The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

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Arab-Americans Set to Play Key Role in US Election

Posted by vmsalama on November 4, 2012

By Vivian Salama

Al-Monitor (click here for original link)

Arab-Americans are poised to play a critical role in the US presidential election.   Numbering about 4 million, they’re heavily concentrated in several battleground states — including Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia — where every vote will count in a race that many consider too close to call.

A mid-September survey of 400 voters conducted by the Arab American Institute revealed that President Barack Obama leads Republican candidate Mitt Romney among Arab-Americans, 52% to 28%, with 16 percent of Arab Americans still undecided. This compares to the 67% to 28% lead Obama held over John McCain among Arab Americans in 2008, signaling a potential loss of some 100,000 voters for Obama, according to AAI.

A substantial drop in Arab-American support for Obama, relative to 2008, accompanied by the large number of undecided voters, especially in key swing states, could be a signal to the present and future candidates.

The Arab-American political community had its challenges following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The Patriot Act, arrests, detentions and deportations targeted members of the community. A New York Police Department surveillance program and opposition to building mosques and Islamic community centers, like the Park51 center near Ground Zero, preoccupied the community’s political leaders. Instead of campaigning for broader national and international issues, Arab-Americans found themselves fighting as much, or more than ever, for their civil liberties. (more…)



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Terry Jones’ Latest Insult? U.S. Embassy Protested Over Anti-Islam Film Promoted by Terry Jones

Posted by vmsalama on September 11, 2012

Chanting protesters attacked the U.S. embassy in Cairo on Tuesday, enraged over a film that purportedly insults the Prophet Muhammad—and linked to U.S. pastor Terry Jones. Vivian Salama reports.

by  | September 11, 2012

The Daily Beast (click here for original link)
As Americans commemorated the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on Tuesday, protesters in Cairo shredded and burned the American flag and scaled the walls of the U.S. Embassy.

At least 2,000 demonstrators, enraged over Innocence of Muslims, a little-known film produced in the United States that allegedly insults the Prophet Muhammad, shouted, “We will sacrifice ourselves for you, Allah’s messenger!” A group of men managed to mount the embassy’s walls waving a black flag with the words “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his messenger.” Many of those gathered did not know the name of the film, nor did they know the details of their grievance against the U.S. pastor linked to it, Terry Jones, whose 2010 threats to burn the Qurantriggered deadly riots in Afghanistan. Similar attacks were reported on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where an American was killed and part of the consulate burned, according to Al Jazeera.

Al-Azhar, one of the Arab world’s most elite centers for higher Islamic learning, reportedly condemned the film on Tuesday, citing a scene in which a character based on the Prophet Muhammad goes on trial. The Wall Street Journal reportedthat Innocence of Muslims’ writer, editor, and producer is a 52-year-old American, Sam Bacile. Jones is promoting the film, whose new 14-minute Arabic-dubbed trailer on YouTube depicts the Prophet as a deranged womanizer calling for massacres.

The organization standupamericanow.orgran a live stream on Tuesday of a press conference featuring Jones in what he dubbed “International Judge Muhammad Day,” during which he listed reasons why, in his opinion, the Prophet should be put on hypothetical trial.

Muslims consider any depiction of the Prophet, be it in an illustration or film, to be a violation of Islamic belief. Similar protests were staged outside the Danish Embassy in Cairo and across the Muslim world in 2005 after the daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten published satirical cartoons depicting the Prophet. (click here to read more…)

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Hillary Clinton Meets Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi

Posted by vmsalama on July 16, 2012

Back in Egypt now and picking up where I left off in the never-ending political tornado (whether it’s  genuine or  theatre, that is the question). A rather telling (and somewhat hilarious) photo is making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter, showing Hillary Clinton in a wedding dress alongside Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, head of the Egyptian military, the couple looking smitten alongside one another as they enter a room to join several other men in uniform. In fact, both sides of the political tug-of-war in Egypt creates great uncertainty for the US as it attempts to safe keep its interests in the region while hedging its bets against the unknown. Only time will tell whether Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s newly elected president and member of the Muslim Brotherhood, will become a friend or foe. In all likelihood, so long as the United States is cutting a check for billions of dollars annually, it is hard to imagine that Egypt will see a drastic departure from the status quo. Here’s my article:

The Daily Beast
By Vivian Salama
July 15, 2012

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrapped up a two-day visit to Cairo on Sunday, the first since Egypt’s historic presidential election won by an Islamist candidate, potentially reshaping ties between these old allies against the backdrop of a rapidly changing Arab world.Clinton cautiously reaffirmed America’s commitment to Egypt’s power transfer as a recent tug of war between newly elected President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and the country’s top generals seemed to lodge the transition in limbo. On Sunday, she urged the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to fully support a handover to civilian rule while pressing Morsi to maintain his commitment to establishing a democratic state.

“Egyptians are in the midst of complex negotiations about the transition, from the composition of your Parliament to the writing of a new constitution to the powers of the president,” Clinton said at the joint conference with Egypt’s Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr. “Only Egyptians can answer these questions, but I have come to Cairo to reaffirm the strong support of the United States for the Egyptian people and for your democratic transition.”

Morsi, who was officially named Egypt’s first post-revolution president on June 24, has pledged to empower the Egyptian people, taking on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has served as the interim ruler since former president Hosni Mubarak’s resignation last year. Days after assuming office, he reinstated the Islamist-dominated Parliament dissolved by the high court only days before the presidential election. The court overrode the decision, but Morsi defied the order, calling on Parliament to convene, heightening tensions in a country frail from unrelenting disquiet.

A staunch ally of Mubarak’s, the United States has been impelled to evolve with the Arab world, engaging with Islamist groups it once shunned and hedging its bets with governments that bear no track record. Clinton highlighted that despite America’s support of the Mubarak regime, it was consistent in advocating human rights and calling for an end to Egypt’s oppressive emergency law. In a meeting with Morsi on Saturday, she urged the president to take minority groups into consideration amid fears that the Muslim Brotherhood and hardline Salafi Islamists would clamp down on civil rights and restrict religious freedoms in the country of 82 million people.

Prominent members of the Coptic and Evangelical churches, including billionaire Naguib Sawiris, declined an invitation to meet with Clinton, rejecting a perceived interference by the U.S. in Egypt’s internal affairs.

“Things are still very fluid,” Paul Sullivan, a North Africa expert at National Defense University, said from Cairo. The United States “needs to keep the good relations with the military. That relationship is the cement of the overall relationship with Egypt. Muslim Brotherhood relations are still putty rather than clay and potentially volatile.”Egypt is among the top five recipients of U.S. foreign assistance, receiving about $1.3 billion in military aid and $250 million in economic aid—a check America has cut annually since the signing of the Camp David accords with Israel in 1978. Clinton said the U.S. is focused on boosting trade and investment in Egypt, as well as job creation, and is prepared to commit $250 million in loan guarantees to Egypt’s small and medium-size businesses. A high-level business delegation is scheduled to visit Cairo in September to create the U.S.-Egypt Enterprise Fund, with $60 million in capital in the first year. Economic activity in Egypt has languished since antigovernment protests began in January 2011, following an exodus of investors, a drop in foreign reserves to well below half prerevolution levels, and the stunting of tourism and retail sectors. (click here to read more)

Posted in Arab, Arab League, Arab Spring, Christian, Christianity, Clinton, discrimination, Economy, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Islam, Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Obama, Persian Gulf, Politics, Saudi Arabia, State of Emergency, United States | Leave a Comment »

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Woos Washington

Posted by vmsalama on April 6, 2012

Look who’s visiting Washington!!

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Woos Washington

By Vivian Salama

The Daily Beast

Click here for original story

There was once a time when U.S. officials shunned Arab Islamist parties, frowned on their election victories, and denied them U.S. visas. But times are changing.

Delegates from Egypt’s Freedom and Justice Party, a group affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood, are in   Washington for their first official visit since Hosni Mubarak was toppled last year. Only days after announcing their party’s candidate in the first presidential election since the revolution, the visiting delegates have met with members of Congress and White House officials and held public discussions at Georgetown University and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Outlawed under the Mubarak regime, members of the Muslim Brotherhood and more hard-line Salafist parties have emerged, not surprisingly, as a powerful force in the Egyptian elections, thwarting the secular groups that are believed to have been the drivers of last year’s revolution. As a group that founded itself on the principles of grassroots activism, the Muslim Brotherhood has long resonated with the people of Egypt, where at many as 30 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, according to the United Nations.

The delegates sent to Washington were all articulate English speakers, two of whom hold doctorates from U.S. institutions. They were non-evasive, answering impassioned questions from the Georgetown audience about religious persecution and Sharia law. The message was not specifically linked to Islam. They did not criticize—or even mention—Israel. They stressed that Egypt is open for business and encouraged free trade and foreign direct investment. (more…)

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Bible Dolls Hit the Shelves at Wal-Mart

Posted by vmsalama on August 10, 2007

By Vivian Salama 

Jesus, Mary and Joseph!
They don’t fire lasers or wear trendy outfits, but the newest actions figures set to hit the shelves of Wal-Marts across the nation are sure to put a little spirit – maybe even some Holy Spirit – into playtime.  They’re called Messengers of Faith – biblical icons turned play box pals by California-based One2Believe, a company that prides itself on selling real life superheroes.
The toys range in size and sophistication.  Jesus, the biggest seller of the bunch, recites various Parables and Psalms with the simple press of a button.  Moses reminds children “you shall not commit adultery” and “you shall not steal,” as well as the other Ten Commandments.  Then there is the newest addition – Samson, the strongest man to ever live, according to the Bible, which One2Believe CEO David Socha believes will give Jesus a run for his money.  “It’s a cool looking toy,” he says enthusiastically.  “What little boy wouldn’t want the strongest man to ever live in his toy box?” 
Many of the dolls even recite stories and they come equipped with a start-stop button so children can return to the beginning whenever they want.  There is a full Nativity set – which includes a baby Jesus, a few angels, three wise men and some barn animals to complete the tale.  All the dolls are modestly dressed in the type of robes believed to have been worn at the time of Christ.  They even come with miniature books so children can read along with their story-telling toy. 
Why, in an era when sex and violence sells, have toys in the likeness of Biblical legends gained the confidence – and multimillion dollar investment – of America’s largest discount retail store?  Industry analysts say it won’t take a miracle for these playtime newcomers to hit it big.  “Whether the Messenger of Faith or other such toys sell well in Wal-Mart will likely depend on price, quality of the product and appeal to the target customer, i.e. ‘does my kid want it?’,” says Christine Johnson, managing editor of Christian Retailing magazine. 

In fact, Christian retail is big business having earned an estimated $4.63 billion in 2006 according the Association of Christian Retail (CBA).  That’s up from $4 billion in 2000.   While Harry Potter may be all the rage right now, the Holy Bible remains the best selling book of all time.  In fact, the majority of Christian retail profits come from book sales – an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 titles will be published this year alone.  “Christian books are sold everywhere these days: at warehouse clubs, big-box stores such as Wal-Mart and Target, and Hallmark, which acquired DaySpring, a Christian greeting card company, in 1999,” Johnson adds.
The business has also expanded to include music, gifts, jewelry and apparel.  Television programming is also popular.  Dozens of networks cater specifically to Christian audiences, including the Gospel Channel, available in some 20 million American homes.   
Remember Mel Gibson’s controversial 2004 release of Passion of the Christ?  The film grossed a whopping $610 million worldwide which Socha admits sparked an awakening for Christian retailers. “Passion broke a lot of barriers,” he says.  “We’re trying to bring that same quality to the toy industry.”
Still, the battle for the toy box is fierce with veterans like Superman and Barbie knocking out the competition and virtual action figures luring kids in front of the computer screen.  Ultimately, those working in Christian retail look to offer an alternative to what Socha calls “evil toys.”  He admits his company even thought to introduce characters which represent “manifestations of Satan,” but a number of consultants (mostly Christian clergy and activists) urged against it.  “We don’t want to touch on the violence, the promiscuity – the messy parts of life.”
Socha credits its two year success not just on the quality of his product, but on its disciples working to spread the good word.  A network of 10,000 stay-at-home moms have been recruited as publicists and sales reps around the country selling the toys to neighbors and friends and churches alike.  The moms are sometimes paid a modest fee; other times they are awarded in the way of soccer trips, ballet fees and other children’s activities. 
The Messenger of Faith figurines – which ironically are all made in Communist China – are all boxed up in a Valencia warehouse and set for their August 1 Wal-Mart debut. Many of the shipments – 425 in all –  will go to Wal-Marts in the South and Midwest – the so-called Bible Belt.  Still, Socha is quick to dismiss this as a retail jackpot.  “This is a tremendous blessing but it’s also a challenge because the product has to sell on Wal-Mart’s shelves.”
For now, Socha and the folks at Wal-Mart can only pray that the Greatest Story Ever Told yields a happy ending for them as well. 

Posted in Christian, Toys, WalMart | 2 Comments »