Ambiguous religion policy backfires on Tunisia’s ruling Islamists

(Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist Ennahda movement, Tunisia’s main Islamist political party, arrives to address a news conference in Tunis December 5, 2012. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi)

The young man at the entrance to Zitouna, the oldest mosque in the Tunis medina, was adamant. Non-Muslims could no longer enter the building, not even just its outside gallery overlooking the busy souk.

“You can only come in if you declare, ‘There is no god but God and Mohammad is God’s messenger’,” he said – effectively making conversion to Islam the new admission ticket to a monument that used to welcome non-Muslim visitors.

Hardline views like these have spread through Tunisia in the past two years as radical Muslims seized control of about a fifth of all mosques, attacked westernised liberals and tried to impose their puritan ideas on one of the most secular Arab societies.

The governing party Ennahda, which formally advocates a democratic form of Islamism, long treated the radicals mildly, seeing them as informal allies in reclaiming Islam’s place in the small North African country.

Fledgling democracy could survive crisis in Islamist-led Tunisia

(Anti-government protesters hold flares and shout slogans during a demonstration in Tunis August 24, 2013. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi.)

Tunisia, birthplace of the Arab uprisings of 2011, is locked in a standoff between its Islamist-led government and secular opposition that could be decisive for the success of its experiment in democracy.

The small North African nation could still make this work, if its political class can rise above party rivalries to follow a road map to the rule of law laid out in 2011, analysts say.

from The Great Debate:

Why a medieval peasant got more vacation time than you

Life for the medieval peasant was certainly no picnic. His life was shadowed by fear of famine, disease and bursts of warfare. His diet and personal hygiene left much to be desired. But despite his reputation as a miserable wretch, you might envy him one thing: his vacations.

Plowing and harvesting were backbreaking toil, but the peasant enjoyed anywhere from eight weeks to half the year off. The Church, mindful of how to keep a population from rebelling, enforced frequent mandatory holidays. Weddings, wakes and births might mean a week off quaffing ale to celebrate, and when wandering jugglers or sporting events came to town, the peasant expected time off for entertainment. There were labor-free Sundays, and when the plowing and harvesting seasons were over, the peasant got time to rest, too. In fact, economist Juliet Shor found that during periods of particularly high wages, such as 14th-century England, peasants might put in no more than 150 days a year.

As for the modern American worker? After a year on the job, she gets an average of eight vacation days annually.

Gulf Islamists irked as monarchs back Egypt’s generals

(The Kingdom Tower at night in Riyadh November 16, 2007. REUTERS/Ali Jarekji)

A scuffle broke the reflective atmosphere of Friday prayers in Riyadh’s al-Ferdous mosque after the imam deplored the recent bloody crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood protesters by the military in nearby Egypt.

The fight between members of the congregation, recorded on a widely circulated Youtube clip and reported by the daily al-Hayat newspaper, demonstrated how high feelings are running in the devoutly Muslim kingdom.

While they have been careful to express only muted dissent in public, Islamists and some other conservative Gulf Muslims are quietly seething at Saudi Arabia’s whole-hearted backing of Egyptian army chief General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.

Catholic cardinal warns of possible violence in Hong Kong over democracy protest

(Cardinal Joseph Zen (C), an outspoken critic of Beijing, along with other protesters takes part in a demonstration to demand religious freedom in China outside the China Liaison Office in Hong Kong July 11, 2012. REUTERS/Bobby Yip)

The most prominent Catholic in greater China warned on Tuesday of violence in Hong Kong next year as a planned campaign of civil disobedience demanding full democracy possibly sparks a backlash from the government after unnerving Beijing.

Cardinal Joseph Zen said he would join the Occupy Central campaign targeting Hong Kong’s financial district and would happily risk arrest, saying it was a “desperate last resort”.

Hong Kong’s paper crafters work overtime to feed hungry ghosts

(Workers carry a five-metre-long paper offering called “Buddha Boat” to burn for the Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival in Hong Kong August 25, 2013. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu)

At a workshop in an old Hong Kong neighborhood, paper craftsman Ha Chung-kin uses delicate sheets of paper and sticks of bamboo to fashion a huge, expensive boat that will soon be consigned to the flames.

The Hungry Ghosts festival that has prompted Ha’s exquisite labors centers on a superstition that the spirits of the dead return to Earth during the seventh month of the Chinese Lunar calendar, which runs from August 7 to September 4 this year.

Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood seen gaining influence amid country’s disarray

(A member of the coast battalion of the Libya Shield Force Western Brigade, sits on a truck with a mounted anti-aircraft gun, after being deployed by General National Congress (GNC) President Nouri Abusahmain, in the western suburbs of the city of Tripoli August 12, 2013. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny)

The regional unrest blocking Libyan oil ports is a microcosm of the disarray plaguing the country and sapping the authority of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan’s shaky central government, Libyan and foreign analysts say.

While local autonomy activists have been holding ports in the east, the legislature in the capital Tripoli in western Libya has been full of talk of voting no confidence in Zeidan.

Illegal rooftop temple prompts unholy ire in Chinese city

(A privately-built illegal temple-like structure is seen on the top of a 20-storey residential block in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen August 22, 2013. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu)

An elaborate temple-like structure perched on an apartment block in southeastern China is an illegal hazard that should be torn down, residents say. But they may not be as lucky as opponents of a lavish rooftop villa in Beijing.

The temple in Shenzhen is believed to have been on the roof for about seven years but the complaints have hit the spotlight only after a doctor in Beijing was given 15 days to demolish his 800-square-metre (8,600-square-foot) house and garden built illegally atop a 26-storey apartment block.

Tunisian Islamists inch towards negotiations with secular opposition

(Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist Ennahda movement, speaks during a news conference in Tunis August 15, 2013. REUTERS/ Zoubeir Souissi)

Tunisia’s governing Islamists edged closer to negotiations with secular opponents on Thursday by agreeing in principle to a plan for a transition toward new elections proposed by the powerful trade unions.

The birthplace of the Arab Spring revolts, Tunisia is struggling to defend its nascent democracy against political polarization and popular discontent, especially after Egypt’s army ousted another elected Islamist leader, Mohamed Mursi.

from John Lloyd:

What’s next for the Muslim Brotherhood?

CAIRO – The Muslim Brotherhood is on the run.

Its leaders, including its Supreme Guide, Mohamed Badie, are in prison. Badie’s only son, Ammar, was killed during the military’s clearing of protests last week. Badie’s deputy, Mahmout Ezzat replaced him, and is apparently free for now, but others are imprisoned or sought for arrest. Its protestors have been scattered by police and the army, losing hundreds of lives in the process. The cancellation of its legal status is now being discussed by the military-backed government. Former President Hosni Mubarak’s release on Thursday, from jail to house arrest, is salt in a wound. As they fall from the heights of leadership, so the old and reviled leader climbs, if shakily, out of the pit.

In a special report, Reuters correspondents wrote that the Brotherhood originally had decided not to contest for power after the fall of Mubarak, arguing -- according to the U.S. scholar Nathan Brown, who met the senior Brotherhood official Khairat El-Shater several times -- that "the burdens of Egypt are too big for any one political actor.” Yet, in power, it insisted on being that one actor.

Neither a visionary nor an efficient politician, Mohamed Mursi issued meaningless calls for unity and moderation, while rooting legislative power in an Islamist-dominated Shura Council that he appointed. He brushed aside all proposals for inclusion of other forces and sought to make his office unchallengeable. Mohammed Habib, a former deputy supreme leader of the Brotherhood, now a renegade with his own party, wrote in the Egypt Independent this week that, "they lost everything due to their failure to understand what was happening around them.”