has binding authority on issues related to Islamic law," said the Ahrar al-Sham shar'i. "It's responsible for the judiciary, fatwas and dawa [religious outreach], and its members have a fair amount of influence among the fighters."

Shar'is and sharia councils can at times rule on pivotal issues. For example, the Ahrar al-Sham shar'i confirmed that the Islamic Front's sharia council approved the Revolutionary Covenant. The Islamic Front fighter, meanwhile, said that the front itself was the product of its jurists: The merger of its Islamist brigades, he said, began with an agreement by their shar'is to "work according to a unified Islamic program."

The fighter also said that the Front's shar'is were consulted on fighting ISIS: "The shar'is had a role in the planning, in whether it was permissible to fight ISIS or not, [and] what the conditions were for fighting them."

Shar'is are also sometimes involved in approving day-to-day matters or tactical decisions, which can range from fine-tuning religious language in a group statement to sanctioning controversial tactics. "With 'suicide' or 'martyrdom' attacks," said Khaled al-Hammad, commander of the mainline Salafist Jabhat al-Asala wal-Tanmiya, "there are some who approve of them in all cases, some who set conditions for them, and some who forbid them totally. That's why even the name differs."

In the most extreme cases, shar'is might rule that other factions are apostates or infidels, thus sanctioning their killing. As rebel-ISIS fighting escalated after January 2014, ISIS's shar'is were consistently accused of encouraging their fighters' worst behavior by excommunicating Muslim rebels, including members of the Islamic Front -- a position that ISIS's sharia authority confirmed and codified with a ruling on the front in May.

Shar'is ideally have degrees in Islamic law or expert knowledge of Islamic policy and jurisprudence, but this is by no means guaranteed. The scarcity of top-level qualified religious scholars or experts in Syria means that, while most shar'is are members of particular brigades, some brigades will also reach out for the opinion of outside religious scholars or sheikhs. "Consultation is open, as most of the brigades' shar'is are students of religion, and only a few can be called true experts," said the Ahrar al-Sham shar'i.

Though the term "shar'i" might be new, the concept itself is not. Jihadist groups elsewhere -- Ansar al-Sharia in Libya, for example -- have their own sharia committees or councils, even if their members may not enjoy the same high profile. And the position of the shar'i is, in many ways, an improvised alternative to a normal Muslim state's religious institutions. "In Arab countries, you have the mufti," the Islamic Front fighter said. "Of course, this isn't a great example, because Arab governments' muftis are basically a rubber stamp.... But now, because you're dealing with military groups, they call it a shar'i."

Syria's shar'is have enjoyed a new prominence thanks in large part to social media, but this celebrity might be a mixed blessing. Fighters and ideologues -- including Ahrar al-Sham commander "Abu Yazan al-Shami" -- have reproached some jurists for providing their brigades with publicity instead of guidance. Jabhat al-Asala wal-Tanmiya's Hammad said there was "no doubt" fame had negatively influenced some shar'is. It had encouraged them, he said, to "reproach others, and to show off their own status and knowledge." The Ahrar al-Sham shar'i also acknowledged that notoriety could be a double-edged sword, but one that the faithful can manage: "Only the biggest shar'is have become prominent, and their fame has affected them according to their piety and devotion."

It remains to be seen whether the Syrian shar'i phenomenon will represent a new paradigm for Islamist rebels and jihadists elsewhere or just a single, exceptional case. However, there is reason to expect that the role is here to stay: Foreign veterans of the Syrian war are already returning home to fuel domestic insurgencies, and they are bringing with them the skills they learned and the concepts to which they grew accustomed. Moreover, Syria's rebel and jihadist social media has shaped how a whole new generation understands how to wage jihad. At the least, we can expect the terminology to come into vogue elsewhere. "Yes," said the Ahrar al-Sham shar'i when asked if he thought the term might spread. "But only God knows."

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