Wanderlust…

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How American Drone Strikes are Devastating Yemen

Posted by vmsalama on April 14, 2014

Anyone who knows me, knows Yemen holds a special place in my heart. Its diverse landscape is breathtaking and its rich history is virtually untouched after centuries. But what I love most about Yemen is, hands down, its people (its food comes in a distant second!) They smile from inside, even though they face a great deal of adversity, militants roam freely by land and foreign drones hover above them. This report, from my latest visit to Yemen, explores that latter phenomenon — U.S. drones — and argues that the their existence alone is causing profound psychological detriment to a nation. (photos in the piece are also by me)

How American Drone Strikes are Devastating Yemen

On the ground in a country where unmanned missile attacks are a terrifyingly regular occurrence

By Vivian Salama
April 14, 2014
ROLLING STONE

EXCERPT:

….As the sun began to set on that fateful winter day, the line of SUVs and pick-ups, decorated with simple ribbons and bows for the [wedding], set off for its 22-mile trip. But as the procession came to a standstill to wait on some lagging vehicles, some of the tribesmen claim the faint humming sound they typically heard from planes overhead fell silent.The emptiness was soon filled with the unthinkable. “Missiles showered on our heads,” Abdullah says, moving his hands frenetically. “I started to scream and shout for my cousins. Anyone who was still alive jumped out of their cars.”

Four hellfires, striking seconds apart, pierced the sky, tearing through the fourth vehicle in the procession. When it was over, 12 men were dead, Saleh among them. At least 15 others were wounded according to survivors and activists, including Warda, whose eye was grazed by shrapnel and whose wedding dress was torn to shreds.

The blast was so intense that it reverberated all the way to al-Abusereema, where the groom’s brother Aziz waited for the guests. “I called some people to ask what was that explosion and somebody told me it was the drone,” Aziz recalls. “It was the most awful feeling.”

“As we were driving to the site,” he continues, “I felt myself going deeper and deeper into darkness. That is the feeling of a person who sees his brothers, cousins, relatives and friends dead by one strike, without reason.”

“We are just poor Bedouins,” says Abdullah, now pounding his hands against his chest. “We know nothing about Al Qaeda. But the people are so scared now. Whenever they hear a car or truck, they think of the drones and the strike. They feel awful whenever they see a plane.”…. (Click here to read more)

The wedding of Abdullah Mabkhut al-Amri to Warda last December made headlines around the world after it ended in tragedy./By Vivian Salama

The wedding of Abdullah Mabkhut al-Amri to Warda last December made headlines around the world after it ended in tragedy./By Vivian Salama

Oum Salim sits in her home majlis in Khawlan holding a photo of her late son Salim Hussein Ahmed Jamil, her daughter Asmaa, 7, by her side. /By Vivian Salama

Oum Salim sits in her home majlis in Khawlan holding a photo of her late son Salim Hussein Ahmed Jamil, her daughter Asmaa, 7, by her side. /By Vivian Salama

Posted in Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda, American, Arab, Arab Spring, Awlaki, C.I.A., dictatorship, Drones, Economy, Education, Elections, Employment, Environment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Human Rights, Insurgency, Intervention, Islam, Jihad, Middle East, military, niqab, Obama, Pakistan, Politics, Poverty, PTSD, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Signature Strikes, Social Media, Somalia, South Yemen, Terrorism, Warda, Yemen | 8 Comments »

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 »

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 »

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…)

 

Posted in Abu Dhabi, Algeria, Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Bahrain, Christian, Culture, discrimination, Dubai, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Gaza, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Israel, Lobby, Media, Middle East, New York, NYPD, Palestinians, Politics, Qatar, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Social Media, Sudan, Terrorism, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, United States, Yemen | Leave a Comment »

Egypt: No Parliament, No Constitution, No President.

Posted by vmsalama on June 15, 2012

Greetings from Cairo, where there is NEVER a dull moment. The High Court decided today to dissolve the Islamist-dominated parliament, less than 36 hours before the presidential runoff. Here is my election preview, published by the Daily Beast. Observations to follow….

Showdown in Cairo: Egyptian High Court Dissolves Parliament

Egypt’s high court ruled the Islamist Parliament must dissolve immediately, paving the way for next week’s election winner to rise to power. But wasn’t the point of the revolution to avoid military and theocratic states? Vivian Salama reports.

Jun 14, 2012 

Daily Beast (click here to read original)

With just 36 hours to go until Egypt’s historic presidential election, the country has no Parliament and no new constitution. In a stunning 11th-hour decision, the country’s High Constitutional Court dissolved the Islamist-dominated Parliament, declaring that elections were unconstitutional, essentially leaving the new president at the mercy of the military. In the 17 months since Egyptians joined forces to topplePresident Hosni Mubarak, the country has evolved from one of collective euphoria to one limp with apprehension, this latest development sending the country into a tailspin.

 

Egyptians protest military rule in Tahrir Square // Photo by Vivian Salama

Egyptians will head to the polls June 16—many with heavy hearts—as they cast a final vote for a president, with the hope of dislodging themselves from more than a half century of status quo. But Tahrir Square still swells with protesters every few days—the upcoming vote creating a dilemma for many, pitting two of the least likely candidates against each other: one, an old guard from the defunct regime, the other, an Islamist heavyweight. With no legislative body to ensure checks and balances, the new president may have to take on the powerful military establishment on his own.

The military, de facto ruler of the country since Mubarak’s resignation, has suffered a severe decline in public opinion following a number of violent clashes with protesters that evoked a bitter outcry. Making matters worse, a government decree passed earlier this week allows military police and intelligence to detain civilians and refer them to military tribunals—a ruling reminiscent of Mubarak-era tactics used to crush dissent. The military may soon surrender the top seat, but recent developments signal that it will continue to play an active role in governance, regardless of who wins.

All the while, the economy is in shambles, and citizens who were already struggling to make ends meet before the revolution are now barely getting by, fueled only by hope that change for the better is on the brink.

Facing off this weekend: Ahmed Shafiq, 70, a former Air Force commander and the last prime minister appointed by Mubarak, and Mohammed Morsi, 60, a U.S.-educated engineer and chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party. For weeks, the two have appeared in campaign ads and traveled across Egypt, meeting citizens and addressing their concerns, with hope of establishing new loyalties amid this turbulent period. Egypt’s high court also issued a last-minute ruling allowing Shafiq to continue his bid, despite his links to the previous regime. (more…)

Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, dictatorship, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Gaza, Hamas, Hosni Mubarak, Israel, Judiciary, Middle East, military, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Newsweek, Politics, Recession, Refugees, Religion, Salafi, Social Media, Succession, United States | Leave a Comment »

Mubarak, Adly Sentenced to Life for Protester Deaths

Posted by vmsalama on June 2, 2012

I took this photo at a protest in Cairo in 2006. Today, Egypt’s former President Hosni Mubarak and former Interior Minister Habib El-Adly (in this photo) were handed life sentences in connection with protester deaths last year. The court found no evidence to convict Mubarak’s sons, Alaa and Gamal, or any of El-Adly’s former aids. A historic day for Egypt indeed. Alaa and Gamal still face charges on insider trading.

Photo by Vivian Salama

Photo by Vivian Salama (Cairo/May 2006)

I’m heading to Egypt in a week to cover the presidential election. Looking forward to witnessing history again in “Oum el Donia.”

Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Economy, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Hosni Mubarak, Middle East, Mubarak, Politics, Social Media | Leave a Comment »

Facebook and the NYPD

Posted by vmsalama on December 6, 2011

There’s an interesting story in the New York Times today about officers with the New York Police Department making malicious comments on Facebook about parade goers at the recent West Indian American Day Parade in Brooklyn. The officers in question referred to people as “animals” and “savages.” One comment said, “Drop a bomb and wipe them all out,” according to the report by William Glaberson.

I’m a bit torn on how i feel about this. While I’m certainly an advocate of free speech (and not naive to prejudices in the world and, certainly, among police forces across the country), I do feel that certain professions must do more to punish their own for expressing certain opinions on the web when it goes against their practice. The NYPD apparently has restrictions on officers who post “disrespectful remarks” on the internet — but how can they “police” all the remarks of the 34,500 officers in the NYPD?

In Journalism, for example, I am a big fan of restricted social media because while journalists are entitled to their opinions, certain opinions run the risk of jeopardizing objectivity. If that journalist is linked to a news organization, it threatens the objectivity of the entire newspaper/network, or whatever.For police officers, I suppose it goes back to any amendment that judges a man based on color or creed. The fourteenth amendment, for example, states that: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

But by not posting their opinions on Facebook or any other social media platform change the fact that these men have an obvious bias? Would their treatment of anyone from, in this case, the West Indies, be any different or any less apparent had they not posted their remarks? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts!

On a related note, I’d love any recs on good articles or books on policing the internet/internet security — it relates to a project I’m working on. Thanks in advance!

Photo by Kirsten Luce for The New York Times

Photo by Kirsten Luce for The New York Times

Posted in discrimination, Internet, New York, NYPD, racism, Social Media, West Indies Parade | Leave a Comment »

Cairo Protesters Converge in Message Aimed at Defiant Mubarak

Posted by vmsalama on February 9, 2011

By Mariam Fam, Vivian Salama and Ahmed A Namatalla

Bloomberg (Click here for original story)

CAIRO — Egyptians converged on the presidential palace and Tahrir Square in Cairo vowing to topple President Hosni Mubarak after he yesterday defied calls for his resignation for the second time this month.

Military helicopters flew over the palace before dusk, in the suburb of Heliopolis, after state television said the presidency would issue an urgent message “soon.” Earlier, the army beefed up its deployment downtown as tens of thousands of demonstrators poured out of Friday prayers and into the square downtown, swelling the ranks of those who camped there overnight. State television said Mubarak had left the capital.

Photo by Vivian Salama

Photo by Vivian Salama

With the army today reiterating its support for Mubarak, attention is shifting to how far it will go as the protests gather momentum. The violence has already claimed more than 300 lives, Human Rights Watch says, and has sparked concern that further unrest will grip a region that holds more than 50 percent of the world’s known oil reserves. The protests were inspired by the revolt that ousted Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on Jan. 14.

“The nightmare of a coup is very bad for everybody, for the young people, for the economy, and that’s the scenario we would like to avoid,” Finance Minister Samir Radwan said on BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program. “The military is highly disciplined, they have taken a decision not to fire at the young people, but of course this stalemate cannot continue forever.”

Emergency Law

A group of demonstrators gathered near the presidential palace and protests were also under way in the cities of Suez and Alexandria. Mubarak and his family left Cairo and arrived in the resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh, Al Arabiya television reported today.

The Supreme Military Council said today it will guarantee the implementation of the measures announced late yesterday in Mubarak’s televised speech, including constitutional changes and an eventual end to an emergency law that has marked his 30-year rule. In a sign the government may offer further concessions, the head of the ruling National Democratic Party, Hossam Badrawi, said today in an interview that an early presidential election may be possible.

Mubarak, 82, reiterated his intention to stay in office until the vote in September, while handing day-to-day powers to Vice President Omar Suleiman in a bid to placate opponents. Protesters erupted in a roar of disapproval as they listened to Mubarak’s evening address in Tahrir Square.

“In Cairo alone today it will be millions,” demonstrator Abdel Rahman Sabry, a 24-year-old engineering student, said in an interview. “Yesterday’s speech has really angered people. We tell him to go, he tells us: ‘I won’t go, you love me.’ Either he is crazy or we are crazy.”

Photo by Vivian Salama

Photo by Vivian Salama

‘Not Worthy’

As Muslims gathered in a mosque near Tahrir Square, the imam leading today’s prayers told them over a loudspeaker, “You are bringing down a corrupt regime that is not worthy of ruling you.”

The Supreme Military Council gathered yesterday before Mubarak’s speech to “safeguard the interests” of the nation, sparking speculation that a military takeover was in progress. The panel is now in permanent session, the first since the October 1973 war with Israel.

Global stocks fell for a third day, U.S. index futures declined, and the dollar and oil rose, after Mubarak spoke. The cost of insuring Egyptian government debt soared 42 basis points to 379, the biggest increase in two weeks, according to CMA prices. Egypt’s 10-year bond yield jumped 29 basis points. The global depositary receipts of Commercial International Bank Egypt SAE, Egypt’s largest publicly traded lender, fell the most this month, dropping 7.2 percent to $5.65.

“We were all hoping that the statement by the president yesterday should calm things down, but obviously it hasn’t,” Radwan told the BBC. “That makes for a very difficult situation where things continue to deteriorate.”

Posted in American, Arab, Arab Spring, Constitution, dictatorship, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Hosni Mubarak, Inflation, Labor, Middle East, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Politics, Religion, Social Media, Terrorism | Leave a Comment »