"O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another," reads a verse of the Quran. The idea of diverse groups and countries joining together in common cause is never more appropriate than during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began on Aug. 1. Over the next month, many of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims will fast from sun up to sunset and pledge to rededicate themselves to the tenets of their faith.
Although it is supposed to be a period of introspection, politics doesn't stop during the holy month. In 1979, the Middle East's last revolutionary Ramadan, Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini seized on the holiday to shutter restaurants and ban music from the airwaves -- a step that signaled the Islamists' consolidation of power in the country. And in 2001, much of the NATO campaign in Afghanistan that toppled the Taliban and brought President Hamid Karzai to power took place during Ramadan.
This tumultuous year in the Middle East promises to be no different. Ramadan has already witnessed the beginning of the trial of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who stands accused of corruption and ordering the killing of protesters -- charges that could bring the death penalty. In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad launched a vicious crackdown on protesters in the cities of Hama and Deir al-Zour, a move that provoked Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Kuwait to withdraw their ambassadors. And that's just the first week of the holy month.
Since the heady days of February, Arab activists have received a rude lesson in the stubborn resilience of the Middle East's autocrats. Some protest movements have been smothered in their infancy, others have devolved into civil war, while a few have achieved fragile gains. But partisans throughout the region are continuing their struggle this holy month -- while also sparing a moment for quiet reflection.