Secular activists launched the Egyptian revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak last January, but a year later Islamists are surging. The final results from Egypt's first post-revolution elections revealed that Islamist political parties won nearly 70 percent of the parliament's seats.
The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party gained nearly 44 percent of the seats-an unsurprising victory for a highly organized political group. More surprising: the success of hard-line Salafi politicians who advocate even stricter adherence to Islamic law in government. The Salafi Nour Party won about 20 percent of the seats.
The Egyptian military still rules the post-revolution country, but the parliament will appoint a commission to draft a new constitution. Egyptian citizens are set to vote on a constitutional referendum later this year and select a new president.
The first day of the new parliament on Jan. 22 showed that unity is far from certain. Arguments over selecting a speaker devolved into chaotic shouting matches. Minority secularist politicians objected to Salafi members amending their oaths of office: Some of the members included pledges of loyalty to Islamic law.
More than meets the eye
Christians increasingly are becoming the victims of targeted killings in Syria as an uprising against the government of President Bashar Assad enters its 10th month. Sources who cannot be identified for safety reasons told UK-based Barnabas Fund that children in Christian families are being targeted for kidnapping and ransom demands-much as militants targeted Christians in the Nineveh Plain area of Iraq. A 28-year-old Christian kidnapped after Christmas was later found hanged, according to the group, and gunmen have killed others in the streets-at least 100 Christians since the uprising began.
Despite calls among conservative U.S. lawmakers for Libya-like intervention to end the Assad regime, there is increasing evidence that outside Sunni extremists, including Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood groups, are infiltrating street demonstrations and confrontations to topple the Assad regime. Assad is a Shiite of the Alawite sect. "The current uprising in Syria is not about 'democracy' as the West knows it. It is about restoring majoritarianism (Sunni domination), Arab hegemony and the Islamic order to Syria," writes religious liberty expert Elizabeth Kendal. The UN estimates that over 5,000 Syrians have died since the uprising began.
A mass exodus of mostly Christian southerners living in northern Nigeria began after officials on Jan. 23 relaxed a 24-hour curfew in the country's second-largest city, Kano. A string of coordinated bombings attributed to al-Qaeda affiliate Boko Haram in Kano Jan. 20 left about 200 estimated dead. On Jan. 22 three bombs exploded at churches in Bauchi City, also in the north, but there were no reported injuries or deaths. Earlier that day, in Tafawa Balewa south of Bauchi City, gunmen fired on Christians, with eight civilians, two soldiers, and a policeman killed. Churches in the area have canceled services, and tensions have remained high since Boko Haram, a radical Islamic group, announced earlier this month an ultimatum for Christians to leave northern Nigeria.
Despite freezing rain pouring on and off all afternoon Jan. 23, the annual March for Life, held in Washington, D.C., the day after the anniversary of the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, seemed to draw its largest crowd yet, and most of the marchers were young-teenagers or college students, numbering in the tens of thousands, if not more than a hundred thousand. "Rick Santorum for President" campaign signs were abundant, and some signs for Ron Paul also appeared, but signs for Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney were either absent or rare.
After President Obama announced on Jan. 19 that he would reject TransCanada's bid to build the $7 billion Keystone XL crude oil pipeline from Canada down to refineries near the Gulf Coast, Canada indicated that it would expand its oil exports to China. The country is now holding hearings about a new pipeline that would go west from the oil sands of Alberta to the Pacific Ocean, where oil could be shipped to Asia. Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper expressed "profound disappointment" with Obama's decision and Harper's natural resource minister Joe Oliver said it would spur "diversifying and expanding our markets, including the growing Asian market."
Currently Canada exports 99 percent its crude oil to the United States. Though environmental groups praised Obama's Keystone decision, other Democratic allies like labor unions were dismayed. Some Democrats on the Hill criticized the president's decision, too. "It's clear Canada is going to develop this resource, and I believe it is better for our country to have it go here rather than Asian markets," said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., whose state was in the path of the pipeline.
After Europe's financial eruptions in 2011, 2012 has seemed quiet by comparison. But financial analysts say we shouldn't be fooled. Europe is quiet in the way a volcano is quiet. That is, nothing has blown up so far, but steam is still rising from the vents.
The euro, for example, continues to sink against the dollar-to a 16-month low. Major structural problems still exist. In fact, something unusual happened in Europe in mid-January. Eurozone banks held a record amount of cash overnight on Jan. 9 at the European Central Bank. That's significant because it's a sign of stress in the European financial system. The central bank said overnight deposits hit $613.4 billion. The high deposits at the ECB mean banks are afraid to loan money to other commercial banks that might pay higher rates but which they fear might go out of business literally overnight.
European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi called Europe's situation "very grave," but he added that eurozone governments are making progress to permanently resolve their problems, and that the ECB would cooperate to the limit of the treaty that created it.
A family sacrifices
Dr. Jean and Mary Wise of Hope, Ark., parents of four, have now lost two sons in Afghanistan. Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Wise, 34, died Jan. 15 after sustaining multiple gunshot wounds in combat with insurgents in Balkh province. He leaves a wife and three children. His older brother, former Navy SEAL Jeremy Wise, 35, died in December 2009 when a suicide bomber attacked a CIA outpost, killing seven.
'The ends of the earth'
Chinese officials broke a 20-month silence about the fate of prominent dissident and Christian attorney Gao Zhisheng: Authorities said the human-rights activist was alive and imprisoned in a remote area of western China.
It was bittersweet news. Gao's family feared he was dead, but now they face a new heartbreak: Authorities say the activist will spend another three years in jail for violating his probation. Police first arrested Gao in 2006 for "subversion of state power" after the attorney publicly exposed abuses of Christians and other religious minorities. He remained under house arrest until 2009, when police detained him without explanation. Gao resurfaced in March 2010 but disappeared a month later. His family hadn't heard from him since.
A December letter to Gao's brother, Gao Zhiyi, confirmed the activist's location and new prison sentence. Gao Zhiyi made an arduous three-day journey to visit his brother in January, only to have authorities refuse his plea to visit. Gao's wife, Geng He, wrote an open letter to her husband earlier that month: "Even if you go to the ends of the earth, we will remain connected to you."