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Will Eid al-Fitr Bring Hope For Arab World?

Eid al-Fitr is being celebrated with an especially heavy heart this year, with massacres still taking place in Syria, hatred in Egypt boiling over and the closure of Gaza continuing.
Palestinians buy sweets in Jerusalem's Old City ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, August 7, 2013. REUTERS/Ammar Awad (JERUSALEM - Tags: RELIGION FOOD) - RTX12D0X

"Kul A’am wa-Antum bi-Khayr." Happy New Year! That is how people greet each other during the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which is being celebrated on Aug. 7-8 throughout the Muslim world to mark the end of the Ramadan month of fasting. This season marks the completion of the writing of the Quran — at least according to one tradition — but for most people celebrating the festival today, its significance has come to be forgiveness, camaraderie and peace. It is a holiday in which conflicts and disputes are resolved, and everyone starts anew.

This year, more than any other year, the traditional blessing is recited in a much more supplicatory tone than usual. The Arabic word "khayr" has so many positive connotations. It means joy, happiness, a livelihood and a secure and promising future. After such a bloody year in the Middle East, however, a dark shadow looms over these expectations for a better tomorrow. The Arab Spring has taken its toll in victims, and it continues to take its toll, so that this optimistic metaphor — once an expression of liberation from the yoke of tyranny and dictatorship — is no longer very accurate. Spring has transformed itself into a harsh winter, and dark, ominous clouds still obscure the sky.

That is why now, with the holiday that marks the start of Shawwal — the 10th month of the Muslim calendar — it is all the more appropriate to greet the Muslim community in the many countries of the world with Kul A’am wa-Antum bi-Khayr. Let us hope for a better year.

Kul A’am wa-Antum bi-Khayr to the people of Syria and the refugees who are still alive almost 2½ years after the armed uprising and revolt broke out against the country’s unelected president, Bashar al-Assad. Over 100,000 people — over 0.5% of Syria’s total population — have lost their lives since the start of the civil war, and it seems almost certain that in the coming year, the “Lion” (which is what Assad means) will remain in power watching, as his people bury their dead and lick their wounds. And he will feel a sense of accomplishment. After all, he has managed to survive. It is a Pyrrhic victory, of course, but this year Assad celebrated Eid al-Fitr the same way he does every year, with prayers at the Umayyad Great Mosque in Damascus. Which leaves us wondering what he may have thought about during the month of Ramadan. Was he expecting forgiveness for his actions?

When considering the body count, the 22 million people of Syria inevitably have a hard time even saying the word khayr. Extending the traditional greeting to them represents the hope that this bloody war claims no more victims.

This was also a very dramatic year in Egypt. It seemed as if the Land of the Nile was on track to reach a new era of stability and hope. But then the human volcano erupted yet again, splitting the population into two rival, antagonistic camps. Egypt today is on the verge of a civil war, and its army is no longer the people’s army, but the army of one side in the conflict. The army has become the overlord, and its supporters, who advocate for the steps that it is taking, are giving the very term “democracy” an abstruse new definition. I keep tabs on the status reports and accounts of events posted by young people on the various social networks, and I am flabbergasted by the intensity of the hatred they express not only toward deposed President Mohammed Morsi, but also toward one-quarter of Egypt’s population. Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood face the brunt of a string of invectives and harangues that runs along the lines of “Get them!” or “Kill them!” Nor is anyone even concerned about signing their names to such statements, which fall easily into the categories of incitement. They are calling for murder against their own people.

That is why I say Kul A’am wa-Antum bi-Khayr to the people of Egypt. I extend this greeting in the hope that they find the compromise that will allow the 85 million Egyptians to enjoy the fruits of their revolution and stop fighting among themselves.

I also say Kul A’am wa-Antum bi-Khayr to the young people and especially the students of the Islamic Republic of Iran, who have received the encouragement and support of newly elected President Hassan Rouhani. “We must ensure freedom of political expression for our students,” said the president on Aug. 6, extending them a fitting gift for Eid al-Fitr. Is it possible that next year citizens will have the right to express themselves freely and even to demonstrate? Will it be possible for them to declare publicly what so many Iranians feel in their hearts, not fearing arrest or torture — that they prefer economic security and peace with the rest of the world over some mad race to build a nuclear bomb?

“Iran is determined to resolve the crisis,” the new president has already declared. If he really does keep to his word — and more specifically — if the country’s nuclear ambitions, which threaten the world in general and the Middle East in particular, are finally put on hold, the people of Iran, a country on the verge of economic collapse, could finally experience the long-awaited khayr. Next, the students of Tehran and Esfahan will at least be able to dream of a future government that is not constrained by religion, and does not follow a fanatical path that fails to serve everyone.

The Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip can also look forward to the new year with hope. The peace talks will begin again as soon as the holiday is over, and the Palestinians will receive a gesture of goodwill. Head of the Palestinian negotiating team Saeb Erekat revealed — even if this meant violating the pledge of secrecy imposed on all the participants — that the first group of 26 prisoners will be released one day before the start of the talks, to move the negotiations forward.

Anyone with the least amount of common sense knows that there are a million and one obstacles and barriers along the way to a peace agreement, and that resolution and determination are essential if the parties are to celebrate the completion of the agreement on the green lawns of the White House. Kul A’am wa-Antum bi-Khayr. Let us hope that this time, despite all the reservations, the fears and the pessimism of many, there will be a breakthrough. Who knows? Maybe the nine months that Secretary of State John Kerry allotted to the talks really will lead to a blessing of khayr for many years to come.

For the residents of the Gaza Strip, the year began with great hopes for the future, but it ended with disappointment. Gaza is under closure again, and there is yet another severe shortage of food and other basic items vital to maintaining a normal life. On the other hand, the Hamas government may now realize that a rejectionist policy that ignores the current circumstances will not lead them to redemption, and that firing Qassam rockets and waging a war of jihad will not ensure the welfare of the Gaza Strip’s residents. Hopefully, this will bring about a change in their attitude toward Israel. New year's blessings to the people of Gaza, with the hope that they begin to recognize that arrangements with Israel and the Palestinian Authority are the right path to take after being cut off and isolated, surrounded and suffocated for the past seven years.

And finally, Kul A’am wa-Antum bi-Khayr to the Arab citizens of the state of Israel, who are feeling bewildered and confused as they celebrate Eid al-Fitr. May you feel like citizens with equal responsibilities, but also with equal rights, in your own country, Israel.

It has been a rough year for the Muslim nations of the Middle East. As soon as this holiday of forgiveness and peace, of camaraderie and community, finally comes to an end and hundreds of millions of Muslims return to their humdrum lives, we will know if this is the dawn of a new day or the continuation of an ancient and bloody war.

Shlomi Eldar is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. For the past two decades, he has covered the Palestinian Authority and especially the Gaza Strip for Israel’s Channels 1 and 10, reporting on the emergence of Hamas. In 2007, he was awarded the Sokolov Prize, Israel’s most important media award, for this work.

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