Ted Thornton
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The Middle East Under Pax Americana
2005 - 2006
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2005  In the first week of the new year, the age old conflict between Islam and the West manifested itself in a new form: both sides traded accusations over the tsunami that struck East Asia on December 26, 2004. The West chastised Muslim countries for not ponying up to provide disaster relief aid and radical Muslim clerics traded conspiracy theories: among them, the belief that the disaster was precipitated by secret testing of American super weapons.

Also in early January, the halls of the U.S. Congress buzzed with discussion of how to determine when and how to disengage from Iraq (which was costing the U.S. nearly $4.5 billion per month, according to the New York Times, Jan. 10, 2005) once the elections that were scheduled to occur at the end of the month had taken place.

On January 10, 2005, Mahmoud Abbas ("Abu Mazen") was declared the winner of the Palestinian presidential elections with 62% of the vote. President Bush made it clear that in his view a new era had begun by immediately issuing an invitation to Abbas to visit the White House (Bush had pointedly extended no such invitation to Yasser Arafat, also).  (more on Abbas; also, also, also, also)  The same day, the Israeli Knesset narrowly (58-56 with six abstentions) approved the new coalition government made up of Likud, Labor, and the ultra-Orthodox Torah Judaism Party. Ariel Sharon's government came just five votes short of falling (New York Times, Jan. 11, 2005).

On January 25, 2005, the New York Times revealed that the previous summer Israel secretly approved an amendment of the 1950 Absentee Property Law that allowed the confiscation of  land in East Jerusalem owned by Palestinians who resided elsewhere. On February 1, Israel's Attorney General Menachem Mazuz ordered the Sharon government not to carry out the confiscations citing, among other legal anomalies, "Israel's obligations according to the rules of customary international law." (New York Times, Feb. 2, 2005)

Also on January 25, 2005, the New York Times reported that Great Britain was seeking to deport Syrian-born Sheik Omar Bakri Muhammad for preaching sermons calling for global jihad. (see also, and see also)

On January 30, 2005, free elections took place in Iraq for the first time since 1954 and the turnout was heavy.  This event coming on the heels of recent Palestinian elections, and the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon in March prompted some to begin using the phrase "Arab spring" to describe what appeared to be a new flowering of democracy in the Middle East. Some also cited the November 2004 elections in Afghanistan, a non-Arab Middle Eastern country, as evidence of something new stirring.

On February 3, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said that disciplinary action would be pending against the administrator of the Iraqi oil-for-food program from 1996-2003, Benon Sevan, who was accused of pressuring Iraq to sell its oil to a company of his choosing. Investigations were also being conducted into whether or not Annan's own son, who worked for an organization in the program, also may have been guilty of ethical misconduct.

Also on February 3, 2005, U.S. President Bush, in his State of the Union address, pledged $350 million in American aid to the Palestinian Authority, a clear signal that the U.S. intended, in the post-Arafat era, to increase its role in the Israeli-Arab peace process following two years of retreat.  Hopes ran high in advance of the the Israeli-Arab summit at Sharm al-Sheikh (where a truce was agreed upon on February 8) as Syria scrambled to jump on the peace train by announcing (according to al-Ahram, February 7, 2005) that it welcomed the summit and made clear its wish that negotiations resume between Israel and Syria as well.  This came on the wings of an announcement that Syria would begin buying produce from Arab farmers in the Golan Heights, Syrian territory that Israel had occupied after the 1967 war and formally annexed in 1981. Some Israelis worried that Syria's efforts to get in on the action at this particular point might amount to putting too much on the plate for everyone to digest all at once and could actually jeopardize the peace process. The one thing everyone did seem to agree on was that new momentum had developed in the Middle East peace process following the death of Yasser Arafat and the election of a new Palestinian leadership. However, two leading Palestinian militant groups - HAMAS and Islamic Jihad - announced that they were not bound by the truce. By mid-February, pressure was mounting on Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei to purge his cabinet of Arafat era cronyism and hire new blood untainted by the corruption: on February 23, a new cabinet made up mostly of professionals and technocrats (not "cronies" ) was approved. Almost half of the ministers held doctoral degrees, many from top universities in the West. This was a victory for Abbas and sent a strong message that the days of Arafat era corruption were over.

On February 9, 2005, Saudi men went to the polls in Riyadh to vote in municipal elections, the first elections ever in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Women were not eligible to vote.

On February 10, 2005, the New York Times cited a previously unreleased report from the 9/11 Commission indicating that in the months leading up to 9/11, the F.A.A. received 52 intelligence reports warning that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network might be planning attacks involving aviation interests.

On February 14, 2005, former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in a car bombing in Beirut. He had resigned his office the previous October and joined a group opposing Syrian domination over Lebanon's affairs (more). A group named "Victory and Jihad in Greater Syria" claimed responsibility for the attack, but there were doubts about the claim. The U.S. government, clearly holding the Syrian government responsible, recalled the American ambassador to Damascus and on the 17th demanded that Syria withdraw its troops from Lebanon (more). Many Lebanese likewise held Syria responsible. Meanwhile, Iran (also under intense pressure from the U.S. because of its nuclear program) announced it would stand in solidarity with Syria. While Syrian meddling in Lebanon had long been regarded as unwelcome to many if not most Lebanese, Syria understood the Taif Agreement of 1989 that ended fifteen years of civil war in Lebanon as authorization for Syria to stay. Two weeks later, Lebanon's Prime Minister Omar Karami announced the resignation of his pro-Syrian cabinet and the streets of Beirut erupted in jubilant anti-Syrian demonstrations that were quickly dubbed, "The Cedar Revolution" (or alternatively, the "Independence Intifada" ("uprising") and the "March 14 Movement.") But, these demonstrations were followed by pro-Syrian demonstrations, too. Adding to the uncertainty, on Easter eve, a bomb went off in a Christian neighborhood in East Beirut raising fears of renewed sectarian violence.  By the end of March, Syrian troop levels in Lebanon had declined to 8,000, and Syria promised to have all its troops out before Lebanese elections in May, 2005.  The last Syrian troops (which had numbered up to 40,000 at times) withdrew from Lebanon on April 26, 2005, after twenty-nine years (see Lebanon Civil War, 1976-1989).  Pressure against Syria continued to mount through the spring.  A preliminary U.N. report submitted on October 20, 2005 by Detlef Mehlis, head of the UN International Independent Investigation, pointed to the Hariri assassination as having been organized and carried out by high ranking officials in both Syria and Lebanon (Text of report at U.N.)  These officials included two close relatives of Syrian President Bashar al-Asad: his brother Maher, commander of the elite Republican Guards, and his brother-in-law Asef Shawcat, head of military intelligence.

On February 22 in Iran, a country where there is a minor earthquake nearly every day, a major quake struck the southeastern region of the country killing hundreds. (see also)

On February 25, a suicide bomber attacked a nightclub in Tel Aviv killing four. The Damascus office of Islamic Jihad took responsibility and was immediately shut down by the Syrians, already under intense international pressure for its military presence in Lebanon and its suspected role in the assassination of Rafik Hariri. This pressure was also believed to be behind the Syrians' decision to hand over a half brother of Saddam Hussein, Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hasan al-Tikriti,  suspected of helping to direct the Iraqi insurgency (see also BBC Profile of Iraqi Insurgents).

On February 26, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, under pressure from the U.S. to undertake democratic reforms, asked the parliament to alter the constitution to permit multiple candidates in time for September's presidential elections.

In mid March, 2005, Jordan's King Abdullah II proposed that Arabs normalize relations with Israel as a means of moving toward peace. The idea was not well received by Arabs, who had long argued that Israel must first abide by the conditions of UN 242 before normalization could move forward. On March 23, the New York Times lead editorial called Israel's decision to expand its Maale Adumim settlement by 3,500 additional housing units "one step back in the Mideast" and "a slap in the face of the new Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas." (see also)  Not immediately apparent was the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Sharon had, under pressure from Israel's Supreme Court, moved the barrier between Israel and the West Bank closer to the 1967 lines meaning that the land between the barrier and the lines was 8% of the West Bank (a figure closer to the 5% proposed by President Clinton in 2000 -- See Steven Erlanger, New York Times, April 19, 2005).

On March 31, 2005, the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction presented its findings to U.S. President Bush, who had convened it. The key passage read, "We conclude that the intelligence community was dead wrong in almost all of its prewar judgments about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction...This was a major intelligence failure." (CNN)  (see also)  By June, American popular support for the war in Iraq was in steep decline and congressional criticism was mounting, even within Bush's own party. Some pointed out that while there had been no connection between Saddam Hussein and global terrorism before the American invasion, Iraq, in the wake of the ensuing political chaos there, had since become a target for Muslim jihadists from many parts of the surrounding Muslim Middle East. (more)

The first week of April, 2005 saw Saudi security forces caught in several days of armed clashes with militants in the northern town of al-Ras. (see also)

On April 5, 2005, the third in the series of Arab Human Development Reports was issued by a group of Arab experts working under UN auspices. The experts called for an acceleration of the democratizing process in the Middle East and accused the United States and Israel of obstructing this process, a conclusion which had led the U.S. to block publication of the report for six months. (see also

On April 8, Jordan's King Abdullah II appointed a new reformist government led by Prime Minister Adnan Badran, who was educated in the U.S.

Also on April 8, 2005, a nail bomb detonated on al-Muski Street in Cairo, a tourist market area adjacent to the Khan al-Khalili, killed three and injured 18. It was the first such attack in Cairo since 1997. (more on Egypt)  Also in Egypt, on April 11, the government backed "Egyptian Supreme Council for Human Rights" issued a report denouncing the practice of torture by security forces and recommending the lifting of the 24 year old state of emergency (BBC).

In mid April, 2005, ethnic unrest broke out in Iran's oil-rich Khuzestan Province where the Arab minority (3% of Iran's population) feared government plans to encourage more ethnic Persians to move there. (Arab invaders conquered Khuzestan in 639.) There were more riots in July and November 2005 (BBC, Nov. 5, 2005).

On April 21, 2005, the U.S. Senate passed an $81 billion appropriations measure to support American operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in the war on terror bringing the total costs to $300 billion by that date.

On April 23, 2005, moderate Islamists carried the day in Saudi Arabia's first nationwide municipal elections (BBC).

On May 7, 2005, Christian military leader and hard line anti-Syrian Michel Aoun returned to Lebanon from his fourteen year exile in Paris following the civil war in Lebanon. His arrival came one day after a bomb blast in the Christian city of Jounieh that killed two.  On June 13, Aoun, although a long-term critic and former enemy of Syria, won a huge victory in parliamentary elections by aligning himself with pro-Syrian candidates. The previous week, on June 5, Lebanon's Hizbullah Party won every parliamentary seat in elections held in Southern Lebanon.  

Also on May 7, 2005, municipal elections in the Palestinian territories resulted in a victory for Fatah over HAMAS by a margin of 55% to 35%.

On May 9, 2005, a disturbance broke out at Jerusalem's Haram al-Sharif ("the Noble Enclosure"), location of the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest destination of Muslim pilgrimage when Muslims tried to block a group of right wing Jewish settlers called Revava from entering the enclosure to protest the Israeli government's decision to evict Jewish settlements in Gaza. Revava vowed similar attempts at the start of each month in the Hebrew calendar.

On May 11, 2005, riots, in which at least fifteen were killed, broke out in Afghanistan over a report in the May 9 issue of Newsweek that American jailers at the detainee prison in Guantanamo Bay had desecrated copies of the Qur'an (by placing copies on toilets).  On the 16th, Newsweek, at first having admitted only the possibility of flaws in its sources on the story, later in the day issued a formal retraction.  By the end of the month, anti-American demonstrations had spread to Cairo, Alexandria, Lebanon, Malaysia, and Pakistan.

In May, 2005, the government of Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan cracked down on militant protesters in the city of Andijan in the Fergana Valley. Groups opposing Karimov included the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Hizbu-t-Tahrir.

On May 16, 2005, Kuwaiti women were granted full political rights.

On May 19, 2005, tensions were mounting again in Gaza and the West Bank where a ceasefire had been holding since February: HAMAS fired rockets into Israel injuring no one in response to the death of a Palestinian who died in Rafah under disputed circumstances.  On May 26, President Bush met with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (the first Palestinian leader with whom he had met) and pledged $50 million in American aid for housing and infrastructure projects in Gaza.

On May 28, 2005, in the Christian town of Tentena, Indonesia (on the eastern island of Sulawesi), two bombs killed 21 people spawning fears of a new wave of sectarian violence in the area.

On June 1, 2005, at least 20 were killed in a suicide bombing of a mosque in Kandahar, Afghanistan during the funeral of a Muslim cleric who had been fiercely opposed to the Taliban and who had been shot dead days before.

On June 2, 2005, Lebanese journalist Samir Qasir, a fierce critic of Syria, was killed in a car bomb blast in Beirut (see also Hariri assassination). On June 21, anti-Syrian Lebanese politician George Hawi was killed in a car bomb, while the following month the outgoing Defense Minister Elias Murr was injured in another bomb attack. The following December 12, anti-Syrian Lebanese journalist, managing editor of the Lebanese daily An-Nahar, and MP Gebran Tueni (pronounced "TWAY-NEE") was assassinated in a car bomb attack in Beirut. On September 5, 2006, Col. Samir Shehadeh, an intelligence officer investigating the Hariri assassination, was nearly killed in a car bomb attack near Sidon.

On June 1, 2005, the body of a popular Syrian Kurdish cleric, Sheikh Muhammad al-Khaznawi, was found in eastern Syria. Syrian Kurds, who made up 10% of Syria's 17 million people and who complained of discrimination, called the death a political murder (BBC, June 1, 2005). Disturbances broke out in the Syrian town of Qameshli the following week. On June 3, Israel revealed that Syria had test fired three SCUD missiles, one of which broke up over Turkish territory and rained parts down on Turkish farmers below.  In a further sign of turmoil within the Syrian regime, long-time Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam abruptly resigned on June 7. 

Also in June, 2005 Syria came under renewed criticism for the porous nature of its border with Iraq through which thousands of foreign mujahideen (Muslim "holy warriors") had been entering Iraq to fight in the insurgency there (see also BBC profile of Iraqi insurgents). Finally in late June, the U.S., blaming Syria for continuing to meddle in the affairs of Lebanon, froze the assets of two top Syrian officials: Ghazi Kanaan, Syria's Interior Minister and former Chief of Military Intelligence in Lebanon, and Rustum Ghazali, who succeeded Kanaan as military intelligence chief in Lebanon (Kanaan committed suicide on October 12, 2005).

On June 6, Israeli police entered Jerusalem's Temple Mount, known by Palestinians as al-Haram al-Sharif ("the Noble Enclosure"), to separate stone throwing Palestinians from Israelis who were visiting the site to celebrate its capture from Jordan during the 1967 war.

In June, 2005, the fundamentalist hardliner mayor of Tehran (and former member of the Basij religious police), Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was elected President of Iran, a reaction, according to analysts, against corruption in the elite at the expense of the poor. He defeated former President Hashemi Akbar Rafsanjani (in office from 1989-1997), a wealthy insider who had attempted to reinvent himself as a reformer. The election bolstered the power of the head of Iran's religious establishment, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: religious conservatives were now in control of every institution, elected and unelected, in Iran (BBC, June 25, 2005) in a change regarded as a major setback for American and European interests. Ahmadinejad initiated a purge of reformers and pro-Westerners from the Iranian government.

In Lebanon on June 30, 2005, following the victory of an anti-Syrian coalition in parliamentary elections, Fouad Siniora, an anti-Syrian ally of former P.M. Hariri, became Prime Minister.

At the end of June, 2005, Israeli soldiers skirmished with Gaza settlers who were bent on stopping the planned Israeli withdrawal from Gaza settlements in August.

On July 7, 2005, two days after London based Muslim preacher Abu Hamza al-Masri appeared in court to face terrorism charges, four British suicide bombers of Pakistani descent detonated explosions in London (three in subway trains and one in a bus) killing at least 50 and injuring hundreds. In September, al-Qaeda claimed responsibility. London (or "Londonistan" for some) had, since the late 1980s, been considered a refuge for extremist Muslim fugitives who had used London as a base for recruiting Muslim men to fight jihads in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Algeria, and Chechnya. Throughout this period, France and Great Britain, both with large percentages of Muslims (1.5 million in Britain), were facing the question of how to come to terms with the pluralistic nature of their societies. Germany and Spain were facing similar questions (more, more, more, more).  In the UK, assimilation was not going easily: one poll (New York Times, July 16, 2005) indicated that only 33% of the country's Muslims desired to be integrated into mainstream British culture. The appeal of Muslim revivalist groups like Hizb-ut-Tahrir ran deep among some Muslims. Most Muslims in the same survey (84%) said, however, that they were against the use of violence to achieve political ends, and British Muslim leaders came out strongly condemning the attacks. Ahmed al-Rabi, a columnist for the London based pan-Arab newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat wrote on the day of the attacks in a column entitled "Terrorism...The Number One Enemy":

"...there isn't a person with even a shred of reason who can be satisfied that the G8 nations are able to meet without international terrorism at the top of their working agenda...Terrorism in the heart of London is irrefutable proof that terror is everywhere. It should be a clear message to the G8 that to omit  terrorism from the agenda of any international conference is folly ( 'abath ) and a squandering of effort and wealth because we know that terrorism is the number one enemy of us all." (my translation)

In mid July, results from the latest poll conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project indicated that support for extremist Islamic movements among Muslims worldwide had dropped from 2003 levels while support for democracy had risen.

By mid August, Britain had begun detaining militant Muslim clerics and one, Omar Bakri Mohammed, who had traveled to Lebanon, was banned from reentering the U.K.

On July 8, 2005, the G8 nations meeting in Scotland agreed to send three billion dollars in aid for infrastructure projects in the Palestinian territories. The award came the same day several prominent Palestinian militant groups (HAMAS, Islamic Jihad among them) shunned an invitation by PNA President Mahmoud Abbas to join in a national unity government.  On July 11, Reuters reported that Israel was requesting $2.2 billion in U.S. aid to help fund Israel's planned August withdrawal from Gaza (see also). These developments occurred at the same time the Israeli government acknowledged that its planned barrier in Jerusalem would cut off 55,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem from crucial city services such as schools and hospitals. Jerusalem had been the city hardest hit by Palestinian suicide bomb attacks. (New York Times, July 11, 2005)

In mid July, rising violence between Israelis and Palestinians threatened to end a fragile ceasefire that had been put in place the previous February.

Also in July, riots erupted in Yemen when officials removed fuel subsidies.

On July 23, 2005, a national holiday in Egypt (the anniversary of the 1952 revolution), suicide bomb attacks at a luxury hotel and market area in the tourist town of Sharm al-Sheikh killed at least 83, the worst such attack in Egypt since 1997. A group named after Muslim cleric Abdullah Azzam and claiming to be part of al-Qaeda assumed responsibility for the attacks. Tourism was Egypt's most profitable industry bringing in $6.6 billion annually (BBC) (see also Taba bombing, October, 2004)

By late July, 2005, it was evident that some in the American administration (if not the President himself) had made a shift in some of the fundamental language they had been using since 9/11:  "the global war on terror"  had given way to "a global struggle against violent extremism."  (New York Times, July 26, 2005 and August 4, 2005)

On July 30, 2005, Sudan's Vice President, John Garang, who led the rebellion by Christians and animists in the southern Sudan against the Muslim central regime, died in a helicopter crash three weeks after he was sworn into office as part of the agreement that ended decades of civil war. Riots erupted in Khartoum as some accused the government of involvement in his death.  Garang was succeeded by his ally in the south, Silva Kiir.

On August 1, 2005, Saudi Arabia's King Fahd, 82, passed away. He ruled for twenty-three years, although the day to day affairs of the kingdom were assumed by his half brother Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz in 1995 following a stroke suffered by the monarch. Crown Prince Abdullah became the new king upon Fahd's demise.

On August 12, 2005, oil prices surged to nearly $67 per barrel and the U.S. recorded its third largest monthly deficit on record: $58.8 billion (San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 13, 2005).

In mid August, 2005, Israel began its planned withdrawal from 21 settlements in Gaza and four more in the northern West Bank, the first withdrawals from Palestinian lands occupied by Israel since the 1967 war. Some of the settlers resisted and had to be forcibly evicted, as was the case when Ariel Sharon, then an Israeli military officer, evicted Jewish settlers from Yamit in 1982. The New York Times in its lead editorial (August 15, 2005) called the withdrawals "only the beginning," and urged the United States to press Israel to abide by the Roadmap principle of further negotiated withdrawals.  The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza was completed on September 12. There was some disorder as Palestinians looted buildings left behind by the Israelis and made incursions across the border into Egypt.  (HAMAS took responsibility for blowing up a section of the border barrier wall.)

On August 19, 2005, three Katyusha rockets were fired from Jordan: two at a U.S. Navy vessel docked at Aqaba and the third at the Israeli resort town of Eilat. All rockets missed their targets.  In the case of the Navy ship (the first on an American vessel since the USS Cole attack in 2000), a Jordanian soldier onshore was killed.  An organization linked to al-Qaeda, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, claimed responsibility.

On September 9, 2005, the results of Egypt's first multi-candidate presidential elections were announced with the incumbent, Hosni Mubarak, winning 88.6% of the vote for a fifth consecutive six year term (he had held office since former President Sadat's assassination in 1981).

Also in September, 2005, resurgent Taliban forces in Afghanistan embarked on a campaign of murdering candidates standing for elections in an attempt to dissuade people from voting. In spite of these efforts at intimidation, the elections were carried out on September 18, the first free legislative elections in Afghanistan in more than twenty-five years (New York Times, Sept. 19, 2005).

On September 24, Israel carried out an air strike on targets in Gaza (its first since the withdrawal) after Palestinian militants launched 30 rockets into the Israeli town of Sderot.

On October 2, 2005, bombs detonated on the mostly Hindu island of Bali (Indonesia) killed 22. The main suspects were breakaways from the jihadist group Jemaah Islamiyya. (see also)

Also on October 2, 2005, Austria caused a delay in talks that were to have opened on granting Turkey admission to the European Union when it demanded that an alternative to Turkey's full membership be considered. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan challenged the EU to prove it was willing to become more than just "a Christian club." (see also)  (additional background: Ottoman sieges on Vienna - 1529 , 1531 , 1683 To make matters worse, Erdogan and other Turks who had been promoting Turkey's vigorous commitment to free speech were deeply embarrassed over the prosecution of Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk for insulting the Turkish state. Pamuk, in a statement to a Swiss newspaper the previous February, charged that "30,000 Kurds and a million Armenians were killed in these [Turkish] lands." (New York Times, Oct. 23, 2005) (see also)

On October 8, an earthquake in northern Pakistan killed at least 38,000.

On October 13, 2005, sixty were killed in shooting between Muslim militant rebels from a group calling themselves the "Kabardino-Balkaria Jamaat" and police in Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, a province bordering troubled Chechnya to the southeast.

On October 14, 2005 (early in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan), Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah pledged in an interview on American television to crush what he called the "scourge" (Ar. bala ) of al-Qaeda even if it took "thirty years" (BBC).  In a similar vein, TV movies made for airing during the holy season throughout the Arab world were also emphasizing the importance of fighting Muslim extremism. (see also, also, also)

On October 15, 2005, Iraqi voters ratified a new constitution.

On October 20, 2005, U.S. President Bush, in a meeting in Washington with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas reaffirmed his pledge to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel.  (see also)

In October, 2005, plans were revealed to build the first Christian church in Qatar since the seventh century on land donated by the emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. (Associated Press, Oct. 20, 2005)

By October 26, 2005, two thousand Americans had died in Iraq since the invasion of 2003 and between 26,690 and 30,051 Iraqis (New York Times, Oct. 26, 2005).

Also on October 26, 2005, a U.N. report said Lebanon was experiencing an "increasing influx of weaponry and personnel from Syria" to Palestinian militias in Lebanon, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which was led by Ahmed Jibril, named in the Mehlis Report as one who participated in the assassination of Lebanon's former PM Rafik Harriri. (New York Times, Oct. 27, 2005)

On October 27, 2005, the fragile truce between the Palestinians and the Israelis appeared to have ended (details). The same day, Israel asked the U.N. to expel Iran for a remark made by its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. At a conference the previous day in Tehran entitled "The World Without Zionism," he said, citing the late Ayatollah Khomeini, that Israel should be "wiped off the map."  At least one commentator (Zouheir Kseibati, al-Yayat, Oct. 27, 2005) speculated that Ahmadinejad may have been trying to boost his declining popularity among Iranians. In December, Ahmadinejad provoked a similar uproar when he suggested that since the Holocaust took place in Europe, Israel should be relocated there. A few days after this remark, Ahmadinejad called the Holocaust a "myth." Later in the month, Ahmadinejad banned Western music from Iran's state-run TV and radio stations (BBC, Dec. 14 and 19, 2005). Joining Iran's president in describing the Holocaust as a "myth" was the leader of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Mohammed Mahdi Akef (BBC, Dec. 23, 2005). One year later (October, 2006), Ahmadinejad repeated his threats against Israel and went on to say that Muslims worldwide would take revenge upon any states supporting Israel.

On October 27, 2005, the accidental electrocutions of two youths of African origin in a subway station in a town near Paris sparked more than a week of riots across France. Many blamed France's inability to deal with its large, young, unemployed, poorly assimilated, and mostly Muslim immigrant population. The riots came during a period of rising tension in France over religious and nationalist issues, for example, the ban on Muslim women wearing the veil in French state schools. (more)

On October 31, 2005, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously in favor of demanding that Syria cease obstructing its investigation into the assassination of Lebanon's former P.M. Hariri or face "further action." (New York Times, Nov. 1, 2005).

On November 9, 2005, suicide bombers struck three luxury hotels in Amman, Jordan popular with Americans and other Westerners killing over fifty people. A group allied with al-Qaeda (al-Qaeda fi bilaad al-Rafidain - "al-Qaeda in Iraq" (lit. "al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers") - led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi) claimed responsibility citing the targets as buildings "turned by the dictator of Jordan into a garden for the enemies of our religion, the Jews and the Crusaders"  (BBC, Nov. 10, 2005)  Filmmaker Moustapha Akkad ("Lion of the Desert" and "The Message") was killed in the attacks. The following week, nine of King Abdullah's closest advisers resigned.

In November-December, 2005 elections, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, officially banned since 1954, won 19% of the seats in the Egyptian Parliament. While the ruling National Democratic Party of President Mubarak still easily controlled parliament, some began observing that Egypt was moving toward a critical choice in its polity: a choice between, on the one hand, the autocracy that had dominated Egyptian political life since Nasser and on the other hand, Islamist rule. A casualty of the Egyptian political process was reformist politician Ayman Nour, leader of the Ghad ("Tomorrow") Party: Nour was sentenced to five years in jail, convicted of forging signatures to register his party.

Also in mid November, 2005, Human Rights Watch criticized a Saudi court for sentencing a teacher to three years and 750 lashes "for sowing doubt in a student's creed." Mohammed al-Harbi was accused of teaching about Judaism and Christianity and of criticizing religious extremism. (BBC, Nov. 20, 2005). Since a wave of militant attacks inside Saudi Arabia starting in 2003, tensions between religious conservatives and reformers had been mounting. (See editorials condemning terrorism.)

On November 20, 2005, Israel's P.M. Ariel Sharon stunned that nation's political scene by announcing that he was leaving Likud, the party he co-founded in 1973, and was forming a new party named Kadima ("Forward") ahead of national elections which were to take place in March, 2006. In what was seen as a major turn in his career, Sharon appeared to be reinventing himself as a centrist in order to maintain the gains earned by Israel's withdrawal from Gaza the previous summer. Four months later, Kadima won elections and, with Sharon lying comatose following a stroke, Ehud Olmert appeared poised to form a new government.

Meeting in Mecca in December, 2005, the Organization of the Islamic Conference issued a statement condemning terrorism and those forces encouraging it (especially financing of attacks and the religious fatwas ("opinions") inciting them issued by unauthorized Muslim clerics).

In mid December, 2005, HAMAS posted big wins in West Bank Palestinian municipal elections spurring a lengthy and dangerous political crisis.

In late December, 2005, Egypt's President Mubarak inaugurated a new "Arab Parliament": an 88 seat body made up of four delegates from each of the 22 Arab League nations. The Arab League hoped that the new "interim" assembly, modeled after the European Parliament, would be replaced by a permanent elected body after five years and be headquartered in Damascus, Syria. (BBC, Dec. 27, 2005)

Also in December, 2005, there were reasons to be optimistic about the future of Iraq and reasons to be optimistic about improvement in relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia, relations that had been seriously damaged by "nine-eleven." Saudi Arabia's ambassador Prince Turki al-Faisal, himself a graduate of Georgetown and noting that two thirds of his nation's cabinet ministers had been educated in the United States, said that the number of Saudi Arabian students attending universities in the United States rose sharply in 2005. (New York Times, Dec. 16, 2005)

Also in 2005, the term "Eurabia" was popularized by an author named Bat Ye'or (The Euro-Arab Axis) to describe what she called "the transformation of Europe into 'Eurabia,'" a reference to the growing challenges of immigration and multiculturalism in European countries. (see also "Londonistan")

2006 On January 1, Syria's former Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam was expelled from the Ba'ath Party and charged with treason for accusations he made over Arab TV that President Bashar al-Asad was responsible for ordering the assassination of Lebanon's former P.M. Rafik al-Hariri. Khaddam, in turn, called upon the Syrian people to "revolt" and oust the Asad regime. In March, Khaddam emerged as leader of a coalition of groups opposed to the Asad regime. The coalition included Kurds, members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Communists, and liberals (BBC, Mar. 17, 2006).

Israel's P.M. Ariel Sharon suffered a massive stroke on January 4. It was assumed that, at the very least, his political career was over. His deputy Ehud Olmert took over, but most bets on the next Prime Minister were settling on former Likud P.M. Binyamin Netanyahu.

On January 10, 2006, Iran removed seals put in place by the U.N. on nuclear equipment and began its program of enrichment of nuclear materials, a move widely criticized by the international community including such countries as Russia, which traditionally had been more sympathetic to Iranian interests.

The annual Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia) in January, 2006 was marred by the collapse of a pilgrims' hotel killing 76 and a stampede at the stoning of Satan ritual in Mina in which over 300 died. (see also)

In January, 2006, two long-term Arab rulers died: Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid al-Maktoum of Dubai and Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah of Kuwait. Al-Maktoum was succeeded by his brother, Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum. Al-Sabah was succeeded by a cousin, Crown Prince Sheikh Saad al-Abdullah al-Sabah, who was in ill health. Within a little more than a week, he was pushed aside and succeeded by the Prime Minister of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah.

On January 24, 2006, acting Israeli P.M. Ehud Olmert (see, see), campaigning for election to the office in his own right as the leader of the new Kadima Party, called for Israel to withdraw from parts of the West Bank but to retain complete Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.

On January 25, 2006, HAMAS scored a surprising landslide win over the ruling Fatah Party in parliamentary elections in Gaza and the West Bank. (more)

In early February, 2006, some European newspapers, in a calculated stand on free speech and in support of the Danish newspaper that had first published them the previous September, reprinted cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (in one, with a bomb in his turban) that had infuriated Muslims and sparked demonstrations around the world. (more) (see also) (More: "Wars of Words and Images")

On February 9, 2006, attacks on Shia Muslims in Pakistan and Afghanistan celebrating the Shia Ashura festival left over thirty dead.

On February 11, 2006, Syria's President Bashar al-Asad reshuffled his cabinet: former Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara became Vice President and Walid al-Muallem became the new Foreign Minister. Bassam Abdel Majeed replaced the late Ghazi Kanaan as Interior Minister. Kanaan had committed suicide the previous October after his name surfaced in connection with the assassination of Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri the previous year.

Also in mid February 2006, the son of Libya's ruler Muammar Qaddafi, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, told Austria's Die Presse that Libya had gotten behind President Bush's push for democratic reforms in the Middle East. Libya had recenty embarked on a campaign to boost tourism and foreign investment. Libya was especially interested in attracting big American oil companies. (BBC, Feb.11, 2006) Relations between Libya and the U.S. had warmed considerably since the 1980s (see).

In February, 2006, Iraqi leaders began to warn of the danger of Sunni-Shiite civil war in Iraq.

On March 2, 2006, leaders of the various confessional factions in Lebanon's weak and gridlocked government convened a "National Dialogue" to try to resolve key issues such as the remains of Syrian influence (Lebanon's President Lahoud was pro-Syrian as was Hizbullah), the pace of the Harriri assassination investigation, the question of disarming militias, some of whom (Hizbullah, for example) had significant representation in the government, demarcating the borders with Syria, and the status of the Shebaa Farms. Gridlock was exacerbated by Lebanon's system of confessional representation, whose origins were in sectarian violence going back to the nineteenth century. In 2006, estimates of population by sect were: 35% Shia, 35% Christian, 25% Sunni, and 5% Druze. Very little progress was made on any fronts paving the way for the war with Israel sparked by Hizbullah the following summer.

On March 14, 2006, Israeli troops raided a Palestinian jail in Jericho and arrested a prisoner, Ahmed Saadat, a leader of Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) whom Israel believed was about to be released by the new HAMAS dominated Palestinian government in the wake of the withdrawal of U.S. and British monitors at the prison (the monitors warned they were withdrawing because of poor security at the prison). Israel announced it would try Saadat for the 2001 assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi. Following the raid, Palestinians in Gaza went on a rampage attacking offices of the EU and other British and American interests prompting fresh doubts among Europeans about the wisdom of funding a Palestinian government dominated by HAMAS. (BBC, Mar. 15, 2006)

In March, 2006, Afghanistan came under heavy international pressure as a man named Abdul Rahman went on trial for his life for converting to Christianity (which his family said he had done fifteen years earlier). The trial brought to light a contradiction in Afghanistan's constitution: on the one hand it stipulated religious freedom, and, on the other hand decreed that Islam was the supreme religion.

On March 28, 2006, Ehud Olmert's centrist party Kadima won parliamentary elections in Israel. The Likud Party, which had dominated Israeli politics for thirty years, came in fifth. More on Olmert (see, see). Olmert promised settled borders between Israel and the Palestinians by the end of his term (next scheduled elections were to occur in 2010), either through negotiations (but not with HAMAS -- see) or by unilateral Israeli fiat (a mode the Palestinians categorically rejected). (see also)

In April, 2006, Egypt's Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa issued a fatwa (Islamic legal opinion) stipulating that Egypt's Pharaohnic period sculptures were forbidden under Islam (Christian Science Monitor, April 18, 2006; BBC, May 9, 2006). The fatwa came at a time when the demand for such opinions was rising sharply in Egypt. Another leading Sheikh, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, endorsed the new fatwa. The fatwa drew sharp rebuttals from Egypt's artists and historians in addition to those whose livelihoods depended on selling souvenir copies of sculptures.

In mid April, 2006, speculation was running high about the extent to which the United States might be planning a preemptive strike at Iranian nuclear facilities (see Seymour Hersh, "The Iran Plans," The New Yorker, April 17, 2006, 30ff.). Some disputed claims that Iran was approaching the status of nuclear power and argued that the nation was many years away from such status. (see New York Times, April 13, 2006)

On April 15, 2006, thousands of Christian Copts in Egypt took to the streets to protest the lack of government protection for Christians (10% of Egypt's population) one day after three Muslims staged attacks on churches in Alexandria during Good Friday services killing one Christian worshipper.

On April 17, 2006, Palestinian Islamic Jihad staged a suicide bombing in a restaurant in Tel Aviv, Israel that killed at least nine. The ruling HAMAS Palestinian government labelled it an act of "self-defense."

A paper entitled "The Economic Costs of the Iraq War" and presented by Harvard Lecturer Linda Bilmes and Columbia Professor Joseph E. Stiglitz at a meeting of the Allied Social Science Association in 2006 argued that the actual cost of the Third Gulf War would top $2 trillion, far more than the American public had been led to believe it would. Before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and others had estimated the war would cost $50-60 billion. Former Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz had argued that Iraqi oil revenues would pay the bills. President Bush's economic advisor Lawrence Lindsey was quickly fired when he said the war might cost $100-200 billion. (Harvard Magazine, May-June, 2006, 11-14).

On April 24, 2006, bombs went off in the Egyptian Sinai resort town of Dahab killing at least 30.

In April, 2006, China and Saudi Arabia held talks aimed at creating a major deal on oil to help feed China's increasing demand for energy.

On April 28, 2006, riots erupted in Cairo, Egypt over hearings to dismiss two judges who had brought charges of forgery and fraud against the government in connection with the 2005 elections. The brutal way security forces dealt with demonstrators drew critcism of Egypt's official treatment of dissenters. The EU also pressed Egypt to repeal the emergency laws, which had been in place since the assassination of President Sadat in 1981 and which had just been renewed for two more years.

On May 12, 2006, Muslim clerics meeting in Doha, Qatar published a statement saying that no part of historic Palestine should be yielded or negotiated away. Among the leaders were Egyptian Shaikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Saudi cleric Salman al-Odeh, and Sheik Harith al-Dhari, head of the Sunni Muslim Scholars Association in Iraq (New York Times).

On May 15, 2006, the Palestine Liberation Organization opened an office in Beirut after a hiatus of twenty-four years (since its expulsion from the city in 1982 during the 1975-1989 civil war in Lebanon).

On May, 16, 2006, the U.S. and Libya announced they were resuming full diplomatic relations after a long hiatus (the U.S. broke off ties in 1981).

On May 16, 2006, the Netherlands initiated procedures to deport Liberal MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali for lying to the immigration services. She chose to resign her office and planned to move to the United States. The Somali born Muslim woman had left her native country to avoid a forced arranged marriage and was outspoken about discrimination against and violence toward women in Muslim countries. She had collaborated with murdered Dutch filmaker Theo Van Gogh on a film titled "Submission" writing the screenplay for the movie.

On May 17, 2006, a lawyer shot five judges (one fatally) in Ankara, Turkey. The killer had been angered by a recent ruling enforcing the nation's strict ban on the wearing of head scarves in public buildings. The incident highlighted the tensions in Turkey between those committed to preserving the strict separation of religion and government (as constituted by Ataturk) and those who wanted to increase the role of Islam in Turkish social and political life. The stakes were high given Turkey's keen wish to meet E.U. standards for democratic political institutions (more on Turkey and the E.U.)

On May 17, 2006, in eastern Lebanon, Lebanese army regulars clashed with Palestinian militiamen belonging to the pro-Syrian Fatah-Intifada group (led by Abu Moussa and headquartered in Damascus). The same day, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1680 (full text at UN) calling on Syria to stop arming militias in Lebanon or interfering in Lebanese affairs in any way and to formalize ties with Lebanon including reaching agreement on firm borders.

By mid May, 2006, Somalia's capital Mogadishu was embroiled in a struggle for control between Islamist militias and secular warlords who were financed in part by the CIA. Somalia had not had a real government since Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991 (see also). On June 5, an Islamist militia representing the "Union of Islamic Courts" led by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed took control of the capital spelling defeat for the U.S. backed warlords. In July, UIC leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys called for a "holy war" to drive Ethiopian troops out of the country. UIC was suspected of harboring al-Qaeda operatives involved in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa. See BBC page on Somalia. (see also)

On May 25, 2006, the pan-Arab daily newspaper al-Sharq al-Owsat ran an editorial cartoon that captured the despair throughout the Middle East over the region's incapacity to forge peace. The cartoon pictured an Arab man sitting at a piano staring at a piece of music. Both his arms had been severed at the shoulder. The caption read: maqtu'a al-salaam ("The music of peace"). It was a bitter pun on the word maqtu'a, which can mean both "severed" and "a piece of music." Ironically, the caption formed a pun in English as well: "peace" and "piece."

On May 28, 2006, the U.N. helped arrange a truce on the Lebanese-Israeli border after rocket attacks from suspected Hizbullah and Palestinian militamen on the Lebanese side and retaliatory air attacks from Israel.

On May 29, 2006, a deadly traffic accident in Kabul, Afghanistan involving a U.S. military vehicle sparked rioting across the city. U.S. military officials had by this point begun describing the renewed Taliban resistance in the south as an "insurgency." (see also) Resentment of the American military presence on the part of Afghan people had been growing fueled in part by the killings of Afghan villagers in recent American counterinsurgency air raids near Kandahar and in the eastern Kunar Province.

By May, 2006, a lethal new challenge added to the woes of Darfur in Sudan. Two of the rebel factions fighting the government of Sudan succumbed to rivalries over territory and ethnic tensions and turned on one another, ironically adopting some of the same tactics (terror, rape, and murder) of their common Janjaweed enemy (New York Times, May 19, 2006). The United States was finding it more and more difficult to wield influence over Sudan. With rapidly rising demand for its oil from countries like China, Sudan was in 2006 becoming one of the fastest growing economies in Africa. Khartoum was turning into a boom town. All of this meant that Sudan was finding it easier to ignore the West. (see also)

Over the weekend of June 2, 2006, Canadian authorities arrested more than a dozen people from Muslim backgrounds and charged them with plotting a campaign of bombings in southern Ontario including Toronto.

In mid June, 2006, the Pew Research Center in Washington released a new survey (full text - in Adobe format) indicating a rise in mutual distrust between Muslims and non-Muslims (see Europe, see United States). Among the chief irritants were the bombings in London in the summer of 2005 and the controversy over cartoons in the winter of 2006. One of the more startling findings was that majorities in Turkey, Egypt, Indonesia, and Jordan reported they did not think Arabs perpetrated the 9/11 attacks. (see also) (BBC, June 23, 2006) See also controversy over the Pope's remarks, a German opera production, and a comment by a former British Foreign Secretary. (More: "Wars of Words and Images")

In late June, 2006, Israel launched attacks against Palestinian militants in Gaza after an Israeli soldier was kidnapped. By mid-July, hostilities had broken out along Israel's border with Lebanon as well (details).

On July 8, 2006, two dozen Egyptian newspapers suspended publication for a day to protest against a new law criminalizing investigative reporting into official corruption. The law was seen as an attempt by the regime to recover autocratic controls over expression of opinion ceded under pressure from the United States in 2004. By 2006, pressures from the U.S. for democratic reform in the Middle East had dropped off.

On July 11, 2006, multiple bombs planted on the commuter rail system in Mumbai (Bombay), India went off during rush hour killing nearly 200. A Pakistani supported Muslim group, Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Kashmiri militant group based in Pakistan, was suspected. Indian police claimed they had proof that the Pakistani intelligence services (ISI) had been involved in the incident. The government of Pakistan vigorously denied it supported the attackers and condemned the incident. The following September 9, three bombs went off near a mosque in Malegaon, northeast of Mumbai, on a Muslim feast day killing 37.

On August 3, 2006, Afghanistan said it was deporting 1,500 South Korean evangelical Christian missionaries for proselytizing.

On August 10, 2006, British police broke up a plot to explode bombs on several airliners bound from the United Kingdom to the United States. Several of the conspirators had received training and support from individuals in Pakistan. The same month, Germany was unsettled by the arrest of a Lebanese man suspected of planting bombs on two trains (the bombs failed to explode).

Also in the summer of 2006, Malaysia was in an uproar over the case of a woman who converted from Islam to Christianity and wished to marry a Christian man. The Islamic Sharia courts refused her persmission to marry. She had received death threats from Muslim extremists. New York Times correspondent Jane Perlez wrote (Aug. 24, 2006): "For Malaysia, which considers itself a moderate and modern Muslim country with a tolerance for its multiple religions and ethnic groups of Malays, Indians and Chinese, the case has kicked up a firestorm that goes to the very heart of who is a Malay, and what is Malaysia." Of Malaysia’s 26 million people 60% wereMuslim, 20 percent Buddhist, nearly 10 percent were Christian and 6 percent were Hindu.

In late August, 2006, Turkey was rocked by a wave of bombings perpetrated by Kurdish separatists and aimed at disrupting Turkey's lucrative tourist industry.

In late August, 2006, Pakistan's province of Baluchistan was rocked by riots after a rebel tribal leader, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, was killed in gunfire by government forces. These events served to focus even more attention on the unpopularity of President Musharaf and on mounting challenges to his authority particularly from Baloch nationalists and conservative Muslims. (See Ahmed Rashid's piece in the BBC)

On August 30, 2006, Egypt's Nobel Laureate writer Naguib Mahfouz (b. 1911) passed away in Cairo at the age of 94. (see also)

On September 4, 2006, a gunman shouting "Allahu Akbar!" ("God is Great!") opened fire on tourists visiting a Roman period site in Amman, Jordan killing one British citizen and wounding five others. The gunman, a Palestinian (Jordan's population was two-thirds Palestinian) said his deed was an act of vengeance for the killing of his two brothers, members of Palestinian groups, during Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

Also on September 4, 2006, Israel announced a project to add 700 more homes in the settlements of Maale Adumim (outside East Jerusalem) and Beitar Illit (near Bethlehem), both in the disputed West Bank. Approximately 240,000 Israeli settlers and 2.4 million Palestinians lived in the West Bank (BBC).

On September 5, 2006, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for students to rise up and demand the firing of "liberal" (i.e. "secular") university instructors.

On September 6, 2006, Pakistan signed an accord with tribal leaders supportive of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan's unstable North Waziristan province along the border with Afghanistan, a tacit admission by Pakistan that it had been unable to curb Taliban and other anti-government activity in the border regions. Support for the Taliban among locals was on the rise (a similar deal with tribal leaders in South Waziristan had succeeded in stopping attacks against Pakistani soldiers, but had also led to increased Taliban support activities there). (more on the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan)

On September 6, 2006, nearly five years after it began confining prisoners in its "war on terror" at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and in other prisons throughout the world, the United States announced it would begin observing the conditions set forth in the Third Geneva Convention banning torture and other abusive treatments (full text of Third Geneva Convention at Yale's Avalon Project). Howerver, a dispute between the President and some senators erupted over a subsequent request by the President for a legislated "interpretation" of the Third Geneva Convention to guide interrogators.

In early September, 2006, Mohammed Taha, editor of the Sudanese state-owned newspaper al-Wifaq, was kidnapped and beheaded. He had recently angered Islamists in Sudan when he reprinted an article about the Prophet Muhammad that some found slanderous.

On September 8, 2006, the U.N. warned of an acute humanitarian crisis looming in Gaza stemming from Israel's economic blockade during the summer war.

On September 8, 2006, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee threw its weight in alongside previous reports from independent commissions and the CIA among others (see, see) saying, contrary to Bush administration claims, it had found no evidence of a relationship between Iraq's deposed president Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.

On September 12, 2006, armed attackers shouting "Allahu Akbar!" ("God is Great!") tried to storm the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, Syria, but were stopped by Syrian security forces.

In mid September, 2006, a furor erupted in the Muslim world over remarks made by Pope Benedict XVI at the University of Regensberg (Germany), where the Pope once taught Theology. In those remarks, he condemned religious violence and appealed to reason to solve disputes between religions. Along the way, however, the Pope quoted an Orthodox Christian Emperor of the Byzantine Empire, Manuel II Paleologos, who reportedly said in a dialogue with a Persian interlocutor ca. 1391 that Muhammad had brought " things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." (source: BBC, Sept. 15, 2006) Some Muslims thought the quotation was a reflection of the Pope's own views toward Islam and demanded an apology. Given the long history of polemical attacks between Muslims and Christians stretching back to the eighth century and John of Damascus (see also "Wars of Words and Images"), given the Crusades, and given European colonialism on top of the very recent uproar over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, those who felt offended were in no mood to be easily mollified. On September 16, governments from across the Muslim world began demanding that the Pope apologize for his remarks. In the West Bank city of Nablus, seven churches were firebombed, and in Somalia an Italian nun was murdered. The following Sunday (Sept. 17), the Pope offered a guarded mea culpa: apologizing for "reactions" to his speech, but not for the speech itself. Referring to the words at the center of the stir, he said, "These in fact were a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought." (New York Times). Abd al-Rahman Rashed, a prominent Arab journalist, thought he saw enough blame all around. Censuring extremist Muslims while also chastising the Pope, he wrote, “…extremists have hijacked the Quranic concept of jihad, which is meant for self-defense alone, and transformed it into a license to kill…Perhaps the more appropriate rebuke should be for those Muslims and their protégés who mutilate the meaning of Islam rather than for those from other religions.  More than ever before, leaders of religious practice are obliged to avoid confrontations now that we live in a world  that is full of gunpowder.” ("The Pope's Big Mistake," Al-Sharq al-Owsat, Sept. 18, 2006 -- my translation. Also from al-Rashed) (More: "Wars of Words and Images")  On Easter Sunday, 2008, Benedict was once again at the center of challenges to the Muslim world. (more)

On September 19, 2006, Egypt's Gamal Mubarak (son of the president) in his role as head of the ruling National Democratic Party said that the nation needed to adopt a vision that emphasized Arab values, not those of others (a jab at the Bush administration's recent campaigns for democracy in the region). Mubarak also spoke in favor of developing Egypt's nuclear capacity, another theme unlikely to please the United States. Both Egypt and Turkey (another country that sought to build nuclear power plants) were worried about Iran's growing nuclear potential and feared being left behind.

On September 23, 2006, Yemen's president of 28 years, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was reelected to a new seven year term.

Also on September 23, 2006 and as part of an international effort to consolidate gains from the ceasefire in the summer war, Lebanese government troops were deployed along the southern border with Israel for the first time in forty years (the region had been mostly out of government control during that period and in the hands of Palestinian militias, Israeli occupation forces, or Hizbullah).

On September 24, 2006, the New York Times reported on a classified American intelligence community document ("National Intelligence Estimate") which argued that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq had increased the threat of global terrorism: that many insurgents fighting in Iraq were preparing to spread their jihads to other countries (much as was the case in the 1990s when jihadists returning from the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan started new ones in countries like Egypt and Algeria.The Bush administration attempted to defend itself by arguing that these earlier jihads were proof that jihadism predated America's invasion of Iraq.)

On September 26, 2006, a Berlin opera company tried to cancel a recent production of Mozart's Idomeneo. It contained a scene not constructed by Mozart but inserted by the director as an editorial brief for the argument that the world's problems stem from religion. In the scene, the severed heads of Poseidon, the Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad are displayed. The producers feared attacks from Islamist groups in Europe (police said a threat had been received). There were howls of protest from politicians across the political spectrum in Germany. They cited the stifling of free speech and lack of backbone to resist threats and extortion from religious groups who might have been offended. When the production first went up in 2003, Christians as well as Muslims protested. For orthodox Muslims, any depiction of Muhammad was considered idolatrous. The next day, the show was back on after a council of religious and political leaders approved. Some Muslim leaders were vigorous in insisting that religious people must make allowances for artistic expression.

Meanwhile in France, a school teacher, Robert Redeker, who had criticized Islam publicly, went into hiding after he began receiving death threats. French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin called the threats “unacceptable,” and added, “We are in a democracy. Everyone has the right to express his views freely, while respecting others, of course.” (New York Times, Sept. 30, 2006) Fears were rising even among centrist Europeans that Islam may not be compatible with modern European values. Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, for example, caused a stir by suggesting that the wearing of the niqab (full face veil) by Muslim women "is a visible statement of separation and difference." (see New York Times, Oct. 7 and 11, 2006 -- See also recent comments by Syrian poet Adonis. See also Salman Rushdie fatwa, the cartoon controversy, and the uproar over Pope Benedict's recent remarks. Compare the case of Roger Garaudy in France. See Pew Survey of June, 2006.) In a related development, the French parliament passed a measure criminalizing attempts to deny that a "genocide" of Armenians at the hands of Turks in the early twentieth century took place. Some Turks accused the French of using the issue to thwart Turkey's campaign to join the European Union. (see, for example) (see also uproar over Muslim cleric's remarks in Australia) Finally, an Islamist website accused Apple Computer of insulting Islam by naming its Manhattan store "Apple Mecca." Turkish Studies Professor Kemal Silay responded: "Islamists have been struggling to turn any Western object that they can imagine into a so-called 'insult to Islam.' As a Muslim myself, I see no insult to Islam in a computer store but I see plenty of it in Islamism itself." (In Technology, Commerce, Society Daily, Nov. 14, 2006 -- http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=111406A) (More: "Wars of Words and Images")

On September 27, John Dugard, a UN lawyer, called the humanitarian crisis in Gaza "intolerable," noting that three-fourths of the population had become dependent on food aid in the wake of the cutoff of funding by American and European sources.

In October, 2006, Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. (see also)

"Sovereign" Iraq, 2004-2006


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