Egypt moves Palestinians toward reconciliation, pressuring Israel on broader peace deal

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_ISR130226AA001.jpegCAIRO — It’s been a decade since the Palestinian terrorist group turned political party Hamas took over the Gaza Strip.

In that time, neither the Hamas nor the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, whose president, Mahmoud Abbas, and secular Fatah ruling party officially lead the Palestinian strongholds in both Gaza and the West Bank, has made strides toward reconciling their bitter differences or meaningful progress toward their shared dream of statehood. But reconciliation talks hosted by Egypt signal a new seriousness between the competing movements on a political truce, one that could have far-reaching consequences for the Palestinians, Israel and the region as a whole.  

Read more at The Washington Times

Unrelenting killing of Coptic Christians intensifies debate over martyrdom

    CAIRO (RNS) – As a little boy in Sunday school, Bassem Al-Janoubie was fascinated by the illustrated stories about the martyrs of Egypt’s Coptic Church.

“Even more than cartoon comic books, the dramatic events and details of the ordeal of each saint held my attention,” remembers the now-40-year-old graphic designer. “They were like superheroes – not accepting attempts to change their beliefs or efforts to get them to deny their Christianity despite torture and even death.” 

Read more at Religion News Service

Hamas and Fatah sign 'last chance' reconciliation deal in Cairo

The secular nationalist Fatah movement and the Islamist group Hamas signed a Palestinian reconciliation deal on Thursday that aims to return a semblance of security and economic opportunity to the Gaza Strip.

The agreement includes arrangements to bring western-trained Palestinian Authority (PA) police to the beleaguered territory, administrative concessions on civil service salaries, and the removal of Hamas forces from the Rafah border crossing into Egypt, according to Egyptian security sources.   

Read more at The National

Activists on trial in Morocco for violating national security after using app

MARRAKECH, Morocco – The trial of seven Moroccan writers and pro-democracy activists has again been postponed, some accused of undermining national security, amid a crackdown on pro-democracy voices.

The seven have been accused for allegedly promoting independent journalism, after teaching citizen journalists how to use Story Maker, a smartphone app that produces and publishes news stories.

Read more at Middle East Eye

Hopeful voters seek change as Sirleaf exits

    MONROVIA, Liberia | After waiting in line all day on Tuesday to cast her vote at the St. Theresa Convent school for girls near this capital city’s seafront, Mary Monji and others sat on plastic lawn chairs in a bar waiting for the election results to start streaming on television.

“We are anxiously waiting for change,” said the 30-year-old mother of three. “We want a good leader who will solve our problems, not a dictator. We are praying so that God listens to us.” In a continent where democracy and political freedoms are frequently under siege, the peaceful transfer of power in this poor but proud nation stands out as a rare reason for hope.

Read more at The Washington Times

Can a Middle Kingdom nobleman named Userhat help save Egypt’s tourism industry?


LUXOR, Egypt — Egypt’s crucial tourism industry has been rocked by political instability and terrorism concerns, but help has arrived from a venerable source.

A series of stunning archaeological discoveries from the days of Egypt’s ancient glory are giving hope to those who depend on foreign visitors to make a living.  

Read more at The Washington Times

Here's why Egypt's Nile River is in danger

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_EGY130607aa001.jpegCAIRO — About 2,500 years ago, the Greek historian Herodotus called Egypt the “Gift of the Nile."

Today, Egyptians say their ancient ancestors would have done anything to protect their indispensable Nile River, and so should they. 

Read more at USA Today

Tunisian women welcome repeal of interfaith marriage ban

 TUNIS, Tunisia (RNS) — A few months ago, Amina El Mahdhi was forced to go abroad to marry the man she loved.

That’s because he is a Christian. And it was illegal in Tunisia for a Muslim woman to marry a man of another faith unless he converted to Islam.

Read more at Religion News Service

Can former Boko Haram terrorists be rehabilitated? This program aims to change their lives

    GOMBE, Nigeria — Aminu Usman sat facing his interrogators and answered questions thrown at him about his life as a Boko Haram terrorist.

“We were told that we were in the service of God,” said Usman, 35, a laborer and father of five. “That if we die, we would go to paradise.”

Read more at USA Today

Referendum on Kurdistan’s Independence Echoes in Education

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_IRQ150315aa001.jpegThe expected resounding “yes” vote in the Kurdish independence referendum on September 25 will throw the fate of non-Kurdish students and the governance of the region’s 30 universities into uncertainty.

“The situation now is unpredictable,” said an arts instructor at a private Kurdish university who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisals from pro-independence groups.   

Read more at Al Fanar

Why Kurds' vote for independence could disrupt U.S. campaign to defeat ISIS

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_IRQ150318aa001.jpegIRBIL, Iraq — From the scrappy town of Zakho on the Turkish border to the gleaming new office towers of this provincial capital, the Kurdistan flag is flown throughout northern Iraq on apartment balconies, storefronts and construction cranes.

Demonstrators wave it at the almost daily rallies to support a yes vote in Monday's controversial referendum on Kurdish independence from Iraq.   

Read more at USA Today

Homeless, helpless refugees use theater to push for a better life in squalid Iraqi camp

    DAQUQ, Iraq — On a bare stage with only two chairs and a table, Samahir Farhan portrayed before 300 people the sense of helplessness that refugees feel. It was easy to play the role and for the audience to empathize: They all are refugees.

“Our problems have become too many — we cannot bear it anymore,” Farhan said during one performance at a refugee camp near Kirkuk in northern Iraq, “We are tired of all this. It's been an entire year in this camp.”  

Read more at USA Today

Depth of war carnage comes into focus as Syrians start long struggle to rebuild their lives

CAIRO — In a grim irony, as a series of cease-fires in major portions of the country take hold in Syria, local activists around the country say the de-escalation of violence is revealing for the first time the scale of destruction wreaked by the 6-year-old civil war and the massive needs of the survivors to rebuild their homes and their lives.

But amid the carnage are signs that the slow business of rebuilding has begun.

Read more at The Washington Times

The Palestinian Museum Hosts Its First Exhibit

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_IRQ150410aa001.jpegBIRZEIT, West Bank—Sipping lemonade and orange juice, the crowd of local and international luminaries who attended the Palestinian Museum’s first exhibition this weekend hoped they were witnessing a new dawn for art and politics in the troubled region.

The museum’s director, Mahmoud Hawari, views the new institution and its first show, “Jerusalem Lives,” as a crucial step in fulfilling the Palestinian dream of an independent state asserting its rightful claims to Israeli-occupied territory.  

Read more at Al Fanar

Atheists in Muslim world: Silent, resentful and growing in number

BABYLON, Iraq — Lara Ahmed wears a headscarf and behaves like a pious Muslim.
But the 21-year-old Iraqi woman hides a secret from her peers at the University of Babylon: her atheism.

“I was not convinced by the creation story in the Quran,” she said. “Besides, I feel religions are unjust, violate our human rights and devalue women’s identities.”    

Read more at The Washington Times

Pakistan Prime Minister Sharif removed from office for corruption

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_PAK130912aa001.jpegLAHORE, Pakistan — Pakistan's highest court removed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from office Friday over corruption charges in a landmark decision expected to throw the nuclear-armed nation into political turmoil.

Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf said Sharif was "disqualified for life," although the court did not explicitly ban him from running again. It ordered that criminal charges be filed against him and his family.   

Read more at USA Today

In a bid to promote diversity, Egypt plans to restore Alexandria synagogue

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt (RNS) — A $2 million restoration of Egypt’s largest synagogue is the start of a government effort to keep alive the legacy of the Jewish community, whose members have largely left for Israel, France and elsewhere since the middle of the last century.

“We are experiencing a renaissance,” said Samy Ibrahim, vice president of the Cairo Jewish community, which, like the one in Alexandria, counts a population of less than a dozen members. “The government is elevating the profile of the heritage of Egyptian Jews.” 

Read more at Religion News Service

A Mexican-Syrian Friendship Sparks a Refugee Program

Adrian Melendez, a Mexican, first met Jackdar Mohammed, a Syrian, at a freshly constructed refugee camp in northern Iraq in March of 2013. Mohammed, both a refugee and a volunteer at the camp, jokingly offered the Mexican a spicy meal. A year later that encounter had changed both of their lives—and many others’ lives as well.

When Melendez first met Mohammed, he was working for Un Ponte Per, an Italian NGO partnered with the United Nations to support Syrian refugees in Iraq.

Read more at Al Fanar

Syrian rebels fear Bashar Assad benefits from Trump-Putin truce

CAIRO — Diaa Sroor recently watched as Russian troops move to the outskirts of his hometown of Daraa in southwest Syria, supposedly to act as observers under a cease-fire agreement recently struck between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at their much-anticipated Group of 20 meeting in Germany this month.

The Syrian acknowledged in an interview to having mixed feeling about the deal from the start. “The airstrikes have stopped,” said Dr. Sroor, 35, a medical doctor, “but the regime artillery units are still active outside the de-escalation zone.”

Read more at The Washington Times

10 Iraqi Universities Rebuild In Wake of Islamic State


Ten Iraqi universities closed their doors as the Islamic State seized swaths of northwestern Iraq three years ago.

Their campuses became battlefields. Bombs and mortar shells destroyed many of their buildings.

Read more at Al Fanar

Hard-fought victory in sight: Iraq close to retaking Mosul from Islamic State

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_IRQ150315aa001.jpegBAGHDAD — The culmination of the long, harder-than-expected battle to drive Islamic State from Iraq is at hand.

Following weeks of steady but bloody progress, Iraqi government forces announced Thursday that they were close to recapturing the landmark Nuri mosque in Mosul, a hugely symbolic victory retaking the holy site where Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his only known public appearance in 2014 and from which he declared the establishment of a radical Islamic “caliphate.”   

Read more at The Washington Times

First elephants, then rhinos — now donkeys are under threat


Ashley Ness was tracking down smugglers in the South African countryside earlier this year when she came upon an unexpected sight — hundreds of donkey hides hanging on tree branches.

The hides were on a homestead rented out to Chinese immigrants, said Ness, an inspector with Highveld Horse Care, a nonprofit animal rights group. Tractors, shipping containers and other detritus littered the property. Inside one of the containers, Ness and police officers found at least 3,000 donkey skins stacked.

 Read more at PRI

Egypt’s Coptic Christians question whether el-Sissi alliance can protect them from terror


CAIRO — Pope Francis is long gone from Egypt, but his April trip intensified a growing unease among Coptic Christians about President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s embrace of their 10 million-strong community.

During the pontiff’s visit, Mr. el-Sissi told Francis that the Egyptian government “is committed to treating all nationals equally on grounds of citizenship and constitutional and legal rights.”   

Read more at The Washington Times

Palestinian University Graduates Face Harsh Futures


HEBRON—Mohammad Ahmed studied accounting at al-Quds Open University in Hebron. He graduated with 3.7 out of 4.0 grade point average. But he’s never worked as an accountant.

“Two years after finishing my bachelor’s degree in accounting, I worked in a small furniture factory to earn money,” said Ahmed. “If I depended on my degree, I wouldn’t have a job in the next five years.”

Read more at Al Fanar Media

Rush-hour bombing near embassies kills 90, wounds hundreds in Kabul

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_IRQ151130aa01.jpegKABUL — At least 90 people were killed and hundreds wounded Wednesday when a massive explosion rocked a diplomatic area near the presidential palace in Afghanistan's capital.

Public health ministry spokesman Ismail Kawasi told the Associated Press that 400 people were injured in the bombing, which happened near Zambaq Square in the center of Kabul during rush hour.

Read more at USA Today

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