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Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

Category: Christianity

LEBANON: Psychic Michel Hayek sees 'war for peace' in 2011

Picture 11 Good news for a tense region, if you believe in psychic predictions, that is.

Michel Hayek, the Arab world's most celebrated clairvoyant, foresees a Middle Eastern "war for peace" in 2011, assuring the audience that tuned in for his annual televised New Year's Eve predictions that calm will prevail despite threats of war.

"The region is moving slowly toward peace, despite indications of threats and war," the Lebanese soothsayer predicted (Arabic link). "Lebanon, specifically, will be negotiating" on its own behalf, he said, "rather than being negotiated over."

Although Hayek did not speak at length about the United States or U.S. policy in the region as he has in the past, he did predict that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would suffer an on-camera breakdown.

One of his more tragic predictions already seems to have come true.

On Jan. 1, just hours after Hayek predicted a "darkness" would fall over some leaders of the Coptic church in Egypt, at least 21 Coptic worshippers were killed and dozens more injured in a bomb attack on a church in the Egyptian coastal city of Alexandria.

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WEST BANK: Bethlehem glows on Christmas Eve

Christmas eve in Bethlehem 2010 011

In the West Bank city of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, thousands of Palestinians and visitors from all over the world gathered at Manger Square on Christmas Eve to watch Jerusalem's Catholic patriarch, Fouad Twal, lead a procession of priests to the Church of the Nativity and to listen to his midnight Mass sermon. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who regularly attends the midnight Mass, was among them.

The procession started at midday from the Catholic church in the Old City of Jerusalem. A convoy of about 50 cars, led by the patriarch, drove the six-mile road south from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. When the convoy arrived at the outskirts of Bethlehem, a metal gate in the 20-foot-high concrete wall that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem opened to let the cars through.

Bethlehem had suffered a great deal in the last 10 years. Its highest moment of glory was the turn of the millennium, when tens of thousands of people gathered there to celebrate that very special time that comes only once every 1,000 years. However, when the peace process that was supposed to emancipate the Palestinian people from the long Israeli occupation broke down, trouble engulfed the entire West Bank, and Bethlehem's share was not lesser that any of its sister cities.

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EGYPT: One protester killed, dozens injured and arrested in Coptic clashes with police

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The Interior Ministry said a riot started just after dawn in the Omraneya district when hundreds of Copts tried to "illegally transform" a Christian community center "into a church without obtaining the necessary authorization for doing so."

Demonstrators broke windows, sabotaged residential buildings and blocked the road leading to the area. "With our blood and our souls, we will sacrifice our lives for you, oh cross," the protesters chanted.

Police dispersed the crowd by firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Protesters responded by throwing Molotov cocktails at security officers, who then hurled rocks at protesters from a nearby bridge overlooking the construction site.

Makarios Jad Shukr, a 19-year-old student, was shot in the leg and died on his way to hospital, officials said. Unnamed medical sources said three other protesters were seriously wounded and remained in critical condition.

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IRAQ: In Mosul, grief as Christians mourn latest losses

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Two brothers of the Syrian Catholic denomination were working as blacksmiths in their workshop in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Monday when gunmen stormed their workplace. Both were shot dead, police said, part of an apparent campaign against Iraq's small Christian community.

A source in the provincial government said some citizens managed to intervene and thwart another attack that same day against a  Christian family in eastern Mosul, forcing the assailants to flee.

-- A Times correspondent in Mosul, Iraq 

Photo: Iraqi Christian relatives grieve over the coffin of one of two brothers during their funeral in Hamdaniya, Iraq, on Nov. 23, 2010, a day after they were gunned down inside their workshop in the restive northern city of Mosul. Credit: Mujahed Mohammed / AFP/Getty Images

MUSLIM WORLD: Young European man explains why he converted to Islam

41386_765997801_6575_nThe story of Malcolm is intriguing, and perhaps a bit puzzling.

Why would a left-leaning young man from one of the world's most secular and liberal countries choose to become a pious Muslim?

The 34-year old Swedish music teacher from Stockholm, who asked that his last name not be published, attempted to explain his decision, describing it as the culmination of a long journey searching for faith and him solidifying his religious beliefs that he couldn’t always place.

“I have never doubted my faith," he told Babylon & Beyond while on a recent visit to Beirut. "It feels like I've had the same faith all the time but it feels so cleanly formulated in Islam."

For Malcolm, becoming a Muslim gave him a connection to others in a country where identity is not always clean-cut.

"I feel very comfortable as a Muslim.... We’re social creatures and we want to feel a sense of belonging," he said. "If it’s not a clan it’s a nation or a soccer team. For me it’s nice to have a belonging which is not a nation or a football team."

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SAUDI ARABIA: Filipinos charged with 'proselytizing' after religious police raid Catholic Mass

_38423407_women_150_bbc It didn't take long before a private Roman Catholic Mass organized by expatriates in the capital of the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom of Saudi Arabia was shut down.

As the service got underway at a hotel last week, officers from the feared religious police, also known as the Mutawa, barged onto the premises, shutting down the Mass and arresting 13 Filipinos, including a Catholic priest, Saudi media reports say.

The group was released on bail after being briefly detained at a nearby police station, but they are still facing serious criminal charges for allegedly organizing the Mass, the Arab News, a Saudi English daily, reported.

"They were charged with proselytizing," the newspaper quoted Ezzedin H. Tago, chargé d'affaires at the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh, as saying.

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MUSLIM WORLD: Concerns linger after Florida pastor says he might burn Korans after all

Terry jones

As America awaits to see whether Florida pastor Terry Jones and his church followers will create a bonfire of Korans this weekend, after Thursday's disconnect in talks between the anti-Muslim evangelist and a Florida imam, another drama is playing out in the Middle East, where there are profound fears that Jones could incite violence and sectarian strife and seriously harm America's ties in the region should he decide to go ahead with his plan. 

On Friday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described the Koran-burning event as "a Zionist plot" that contravenes the teachings of the prophets of all the world's religions, according to state television.

Though President Obama, his deputies and even some Republicans have slammed the preacher's plan to set fire to 200 copies of Islam's holy book on the lawn outside his small church in Gainesville, observers fear that images of a mound of burning holy books broadcast on Al Jazeera and other pan-Arab news channels could further inflame passions.

"We are daring the Florida church followers to burn Korans, and then the world will see who the real extremists are," Mohamed Hassan, a cleric and a lecturer of Islamic Sharia law at Egypt's Assyut College of Islamic Principles, told Babylon & Beyond. "Burning [the Koran] out of hatred and with the aim of the defaming Islam is one of the biggest insults toward the religion, God and God's words. Whoever does it should be punished with the same punishment as a Muslim who disbelieves and converts to another religion."

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EGYPT: President Mubarak sued in disappearance of priest's wife

45125REUTERS4723rThree lawyers have filed a lawsuit against President Hosni Mubarak, holding him indirectly responsible for the disappearance of a priest's wife following her alleged conversion from Christianity to Islam.

Kamelia Shehata Zakher, wife of priest Thaddeus Samaan Rizk of Mowas Priory church in Minya, 152 miles south of Cairo, disappeared for five days last month before security authorities found and returned her to her husband.

Zakher has been out of sight since then, and the lawyers are claiming that she is being locked up in an unknown monastery by Coptic authorities, who aim to "force her back into Christianity."

According to solicitors Nezar Ghorab, Gamal Tag and Tarek Abubakr, the patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox church, Pope Shenouda III, issued an "illegal and a negative administrative decision to detain Zakher in a Coptic monastery on July 24 because of her conversion to Islam."

Since Mubarak is the only person entitled to appoint or dismiss the Coptic pope, the lawyers argue the president is fully responsible for Shenouda's decisions. The Egyptian constitution obliges President Mubarak to issue a decree canceling the Coptic pope's "negative decision," the lawyers say.

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