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February 27 2014

#AB14: If I speak out, will I be punished for it?

Empty chairs at the Arab Bloggers Meeting. Each post-it bears the name of a colleague currently in prison or missing. Photo by Hisham Almiraat via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Empty chairs at the Arab Bloggers Meeting. Each post-it bears the name of a colleague currently in prison or missing. Photo by Hisham Almiraat via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

This post was written as part of a partnership with Global Post.

When we know we’re being watched all the time, what happens to our right to free speech?

This was the question at the core of a live debate at the 4th Arab Bloggers Meeting, a recent gathering—in which I participated—of bloggers, activists and scholars from across the Arab region in Amman, Jordan.

Clearly drawn from the fiery discourse that has overwhelmed the Internet policy world since the first Snowden leaks broke last June, the subject of the debate was provocative: “Censorship doesn’t matter anymore – surveillance is the real problem.”

The group assembled to discuss the new political paradigms and challenges facing digital activists and bloggers, particularly in North Africa and the Middle East, three years since the start of the Arab uprisings.

Two security experts said they envisioned a future Internet where much communication happens privately (through encrypted channels) and the use of pseudonyms becomes the norm. If we can’t defeat surveillance, we must circumvent it, they argued. Because as long as you’re being watched, you can’t be free.

But this argument didn’t strike a chord with the audience as it might have in the west. Censorship is a very real problem in the Arab region, especially in countries where independent media are under threat and heavily reliant on the web to get their stories out.

The Arab uprisings of 2011 proved that news sites and social media can change what people believe and how they interact with their governments – unless they’re shut down. Walid Al-Saqaf, chair of Internet Society Yemen (and my debating partner), took this point within the context of the current moment, when (largely western) digital rights advocates are sounding the alarms, somewhat singularly, about surveillance.

“People in Western societies do not understand realize the value of being able to criticize one’s own government. We do not have this right in Arab countries.”

We went on to make the point – no news to our audience – that surveillance is ubiquitous in the Arab region. Most people, to say nothing of those who criticize or document government actions, expect to be surveilled – a guarantee of privacy is a distant dream at best. But this doesn’t change the fundamental need for dissent.

Surveillance or no, some individuals are willing to take the risk of reporting on an incident, filming a confrontation, or voicing an opinion. And in the end, censorship and surveillance often stem from the same kinds of desires on the part of governments – they want to control information and the people who disseminate it.

The Snowden revelations exposed the surveillance practices of the US government. Around the world, they left many people wondering, “is my government spying on me too?”

Internet users may not be happy that the US government is collecting their data, but in regions like the Middle East and North Africa, this is a foregone conclusion. The bigger question is: If I speak out, will I be punished for it?

The Al Jazeera journalists currently in prison in Egypt provide one among far too many examples – like many bloggers and independent media workers in the region, these journalists have been accused not of libel or slander, but of aiding terrorist groups.

The Moroccan government is considering a new blanket law that would punish online statements deemed threatening to “public order, national security, necessities of public service, or public policy” – often with web censorship.

In Gulf countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia, criminal prosecution over something as a small as a Tweet is a real threat.

It seems strange to talk purely of policies for the digital realm in a region where dissent and even fact-based reporting, whether they happen online or offline, so often have profound real-life consequences.

Those who speak out are not simply fearful of being watched or of having their websites blocked. They are fearful of arrest, detention, prosecution, and torture.

The Snowden revelations set off shock waves in the US, Europe, Brazil, and beyond, sending much of the global Internet policy community on to tackle digital surveillance as a primary and now almost seemingly singular goal. But in a region like this one, where it is impossible to separate the threat of surveillance, let alone censorship, from the dire consequences it could bring in the real world, such a singular agenda doesn't quite resonate.

Still, just because we (as online activists) face different challenges from place to place, doesn't mean we can’t work together to help defend each other and support campaigns and efforts across borders, oceans and hemispheres.

 

This piece was inspired by many conversations at #AB14, including several with Walid Al-Saqaf. Read his piece on our debate and the “censorship vs. surveillance” dichotomy. 

February 25 2014

Iran Watches Ukraine With Envy and Dismay

Ukraine protests

Ukraine's protest, as covered by Iran's Farda News


Ukraine's protests and change of power in Kiev were covered with enthusiasm in Iran's media. While Iranian officials saw a Western plot led by the United States and Europe, Iranians who once staged mass protests against their own regime were reminded of a revolution that eluded them.

Iran's minister of justice said Ukraine can't be compared to Iran, but many Iranians draw parallels to Green Movement protests after the presidential election in 2009.

Iranian blogger Abgosht writes [fa] that there are several reasons why Ukraine (and Tunisia) where able to accomplish what Iranians failed to do:

The short and useful answer is that the red line for Ukraine's and Tunisia's [opposition] movement leaders was democracy, while the Iranian ones would maintain the regime's [establishment] framework… their people are not traitors, their police and security forces are good people, ours are thugs who believe national interests take priority over individual ones.

On Twitter, Sarah makes fun of the head of the Iranian military forces, Hassan Firoozabadi who said that “Ukraine's revolution was escaping from independence toward dependency.”

She tweeted [fa] quoting Iranian writer, Ebrahim Nabavi:

I don't know why Iranian officials, more than the citizens of Ukraine, Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon seem to be so preoccupied with these countries’ independence.

Free Democratic Iran tweeted, quoting a headline from the very conservative Iranian newspaper, Keyhan:

@_Cafe tweeted with irony:

We are ahead of Ukraine. That's why I need anti-filtering software to be able to write these few words on the internet.

Nima Akbarpour tweeted [fa]:

Ukraine's situation reminds me of Zapata's movie where the revolutionaries conquer power and then follow the same path.

Arab Bloggers: A Blessed Generation?

“Your generation is blessed. Everybody has a phone now, internet is accessible everywhere, satellite TV is available in almost every home. What more do you need?”

This was thrown at me by a middle-aged Jordanian taxi driver who took me from the Amman airport to the Arab Bloggers Meeting last month. I was trying to share with him my frustration about the situation of freedom of expression in the Arab world.

Three years earlier, I may have agreed with the man’s comment. Today it seems to encapsulate almost all that is wrong with the way some of us still think about how technology can change things.

Surveillance Is Bad For Your Internet. Poster by Hisham Almiraat (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Surveillance Is Bad For Your Internet. Poster by Hisham Almiraat (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

It’s true that communications technology has revolutionized the way we learn about the news or the way we spread ideas –or even the way we relate to each other. Three years back, it even seemed that it had finally succeeded in cracking the wall of censorship and fear that plagued the Arab region for decades. Social media platforms, blogs and the increasing availability of smart phones allowed a generation of citizen journalists to report and inform, while activists could mobilize and organize at a level not seen in the region for decades.

It seemed that people no longer had to worry about censorship and government control over the media. We were the media.

A lot of us believed that the mere access to modern means of communications had acted as the catalyst that allowed the sweeping wave of protests to continue, gather pace and arguably succeed. Today, not many of us are ready to make that unblinking assumption.

New challenges 

The challenges faced by bloggers in the Middle East and North Africa have shifted substantially ever since.

(By blogger, I don’t only mean a person keeping a blog, but rather anyone using the Internet for political or civic engagement.)

Since our last Arab bloggers meeting in Tunis in 2011, at least two major changes have occurred:

For one thing, bloggers are no longer expected to be “mere” commentators. From simple observers to active participants, a lot of them had to adapt to a new, more complex political reality where a lot more is demanded of them.

This called for a whole set of new skills and resources that those most active, most influential or those who agitated for the revolution didn’t necessarily have in store. They are looked at for answers, ideas, actions in so many more areas and ways than they used to be. And in a bitterly polarized region where things are moving so fast and so much is happening every day, the task can seem crushing — almost paralyzing.

I know that this has caused many around me to question their role. I also know that it’s been cause for frustration about the lack of resources pro-democracy activists generally have access to. Some of us just couldn't cope and gave up trying. Some even stopped being active online.

Secondly, the nature of the threats against freedom of expression online has equally shifted: Prior to the revolutions, governments in the region seemed resigned to the idea that Internet filtering was the primary way to stifle free expression on the web.

But now they seem to have learned a new lesson: Censorship may be cheap and efficient, but it is relatively easy to expose. Surveillance on the other hand is more subtle and much harder to identify

Over the last three years, electronic surveillance and interception technology have very much become the name of the game. A multi-billion dollar market has sprung up and many governments in the region seem happy to cash in. Today, with very few exceptions, many of those governments spend huge sums of money on expensive, state-of-the-art electronic surveillance and interception technology, most of it developed by western private companies.

Take the case of my country, Morocco, for example:

In 2012, the country purchased a two million USD program called Project Popcorn, developed by French company Amesys. It is said to be able to intercept and monitor all sorts of communications at a country-wide scale.

The same year, a Moroccan online activist group was visited by “Da Vinci”, a sophisticated virus worth half a million US dollars and developed by a Milan-based company, revealingly named Hacking Team. It is said to be able to compromise any operating system, take control of specifically targeted computers and communicate keystroke records and private files to a distant server.

For all we know, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Similar instances were flagged in places like Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Syria, Egypt. And the list is growing.

As a result, while censorship remains a major weapon against free speech in the region, electronic surveillance, with its chilling effect on free speech, is becoming a serious threat.

It’s no surprise that three years after the start of the Arab revolutions, the situation of online freedom of expression in the region seems almost as bleak as it did before 2011.

Planting the seeds for a better future

How are we coping with the new reality? Are there any new and creative forms of online activism that have succeeded in the last three years and that we can learn from?

How can we ultimately play an effective role in improving the internet freedom situation in our countries? And to what extent can we rely on technology to protect us online?

These are but some of the questions that participants at the fourth Arab Bloggers Meeting (#AB14) set out to answer.

For four days, the meeting (co-organized by Global Voices Advocacy and the Heinrich Böll Foundation) brought together 70 bloggers, activists, artists, and trainers came from all over the world, including from 16 Arab countries. Participants, like myself, were full of questions and keen to share their stories and skills while also anxious to learn from their peers.

Perhaps the most important lesson I left with is the idea that despite our broader access to modern means of communication in the region today, they seem to only work at the periphery and not necessarily as a major factor for change as a lot of us seemed to think three years back.

There’s a need to find ways to connect and combine online activity with the “offline” efforts of people who traditionally work to effect change in the real world. And that process seems to work towards change only when technology succeeds in mobilizing and organizing a broader and diverse sector of society.

Arab bloggers today are fighting a tough fight —an asymmetrical warfare, where it is no longer a question of access to technology alone, but also a larger, more fundamental question of user rights, of how technology is governed and whether it’s free from government interference.

The ominous feeling that someone may be looking over our shoulders makes it difficult, even for the most daring among us, to operate freely.

But this is not a lost battle. We may not be so blessed of a generation after all, but I feel like AB14, by bringing us together, has succeeded in planting the seeds for a better future.

February 24 2014

Digital Citizen 1.4

Arab Bloggers Meeting participants hold a sign calling for the release of jailed colleagues. Photo by Hisham Almiraat, used with permission.

Arab Bloggers Meeting participants hold a sign calling for the release of jailed colleagues. Photo by Hisham Almiraat, used with permission.

Digital Citizen is a monthly review of news, policy, and research on human rights and technology in the Arab World.

Egypt

“When detainees ask to see a warrant, they may be hit over the head with the butt of a gun, as in the case of a leftist blogger, Alaa Abd El Fattah, and his wife, Manal. When a prominent international judge reviewed Manal’s account of the arrest, he described it as reminiscent of the days of apartheid in South Africa.” – Bahey El Din Hassan, New York Times, February 12, 2014

Alaa Abd El Fattah has been in prison since late November, when he was arrested on accusation of organizing a protest without obtaining legal permission. In January, both Alaa and his sister, Mona Seif, received one-year suspended sentences in a case in which they were accused of torching former Presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq’s campaign headquarters. Other prominent activists, including Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma, and Mohamed Adel have also faced similar charges.

In January, a coalition of more than 40 organizations called for the release of Alaa Abd El Fattah and other unjustly detained Egyptian activists. In the statement, Alaa’s father, Ahmed Seif, is quoted as saying:

The Prosecution has done everything in its power to impede Alaa’s appeal against his imprisonment on remand. It has been more than a month since the Prosecution completed its investigations and referred the case to the Criminal Court, but lawyers have still not been allowed access to the case file, and neither a district nor a date have been set for the trial.

As with the detention of several Al Jazeera journalists, these cases are emblematic of the brazen censorship being imposed by Egypt's current military regime. Press freedom advocates have described current restrictions on the press as “greater than those imposed by either Morsi or his predecessor, autocrat Hosni Mubarak.”

Tunisia

Tunisia’s new Technical Telecommunications Agency, also known as A2T, will undertake electronic surveillance in service of judicial investigations. Index on Censorship's Afef Abrougui writes:

Tunisia's interim authorities have failed to introduce real reforms in order to cut ties with the surveillance abuses of the past. Before taking the step to establish a surveillance entity the priority should have been repealing the dictatorship era laws and legally consolidating personal data protection.

Local activists organized a “Stop #A2T” campaign, urging the government to hold public hearings about the agency’s structure and legal obligations, but thus far authorities have not sought to engage civil society in planning discussions.

Morocco

Activists and legal experts fear that Morocco's Code Numérique, a draft bill put forward by Ahmed Reda Chami, former Minister of Industry, Trade, and New Technologies, could jeopardize online freedoms. In an interview with EFF, activist Zineb Belmkaddem explained:

[The] strategy of the Moroccan authorities has been to “watch” the internet, and often times intimidate and humiliate those who criticize the regime, rather than censor…However, as the numbers of protesters shrank due to police violence, arrests and intimidation, the authorities had regained control of the streets and tried to control the Internet.

Journalist Ali Anouzla, arrested in last September and released provisionally on bail in late October, still faces charges under Morocco’s terrorism statutes for linking to an article containing a YouTube video allegedly posted by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. At a January press conference in Rabat, Khadija Ryadi, head of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights, called for all charges against Anouzla to be dropped “because we are convinced of his innocence. This is not just for Ali…we are fighting for freedom for all.”

UAE

On January 10, Aisha Ibrahim Al-Zaabi was arbitrarily detained as she attempted to leave the UAE with her 18-month-old son in an effort to reunite with her husband, human rights defender Mohamed Saqer Al-Zaabi. Currently exiled in the UK, Saqer Al-Zaabi was convicted in absentia in the trial of 94 human rights defenders and activists in July 2013. His wife is not known to be involved in any political activity but rather appears to be the target of a campaign of punishment against her husband. Ibrahim Al-Zaabi was arrested at the Omani border and taken away by state security officers, leaving her father and her son behind.

Shezanne Cassim, an American citizen imprisoned for posting a satirical video on Dubai youth culture on YouTube, was released on January 9. Cassim was accused of “defaming the country's image abroad” under the country’s cybercrime law and sentenced to jail, deportation, and a fine in December 2013. Upon his return to the US, Cassim sharply criticized the UAE, saying: “I did nothing wrong. There was nothing illegal about the video, even under UAE law. I was tried in a textbook kangaroo court, and I was convicted without any evidence.”

On December 25, 2013, the Abu Dhabi Federal Court sentenced human rights advocate Mohamed Salem Al-Zumer to three years in prison and a fine of 500,000 Emirati Dirhams (US$136,091) over accusations of insulting the president and the prince of Abu Dhabi on Twitter.

The Abu Dhabi court also issued a verdict against human rights advocate Abdul Rahman Omar Bajubair, who lives outside the UAE, demanding that he be detained for five years on accusations of managing a website called Motadaminoon, which the court claims had offended the honor of the Federal Court's judges and the court's prestige.

Jordan

A new policy requires mobile phone users to register their devices — those using local SIM cards will have their service deactivated if they do not comply with the rule. On a similar note, Jordan’s Telecommunication Regulatory Commission is seeking to implement a system for tracking phones coming in and out of Jordan. The Commission's stated aim is to track stolen devices and protect consumers from counterfeited ones, but the system could also lead to broad mobile phone surveillance.

Syria

In addition to traditional and chemical warfare used in Syria, malicious software is being deployed against the Syrian opposition and being used to hijack Facebook pages, install malware, and trick targets into clicking malicious links. A study by EFF and the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab analyzes and documents evidence of these trends. The study warns Syrians to use caution when opening email attachments or clicking links posted to Facebook and YouTube.

US-based online learning platform Coursera was recently blocked in all countries under US trade sanctions, including Syria. The block on Syria was lifted shortly thereafter, following a series of activist reports on the issue.

Sudan

Sudan has been known to censor the Internet, but—as analysts with the New America Foundation recently pointed out—they’re not the only government affecting what Sudanese citizens can see and use online.  In an article for Slate, Danielle Kehl and Tim Maurer write:

Currently, Sudan is one of five countries in the world subject to comprehensive U.S. sanctions, which are designed to change governments’ behavior. But some of the provisions of those sanctions have become outdated—especially when it comes to new technologies like personal communication tools.

[…]

You might think that the Internet doesn’t play an important role in Sudan. But Dalia Haj-Omar, a Sudanese activist and blogger, told us in an email that the Internet is “the only platform for free civic engagement in Sudan.

The Council on Foreign Relations joined their call to push back against technology sanctions affecting the country, pointing readers to a call from Sudanese civil society to end the burden of technology sanctions.

Activists at the sit-in in Khartoum. Photo by Usamah Mohamad, used with permission.

Activists at the sit-in in Khartoum. Photo by Usamah Mohamad, used with permission.

Sudanese blogger Tajeldin Arja, arrested on December 24 2013, remains in detention for his criticism of the Sudanese and Chadian presidents. Arja, who hails from North Darfur, was arrested for standing in the front row of a press conference in Khartoum and shouting criticism at the presidents of both Sudan and Chad. His arrest was caught on video by an anonymous attendee and uploaded to YouTube. On February 18, activists called for his release at a peaceful sit-in before the national Human Rights Commission.

Palestine

In mid-January, Hamas announced that their Twitter account, @alqassambrigade, had been suspended by Twitter. Writing for Index on Censorship, Ruth Michaelson said:

Social media, while potentially a tool for propaganda, is one of the few ways that the wider public is able to know what is happening inside Al Qassam Brigades and Hamas. Cutting off this line further maligns part of a regime that uses this seclusion to its political advantage within Gaza, and allows Hamas to further clamp down on free speech within the Strip. In short: the content may be a strange development on Twitter, but its absence potentially has tangible effects for people on the ground.

Qatar

In early December, the head of the Doha Centre for Media Freedom—an institution that provides training and support for journalists and advocates for press freedom—was fired without explanation. Jan Keulen, a Dutch journalist who has worked in the region for many years, called his sacking a “political decision.”

Bahrain

Activist Zainab Al-Khawaja was released from prison on February 16 after spending one year behind bars. Although Al-Khawaja was sentenced for “participating in an illegal gathering,” she is an outspoken Twitter user and drew the government’s ire for her tweets posted at @angryarabiya.

Protests in Bahrain on February 14 marked the third anniversary of the 2011 uprisings in the Gulf nation. Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights used a crowdsourcing tool to map arrests and other abuses of protesters.

Lebanon

Social Media Exchange has identified several instances of Internet filtering in Lebanon, a country where traditional censorship is not uncommon but Internet censorship has been rare. The filtering is applied inconsistently across ISPs and demonstrates a lack of transparency in the blocking process.

Twitter user Jean Assy was sentenced to two months in prison on charges of insulting the president on Twitter. The decision found that Assy’s tweets constituted “defamation and libel” and stood in violation of Lebanon’s broadly-worded media and publications law. Assy remains free for now, and plans to appeal the verdict, challenging the court’s interpretation of Twitter as a “media outlet” in Lebanon. Freedom of speech advocates in Lebanon are highlighting Assy's case in a call for reforms to existing law, including an end to the “criminalization of public expression.”

Saudi Arabia

A new anti-terrorism law in the Gulf country threatens free speech, says Human Rights Watch (HRW). The new law reportedly defines terrorism as:

Any act carried out by an offender in furtherance of an individual or collective project, directly or indirectly, intended to disturb the public order of the state, or to shake the security of society, or the stability of the state, or to expose its national unity to danger, or to suspend the basic law of governance or some of its articles, or to insult the reputation of the state or its position, or to inflict damage upon one of its public utilities or its natural resources, or to attempt to force a governmental authority to carry out or prevent it from carrying out an action, or to threaten to carry out acts that lead to the named purposes or incite [these acts].

HRW’s Sarah Leah Whitson stated that the terrorism law “would allow the government to label any Saudi who demands reform or exposes corruption as a terrorist.”

From our partners

Research and collaboration

  • The fourth Arab Bloggers Meeting (#AB14) took place in late January in Amman, Jordan, bringing together over 70 individuals from across the region and around the world. Photographer and 7iber staff member Amer Sweidan developed a moving series of portraits of #AB14 participants expressing wishes for the future.

  • A November 2013 paper by The Citizen Lab shows how content filtering software Smartfilter—used by the Saudi and UAE governments—miscategorizes content.

  • Participants in the Arab Free Press Forum, which took place in November in Tunisia, say the Arab world needs more access to independent media.

  • In December the Institute for War and Peace Reporting launched the Cyber Arabs Online Academy, a platform dedicated to providing online training and resources on digital security issues in Arabic.

  • Egyptian Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) publishes an Arabic Introduction to Open Knowledge.

Upcoming events

Digital Citizen is brought to you by Advox, Access, EFF, Social Media Exchange, and 7iber.com. This month’s report was researched, edited, and written by Ellery Roberts Biddle, Mariwan R. Hama, Wafa Ben Hassine, Reem Al Masri, Dalia Othman, and Jillian C. York and translated into Arabic by Mohamed El Gohary.

February 20 2014

Parlez-vous français? Learning French According to Global Voices Translators

Bangui, Central African Republic. The French language retains some of its former influence in the former French colonies in Africa.

Bangui, Central African Republic. The French language retains some of its former influence in the former French colonies in Africa. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

I never fully understood the challenges of learning French until my girlfriend decided to take up the language. She would ask me – a native French speaker – questions that I had no answer for. 

My girlfriend speaks Mandarin and English, and as she asked more questions, I began to realise the extent to which the language I had grown up with in Madagascar is loaded with exceptions. Learning a new language can be a daunting prospect for beginners, but for newcomers to France who are starting from scratch, learning French can be especially challenging. 

French was important as a lingua franca until the middle of the 20th century, but its influence has since waned. Some experts blame the relative decline of French worldwide on the the complexity of the language. 

There have been several attempts over the years to reform and simplify the French language, notably at the level of orthography, but they were mostly ignored. A policy introduced in 1990 put forward general rules and lists of modified words, though institutions have been slow to adopt them

Still, the global influence of French language influence in the world should not be dismissed. French, spoken as a first language in France, Monaco, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, and some parts of Canada and the U.S., has an estimated 110 million native speakers. 190 million more speak French as a second language, and it's registered as an official language in 29 countries. The largest numbers of French second-language speakers reside in Francophone Africa, the largest contingent being from the Democratic Republic of Congo (32 million) and Cameroon (7.2 million). 

A good example of its influence is the scope of Alliance Française, an international non-profit organization that aims to promote French language and culture around the world. Each year, 450,000 people of all ages attend French classes at Alliances Française in 136 countries.

The question remains: how does learning French compare with other languages? We posed the question to a few members of the Global Voices family, and also asked them to share any tips they had for beginners. Here's what they said:

 Carol Bidwell 

As an English native speaker who has learnt both French and German, I have to say both are tricky for different reasons. French pronunciation can be quite tricky if you aren't coming from an Romance language background, and I have found that in some situations (mainly dealing with official/ government stuff) French people can be quite dismissive if your pronunciation isn't perfect, which can be demoralizing. In terms of grammar too, French is full of exceptions to rules, so as soon as you feel like you've learnt something there is more to learn! I don't want this to sound too negative though, because it does get easier and sticking at it is definitely worth it!

 Andrew Kowalczuk

French is one of the most idiomatic languages, and there are thousands of them, too many to study, so you have to learn gradually from context.

Thalia Rahme : 

French is my second language after Arabic. In Lebanon, at home or in the streets, Lebanese people speak basic French. Nevertheless, I think that my Lebanese English-educated friends training have had some difficulties because they only start taking French as a third language in schools when they are 11. 
 
But I notice many don't retain much of what they have learned [and they] also tend to feel embarrassed when speaking in public [especially] the pronunciation…Still, the French taught in schools in Lebanon is the formal one,so if you go to France you will feel as if in another planet when hearing some of the local idioms or slang. Also we have developed our Lebanized French i.e. by turning some of the Lebanese expressions into French 

 Alison McMillan quotes from a blog that explains the struggle of learning a new language:

You speak your native language. It is organized in certain ways: the grammar with its subject, verb and object in a certain order; different levels of politeness; and your culture mirrored in this structure as well as in idiom and metaphor. You express yourself in terms of it; you came to yourself through it; in effect, you are it. When you learn another language, you learn a different way to organize reality. When you grow fluent in this new language, you can say and even do things in ways you could not previously; certain new aspects are highlighted, and some things that you originally could more precisely formulate are now missing.

Danielle Martineau:  

French has its quirks like all languages. I started learning French when I was 9 and like anything else it's just commitment and practice and pushing through the hard part in the beginning. I do recommend this video. It is a TED talk by the Fluent in three months guy, Benny Lewis. He says something that I think is really accurate about people learning a new language. Usually they are shy and afraid to make mistakes so they never really jump right in from the beginning for fear of being judged. They think other people will be offended by their imperfect language skills when most people are just thrilled that you are making an effort and taking an interest in their culture and language. Also a lot of French people will correct you when you make mistakes in speech – it's not considered rude, and I actually really love it.  Nothing like making a mistake to learn how to do things right!

Suzanne Lehn

As a French person, my experience with the issue is an indirect one. I know a Chinese lady who married a Frenchman and they live in the US, so the language they have in common is English. [..] The big difference between Chinese and French languages: the grammar, it seems! Almost non-existent in Chinese and cumbersome in French. Also one must be aware that one can/should learn the oral language first. I know a lady who speaks perfect oral French from having lived in France for 2 years, but still cannot write it at all.

Georgia Popplewell

I come from staunchly Anglophone Trinidad and Tobago, but I enjoy learning languages, and didn't find French particularly difficult. After studying it for three years in secondary school, I changed to Spanish, then somehow decided to major in French at university. I don't think I'd still be speaking French fairly fluently today, however, if I hadn't spent five months living and working in Martinique shortly after graduating. Having to communicate exclusively in French for that period seems to have locked the language into my brain.

I also have a far larger vocabulary in French than in Spanish, and I attribute that to the fact that I've read more widely in French. Gaining a solid grasp of a language, in my opinion, entails engaging with both living, contemporary examples of the language, such as you encounter in films, newspapers and magazines, and the more formal kind of language you'd find in literary works as well.

Jane Ellis:

French is a language where, the more you know, the harder it gets. One of the hardest things is definitely the grammar. In particular, I have found the passé simple very hard to use, as well as the subjunctive. I am getting a lot better at the subjunctive, but it is very difficult for a British person who has never even been taught about the existence of the subjunctive in English (!) to compute/process a whole new way of theoretical thinking.

Also, for me, the speaking is definitely the hardest. I freely admit to being hopeless as speaking French! I am confident on paper, but not orally. Lack of practice since I have been living in a Spanish-speaking country for the past three years and learning the local lingo, plus, I have to say, also due to rebuffs when trying to speak French to French-speakers.
As a result, although my Spanish is garbled and pretty hopeless, I am MUCH more confident about trying to speak it because the locals are so encouraging and friendly.

Lova Rakatomalala is Global Voices’ editor for the Francophone region. When he first arrived from Madagascar to the US as a freshman at Tulane University, his fear of speaking English with a French accent was so overwhelming that he selected classes on the sole basis that they not require him to speak in public. He tweets—in French, Malagasy and English!—at @lrakoto.

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

Tunisia: Jailed Facebook User Pardoned, Release Unconfirmed

After spending nearly two years in prison, Jabeur Mejri jailed for posting content deemed offensive to Islam, obtained presidential pardon, local media reported on Wednesday.

In March 2012, Mejri was sentenced to seven and half years imprisonment for posting Prophet Muhammad cartoons on his Facebook page. His friend, Ghazi Beji who published an ebook named “the illusion of Islam”, received the same sentence in absentia after fleeing the country. He now lives in France after obtaining asylum there.

They were found guilty of ‘publishing material liable to cause harm to public order or good morals', ‘insulting others through public communication networks’ and ‘assaulting public morals'.

Mejri was repeatedly denied pardon requests made by his defense team, despite multiple promises from interim President Moncef Marzouki to release him.

For instance, speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) last September, Marzouki said that he is “waiting for the good political moment” to release Mejri.

“Now when you have this situation with the Salafists, extremely violent, releasing this guy right now could be dangerous for himself”, he added drawing criticism from human rights activists who considered his statement as an excuse to keep Mejri in prison.

On Facebook, the President's office confirmed the pardon[ar]:

الناطق الرسمي باسم رئاسة الجمهورية السيد عدنان منصر على موجات شمس إف إم :رئيس الجمهورية أمضى منذ أيام عفوا خاصا عن جابر الماجري في القضية الأصلية

The official spokesperson of the Presidency of the Republic Mr Adnan Mansar speaking on Radio Shems FM: Days ago, the President of the Republic signed a special pardon for Jabeur Mejri in the first case

Twitter reactions followed:

Ghassen Yahia referred [fr] to the country's new constitution which guarantees freedoms of speech, thought and conscience. The same charter, adopted last January bans “attacks on sanctities”, though.

Jabeur freed? Is this the first implementation of the new constitution?

Yamina Thabet, president of the Tunisian Association for Minorities, tweeted [fr]:

#freejabeur…it is too late, this is not a pardon but an attempt to repair a serious blow to human dignity

Cartoon in support of Jabeur Mejri, by Fey

Cartoon in support of Jabeur Mejri, by Fey


Martin Pradel called for caution [fr]:

The pardon was announced a while ago, it should have been signed. But, caution as long as Jabeur has not been effectively released

Though pardoned, Mejri's release remains unconfirmed. The privately owned radio Shems FM reported that he remains in prison over an old lawsuit against him.

In a statement published yesterday [Feb 19, 2014], his support committee said [fr]:

Nous ne pouvons confirmer ou infirmer, pour le moment, ce nouveau rebondissement dans le dossier de Jabeur Mejri

Right now, we can neither confirm nor deny this new development in the case of Jabeur Mejri

Last January, the Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH) announced that Mejri would soon be released to travel to Sweden where he obtained political asylum.

Molka Chaari tweeted [fr]:

Pardoned, ok. But is he “obliged” to leave the country???

February 19 2014

10 New Documentaries at the Luxor African Film Festival

Tom Devriendt lists 10 documentaries to look out for at the Luxor African Film Festival:

The third edition of the Egyptian Luxor African Film Festival again has a wide-ranging programme scheduled for next month. Selected films will be showing in different competitions: Long Narrative, Short Narratives, Short Documentaries and Long Documentary. Below you’ll find a couple of the selected documentaries’ trailers (set in Togo, Senegal, Ghana, Somalia, South Africa, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt and Angola) that were recently uploaded to YouTube and Vimeo, plus links to the films’ websites — where available.

February 18 2014

New Lebanese Government met with Skepticism

When Lebanese politicians announced their new government, Lebanon's online community responded with indifference, mockery and skepticism.

NOW Lebanon blogger Anthony ElGossain wrote a satirical piece entitled “Dear Citizen: Best Wishes from Lebanon’s New Cabinet” in which he writes a fictional letter written by politicians.

At this stage, furthermore, we are not prepared to recognize, promote, or protect communities of conscience: should you choose to identify with other citizens’ word-view, social mores, economic preferences, or political convictions, we invite you to explore emigration, disillusionment, apathy, or radicalism.

Slutterhouse frontman Rabih Salloum asked a question that seems to be on everyone's mind:

Screenshot from Facebook

Screenshot from Facebook

Gino Raidy from Gino's Blog shared his sentiment:

As though to make things worse, it later turned out that the New Cabinet's Protocol Photo was photoshopped:

Picture from Facebook

Picture from Facebook

The photoshopping incident was in itself a controversy. Many felt that it truly showed how little difference having a new government would make. Speaking to Al-Arabiya, blogger Karl Sharro from KarlRemarks explained:

“Photoshopping the ministers in is a metaphor for how a cabinet that has no clear political program or mandate and only represents the lowest common denominator has been artificially brought together merely as a form of political placebo”.

And add to that the fact that the new Telecom Minister, Boutros Harb, didn't seem to know how to use Twitter:

Trying to calm things down and provide an actual analysis into what the new government represent, Eye on the East blogger Marina Chamma wrote a piece entitled “A Warm Welcome to Lebanon's New Cabinet

When it comes to the business of the nation, the Lebanese shouldn’t grant politicians the benefit of the doubt anymore, very few deserve it. But the least these people can do is listen. As a reflection of the country’s mood, most of which oscillates between the slightly hopeful and the extreme sarcastic hopelessness, here are some welcome questions and self-evident truths for the newcomers. This is really what it all boils down to people, and in no particular order:

Click the link above to read the rest of the post.

February 17 2014

From Iran to the World: Humans of Shiraz

Who are the people of Shiraz, Iran and what are their dreams? A photographic story of Humans of Shiraz began on Facebook two years ago, inspired by the globally renowned Humans of New York. The page has more than 7,300 followers. These are profile photos with human stories from all walks of life.

Shiraz is the capital of the Fars province of Iran, and it is know as the city of poets and literature. Two world famous poets, Hafez and Saadi were born in here. The city is also considered by many Iranians to be the city of gardens.

Real Madrid

“I'm a football player…” “What's your biggest dream as a football player?” “To play in Real Madrid.” Photo by Humans of Shiraz (used with permission)

Photo by Humans of Shiraz (used with permission)

“I'm a football player…”
“What's your biggest dream as a football player?”
“To play in Real Madrid.”

To Be a Model Someday

Photo by Humans of Shiraz (used with permission)

Photo by Humans of Shiraz (used with permission)

“What is your field of study?”
“Electronic engineering.”
“What do you like the most?”
“I like modelling and I wanted to be a model someday…”
“What is the hardest thing of being a model for you?”
“Is that the people around me accept that and cope with with this issue in a good way.”

Heavy Metal

Photo by Humans of Shiraz (used with permission)

Photo by Humans of Shiraz (used with permission)

“I'm a heavy metal musician, and I play electric guitar… “

From Radiology to Selling Shoes

Photo by Humans of Shiraz (used with permission)

Photo by Humans of Shiraz (used with permission)

Algerian Cartoonist Faces 18 Months in Jail for Mocking President

All links lead to French-language web pages.

His name is Djamel Ghanem, and he's a young Algerian cartoonist. His job is no fun in a country where censorship and prosecution await those who dare to speak their minds. Ghanem faces 18 months in prison for an unpublished caricature of Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika that was deemed offensive by the authorities.

Djamel Ghanem

Djamel Ghanem via Algérie Focus. Used with permission

In fact, President Bouteflika is not represented or even directly mentioned in the unpublished cartoon. The drawing portrays two citizens mocking the fourth term the current president is seeking after ruling Algeria for 15 years. The caricature compares the fourth mandate to baby diapers. With the drawing, Ghanem wanted to convey the idea that Algerians are treated like children.

For that, he was taken to court and threatened with imprisonment. The district attorney of Oran, the second largest city in Algeria, located 400 kilometers northwest of the capital Algiers, wanted the cartoonist to admit that he had the intention of insulting the president. But Ghanem categorically denied that he had such intention.

Neither Bouteflika nor his advisers filed the suit against Ghanem. It was Ghanem's former employer, La Voix de l'Oranie (Voice of Oran), a daily newspaper known for its pro-regime editorial line, who sued him for the cartoon which was never published in the media.

Sued by his own newspaper, Ghanem saw all the doors of Algerian media closing in his face. Interviewed by Algerie-Focus, Ghanem explained that he has had difficulties finding a lawyer to defend his cause along with other challenges:

Le directeur de publication d’un autre quotidien a été menacé si jamais il me recrutait. Je suis devenu persona non grata. A travers moi, ils veulent abattre l’opposition algérienne qui dit non à un quatrième mandat

the director of another newspaper was advised to not hire me. I became persona non-grata. Through me, they want to thwart the opposition who is fighting against a fourth term for the president.

After the case's first hearing, the judges requested an 18-month prison sentence against Ghanem. The final ruling is expected next month on March 4. Meanwhile, netizens are voicing their support for and solidarity with Ghanem. An online petition demands that Ghanem be let go:

Si les médias et l’opinion se taisaient sur cette atteinte à la liberté d’expression et ces violations des droits d’un citoyen dans les bureaux d’un juge, les tribunaux pourraient demain condamner un journaliste pour avoir pensé du mal du président de la république, d’un gradé de l’armée, d’un ministre ou d’un élu. Nous signataires de cet appel exigeons l’arrêt des poursuites judiciaires engagées contre Djamel Ghanem

If the media and public opinion keep quiet on this infringement of freedom of expression and the violation of a citizen's rights, then tomorrow any court can charge a journalist for criticizing the president of the republic, an army official, a minister or a deputy. With this petition, we demand an end to the prosecution against Djamel Ghanem.

By shielding the president against any criticism, the administration is trying to impose a totalitarian ideology upon its citizens. Freedom of expression is at risk in Algeria. Ghanem's case is a typical example of how dire the situation is for cartoonists and other people willing to speak up.

Algerian Cartoonist Faces 18 Months in Jail for Mocking President

[All links lead to French-language web pages.]

His name is Djamel Ghanem, and he's a young Algerian cartoonist. His job is no fun in a country where censorship and prosecution await those who dare to speak their minds. Ghanem faces 18 months in prison for an unpublished caricature of Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika that was deemed offensive by the authorities. 

Djamel Ghanem

Djamel Ghanem via Algérie Focus. Used with permission

In fact, President Bouteflika is not represented or even directly mentioned in the unpublished cartoon. The drawing portrays two citizens mocking the fourth term the current president is seeking after ruling Algeria for 15 years. The caricature compares the fourth mandate to baby diapers. With the drawing, Ghanem wanted to convey the idea that Algerians are treated like children.

For that, he was taken to court and threatened with imprisonment. The district attorney of Oran, the second largest city in Algeria, located 400 kilometers northwest of the capital Algiers, wanted the cartoonist to admit that he had the intention of insulting the president. But Ghanem categorically denied that he had such intention. 

Neither Bouteflika nor his advisers filed the suit against Ghanem. It was Ghanem's former employer, La Voix de l'Oranie (Voice of Oran), a daily newspaper known for its pro-regime editorial line, who sued him for the cartoon which was never published in the media. 

Sued by his own newspaper, Ghanem saw all the doors of Algerian media closing in his face. Interviewed by Algerie-Focus, Ghanem explained that he has had difficulties finding a lawyer to defend his cause along with other challenges: 

Le DRS, le département des services secrets algériens, avait menacé le directeur de publication d’un autre quotidien si jamais il me recrutait. Je suis devenu persona non grata. A travers moi, ils veulent abattre l’opposition algérienne qui dit non à un quatrième mandat

The DRS, the Algerian Intelligence Department, threatened the director of another newspaper against hiring me. I became persona non-grata. Through me, they want to thwart the opposition who is fighting against a fourth term for the president.

After the case's first hearing, the judges requested an 18-month prison sentence against Ghanem. The final ruling is expected next month on March 4. Meanwhile, netizens are voicing their support for and solidarity with Ghanem. An online petition demands that Ghanem be let go:

Si les médias et l’opinion se taisaient sur cette atteinte à la liberté d’expression et ces violations des droits d’un citoyen dans les bureaux d’un juge, les tribunaux pourraient demain condamner un journaliste pour avoir pensé du mal du président de la république, d’un gradé de l’armée, d’un ministre ou d’un élu. Nous signataires de cet appel exigeons l’arrêt des poursuites judiciaires engagées contre Djamel Ghanem

If the media and the opinion keep quiet on this infringement of freedom of expression and the violation of a citizen's rights, then tomorrow any court can charge a journalist for criticizing the president of the republic, an army official, a minister or a deputy. With this petition, we demand an end to the prosecution against Djamel Ghanem.

By shielding the president against any criticism, the administration is trying to impose a totalitarian ideology upon its citizens. Freedom of expression is at risk in Algeria. Ghanem's case is a typical example of how dire the situation is for cartoonists and other people willing to speak up.

February 16 2014

Tourists Killed in Terrorist Attack in Sinai, Egypt

A bomb blast ripped through a bus carrying 30 tourists in Sinai, Egypt, today, killing at least two South Korean tourists and the Egyptian bus driver. According to reports, the tourists had completed touring St Catherine's Monastery and were on their way to Israel, when the bomb exploded.

Netizens were left scrambling for information.

According to journalist Kristen McTighe:

She adds:

Firas Al-Atraqchi says:

ABC News Middle East Correspondent Alexander Marquardt has other information:

And Hamdy Kassem concludes [ar]:

Those of us who are not journalists will not know what happened in the Taba bus blast because of the contradicting information and casualty figures. It is a struggle for journalists to get information in a country which denies all information

And if this is not enough, The Big Pharaoh claims the Muslim Brotherhood Twitter account is spreading more mis-information:

Soon enough, photographs surfaced online.

Fatima Said shares this photograph of the remains of a charred bus:

Egyptian blogger and journalist Muhamed Sabry remarks on the photograph saying:

And Amro Ali shares the photograph of the Egyptian bus driver, said to be killed in the blast:

Zeinobia, on Egyptian Chronicles, is alarmed tourists are being targeted. She blogs:

We are back to the days of the 1990s where tourists were a main target. Actually we are back to the 2000s where South Sinai had its share from several terrorist attacks.
Now the attacks moved to South where tourism industry began to catch up.
I am concerned that after targeting the tourists in Taba in 2000s , the security forces unleashed hell abusing locals there affecting their relationship with the state till this day in addition to whatever happening in the North now from military campaign against the terrorist groups things will go from bad to worse to worst.

Meanwhile, Egyptian netizens are kissing their tourism industry goodbye.

Nasry Esmat bitterly tweets [ar]:

We as a nation are not effected with a number of people killed … all we care about is tourism for economic reasons

Mohamed El Dahshan notes:

Ashraf Khalil adds:

And Mona Eltahawy fumes:

February 14 2014

Protests Erupt Against a TV Show in Iran

Sarzamine Kohan

Sarzamine Kohan

Protests against a TV series called Sarzamine Kohan (Ancient Land) erupted this week in several Iranian cities, including Dezful and Ahvaz in the oil-rich Khuzestan province. Demonstrators say the show was insulting to Bakhtiari people and the role its leaders played in Iran's Constitutional Revolution.

In at least one dialogue of the fictional show, Bakhtyaris are said to be “at the service of English”, meaning they were traitors. Sixty members of parliament wrote a protest letter to state-run Iranian television complaining about this representation.

Bakhtiari people, who primarily live in Chahar Mahaal, Bakhtiari and parts of the Khuzestan, Lorestan and Isfahan provinces, played played an important role in Iran's history.

Demonstration in Dezful

Freedom Messenger shared several films from a demonstration in Dezful, on Friday 14, 2014.

Several netizens tweeted about the controversial series.

Tevis tweeted

Today they destroy Bakhtiari, tomorrow they will do it with other ethnic groups.

The_Sina tweeted

Here are the photos of demonstration in Masjed Soleiman on Friday, February 15. If you demonstrate, do it the right way, without violence.

Mehdi Mohseni previously tweeted

Iran's Third Channel (the one broadcast the controversial series) played Bakhtiari music several times today. Probably to soften the present atmosphere.

As a Federal State, Yemen Marks the Third Anniversary of Its Revolution

February 11th marked the third anniversary of Yemen's revolution which toppled former President Ali Abdullah's Saleh's 33 year rule. Just a day before, on February 10, Yemen's president Abdu Rabu Mansour, based on the National Dialogue‘s recommendation for the political transition and after deliberating with a Region Defining Committee, approved turning the country into a six-region federation state.

Nadia Al-Sakkaf, an activist, member of the National Dialogue and editor-in-chief of The Yemen Times, tweeted:

The federal system was a solution to counter the failure of the centralized government and to give the south more autonomy while preserving Yemen's unity. Yemen's parties had been divided on whether to split the federation into two or six regions. A north-south divide which was suggested by Southerners was rejected due to fear that it could set the stage for the south to secede. The six agreed regions included four in the north, comprising Azal, Saba, Janad and Tihama, and two in the south, Aden and Hadhramaut.

Azal includes the capital Sanaa, which will be a federal city not subject to any regional authority, in addition to the provinces of Dhamar, Amran and Saada. Aden would comprise the capital of the former south, as well as Abyan, Lahej and Daleh. The southeastern Hadhramaut province would include Al-Mahra, Shabwa and the island of Socotra, while Saba comprises Bayda, Marib and Al-Jawf. Janad would include Taez and Ibb, and Tahama also takes in Hudaydah, Rima, Mahwit and Hajja.

Yemen_updates tweeted a link showing the new regions:

There were many reactions among Yemenis and Arabs both for and against this decision.
Yemeni youth activist, Jamal Badr jokingly tweeted a still shot from a scene of a famous Egyptian comic play:

Isn't Yemen fine?? Yes, every region is fine but separate

Farea Almuslimi disapproving the haste in the decision making tweeted:

It took my father and uncles a longer and more thoughtful time to divide the (small) land they inherited from my grandfather then it took to determine the form and number of the regions in Yemen

Egyptian visual artist and film maker, Mahmud Abdel Kader, commented:

Nobody is saying that the UAE is divided because it is federal … because the idea of federalism is to add not divide, what happened in Yemen is a division not an addition

Lebanese Karl Sharro sarcastically tweeted:

Yet there were many questions in people's minds, which Sam Waddah raised on Facebook:

Major question marks remain on dividing power, authority, duties between regions and central state, defining the new system, how local governments will be elected, etc. Tentatively federal system is a good one but it's too early to tell here and by leaving these issues undefined I think Hadi and the regions defining committee are putting the cart before the horse!

Adam Baron also wondered:

Nadia Al-Sakkaf shed some light on the new federal system in her article in The Yemen Times:

The relationship between the regions and the federal government will be written into the constitution. The details will be defined in a Federal Regions Law after the constitution has been approved via a national referendum, expected to take place three months after the creation of the Constitutional Drafting Committee. Each region will have the autonomy to devise its own regional laws to define the relationship among its various states.

Three years after the revolution, on February 11, Yemenis were back on the streets but for various reasons. There were those who went out to celebrate the anniversary of a revolution which awed the world with its power and peacefulness and there were those who went out to protest against the government's corruption and for not realizing the revolution's demands.

Majda Al-Hadad, an activist spearheading the campaign against the government's continuous electricity power cuts tweeted:

It is not necessary for me to list the reasons for me to go out tomorrow, there is nothing positive that would make me hesitate. No rights, no dignity, no law, no justice, and no presence of the government except corruption and injustice.

Journalist Khaled Al-Hammadi tweeted:

The people want to topple corruption“, “the people want the fall of the government“, “a new revolution all over again“, “oh government of corruption, leave the country” chanted protesters across the streets of Sanaa.

(Video posted on YouTube by Ridan Bahran

Akram Alodini also highlighted the political division in his tweet:

In the morning, marches for the republic of Sabeen and the sport stadium, and in the afternoon for the republic of Seteen, and the citizen is helpless

Lawyer Haykal Bafanaa wondered how would corrupt politicians counter corruption:

Researcher, blogger and activist Atiaf Al-Wazir tweeted:

This video by SupportYemen is a reminder of what the revolution was about and what it still needs to achieve:

And as Rooj Al-Wazir, tweeted, some of the revolutionary youth, three years later, were still behind bars:

Journalist Benjamin Wiacek tweeted with disappointment, a bitter sentiment shared by many of the revolutionary youth:

Journalist Iona Craig, who has been living in Yemen since 2011, and as the rest of Yemenis has been suffering from frequent and lengthy electricity cuts tweeted:

Many Yemenis did not feel a change in their daily living conditions – quite the contrary, many were disappointed and frustrated with its deterioration. In a question posed on Facebook by journalist Ahmed Ghurab, “In your opinion what change has occurred in the living conditions of the average citizen in the last three years since the outbreak of the revolution?!!”, the majority complained about the hike in prices, the continuous power outages, the insecurity and instability along with the increase of assassinations, the car explosions and kidnappings and the failure of the government to address or manage these issues.

Nevertheless, there were those who were celebrating the revolution's achievements so far and were still hoping for more. Photos of the marches all over Yemen commemorating the third anniversary of the start of the revolution were posted all over Twitter and Facebook.

Yemen-based journalist Adam Baron tweeted:

A photo from the Friday marches in Sanaa in 2011 demanding the fall of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh

A photo from the Friday marches in Sanaa in 2011 demanding the fall of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh

Activist, photographer and member of the National Dialogue, Nadia Abdullah,posted photos of the marches in Sanaa on facebook.

Marches in Sanaa's Seteen street celebrating the 3rd anniversary of Yemen's revolution (Photo by Nadia Abdullah)

Marches in Sanaa's Seteen street celebrating the 3rd anniversary of Yemen's revolution (Photo by Nadia Abdullah)

On a more positive note, Baraa Shiban, a youth activist and also member of the National Dialogue, tweeted:

He summarized in his Facebook post, what many would undoubtedly agree is the greatest achievement of Yemen's revolution:

Yemen has a new generation of men and women who believe in the principals of democracy and human rights. Yemen's youth now believe in equal citizenship, women's rights and minorities. Yemen's youth today believe in achieving their demands by following the peaceful method.

The revolution continues…

Online Campaign to Restore Lebanon's Second Largest Library a Success

Screenshot of the Zoomaal petition site

When unknown assailants torched his library on January 3, Father Ibrahim Sarrouj responded by forgiving them. The assailants, supposedly Muslim fundamentalists, accused Father Sarrouj of attacking Islam by publishing a pamphlet claiming that Abu Bakr, Islam's first caliph, once beat Muhammad's wife Aisha with a newspaper.

The library in question is Tripoli's famed Al-Saeh Library, Lebanon's second largest and home to over 80,000 books of all kind. Despite security forces being notified that Father Ibrahim Sarrouj had been threatened by religious extremists, the library was still badly damaged. No one knows exactly how many books were destroyed, but it is estimated that the number may be as high as two thirds.

The irony is that not only did Father Sarrouj never write such a pamphlet – his library contained and still contains numerous priceless Islamic books – but the supposed event couldn't have taken place as it predates the invention of the printing press by 800 years. The supposed ‘accusation’ could not have therefore been made by someone who knows anything about history. But then again, historical accuracy isn't a usual feature of religious fundamentalism.

This crime didn't seem to be about anything. Father Ibrahim Sarrouj is known for his humanist principles in calling for Tripoli's unity. Muslims and Christians alike view him as one of them. He greeted everyone with As-salamu ‘aleikum (Peace be upon you). There was simply no ‘reason’ whatsoever, not even by fundamentalist standards, to attack the library.

How should we interpret this ridiculous and heinous crime? Should we read it as yet another victim of Lebanon's sectarian reality? Or should we just dismiss it as the product of a few marginalized individuals who don't have much to do other than attack knowledge?

The latter seems to be how the Lebanese decided to respond. Indeed, Lebanon as a whole condemned the burning. All major sectarian representatives issued condemnations and called for the criminals to face justice. Lebanon's netizens, Muslims and Christians, Druze and Atheists, sent their support to Father Ibrahim Sarrouj by the thousands. Everyone said “No.” But “No” wasn't enough. Something had to be done to restore the library. Enter “Kafana Samtan”.

Kafana Samtan, or “Enough Silence”, was launched on Zoomaal, an online Arab crowd-funding platform, just a few days after the attack. It was immediately backed with overwhelming support from both companies and average citizens. In just a month, it succeeded in getting US $35,000, thanks to 298 donors. How will the money be used? New bookshelves, a new front door, new wall painting, as well as buying back rare books and installing security equipment.

But that's not the end of the story. The Al-Saeh library distinguished itself in succeeding in getting Lebanese of all stripes together. Irrespective of religion or sect, the campaign gathered everyone in coming together for an obviously non-sectarian cause. This wasn't a Christian vs Muslim vs other Christian vs other Muslim scenario specifically because Father Sarrouj isn't one.

Having given up on trying to change things politically due to excessive nation-wide sectarian corruption, Lebanon's independent minds have taken to social media to gather funds, sign petitions, exchange ideas and influence their surroundings.

Will the “Kafana Samta” success story contribute to Lebanon's growing activist scene? One thing's certain, it has certainly allowed many to soften their negative perceptions and to essentially give hope in a country where hope isn't easy to maintain.

A Love Story With No Kissing? That's Cinema in Iran

A Separation

Leila Hatami and Peyman Moadi in “A Separation.” Credit: Habib Madjidi/Sony Pictures Classics

This article and a radio report by Shirin Jaafari for The World originally appeared on PRI.org on February 13, 2014 and is republished as part of a content sharing agreement.

For any film to be shown in Iran, directors have to follow the strict Islamic laws.


Male and female characters can't touch. Women have to cover their hair at all times.

“Can you imagine how many stories you’re unable to tell as a filmmaker if you cannot show the slightest physical touch between members of the opposite sex?” asks Jamsheed Akrami, an Iranian director based in the US.

Akrami spent five years interviewing a dozen Iranian filmmakers, actors and actresses. The result is his latest documentary: “Cinema of discontent.”

They all lament the hardship they face in telling a story in film when they have to follow all the Islamic codes they have to follow.

“I’m not only alluding to the romantic subjects, you know, we’re talking about situations where you can’t even show parental affection or a male physician for example, cannot be shown examining a female patient,” he adds.

One of the directors Akrami interviews in his documentary is Bahman Farmanara. He explains how he got around one challenging scene in his movie “A Little Kiss.”

“There is a sequence in ‘A Little Kiss’ where the father, after 38 years of being in Switzerland, has returned suddenly because his son has committed suicide and he comes to visit his daughter,” he says. “Well, obviously according to the laws that we have to obey, a man and a woman cannot embrace each other. Even though in this particular instance they are father and daughter.”

Here’s how director Farmanara got around it.

“So what I did … when the daughter takes a few steps towards him, he takes his hat off,” Farmanara says. “So, he makes a move to stop her from coming close…”

Farmanara added that Iran is a “nation that in our films we don’t kiss, we don’t touch, we don’t hug but somehow miraculously from 37 million we’ve gone to 70 million.”

There are so many similar cases in Iranian films that if you watch enough of them, you would actually be surprised if the characters do touch or dance for example.

Yet filmmakers and actors constantly challenge the red lines.

In one film called “Gilaneh,” a mother who is taking care of her paralyzed son bathes him, moves him around and even at one point starts dancing to cheer him up.

In Akrami's documentary, the director, Rakhshan Bani Etemad says that she worried about the sensors, but felt the story had to be told to break the taboo.

Akrami says as an Iranian filmmaker “your most prized skill is the ability to work around the censorship codes. The artistic gift is actually a secondary requirement when it comes to making films in Iran.”

But with all the restrictions, Iranian films have been part of festivals around the world. And they have received recognition.

In 2012, for example, Asghar Farhadi made history when he won an Oscar for his film “A Separation.”

Many others film have won international awards.

Meanwhile Mahdi Kouhian, a documentary filmmaker in Iran, says since the election of Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, there is a more positive atmosphere.

For example, he said he attended the Fajr Film Festival for the first time in four years.

The festival is held every year to mark the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.

But filmmaker Akrami isn't as optimistic. That's because he says he doesn't see any fundamental changes.

“The election of Mr. Rouhani, to me, is just a cosmetic change. It's like putting make up on a monster, which basically wouldn’t change the nature of that monster. You still have a monster,” he says.

For him, the saddest part about Iranian cinema is that its best movies never got to be made.

February 12 2014

VIDEOS: Argentina's Melting Pot of Culinary Traditions

[All links lead to Spanish-language sites unless otherwise noted.]

The diverse migratory flows that have reached Argentina from the 1880′s and until now contributed to the richness and variety of the typical [en] cuisine in the country.

The various ‘ferias de colectividades’ (cultural fairs) that take place throughout Argentina are good illustrations of this. In these fairs we can witness not only a display of each community's traditions, folkloric dances, beauty pageants and souvenirs but also their traditional dishes. For instance, during the Fiesta de Colectividades in the city of Rosario that takes place every year, a varied menu is offered representing the multiple communities (Latin, European and Asian) that compose the Argentinian society. In this video, we can see how typical Paraguayan food is prepared and sold during that same fair in Rosario.


On Facebook, the page Encuentro Anual de Colectividades (Annual Gathering of Communities) shows some dishes that will be sold during the 2014 program in the city of Alta Gracia [es]. The city, located in the Córdoba province, is quite famous because it is where the revolutionary Che Guevara [en] lived for 12 years.

Imagen de la página de facebook Encuentro Anual de Colectividades

Photo posted on the Facebook Page of the Encuentro Anual de Colectividades event

Every September, the Misiones province [en] also celebrates its traditional Fiesta Nacional del Inmigrante (National Feast of the Immigrant). For the occasion, the Polish community, among other migrant groups, cooks Kursak Polski na Royezaj, better known as Polish chicken.

Ingredientes
1 pollo
1 cebolla grande
2 ajo puerro
1 morrón rojo mediano
1 morrón verde mediano
200 gramos crema de leche
200 gramos champiñones
sal y pimienta

Preparación de la salsa
Picar la cebolla bien fina, rehogar con una cucharada de aceite, agregar los morrones cortados en daditos, agregar el ajo puerro picado muy fino. Revolver muy bien, agregar crema de leche y los champignones.
Cocinar durante cinco minutos, agregar sal y pimienta a gusto.
Optativo nuez moscada.
Si queda muy espesa la salsa agregar leche para suavizar. Servir acompañado con pollo a la parrilla o al horno

Ingredients

1 Chicken

1 Large Onion

2 Leeks

1 Medium Red Pepper

1 Medium Green Pepper

200 g. Cream

200 g. Mushrooms

Salt and Pepper

Preparation of the sauce

Chop the onions very finely. Fry lightly with one tbsp of oil. Add the peppers after they've been diced followed by the leeks finely cut. Stir well. Add the cream and mushrooms.

Cook for 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. You can also add some nutmeg if you wish. If sauce gets too thick, add some milk. Serve with grilled or roast chicken.

In addition there are community-specific celebrations, such as the one by the Volga Germans [en], who settled mostly in the province of Entre Ríos. The Volga Germans lived in the region of southeastern European Russia, close to the Volga river [en]. They came to Argentina in 1878 and preserved their traditions as well as their language. Cuisine is naturally at the heart of these traditions. This video produced by the Asociación Argentina de Descendientes de Alemanes del Volga (Argentinian Association of the Volga Germans Descendants) demonstrates how to prepare a Kreppel:


There also many restaurants serving foreign food. The Croatian community in Argentina, for instance, keeps its culinary traditions with restaurants like Dobar Tek, offering a rich Croatian menu. This video shows the “art” of preparing an apple strudel.


The Armenian community is also quite influential in Argentina. Romina Boyadjian suggests the 5 best dishes in Armenian cuisine while pointing out that the Community in the diaspora has reinvented the typical dishes:

Algo curioso es que la comida armenia que se come en Argentina es muy distinta a la que se consume en Armenia. Esto tiene que ver con las reinvenciones que hacen los diferentes pueblos al partir de su tierra natal, las costumbres que traen consigo y lo que termina siendo valorado en la nueva comunidad. Hay comidas que acá se consideran típicas y que allá apenas se conocen.

It's quite intriguing that the Armenian cuisine we eat in Argentina is quite different from the one actually consumed in Armenia. This has to do with the reinventions done by the different populations based on their homeland, the traditions that they bring and what ends up being valued in the new community.  Some dishes are considered traditional yet they are barely known there (in Armenia).

One of the cities symbolizing the Jewish immigration to Argentina is Moisés Ville [en], established by the first immigrants who reached the country. On the YouTube account of the initiative Señal Santa Fe we can see the city and get to know how traditions are preserved through well-known dishes such as the strudel or the Knish [en] among others:


But which dish was quickly adopted by immigrants upon their arrival to the country? The asado [en] without any doubt, especially because the majority of the newcomers were peasants and meat was quite cheap. The Club Argentino de Asadores a la Estaca (Argetinian Club of Rotisseurs) has some photos for you to enjoy.

Asado a la Estaca - Imagen. Laura Schneider

Asado – Photo by Laura Schneider

Insurgent Group Tweets Photo of Iranian Soldiers Abducted at Iran-Pakistan Border

Five Soldiers kidnapped nera Iran-Pakistan border, source: Jaish al-Adl's Twitter

Five abducted Irani soldiers. Photo released by  Jaish al-Adl's Twitter account

Iranians are using the #FreeIranianSoldiers hashtag to spread awareness about five Iranian border guards abducted at the Iran-Pakistan border. The Baloch Sunni-muslim insurgent group Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice) claimed responsibility and published the above photo of the abducted soldiers through their Twitter account. 

Jaish-al-Adl operate in Sistan-Baluchestan, one of Iran's largest and poorest provinces, which is home to 2 million Sunni-muslims. The ethnic Baloch and Sunni-muslim insurgents in the area have been demanding more autonomy from the Shia-government in Tehran in recent years.
 
In October 2013,  Jaish-ul-Adl which is called a terrorist group by the Irani state, ambushed and killed 14 Iranian border guards. In response,  authorities in the Shia-dominant country executed 16 people from Sistan-Baluchestan allegedly associated with Jaish-ul-Adl.
 

 Mohammad Reza Aref, an Iranian reformist politician, tweeted:

An Iranian social media researcher and blogger Narima Gharib tweeted:

Canadian-Iranian Maryam Nayeb Yazdi tweeted:

 

Iran-based Twitter user Opium calls for unity:

Hey you, don't tell me there's no hope at all  Together we stand, divided we fall. #FreeIranianSoldiers

— opium (@opiums) February 10, 2014

 
Since 2006, Baluchis, who make up 2% of Iran’s population, have accounted for about 20% of state executions, according to the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, a US-based group which tracks human rights abuses in Iran.
 
The Irani government believes Jaish-ul-Adl is hiding in Pakistan's Balochistan province, which borders Iran's Sistan-Baluchestan province. Pakistan is battling its own Baluchi insurgency,and has been criticized by Iran for failing to crack down on militant camps in its territory.
Reposted byiranelection iranelection

February 11 2014

Iran: “Less” anti-U.S. Atmosphere

Iran celebrated the 35th anniversary of the Islamic revolution on Tuesday.Some netizens wrote about what hardliners reported after the celebration.Hadi Nili tweeted

Reposted byiranelection iranelection

e-Booklets for Syrian Activists

Syrian activists are now able to access an online archive which lists tactics for resisting tyranny and peaceful ways to revolt.

Dawlaty, an NGO whose name translates to My State from Arabic, provides a series of e-booklets which [ar]:

محاولة لتقديم بعض الأساليب والتكتيكات التي استخدمها وما زال يستخدمها نشطاء سوريا في كفاحهم السلمي.
حاولنا قدر الامكان أرشفة هذه التحركات لتقديمها للسوريين وغيرهم على شكل دليل للحراك الثوري في سوريا.
لربما يلهم هذا الكتيب البعض على إنتاج المزيد من تجارب الأرشفة للحراك السلمي في سوريا ويزود الناشطات والناشطين بأساليب خلاقة في كفاحهم ضد الطغيان.

attempt to provide a number of methods and tactics which were used and are still being used by activists in Syria as part of their peaceful resistance.
We have tried, as much as possible, to archive these movements to present them to Syrians and others, as a guide to the revolutionary movement in Syria.
This series may perhaps inspire some of you to produce more archives for the peaceful movement in Syria, which will provide activists with creative methods to resist tyranny.

Already on the site are Tactics for Revolutionary Activism in Syria [ar] and Transitional Justice in Syria [ar] (this booklet is available in English), among others.

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