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February 20 2014

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February 14 2014

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…

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.

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


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

February 11 2014

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.

February 09 2014

Campaign to Demand Saudi Nationality Gender Equality

A campaign aimed at enabling the children of Saudi women to be granted the Saudi nationality is currently underway.

The Campaign to Amend Article 7 of the Nationality Act demands granting Saudi nationality to children whose mother is Saudi and whose father is not. Currently, only children whose father is Saudi are granted the nationality. This means that the children of Saudi mothers, whose fathers are of another nationality, cannot benefit from public education and health coverage, among other perks.

The campaign website shares this example [ar]:

سيف بن يزن، كغيره الكثير، ابن مواطنة سعودية من أب غير سعودي. لا يعرف وطناً غير المملكة العربية السعودية. حصل على الثانوية العامة بمعدل 98٪. بعد ذلك حاول ان يدرس الطب ولكن مُنع من تحقيق هذا الحلم بحجة أنه “أجنبي” لذلك اضطُر إلى أن يكمل تعليمه في احدى التخصصات الأخرى المتاحة للأجانب “في نظر النظام” في ذلك الوقت. فالتحق بكلية الحقوق “القانون” بجامعة الملك عبدالعزيز. وفي عام 2010 تخرج من جامعة الملك عبدالعزيز مع مرتبة الشرف بمعدل 4.69 من 5. ثم قرر مواصلة تعليمه في الخارج. لكن مرة أخرى، برنامج الابتعاث لم يقبل ضمه نظراً لأنه من “الأجانب”. إيماناً بأهمية العلم، قرر والده أن يرسله على حسابه الخاص للدراسة، وبذلك اقتطع والده من دخل العائلة وتحملت العائلة مشقة مالية مُرهِقة. حصل على ماجستير القانون التجاري الدولي من جامعة بوسطن ثم حصل على قبول بجامعة هارفرد وألتحق بها. الآن يعيش الحلم واقعاً بدراسة ماجستير القانون في جامعة هارفرد.

Saif bin Yazen is, like many others, the son of a Saudi mother and a non-Saudi father. He does not know any home but the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He graduated from high school with an overall 98 percentage. He tried to study medicine but he was prohibited from that dream for being a “foreigner” and because of that, he had to join a different field to complete his education in one of the specialties that are open to foreigners (according to the law then). He joined the Rights College at King Abdulaziz University and in 2010 he graduated with an honours degree with a 4.69 out of 5 GPA. He decided to complete his education abroad, but, again, the Scholarship Program did not accept him because he was a “foreigner”. Since his father believed in the importance of education, he decided to pay his son's expenses, which the family had to bear with very expensive costs. He got the Masters degree in International Commercial Law from Boston University and he was accepted to and joined Harvard.

Article 7 states the following:

يكون سعوديا من ولد داخل المملكة العربية السعودية أو خارجها لأب سعودي، أو لأم سعودية وأب مجهول الجنسية أو لا جنسية له أو ولد داخل المملكة لأبوين مجهولين، ويعتبر اللقيط في المملكة مولودا فيها ما لم يثبت العكس.

Those who were born inside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or outside it are considered Saudis if their father is Saudi or their mother is Saudi and their father is of an unknown nationality or with no nationality or was born for unknown parents. Illegitimate children are considered born in the Kingdom unless proven otherwise.

The campaign has launched a petition and called people to sign it.

Twitter user @Delilah_SD commented:

We grant [the Saudi] nationality to football players and singers, and those who do not belong and who have never done anything for the nation, and the children of a Saudi mother are not grated the nationality!

Abdull Yazan adds:

Women are half of society. They are the ones who give birth to and bring up the other half.

And Jameel concludes:

Isn't it a shame when a Saudi woman has to go to the Immigration department to get a visit permit for her own son?

Five of the Most Celebrated French-Language African Films

The Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (Festival panafricain du cinéma et de la télévision de Ouagadougou or FESPACO) is the largest film festival in Africa, held every two years in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. The festival usually takes place in March of every year it is held. Founded in 1969, it has honored a great number of movies whose impact is still felt today. In celebration of the upcoming film festival, below are five of the most celebrated French-language African films (award-winning or not) that have left their mark on an entire generation of movie-watchers.

Ivory Coast: ”Bal poussière” (Dancing in the Dust)

Poster du film BAL POUSSIERE - Domaine public

Poster for the film “Bal poussière” – Public domain

“Dancing in the Dust” is a 1988 Ivorian film directed by Henri Duparc. Seen by over 300,000 people in France, this satire of polygamy tells the story of Alcaly (a.k.a. “Demi-God”) who, despite already having five wives, becomes infatuated with Binta, a young woman who has returned home from the big city of Abidjan. See a French-language clip from the movie below:

Gapont [fr], contributor on Allociné in Paris, explains what he found striking about the movie:

Un petit bijou de fraîcheur et de spontanéité. Ce film a la candeur du cinéma de Renoir ou de Pagnol. Petit budget pourtant, acteur souvent amateurs, tourné en super 16mm et pourtant la magie est là, on se laisse porter par ces personnages incroyables. Du vrai cinéma.

A fresh and spontaneous little gem. This movie has the candour of a [Jean] Renoir or [Marcel] Pagnol work. Small budget, many amateur actors, shot in Super 16 mm, yet the magic is there, these incredible characters simply carrying us away. Authentic filmmaking.

Ethiopia: “Va, Vis et Deviens” (Live and Become)

Poster du film Va, Vis et Deviens - Public Domain

Poster for the film “Va, vis et deviens” – Public domain

“Live and Become” is a 2005 French-Israeli film by Radu Mihaileanu. In an Ethiopian refugee camp in Sudan, a Christian mother makes her son Shlomo pass as Jewish in order to survive and be included in Operation Moses, which brought many Ethiopian Jews to Israel. Declared an orphan, Shlomo is adopted by a Sephardic Jewish French family living in Tel Aviv. He grows up fearing that his secret past will be revealed. See the trailer below:

Janos451, an IMDB commenter from San Fransisco, loved the movie's dramatic intensity:

What makes the film extraordinary – what creates all the crying in the audience – is its honest and effective portrayal of the young refugee's isolation and loneliness, made worse by his belief that his escape is at the cost of his mother's life

The film is based on the history of the Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews) who, despite their efforts, have experienced a great deal of difficulty gaining acceptance after immigrating to Israel. The movie has seen renewed interest recently as many African immigrants in Israel have been demonstrating for their rights.

Chad: “Un homme qui crie” (A Screaming Man) 

“A Screaming Man”, originally titled “A Screaming Man is Not a Dancing Bear”, is a film by Chadian director Mahamat Saleh Haroun, released on September 29, 2010. It received the Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize in 2010. The original title is a quote from “Notebook of a Return to the Native Land” by Martinican poet Aimé Césaire. The film tells the story of 55-year-old Adam, a former swimming champion turned hotel lifeguard in N'Djamena. When the hotel is taken over by Chinese investors, he is forced to surrender his job to his son Abdel.

The blogger at Words of Katarina explains what makes the movie so compelling:

A Screaming Man talks about loss of self, not as a consequence of happenings beyond our control, but of the choices we make when life throws us off guard. . . It is in fact up to ourselves to decide what kind of person we want to be and how to express and live up to the decision once it has been made.

Algeria/Morocco: “Indigènes” (Days of Glory) 

“Days of Glory” is a 2006 Algerian-Moroccan film directed by Rachid Bouchareb. The film tells the stories of one Moroccan and three Algerian soldiers serving in the French army during World War II: Abdelkader, Saïd, Mesaoud and Yassir. While they are disillusioned by the discrimination they experience during the war, the movie also illustrates their emerging sense of hope and political consciousness.

Sarah Elkaïm, french writer and african affairs expert at Critikat explains the film's historical significance [fr]:

Personne ne s’était encore attaché à relater le sort de dizaines de milliers d’Africains, du Maghreb et au-delà du Sahara, qui, au sein de l’armée française, ont participé à la libération du pays qu’ils n’ont jamais, pour la plupart, cessé de considérer comme leur patrie. [..] c’est ce qui fait la force et l’émotion du film : les personnages sont construits, et pas prétextes. Ils sont humains : parfois lâches, peureux, ils sont avant tout des hommes venus libérer leur pays du joug nazi.

No one had yet endeavored to tell the story of tens of thousands of Africans from North Africa and beyond the Sahara in the French army, who helped liberate the country they always considered their homeland. [...] That's what makes this movie so emotional and powerful: the characters are fleshed out, not clichéd. They are human, sometimes cowardly or scared. Above all else, they are men who have come to liberate their country from the Nazi yoke.

Madagascar: “Tabataba”

“Tabataba” (“rumblings” or “rumors” in Malagasy, but also the code name given to the events of the 1947 Malagasy Uprising in Madagascar) is a 1988 film by Raymond Rajaonarivelo. The film tells the story of a Malagasy village fighting to achieve independence from French colonial rule. For the villagers, rebellion takes different forms. Some believe in the power of democracy; others believe in the power of arms.

Director Raymond Rajaonarivelo describes how he wrote the screenplay for the film [fr]:

Tout le monde me racontait une histoire, jamais la même. Cela a donné lieu à une rumeur, Tabataba, qui me paraissait refléter ce que j’avais entendu là-bas. Ce sont toutes ces mémoires qui m’ont servi à écrire le scénario

Everyone was telling me stories, but never the same one. This resulted in a rumor, tabataba, that seemed to reflect what I had heard there. These are all memories that I used to write the script.

Valérie Andrianjafitrimo, the reporter of Rajaonarivelo's remarks, adds [fr]:

Car ce qui est crucial, dans ce jeu de balance auquel on assiste entre déni et commémoration, entre interprétation française renouvelée et pluralité des perceptions malgaches, ce n’est pas la vérité de l’historiographie, dont on voit bien qu’elle ne résoudra rien des ombres de la mémoire ni de la dimension symbolique de l’événement. C’est peut-être la voix alternative de la rumeur, ce « tabataba », ce bruit sourd, permanent, varié et variable, tantôt ténu, tantôt éclatant, tantôt victimaire, tantôt héroïque, qui est importante.

For as we try to balance denial and commemoration, the balance between France's reinterpretations of the events and the Malagasy people's various perceptions, what is crucial is not the truth in historiography. That clearly resolves nothing when it comes to the shadows of memory or the event's symbolism. Perhaps it is the rumor as an alternative voice, the “tabataba” – this muffled, continuous, multifaceted sound, ever-changing from restrained to deafening and from victimized to heroic – that is more important.

Egyptian Satirist Bassem Youssef is Back On Air

In Egypt, it may take you airing your show on a YouTube channel and three TV channels to keep it going. In October last year, the CBC channel decided to take Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef's show, El Bernameg, off air. The statement issued by the channel back then stated that the content of the first episode of the show “violated what was agreed upon with CBC”. Blogger Zeinobia summarized the climate then after the first episode was aired:

The Islamists are angry from Bassem Youssef as usual. Already they used to hate him during Morsi so there is nothing new about it. The new thing is the reaction of the Pro-military rule/Pro-El Sisi supporters who used to cheer for Bassem . The Pro-Military supporters are extremely angry because the famous satirist dared and spoke about the general !! He did not even mock him directly.

Bassem Youssef and his show were trending on twitter.

Bassem Youssef and his show were trending on twitter.

On Friday [February 7, 2014], the show was back on MBC Masr, a channel owned by Saudi businessman Waleed Al Ibrahim.

And, as usual, people were wondering whether Youssef would dare mention Egyptian strongman and Defense Minister Field Marshall Abdel Fattah El Sisi, even before the episode was aired.

@A_AHaleem: For sure Bassem Youssef will not mention El Sisi, and will dance on the dead bodies of the Ikhwan more and more.

Dr As'ad AbuKhalil, aka The Angry Arab, was also cynical about Youssef's choice of TV channel to air his famous programme:

After a feverish search for free network, Egyptian satirist, Bassem Youssef, has decided that Saudi MBC TV station is the freest of them all. How cute. I am sure that the new boss of Youssef would let him mock the Saudi King and Sisi.

However, Zeinobia, wrote summarized the episode right after it was aired:

The episode started with funny Sketch where Bassem hinted out to El Sisi/army mania in a funny way then it was the big show. Youssef and his team slammed CBC and its owner Mohamed El Amin. He also mocked other pathetic TV hosts who were attacking him exposing their overreactions. He claimed that he would
avoid the one who won't be named showing a silhouetted photo of El Sisi but man he mentioned names several times.

She added:

In the second segment Bassem continued speaking about the El Sisi-Mania in the Egyptian TV that extended to cooking shows and fashion shows.

The question now is for how long will the show continue on MBC Masr, before we hear the news of Bassem Youssef looking for a new channel for his show.

February 05 2014

British Mother Yells at Syrian Officials: “Why Did You Kill My Son?”

“Why did you kill my son?” yells Fatima Khan, the grieving mother of British doctor Abbas Khan who was killed in Syria, at regime officials who were in Geneva for peace talks aimed at ending the country's civil war. Dr Khan had traveled to Syria to provide humanitarian aid in Aleppo, and according to his mother, was killed because “he entered Syria illegally.”

The video, uploaded on YouTube by newutopiacity1 (subtitled in Arabic), shows Mrs Khan confronting Syrian regime officials about the death of her son in Syrian custody on December 16, 2013.

Youth Orchestra ‘Jafraa’ a Bright Spot in War-Torn Syria


Jafraa Band. Source: Jafraa Facebook page. Used under CC BY 2.0

Shakespeare once said, “If music be the food of love, play on.” But what if this “food of love” risks the player's life? This is case for the young musicians who make up the Jafraa orchestra at the Palestinian returnees camp in Homs, Syria.

Led by music teacher and children's coach Amer Shanati, the band counts 45 to 55 children from ages seven to 17 years. Though music is often described as the language of the world, it pays a heavy price in war-torn Syria to survive. Most of their “relatively expensive” instruments are either borrowed or donated due to the poverty of the residents of the camp. Their music is a welcome distraction from the noise of bombardment and fighting that takes place outside besieged Homs.

Jafraa is 100 per cent dependent on social media to broadcast their performances as Syria lacks any kind of public musical activities since the government prohibited musical productions at the provincial and state levels. Shanati mainly uses Jafraa.Music on YouTube and Jafraa.homs on Facebook to post the band's work and to show the world that beyond the horror in Syria, there are still talented people who deserve not to be forgotten in the chaos. 

In the few emails that I exchanged with Shanati, he expressed his enthusiasm and pride for Jafraa, which performs “committed art”, a term that in Syria means the music of classic singers and musicians who enriched the Arab world's musical culture for generations, like Mohamed Abdel WahabFairuzUmm Kulthum, and Wadih El Safi, among many others. These young players are making magnificent efforts to underscore their talent by playing the 1969 classic song by Um Kulthum “Alf Leila wa Leila” (One Thousand and One Nights):

Shanati introduces the band on Facebook page as follows [ar]:

فرقة_جفرا_للفن_الملتزم فرقة موسيقية غير تابعة أو مموّلة من أي جهة حكومية أو مؤسسة من مؤسسات المجتمع المدني أو جمعية
أو مشروع على اختلاف انتماءاتهم..
فرقة جفرا أُسّستْ منذ عام 2007 بجهودٍ ذاتية متواضعة لتغني اللحن والفن الأصيل
تتألف من مجموعة كبيرة من الأطفال و الشباب يقوم الأستاذ “عـــــامر شناتي” بتدريبهم في غرفة صغيرة في مخيم العائدين/حمص/سوريا.

ولكل من هؤلاء الأطفال حلمه في الحياة العملية سيجتهد ويدرس لتحقيقه , ولكن ستبقى جفرا هي ركنهم الدافئ والخاص يحلقّون مـن خلاله في فضاء اللحن الأصيل والكلمة الملتزمة لينثروا عبرهما معاني الحب والسلام والجمال لكل من حولهم ..

وعليه تقبل فرقة جفرا للفن الملتزم فقط تبرعات و إحياء حفلات برعاية أشخاص أو مؤسسات لغايات إنسانية و ثقافية أخلاقية بحته
دون أي شــــــــروط تُفرض على الفرقة …

The Jafraa band of “committed art” is an orchestra which is not affiliated nor funded by any party, civil community institution, association or any other project.

The Jafraa band was established in 2007 with modest intentions to perform melodies and original art. It consists of a large group of children and young people led by Amer Shanati, a music teacher who trains them in a small room in the returnees camp in Homs, Syria.

Each of these children has a dream for his future; however, Jafraa will remain their warm and private corner from which they fly into space, with melody and committed music to spread the meaning of love, peace and beauty around them.


Jafraa Band. Source: Jafraa Facebook page. Used under CC BY 2.0

The Jafraa band accepts only donations and concerts sponsored by people or institutions for humanitarian and cultural purposes, purely without any conditions imposed on the band.

The band takes its name from a famous poem about a pretty young Palestinian girl named Jafraa (or Jafra) who captured a poet's heart. Despite uncertainty around the story, generations considered Jafraa an icon of beauty and love in the Palestinian culture from which Shanati and many of his little heroes are descended. 

Answering a few questions about how Jafraa is operating, Shanati responded modestly:

I use social media to ease the delivery of the voice of children to the world where is no media coverage exist in our neighborhood. Our followers reactions are significant, give us hope and we feel happy to know that they are waiting every new video we upload.

Nevertheless financial aid is very tiny, but it is important, even though I know the reason of material lack and extreme poverty. We are still looking for more funds so that we can own our musical and audio equipment and become more independent with a spacious room to accommodate a larger number of children. We are suffering from the slow Internet connections and power outages which complicate our communications and hamper our future plans; however, we aim to continue despite the difficulties.

Our work is a message to show that we insist on living our lives, although it seems impossible, and despite the restricted potential for growth we need to show to the world our talents to help us grow instead of being defeated.

I dream of developing this band to a higher level of fine musicians and of finding more talent to help the children overcome the recent crisis that has affected them psychologically.

Back to Shakespeare's quote: “If music be the food of love, play on / Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting / The appetite may sicken, and so die.”

It's doubtful that he was talking about physical death. I wish all talent of the world better circumstances than those of the little Syrians in the Jafraa band, who give hope, a tiny light at the end of Syria's dark bloody tunnel.

February 04 2014

Saudi King Outlaws Religious Groups

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia issued a royal decree which imposes prison sentences on Saudis who fight outside the country and on those who are “members of religious and extremist groups.” The decree incited different reactions on social media networks.

Thousands of Saudis have joined the civil war in Syria, including young fighters, and the Saudi media has been debating who to blame. The decree also comes after Egypt has declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group.

The official Saudi News Agency reported:

Whoever participates or is involved in hostilities outside the Kingdom or joins radical religious and intellectual groups or currents, will be sentenced by no less than three years and not more than twenty years in prison. However, the punishment will be increased to no less than five years and no more than thirty years in prison for armed forces servicemen, a royal order stated here today.

The Arabic decree, however, did not mention “radical religious group,” but rather “religious and extreme,” which induced criticism for the vague language that it uses. Some Twitter users even started a hashtag: “King Abdullah outlaws the Muslim Brotherhood group.”

Political science academic Khalid al-Dekhayel stated that the decree does actually outlaw the Muslim Brotherhood:

The specification of “religious groups or those that are declared terrorist nationally, regionally or internationally” includes the Muslim Brotherhood after it was declared so by Egypt.

Saudi Twitter user Sultan al-Fifi noted the paradox in citing Sharia law to outlaw religious groups:

Based on the purposes of the Islamic Sharia, we will criminalize those who join the Muslim Brotherhood which trades religion for political gain.

Twitter user Abdullah al-Awlah posted a newspaper headline from the 1960s when Saudi Arabia supported the Muslim Brotherhood against the nationalist regime in Egypt of Gamal Abdel Nasser. The headline reads: “Prince Faisal: The Muslim Brotherhood struggled for the sake of Allah by their souls and their money.”

It means that anyone who says this will be punished:

February 03 2014

Human Rights Video: 2013 Year in Review

A video by WITNESS on the Human Rights Channel of YouTube wrapped up some of the most significant protests and human rights abuses of 2013. Dozens of clips shot by citizens worldwide are edited together to show efforts to withstand injustice and oppression, from Sudan to Saudi Arabia, Cambodia to Brazil.

A post on the WITNESS blog by Madeleine Bair from December 2013, celebrates the power of citizen activism using new technologies including video, while readers are reminded that the difficulty of verification and establishing authenticity remains a big obstacle.

“Citizen footage can and is throwing a spotlight on otherwise inaccessible places such as prisons, war zones, and homes,” says Bair. “But given the uncertainties inherent in such footage, reporters and investigators must use it with caution.”

Reposted byiranelection iranelection

January 31 2014

Egypt's Anti-Terrorism Law to Target Internet

Facebook, among other sites, will come under new scrutiny in Egypt, when a draft “anti-terrorism” law comes into effect.

The draft law, submitted by the Interior Ministry to the Justice Ministry, which in turn would go to the Cabinet for ratification, states that internet sites which instigate terrorism could be censored. This includes popular sites such as Facebook, which have increasingly become a channel among Egyptians to voice dissent.

According to Al Sherooq [ar] Arabic daily:

تضمن مشروع قانون «مكافحة الإرهاب» المرسل من وزارة الداخلية للعدل، قبل إرساله إلى مجلس الوزراء، لإقراره، ولأول مرة موادَّ جديدة لضمان فرض السيطرة على الجرائم «الإرهابية» بشكل أكثر شمولًا من مواد قانون العقوبات، بداية من فرض الرقابة اللازمة على مواقع فيسبوك والإنترنت؛ لمنع استخدامها في الأغراض «الإرهابية» المنصوص عليها

The anti-terrorism law, sent by the Ministry of Interior to the Ministry of Justice, before sending it to the Cabinet, for approval, for the first time includes new laws which guarantee control over “terrorism” crimes in a comprehensive manner, starting with the monitoring of Facebook and the Internet, in order of them not to be used for terrorism purposes

Egyptian blogger Ramy Yaacoub notes:

And adds:

Novelist Ezzedine Choukri Fishere says that the new bill will impact more than just terrorism:

Congratulations Egypt! Protecting the environment has now become an act of terrorism

And Mai El-Sadany concludes:

Citizen Journalists Expose Police Brutality During Protests in Algeria

For the first time in Algeria's modern history, the certainties of the established police state were dealt a severe blow by cyber-activists. Young Algerians are resorting to new technologies and a wide range of tools offered by the Internet to speak out against the tyranny of law enforcement and protect human rights.

It all started at the end of November 2013 when protests rattled the tranquility and peace of the town of El Guerrara in Wilayah district of Ghardaïa Province, more than 600 kilometers south of the Algerian capital Algiers. In that city, where unemployment, deprivation, hardship and precariousness are part of the daily routine, resides a religious community called the Ibadites. Their religious beliefs differ slightly from the majority of Algerians’ faith, who are followers of Sunni Islam. Ibadites are routinely victims of discrimination and injustice from the Algerian political authorities.

Capture d'écran des gendarmes lors des affrontements

Screen capture of the police during the clashes from the video clips in El Guerrara

For every Ibadites protest demanding better life conditions, authorities would crack down on protesters, arrest them, take them to police stations and subject them to beatings and torture. In the absence of factual evidence, it was difficult for civil society to force public authorities to sanction the law enforcement agents perpetuating those acts.

However, the youth of the region are well aware of the impact that the Internet can bring when it comes to defend and protect human rights. Very quickly, citizen journalists, most often members of activist networks, used their mobile phones to capture scenes of police repression and collect testimonies of young men tortured and beaten by the police, as seen in the following video:  

The clips were posted on YouTube and quickly went viral on the Algerian web. A police officer who was also a member of a cyber-militant group went as far as to secretly tape his colleagues commenting and revealing confidential information on the abusive arrests and torture practices of the riot police. The video was soon posted on YouTube with explanatory comments showing how some activists were detained and tortured. It sparked a public outcry.

At the beginning of January 2014, massive protests of this sectarian conflict opposing Mozabites, a Berber minority and Ibadites against Arab Sunni spread to the city of Ghardaïa, in the same Wilayah. Netizens were there as well to expose the racist and brutal practices perpetrated by some Algerian police officers:  

Again, netizens videos and reports contributed to shedding the light on the abuses of law enforcement. The following video clip shows how police officers protected Arab rioters and attacked only Mozabite protesters:

The scandal has earned a global buzz. Videos and testimonies of cyber-activists reached international media. On Facebook, where around 4.5 million Algerians have a Facebook account, the pages of activists also relayed the information from Ghardaïa. The underlying reasons for the tension in city are addressed [fr] in a blog post Les Observateurs :

Les policiers sont de fait impliqués dans ces tensions car ils sont, pour la majorité, issus de la communauté arabe de Ghardaïa et des villes voisines. Ce qui explique le fait qu’ils prennent parti pour les Arabes. Contrairement à eux, les gendarmes sont bien accueillis par la communauté mozabite.

Police officers are by default involved in these tensions because they belong in their majority to the Sunni sect in Ghardaïa and its neighboring towns. This explains their taking sides with the Arabs.

The Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH) [ar, fr] used the power  of these videos, articles and written testimonies  to alert public opinion at both national and international levels [fr]. It succeeded in obtaining information proving that:

l’attitude scandaleuse de certains agents des forces de police que ce soit lors du conflit (gestes obscènes, comportement et propos racistes etc) ou lors de l’arrestation des Algériens Mozabites (jeter de l’eau froide sur des détenus, les obliger à se déshabiller, les obliger à mimer des attitudes obscènes) laissent croire que les forces de police Algériennes se comportent comme les forces d’occupation Américaine en Irak notamment dans la prison d’Abu Ghraib!

The scandalous attitude of some police agents whether during the conflict (obscene acts, racists comments and behavior, etc) or during the arrest of Algerian Mozabites (i.e. throwing cold water on detainees, forcing them to take off their clothes or to perform obscene acts) may lead to the assumption that Algerian police forces behaved like the American occupying forces in Iraq, namely in Abu Ghraib prison.

The following video shows police forces surrounding a Mozabite protester and beating him repeatedly [ar]:

Well aware of these recurrent scandals, Algerian authorities are starting to investigate these events. They went as far as sanctioning and suing police officers “suspected of having taken sides during Ghardaïa events”, according to the General Security Directorate that monitors all of Algeria's police services. Other investigations are also being instigated. Thanks to the mobilization of cyber-journalists, police abuse will not remain in the shadows any longer. Cyber-activists won a big battle against the Algerian regime. They even succeeded in making it yield by demanding an investigation regarding these events.

For now, this is an important victory for the proponents of the defense of human rights in Algeria. 

January 29 2014

Coursera Online Courses Blocked in Syria, Iran and Cuba by US Sanctions

Hit by US Sanctions, online learning platform Coursera is no longer available for students from Syria, Iran and Cuba. Those effected were surprised to have the following message on their screen as they tried to access their courses:

“Our system indicates that you are trying to access the Coursera site from an IP address associated with a country currently subjected to US economic and trade sanctions. In order for Coursera to comply with US export controls, we cannot allow you to access to the site.”

Iranian student Navid Soltani immediately expressed his outrage on Coursera's Facebook page:

2014-01-29 01_41_59-Navid Soltani - Photos of Coursera

Blogger Leila Nachawati shared his sentiments:

Syrian blogger and developer Anas Maarawi criticized the US sanctions on his blog [ar]:

وبين مطرقة النظام السوري الذي يحجب مئات مواقع الإنترنت، وسندان “العقوبات الأمريكية” يزداد الخناق على الشباب السوري الراغب بالتعلّم، أو بالأحرى من تبقى من الشباب السوري القادر على الوصول إلى ما تبقى من الإنترنت في سوريا.

“Between the censorship imposed by the regime, which includes blocking hundreds of internet sites, and the effect of US sanctions, it has become nearly impossible for the remaining youth in the country to have access to online learning.”

Editor-in-chief at Wamda Nina Curley was more pragmatic in her approach and asked if it was inevitable:

However, one of Coursera's professors, Rolf Strom Olsen, couldn't understand why non-Americans are affected as well:

January 28 2014

Colors from the Zaatari Refugee Camp

This post is cross-posted from Syria Untold.

The impact of the escalation of violation in Syria on a whole generation of children has become a priority for many Syrian activists and organizations. Colors from the Zaatari Camp is one of the many initiatives focusing on the future of Syria by trying to improve the life conditions of refugee and displaced children.

Children drawing at Zaatari Camp. Source: Colors from the Zaatari Camp´s facebook page.

Children drawing at Zaatari Camp. Source: Colors from the Zaatari Camp Facebook page.


The Zaatari camp, located on the Syrian-Jordanian border, is the largest Syrian refugee camp, hosting more than 100,000 refugees, many of them children. According to Dima al-Malakeh, who works for the Dubai-based association For Syria:

“We chose Zaatari for this project because it is a place where many Syrians live together now, one where we can start working together in the field of schools and education.”

She added:

The Colors of Zaatari project throws light at the work of children to highlight their voices, their talents and their dreams, in an attempt to reach out to international organizations and institutions so that they can help them go back to school. Going back to school is what the children dream of, and so do we.

Zaatari children painting, exhibited in Amman, January 16-17. Source: Colors of the Zaatari Camp´s facebook page

Zaatari children painting, exhibited in Amman, January 16-17. Source: Colors of the Zaatari Camp Facebook page


The idea was born after activist Mahmoud Sadaka saw a number of drawings that children living in the camp had made. “The drawings were beautiful, powerful and revealing, and I thought it was a shame that they stayed in the camp and no one else could see them”, he explained to Syria Untold. 

In coordination with For Syria and other Syrian journalists and activists such as Milia Aidamouni, they decided to highlight Syrian talent through these children’s creations. They collected the best works and organized their first exhibition in Amman on January 16-17, 2013. A total of 60 art pieces, properly framed with the help of artist Lina Mohamid, were exhibited.

This post is cross-posted from Syria Untold.

January 27 2014

Egypt: Is Sissi's Promotion a Step Closer to the Presidency?

Interim president Adly Mansour issued a presidential decree promoting General Abdel Fattah El-Sissi, minister of defence, to the rank of field marshal. It is the highest rank in the Egyptian military.

The promotion has created a buzz online, with many wondering whether it paves the way for Sissi to run for presidency in elections penciled in for the end of April.

Adam Makary tweets:

Louisa Loveluck notes:

And Ahmed Abrass explains what the title Field Marshal means [ar]:

“Field Marshal in English means someone who has led troops on the field battle and have obtained scintillating victories”

This isn't the case for El Sissi. However, it seems that this is not a prerequisite in the Egyptian army and that the former general had all the necessary qualifications to become a Field Marshal.

Nervana Mahmoud explains:

Bel Trew confirms:

And Egyptian Streets says:

Many netizens seem puzzled and clearly annoyed by the news.

On Facebook, Mina Labib asks [ar]:

يتكافؤه على ايه ؟؟ علي إنفجارات ؟؟!!

What is he being honoured for? The explosions?

Egypt woke up on January 24 to a series of four explosions, which left six dead and over 70 wounded in Cairo.

Some suggest that this promotion is a fast-track to Sissi's presidential bid. Nervana Mahmoud writes:

Egyptian Streets adds:

And journalist Patrick Kingsley explains:

It seems that the presidential bid isn't the only reason for this promotion. Tarik Salama tweets:

And Basil Al Dabh adds:

In time of great unrest and crackdown on personal freedoms, some people see this as another step towards the deification and cult of personality that Egyptian leaders were used to enforce.

Zack Gold explains:

While Gr33ndata shares this cartoon:

Tunisia's Constituent Assembly Adopts New Constitution

Tunisia finally has a new constitution. The National Constituent Assembly (NCA) overwhelmingly approved the charter three years after the ousting of the 23-year-rule of Zeine el Abidin Ben Ali. A total of 200 NCA members voted in favour of the final text, with 12 members voting against and only four abstentions.

The drafting and adoption of the 149 article document was a lengthy process, which started in October 2011, with the election of the NCA.

The assassination of opposition deputy Mohamed Brahmi in July, 2013, delayed the process when opposition deputies boycotted the NCA's activities for several months and protesters called for the dissolution of the elected assembly broke out.

Contentious points in the text, such as the place of religion in political life, division of executive powers between the Prime Minister and the President, the appointment process of judges, and the age requirements to run for presidency, also complicated the long process. Islamist and leftist NCA deputies were left with the one choice: finding compromises and the charter is often referred to as “the consensus constitution”.

Details of Vote on Constitution. Source: Marsad

Details of the vote on the constitution. Source: Marsad

The charter enshrines fundamental liberties and rights: freedoms of expression and press, the right to access information, freedoms of conscience and thought, gender equality before the law, and gender parity at elected assemblies.

The new constitution establishes Islam as the state religion, but does not make any reference to Islamic law as a source of legislation. It rather states that “Tunisia is a civil state based on citizenship, the will of the people, and the supremacy of law”.

The charter also establishes a mixed political system, distributing executive powers among the PM and the President of the republic.

As soon as the text was approved, feelings of euphoria broke out at the NCA.

On Twitter, Tunisians welcomed the “historic moment”:

University teacher Lilia Youssef tweeted [fr]:

Come on admit it! Despite everything, it is a special moment

Cyril Karray said:

Regardless of how much you feel represented by this constitution, or if you respect those who wrote it or not: this is a historic day.

And Rabeb Othmani adds:

Euphoric moment at the Tunisian Constituent Assembly after the Approval of the Constitution. Photo Credit: Albawsala

Euphoric moment at the Tunisian Constituent Assembly after the Approval of the Constitution. Photo Credit: Albawsala

Lotfi Azouz, director the Tunis office of Amnesty International wrote [ar] on Facebook:

اليوم يزهر الربيع في تونس
يحق لنا في تونس الاعتزاز بتجربتنا الديمقراطية الرائدة في شمال افريقيا والشرق الاوسط حيث تم التوصل لانجاز دستور هو نتاج تفاعل ايجابي بين مختلف مكونات الطيف السياسي ومختلف مكونات المجتمع المدني حيث وللمرة الاولى يشارك المواطن بفاعلية في التاثير في عملية صنع القرار.

Today, spring flourishes in Tunisia. In Tunisia, we do have the right to be proud of our pioneering democratic experience in the North Africa and the Middle East region, where we were able to achieve a constitution, which was the result of a positive interaction between the different components of the political spectrum and civil society. For the first time, citizens effectively participated in influencing the decision-making process.

However, not everyone was satisfied with the end result, including Ahmed Kaaniche [ar]:

A constitution that justifies the death penalty and at the same time bans torture can only be a hypocritical constitution. #Does_Not_Represent_Me

Article 21 of the constitution states that “the right to life is sacred and shall not be prejudiced except in exceptional cases regulated by law.”

In a second tweet, Ahmed added [ar]:

A constitution that deprives me of my right to run for presidency because of my religious choices, does not represent me

Under article 73, only a Muslim can run for presidency.

Tunisia LGBT, was not happy either [fr]:

Congratulations to all those who feel represented by the new constitution, but not us [the LGBT community in Tunisia]. It does not even protect us from insults.

Article 6 of the constitution tasks the State of “protecting sanctity and banning attacks on it”.

But, the battle for democracy is ongoing and does not end with the approval of a constitution.

Mediapart reporter, Pierre Puchot tweeted [fr]:

Despite its contradictions, the text contains good advances. It is an important step in the democratic construction

And Malek tweeted [fr]:

Constitution adopted with 93% of the votes. Congratulations. Now we can turn the page. Life goes on as well as the fight for a better Tunisia

January 24 2014

Breaking: Huge Explosion Rocks Downtown Cairo

Egyptians just woke up to the sound of a huge explosion, that rocked downtown Cairo. Photographs posted online show a plume of smoke rising above the horizon. Some report the sound of gunshot. Initial reports claim that the explosion happened around the Cairo Police Directorate.

Journalist Rawya Rageh is glued to her TV screen reporting:

The information so far is sketchy. Online, Cairo residents are scrambling for information.

Mohamed Abdelfattah asks:

Rania Hafez reports:

Cairo Live 24/7 shares this photograph:

And this photograph is also making the rounds:

And Mahmoud Saber says it could only be from the Cairo Police Directorate:

I am looking at the smoke from outside my window. The smoke is coming from the direction of the Cairo Police Directorate. There isn't anything in that direction except the police directorate

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