Islam

The Mosaic of Islam

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This book presents a series of critical reflections on the faith and politics of Islam. In the process certain simplistic Western myths about Islam are also undermined.

The book takes the form of interviews with Suleiman Mourad, Professor of Religion at Smith College, Massachusetts, conducted by historian Perry Anderson. The first section explores the composition of the Quran and how this difficult, multi-layered and contradictory text reflects the challenges faced by Mohammed in building up a community of believers.

Sectarianism and the Arab revolutions

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What explains sectarian divisions such as the Shia-Sunni divide in the Middle East?
Lebanese socialist Bassem Chit rejects claims that sectarianism is a "pre-modern" force and argues it is rooted in the pattern of capitalist development and crisis in the region.

There is a growing debate over the role of religious sectarianism in the Middle East since the outbreak of the Arab Revolutions. Most writing on the issue deals with the question from a cultural perspective. One of the most striking examples of such an approach is the debate surrounding the supposedly Shia-Sunni divide, which many authors treat as an extension of a conflict over who should have assumed power following the death of the Prophet Mohammed in 632 CE.

Class, power and the state in the Arab Spring

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This month marks the third anniversary of the start of the Egyptian revolution. Simon Assaf examines some key lessons while Anne Alexander spoke to three Egyptian revolutionaries.

At the forefront of the Arab Spring were the movements that took to the streets in vast numbers. The revolutions drew in diverse social forces - workers organisations, youth movements, left wing parties, liberals as well as Islamists - that have over the past three years battled to put themselves at its head. The revolutions have revealed the shortcomings of the established opposition parties, as well as the ability of the state and old ruling classes to adapt and survive. They have thrown up powerful street movements, but also forces of sectarianism and reaction.

Syria's revolution behind the lines

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Manbij is a poor and rural town of some 200,000 people in north eastern Syria. The city is half an hour's drive from the border with Turkey and the vital Tishrin Dam. It sits in the agricultural hinterland of Aleppo with one of the largest mills in the region, grinding some 500 tonnes of flour a day. Control over Manbij is a strategic prize for the Syrian revolution.

Hezbollah's sectarian turn

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Simon Assaf examines the trajectory of Hebollah since 2006 that has led to their support of Assad in Syria

A party once lauded for its resistance to Israel is fast becoming a pariah in the Arab world. Hezbollah (The Party of God) is now openly derided as Hizb al-shaytan (Party of the Devil). Sunni Muslim preachers who once declared their support for it now call for holy war against it. Shia Muslims are now the victims of shocking violence and sectarianism.

The transformation of Hezbollah from the "heroes of resistance" into a sectarian party siding with a brutal civil war in Syria is rooted in its dependence on outside powers.

Egypt's rebels

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Like many of the things which have changed history, the "Rebel" campaign in Egypt started with a very simple idea. At the beginning of May, a group of young revolutionary activists launched a drive to collect signatures on a statement withdrawing confidence from president Mohammed Morsi and calling for early elections. They announced that their goal was to have more than 15 million signatories by the anniversary of Morsi's inauguration on 30 June.

Few can have expected the idea to get very far - its initiators had no organisational machine to turn slogans into reality, and did not even share a common political platform.

Yet within days the campaign was spreading like wildfire. In just over a week the first two million signatures had rolled in. By the beginning of June they had reached the half-way mark: 7.5 million. A week before the 30 June deadline, campaign organisers announced they had hit the target of 15 million.

Syria: the vultures circle

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There is growing alarm in Israel, the West and its Arab allies at the turn of events in Syria. Barack Obama's administration is divided between those who urgently want to create a Syrian proxy by arming the official Free Syrian Army (FSA), those who advocate direct military intervention, and a growing number who consider Syrian dictator Bashar Assad "the lesser evil".

There is growing alarm in Israel, the West and its Arab allies at the turn of events in Syria, exasperated by a paralysis on how to approach the revolution. Barack Obama's administration is divided between those who urgently want to create a Syrian proxy by arming the official Free Syrian Army (FSA), those who advocate direct military intervention, and a growing number who consider Syrian dictator Bashar Assad "the lesser evil". The recent attempt by Britain and France to lift the embargo in order to arm "friendly forces" was sharply slapped down by its European partners.

Egypt: the Muslim brotherhood under pressure

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In recent months thousands of Egyptians have protested against President Mohamed Morsi. Sameh Naguib, a leading Egyptian revolutionary socialist, argues that the liberals and Muslim Brotherhood are losing their influence over the movement in the streets and workplaces

The starting point for our analysis has to be the crisis which has engulfed the Muslim Brotherhood and the so-called "secular" liberal opposition forces. In part, this crisis stems from both camps' misunderstanding of the nature of the Egyptian Revolution. Liberal writers, for example, refer to the democratic transformation which took place in Spain in 1974, or the democratic transition in Eastern Europe and the "colour revolutions".

Under pressure

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After Mohamed Morsi's victory in Egypt Phil Marfleet looks at the fractures in the Muslim Brotherhood's base and the challenges that face the left

Egypt has a new civilian president, but one shackled by the army and the Mubarak state. Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood takes office without a parliament and with the country's generals breathing down his neck. He is also under intense pressure from the revolutionary movement, which expects results promptly from an elected leader.

An Arab 1848?

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In 1848 popular revolutions swept across Europe. The lessons from these events can help us to understand the revolutions in the Middle East today.

The sheer scale of the Arab revolutions has sent commentators searching through the historical record to find parallels to help make sense of events and guess where they might lead. Repeatedly they turn to the revolutions that swept Europe in 1848. It's not hard to see why.

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