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Articles in Southwest Asia and North Africa

Libya’s Geographical Divisions and the Challenge to National Unity

By Martin W. Lewis | February 28, 2011 | 4 Comments

Libya’s national unity faces challenges beyond those imposed by its tribal background. Countries that contain two distinct core regions of roughly equivalent population are often burdened by regional rivalry, and Libya is no exception. Its bifurcation is stark, with population highly concentrated in two areas located on opposite sides of the country’s Mediterranean

Libya’s Tribal Divisions and the Nation-State

By Martin W. Lewis | February 27, 2011 |

Unlike the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings, that of Libya has a strong tribal component. When key tribal leaders rejected his regime, Muammar Gaddafi’s power began to evaporate from large segments of the country.
The phenomenon of tribalism in oil-rich Libya has caused some confusion in the media. A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor

The Toshka Scheme: Egypt’s Salvation or Mubarak’s Folly?

By Martin W. Lewis | February 17, 2011 | 2 Comments

Dictatorial rulers often favor grandiose construction projects, on which they not uncommonly bestow their own names. Egypt has been no exception. The world’s largest water-moving facility is the Mubarak Pumping Station, located on an island in Lake Nasser. When such rulers fall from power, their names are often stripped away from such monuments. It will

Nationalism and Language in Egypt

By Martin W. Lewis | February 16, 2011 | 3 Comments

Those who doubt that the recent uprising in Egypt will lead to a stable democracy often cite the poor state of democratic governance in Iraq. Those optimistic about Egypt typically counter by contrasting democracy as imposed by a foreign conquest with democracy as derived from a popular uprising. Equally pertinent is Egypt’s

Egypt’s Religious Diversity and Its Forgotten Shi’ites

By Martin W. Lewis | February 14, 2011 | One Comment

Issues of religion have figured prominently in news reports and commentaries on the recent political upheaval in Egypt. A number of rightwing pundits have warned that the uprising could allow the Muslim Brotherhood to seize power and establish an Islamic state. They have also highlighted recent attacks on Egyptian Christians by Muslim extremists, arguing

Are You a Neutral Zonian?

By Martin W. Lewis | December 13, 2010 | One Comment

Cornell University wants to know if I am a resident of the Neutral Zone. Seriously. The question appeared the other day when I was filling out an on-line recommendation for a student applying to graduate school at Cornell. After inserting my name and affiliation, I came to one of the ubiquitous pull-down menus with a

The Ignored Plight of the Yezidis

By Martin W. Lewis | November 8, 2010 | 4 Comments

According to an October 24, 2010 report by al Jazeera, the worst suicide bomb attack during the seven years of the Iraq war occurred “when multiple truck bombs devastated two villages of the Yazidi minority sect.” The August 2007 blast, which killed almost 800 people, has by no means been the only attack on the Yezidis.

The Complex Relations Between Kurds and Christians in Northern Iraq

By Martin W. Lewis | November 5, 2010 | 3 Comments

The relationship between the Christians of northern Iraq and the Kurdish Regional Government is complicated. Kurdish authorities portray their land as a safe haven for all minority groups – and for good reason. But local Sunni Arab politicians, and some Christians as well, have accused Kurdish militias of driving Assyrians out of their homes

Syria Is Not a Nation-State: The Baath Party’s Denial of Kurdish Identity

By Martin W. Lewis | November 4, 2010 |

The official Syrian credo of Arab nationalism may allow safe haven for Christians, provided that they do not defy the state or attempt to convert Muslims. But it gives no such concessions to the Kurds, whose very identity challenges the Baath ideology of the Syrian state, which is based on the political priority

Iraqi Assyrians and Other Christians in Syria

By Martin W. Lewis | November 3, 2010 | 2 Comments

As Assyrian Christians have been forced out of their homes, they have had to seek sanctuary elsewhere. Many have migrated overseas, primarily to the United States, Germany, Australia, and Sweden, but visas are difficult to obtain, costs are formidable, and subsequent expulsions are not uncommon; even asylum-friendly Sweden has been vigorously deporting Assyrians after somehow

Anna Eshoo and the Ignored Plight of the Assyrians

By Martin W. Lewis | November 1, 2010 | 11 Comments

In looking over the sample ballot for the 2010 November election, my mind turned to the Assyrians as I came to the name of Anna Eshoo, their champion in the U.S. Congress. By “Assyrians” I mean not the ancient empire-builders, but rather the modern community, several million strong globally, that claims to be their

The World’s Shortest Border

By Martin W. Lewis | August 30, 2010 | 3 Comments

Fans of geo-trivia may be interested in locating the world’s shortest land border between sovereign states. A Fun Trivia posting on the subject – which begins by ruling out Monaco, Andorra, the Vatican, and Gibraltar – selects the two kilometers separating Botswana and Zambia. But if one counts exclaves, a much shorter border can

Neutral Zones at the Boundaries Dividing Ceuta and Melilla from Morocco

By Martin W. Lewis | August 27, 2010 |

The Wikipedia maps of Ceuta and Melilla show a double boundary separating Spanish from Moroccan territory, with a neutral zone in between. Such a depiction is unusual: borders between political entities are conventionally conceptualized as one-dimensional lines, with length but no breadth. One can, for example, easily imagine standing with one foot in Canada

Geopolitical and Religious Conflict in the Spanish Exclave of Melilla

By Martin W. Lewis | August 26, 2010 |

As mentioned in Monday’s post, tensions came to a boil this summer between Spain and Morocco over Spain’s possessions on the North African coast, Ceuta and Melilla. The squabble began in July 2010, when Spanish forces allegedly beat five Moroccan men in Melilla for carrying a Moroccan flag. The government of Morocco subsequently encouraged

Why Iran’s Azeris Are Iranian

By Martin W. Lewis | May 10, 2010 | 2 Comments

The weakness of Azeri nationalism in Iran (discussed last week) seems surprising at first glance. Iranian Azeris form a large, distinctive, and relatively cohesive ethnic group that has been deprived of basic educational rights in its own language. Similar situations in neighboring countries have resulted in serious unrest if not prolonged insurgency – think of

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