Wanderlust…

The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

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Brotherhoodization of the Opera: Egypt’s Assault on the Arts

Posted by vmsalama on June 7, 2013

By Vivian Salama

The Atlantic

As the curtains swept open on the stage of Cairo’s historic Opera House in late May, spectators held their breath waiting to be regaled by Giuseppe Verdi’s classic Aida, which opens with the Egyptians bracing for invasion by Ethiopians seeking to rescue their princess, Aida, from a lifetime of servitude. What they got, however, may have left Verdi himself on the edge of his seat.

Instead, the cast and crew stood shoulder to shoulder, some in costume, many with placards in hand, denouncing what they called the “Brotherhoodization of the Opera” and declaring the country’s Muslim Brotherhood-led government “illegitimate.” As the crowd shot to its feet cheering “Bravo!” and chanting “Long Live Egypt,” conductor Nayer Nagui announced:

“In a stand against a detailed plan to destroy culture and fine arts in Egypt, we decided as artists and management to abstain from performing tonight’s Opera Aida.”

It was, for artists and art-lovers alike, a declaration of war. (click here to read more)

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Posted in Arab Spring, Art, corruption, dictatorship, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Film, Freedom of Speech, Hosni Mubarak, Human Rights, Islam, Media, Middle East, Mohamed Morsi, Muslim Brotherhood, Opera, Politics, Protests, Religion, Television | Leave a Comment »

Egypt Sentences American Workers to Jail Time

Posted by vmsalama on June 4, 2013

By Vivian Salama

The Daily Beast

After a yearlong trial, an Egyptian court has convicted 43 foreign NGO workers—including 16 Americans—of operating without a proper license, handing down jail terms ranging from one to five years.

NGOThe court also declared the closure of five foreign nonprofit organizations operating in Egypt and ordered the confiscation of their funds. They are the U.S.-based Freedom House, the International Center for Journalists, the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, and Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Foundation. Twenty-seven of the 43 defendants, including all but one of the Americans, were tried in absentia.

Among the Americans to receive a five-year sentence and be fined 1,000 Egyptian pounds ($143) is Sam LaHood, son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Calls to his office in Washington, D.C., were not immediately returned.

Robert Becker, an organizer with the Tanzeem Group and the only American to stand before the court, was sentenced to two years in prison. “Maintaining my innocence on charges of starting NGO six years before I actually arrived in Egypt,” he wrote on Twitter following the verdict. Becker has refused to leave Egypt in solidarity with his Egyptian colleagues who could not leave. He wrote on his blog Monday night: “I was told it would be best for me to go home, so that is exactly where I will be… home, in Cairo.”

 Becker later tweeted that he left Egypt for Rome on the advise of his lawyers.

(click here to read more...)

Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, Constitution, corruption, dictatorship, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, foreign workers, Freedom of Speech, Hosni Mubarak, Intervention, Middle East, Mohamed Morsi, Muslim Brotherhood, non-profit, United States | Leave a Comment »

Baby Steps Toward Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia

Posted by vmsalama on May 11, 2013

MAY 11, 2013

By Vivian Salama

Daily Beast 

When King Abdullah succeeded his late half-brother to become ruler of Saudi Arabia eight years ago, many believed he brought with him an air of reform. Known for his relatively moderate views, Abdullah promised to achieve a great many changes for women, who were barred from driving and were required by law to seek the approval of a male “guardian” to work, travel abroad and, in some cases, to undergo surgery.

Saudi Women

Muslim women, the king said in a 2011 speech, have given “opinions and advice since the era of Prophet Muhammad” and “we refuse to marginalize women in society in all roles that comply with Sharia,” or Islamic law, the octogenarian ruler added.

This week, as Saudi Arabia marked the eighth anniversary since King Abdullah ascended the throne, according to the Islamic Hijri calendar, the government announced that it would lift a ban on sports at private girls’ schools across the kingdom. It comes weeks after the government made another concession—lifting a ban on females riding bicycles and buggies, albeit in the presence of a male guardian. The decisions were hailed by many reformers as positive “baby steps,” but several major issues continue to stall the women’s-rights movement in Saudi Arabia from celebrating true progress, including the right to drive, the right to operate without male approval or supervision, as well as the right to win custody of a child or legally defend herself in cases of domestic violence.

Women have been fighting for equality in Saudi Arabia long before the rumble of discontent erupted in countries like Egypt and Tunisia. Since regional uprisings began in 2011, the Saudi government, apprehensive that its citizens would join in the call for change, has tried to placate the opposition with concessions in the form of housing allowances, government handouts, and new social liberties. But women say the time has come for real change.

“All these baby steps do count, but they are not enough,” says Aiyah Saihati, a Saudi businesswoman and writer. There is a need for “removing any constraints that make [women] unequal to men in terms of self-determination, be it the need for guardian permits for education, travel, hospitalization, as well as being treated with full citizenship, as men, in rights to housing or citizenship for her children.” (more…)

Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, Culture, discrimination, Domestic Abuse, Education, Elections, Employment, Freedom of Speech, Internet, Islam, Media, Middle East, Politics, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Sexual Assault, Sexual Harassment, Social Media, Women | Leave a Comment »

In the Egypt Independent’s closure, an end of a beginning

Posted by vmsalama on April 30, 2013

by Vivian Salama

Columbia Journalism Review

April 30, 2013

Like many things in Egypt these days, the fight to save the Egypt Independent from termination went viral almost instantly. A cry for help by the newspaper’s editors earlier this year cited “the current economic crisis” as reason for the looming closure of the country’s most highly respected English-language newspaper, as well as the “political limitations manifested in rising restrictions on freedom of expression” since the election of President Mohamed Morsi.

Journalists protest outside the Journalists' Syndicate in Cairo

Journalists protest outside the Journalists’ Syndicate in Cairo

 

“On April 25, after weeks of international campaigns and fundraisers, the executive management of the Independent abruptly pulled the plug on its operations, days earlier than scheduled. A statement from the editorial staff read:

“Four years after the birth of Egypt Independent, the management of Al-Masry Media Corporation has informed our editorial team that our print and onlinenews operation is being shut down.”

Because we owe it to our readers, we decided to put together a closing edition, which would have been available on 25 April, to explain the conditions under which a strong voice of independent and progressive journalism in Egypt is being terminated.

Opened four years ago as an English language division to privately owned Arabic daily El Masry El Youm, the newspaper was one of few that chronicled the real beginnings of the Egyptian revolution, from the economic deterioration to the death of Khaled Said, brutally beaten to death by police in Alexandria in 2010—coverage of which went viral on social media websites, planting the seed for the January 25, 2011 popular uprising.

“This kind of press played an important role in the wave of contentious politics that started in 2005 and onwards,” said Lina Attalah, editor in chief of the now defunctEgypt Independent. The paper’s closure has made headlines around the world, as it represents a blatant setback for a revolution hard fought and now, seemingly, coming apart at the seams.

Like a handful of news organizations in Egypt today, Egypt Independent lured a new generation of journalists that were not schooled in the art of self-censorship, once a necessity to operate safely as a reporter in Egypt. These newly untethered journalists put emphasis on the post-uprising day-to-day struggles, as well as on more mainstream coverage of street battles, sectarian strife, and rape. Most importantly, the paper provided a medium for bilingual Egyptians to speak to people beyond their borders with an intellectual, analytical, nuanced voice, often tackling issues that would otherwise not get attention in the international media. (more….)

Posted in Al Jazeera, Arab, Arab Media & Society, Arab Spring, Arabic, Bloggers, Cairo University, Censorship, Comedy, Constitution, corruption, Culture, Daily Star Egypt, dictatorship, discrimination, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Freedom of Speech, Journalism, Judiciary, Media, Middle East, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Politics, Protests | Leave a Comment »

Middle East Activists Muzzled and Arrested in Arab Gulf States

Posted by vmsalama on April 5, 2013

April 4, 2013

The Daily Beast (click here for original link)

By Vivian Salama

Within hours of being handed a two-year jail term for allegedly insulting the ruler of Kuwait, 27-year old Hamed Al Khalidi turned to Twitter– the very apparatus that got him into trouble—with a poem:

“I said: why prison?

I’m not a thief; I’m not a criminal…

neither deliberate nor accidental.

But when I realized my sentence serves my country,

I began to enjoy prison as though it is paradise.”

gulf activismAl Khalidi is part of a growing list of young activists in Kuwait and across the Arab Gulf being targeted for “electronic crimes”—for voicing the very same longing for freedom, justice, and opportunity as those in countries like Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, where online activism catalyzed mass street protests. Days before Al Khalidi’s sentencing, the Kuwaiti appeals court extended the jail term of another opposition Twitterer, Bader al-Rashidi, from two to five years on charges that he attempted to instigate a coup and insulted the country’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah. Kuwait, home to the most dynamic political system in the Gulf, has already sentenced some 10 online activists to various prison terms on charges ranging from insulting members of parliament (or the Emir) to inciting protests.

“The government of Kuwait and other Gulf governments have begun to feel the danger of Twitter that toppled presidents and governments in the Arab countries and it is clear from the way they are abusing many Twitter users with these false charges,” said Mohammed Al Humaidi, a lawyer and director of the Kuwait Society for Human Rights. “Most of the Gulf governments don’t have a law specifically linked to electronic crimes, and so this is unconstitutional.” (more…)

Posted in Abu Dhabi, Algeria, Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Bahrain, Bloggers, Censorship, corruption, dictatorship, discrimination, Dubai, Economy, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Hosni Mubarak, Internet, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Journalism, Khalidi, Media, Middle East, Mohamed Morsi, Muslim Brotherhood, Oman, Persian Gulf, Politics, Protests, Qatar, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Skype, Social Media, Television, Tunisia, Twitter, United Arab Emirates, Viber, Whatsapp | Leave a Comment »

Saudi Arabia: The Internet’s Enemy Cracks Down on Skype, Whatsapp, and Viber

Posted by vmsalama on March 29, 2013

by Vivian Salama

Mar 29, 2013

The Daily Beast 

Infamous for the severe measures it uses to crack down on alleged security threats, Saudi Arabia is now picking on web-based communication apps, which teens rely on heavily for daily contact. Vivian Salama reports.

Photo by HASSAN AMMARSkype, Whatsapp and Viber are subject to a ban in Saudi Arabia, as it demands the rights to monitor all communications via these web-based communications apps.

Despite a medley of applications now available to help Internet users avert such a ban, the kingdom declared that it would block the services within its borders unless the operators grant the government surveillance rights. The companies have until Saturday—the start of the Saudi workweek— to respond to Saudi Arabia’s Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC), local news reports said.

While Saudi Arabia is infamous for taking authoritarian measures to crack down on perceived security threats, it has increasingly shifted its attention toward the telecommunications sector in recent months. The CITC announced in September that all pre-paid SIM card users must enter a personal identification number when recharging their accounts and the number must match the one registered with their mobile operator when the SIM is purchased. The country’s second-largest telecom company, known as Mobily, was temporarily banned from selling its pay-as-you-go SIM cards after it failed to comply with the new regulations.

“A proposal for a ban would be driven by political and security concerns as opposed to economic concerns,” said Aiyah Saihati, a Saudi businesswoman and writer. “The Saudi government is refraining from taking an extremely authoritarian style dealing with its critical youth population. Saudi may try, without censorship, to find ways to monitor communications.”

As revolution gripped much of the Arab world in 2011, Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, spearheaded a counterrevolution—working to appease its critics with monetary and political concessions, while suppressing protests via brutal crackdowns. Reporters Without Borders lists Saudi Arabia as an “Enemy of the Internet,” saying last year that “its rigid opposition to the simmering unrest on the Web caused it to tighten its Internet stranglehold even more to stifle all political and social protests.” (click here to read more…)

 

Posted in Abu Dhabi, Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Bahrain, Blackberry, Bloggers, Business, Censorship, dictatorship, Dubai, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Film, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Google, Human Rights, Internet, Islam, Israel, Jihad, Journalism, Kuwait, Libya, Media, Middle East, Oman, Politics, Protests, Qatar, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Sexuality, Shi'ite, Skype, Social Media, Television, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Viber, Whatsapp, Women, YouTube | Leave a Comment »

Bahrain Comes Back to the Streets at Saudi Forces’ Anniversary

Posted by vmsalama on March 17, 2013

(I LOVE the photo linked to this article — courtesy: Mohammed Al-Shaikh/AFP/Getty)

By Vivian Salama

Mar 17, 2013

The Daily Beast (click here for original link)

Two years after the Arab Spring’s protests and Saudi intervention, opposition groups are again clashing with security forces in the fragile kingdom. Are the king’s reforms too little too late?

Pearl Roundabout was once the pulse of the Bahraini opposition—like Cairo’s Tahrir Square or Mohammad Bouazizi Square in Tunis. In the earliest days of the Arab Spring uprisings, it was a vibrant center for self-expression, and saw a wave of protests—and bloodshed—as Bahrainis joined in a regional call for democracy and freedom.

Bahrain picTwo years later, Bahrain’s iconic square is lifeless—sealed off by security forces and torn apart by bulldozers. The pearl monument that once stood majestically at its center is gone, demolished and paved over, with the government saying it was “desecrated” by “vile” protesters. It was even renamed Al Farooq Junction—a tribute to Omar ibn Al Khattab, a historical figure viewed negatively by Shias, the sect of Islam to which the majority of Bahrainis belong.

Despite efforts by the government to erase evidence of any challenge to its authority, Bahrainis spilled into the streets to mark the second anniversary of Saudi-led Gulf forces entering Bahrain to help their ally, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah, suppress a wave of dissent. Dozens were reportedly injured in clashes with security forces Thursday, according to Al Wefaq, the country’s leading opposition party. Police fired tear gas at protesters as a group of youths confronted them with Molotov cocktails. Protests dubbed “Never Surrender” kicked off again Friday.

The government described the unrest as “acts of domestic terror, including the theft and torching of cars, and the street blockades,” according to an Interior Ministry statement. Several policemen were injured in the clashes, the government said.

Bahrain, a staunch American ally and home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, has lent a unique story in the Arab Spring narrative. King Hamad, a Sunni in the Arab Gulf’s only Shia-majority nation, maintains his authority, often through harsh crackdowns, with the solid support of the West and surrounding Gulf states, which assert that Iran is using Bahraini Shias to infiltrate the Arab world. Saudi Arabia, which is connected to Bahrain via a causeway, has been especially fearful, as it is home to a restive Shia population in its Eastern province. Bahrain, a tiny island in the Persian Gulf, is not wealthy from natural resources like fellow Gulf Cooperation Council nations Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates; it has had to rely on aid from its neighbors since turmoil began in 2011. (click here to read more…)

Posted in Allies, Arab, Arab Spring, Bahrain, discrimination, Dubai, Economy, Education, Employment, Foreign Policy, Iran, Islam, Middle East, military, Mohamed Bouazizi, Politics, Protests, Qatar, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Shi'ite, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, United States, Yemen | Leave a Comment »

South Yemen Separatists Renew Calls for Secession

Posted by vmsalama on March 1, 2013

by Vivian Salama

Al-Monitor (click here for original link)

March 1, 2013

ADEN, Yemen — With two weeks to go until Yemen’s crucial national dialogue, aimed to set in motion transitional imperatives like writing a new constitution and scheduling parliamentary elections, tensions are rising between North and South Yemen as Southern separatists renew their calls for secession.

aden violence

Separatists in Aden, the capital of South Yemen, engaged in deadly clashes with security forces and pro-unification protesters, mainly from the Islamist Islah party, claiming that the state has — and will continue to — ignore their pleas for basic rights. Tents returned this past year to Martyrs Square in the Mansoura section of Aden, and the Southern flag has grown increasingly visible on the streets and in graffiti art. Slogans spray-painted on the walls of government buildings read “Freedom for the South.”

Separatist demands have long been a major facet of Yemeni politics, however the popular uprising that ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh last year ignited a wave of protests among Southerners who previously faced persecution for expressing sentiments that undermined the country’s delicate unification. Yemen’s new president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi — a Southerner himself — made a surprise visit to Aden this week to hold talks with the leaders of various factions. However, Hiraaki [Southern Separatist Movement] activists dismissed the visit as political theater, pointing to visits Hadi made to the United States, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States in his first year in office, before ever visiting the Southern capital.

Sensitivities over Southern secession were particularly apparent during Hadi’s visit as police checkpoints erected large Yemeni flags and Southern flag graffiti was partly painted over to show only the red-white-and-black colors that represent the unified Yemen flag.

Separatist graffiti in Aden, Yemen (photo by Vivian Salama)

Separatist graffiti in Aden, Yemen (photo by Vivian Salama)

“We were expecting things will change with President Hadi’s visit, but it didn’t calm anything,” Maged Mohsen Fareed, 22, a college student and Hiraak member who has been jailed repeatedly for his activism. “It is as if he gave security forces green light” to attack.

Originally scheduled for mid-November, Yemen’s National Dialogue has been repeatedly delayed, more significantly due to differences Southerners had over the proposed groundwork. Some leaders with the Southern Separatist Movement, known as Hiraak, have said they are willing to join the talks from the start, but more hardline factions, led by Ali Salem al-Baidh, have refused to engage, saying that their demands have not — and will not — be met by Sanaa. The talks are now scheduled for March 18, however, the recent tensions in Aden have raised concerns that even those who are willing to take part in the talks will be swayed against it.“To us, there is no dialogue with murderers and we will not talk with murderers,” said Abdulhameed Darwish, a Hiraaki activist whose brother Ahmed was gruesomely tortured to death in police custody in 2010, sparking fury across the South. “Until today, my brother’s case is still on hold in the courts. Nothing has changed. The situation is going from bad to worse.” (click here to read more….)

Aden, Yemen (Photo by Vivian Salama)

Aden, Yemen (Photo by Vivian Salama)

Posted in Aden, Al-Qaeda, Ali Abdullah Saleh, Arab, Arab Spring, corruption, dictatorship, discrimination, Economy, Education, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Human Rights, Middle East, South Yemen, Terrorism, Yemen | Leave a Comment »

Ali Abdullah Saleh: Yemen’s Unsackable Leader

Posted by vmsalama on February 25, 2013

Of all the Arab Spring dictators who met their match in popular uprisings, only one came out a winner. Vivian Salama on why Yemenis can’t shake their clingy ex-president.

by Vivian Salama

The Daily Beast (click here for original link)

February 25, 2013

When the sun goes down on the ancient city of Sana, the capital of Yemen, the pillars and domes on the country’s largest mosque shine tall and bright in a sea of near darkness. The massive complex, known simply as Saleh’s Mosque, was commissioned by Ali Abdullah Saleh, the country’s former dictator, then named in his honor.

In one of the mosque’s backrooms, a new, rather peculiar exhibit is set to open, filled with items seemingly out of place in a house of God. It includes a pair of eyeglasses, engraved guns, golden swords, and—the most unusual item of all—a pair of charred pants torn to bits by shrapnel. These items belong to none other than Saleh himself, and the exhibit—described by one local paper as a “journey into a land of dreams”—was envisioned by him, too.

Saleh

Of all the Arab Spring dictators who met their match in popular uprisings, only one came out a winner. Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak is serving a life sentence. Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali is in exile. Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad is cut off from most of the international community. Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi is dead. Yet Saleh, who narrowly escaped death during an attack on his palace in 2011, has managed to avoid the worst of fates and is, instead, living peacefully in Sana, opening museums and brash self-tributes in what many fear is the early groundwork for a political comeback.

“Saleh is just like this guy Putin in Russia,” said Yahya Al-Hajj, an apolitical Sana resident. “We wish he goes away, but the more we wish, the more he is sticking to us.” (click here to read more…)

Posted in Ali Abdullah Saleh, Arab, Arab League, Arab Spring, dictatorship, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Hosni Mubarak, Libya, Middle East, Mubarak, Politics, Qaddafi, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali | Leave a Comment »

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

Posted by vmsalama on February 14, 2013

An absolutely gorgeous photo by Ahmad Al-Rubaya (Getty Images) of an Iraqi man offering a rose petal to a woman during a Valentine’s Day rally in Baghdad. The rally, which was held just about one month before the 10-year anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq, called for better public services and for a corruption-free government. The expression on both of their faces is just lovely. I hope you made someone smile today. (Ahmad, where ever you are, you made me smile today with this photo!! Thank you!!)

iraq rose

Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, corruption, Economy, Education, Elections, Employment, Freedom of Speech, Iraq, Love, Middle East, Politics, Protests, Valentine's Day | Leave a Comment »