The U.S. State Department is about to create a new office of religious engagement to incorporate a focus on religion and religious actors in U.S. foreign policy. While there is excitement in some quarters about the prospects for new religious and civil society partnerships overseas, the initiative raises some concerns at the intersection of religious freedom, religious establishment, and foreign policy.
The United States has been promoting religious freedom abroad for some time. Americans have been official evangelists on its behalf at least since the passage of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 established a State Department Office of International Religious Freedom, which prepares an annual report on the status of religious freedom in every country in the world except the United States itself. A tweet from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who approved the creation of the new office, described religious freedom as "a bedrock priority of our foreign policy."
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In the fall of 2012, three mothers, along with their infant children, begin serving one-to-two-year prison terms in Iran. Their crime? Being Baha'is in the birthplace of their faith. In February 2012, a man is jailed without charge in Saudi Arabia. Why? According to authorities, for his own safety because he allegedly "disturbed the public order" by tweeting comments deemed to insult the religious feelings of others. In December 2012, an atheist blogger is sentenced to three years in prison in Egypt. His offense? Posting online content that allegedly "insulted God and cast doubt on the books of the Abrahamic religions."
These are just some of the many examples of the contempt that governments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) often exhibit toward freedom of religion or belief. Since the onset of the Arab Awakening in early 2011, religious freedom conditions have not improved, but declined. While larger hopes for justice and democracy are experiencing convulsive birth pangs, majority and minority religious believers alike face increasing government repression in many MENA countries; sectarian violence is on the upswing; and violent religious extremism is fueling regional instability.
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The bloody struggle playing out in Syria has taken on increasingly sectarian tones, with dangerous implications for the future of this important country and the region. Protests originally focused on governance, political rights, and human freedoms. President Bashar al-Assad and his regime responded with violence, torture, and abuse, labeling opponents as "terrorists" and emphasizing sectarian differences. Two plus years into this increasingly protracted struggle, Assad's actions have helped create what he feared -- armed anti-government elements seeking his overthrow, with violent foreign religious extremists importing their dangerous worldview and political agenda.
Considering the diverse set of actors fighting the Assad regime, there will be another war for control of Syria once he leaves the scene. It will pit onetime rebel allies against each other, with alignments along sectarian lines or divides over secular versus religious governance. These cleavages are already starting to show, such as with the recent announcement by al Qaeda and Jabhat al-Nusra of the establishment of an Islamic State in Syria.
Therefore, for the future of Syria, the fight after the fight may be as important as the first.
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Egypt approved a new constitution in a popular referendum on December 22, 2012, by a 63.8 percent vote. The establishment of the new legal framework for the post-Mubarak political order came after weeks of political turmoil, which pitted an Islamist current against a fragmented camp of liberals, leftists, and assorted non-Islamists. This diverse opposition responded to President Mohamed Morsi's fait-accompli with a return to street protests and an angry outcry against the procedures through which the constitution was introduced.
The exchange of reasoned arguments may have been a somewhat naïve aspiration prior to the popular referendum given the poisoned political climate. But it is still striking that the text of the constitutional draft received so little attention in the shrill accusations exchanged by intransigent political opponents. There may yet be time to rectify this failing, however. Representatives of the Morsi government, its opposition, and the judiciary have recently shown signs of willingness to renegotiate bits and pieces of the constitution as well as the by-laws governing the vague provisions in the document. If they do, there will be a wide range of articles to reconsider.
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On January 25, thousands of Egyptians will gather in Tahrir Square and across Egypt to commemorate the uprising that toppled the Hosni Mubarak dictatorship. They will celebrate with good reason. When Mubarak, pressured by millions in the streets and ultimately betrayed by his own top generals, resigned on February 11, 2011, a military-backed dictatorship that had ruled and largely abused Egypt for more than half a century came to an end. Most Egyptians were euphoric, and the world was transfixed by the unexpected power of the Tahrir Square freedom movement.
However, in the two years since, the transition remains fragile, and Egypt's politics remain dangerously polarized. In fact, in addition to celebration, there may also be clashes on January 25. Today Egypt has an elected president, a new constitution, and will soon hold parliamentary elections. But if Egypt has made halting steps toward democracy, worrying signs of illiberalism and poor governance are increasingly apparent. The outcome of the revolution in the Arab world's most populous country remains uncertain, and the threat of violence looms large.
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When protesters recently erupted into the streets in western Iraq, many quickly hailed them as the beginning of either a Sunni or an Iraqi Spring -- a telling difference in the perceived significance of sectarian identity. The protests were triggered by the arrest of Minister of Finance Rafi'i al Issawi's security detail on terrorism charges but are in fact reflective of much broader and long-standing grievances some of which are Iraq-wide others more specific to Sunni Arabs. After a decade of misery, rare is the Iraqi -- of whatever background -- who is satisfied with the current government; yet despite that, the protests are struggling to escape the confines of Sunni-majority areas.
When the near-obligatory nationalist reference to the rebellion of 1920 came up in a poem at a recent demonstration in Salah al Din I found myself wondering what the odds are on today's movement mirroring the joint Sunni-Shiite demonstrations of May 1920 that so alarmed the British and that Iraqi nationalists never tire of recounting. I was not alone in drawing the parallel: indeed, the poet who referred to 1920 was doing so as part of his plea toward the southern governorates to join their compatriots in protest. Another speaker explicitly called upon the Shiite marji'iya to, "come out of their silence," and support the protesters. In short Shiite symbolism, in a nationalist and religious sense, was deployed firstly to try to dispel accusations that the protests were sectarian and secondly to appeal to Shiite Iraqis to join the demonstrations. The reasons Shiites by and large have not responded to these calls, nor are likely to, are to be found in the paradoxes surrounding Iraqi nationalism, Iraqi sectarian identity, and ultimately views toward the current political order.
KHALIL AL-MURSHIDI/AFP/Getty Images
protests at the U.S. embassy in Tunis and corresponding attacks on the nearby
American Cooperative School have cast sharp light on the Salafis allegedly
responsible. Media accounts quickly dismissed the protesters as "Salafi fanatics," though some resembled
rioting football fans more than religiously garbed ruffians.
Local journalists covering previous instances of Salafi-oriented unrest -- from the October 2011 demonstrations against the film Persepolis to this June's riots at an art exhibit in Tunis's upscale La Marsa district -- have tended to narrate events from afar without directly interviewing Salafis. Such slipshod coverage has tended to leave readers with a broad-brush portrait of Tunisian Salafism -- one that obscures important details concerning the movement's composition and complexity. Far from being a monolithic group of highly organized extremists, Tunisia's Salafis are in fact a loose collection of religiously right-wing individuals whose identities and motivations require far closer scrutiny.
The recent eruption of violence in various Muslim capitals directed at the U.S. (and other Western) embassies, with tragic losses in life and property, is a predictable, if sad, consequence of globalization. The world is increasingly pulled together by the relentless push of modern technology and integrated economic systems on the one hand, and simmering conflicts periodically manifested on the cultural realm, on the other. The occasion for the latest uproar, the anti-Muslim "movie" denigrating the Prophet of Islam, is the latest chapter in an ongoing conflict that appears to become more aggravated over time, in no small measure due to growing Islamophobia in the West. The conflict is also helped now by the weakening security apparatus in the various Arab states experiencing mass uprisings, and the ability of various groups to exploit this vacuum to further their own political goals.
A few decades ago, this movie, or a preacher threatening to burn the Quran in Florida, or a cartoon published in a Danish newspaper would have passed, in all likelihood, unnoticed (at least by the offended parties), let alone cause major violent protests spanning continents. But in our globalized present, with the various tools of instant communication and social networking available to large swathes of humanity, what happens in a faraway place is immediately splashed everywhere, often with deadly results as we are witnessing today. Within this diverse yet networked humanity, where marginal figures are empowered, someone invariably takes offense at perceived insults emanating from distant lands. Despite all the energetic and well-meaning condemnations by sensible parties on both sides, it is unlikely that we will see an end to this cycle anytime soon.
MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
The matter of women's rights -- an issue that proved remarkably pivotal in last year's election debates -- has once again surged to the foreground of Tunisian politics. Earlier this week, an estimated 7,000 Tunisians flocked through a broad boulevard in downtown Tunis to protest Article 28 of the recently released draft constitution. Most of the protesters were upper class, unveiled women strongly opposed to the country's governing Islamist party, Ennahda. These critics accuse Ennahda of deliberately engineering Article 28 to erode Tunisian women's rights. Such interpretations, however, have been misconstrued.
You would never know there had been a revolution. Within the slightly grimy walls of Egypt's state-owned media buildings, it's business as usual. Observers would be forgiven for thinking the state television and papers are there largely as a public address system for whoever actually has their hands on the country's steering wheel.
Over the 30 years leading up to the 2011 popular uprising, state media took its cue from Hosni Mubarak's gatekeeper, the diminutive but terrifying Safwat el-Sherif, former minister of information. Post January 25, state media and papers backed the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), the country's ruling military council. Last week, in a nod to the democratic process, it was the turn of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Egypt's upper house of parliament, the Shura Council, announced the appointments of the new editors, setting off a storm of angry protest among journalists, led by the Journalists' Syndicate, who insisted that the Islamist-dominated council had essentially rigged the selection process and assigned their own men to do its bidding.
I have been fascinated by some of the findings of a massive new Pew Research Center global public opinion survey of Muslims in 39 countries in every region of the world. Pew conducted 38,000 face-to-face interviews in more than 80 languages between 2008 and 2012. What makes The World's Muslims especially interesting is that it doesn't ask questions mainly of interest to Americans, such as how Muslims feel about America. Instead, it asks a series of questions about their own understanding of Islam and their own religious practices and beliefs. The findings reveal some really interesting differences across regions, countries, and generations.
Since becoming Egypt's first Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi has surprisingly done virtually nothing in the area of religion. He has appointed a new minister of education from the Muslim Brotherhood, but thus far has not pushed religious educational institutions toward a more Islamist approach. Over the past week, however, several controversial moves have sparked a public confrontation over Al-Azhar and the future of Egypt's religious establishment. The battle for Al-Azhar could have profound repercussions for Egypt's Islamic politics -- and for the broader world of Sunni Islam.
Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir, a self-proclaimed religious authority with a bushy long beard, is no stranger on the Lebanese scene. His latest incarnation, from his mosque in the coastal town of Sidon, is as a firebrand political Salafist whose objectives transcend the confines of Lebanon.
He is part of a growing movement in Lebanon and other Arab countries in which the Salafists -- acting as guardians for Sunni interests -- are using the civil war in Syria to gain political power and revive the sectarian conflict with their historical foes, the Shiites. In Lebanon, sectarianism has been a primary feature of the country's politics for decades.
Nearly two decades ago, I entered an Egyptian embassy in an Arab state in order to request a visa. I was brought to the consular officer who immediately noticed that I seemed startled by her appearance. "You're surprised at this?" she asked, gesturing to her hijab. Somewhat embarrassed, I indicated that I had never met an Egyptian diplomat who was covered. She acknowledged that there were very few but also spoke of how she had been pleasantly surprised not simply that she was accepted as a diplomat but that some senior people in the ministry were supportive and protective.
Her story was in one sense a bit odd: hijabs have become extremely widespread in Egyptian society, but she was speaking as if she was operating in alien terrain in the diplomatic corps. And in a sense she was. To this day, it is uncommon to find covered women in specific places in Egyptian society; the long beard characteristic of Salafis is similarly all but unknown in sensitive state institutions like the security establishment and the judiciary. The reasons are clear -- security-vetting blocks the entrance of those suspected of Islamist inclinations and those at the top positions of authority in various institutions often work to protect them as enclaves for their part of Egyptian society.
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FIFA, the international federation for world soccer, is poised to make a decision in a few days that will impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of young Muslim women -- whether or not to overturn the current ban on the hijab, or headscarf. Matters actually came to a head last summer, in June 2011, when the entire Iranian women's soccer team was prevented from playing in Olympic qualifying matches held in Jordan. The ouster of an entire national team, minutes before a key international match, led to a resurgent global debate on the relations between the hijab, sports, and international politics. Today, however, the winds of change seem to be blowing back in the other direction, as activists, athletes, and allies -- Muslim and non-Muslim -- appear to have met every FIFA objection and will arrive at the March 3 London meeting of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) with a proposal to lift the ban and allow thousands of women an opportunity that is blocked under current rules.
Sport Hijab designed by Cindy van den Bremen, Capsters; Photo by Peter Stigter
This photo of the "sleeping salafi" from the opening session of Egypt's new Parliament burned like wildfire through the Twitter feeds and Facebook pages of my Arab, Egyptian and Middle East watcher friends. The overwhelming tone of the comments was high snark, as liberals fell over themselves snickering at the dozing beards. The image played to every prejudice which has greeted this new wave of salafi Islamists.
There's just one problem. The iconic figure in the lower right corner of the photo wasn't sleeping. He's blind.
Dr. Wageeh el-Sheemy is a university professor and new parliamentarian from the Salafi al-Nour Party. As the We Are All Khaled Said page explained yesterday, el-Sheemy is "the first blind person to become member of the Egyptian parliament thanks to the #Jan25 Revolution. In fact, he is the first ever disabled member of the Egyptian parliament." That's really impressive, and a great story. Congratulations to Dr. El-Sheemy -- and to the Nour Party for putting him forward as a successful candidate.
It should also be a lesson to all. For all the legitimate concerns about where the newly empowered salafi trend will take Egypt -- and there are many -- it is far too easy for people to leap to unwarranted conclusions about them. In the coming days, it will be useful for all Egyptians, and those watching Egypt, to take a breath before rushing to judgement.
We can't help you with that guy in the third row though...
On January 25, 2011 on the Middle East
Channel, Ashraf Khalil marveled from the streets of Cairo about "sheer size of the turnout, which was larger
than anything I've seen in 13 years of covering Egyptian protests." From
Washington, I pushed back against skeptics who doubted that Tunisia's
revolution would spread to Egypt, as I noted that, "the images and
stories of protests today have been impressive, both in numbers and in energy
and enthusiasm. The Egyptians are self-consciously emulating the Tunisian
protests, seeking to capitalize on the new mood within the Arab world."
Over the following 18 days, the Middle East Channel published a remarkable range of analysis and commentary about the unfolding Egyptian revolution. It featured not only outstanding reporting from the ground but also incisive analysis from the Middle East Studies academic community -- who stepped up in a big way to help inform public debate at a critical time. Nathan Brown, Shadi Hamid, Sherif Mansour, Emad Shahin and Daniel Brumberg assessed Washington's response. Vickie Langhor called on the Obama administration to side with Egyptian democracy, as did Tarek Masoud, Ellen Lust and Amaney Jamal. Geneive Abdo pushed back against those who saw echoes of Tehran 1979. Helena Cobban talked to the Muslim Brotherhood, Ellis Goldberg checked in with the business community, while MEC co-editor Daniel Levy surveyed the implications for Israeli-Egyptian relations.
Nathan Brown laid out the Egyptian constitution's rulebook for change, while Tamir Moustafa asked whether Egypt needed a new constitution to have a revolution. Michael Hanna laid out the reasons to doubt Mubarak's intentions. Sheila Carapico shrewdly observed how al-Jazeera's relentless focus on Tahrir framed understandings of the revolution. In one of Foreign Policy's most widely read, and arguably prescient, early contributions, Robert Springborg warned that the military's role in the transition meant that by February 2 the chance for democracy in Egypt had already been lost. Ambassador David Mack warned observers to curb their enthusiasm. I offered a stream of commentary from Washington. And all of this is only a small part of what appeared on Foreign Policy over those critical weeks.
This week, the Middle East Channel is proud to offer a wide range of commentary looking at an Egypt one year after the outbreak of the revolution. Among the highlights, including a few from last month for perspective:
More is coming over the course of the day, and I'll update the post as those pieces go live.
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Giggling over a
communal pot of couscous, the girls swap stories and take turns pushing each
other across the room on wheely chairs. Douha Rihi, 20, a German language
major, wants to study abroad in Berlin. Sana Brahim, 23, is pursuing a master's
degree in Microbiology. They don't look like the kind of young women you'd
expect to find at the center of a major ideological controversy, but here they
are -- all ten of them -- perched on the second level of the university
administration building, fighting for their right to wear the full Muslim face
veil, called niqab, inside classrooms and during exams.
Along with a group of scraggly-bearded young Salafi men, these girls have been occupying the University of Manouba College of Arts and Humanities administration building since November 28 of last year. Their protest has resulted in the continued closure of one of Tunisia's largest campuses since December 6 and has kept an estimated 13,000 students from attending their classes.
FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
It's time for the official, Aardvark-certified list of the Best Books on the Middle East for 2011! (See last year's winners here.) Next year's list will undoubtedly be dominated by books addressing this year's uprisings which have transformed the Arab world, but not many significant books on the topic were published in 2011. That'll hopefully change on March 27, when my own book The Arab Uprising comes out -- don't worry, it won't be eligible for the 2012 awards of course! -- and, all joking aside, when a number of great journalists and scholars weigh in with books in the pipeline. In the meantime, you can always go back to Revolution in the Arab World, the eBook based on Foreign Policy articles, which I think remains an outstanding guide to the first few months.
First, the ground rules. The awards are limited to English-language books that were published in calendar year 2011 and which dealt primarily with the contemporary broader Middle East. I read more than 65 books published this year which fit that description, from academic and trade presses alike. The award is entirely subjective, based on what I found impressive or interesting. There's no committee, no publishers sent me free copies or offered up lucrative swag, and I couldn't read everything -- especially if books were published too late in the year or if publishers insisted on releasing them only as $90 hardcovers. If your book didn't make the list, however, then you know what do do (hint: you really can't go wrong by blaming Blake Hounshell).
And with that...the 2011 Aardvark Awards for the Best Books on the Middle East:
Assiut feels far away from the famed epicenter of Tahrir Square. The oft-neglected peripheral region of Upper Egypt (the cultivated valley of the Nile from Cairo in the north to Aswan, 535 miles south) has been plagued by institutional apathy for years, long dismissed as a dead-end, from where one travels to the capital for work and never returns. When Egypt's contentious de-facto leaders, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), speak of a silent but loyal majority, or "liberals," fret about the backward religious and violence-prone rural areas, they have cities like Assiut in mind. But the reality is far more complicated. Assiut and Tahrir are bound together by personal connections and shared concerns -- inextricable ties that suggest a far more nuanced emerging Egypt than is generally felt from the central nerve of Cairo.
Lauren E. Bonn
In 1955, Albert Hourani, the Oxford historian and bestselling author of A History of the Arab Peoples, published a short article called "The Vanishing Veil: A Challenge to the Old Order." Pointing out that veiling was a fast-disappearing practice in most Arab societies, Hourani gave a brief history of how it was fading from modern society -- and why it would soon become a thing of the past.
The trend to unveil, Hourani wrote, had begun in Egypt in the early 20th century, set in motion by the writer Qasim Amin. Amin had argued that "gradual and careful change in the status of women," including women's casting off their veils, was now an essential step in the advancement of Muslim societies -- and "not contrary to the principles of Islam." Although Amin's ideas had been met with great resistance, Hourani recounted how they gradually gained acceptance and spread among the "more advanced Arab countries," first in Egypt and then "Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq."
Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty Images
When Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in Tunisia on Dec. 17 after a municipal worker confiscated his wares, it appeared to be simply another sad story in a region plagued by corruption, brutal state security services, and lack of accountability. But against all odds, his act of desperation has spurred a wave of reform that has engulfed the entire region, toppling the autocratic regimes in Tunisia and Egypt and threatening to engulf other countries across the Middle East.
But the uprising has not followed the same course in every country. In Jordan, protests have forced the government to abandon liberal reforms in favor of an unsustainable economic status quo. In Algeria, they have highlighted the public's disaffection with the political process. In other countries, the reverberations from the popular upheaval are still unclear. In the West Bank, for example, opinions remain divided about whether the events represent an opportunity for the Palestinian Authority, or its death knell.
MOHAMMAD HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
The bombing of the Church of the Two Saints in Alexandria following a New Year's Eve liturgy was widely, and rightly, interpreted as a dangerous escalation of the ongoing tensions in Egypt between the country's majority Muslim population and its Coptic minority, the largest such population in the Arab world. The bombing was followed by a cruder attack by an off-duty policeman on a group of Copts on board a train in Upper Egypt. While alarming, such events were not novel. They were preceded last year by an attack on Coptic Orthodox Christmas Eve against a church in the Upper Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi that resulted in the deaths of six parishioners and a Muslim security guard. Approaching the recent attack as a sui generis occurrence, as the Mubarak regime would prefer, reflects Egypt's convenient historical amnesia about violence and institutionalized discrimination against Copts. In fact, the roots of the current crisis in Egypt are much deeper and can be traced back through Egypt's 20th Century history, the end result of which is a state of affairs where Copts do not enjoy equal rights as Egyptian citizens.
A frail old man, wearing a black turban and ankle-length robes, stepped out of an Air France 747 into a chill February morning. His back hunched, he clutched the arm of a steward as he took faltering steps down a portable ramp to touch Iranian soil. After 15 years in exile, Ruhollah Khomeini had come home, the 78-year-old spiritual leader of a popular revolution that had toppled the shah of Iran and humbled SAVAK, his American-backed secret police force. Several million people from all across the country thronged into the capital to welcome the ayatollah, lining the 20-mile route out to Behesht-Zahra cemetery, where many of the martyrs of the revolution were buried. "The holy one has come!" they shouted triumphantly. "He is the light of our lives!" At the cemetery Khomeini prayed and delivered a 30-minute funeral oration for the dead. Then a boys' chorus sang, "May every drop of their blood turn to tulips and grow forever. Arise! Arise! Arise!"
In the decade between Khomeini's return to Tehran and the imposition of his fatwa on Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses -- and it was almost 10 years to the day that the one followed the other -- Islamism mutated from being a minor irritant to nationalist regimes in Muslim countries into a major threat to the West. The Rushdie affair, and the fatwa in particular, seemed like a warning that the seeds of the Iranian revolution were being successfully scattered across the globe, not least into the heart of the secular West.
GABRIEL DUVAL/AFP/Getty Images
This article originally appeared in the April 29, 2010 (Volume 57, Number 7) issue of the New York Review of Books and is re-published with permission on the Middle East Channel.
and Its Army: From Cohesion to Confusion
by Stuart A. Cohen
Routledge, 210 pp., $39.95 (paper)
Soldiers' Testimonies from Operation Cast Lead, Gaza 2009
by Breaking the Silence
112 pp., available at www.breakingthesilence.org.il
Israel's Religious Right and the Question of Settlements
a report by the International Crisis Group
45 pp., available at www.crisisgroup.org
by Yagil Levy
Lexington, 285 pp., $34.95 (paper)
One evening last October, several hundred new recruits to the Shimshon Battalion filed into the vast plaza adjoining the Western Wall in Jerusalem. At a site normally thronged with worshipers, the soldiers gathered to be sworn in to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), surrounded by parents and well-wishers who snapped pictures and recorded the proceedings with handheld video cameras. One of the videos would soon make news, capturing the moment when, instead of proudly reciting the oath of loyalty in which military induction ceremonies traditionally culminate in Israel, two of the recruits unfurled a banner that left the nature of their loyalties unclear. "Shimshon Does Not Evacuate Homesh," the banner proclaimed.
In the conflict studies courses I teach, I expose my students to theories that claim state-sanctioned inequality is a source of perpetual conflict. I know this to be true not only from my academic research, but from personal experience: I also run a small research institution in the northern Israeli city of Haifa that focuses on the status of the Palestinian citizens in Israel and their relationship with the state. This population, with the silent complicity of the United States, has long been the target of official state policies of discrimination.
AWAD AWAD/AFP/Getty Images
As the news broke that his cross-sectarian alliance was leading last month's parliamentary election with 91 seats, former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi was seen on television, grinning and receiving well-wishers in his Baghdad headquarters. His supporters took to the streets, jubilantly dancing and exchanging congratulatory embraces. It was, however, a short-lived victory. Since election day, there has been little reason for either the leaders of his coalition, al-Iraqiyya, or the 2,851,823 voters who endorsed the alliance, to celebrate.
Christians around the world have just finished celebrating the Easter holiday--and thousands did so by making the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem (where the Church of Holy Sepulchre is one of Christianity's most revered sites). Yet for many Palestinian Christians who have attempted to make this journey, ongoing Israeli restrictions on movement have made this a particularly discouraging holiday, with many being turned away at Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank, specifically in Bethlehem where hundreds demonstrated in the week leading up to Easter.
The Middle East Channel offers unique analysis and insights on this diverse and vital region of more than 400 million.