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from The Great Debate:

The key to understanding the ‘Arab Spring’

The United States has been unable to develop a clear national policy about the Arab Spring largely because Washington does not fully understand what’s happening in the Middle East.

The term, “Arab Spring” is itself misleading. The changes over the past 20 months have produced a fundamental transformation of the region – but not in the way most outside observers anticipated: They reflect the replacement of the dominant Arab national identity by a more Islamic identity.

This change has been evolving for more than 40 years and did not begin in January 2011 with the demonstrations across the Middle East.

The Middle East today is less Arab and more Muslim. It was clear from the start of last year’s protests that the successor governments would be less Arab nationalist and secular, and more Islamic.

from FaithWorld:

Arab revolts set to transform Middle East

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(Bahraini anti-government protesters in central Manama, February 16, 2011/Hamad I Mohammed)

The astonishing popular protests against Arab autocrats that have churned the region for three months are the authentic birth pangs of a new Middle East. Israel's American-backed attempts to bomb Hezbollah and south Lebanon into submission in 2006 did not change the region, as Condoleezza Rice predicted it would. Nor did the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq three years earlier, which former President George W. Bush touted as introducing democracy to the Arab world, have much effect.

from FaithWorld:

Can Arabs learn from Turkish model of Islam and democracy?

erdogan

(Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, December 2, 2008/Umit Bektas)

If President Hosni Mubarak bows to the clamor of the street and goes, Egyptians and other Arabs seeking to turn a page on autocratic government may look at Turkey for some clues on marrying Islam and democracy.

from Africa News blog:

Sudan-a tale of two countries

KHARTOUM, Jan 14 (Reuters) - As delighted southern Sudanese vote in a long-awaited referendum on independence, visitors to the north and south could be forgiven for thinking they were already two separate countries. Far from the orange dusty landscape of Khartoum with heavy security, newcomers landing at the airport in south Sudan's capital Juba wander off the runway to be greeted by a smack of wet, humid heat driven by the surrounding lush tropical forests. Beer adverts and often drunk soldiers adorn the few tarmacked roads in the would-be capital of what is likely to be the world's newest nation state, a culture shock to anyone coming from the Islamic north where alcohol is banned. Visitors enjoy river Nile-side restaurants where they can sip a glass of wine and eat pork products unavailable up north. The south's population is mostly Christian or follows traditional religions. African music blares throughout the town's markets, run by a web of Ugandan and Kenyan traders. Residents shout at each other in an Arabic dialect almost incomprehensible to northerners. But window dressing aside, south Sudan has effectively been operating as a separate nation since it was given a semi-autonomous government under the 2005 peace deal. Juba then set about creating what has become a state within a state. "Is (the south) ready to govern itself? That’s what they’ve been doing for the last six years, doing just that," Daivd Gressly, the top U.N. official in the south said. It has its own constitution, a separate central government,  10 state governments all answering to Juba, its own parliament and even its own laws. The two regions even have different banking systems - the north operates under Islamic sharia law while the south uses a conventional banking system. Few northern banks operate in the south, dominated by new southern Sudanese or East African banks. Ministries which began in pre-fabricated buildings often with just a minister in a lonely office with a few tea ladies and cleaners for company have become fully functioning institutions, complete with staff. "Frankly, the started with a president and a vice president and built everything from there," Gressly said. Khartoum's government was enraged when the south began opening "liaison offices" around the world which local newspaper began to call embassies. And Khartoum complained that Juba was not transferring any of the money it was collecting from customs or immigration. Juba in fact kept an entirely separate immigration system. Sudan visas, notoriously difficult to get, were bypassed by visitors who would get "Government of Southern Sudan" permits in Nairobi, travel to Juba and then fly on a domestic flight to Khartoum. One friend who entered the south overland across the Ugandan border got a "New Sudan" stamp on his passport from immigration. When Khartoum's interior ministry saw the stamp, they panicked, fined him and stamped his passport with "British infiltrator." "This is crazy - we are supposed to be one country but we can't coordinate our immigration!" One Khartoum official grumbled to me as yet another journalist arrived with papers issued in the south, but not recognised in the north. One wonder what will really change once the south becomes independent on July 9.

South Sudan President Salva Kiir votes in a referendum on independence

As delighted southern Sudanese voted in a long-awaited referendum on independence, visitors to the north and south could be forgiven for thinking they were already two separate countries.

from FaithWorld:

Christians in Arab Gulf face hurdles to worship

doha church (Photo: Worshippers pack the first Mass at St Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Doha, March 15, 2008/Fadi Al-Assaad)

Every Friday in the Muslim Gulf Arab state of Kuwait, 2,000 worshippers cram into a 600-seat church or listen outside to the mass relayed on loudspeakers, prompting their Roman Catholic bishop to worry about a stampede. "If a panic happens, it will be a catastrophe ... it is a miracle that nothing has happened," said Bishop Camillo Ballin.

These churchgoers represent only the tip of the iceberg. Ballin reckons his flock in Kuwait numbers around 350,000 out of a total of half a million Christians in the country.

from FaithWorld:

Witness – Writing on the walls in the Holy Land

bethlehem wall 1 (Photo: A Palestinian near the Israeli barrier in the Aida refugee camp in the West Bank town of Bethlehem November 9, 2009/Darren Whiteside)

Alastair Macdonald has been Reuters Bureau Chief in Israel and the Palestinian territories for the past three years. As a foreign correspondent over the past 20, he has previously been based in London, Paris, Moscow, Berlin and Baghdad.  As he ends his assignment in Jerusalem, he reflects in the following story on how he has watched people in the region build an array of barriers, both physical and emotional, to cut themselves off from each other.

With one last exit stamp in my passport, I end a three-year reporting assignment in the Holy Land that has been marked by images of frontiers, by a sense of walls going up and fewer and fewer people finding a way through.

from FaithWorld:

Iraq’s Arab neighbours wary of Shi’ite sway after vote

iraq shi'ites

Shi'ites mark the religious ceremony of Arbain at Imam Abbas shrine in Kerbala, 5 Feb 2010/Mushtaq Muhammed

Iraq's Arab neighbours fear a split Iraqi election could further marginalise minority Sunnis and hope any coalition government formed by the Shi'ite frontrunner will resist Iran's sway. Many Sunni Arabs had wanted a stronger showing by secularists, who they now hope will bring cross-sectarian balance to any coalition government that could be formed by Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

from MacroScope:

Traffic back on Dubai roads

Dubai’s traffic – the bane of pre-financial crisis life in the city -- is back. 

At rush hour, queues of cars snake along the Gulf Arab boomtown’s highways. But this time, nobody is complaining. At least not yet.

from Africa News blog:

Will Bashir warrant worsen war?

Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has seen off other challenges in almost 20 years in power and there is no sign that he is going to give in to the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

Some supporters of the court's move hope it will eventually persuade Sudan's politicians to hand over their leader in a palace coup, end the festering conflict in Darfur and do more to repair relations with the West.

from Summit Notebook:

Obama victory could help Gulf economies, Kuwaiti banker says

A Barack Obama victory in the U.S. presidential election on Tuesday could bring much-needed good news to the Gulf Arab region, the chairman of Kuwait’s banking association told a Reuters summit.
Gulf Arab stock exchanges have tumbled this year and its economies are forecast to slow as the price of oil, its main export, drops.
The prospect of conflict involving nearby Iran is often cited as a risk factor for investing in the oil-exporting region.
“Maybe the pressure that is on this region in terms of U.S.-Iran tension might ease up,” said Abdulmajeed al-Shatti, who is also chairman of Commercial Bank of Kuwait, the chairman country's third-largest lender. “Obama has indicated he would engage Iran and if the U.S. wants to change Iran, it has to engage.”

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