2011 has so far proven to be tumultous for the Middle East, with protests, violence, and political maneuverings taking place across the region. In light of all of these developments, I thought I would use this time to inaugurate what I hope will be a regular feature of my blog: A Week in Review.
21 people were killed and dozens injured in a heinous attack on a Coptic Church in Alexandria, Egypt. The attacks sparked rowdy demonstrations by Coptic Christians, who blamed the Egyptian authorities for not doing enough to protect the religious minority. Coptic Christians represent approximately 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 80 million (largest in the Arab world). While Muslim-Christian relations are often tense, and incidences of violence are increasingly frequent, I have always found that Egyptians are proud of this religious diversity. In the aftermath of the attack, I have seen dozens of messages/groups/postings on Facebook promoting inter-faith cooperation and understanding.
I hope that Egyptians are able to come together over this, and that the perpetrator’s intent of dividing the country and instilling fear into the Christian community is in vain. It is sad to me that the Middle East, which used to be a safe haven for victims of European religious persecution, is now the breeding ground for such extremism. Such goes against the Muslim tradition of religious tolerance, and against the Egyptian value of inter-faith comradery. I hope that Egyptians can prove to the world that such extremism is unwelcome, and, in accordance with one of the recent Facebook messages, that “Terrorism has no Religion.”
This stable country in North Africa was turned on its head after a 26 year old man set himself on fire in a dramatic attempt to commit suicide. The dramatic act came out of desperation over poor economic opportunities, and has come to represent growing public frustration over high-unemployment and rising cost of living. The act of self-immolation sparked a series of protests which turned increasingly bold and are met with police brutality, resulting in a number of injuries and at least one death. If this weren’t dramatic enough, this is all taking place in what is possibly the most tightly controlled state in the Middle East. Tunisia likes to think of itself as one of the most modern states in the Middle East, but it doesn’t seem to think that democracy has any role in modernity. Human rights abuses are high, state censorship is ominipresent, and the govenrment has little tolerance for public unrest.
Despite this tough environment, some democratic activsts have been able to fight back through blogging and cyberactivism. However, the Tunisian authorities have no qualms about limiting online space, and government-sponsored hackings have been increasingly frequent in response to the recent public protests.
Keep your eye on this country. These protests aren’t receiving the same amount of news coverage as the 2009-20010 protests in Iran, due to stricter media censorship in Tunisia and high U.S. interest in all things anti-Iranian regime, but these protests in Tunisia aren’t yet over.
Now here is a juicy story for you…Mohammad Dahlan, former Gaza strongman and one of the big men in the Fatah movement, has fallen out of favor with the organization. In a shocking development, Fatah announced that Dahlan has been removed from his position as head of Fatah media commission, and that he is under investigation for plotting a coup against Fatah leader and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. You may remember Dahlan from a Vanity Fair expose on the Bush administration’s efforts to spark a coup in Gaza after the Hamas win of the 2006 elections. Needless to say, Dahlan is a bit of a shifty character, but I don’t know how much we can believe the Fatah charges against him. While Dahlan certainly seems to have a history of planning coups, Abbas also has a history of strategically ostracizing individuals who may be a threat.