Reuters blog archive
from The Great Debate:
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.
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.
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:
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.
(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.
(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.
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 Africa News blog:
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:
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.”