Blessed Mawlid, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
These are special days for major religious faiths. This year, the calendar has worked so that Muslims and Christians will mark their holidays on almost the same day. Muslims will be celebrating al-Mawlid al-Nabawi, Prophet Mohammad’s birthday, on December 24th, just one day before Christmas. Jews observed Hanukkah, the eight-day Festival of Lights, December 6th-14th.
On these holidays and with the New Year approaching, humanity is entitled to hope and can pray that 2016 will usher in a year of more peace and less conflict.
For the Middle East and North Africa, 2015 was strewn with human-made disasters, including wars, terrorist attacks and the mass tragedy of displacement and migration.
After five years and 250,000 casualties, war in Syria still rages. A monstrosity called the Islamic State (ISIS) still wreaks havoc in the Levant and beyond. The Palestinians are no closer to achieving their right to national independence.
But as 2015 comes to a close we can see a few glimmers of hope. A group of civil society activists in an Arab country, Tunisia, received the Nobel Peace Prize; Saudi women voted for the first time and no fewer than 20 of them were elected to public office; Libyan belligerents have signed a peace agreement, bringing hope that peace will return to that North African nation; a cease-fire was declared in Yemen; and the international community is finally searching in earnest for a negotiated settlement in Syria.
More importantly and despite all appearances, the bonds that bind humanity are stronger than those forces that divide its peoples and nations. The world can still rise to the challenge of agreeing on the common good when the stakes are high. The accord on climate change reached by the community of nations is the best expression of that universal hope.
Despite the headline-grabbing violence committed by extremist groups, Arab and Muslim societies remain overwhelmingly opposed to the scourges of terror and extremism. The unfolding drama of Middle East refugees crossing the Mediterranean to Europe has shown the world to what degree international solidarity is stronger than the forces that advocate for barriers and who use ethnic, cultural and religious differences to divide populations into “us” and “them”.
Such barriers have not dissuaded the young people of Syria, Iraq and Iran from seeking harbour in the West when trying to escape daily despair. The collective yearning for better lives is what drives most young people in the Arab world today, not hostility towards others. The pyrrhic victories of political forces wishing to exploit fear and prejudice to win votes in the West are only short lived.
At the end of 2015, we owe it to ourselves to keep hope alive. North Africa and the Middle East can break the vicious circle of war and misery. They can also contribute to the progress of humanity and that of their own populations.
Our newspaper will not be published on December 25th or January 1st so our staff may enjoy the holiday season. Our next issue will be published January 3rd.
To our readers, we would like to convey our most sincere best wishes of a Blessed Mawlid, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.