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January 19 2014

Saudi Arabia Jails Palestinian Poet for “Atheism and Long Hair”!

Saudi Artist Ahmed Mater shared this photograph on Twitter in support of Fayadh

Saudi Artist Ahmed Mater shared this photograph on Twitter in support of Fayadh

Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh is in a Saudi prison, allegedly for spreading atheism – and having long hair. The poet, raised in Saudi Arabia, was arrested five months ago, when a reader submitted a complaint against him saying that his poems contain atheist ideas. The accusations were not proved and he was released only to be arrested again on the 1st of January 2014. The case of Fayadh is making the rounds in media and on social networks, with condemnations coming from Arab writers from across the region. Some of his friends wrote online that the real reason behind his arrest might be due to the video he filmed 5 months ago of Abha's religious police lashing a young man in public. Currently, the poet is still in jail with no evidence to the accusation or details of a coming trial. The following reactions clarify his case and express condemnations from Saudi writers, artists, and others standing in solidarity.

#أشرف_فياض التحرش بالذات الإلهية وتطويل الشَعر…فقط عندما تتوقف هذه التهم المضحكة/المبكية يمكننا أن نبدأ الحديث عن الحقوق والحريات ووو

@reem_tayeb: Ashraf Fayadh is accused of ‘harrasing the Godly self and letting his hair grow long.. when these laughable-sad accusations stop, we can start talking about rights and freedoms.

#أشرف_فياض اعتقاله ليس الا اعلان اننا وصلنا الى ما وصلت اليه اوروبا في العصور المظلمة !!

@MohammdaLahamdl: Ashraf Fayadh's arrest is an announcement that we have reached what Europe faced in the dark ages.

هل تعتقد أن إيمانك حقيقي وأنت تعتقد أن الله كائن قابل للتحرش به ؟! #أشرف_فياض

@WhiteTulip01: Do you think your faith is real when you think God can be harassed!!

أشرف_فياض معتقل بتهمة الالحاد!!وهل الكفر تهمة!! وهل الايمان إجبار!! هذا اذا افترضنا صحة التهمة أصلا

@MusabUK: Ashraf Fayadh is detained for atheism. Is atheism a charge? Is faith enforceable? That's if we assume the charge is true.

إن وجود #أشرف_فياض في السجن، مع المجرمين، والقتلة، لأنه شاعرٌ فحسب، لا يعنى سوى أن العدالة مسألة ترفيّة لدينا، سلطة وشعبا

@b_khlil: The fact that Ashraf Fayadh is now detained with criminals and killers just because he is a poet, tells us that justice is only a privilege to us, both as people and the regime.

15 تهمة ملفقة للشاعر والفنان #أشرف_فياض تبدأ بالإلحاد وتنتهي بإطالة الشعر، لماذا ؟ لأنه قبل 5 أشهر صور هيئة أبها وهي تجلد شاب أمام الناس

@turkiaz: The poet and artist Ashraf Fayadh is imprisoned for 15 charges, including atheism and long hair. Why? Because he filmed the religious police as they were lashing a young man in public.

#أشرف_فياض الى اعلامنا ، هل ننتظر ، القليل من المهنية ستفي بالغرض. قضية اشرف فياض علي وشك ان تكون في صفحات كل المحطات العالمية قريبا

@AhmedMater: To our media: should we wait? Some professionalism would do. Ashraf Fayadh's case is going to be on the front pages of international media soon.

تحولت التحقيقات مع الشاعر أشرف فياض بعد عجز المحقق أن يثبت شيئا من الاتهامات إلى أسئلة حول لماذا تدخن ؟ ولماذا شعرك طويل قليلاً ؟

@mohkheder: When the interrogator couldn't prove any accusations against Ashraf Fayadh, he started asking him why he smokes and why his hair is long

January 18 2014

Yemeni Activist Receives Death Threat on Facebook

Yemeni activist Hani Al-Junid .. threatened on Facebook

Yemeni activist Hani Al-Junid .. threatened on Facebook

Prominent Yemeni political activist Hani Al-Junid, received a death threat in his Facebook message inbox. The activist, who doubles as a reporter for Al-Sharae independent local newspaper, says the threat, which he takes seriously, was made by an anonymous person.

The threat, on December 21, warned that Al-Junid's “termination is soon.” Al-Junid is well-known for his political activism against General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, commander of the army's 1st Armoured Division's attack on Sana'a University and the Al-Arateet rally. Most importantly, he is known for his sarcastic, secular, socialist writings [ar].

The threatening message says [ar]:

“نهايتك قريبة. وحياة امك ماتفلت. والله مانخليك الا تجس مشلول في البيت. ماتقدر ترفع ايد ولاتحرك رجل. كلام انتهى. رصاصة في العمود الفقري وانتهى امرك”

Your end is soon. You will not escape it. We swear to God that we will make you sit at home paralyzed and you would be not able to move an arm or a leg. Period. One bullet in your spine and you would be over.”

A snapshot of the threatening message Hani received to his Facebook inbox.

A snapshot of the threatening message Al-Junid received in his Facebook inbox.

Once Al-Junid got the threat, he posted its screenshot on his Facebook wall. He wrote:

“هذا الشخص ليس صديقي في الفيس بوك ولا اعرفه، ودخل فجئة يكلمني أنه بردان ويشتي خمر. أنا قلت له أن عليه التواصل مع علي محسن الأحمر، أو عبدالوهاب طواف كونهم المهربين الوحيدين لهذا الأمر، تحدثنا قليلا وعندما توقفت عن الحديث معه افصح عن الرسالة التي كلف بها وهي تهديدي أن نهايتي باتت قريبه.”

This person is not my friend and I don't know him at all. He started messaging me that he was cold and wanted wine. I told him that he should contact Ali Mohsen and Abdelwahab Tawaf, as they are the only smugglers of wine. After a while, he stated that my end is soon.”

The activist has always stated that such tactics to silence him will never scare him. He explained:

“بصراحة تصلني تهديدات بين وقت وآخر لكني لا اعيرها أي اهتمام، بس هذه المرة شعرت أن الأمر جدي، وأحب أن اقول لهذا المسخ أن تهديده لم يخيفني وانا مستعد للتضحية”

Honestly, I receive threats every once in a while but I never care about them. However, this time I sense that it's serious. And I'd like to tell this bastard that his threat won't scare me and I'm ready to sacrifice myself.”

While Yemen after the 2011 uprising enjoys greater freedom of expression, this new found freedom had been tempered by the rise of such incidences of threats and violence against the media. This incident for Al-Junid is one in a spate of attacks and other threats media groups receive. Al-Junid has been physically assaulted by a group of unknown men after he left a demonstration at Sana'a University demanding an end to its occupation by the military in October 2012.

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Egyptian Blogger Nawara Negm Calls it Quits

Outspoken Egyptian blogger Nawara Negm is taking a break from blogging politics.

On her blog, Tahyyes, she writes a long post explaining her position [ar]:

انا مش لاقية طرف مش متعاص كاكا… حتى اللي عاملين ثوار واصحاب مبادئ… طبعا مش لانهم عملا وجواسيس، بس لانهم متلخبطين، والواحد لما يتلخبط يعتزل… زي ما انا قررت اعتزل كده، لان فعلا المشهد مربك

I don't see a single faction not covered with shit… even those who pretend they are revolutionaries and people with principles … of course not because they are agents and spies but because they are confused and when a person is this confused, he needs to retire, just as I have decided to retire and this scene is really confusing

Negm, daughter of revolutionary poet Ahmed Fouad Negm, is a journalist and activist in her own right and was a spokesperson for the revolutionaries at Tahrir Square. On Twitter, she commands 629,000 followers.

January 05 2014

Egypt: The Muppets Intelligence Agency

The screen was split into two in one of the famous talk shows in Egypt. A Muppet-like character occupied one half of the screen, while a menacing teenager was threatening to throw the puppet in jail in the other half. The host kept on moderating the debate between the two, Abla Fahita, the puppet, and Ahmed Spider, the teenage-looking conspiracy theorist.

Look into the beady evil eyes of terrorism, via @SooperMexican

Look into the beady evil eyes of terrorism, via @SooperMexican

Such a scene is fine if this was a satire show, but it was not. Ahmed Spider made an official complaint against Vodafone Egypt and Abla Fahita, who appeared in one of their advertisements, accusing them of sending hidden messages to terrorists in the ad. The complaint was subsequently referred to state security prosecutors, who deal with cases involving terrorism and security threats. The prosecutors questioned officials from Vodafone Egypt later on. The list of suspected spies in Egypt already include a pigeon, a stork and a shark, along with Abla Fahita the puppet and her daugher, Carolina, aka Carcoura. As a result, Paul Sedra ‏tweeted:

@sedgate: With the Abla Fahita investigation, #Egypt once again challenges North Korea for the title of most paranoid state on earth.

The Egyptian netizens couldn't but deal with such news with sarcasm.

@Cairo67Unedited: If anyone from TV calls asking 2 use ur Kitten in their next phone ad #Egypt hang up on them:Next thing u know cat is on trial

Nevine Zaki mocked Abla Fahita calling her the Che Guevara of our generation.

Abla Fahita portrayed as a revolutionary Che Guevara -  via @khlud_hafeez

Abla Fahita portrayed as Che Guevara – via @khlud_hafeez

May Sadek and Pakinam Amer also tweeted about the puppet which now has more than 1 million fans on Facebook and is not less than a revolutionary figure.

@maysadek: ‘F’ for fahita. Not as strong as ‘V’ for vendetta .. But it'll do the job fine..#ablafahita

@pakinamamer: Abla Fahita should lead the next revolution. She'd be our V. The faceless resistance. #3abath #Surrealism

@MohAnis: Rumor has it that #ablafahita is seeking asylum with the muppet show or sesame street.

Satirical comments kept on drawing laughs on social media.

@_amroali: #Egypt has saved the world from a big terrorist threat not seen since the Muppets tried to take Manhattan #AblaFahita

The Muppets take Manhattan

The Muppets take Manhattan

@HoudaBelabd: #Egypt: Ministry of Interior is actually recording phone calls and Facebook conversations between #AblaFahita & Mickey Mouse!

@anasaltikriti: After the Vodafone puppet fiasco, are there any more sensible people out there who respect the coup government?

@AyaYousry: The #AblaFahita story made it to The Economist under “Silly Season in Egypt

SpongeBob SquarePants is expected to be the next suspect. A question was asked on Google Ejabat wondering whether the cartoon character is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood given the fact its yellow and has four fingers just like the banners of Rabia.

Rabia banner, via @Rassd_Now

Raba logo, via @Rassd_Now

Out of the fear of getting arrested for using the Raba logo as their avatar [after Egypt outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood], some social media users created alternative logos.

Alternative Rabia logos via @nsfadala

Alternative Raba logos via @nsfadala

On a more a serious note, Mohamed ElGohary wondered whether the Egyptian government is blackmailing Vodafone Egypt using this case for a reason:

Earlier in November Bloomberg published that “Telecom Egypt May Buy Vodafone Local Division When 4G Is Offered“. Personally I don't want for this acquiring to happen, since it will decrease/eliminate competition in mobile/4G emerging market .. The million dollar question here, as Vodafone actually wants to buy the government stakes, is this BS accusation a dirty step for blackmailing/forcing Vodafone Egypt to comply to what the government wants?

Also, the Facebook page of Kazeboon published the following image wondering which cases the prosecutors investigate and which ones they don't.

Kazeboon wondeing about which cases the prosecutors investigate and which ones they ignore

When human rights organizations call for opening investigations with Vodafone [Ar], after illegal recording for activists are being leaked from the state security, but the general prosecutor ignores them, and only wakes up when Spider calls for investigations with the same company because of Abla Fahita, then it is safe to call Egypt The Muppet Show. (via Kazeboon)

Sarah Carr compared Ahmed Spider to Glenn Beck in her blog post about Abla Fahita's case:

Every country has its Glenn Beck type public figures, the difference in Egypt is that they are taken seriously where it suits the political ambitions of those at the reins and serves a useful purpose. Thus we have the Public Prosecutor accepting a complaint about a finger puppet while nobody has been charged for the deaths of nearly 1,000 people at Rab3a, because the current mood is almost fascistic in its reverence for the state and for state hegemony and for state opponents to be eliminated. If there was a page equivalent to We Are All Khaled Said now it would be Turns Out We Are All Adolf Hitler. Comedy and tragedy often overlap.

Finally, Holly Dagres tweeted:

@PoliticallyAff: Although we're getting a good laugh from Abla Fahita, it shouldn't shift our focus from @Repent11 and rest of imprisoned AJE staff #Egypt

January 03 2014

Lebanon: I Am Not A Martyr

Lebanon is no stranger to violence. Bombings are frequent and perpetrators are never held accountable. On December 26 and January 2, two car-bomb attacks have left at least 13 people dead and many more injured. In addition, a dual bombing in November that left over 20 dead and ongoing violence in different areas around the country make it difficult to be optimistic about 2014. Yet, after each bombing, people just go back to their everyday lives and innocent victims are soon forgotten. Because this is wrong, the #NotAMartyr movement encourages people to take a stand:

A place for all those who believe that death is not a solution.
A place for all those who do not want to be called martyrs in vain.
A place to pay tribute for all those who died; are dying and will unfortunately keep dying in the future.
A place where we show the world that we care.
A place where we show everyone that we want change.

Lebanon needed a wake up call from the state of lunacy well described on Hummus for Thoughts:

We have become a nation of justified claustrophobia and justified paranoia; we have stopped hoping that this bomb would be the last because we know that another bomb will soon follow; we are living in the not-so-discreet shadow of our catastrophic civil war and are aimlessly waking up every morning not really understanding what the hell is going on; we are engulfed in our own sectarian lunacy exacerbated by our own (suffocating) corrupted religiopolitical class; and we have never failed to remind ourselves how we’re failing to do anything about it.
Many of us are cursed with persistent hope, and more and more of us are cursed with hopelessness. Whatever your current state of mind is, let us at least be clear: we are not martyrs. We’re not dying for a cause. We’re just dying.

After the December 26 bombing, the death of a bystander, one anonymous, innocent face amongst other, started a small wave: When 16 year old Mohamed Chaar died from his wounds right after the December 26 bombing, Lebanese netizens shared his picture and the last selfie he took, moments before the bomb exploded, to remind the world that the teenager is not a martyr, a word often used wrongly. Blogger The Lebanese Expatriate explains[ar] why it matters [ar]:

محمد الشعار ليس شهيداً، فهو لم يختار القتال إلى جانب طرف ضد آخر.

محمد الشعار ليس شهيداً، فهو لم يدعم العنف ولم يكن مستعداً لتضحية بحياته من أجل قضايا سياسية أو دينية.

محمد الشعار ليس شهيداً، محمد الشعار ضحية.

Mohamed Chaar is not a martyr, he did not chose to fight for one side against another
Mohamed Chaar is not a martyr, he did not support violence and was not ready to sacrifice his life for a political or religious cause
Mohammed Chaar is not a martyr, Mohammed Chaar is a victim.

The wave of solidarity with Mohamed Chaar turned into the hashtag  #NotAMartyr or #مش_شهيد on all social media platforms, as an attempt to reclaim a country by stating what change must happen in Lebanon.

On Twitter, Mariam Akanan denounces Lebanon's sectarian politics:

@Akananmariam: بدي حجابي يمثل إماني و حبي للسلام مش انتمائي السياسي او الحزبي. #مش_شهيد #notamartyr

@Akananmariam: I want my hijab to represent my faith and my love of peace, not my political affiliation or party. 

@LebaneseVoices refuses the constant violence:

@LebaneseVoices I'm tired of head counting my family every other week to check if they have survived explosions #notamartyr #انا_مش_شهيد #لبنان #Lebanon

Mashrou3 Leila frontman @hamedleila wants to hold his boyfriend's hand without being afraid of the police:

Hamed Sinno: I would like to hold my boyfriend's hand without being afraid of the police

Hamed Sinno: I would like to hold my boyfriend's hand without being afraid of the police

And many others:

@leabaroudi 31 Dec I want criminals to be held ACCOUNTABLE #notamartyr

I want criminals to be held ACCOUNTABLE #notamartyr

“I want to raise my kids in Lebanon”
#notamartyr #Lebanon


I want to stop hearing my parents say:

I want to stop hearing my parents say: “Stay at home, if anything happens we'll blame ourselves”
Shared by Ellen Francis on Facebook


#NotaMartyr has a Facebook page where you can see and read more statements by netizens.

December 28 2013

The Islamic Caliphate Car Number Plates Come to Syria

A car in Syria bearing the Islamic Caliphate number plate. Photograph tweeted by @ZaidBenjamin

A car in Syria bearing the Islamic Caliphate number plate. Photograph tweeted by @zaidbenjamin

Zaid Benjamin shares on Twitter a photograph of the first car in Syria with the Islamic Caliphate state registration plates:

The number plates are operated by the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq.

Six Killed in Lebanon Blast Targeting ex-Minister

At least six people died, and many more were wounded on December 27, 2013, in a blast that targeted former Lebanese Finance Minister Mohamed Chatah when a car bomb attacked his convoy in downtown Beirut. The names of the victims have been published on Blog Baladi. They are:

- Mohammed Nasser Mansour
- Saddam al-Khanshouri (Syrian)
- Kevork Takajian
- Ex-Finance Minister Mohammad Shatah
- Chatah’s bodyguard Tareq Bader
The 6th person is still unidentified.

Elias Muhanna wrote a profile of the ex-Minister on his blog Qifa Nabki, and he notes:

In the course of our discussion, he struck me as curious and flexible in his thinking, a realist uninterested in pie-in-the-sky ideologies (…) There was no unitary structure of government, to Chatah’s mind, that could respect individual equality, communal equality, and the importance of communal borders. Political confessionalism, he argued, was an inevitability in Lebanon for the time being, but it could be tamed to make the system function more efficiently and equitably.

According to Moulahazat:

there’s some kind of a posthumous finger-pointing from the victim itself. True, the tweets of Chatah (you can reach them here) targeted Syria and Hezbollah almost on a daily basis, but the last tweet’s timing remains huge. It speaks of taking power, controlling security, pressure, Hezbollah, and Syria, less than an hour before the blast. It can’t get any worse for M8.

In that context, the politician's last tweet could indeed be seen as an ominous message:

@mohamad_chatah: #Hezbollah is pressing hard to be granted similar powers in security & foreign policy matters that Syria exercised in Lebanon for 15 yrs.

Beyond political parties, the Lebanese mourned the human tragedy constantly unfolding in the country. Blogger Rita Kamel posted a photograph that was widely shared on social media as probably “The most tragic selfie of 2013“. The photograph was taken by a group of teenagers, just moments before the explosion. According to the blogger, they have been wounded but are all on their way to recovery:

All the teenagers, Mohammad El Chaar, Omar Bekdash, Rabih Youssef and Ahmad Moghrabi have been wounded; only Mohammad’s situation was critical and is now stable according to his close friends.
It could have been anyone. Aggressive dynamics continue to ruin peoples’ lives.
Prayers to Mohammad El Chaar, a 16 year old Lebanese young man whose one of the hobbies is swimming competitively. Prayers to his family and his friends who have to go through this unspeakable tragedy. Mohammad, we are all waiting for you.
Prayers to all those wounded severely and hanging on to life.
Why do “messages” have to be sealed with blood like this? When is this going to end?

Lebanon is often the scene of deadly violence and bombings. Last month, at least 23 people died when the Iranian Embassy in Beirut was attacked.

December 27 2013

Syrian Photographer Hamid Khatib Evades Death to Capture Life

This post is cross-posted from Syria Untold.

“There is no Hamid the photographer without the revolution. Hopefully there will still be one when the revolution ends.” These are the words of young award-winning Syrian photographer, Hamid Khatib, who joined the uprising in October 2011, after completing his obligatory military service. With his camera, he has captured a generation of young people who took to the streets, surprising older generations by demanding the impossible.


Boy makes weapon in Aleppo, by Hamid Khatib. Source: the author´s facebook page

Boy makes weapon in Aleppo, by Hamid Khatib. Source: The author's Facebook page


Children and war

Like many other Syrians, Hamid Khatib, 23, describes himself as “reborn after the uprising” in an interview with Syria Untold.

He started recording videos of demonstrations and the repression of protesters by regime forces and soon switched to photography. His photo “Rebel boy makes weapon” was chosen by Reuters as one of the best pictures of 2013. Since then, he has worked for the news agency, capturing moments of destruction, hope, despair, loss and daily life in Syria.

The award-winning photograph shows a 10-year-old boy, Issa, carrying a mortar shell in a weapons factory of the Free Syrian Army in Aleppo.

“I had wanted to capture the effects of war on children for a while,” he explained. “I thought I would make a series with different children, but when I met Issa and his father I was struck by their story and could not stop focusing on it.”

“Issa works with his father at the weapons factory for 10 hours a day, every day, except Fridays. His story has come to mean a lot to me, on a personal level,” said Khatib.

“The situation in Syria is out of a journalist's control,” he said. “You can only adjust yourself to evolving events on the ground. But I personally prefer portraying daily life in the country, and the side effects of war on people.”

A child in Raqqa, by Hamid Khatib. Source: The author´s Facebook page.

A child in Raqqa, by Hamid Khatib. Source: The author's Facebook page.


A journey of death and love

Born in Aleppo in 1990, Khatib began covering the uprising around the time it became militarized. After completing his own military service, he moved to the United Arab Emirates for work, but soon traveled back to Aleppo incognito. “I wanted to show the world what the Syrian regime's state of terror was really like,” he says. 

Over these past years he has not only encountered death and destruction but has found love too. He fell in love with Nour Kelze, a former elementary school teacher, who became a Reuters photographer in 2012 after taking pictures with her cell phone. The two are now married.

Syrian photographers Hamid Khatib and Nour Kelze, working in Aleppo. Source: Khatib´s facebook page.

Syrian photographers Hamid Khatib and Nour Kelze, working in Aleppo. Source: Khatib's Facebook page.


Nour and Hamid work hand in hand in Aleppo, and they have been on the brink of death several times.

“I was standing on that same spot, but she asked me to change places with her, to take a few photos from there,” Hamid explained. “She is very strong and is not afraid of anything. Suddenly, I heard the shelling, and saw smoke coming out from everywhere, and could not think of anything but Nour, ‘Where is Nour…?'” He heard her voice calling him, and took her to a field hospital. She was wounded on her left foot and suffered shrapnel wounds to her hands.

On another occasion, Hamid witnessed shelling by the regime during one of the many demonstrations he attended in Bustan al-Qasr, a town well-known for turning wedding celebrations into massive demonstrations for freedom

Bustan al-Qasr made headlines in international media in January 2013, when dozens of men who had disappeared at regime checkpoints were discovered at the Queiq river, all shot in the head with their hands bound with plastic ties behind their back.

“Most of the people protesting next to me were wounded or killed in that demonstration, but I survived,” Hamid said. 

He also once had a brush with death on his first day back in his hometown, Azaz – in northern Aleppo – which he had not visited for three years. All his relatives, five whole families, were sharing a two-storey house. When he was awoken by shelling, he ran downstairs to see if the women and children had survived, and found them crying in fear that the men upstairs had been killed. The missiles kept falling throughout the night. Around 150 neighbors were killed in Azaz that night, and 40 houses were turned to rubble.

Death has been merciful to Hamid, but not to friends and colleagues such as Molhem Barakat, an 18-year-old photographer who was killed while covering a battle for a hospital in Aleppo on December 20. Hamid is committed to continuing his work, in order to honor Molhem and all the martyrs who lost their lives for a better Syria. “Because there really was no Syria before the revolution,” he added. “There is no Syria without the struggle for freedom that so many have given their lives for.”

This post is cross-posted from Syria Untold.

December 20 2013

Bahrain Preacher: “Celebrating National Day is a Sin”

Google marked Bahrain's National Day with this Doodle

Google marked Bahrain's National Day with this Doodle. Photo credit: @JustJa3far

Bahraini blogger Manaf Al Muhandis tweets from a sermon before Friday prayers in Bahrain, in which the preacher declares that celebrating National Day is a sin.

He says:

During the Friday prayers sermon, the clergyman Adel Al Hamad, said that celebrating national day is a sin (haram)- as serious as drinking alcohol.

He adds:

Adel Al Hamad says that nationalism is an illusion and that people cannot be united on the love of the nation because Allah (God) doesn't unite the beleivers and the infidels under one cause

During the sermon, Al Hamad also touches on Bahrain's relationship with Iran. Al Muhandis tweets:

Adel Al Hamad says regarding the rule on the relationship with Iran is that it is a country which curses Prophet Muhammed's companions. And that any person who doesn't follow the Sunni sect of Islam, is a person who is crazy

Al Muhandis adds:

Many ask me why I pray at Al Nusuf (mosque). It's a free stand-up comedy show

He shares this video on Instagram, where the preacher says that dancing and drumming to mark National Day is haram.

Bahrain marks its National Day on December 16.

Syria: The Free Women of Darayya

Syrian women raise the Syrian revolution flag. Photo source: Syria Untold

Syrian women raise the Syrian revolution flag. Photo source: Syria Untold

This post is cross-posted from Syria Untold.

Darayya, a Syrian town in the outskirts of Damascus where renowned peaceful activists such as Ghiath Matar and Yahya Sherbaji were born, stands as a symbol of the Syrian non-violence movement. Also part of this civil grassroots movement is a group of women known as Darayya's Free Women, who engaged in numerous protests and initiatives since the beginning of the uprising, in the spring of 2011.

“We didn’t know each other before the uprising”, one of the women said in an interview with Syria Untold. “The demonstrations that took so many to the streets to demand freedom and justice united us.”

Part of this group, which was key at the initial stage of the uprising, was already involved in civil initiatives prior to 2011. As early as in 2003, young men and women from Darayya had worked on several campaigns such as citizen cleaning committees and demonstrations against the US invasion of Iraq. They contributed to the foundation of what years later, in the context of the Arab uprisings, became known as the Syrian Civil Movement. Already at that time, the movement was considered a threat by the regime, which engaged in the arrests of several of its members.

The first initiative that made this group of women stand out within the civil movement was a sit-in to demand the release of prisoners of conscience, in April 2011.  By that time, the regime had increased its repression against peaceful demonstrators by killing, arresting and torturing hundreds of activists. Darayya´s Free Women were also targeted in this first protest, which ended with the regime opening fire against them.

Attempts to silence them did not stop the group from engaging in more initiatives, such as the large demonstration which became known as Great Friday, followed by Black Saturday, which marks a day when hundreds of protesters were arrested and killed by the regime. 

As the situation on the ground became increasingly difficult, entailing more risks for activists, the group started organizing meetings to plan their strategies, focusing on aspects such as communications, and offering workshops to women wanting to demand and promote changes in their country. This attracted several others who were not comfortable attending the demonstrations but wanted to find their own ways to contribute.

The meetings led to the professionalization of the group’s work, which started distributing tasks such as communications and public relations, photography, humanitarian and psychological attention, while recording their activities on the group’s website.

As the regime increased the pressure against the town, arresting renowned peaceful activists such as Ghiath Matar, and shelling the city to silence protests, the Free Women of Darayya continued to develop their work on the ground. During Christmas time, they decorated a tree with the names of detainees in Syrian jails, and gathered letters from their mothers and children to post them on a big banner in the street. They worked on several other grassroots initiatives, from emergency and humanitarian assistance to the publication of the local newspaper The Grapes of My Country (“Enab Beladi” in Arabic).

The group also invited women from other towns, such as Sednaya, to join them and stand together against the regime’s attempts to divide Syrians and ignite sectarianism in their rich and diverse society.

When the city fell under siege, in November 2012, most of the women were forced to leave Darayya. Many returned months later, to find their town devastated and its people massacred. This did not prevent them from resuming their work, focusing on the huge amount of people in need of food and assistance, while several of its members faced detention by the regime. 

Today, most of the women are in jail or have been forced to leave the country. However, they continue to work on issues related to women´s rights, whether in Egypt or inside the Syrian regime´s jails, awaiting for the moment when they can return to Darayya, the town that stood against tyranny through non-violence.

This post is cross-posted from Syria Untold.

December 16 2013

Saudi Arabia Passes Criticized “Anti-Terrorism Law”

Calling for political reform in Saudi Arabia is now considered terrorism, according to a new law which came into effect today.

The Council of Ministers headed by the Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud passed on Monday [December 16] the Penal Law for Terrorism Crimes and Financing of Terrorism. The draft law receieved much criticism when it was leaked by Amnesty International (AI) in July 2011. Back then, AI commented:

If passed it would pave the way for even the smallest acts of peaceful dissent to be branded terrorism and risk massive human rights violations. [...] The definition of “terrorist crimes” in the draft is so broad that it lends itself to wide interpretation and abuse, and would in effect criminalize legitimate dissent.

Under the draft law, terrorist crimes would include such actions as “endangering…national unity”, “halting the basic law or some of its articles”, or “harming the reputation of the state or its position”.

The covering of the draft of the

The cover of the draft of the “anti-terrorism” law as leaked by AI.

More specifically, the draft law imposed a minimum of a five-year imprisonment for “anyone who promotes, verbally or by writing, terrorism acts, any subject that is against the political orientation of the Kingdom, any idea that hurts the national unity…”.

Back then, a spokesperson from the appointed Consultative Assembly told Reuters:

“The draft that was published is not the final one,” said Mohammed Almohanna, spokesman for the advisory parliament.

“It was discussed in a Shura Council session. It was a draft and some changes were made to it to ensure that the law is compatible with Sharia (Islamic law) and does not violate citizens’ rights or the country's existing laws,” he said


The final law is yet to be officially released.

On Twitter, a user named Sigh, comments [ar]:

The definition of terrorism in the Law to Criminalise Terrorism and its Financing, which was approved today, makes attempting political reform in Saudi Arabia count as terrorism!!

December 15 2013

Never Argue with Egyptian Graffiti

The Police are Criminal, reads this graffiti from Cairo. Photograph shared by @OmarKamel on Twitter

The Police are Criminal, reads this graffiti from Cairo. Photograph shared by @OmarKamel on Twitter

On Twitter, Omar Kamel, from Egypt, notes:

Saudi Political Dissident to Be Flogged, Judge Rules

This post is part of our Special Coverage: Reformists on Trial in Saudi Arabia

Judge Issa al-Matrudi sentenced Saudi human rights activist Umar al-Saed to four years in prison and 300 lashes for his peaceful activism with the leading independent human rights organization in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Political and Civil Rights Association (ACPRA).

Al-Saeed, 24, was arrested on April 28th after refusing an interrogation without a lawyer. Currently, seven members of ACPRA are imprisoned.

Umar al-Saed outside the interrogation office via @181Umar

Umar al-Saed outside the interrogation office via @181Umar

The sentence was made during a secret session held on Thursday [December 12, 2013].

Back in March, a judge decided to dissolve ACPRA and sentenced two of its founders, Mohammad al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamid, to 10 and 11 years in prison respectively. In June, another co-founding member, Abdualkareem al-Kadr, was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison.

In previous sessions, the judge denied al-Saeed access to his lawyers. After, al-Saeed had refused to talk as long as his rights were violated, the judge decided to postpone the trial. And on Thursday, he suddenly decided to rule.

ACPRA published a statement [ar] with a transcript of a phone call al-Saed had made to his lawyer:

أخذت من السجن اليوم الساعة الثامنة صباحا وبعد أن قيدوني واركبوني السيارة, توجهوا بي إلى المحكمة, أدخلوني مكتب القاضي وكان خاليا, دخل القاضي عيسى المطرودي وقال: لديك جلسة اليوم. السعيد: أنت لم تحدد موعد في الجلسة السابقة, ووكيلي يحضر إليك كل أسبوع يسأل عن الجلسة القادمة ولم تحدد موعد, و الآن تريد عقد جلسة سرية! أنا أرفضها. القاضي: ليست سرية, وهذا الباب خلفك مفتوح! السعيد: الجلسة العلنية من شروطها أن تكون بموعد مسبق حتى يحضر وكلائي ويدعى الجمهور. القاضي: أنا رئيس الجلسة و أنا من يحدد هل هي علنية أم لا. السعيد: سبق الحديث عن هذا الموضوع وإعادة الكلام لا يفيد, لذلك أنا سأمتنع عن الحديث مطلقا.

Today at 8 AM I was taken from the prison to a car after being handcuffed. They took me to the court and they brought me to the judge's office which was empty. Judge Issa al-Matrudi came and told me: “You have a session today”. al-Saed: “You did not specify a timing in the previous session and my lawyer comes every week to ask you about the next session, but you did not specify any, and now you want to hold a secret session! I reject that!” The judge: “No, the session is not secret. The doors behind you are open.” al-Saed: “For a session to be public it has to be announced before so my representatives can attend and people can witness.” The judge: “I am the head of this session and I am the one who decided whether it is public or not.” al-Saed: “We have talked about this before and repeating what has been said is useless and thus I refuse to talk at all.”

In addition, ACPRA published an article that al-Saed wrote in prison [ar] in which he says:

أنا المعتقل المفتخر بصنيعه عمر بن محمد السعيد أتلو لكم دوافعي ومسببات سجني وهي كرهي للظلم واختلاق الألم والتعاسة في وجوه الناس واستغلال جمودهم و استغفال عقولهم والحيلولة دون أرزاقهم ولوازمهم الإنسانية (تعليم مواكب للعصر/ وظيفة كريمة/ سكن مناسب) إزاء مطامع شخصية شرسة محتمية بالسلطة لتأمين هذه المناهب والفساد.

I am the proud prisoner Umar Mohammad al-Saed. I present to you the motivations and reasons behind my imprisonment: my hatred towards injustice, suffering, misery, taking advantage of people's silence, treating them as if they were fools and denying them their human needs (modern education, decent jobs and housing) for personal brutal gains supported by the authorities to protect theft and corruption.

Twitter user Sultan al-Fifi commented on the flogging sentence:

It is normal for those who consider the people a herd of sheep to consider flogging an appropriate punishment for anyone that disobeys the shepherd.

ACPRA member and al-Saed's brother Abdullah al-Saed tweeted:

This unjust sentence is an honor to Umar al-Saed and disgrace to Judge Issa al-Matrudi.

This post is part of our Special Coverage: Reformists on Trial in Saudi Arabia

December 12 2013

Video: “Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution” in Syria

Matthew VanDyke, an American journalist and documentary filmmaker who took part in the Libyan civil war as a foreign fighter against the Qaddafi forces, has resorted to crowd-funding to produce Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution, a short movie which documents the Syrian revolution and what it stands for.

The movie [Warning: Graphic], posted for free on YouTube in September 2013, shows Syrian civilians protesting against the Assad regime and activists singing when a blast happened. The footage takes us through the destroyed city of Aleppo (Homs) and shows armed people who were once civilians but had turned into rebels fighting for the freedom of their country. The director chats with activists in English while some songs and local conversations can be heard in Arabic in the background.

In his words, this YouTube film 

[.....] has won more than a dozen awards and is an official selection in more than 75 film festivals around the world. Director Matthew VanDyke has released the film online for free and without any ads on it weeks ahead of schedule because NOW is the critical time for YOU to take action in support of Syria.
This is YOUR film.

“Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution” is a 15-minute documentary film about the war in Syria, directed and produced by American Matthew VanDyke and Nour Kelze (a Syrian journalist who is also the star of the film).

The film tells the story of the Syrian struggle for freedom as experienced by a 32 year old rebel commander, Mowya, and a 24 year old female journalist, Nour Kelze, in Aleppo, Syria.
The film clearly and concisely shows why the Syrian people are fighting for their freedom, told through the emotional words of two powerful characters whose lives have been turned upside down and torn apart by war.
Filming in Syria was dangerous and difficult. VanDyke and Kelze faced aerial bombardment, artillery, mortars, snipers, and the persistent threat of kidnapping. In addition, VanDyke was branded a terrorist by the Assad regime on the Syrian State TV channels.

Here's the short movie for you to watch:

December 11 2013

No Electricity in Gaza

From Gaza, Palestine, Mohammed Al-Agha tweets:

He continues [ar]:

It seems that the person responsible for providing electricity is on leave. We will soon complete 24 hours without electricity. The government is concerned with the welfare of its employees

December 08 2013

Infinite Detention Legalized in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia just approved a law which allows judges to detain people indefinitely.

Back in September 2012, a committee within the appointed Saudi Consultative Assembly proposed removing the limit on detention without a court case after it had been a maximum of six months. Back then, the proposal was criticized by human rights advocates because it could legalize the abuses of the so-called War on Terrorism and open the door for a wider crackdown on dissidents. The amendment proposed allows judges to extend the detention infinitely even if no case was filed against the detainee.

On November 22nd, the Saudi king approved this amendment among others turning it into a law which came into effect on Friday, December 6th.

The issue of arbitrary detainment has always incited criticism for the Saudi government. Independent human rights sources say that there are over 30,000 arbitrarily imprisoned people [ar], who were arrested without a warrant and have not had access to lawyers and a trial. Many of whom were arrested in the massive, post-9/11 “war on terrorism”.

The governmental Human Rights Commission held a meeting in which they thanked the King for approving the amendments. Al Riyadh newspaper reported [ar]:

وأشار المجلس إلى أن صدور هذه الأنظمة الثلاثة تؤكد النهج السليم الذي سارت عليه المملكة منذ تأسيسها في ترسيخ دعائم الحق والعدل، موضحاً أن تلك الأنظمة ستحقق، بإذن الله، نقلة جوهرية في مسيرة نظام القضاء الذي كفل حفظ الحقوق وصونها، وستسهم في تطوير أجهزة القضاء.

The board noted that issuing these three regulations confirms that the kingdom has been taking the correct path to promote rights and justice since it was founded. [The board] noted that these regulations will, God willing, radically transform the judiciary which protects rights and they will contribute to improving judicial institutions.

Activist Mohammad al-Abdualkareem explained the consequence of the amendment:

Article 114 allows the judge to imprison the suspect without any limit as he sees fit. Someone could be imprisoned for five years without a trial and then found innocent without any compensation.

Twitter user Sultan al-Fifi criticized the amendment citing a previous court case in which the judge was very repressive against political activists:

Adding a condition of a judge's warrant before infinite detention is not a guarantee when the judge tells [political activist] al-Hashmi: You deserve [to be killed by] a sword, but I commuted the sentence to 30 years in prison.

December 04 2013

Egypt Mourns Poet of the People Ahmed Fouad Negm

Ahmed Fouad Negm: 84 Years of Revolution . A banner shared on Twitter by @i3atef

Ahmed Fouad Negm: 84 Years of Revolution . A banner shared on Twitter by @i3atef

Revolutionary Egyptian poet Ahmed Fouad Negm died yesterday at the age of 84. Netizens from across the Arab world mourn his death.

Referred to as Egypt's “Poet of the People,” Negm, whose poems were often chanted at Tahrir Square, the epi-centre of the Egyptian Revolution, spent 18 years of his life in prison. Among them were 11 years he spent behind bars for mocking former president Amwar Sadat's television addresses.

His poem, The brave men are brave, chanted at Tahrir, reads:

The brave men are brave
The cowards are cowardly
Come with the brave
Together to the Square

Negm wrote in colloquial Egyptian, and his words were immortalised in political songs, written for the poor and working class, by Sheikh Imam.

Negm maintained a Twitter account, in which he continued to voice his revolutionary thoughts to the end, often engaging with netizens.

Zeinobia, on Egyptian Chronicles, blogs:

Through his life Negm refused to be the regime's poet insisting to be the voice of the poor and the oppressed and I think this is why he will be remembered more than any poet in our time.

She adds:

Ahmed Fouad Negm has gone but his poems and songs remain as the words of the revolutionaries not only in Egypt but across the world.

On Twitter, an out pour of sympathy is seen under the hashtag #أحمد_فؤاد_نجم [ar], or Ahmed Fouad Negm.

Egyptian Mahmdouh Hamza writes:

Egypt has lost a piece. May God have mercy on the purest and most truthful of men, the poet of the continous revolution: Ahmed Fouad Negm.

Egyptian television anchor Sherif Amer tweets [ar]:

Ahmed Fouad Negm was the adversary of presidents. The next president's problem will be the absence of Negm. His poetry will be repeated by thousands in front of millions. May God have mercy on who remains and who had left.

From the UAE, writer Abdulla Al Neaimi adds:

Many accuse Ahmed Fouad Negm of being unstable. I find his views more frank than thousands of stable poets.

Palestinian Azmi Bishara notes:

He was the poet of the downtrodden and those facing injustice and he too was marginalised. When the people realised the injustice they were facing, he became the people's poet. Ahmed Fouad Negm witnessed this in his life.

And Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti says Negm will continue to annoy dictators – through his poetry – even after his death:

Ahmed Fouad Negm: You will continue to annoy them from there. Goodbye my friend

His funeral, in Cairo, was attended by thousands of people. Egyptian blogger Zeinobia compiles a Storify of Negm's funeral here.

Further reading:

Al Jazeera: Ahmed Fouad Negm: Writing a Revolution

Some of Negm's poems translated into English can be found here

December 03 2013

A Pastebin for Arabic Content on the Web

“Arabic is the seventh most spoken language by Internet users but only three per cent of digital content on the web comprises of Arabic material,” estimate experts. Among the most frequent web usages is sharing text, through Pastebin and similar services. Yet these do not properly support Arabic text. Developed by Egyptian Mostafa Hussein (@moftasa), Nota aims at bridging this gap:

Nota has a single purpose and that is to help people share any amount of Arabic text quickly and easily. Text is presented in a clear, distraction free and beautiful way and is highly accessible. There is no need to sign up or register. It will also remain ad free, free of charge and open source.

Nota's source code is on GitHub.

Egypt: Campaigning for Rights of People with Special Needs

Marginalized Egyptians with special needs have been protesting for their rights both before and since the #Jan25 revolution. However, their grievances are yet to be resolved. At the time when the Committee of 50 is voting on the most recent draft of the Egyptian Constitution, Zayee Zayak campaign, which translates to “I am just like you” from Egyptian colloquial Arabic, has kicked off in Egypt aiming at raising awareness about the constitutional rights of people with special needs in the country.
A 2006 census claimed that almost a million Egyptians suffered some sort of disability, yet dedicated NGOs and international organizations estimate these to be at least 8.5 million. Zayee Zayak campaigners evaluate that as many as 17 million Egyptians have special needs:

You can follow discussions through a dedicated group, ‘Disability Awareness in Egyptian Society’ (En).

November 25 2013

Yemen: Love in The Time of Turmoil

Yemen's twittersphere, which is usually filled with disturbing news of assassinations, drone strike attacks or political turmoil, has been overtaken lately with a modern day version of Romeo and Juliet's love story. Yet the story is more complex and has a national twist. Juliet is Huda Abdullah Al Niran, a 22-year-old Saudi, who fell in love with her Romeo, 25-year-old Yemeni migrant worker, Arafat Mohammed Taher Al-Qadhi.

Huda met Arafat for the first time when she went to purchase a mobile from the shop in her village where he worked. They fell in love and after several attempts to officially ask for her hand in marriage were refused by her family, Huda decided to escape a forced arranged marriage. She eloped to Yemen last month to get married to her Yemeni sweetheart Arafat. Hpwever, she was arrested at the border and put in jail. Today, she faces charges for entering the country illegally and so does Arafat, who is charged with assisting her do so, although he crossed the border nine hours after her.

In an audio interview posted on YouTube by Saudi Okaz Alyoumon November 3rd, 2013, Huda recounts how she met Arafat, fell in love with him and decided to elope after her family had refused his request to take her hand in marriage – just because he is Yemeni.

Belkis Wille, researcher at Human Rights Watch, tweeted:

Today the UNHCR agreed to grant asylum to Huda, who risks facing victimization by her family should she be deported back to Saudi Arabia and returned home. A Yemeni court postponed issuing a ruling in her case on Sunday (Nov. 24) until December 1.
There are many sympathizers and supporters following the couple's ordeal in Yemen, including cartoonist Carlos Lattuf who showed his support:

Meanwhile, on the ground, hundreds of people gathered outside the courtroom chanting: “Love before borders and citizenship.”

Yemeni supporters of the couple gathered in front of the court room to show their solidarity

Yemeni supporters of the couple gather in front of the court room to show their solidarity

The crowds demonstrated demanding the judge to dismiss the case and wed the couple. A Facebook page, entitled “We are all Huda and Arafat”, has been created to lobby their case. It has more than 12,000 likes so far. It has also been reported that a Sheikh from Yemen has offered them a home and another one some furniture.

Will we witness a happy ending to the Yemeni-Romeo and Saudi-Juliet love story? Or will it be another sad and tragic ending?

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