Top Ten Good News Stories from the Muslim World in 2009 that You Never Heard About

10. Saudi Arabia opened its first coeducational college campus, the King Abdullah Science and Technology University. In a country where the sexes have been so separated in public that some have spoken of ‘gender Apartheid,’ this move, which came from King Abdullah, provoked raging controversy. When a prominent cleric criticized having male and female students on the same campus and the teaching of modern scientific theories like Darwinism, the king summarily fired his ass. It may seem a small thing, but many big social processes start small. Most Americans forget that Princeton U. did not become coed until 1969.

9. Qatar is on track to average 7.5 percent per annum growth for the next few years. The natural gas giant is a cauldron of development activity. It permits Aljazeera satellite news to remain the most open and controversial media outlet in the Arab world. It is expanding the ‘Education City’ complex, in which many American universities maintain campuses, and which serves as a key educational hub for the Gulf and its region. (This robust expansion contrasts with the difficult times higher education is facing in Dubai).

8. A Pew Forum on Religion and Life poll finds that American Muslims are unusual in the degree to which they are integrated into mainstream American society and demonstrate moderate attitudes, condemning religious extremism and violence. They differ siegnificantly from the profile of Muslims in the UK and Germany, e.g, in these regards. (Muslims in the US are generally from higher class origins and are better educated and wealthier than is typically the case with European Muslims).

7. The information revolution is making strides in the Arab world. A University of Maryland Poll finds that “the use of the internet continued to grow, with 36% stating that they use the internet at least several times a week and only 38% stating that they never use the internet (compared with 52% in 2008).

6. Albania has averaged 10 percent a year growth for each of the last four years, and was the fastest-growing economy in Europe in 2009. It held elections in 2009, and although they were imperfect, an EU report described them [pdf] “as meeting most OSCE commitments,” despite flaws. The European Union seems to be giving the country a nod in its application to join the EU. Albania has an especially aggressive government policy toward implementing alternative energy and wants to be the first green country in Europe. It depends heavily on thermal and hydroelectric plants (perhaps too heavily). Brussels concluded this year, “The government took measures towards the development of the sector by issuing licences for the construction of seven wind farms with a total installed capacity of about 1360 MW and one 140 MW biomass thermal power station.” Albania, a country of 3.2 million, is 70-80% of Muslim heritage, but a majority of the country is non-religious. That is, these European Muslims are more secular than German, Spanish, Italian, Greek and Polish Christians.

5. The small Gulf oil monarchy of Kuwait took steps toward greater democracy and rule of law. Women were given the vote in 2005, and in the May parliamentary elections, 4 women were for the first time elected to the 50-seat parliament, and fundamentalists only gained 16 seats, down from 24 previously. As Greg Gause points out, in December parliament was allowed to go forward with a vote of no-confidence in the prime minister, which he survived. What is significant is that he is from the ruling Al-Sabah family and it had previously not been considered dignified to subject a high official from the family to such a vote.

4. Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country in the world at about 230 mn., had successful parliamentary elections in 2009, further consolidating the country’s decade-old democracy. Secular parties did better this year, and support for Muslim fundamentalism dropped, both in the voting both and in opinion polls. President Barack Obama’s enormous popularity in the country is credited by some observers for a sharp decline in approval of Muslim militancy. Indonesia has become the world’s 19th largest economy, and it, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are the three Muslim-majority states in the G20.

3. Turkey, which averaged 5.8 percent a year economic growth between 2002 and 2008, was slowed but not devastated by the world’s financial crisis. In these 6 years it has moved from being the world’s 26th largest economy to being the 17th largest. It is on track to be the second fastest-growing economy in 2010, after South Korea, according to OECD projections. The democratically elected Justice and Development Party government continued to govern with considerable popularity. Despite severe tensions between Ankara and the Kurdish minority in the southeast, the ruling party took the bold step of pushing for more Kurdish rights.

2. Stability returned to Lebanon. Successful parliamentary elections, untainted by Syrian interference, were held in June, and a national unity government was formed in November after a lengthy negotiating process. The Lebanese army intervened forcefully and in a timely fashion to nip potential sectarian flare-ups in the bud. The 13,000 UN troops patrolling the south helped back the Lebanese army, and despite tensions with Israel on the part both of Palestinian militants and the Shiite Hizbullah militia, there was no significant clash on the southern border. Prime Minister Saad Hariri recently visited Damascus, building on earlier diplomacy by Maronite Catholic president Michel Suleiman, a former general, and reducing regional tensions. Lebanon is probably now about 70% Muslim if the children are counted. The year 2009 saw the return of musical and cultural festivals and the country of 4 million attracted 2 million tourists, the best year ever. Lebanon’s banking and real estate sectors were slowed but by no means devastated by the global financial crisis, since they had adopted conservative investment policies as a result of bad experiences during the years of instability in the last quarter of the twentieth century. The country was on track to grow 6 percent in 2009, down from 8.5 percent in 2008. The brutal Israeli assault on Lebanon’s economic infrastructure of summer, 2006, set the country back three decades, and it will take time fully to recover. But despite fragility and a few clashes and small bombings, it is fair to say that at the moment, your biggest problem in Beirut is that you can’t get a timely reservation at the better restaurants.

1. A considerable proportion of the Iranian public resorted to concerted street and cultural protests against the stealing of the June presidential election by incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Crowds demanded popular sovereignty and democracy and condemned dictatorship. Among the largest demonstrations were held just last Sunday. It is the greatest political awakening in Iran for 30 years. (Well, OK, you heard about this one, but not as much last weekend as it deserved; the corporate media go on vacation from news at awkward times.)

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22 Responses

  1. Wow. By your reckoning, the no. 1 of Top 10 Good News Stories from the African-American World in 1965 would have been the Watts Riots. (For the same general reasons, no doubt.)

  2. The Iranians I work with think that the Mullahs in Iran have already and are in the process of getting their families out of the country – some of them apparently are already in San Francisco..
    Hopeful for the revolution..And my wish for the next few years is that neither America or Israel succumb to the right and bomb Iran..

  3. Over from Greenwald's site. You make a great point that the real emancipation of women in this country only took place in the last third of the Twentieth Century especially in the professions. Progress is slow. Kudos to the Arabs for recognizing the brilliance women bring to the market place of ideas. Thanks for the article.

  4. Dr. Cole, thanks for another year of informed commentary. As with last year, the Top 10 Good News items from the Muslim world are great to read on New Year's Day. Best to you and your family, and my girlfriend and I look forward to more blogging and publishing from you in the year to come.

  5. Hi Juan

    Thank you for the education-in-a-post and for keeping us informed for another year.

    Happy New Year!

  6. #10 is a big one. I think I would have ranked it higher than #8. #8 was something I was already aware of without having read the recent article you linked to.

  7. Mr Cole,

    It was disappointing to read some of what you present as "feel-good" news stories, especially when the phrase "the king summarily fired his ass." was used.

    If we were to go by your reasoning, then it is very good that what we have accross all the Muslim world are rulers totally subject to American and European wishes, who promptly "fire the asses" of any clerics who oppose them based on what is written in our Islamic texts, imprison them, or kill them.

    It just seems to me that both the right-wing and left-wing American intellectuals have the goal of total domination of the Muslim world. Some of them just wish to "kill us body and soul" while others want to "kill the Muslim in us and save our souls"

  8. Defender,

    I don't doubt what you're saying about Muslim rulers who kowtow to the West, but do you object to the change on the Saudi campus to a co-ed institution?

    Personally, as a communist, I see the Muslim world as a place in which I have no right to interfere; at the same time, there are things I support and do not support about Muslim revolutionaries – al Qaeda winning land for the Pakistani poor farmers is good, but I cannot support the way that Saudi (in general) has treated women. I'm not crazy about how America treats women either, and I wish America had its own militant group seeking redistribution of land!

  9. "Saudi Arabia opened its first coeducational college campus, the King Abdullah Science and Technology University. In a country where the sexes have been so separated in public that some have spoken of 'gender Apartheid,' this move, which came from King Abdullah, provoked raging controversy. When a prominent cleric criticized having male and female students on the same campus and the teaching of modern scientific theories like Darwinism, the king summarily fired his ass. It may seem a small thing, but many big social processes start small. Most Americans forget that Princeton U. did not become coed until 1969."

    Would this to a comment praising academic freedom in what As'ad AbuKhalil calls the "Kingdom of Horrors?"

  10. Syria undoubtedly “interferes” in Lebanon. So do France, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. Perhaps these interferences justify each other, perhaps not; but it’s not like Lebanon would be interference-free were it not for mean old Syria.

    (And allow me to add my thanks and kudos to Prof. Cole for his excellent work.)

  11. Came to your site searching Sufi. Totally agree with "defending Islam" none of your good things accord with Islamic values. I am no expert and initially liked your site because of your linguistic ability this post is a real letdown because it shows that although you translate the Islamic thought, you have not really entered into it. Not helped by having the notoriously biassed BBC news next to it.

  12. Poor time to applaud Turkey after the Court just shut down the Kurdish political party and is now arresting Kurdish parliament members.

  13. jaun saheb adabs from mumbai
    glad to read some non-violent news for a change. but can we please please have some humour too once in awhile?

  14. I don't doubt what you're saying about Muslim rulers who kowtow to the West, but do you object to the change on the Saudi campus to a co-ed institution?

    I do object to coeducational institutions, since they are against all what the scholars of traditional Islam say about the issue of gender segregation. Even the most lenient of the Muslim scholars would say that if the women wish to study with men in the same area, then they should come and sit with their unmarriagable kin (their brothers, uncles, fathers, husbands, etc). This is the most lenient position that I know of, and does not go into the fact that modern secular education is not "personally compulsory in itself" neither for men nor for women.

    About the Darwinism matter, Islam is quite clear that whoever rejects what has come unequivocally through our primary sources is outside the fold of Islam. For some idea about this issue according to a traditional scholar of Islam (who is an American convert to Islam), please read:

    link to sunnianswers.wordpress.com

    Finally this is not about supporting the Saudi religious establishment, since I am not in favor of Wahabi/Salafi ideology. But I have even seen comments from people of a Barelvi background condemming this development and pointing out its flaws, since none of this has any solid basis in Islam.

    • Islam and Christianity are more alike than different. I wish all the really nutters Muslims and Christians would just go ahead and kill each other. The world would be a much better place.

  15. 4 of the top 10 stories relate to the expansion or consolidation of democracy in Muslim countries.

    Yet you completely overlooked Iraq, which in 2009 proved itself to be a stable functioning democracy.

    Political blinders in place? Check.

  16. Juan Cole continues to write informed and important posts on issues of great consequence. Happy New Year to him.

  17. Defending Islam,

    The idea that muslin leaders kowtow to western ones and do all their wishes is a MYTH. Saudi Arabia didn't even support the liberation of Iraq. And I can post countless other examples, but chances are if reality had any effect on you or anyone like you I wouldn't be posting this.

    Not that anybody's reading, this topic is days old, but it's late and I feel like venting. The internet still hasn't desensitized me to ignorance.

  18. Zac,

    Al-Qaeda is now champions of the poor? It's funny seeing progressives looking for reasons to support al-qaeda, what a disgusting bunch. Such a shame you're not with your buddies at gitmo.

  19. Just a tiny correction: the name isn't King Abudallah Science and Technology University… it's King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, or KAUST, as its known in these parts.

  20. "Good news" perhaps for non-Muslims who hate Islam but as a Muslim I hardly would say number 6 is actually "good" news. 70-80 percent secularism is not a positive thing.

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