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Religion and Politics in Arab States, including Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria

See also Egypt, Israel/Palestine, North Africa, Saudi Arabia

1. Brief Introduction
2. A Short Introductory Course
3. Other Resource Materials
4. Recent Articles

1. Brief Introduction to Religion and Politics in Arab States

“Not all Arabs are Muslims and the majority of Muslims are not Arabs.” However, Islam began in Arab lands, its Holy Places and most prestigious venues for study are located there, and the emphasis on keeping the Qur’an in Arabic have all privileged Arabs in the interpretation of the religion. Islam’s “Golden Era,” its first political successes, also took place in Arab Empires like the ‘Abbasid, whose capital was Baghdad. Regional political leadership then passed to the Turkish Ottomans and later to the Christian British who favored the Sunnis against the Shiites in countries like Iraq. In contemporary politics, the 22-member Arab League, or League of Arab States, has always had difficulty articulating common policy because of the very different political orientations of its members. The League, currently headquartered in Cairo, was founded in 1945 by seven states (with 2008 HDI rankings): Egypt (#112), Iraq, Jordan (#86), Lebanon (#88), Saudi Arabia (#61), Syria (#108), and Yemen (#153). Since then, the following members have joined in this order: Libya (#56), Sudan (#147), Morocco (#126), Tunisia  (#91), Kuwait (#33), Algeria (#104), United Arab Emirates (#39), Bahrain (#41),  Qatar (#35), Oman (#58), Mauritania (#137), Somalia, Palestine (#102 in 2005), Djibouti (#149), Comoros (#134). Eritrea(#157) became an observer in 2003. The League suspended Egypt 1979-89 after President Sadat signed the Camp David Accords. The total area of the Arab League is almost 14 million square kilometers, and the population is over 320 million. Per capita income is approximately $8,000. Egypt’s tradition of Islamic studies plus its one-fourth of the Arab League population supports its claims to leadership. Cases have also been made for Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. Syria exercised considerable influence in Lebanon from the period of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-91). All Arab League members also belong to the much larger Organization of the Islamic Conference. Turkey and Iran remain strong non-Arab Muslim countries with interests in the whole Middle East.

With the breakup of the Ottoman Empire following World War I and the waning of British and French influence following World War II, the politics of the region became more diverse. Israel gained its independence in 1948 in a war with five Arab states, thus becoming the principal challenge to Arab leadership in the region. The charismatic Gamal Nassar then became the Egyptian president in 1953 and advocated pan-Arab revolutionary secular nationalism as the cure for Arab political weakness. His Cold War diplomatic closeness to the Soviet Union pushed oil-rich monarchies like Iran and Saudi Arabia closer to the United States. Iraq’s Hashemite monarchy fell in 1958, the FLN emerged in Algeria in 1962, and the Palestine Liberation Organization formed in 1964. All these events, with Egyptian and Soviet support, seemed to point toward a new secular nationalist Middle East. The Israeli victory in the 1967 War, however, constituted a great defeat for Nasser, who died in 1970. The oil embargo of 1973 also strengthened petroleum countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia vis-à-vis the heavily populated, but resource poor, Egypt. 1979 witnessed both the victory of the Iranian revolution and Sadat’s signing of the Camp David Accords, which resulted in Sadat’s expulsion from the Arab League that year and his assassination in 1981. In North Africa, Muammar Qaddafi of Libya challenged Algeria’s FLN and Egypt’s Westernization by crafting a combination of personality cult to his own interpretation of Islam.

With Arab ideological leadership fragmenting, Persian Iran served as the great Middle Eastern revolutionary example, albeit Shiite. Secular Baath parties had risen in Iraq and Syria, where mutual enemies Saddam Hussein and Hafez al-Assad employed similar methods in attacking religious dissidents, Shiite in the first case and the Muslim Brotherhood in the second. In fact, Iraq’s Hussein and Iran’s Khomeini fought a brutal 1980-87 war for oil and influence. When Hussein took control of Kuwait and its oil wealth in the First Gulf War, Saudi Arabia had to rely on the United States to repulse the Iraqis, thus leading to domestic political pressures from ultra conservative Saudis like Osama bin Laden who had returned from victory over the Soviets in Afghanistan. The Al Qaeda September 11 attack raised outside U.S. pressure on the Saudi kingdom, and 2003 bombings within Saudi Arabia convinced the government that it must crack down. Finally, the U.S. attack on Iraq in 2003 removed Saddam Hussein and began the descent into chaos in the country. Israeli, American, and PLO negotiators had just missed an agreement in 2000, but the following years of Israeli intransigence and the Al Aksa intifada made things worse. Hamas took over the Palestinian parliament in 2006. The conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in summer 2006 added to the chaos. Hezbollah’s strength, supported by Iran and Syria, also scared some Sunnis about the rise in Shiite influence. It certainly cemented the triumph of Islamism over Arabism as the leading opposition ideology to authoritarian states.

What jounalists quickly called "the Arab Spring," began on December 17, 2010, when a Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi burned himself to death to protest police harassment. The resulting protests resulted in the fall of dictators in Tunisia (Ben Ali), Egypt (Mubarak), and Libya (Qaddafi). Syria exploded into civil war, with increased protests in Yemen and Bahrain. The kings of Morocco and Jordan made some adjustments and retained control. Iraq has reached a moderate stability after a decade of dysfunctional politics. Shiites in the South and Kurds in the North have seen some economic progress, with the government of Nuri al-Maliki presiding over chaotic politics in the middle where all sects must constantly negotiate violence and security barriers. See the articles below. 

Lebanon has a population of 4.1 million with a growth rate of .4% (2012 est), roughly 60% Muslim and 40% Christian. 17 religious sects are recognized. Lebanon is much more important than its size because of its geo-strategic location, connections to both Europe and the Middle East, and its history of being open to the many debates within the Arab world. The country also provides a good theoretical check on the relationship of Arabic and Islamic politics since this Arab country’s political balance has been set by law, with the president a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of the house a Shiite Muslim. In the 1950s, Lebanon was called “the Switzerland of the Middle East” because of its global banking connections, open society, and skiing in the mountains. Since the early 1960s, however, the country has had a more troubled experience as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has spilled over into the country. The 1973 war added many more Palestinian refugees and the less influential but growing Shiite population began to demand better treatment. Following the Lebanese Civil War (1975-91), Syria, with its 16,000 troops based in the Bekaa Valley, maintained strong influence until recently. This Ta’if Accord established a fairer political system, giving Muslims a greater voice in government, and institutionalized sectarian divisions in government. Most of the militias, active in the Civil War, have been disbanded, except for the Shiite Hezbollah forces in the south. Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in May 2000. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 in October 2004 demanded that Syria also withdraw its forces. The assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in February 2005 fostered massive demonstrations against Syrian presence (“the Cedar Revolution”), and Syria withdrew its troops in April 2005. Rafiq’s son, Saad Hariri led the winning coalition in the parliamentary elections of May-June 2005. Then came the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah in summer 2006, which greatly damaged the southern part of the country and led to a period of great political instability. Finally, in May 2008 the various factions reached an agreement in Doha mediated by Qatar with the support of all the relevant Middle Eastern nations. See recent articles below.

Syria has a population of over 22.5 million, with a growth rate of -.8% (July 2012 est). It ranked #108 in the 2008 HDI index. The population is 74% Sunni Muslim, 16% Alawite, Druze, and other Muslim sects, and 10% Christian. Iraq has a population of almost 29 million, with a growth rate of 2.51% (July 2009 est). It is 60-65% Shiite, 32-37% Sunni, and 3% Christian and other. It is ethnically 75-80% Arab, 15-20% Kurdish, and 5% Turkoman,  Assyrian, and other. The country has been plunged into an internicine civil war as part of the Arab Spring. See the recent articles below. 

The first Arab Human Development Report 2002 identified three crucial deficits that held back human development in Arab countries: political rights, women’s rights, and knowledge. The second report in 2003 analyzed the knowledge deficit and proposed solutions. This third report focuses on the very controversial issues of freedom, good governance, and political reform. That report (below, p. 15) discusses the “black hole state,” which “converts its surrounding social environment into a setting in which nothing moves and from which nothing escapes.” The process starts with the absolute powers of the executive body, which then attached the parliament as a bureaucratic adjunct, an enforcement judiciary, and the security apparatus. The most vibrant current opposition groups are Islamist ones, but they have not taken power except in greatly failed states like Somalia for a short time.

Hanson (2006) discusses “Religions of the Book: Historical Revelation, Scripture, Law, and Worldview” (pp. 92-95); “The Expansion of Islam” (pp. 101-05); “Shiite Islam in the Military System: Nuclear Weapons and the Iraq War” (pp. 221-27); “The Middle East and North Africa: Jewish and Islamic Politics” (pp. 228-59); and “Global Religious Dialogue and Political-Religious Alliances” (pp. 307-15).

2. A Short Introductory Course to Religion and Politics in Arab States

Hourani offers a classic history of the Arab peoples. Eickelman and Piscatori present a concise and complicated relationships of Muslim doctrine and practice, often citing the Arabic term. The Arab Human Development Report 2004 analyzes the nature of Arab states and the prospects for democratization in the region. Tamadonfar presents a fine summary of the role of Islamism in contemporary Arab politics. Albright offers a First World foreign policy analysis on the possibilities for Arab democracy in early 2006. See the Foreign Affairs articles for current analysis of the Arab Spring. Faith and International Affairs provides a marvelous treatment of shari'a in the various countries.

Hourani, Albert. A History of the Arab Peoples (Cambridge: Belnap, 1991).

Eickelman, Dale F. and Piscatori, James. Muslim Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996). Best answer to “Who speaks for Islam?” from data to that time.

United Nations Development Programme, Arab Human Development Report 2004: Towards Freedom in the Arab World (New York: UNDP Regional Bureau for Arab States, 2005). The first Arab Human Development Report 2002 identified three crucial deficits that held back human development: political rights, women’s rights, and knowledge. The second report in 2003 analyzed the knowledge deficit and proposed solutions. This third report focuses on the very controversial issues of freedom, good governance, and political reform. Pages 5-22 present an excellent executive summary. The analytic section on the “black hole” authoritarian state is particularly cogent.

Tamadonfar, Mehran, “Islamism in Contemporary Arab Politics: Lessons in Authoritarianism and Democratization,” in Jelen and Wilcox, Comparative Politics (2002).

Albright, Madeleine, “Arab Democracy,” in The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), 217-32.

Foreign Affairs (January-February 2013), 55-74, covers contrasting views by Seth Jones and Sheri Berman on the future and the promise of the Arab Spring.

The Review of Faith & International Afairs (Winter 2012). An entire volume on shari'a in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

3. Other Key Resource Materials for Religion and Politics in Arab States

Abu-Nimer, Mohammed, Khoury, Amal I., and Welty, Emily. Unity in Diversity: Interfaith Dialogue in the Middle East. Washington, D.C.: United States Institute for Peace, 2007. Basic concepts and the cases of Lebanon, Egypt, and Jordan.

Anderson, Jon W. “Alternative Trajectories of IT Development: Shaping Arab and Muslim Cyberspace,” Santa Clara University Center for Science, Technology, and Ethics, October 23, 2003.

Anderson, Lisa, “Obligation and Accountability: Islamic Politics in North Africa,” Daedalus 120 (Summer 1991): 93-112.

An-Na’im, Abdullahi Ahmed. Toward an Islamic Reformation: Civil Liberties, Human Rights, and International Law (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1990). Forward by John Voll. Neither secular nor fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic law based on the prophet’s preaching in Mecca. Follows the teachings of Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, founder of the Sudanese Republican Brotherhood.

Armstrong, Karen. Islam: A Short History. (New York: Random House, Inc., 2000).
 
Baker, Raymond William, “Afraid for Islam: Egypt’s Muslim Centrists between Pharaohs and Fundamentalists,” in Daedalus (1991).

Boroumand, Ladan, and Boroumand, Roya, “Terror, Islam, and Democracy,”World Religions and Democracy (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 2005), 228-44.

Eickelman, Dale F., and Anderson, Jon W., eds. New Media in the Muslim World, 2nd ed. (Bloomington, IN.: Indiana University Press, 2003).

Eickelman, Dale F., “Islam and Ethical Pluralism,” Madsen, Richard, and Strong, Tracy B., eds. The Many and the One: Religious and Secular Perspectives on Ethical Pluralism in the Modern World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 161-79.

Eickelman, Dale F., “Trans-state Islam and Security,” Rudolph, Susanne Hoeber, and Piscatori, James, Transnational Religion and Fading States (Boulder, Co.: Westview Press, 1997), 27-46.

El-Affendi, Abdelwahab, “The Elusive Reformation,” World Religions and Democracy (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 2005), 212-17.

El Fadl, Khaled Abou, “Conflict Resolution as a Normative Value in Islamic Law: Handling Disputes with Non-Muslims,” in Johnston, Douglas, Faith-Based Diplomacy: Trumping Realpolitik (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 178-209.

Esposito, John L., and Voll, John O. Makers of Contemporary Islam (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

Etzioni, Amitai. “Mosque and State in Iraq,” Policy Review (October/November 2003): 65-73.

Filali-Ansary, Abdou, “The Challenge of Secularism,” World Religions and Democracy (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 2005), 192-96.

Filali-Ansary, Abdou, “Muslims and Democracy,” World Religions and Democracy (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 2005), 153-67.

Filali-Ansary, Abdou, “The Sources of Enlightened Muslim Thought,” World Religions and Democracy (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 2005), 197-211.

Fletcher, Richard. The Cross and the Crescent: Christianity and Islam from Muhammad to the Reformation (London: Penguin Press, 2003).

Fraser, Cary, “In Defense of Allah’s Realm: Religion and Statecraft in Saudi Foreign Policy Strategy,” Transnational Religion and Fading States (Boulder, Co.: Westview Press, 1997), 212-42.

Friedman, Thomas L. From Beirut to Jerusalem, updated with a new chapter. (New York: Anchor Books, 1995).

Gilsenan, Michael. Recognizing Islam: Religion and Society in the Modern Middle East (London: I.B. Taurus, 1990).
Thropological introduction of Arab Islam, comparing “what Islam comes to mean in quite different economic, political, and social structures and relations.” Section on Egyptian Sufi brotherhood.

Gonzalez-Quijano, Yves, “The Birth of a Media Ecosystem: Lebanon in the Internet Age,” in Eickelman, Dale F., and Anderson, Jon W., eds. New Media in the Muslim World, 2nd ed. Bloomington, IN.: Indiana University Press, 2003.

Huband, Mark. Warriors of the Prophet: The Struggle for Islam (Boulder: Westview Press, 1999).

Kemp, Geoffrey. Iran and Iraq: The Shia Connection, Soft Power, and the Nuclear Connection. Washington, DC: United States Institute for Peace, 2005.

Kepel, Gilles. The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West (Cambridge: Belnap, 2004).

Kubba, Laith, “Faith and Modernity,” World Religions and Democracy (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 2005), 223-7.

Lawrence, Bruce B. Shattering the Myth: Islam Beyond Violence (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998).

Lewis, Bernard. The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years. (New York: Touchstone, 1995). From before Christianity to present.

Lewis, Bernard. What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).

Lynch, Marc. Voices of the New Arab Public: Iraq, Al Jazeera, and the Middle East Today (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004).

Mamdani, Mahmood., “Whither Political Islam?” Foreign Affairs (January/February 2005).

Masmoudi, Radwan A., “The Silenced Majority,” World Religions and Democracy (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 2005), 218-22.

Masud, Muhammad Khalid, “The Scope of Pluralism in Islamic Moral Traditions,” Madsen, Richard, and Strong, Tracy B., eds. The Many and the One: Religious and Secular Perspectives on Ethical Pluralism in the Modern World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 180-94.

Mottahedeh, Roy P. “The Clash of Civilizations: An Islamicist’s Critique,” Harvard Middle Eastern and Islamic Review 2 (1995), 1: 1-26.

Murden, Simon W. Islam, the Middle East and the New Global Hegemony. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2002.

Nasr, Vali. The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006.
Qutb, Sayyid. Milestones (Indianapolis: American Trust, 1990).

Sanneh, Lamin, “Muhammad in Muslim Tradition and Practice: The Crucible of Faith and the Spheres of Dominion,” in Max L. Stackhouse and Diane B. Obenchain, eds., God and Globalization: Christ and the Dominions of Civilization (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity International Press, 2002), 272-308.

Shlaim, Avi. The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (New York: W.W. Norton, 2001).

Tehami, Amine. “The Social Construction of Political Islam in Najd (1739-86), Iran (1963-79), and Algeria (1954-95),” paper delivered at 1998 APSA, September 3-6, 1998.

Tibi, Bassam. The Challenge of Fundamentalism: Political Islam and the New World Disorder, updated edition. (Berkeley, CA.: University of California Press, 2002).

Watt, William Montgomery. Muslim-Christian Encounters: Perceptions and Misperceptions (London: Routledge, 1991). Focus on early nature of Christianity and Muslim historical perception thereof. Encounter with Greek philosophy, with medieval Europe, and under Muslim rule. The modern encounter.

Wright, Robin, “Two Visions of Reformation,” World Religions and Democracy (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 2005), 180-91.

Zubaida, Sami. Islam, The People and the State: Essays on Political Ideas and Movements in the Middle East (London and New York: I.B. Tauris & Co., 1993).

The official website of the League of Arab States.

The BBC’s site on Islam.

The official website of the Regional Bureau for Arab States, United Nations Development Programme, which has published the annual Arab Development Report since 2002.

The official site of the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development. All Arab League countries are members of this development program based in Kuwait.

The official site of the non-profit Arab Gulf Programme for United Nations Development Organizations, whose president is Prince Talal Bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia.

4. Recent News Articles on Arab States (a. Politics and Economics; b. Iraq; c. Lebanon; d. Syria; e. Culture, Education, and Communication)

a. Politics and Economics 

“Heavy Hand of the Secret Police Impeding Reform in Arab World,” New York Times, November 14, 2005. The mukhabarat, especially in Jordan. Multiple suicide bombings on November 9.

“Iran the Great Unifier? The Arab World Is Wary,” New York Times, February 5, 2006. Arab, especially Saudi, concern about Iran’s extension through Iraq, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas.

“Arab Democracy, a U.S. Goal, Falters,” New York Times, April 10, 2006. Setbacks in Iraq, Egypt, Jordon, Qatar, Bahrain, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia due to Iraqi chaos, Shiite rise in Iraq, growing Iranian influence, and authoritarian decision to wait out Bush administration. Arab League (2005) no mention of reform program broached at Tunis in 2004.

“Jordan Islamists Stir Tensions By Displaying Election Skills,” New York Times, May 12, 2006. Increased tension after November 2005 bombing and Hamas victory in Israel. Islamists running for leadership of engineers syndicate. Islamic Action Front, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party, has 17 of parliament’s 110 seats.

“Sign That Crisis Is Regional, Not Just Israel vs. Palestinians,” New York Times, July 13, 2006. Kidnapping of Israeli soldier orchestrated by Iran.

“Al-Qaida’s Dilemma: Overshadowed,” San Jose Mercury News, July 30, 2006. Analysis by Prof. Shibley Telhami on rise of Hezbollah versus Al-Qaida.

“Arab World Finds Icon In Leader of Hezbollah,” New York Times, August 7, 2006. Rise of Sheik Hassan Nasrallah and success against Israelis.

“Conflict Polarizes Middle East, Leaving Little Middle Ground,” New York Times, August 9, 2006. Arab reformers on defensive everywhere, Jewish public opinion united behind the war.

“U.S. Shift Kicked Off Frantic Diplomacy at U.N.,” New York Times, August 14, 2006. Narrative of cease-fire resolution.

“And Now, Islamism Trumps Arabism,” op-ed by Michael Slackman, San Jose Mercury News, August 20, 2006.

“Islamists’ Rise Imperils Mideast’s Order,” New York Times, September 18, 2006. Pressure on Mideast authoritarian governments, even anti-U.S. Syria.

"Heads of Arab States Prod Israel to Embrace Peace Offer," New York Times, March 30, 2007. Closing statement from Arab League.

"Islamists Win 24 of 50 Seats In Parliament Of Kuwait," New York Times, May 19, 2008. More conservative tribally-oriented candidates also did well. Districts reduced from 25 to 5 so candidates would have to appeal to a wider spectrum. 360,000 of 2.6 million residents eligible to vote, for example, not foreigners.

"Qatar, Playing All Sides, Is the Mideast's Nonstop Mediator," New York Times, July 9, 2008. Qatar, independent mediator, meets with everyone in attempt for diplomatic leverage on specific issues. Great success is Lebanon agreement in May 2008.

"Jordanian Students Rebel, Embracing Conservative Arm of Islam," New York Times, December 24, 2008. Students associated with opposition, and legal, Muslim Brotherhood and reasons for associatiion. The general dynamic facing authoritarian and semi-authoritarian regimes in the Middle East.

"Mideast's Christians Losing Numbers and Sway," New York Times, May 13, 2009. Persecution and emigration of more educated Christians from across the Mideast. "A region that a century ago was 20 percent Christian is about 5 percent today and dropping." In February 2009 the Catholic Church sponsored meetings in Detroit, Lebanon, and Rome. See America, March 16, 2009.

"America's Closest Arab Allies Fret as Their Influence Slips Away," New York Times, November 11, 2009.  The contrasting strategies of Saudi Arabia and Egypt to loss of influence with U.S. Saudis have tried to detach Syria from Iran in building unity among Arabs. Egypt has focused on Palestinian unity.

"Christians Have Special Role as Regional Peacemakers," America, June 21-28, 2010. Pope goes to Cyprus and releases preliminary text for Oct. 10-24 meeting of Special Synod of Bishops on the Middle East. See also John Allen, "Secularism means survival for Christians in Middle East," National Catholic Reporter, June 25, 2010.

"Activists in Arab World Vie to Define Islamic State," New York Times, September 30, 2011. Debate between Salafists, center-leaning groups like Muslim Brotherhood, and Liberals. Egypt is the major Arab test case.

"Moderate Islamist Party Appears to Have Prevailed in Elections in Morocco," New York Times, November 27, 2011.

"Exile Over, Tunisian Sets Task: Building a Democracy," New York Times, February 18, 2012. Said Ferjani of Ennahda and his challenge.

"Tunisia's Governing Party Spurns Colition Plan in Wake of a Killing," New York Times, February 8, 2013.  Moderate Islamist Ennahda rejects suggestion of its prime minister Hamadi Jebali responding to assassination of opposition leader Chokri Belaid. Opposition potested in blaming moderates for not protecting his life. Tunisia is second very important test case for moderate Islamist rule.

b. Iraq

“Iraqi Minister, Visiting Pope, Warns Europe That a War Would Be Seen as Anti-Muslim,” New York Times, February 15, 2003.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, Chaldean Christian, meets with pope and then goes to Assisi. Pope emphasizes Iraq must fulfill Security Council resolutions. Vatican opposes this Gulf War, a preventative one, much more strongly than first, response to aggression. See New York Times, January 14, 2003, for papal opposition to Iraq war.

“As Sunni Divisions Widen, Iraq’s Sufis Are Under Attack,” New York Times, August 21, 2005. Assaults on Sufis, probably from Islamist Sunnis.

“Agreeing to Disagree in Iraq,” New York Times, August 30, 2005, op-ed by Noah Feldman, law professor who was adviser to Coalition Provisional Authority. Discussion of Constitutional issues.

“Shiite Cleric Wields Violence and Popularity to Increase Power in Iraq,” New York Times, November 27, 2005. Moktada al-Sadr’s fighting and politics.

“Iraq’s Powerful Shiite Coalition Shows Signs of Stress as Parliamentary Elections Loom,” New York Times, December 9, 2005. Analysis and organizational chart for coalition.

“Winners and losers in Iraq,” New York Times editorial, December 25, 2005. Analysis of outcome of elections. “Very few people vote as Iraqis; most vote as Shiites, Sunnis, or Kurds.”

“Radical cleric goes from violence to key party in Iraq’s parliament,” San Jose Mercury News, December 30, 2005. Moktada al-Sadr, one year after encouraging followers to kill U.S. troops, becomes an important political figure in December 2005 elections.

“Younger Clerics Showing Power In Iraq’s Unrest,” New York Times, February 26, 2006. Bombing of Samarra mosque leads to Shiite attacks on Sunnis and reprisals. Moktada al-Sadr, SCIRI, and Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars all polarizing.

"Iraq’s New Premier Gains Support in Talks With Shiite Leaders,” New York Times, April 28, 2006. New prime minister-designate, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, calls on Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani and Moktada al-Sadr. The ayatollah supports the disarming of Iraqi militias, but al-Sadr, who commands Mahdi Army, does not. Sister of new vice-president Hashemi assassinated.

“Blast Kills 35 and Wounds 120 at Shiite Shrine in Najaf,” New York Times, August 11, 2006. Suicide bomber detonated at check point. Golden-domed Shrine of Imam Ali not damaged, but disaster to pilgrims on feast of Mohammed’s granddaughter Zaineb. The Grand Ayatollah lives a few blocks away.

“Shiite Leader Urges Iraqi Politicians to Stay Home and Work Harder,” New York Times, August 25, 2006. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani encourages politicians to secure the security of Iraqis and expresses gratitude for the danger they are under.

“Iraq’s Christian Minority Flees As Extremist Threat Worsens,” New York Times, October 17, 2006. Woes of Christians, bad impact of Pope’s statement.

"Iraq seeking to arrest anti-government cleric," San Jose Mercury News, November 17, 2006. Interior Ministry issues warrent for Sunni Sheik Harith al-Dhari, who on TV endorsed Al-Qaida as part of Iraqi resistence.

"One Year Later, Golden Mosque Is Still in Ruins," New York Times, February 13, 2007. Deep divisions caused by destruction of Shiite shrine in Sunni city of Samarra.

"2,000-Year-Old Christian Community in Iraq Gains a Spiritual First in Baghdad," New York Times, November 5, 2007. First modern-day Iraqi Roman Catholic cardinal, Chaldean Patriarch Emmanueol III Delly, named on October 17. Background and ecumenical orientation. Fewer than 500,000 left in country, down one million. Most Chaldeans life in Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon, with scattered communities in Middle East and in the United States. Other Iraq Christian groups include Assyrian Orthodox, Armenian Othodox, and Sabeans.

"Iraqi City Is Poised to Become a Hub of Shiite Power," New York Times, December 16, 2007. Najaf, ruled by SCIRI (Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, led by Abdul Aziz Hakim) politicians, is expanding the shine to Imam Ali and hoping to attract three-four million pilgrims per year versus current one million. It would also serve as the religious and political center for a Shiite region, still connected to Baghdad, in the South similar to Iraqi Kurdistan in North. Also constructing new electrical power plan with Iranian funding, but want to remain friendly to both Iran and the United States. 

"For Iraqi Christians, Money Bought Survival, but at What Cost?" New York Times, June 26, 2008. Mosul assassination of Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho after he quit paying protection to insurgents. For attacks on Christians, see also April 6, October 15, and December 26, 2008. See also America, June 9-16, 2008. 

"Followers of Ancient Faith Caught in  Iraq's Fault Lines," New York Times, October 14, 2008. Yazidis endure massacre at Qahtaniya near Syrian border and their relations with the Kurds.

"Iraqi Cleric Avoids Using His Power to Sway Voters," New York Times, March 3, 2010. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani does not take position in national election, offering example of less politically active strain in Shiism. The marjaiya do not take positions. Good summary of political role since 2003.

"Anti-U.S. Cleric Urges Iraq To Form New Government," New York Times, July 20, 2010. Moktada al-Sadr meets in Syria with Ayad Allawi, former Shiite prime minister whose mostly Sunni coalition, Iraqiya, won most seats (91) in recent election. Current Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shiite coalition won 89 seats. Kurds are third major force. Deadlock drags on.

"Hapless Elite, Growing Fear," New York Times, August 18, 2010. Iraqi's political elite, most sponsored by U.S. from 2003, criticized by selves and populace. Such disenchantment, however, may result in new government, however weak.

c. Lebanon

“Breaking Taboo, Lebanese Prelate Criticizes Syria,” New York Times, December 23, 2000. Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, 80, calls for Syria to withdraw.

“Hezbollah Backs Syria, Challenging Lebanese Opposition,” New York Times, March 7, 2005. After massive demonstrations against Syrian presence, Hezbollah supports.

“Last Syria Force Leaves Lebanon,” New York Times, April 27, 2005.

“Lebanese Rivals, in a Tangled Web of Alliances, Face Off in a Crucial Stage in Elections,” New York Times, June 12, 2005.

“Beirut Car Bomb Kills Lawmaker, A Critic of Syria,” New York Times, December 13, 2005.Gebran Tueni, 48, killed. U.N. report on Syria and Hariri killing by Detlev Mehlis, German U.N. official.

“As Syria’s Influence in Lebanon Wanes, Iran Moves In,” New York Times, March 13, 2006. With Syria as filter removed, Iran and Hezbollah can work more closely.

“Beirutis Try to Plumb the Abyss Between Elegance and Chaos,” New York Times, July 25, 2006. In midst of Israeli-Hezbollah fighting, gap in experience between north and south. War has made Sheik Hassan Nasrallah a folk hero to Shiites in south. Map of religions by geographic area.

"Vast Lebanon Throng Hails Hezbollah Chief, Who Calls Militia Stronger," New York Times, September 23, 2007. Even after Israel's 34-day bombardment, says Nasrallah, Hezbollah still has more than 20,000 missiles.

“Christians Struggle to Preserve a Balance of Power,” New York Times, November 9, 2006. Summary of current political situation as Hezbollah pushes for veto power.

"Beirut Throngs Mourn Slain Minister and Revile Syria," New York Times, November 24, 2006. Funeral for slain Pierre Gemayel brings Christians together and stokes outrage.

"Army Provides a Sense of Unity in Fractured Lebanon," New York Times. "The army is the only national institution left in the country," says Timor Goksel, former U.N. spokesman. Statndoff at Nahr al Bared, Palestinian refugee camp.

"Car Bomb Near Beirut Kills Christian Lawmaker," New York Times, September 20, 2007. Killing of Antoine Ghanem, leading to fears of plot to eliminate government's razor thin majority in parliament.

"Lebanese Presidential Selection Delayed by Deadlock," New York Times, September 26, 2007. As expected, Lebanese parliament postponed vote until October 23 because of lack of quorum.

"Christian Split in Lebanon Raises Specter of Civil War," New York Times, October 6, 2007. Analysis of struggle between Aon and Franjieh, allied with Hezbollah and backed by Syria and Iran, versus the Phalange and Lebanese Forces, supported by Saudi Arabia and the United States. Should Christians accept minority status or demand special privileges as guarantee of survival?

"Vote on Successor Put Off as Lebanese President Leaves," New York Times, November 24, 2007. President Emile Lahoud leaves, and caretaker government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora takes over. No consensus on next president, with Saad Hariri likely next prime minister.

"Bomb Kills Lebanese General Who Battled Militants," New York Times, December 13, 2007. Assassination of General François al-Hajj, top contender to succeed Gen Michel Suleiman if he becomes next president. Speculation about reasons and perpetrators.

"Dear for Lebanese Factions Leaves Hezbollah Stronger," New York Times, May 22, 2008. Impact on Lebanese politics of Doha agreement, leaving Hezbollah with practical veto on policy. Then General Michel Suleiman elected as president, New York Times, May 26, 2008.

"To Fuel Quest, Hezbollah Harnesses Youth Piety," New York Times, November 21, 2008. Hezbollah's extensive youth programs, focusing on the Mahdi Scouts.

"In Beirut Vote, Signs for U.S." New York Times, June 9, 2009. American- and Saudi-backed coalition wins 71 seats, Syrian- and Iranian-backed coalition, with Hezbollah, wins 57 seats, leaving situation pretty much the same. Saad Hariri elected prime minister later in month (see June 28), but cabinet still not accepted as of October 15. Hariri stepped down on September 10, but reappointed one week later. October 15 meeting of Syrian President al-Assad and Saudi King Abdullah seems to presage a compromise.

"Impasse Over, Lebanon Forms Cabinet," New York Times, November 10, 2009. Improved relations between Saudi Arabia and Syria set stage. Various domestic considerations.

"A Meeting in Lebanon Signals Syria's New Sway," New York Times, July 31, 2010. President al-Assad of Syria and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia traveled to Beirut to calm tensions over possible indictment of Syrian-ally Hezbollah's followers for assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. His son, ally of Saudi Arabia, is current prime minister.

d. Syria

“John Paul Prays for Peace In Former War Zone in Syria,” New York Times, May 8, 2001. Quneitra, on Golan Heights, is symbol of Syrian-Israeli conflict.

“Syria Imposing Stronger Curbs On Opposition, But It Moves to Placate Islamic Conservatives,” New York Times, April 5, 2006. Reflects shifting power relationships and threats to Alawites leading government.

“Former Political Enemies Join in Exile to Push for Change in Syrian Leadership, New York Times, May 23, 2006. Ex-Baath Party’s Abdel Halim Khaddam, 74, and Muslim Brotherhood’s Ali Sadreddin al-Bayanouni join in alliance.

“Why Syria Has Much to Lose If Hezbollah Is Finally Halted,” New York Times, July 26, 2006. Syria’s diplomatic situation, forced out of Lebanon, and in “pleasure marriage” alliance with Hezbollah and Iran.

“Women Lead an Islamic Revival In Syria, Testing Its Secularism,” New York Times, August 29, 2006. Women, led by female scholars, sheikha, form vanguard in Islamic revival, especially among young women. Qubaisiate movement. Bashar al-Assad has allowed scarves in public schools and soldiers in mosques, but Alawite president fears too much power for Islamists. Arresting women, however, would raise public outcry.

"Syrian President's Fortunes Revive in Time for Election," New York Times, May 27, 2007. Assad certain to be reelected for second seven-year term in coming referendum.

"Challenged, Syria Extends Crackdown On Dissent," New York Times, December 14, 2007. Following Syria's participation in American-sponsored Middle East conference in Annapolis, Syrian security arrested those connected with December first meeting of 160 activists who had signed the Damascus declaration in 2005 which advocated the lifting of martial law and freedom of speech and political organization.

"Doors Start To Open To Activists In Syria," New York Times, August 29, 2010. President's wife, Mrs. Asma al-Assad's sponsorship of women's, children's, and environmental organizations, but not civil space for human rights or political opposition.

"Syria's Solidarity With Islamists Ends at Home," New York Times, September 4, 2010. Syria continues to support Hamas and Hezbollah abroad, but since 2008, has cracked down on Islamists within Syria. For example, one thousand teachers who wear the niqab were transferred to administrative work. Syria feels less isolated in foreign affairs.

e. Culture, Education, and Communication

“Good Jihad, Bad Jihad,” New York Times, October 27, 2005. Struggle for minds and hearts in Saudi programming for Ramadan.

“Middle East Analysis, Fast and Furious,” New York Times, June 18, 2006.  Discussion of websites and blogs that cover the Middle East. Article discusses the following:
www.memri.org
www.jamestown.org
www.e-prism.org
www.counterterrorismblog.org
www.siteinstitute.org
www.terrorism.com

“Don’t Be Friends With Christians or Jews, Saudi Texts Say,” New York Times, May 24, 2006. Center for Religious Freedom report on Saudi texts and discussion. Texts are more tolerant than five years ago, but still some problems. And tough to change versus conservatives in current world environment.

“First Time Out, Kuwaiti Women Become a Political Force,” New York Times, June 26, 2006. Parliament gave women right to vote and (28) run in May 2005 under influence of Prime Minister Sheik Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah. Kuwait’s parliament can influence national policies.

“For Ramadan Viewing: A TV Drama Against Extremism,” New York Times, July 6, 2006. “Terrorist are terrorists and they kill even good Muslims.” But Westerners also cause problems.

"Young and Arab in Land of Mosques and Bars," New York Times, September 22, 2008. Cultural conflicts within a worker from Egypt in Dubai. He is truly at home in neither setting, but chooses Dubai. "In Egypt, people keep you in check. Here, no one keeps you in check." Religion becomes personal choice. 

"Arab TV Tests Societies' Limits With Depictions of Wine, Sex and Equality," New York Times, September 27, 2008. Controversies over Ramadan muselselaat, soap opera-type series.  Turkey's Noor, dubbed into colloquial Arabic and watched by half the adult women (51 of 85 million total viewers) in the Arab world, was condemned by Sauidi Sheik Saleh al-Luhaidan, chief justice of Supreme Judicial Council.

"Focus on Internet Imams As Recruiters for Al Qaeda," New York Times, January 1, 2010. Backgrounds of five such clerics.

"Modern-Day Pilgrims Find Interfaith Bond In Ancient Monastery," New York Times, January 19, 2010. Syrian Deir Mar Mousa, run by Italian Jesuit Paolo Dall'Oglio, promotes Muslim-Christian dialogue.

"Yemen's Fountain of Ideas, With Learned and Radical Spouts," New York Times, January 19, 2010. Al Eman University and its various ideological connections.

List of other Regions

March 4, 2013