Thousands of Coptic Christians have gathered at St. Mark's Cathedral in Cairo to mourn the death of Pope Shenouda III. Shenouda, who had led the Coptic Church since 1971, died on Saturday at the age of 88 from "complications in health and from old age" according to his political advisor, Hany Aziz. Sheikh Ahmed el Tayib, grand imam of al-Azhar, Egypt's highest Islamic authority, mourned Shenouda's passing saying "Egypt has lost one of its rare men at a sensitive moment when it most needs the wisest of its wise -- their expertise and their purity of minds." The Coptic leader was internationally esteemed by many as a "respected and visionary leader," but in recent years had met criticism for his cooperation with ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and for failing to speak out for Coptic rights in the country plagued by sectarian divisions. Coptic Christians comprise 10 percent of the Egyptian population, and as such are the largest Christian minority in the Middle East.
Heavy clashes erupted early Monday between Syrian security forces and armed defectors in the wealthy and highly secured neighborhood of Mezzeh in the capital of Damascus. According to activists and residents, it was the most intense violence in Damascus since the beginning of the uprising over a year ago, and also particularly surprising coming in the area located near the security force headquarters and homes to many diplomats and United Nations offices. A member of the opposition activist network the Revolutionary Leadership Council said: "Some people came to Mezzeh and they are trying to attack Mezzeh residents. They are calling them names and taking them out of their houses...The security forces are all around the place." The number of dead has been disputed, but at least 18 Syrian troops were injured according to the British based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The fighting came after three deadly bombings over the weekend -- two in Damascus that killed up to 27 people and injured 97, and a car bombing in Aleppo that killed 2 people and wounded 30. The blasts were slated by Syrian authorities as "terrorist" attacks, but activists maintain they were staged by the government to discredit the opposition. Meanwhile, a team of peacekeeping and mediation experts have arrived in Syria to work with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad on implementing the proposals of United Nations and Arab League envoy Kofi Anna.
Arguments & Analysis
'Scarce water resources will drive life-and-death politics' (Afshin Molavi, The National)
"For Arab countries, water scarcity has certainly arrived. Middle East and North African states have the least renewable water supply per capita of any region, and are considered to be one of the highest "water stress" regions in the world. With some 5 per cent of the globe's population, the Arab world has less than 1 per cent of the world's fresh water. For a region rich in other natural resources, water is not one of them. This brewing water crisis will have diverse effects in different countries, ranging from the possibility of near-term humanitarian crises in Yemen and drought-affected North African countries, to the long-term slowing of development in the GCC."
'Iran, domestic tension and foreign policy' (Omid Memarian, Open Democracy)
"The embattled Ahmadinejad thus faces a struggle to survive even until the end of his term in office. But as head government he still holds two powerful cards: Iran's booming oil revenues (partly as a result of the threats of attack) and access to the intelligence ministry. He has insinuated several times that he has information potentially damaging to the supreme-leader's supporters, which he could reveal if necessary. So Ahmadinejad could retaliate in kind if (for example) he is accused of corruption or if he or or his inner circle are put under extreme pressure. The probability of continued tension between president and supreme leader -- where (for example) the president seeks to obstruct any major political decisions taken by the supreme leader or groups under his oversight, especially in areas such as Iran's nuclear programme or its foreign policy -- is a recipe for paralysis until the end of Ahmadinejad's term."
'To save Israel, boycott the settlements' (Peter Beinart, New York Times)
"When Israel's founders wrote the country's declaration of independence, which calls for a Jewish state that "ensures complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex," they understood that Zionism and democracy were not only compatible; the two were inseparable. More than six decades later, they look prophetic. If Israel makes the occupation permanent and Zionism ceases to be a democratic project, Israel's foes will eventually overthrow Zionism itself. We are closer to that day than many American Jews want to admit. Sticking to the old comfortable ways endangers Israel's democratic future. If we want to effectively oppose the forces that threaten Israel from without, we must also oppose the forces that threaten it from within."
--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey
The Middle East Channel offers unique analysis and insights on this diverse and vital region of more than 400 million.