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from Photographers' Blog:
By Khaled Abdullah
The “Arab Spring” revolutions have helped societies in countries throughout the Middle East achieve hopes of change. But in Yemen, one group is still a long way from achieving its dreams.
The Akhdam, Yemen's marginalized black minority, has suffered for centuries from perpetual discrimination and cultural persecution, and they are seen as "untouchables" at the bottom of the country’s social hierarchy.
Akhdam is a literal translation of the Arabic word “servants,” but the community prefers to be called the Muhamasheen – “the marginalized people”.
They are estimated to make up around 1.5 million of Yemen's roughly 26 million residents, and they are widely perceived by mainstream society to be the descendants of Ethiopians who crossed the Red Sea to conquer Yemen before the arrival of Islam some 1,400 years ago.
Malaysia and the Vatican agreed on Monday to establish diplomatic ties, a move seen by analysts as a bid by the Malaysian government to appease minority Christians in the mainly Muslim Southeast Asian country. Prime Minister Najib Razak is trying to mend the government's relations with Christians who make up about 9 percent of the country's 28 million after a rise in religious tensions ahead of general elections widely expected next year.
Middle East Christians are struggling to keep hope alive with Arab Spring democracy movements promising more political freedom but threatening religious strife that could decimate their dwindling ranks. Scenes of Egyptian Muslims and Christians protesting side by side in Cairo's Tahrir Square five months ago marked the high point of the euphoric phase when a new era seemed possible for religious minorities chafing under Islamic majority rule.
Sectarian tension between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims has reached new heights in Bahrain after pro-democracy protests that the Sunni minority government crushed with martial law and foreign military forces. Inspired by the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, Sunni and Shi'ite Bahrainis took to the streets in early February to demand political reforms in a country where the ruling Al Khalifa family appoints cabinet ministers and an upper house of parliament, neutering the powers of the elected assembly.
The Christian church in eastern Libya, which traces its roots back two millennia to the era of Christ, is fighting for survival because war has forced nearly all its worshippers to flee. But Muslims in Libya's rebel-held east are keen to show that Christians are still welcome, drawing a contrast with the Christian community's turbulent history under Muammar Gaddafi, whose rule in the east was ended by mass protests in February.
For Rafik, a member of Egypt's Coptic Christian minority, the myth that President Hosni Mubarak is the community's best defense against Islamist militants was shattered by an Alexandria church bombing on New Year's Day. He and other Copts continued to demonstrate alongside at least 1 million Egyptians on Tuesday, saying their desire to end Mubarak's three-decade rule was for now more pressing than any fears that a change of power might empower Islamist groups.
Pope Benedict will boost the European majority among the men due to elect his successor when he creates 24 new cardinals at the Vatican on Saturday. The nominations are part of a wider strategy by the German-born pope to strengthen Roman Catholicism in Europe. The following is a guest contribution and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Jean-Marie Guénois is deputy editor-in-chief of the Paris daily Le Figaro and a specialist on religion. The article first appeared in French on his Religioblog.*
By Jean-Marie Guénois
We always knew that Benedict XVI is a European pope, but lately he’s been proving this more and more clearly. In this phase of his five-year papacy, the the old continent is clearly his priority. For the past two years, the European destinations have taken precedence over all his travel (France, Czech Republic, Malta, Cyprus, Portugal, United Kingdom). Twelve of his 18 international trips have also been devoted to Europe. As for the visits due next year, they will all be in Europe: Croatia, Spain and Germany (his third visit there as pope).
The prominence of Britain's Muslim minority in the nation's debate about security and social cohesion provides the backdrop to journalist Zaiba Malik's memoir of growing up a British Muslim of Pakistani descent.
"We Are A Muslim, Please" tells how she was raised by first generation immigrant parents in the run-down former industrial center of the northern English city of Bradford in a tradition of conservative piety.
A wave of religious fervour and a backlash by secular liberals has left some ordinary Egyptians feeling like strangers in their own country, and civil rights activists warn of a dangerous drift into sectarianism.
Banker Hussein Khalil says organising something as simple as an evening out with friends has turned into a headache.
(Photo: Presidents Christian Wulff (R) and Abdullah Gül, followed by wives Bettina (R) and Hayrünnisa, during official welcome in Ankara October 19, 2010/Umit Bektas)
When German President Christian Wulff recently declared that Islam "belongs to Germany," Christian Democratic politicians there howled and Muslims living in Germany and Turkey cheered. Now Wulff, on an official visit to Turkey, has told the Turkish parliament that "Christianity too, undoubtedly, belongs to Turkey." This time there was applause in Germany, and silence from the Turkish deputies listening to him in Ankara on Tuesday.
In both cases, Wulff's words could not have come at a better time. (Photo: President Wulff address the Turkish parliament, with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Turkey's EU Minister Egemen Bagis (L) in the background/Umit Bektas)
Germany is in the grip of an emotional debate about Islam and Muslim integration. When Wulff said in his Oct. 3 German Unity Day address that Islam was now part of German society, given the large number (about 4 million) of Muslims living there, it was demographically obvious and politically risky. Several of his fellow Christian Democrats have challenged his view and insisted Germany had a "Judeo-Christian heritage" that Islam did not share. But Wulff, who was considered something of a lightweight for the ceremonial role when he was elected last July, has taken a clear stand on a political and moral issue -- just like Germans want their head of state to do. He is, as the Financial Times Deutschland entitled its editorial on Wednesday, "Finally A President."