Month: November 2017

Despots are pushing the Arab world to become more secular

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DURING Friday prayers the congregation of Muhammad Yousef, a young puritanical preacher in the Egyptian town of Mansoura, once spilled out into the alleys surrounding his mosque. Now Sheikh Muhammad counts it a good week if he fills half the place. In Cairo, 110km (68 miles) to the south, unveiled women sit in street cafés, traditionally a male preserve, smoking water-pipes. Some of the establishments serve alcohol, which Islam prohibits. “We’re in religious decline,” moans Sheikh Muhammad, whose despair is shared by clerics in many parts of the Arab world. According to Arab Barometer, a pollster, much of the region is growing less religious. Voters who backed Islamists after the upheaval of the Arab spring in 2011 have grown disillusioned with their performance and changed their minds

Zimbabwe’s deepening crisis

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Do you take electronic dollars? A MONEY-CHANGER deftly flicks through a brick of bills, her fingernails a sparkly purple that matches her eye-shadow. She keeps the stack of “bond notes” (Zimbabwe’s ersatz money) bundled inside a sock in a plastic carrier bag. Real American dollars are hidden in her bra. Although bond notes are officially worth the same as American dollars, here on a pavement in Harare, the capital, greenbacks trade at a premium of 20-30% to the bills printed by Mr Mugabe’s government. Those wanting to buy dollar bills with mobile money, which is also supposedly denominated in the American currency, must pay a further premium of 30%. Such a range of values for Zimbabwe’s money ought not to be possible since, officially at least, it does not have a currency. The country a

Morocco’s little idyll of Jewish-Muslim coexistence

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Striking a harmonious note ONCE a year the little seaside town of Essaouira, in Morocco, reclaims its lost Jewish community. Sephardic trills echo from its whitewashed synagogues. The medieval souks fill with Jewish skullcaps. Rabbis and cantors wish Muslims “Shabbat Shalom” and regale them with Hebrew incantations. “It’s our culture,” says a merchant from Marrakech, who travelled 200km (124 miles) to hear them this year. The revival is the initiative of André Azoulay, a 76-year-old Jew from Essaouira (one of just three) and a former counsellor to Morocco’s kings. Each autumn he stages a colourful festival of Andalusian music aimed at bringing hundreds of Jews and Muslims together for a weekend of concerts and dialogue. Locals pack the small stadium to watch Hebrew cantors and Koran-rec