Khoury: ‘Winter or Spring for Syrian Christians?’

Doreen Khoury of Heinrich Böll Stiftung in Beirut has an interesting article titled ‘Is it Winter or Spring for Christians in Syria?’ It provides an interesting of institutions and political views and responses to Arab uprisings among Levantine Christians and in light of the Maspero atrocity. It manages to avoid the sectarian and communalist overtones of much of the western and politically vested commentary on the issue and is worth considering.

The abstract:

In recent months, there has been much debate on the future of minority Christians sects in the Arab world followingthe popular uprisings. The Maspero tragedy in Egypt, during which Coptic Christians were attacked and killed by thearmy, and the resurgence of Islamic parties in the region has led many Christians, especially in Syria and Lebanon,to question whether they will survive the Arab Spring. Many have also questioned the wisdom of regime change inSyria, arguing that the downfall of the Assad regime, long perceived as a protector of minorities, threatens the existence of Christians. But the question is to what extent is the Arab world hostile to Christians? And how wise is it forthem to support the Assad regime?

Read the whole thing here. What do readers think?

A Rant in Exasperation

On 20 October Tyler Roylance took issue with a piece by Ross Douthat on the effects of ‘democracy’ and ‘popular sovereignty’ on Copts in Egypt in the wake of the Maspero events. Roylance’s rebuttal is worth reading as it tackles Mr. Douthat’s contradictions and errors very clearly. As readers may know, this blogger has taken issue with Mr. Douthat’s writing about Islam and Muslims and the Middle East before — especially his indulgence and promotion of Eurabian conspiracy theories. This blogger would like to write a diatribe against Mr. Douthat; and he intends to at some point in the near future, though this will likely prove a waste of time. This post is a rant on his column from last week, which demonstrates his inability to comprehend problems facing minorities in any nuanced or clear way, or his tendency to force-fit complex issues into a sectarian and partisan narrative built on a questionable understanding of the facts involved. Continue reading

Vague Thoughts on Arab Uprisings (III)

It is worthwhile to put down some thoughts several months out from the winter events that began in Tunisia and became what some call the “Arab Spring” or “awakening”. This blog does not write about “Arab revolutions”; no such thing has taken place in the Arab countries from a results-oriented stand point. Important and substantive political change came to a number of Arab countries in 2011. But nothing as of yet can be called a revolution, socially, economically, culturally or politically in the Arab region. There are multiple transitions and unresolved conflicts playing out. The Libyan and Syrian uprisings of yet have the greatest potential for fundamental reordering of politics and society of the all the Arab revolts. Tunisia comes in a sturdy third; Egypt and Yemen perhaps lag the farthest behind of those countries having seen mass movements this year. There is as much ground pessimism and skepticism regarding the Arab uprisings as optimism and gleeful excitement. So this is a “thought dump” following that line of thinking. 1900 words are probably too much but the word count here is unlimited.  Continue reading

Fisher’s Comparisons RE: the Ikhwan

Islamist parties like the Muslim Brotherhood and an-Nahda are often well organized and popular. They enjoy numerous advantages over secular parties in being able to tap into religious networks and other, secular parties have often been crippled and divided by years of successful politicking at the hands of repressive regimes. Conventional wisdom says Islamist parties will out do all others in free elections in Tunisia or Egypt, or even most Arab countries. This is not certain, but it is likely. Other scenarios are possible, if not probable as well.

The obsession with religious parties is at times almost humorous. In popular outlets, sensationalism and exaggeration are the rule, this is especially true. This being said, Max Fisher writes: Continue reading


One of this blogger’s favorite Arab poets is Mutran Khalil Mutran. Mutran was also famous for translating several of Shakespeare’s plays into Arabic He was born in Ottoman Syria but moved to Egypt where he did much of his work. His peers included Ahmed Shawqi, Mahmoud El-Barudi and others. He was one of many fine Arab poets in the late 19th and early 20th century.

“Boycott”  مقاطعة , written in a tone of exceptional defiance, is worth reproducing given recent events.

شـرّدوا أخيارها بحراً وبــرا

واقتلوا أحـرارها حراً فحرا

إنما الصـالح يبقى صالحاً

آخر الدهـر ويبقى الشر شرا

كسروا الأقلام هل تكسيرها

يمنع الأيدي أن تنفش الصخرا

قطعوا الأيدي هل تقطيعها

يمنع الأعين أن تنظـر شزرا

اطفئوا الأعين هل إطفاؤها

يمنع الأنفاس أن تصعد زفرا

أخمدوا الأنفاس ، هذا جهدكم

وبه منجاتنا منكم…فشكرا

A quick and crude translation:

Displace our best by land and by sea!

And kill our free, freedman after freedman [one by one]!

But in the long run good will remain good

And evil will remain evil.

Snap our pens! Will breaking them

Stop our hands from carving into stones?

Cut off our hands! Will hacking them off

Keep our eyes from casting our glare upon you?

Poke out our eyes! Will blinding us

Stop our chest(s) from breathing exasperated sighs?

Smother our breathing!

For that is the extent of your powers [For that is your effort or power] —

And in it lays our salvation. Thank you.

Forgive excesses and erors in the translation.

Uprisings and western perspectives

President Barack Obama talks on the phone with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in the Oval Office, Jan. 28, 2011. Vice President Joe Biden listens at left, and the President’s National Security team confer in the background. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)  Two complexes afflict western, especially American and French, policy in the Middle East and the Muslim countries generally: 1) the Tehran ’79 Syndrome; and 2) the Algiers ’92 Syndrome. In both cases Islamist factions effectively co-opted popular unrest in the first case turning a generalized revolt against a particular pro-western dictator into an “Islamic Revolution” that torpedoed a presidential re-election campaign and tanked a major American ally and in the second a predominantly Muslim polity held free elections in which an Islamist party won the overwhelming majority of votes and then devolved into a decade long Civil War. In the first case, the lesson was to stand by allies in times of crisis for strategic as well as domestic political reasons. No American president, especially no Democratic president, wants to end a first term like Jimmy Carter did. In the second, the lesson as that democratic processes in Muslim polities, especially in Arab ones, lead to Islamist victories which drastically increases the risk factor associated with political reform or popular protest. The emergency laws so popular in many Arab states (and which usually ban demonstrations or significantly the activities of political parties) therefore seem easily justifiable from the standpoint of western interests. In both cases, the country put at risk was a major oil or gas producer. Both countries were strategically positioned in terms of either Eurasian or European geopolitics, though one less than the other (Iran in relation to the Persian Gulf and the Soviet Union; Algeria in terms of southern Europe, particularly in terms of immigration and Mediterranean shipping and energy). The Iranian problem cast its shadow over the Algerian one; and the Algerian experience has loomed over other Arab-Muslim experiments with democracy in America, Europe and the Arab countries. Iran looms more heavily in the American psyche — with the hostage crisis the Iranian revolution was an enormous humiliation and geopolitical shake up. The Algerian crisis was more serious in the French mind, but has been prominent in American analysis and thinking about Islamists and elections. It is key to notice that most American writing on Algeria is preoccupied with two phases of the country’s history and one dimension of its politics after 1980: the War of Independence, the 1990/1992 elections and coup and the role of Islamists until about 1999 when material dries up and becomes more narrowly specialized. This abridged and (over)simplified for brevity’s sake but the basic point is here (and this is meant to describe of all official or academic view points on the region). Continue reading