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In Egypt, most powerful example of 'people power' in history

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As reports came in that President Obama today asked Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak through diplomatic channels to step aside, NCR spoke with Gene Sharp, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and renowned scholar of nonviolent struggle.

Following is that interview -- which covered the origins of power, the vulnerabilities of dictatorships, and important signs coming from the Egyptian military. The conversation has been edited for length.

For an interview Claire Schaeffer-Duffy had with Egyptian expert John Esposito yesterday, see: Egyptian uprising 'far beyond what people expected'.

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NCR: Egypt is described as a security state, one in which the government relies heavily on its security apparatus for stability and legitimacy. These are not exactly ideal conditions for popular resistance. How could something like what we are witnessing in Liberation Square come about under a regime that has such a strong security apparatus?

CRS moves some staff out of Egypt

JERUSALEM -- Catholic Relief Services' international staff and their families in Cairo were evacuated as pro-democracy demonstrations entered their seventh day.

"Our current thinking is that we will be out for no more than two days," CRS country representative Jason Berlanger said in a phone interview with Catholic News Service Jan. 31 as he was on his way to Cairo's international airport with his wife and two children.

He said he was traveling with two other American staff members and their dependents and the group planned to fly to Amman, Jordan. However, flights to the Jordanian capital were unavailable late Jan. 30 and were not expected to resume soon, according to news reports.

About 25 Egyptian staff members of the U.S. bishops' aid and development agency remained at home, Berlanger said. One Palestinian staff member was scheduled to leave for Amman as well, he said.

The CRS office was closed for the Egyptian Friday-Saturday weekend Jan. 28 and 29, but did not reopen Jan. 30, Berlanger said.

"The office is closed today (Jan. 31) and tomorrow (Feb. 1) and we are monitoring the situation," Berlanger said.

Catholic Church offers prayers for Mandela

CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- The Catholic Church in southern Africa is praying for Nelson Mandela, Cardinal Wilfrid Napier said as the 92-year-old anti-apartheid hero returned home after being hospitalized for a respiratory infection.

"Former President Mandela means different things to different people," Cardinal Napier, archbishop of Durban, South Africa, said in a Jan. 28 statement, noting that to his family, Mandela "is a veritable patriarch who stands for and is an example of the virtues of a truly great and loving father, who cares for all near and dear to him."

To South Africans, "he is a great and inspiring leader, a true icon of the ... reconciliation which we still need urgently" and to the international community "he is a unique African and global statesman who rose above personal, tribal, race and party interests in order to lead the South African nation through a difficult transition from apartheid to democracy," he said.

South Africa's first democratically elected president was hospitalized for two days. Hospital officials said the infection was not life threatening and that Mandela remained in good spirits throughout his stay.

Egyptian uprising 'far beyond what people expected'

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Events in the Middle East and North Africa have been unfolding at a dizzying pace over the past month -- a revolt in Tunisia, the release of a cache of confidential Palestinian records with their damning revelations on the Mideast peace process, the fall of a pro-Western government in Lebanon, and now the uprising in Egypt.

Monday morning, amid ever-changing reports on the protests in Egypt, NCR spoke with John Esposito, a professor of religion and international affairs and Islamic studies at Georgetown University, and author of The Future of Islam. Esposito is currently in Oman. The following is an edited version of that phone conversation.

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NCR: Can you talk about the Egyptian popular uprising in the context of what has been happening in the region over the past month?

Esposito: Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia are countries that have governments that are authoritarian, repressive, very limited freedom of the press, etc.

Church leaders follow Egyptian unrest with concern

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VATICAN CITY -- Church leaders were watching the unfolding political drama in Egypt with a mixture of hope for reform and concern over potential violence, said the head of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.

Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa told Vatican Radio Jan. 30 that the widespread unrest that has weakened the 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak came as a surprise to Catholics in the region.

Haitians relieved 'to be on the other side'

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I just missed bumping into Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier at the Port-au-Prince airport on Jan. 16. I was already en route back to New York when he returned from exile and, in an unexpected and stunning move, uprooted Haiti's political landscape. Already friends and colleagues in Haiti tell me that Port-au-Prince is abuzz with rumors. Can a return by former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide be next?

Maybe the move isn't wholly surprising in a country of political uncertainty and jarring and startling contrasts and illuminations. Still, one reason it felt like such a jolt was because in the days before and after the commemorations of the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake, things had been relatively calm. (Though underline that word "relatively.") My time in Haiti was notable less for high drama than for more subtle moments.

Bishop: Vatican-approved group caused 'problems', 'chaos'

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Updated: Jan. 14 -- Pope to show support for Neocatechumenate

Jan. 13 -- The president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan (CBCJ) has called for the cooperation of priests and laypeople to confront “problems” with the Neocatechumenal Way, which he says has had a negative effect in the country.

“In those places touched by the Neocatechumenal Way, there has been rampant confusion, conflict, division, and chaos,” the Jesuit Archbishop of Osaka, Leo Jun Ikenaga, said in a statement published in Katorikku Shimbun, the Catholic Weekly of Japan, yesterday.

“In Japan, the net effect has been negative,” said Ikenaga in his statement. “We bishops, in light of our apostolic pastoral responsibility, could not ignore the damage.”

Pope Benedict XVI refused a request from four Japanese bishops, including Ikenaga, in Rome Dec. 13 to suspend the international organization’s activities in Japan for five years.

Pope names first diplomatic representative to Vietnam

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VATICAN CITY -- In a first step toward establishing diplomatic relations, Pope Benedict XVI has named a 57-year-old Vatican diplomat to be a "non-resident pontifical representative" for Vietnam.

Italian Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, currently Vatican nuncio to Indonesia, was reassigned Jan. 13 to serve as the pope's representative to Vietnam and simultaneously as nuncio in Singapore and apostolic delegate in Malaysia and Brunei (two countries that do not have diplomatic relations with the Vatican).

Girelli, who has been in the Vatican diplomatic corps since 1987, previously served at nunciatures in Cameroon, in New Zealand and in the United States, as well as in the Vatican Secretariat of State. He was ordained a bishop in 2006 when he was named nuncio to Indonesia.

A joint working group formed by the Vatican and Vietnam's communist government announced in June that the two sides were agreed that a papal representative would be named. A statement from the working group said that unlike a nuncio, the representative would not be residing in Vietnam for the time being.

One year after quake, Haitians pray

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- In front of a national cathedral that lay in rubble, Catholic leaders marked the anniversary of Haiti's deadly earthquake by praying for its victims and calling for reconstruction of this tattered Caribbean country.

"This tragedy took everything. ... and sickness and death is still hitting" Haitians, said Cardinal Robert Sarah, the papal envoy, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum and the main celebrant at the Mass. "We call on the international community ... to develop the country, to develop Haiti."

Throughout the earthquake-torn capital, Haitians flocked to churches for prayer services Jan. 12, the anniversary of the earthquake. Schools and many businesses closed for the day, which was declared a national holiday and a day of prayer.

Thousands attended the morning service outside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption. Haiti's prime minister, presidential candidates and musicians sat in tents flanked by choirs and scores of residents.

Many stood under a cloudless sky in the blaring Haitian sun, singing and praying. Others sat barefoot on blankets, lost in the bitter memories of a year of grief.

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July 18-31, 2014

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