The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

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)


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 »

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 »

Egypt’s Historic Vote is Underway!

Posted by vmsalama on May 24, 2012

At long last, voting is underway in Egypt!!! Citizens queued from early hours to vote for the first president since overthrowing Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. It’s been a tumultuous road to get to this day, but even from thousands of miles away I can sense the excitement of my Egyptian friends and family, many of whom voted today for the first time in their lives. I happen to be a junkie of political cartoons and have been collecting many along the way to Election Day.

Here are a couple I wanted to share. (I will be writing an editorial on the election in a few days when we have a better indication of how the people voted).

Which one is your favorite?!! (I think the one of Obama is my favorite!)


Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, Bahrain, Bloggers, burqa, dictatorship, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Freedom of Speech, halal, Human Rights, Internet, Islam, Lebanon, Libya, Media, Middle East, military, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Obama, Persian Gulf, Politics, Protests, Religion, Salafi, Saudi Arabia, State of Emergency, Succession, Syria, Television, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates | Leave a Comment »

Al Jazeera’s (R)Evolution?

Posted by vmsalama on May 20, 2012

Here’s a study I was pleased to contribute to a new-ish e-zine called Jadaliyya which focuses on Arab affairs.

by Vivian Salama

Jadaliyya (click here for original link)

In March of 2011, an unusually forthright editorial by an anonymous writer made its way into The Peninsula Qatar, an English language daily bankrolled by a member of the emirate’s ruling family. At the time of publication, protesters had already toppled the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt, uprisings were in full swing in Libya and Yemen, and in the Persian Gulf, Bahrainis were gearing up for what would prove to be a bloody battle, only days after the op-ed ran.

“Businesses and institutions are treated as ‘holy cows,’” the author wrote in the editorial, entitled “Why are we so timid?”

“What essentially ails the Qatari media (English and Arabic-language newspapers) is the absence of a comprehensive law that specifies its role in a clear-cut way and seeks to protect it against the people and interests opposed to free expression or those who cannot appreciate criticism,” the op-ed read.

It was at about the same time that this editorial ran that Al-Jazeera Arabic, the renowned television network that essentially put Qatar on the map, started facing a dilemma. The network has found it increasingly difficult to distance itself from the growing political ambitions of its patron, Qatar, particularly as it is kept alive by the one hundred million dollars it receives annually from the Qatari government. Moreover, the wave of information now available to the masses via the Internet and satellite television has exposed the gaps in its reporting of issues that do not fall in line with the government’s agenda, while also highlighting its biases in the various uprisings. (more…)

Posted in Al Jazeera, American, Arab, Arab Media & Society, Arab Spring, Arabic, dictatorship, discrimination, Dubai, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Film, Hosni Mubarak, Internet, Iraq, Islam, Israel, Journalism, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Middle East, military, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Palestinians, Politics, Qatar, Saddam Hussein, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Television, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, United States, Yemen | Leave a Comment »

Pakistan’s GITMO Prisoners Pose Problem

Posted by vmsalama on January 29, 2009

Will Former Detainees Be Welcome Back Home?



ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Jan 29, 2009— Mohammed Saad Iqbal never imagined that his 26th birthday would be the first of many spent behind the concrete walls and barbed-wire fences of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Over nearly eight years, the Pakistani preacher was transferred through four detention facilities, starting from the scene of his arrest in Jakarta, Indonesia in late 2001. After that, it was on to Cairo, Egypt, Islamabad, Pakistan and the Bagram Collection Point (now called the Bagram Detention Center) near Kabul, Afghanistan before finally making it to Guantanamo Bay in early 2003.

There was no trial. No legal counsel. No phone call home.

American and Egyptian interrogators accused him of mingling with the likes of Osama bin Laden and shoe bomber Richard Reid, making him a terrorist by association, he says.

Iqbal maintains his innocence. “I’d never been to Afghanistan; I’ve never met Osama bin Laden; I’ve never picked up a weapon nor have I had any training; even I never curse,” he said.

His voice grows shaky and his eyes timid as he recalls the endless cycles of torture and psychological abuse he says he endured throughout his years in captivity. He claims it was so bad he tried to kill himself twice and went on numerous hunger strikes to protest his mistreatment.

Today, less than five months after his release, he is safe within the confines of his modest Lahore home, surrounded by family and friends, and free to savor a glimpse of sunlight or a breath of fresh air.

Photo by Matthew Tabaccos

Photo by Matthew Tabaccos

Still, the painful memories of his years in Guantanamo Bay linger as he suffers from physical disabilities that hinder his efforts to find a job and reintegrate into society. He recently retired his walker in favor of a cane, which he still needs due to knee injuries he alleges to have suffered from electric shocks to his legs.

Like many Pakistanis, Iqbal welcomes news of the executive order signed by President Barack Obama to shut down the prison within a year, but he says his physical and emotional scars will not heal by a stroke of the pen.

“In Iraq we recently saw a journalist throw at President Bush his shoes,” Iqbal says.

“I hoped that he got one hit and feels pain for two seconds then compare this pain with the pain I felt in Guantanamo for almost seven years.”

For many in this region, the move to close down the Cuba-based U.S. prison is something of a relief. Since the attacks of Sept. 11, little more has emerged from the detention facility beyond horrific stories of alleged torture, ranging from electric shock to sexual abuse, and numerous claims of desecration of the Quran, Islam’s sacred book.

According to Amnesty International, nearly 800 detainees have been officially held at the camp, although hundreds of other “ghost prisoners” may have been detained unofficially. Iqbal says the number of unregistered detainees topped 2,000.

Most were subjected to conditions that violate the international prohibition against cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, including solitary confinement, according to Amnesty International.

However, with the newfound relief comes a realization that the closure of Guantanamo Bay ultimately means that some prisoners not transferred to U.S.-based prisons, might be coming home, and placed in the hands of local authorities.

Here in Pakistan, many are asking whether their authorities are ready. Fighting rages on along the country’s Western border with Afghanistan  a region that remains virtually lawless, creating a hotbed for al Qaeda and Taliban forces.

Pakistan has not developed a system of reintegration for these young men, most of whom have lived in solitary confinement for years, all the while growing increasingly disgruntled with their Western captors.

While many Guantanamo detainees have no proven ties to extremists groups, some do. “A lot of the Pashtuns who have been released go right back and rejoin the Taliban because they have been released, held here by the ISI [Pakistani intelligence] and then released back into society without any re-education, or retaining or re-explanation of Islam,” explained Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist and author of several books about militant Islam in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

As for the dark legacy that is Guantanamo Bay, Pakistanis may not be in the clear — only the danger lies much closer to home. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) warns of some 250 cases of detainees who have “disappeared” — taken away by intelligence and law enforcement agencies and never heard from again.

Those prisoners who do resurface bear stories eerily similar to the horrific accounts by Guantanamo Bay captives. Testimonials released by HRCP include repeated incidents of beatings and waterboarding but also of authorities urinating and defecating in the mouths of prisoners.

“Pakistan is signatory to the U.N. Convention Against Torture and yet despite that, our security and police and armed forces deploy those methods,” said Hossain Naky, head of mission for HRCP.

While Iqbal yearns for any assistance from his government, he thanks Allah that he is home again and able to spread Islam’s message of peace. He remains hopeful that the closure of Guantanamo Bay is more than merely political rhetoric  rather, the start of a new era.

“Ask a child to do something and you can get what you need. If you force him, he will never accept. If we have more talking, we will have less wars.”

Vivian Salama is a freelance correspondent working in Pakistan.

Posted in Guantanamo Bay, Pakistan, Television, Zahi Hawass | 1 Comment »

The Love Network: New Coptic TV Channel ‘Aghapy’ Hits the Airwaves

Posted by vmsalama on June 9, 2005

TBS Journal – June 2005
By Vivian Salama

An elderly man lays bedridden in his lower middle-class home in Shoubra, a largely Christian neighborhood near the heart of Cairo. Paralyzed for some 14 years following an injury to his spine, the man rarely leaves his home, as doing so has become an unbearable hassle. Until recently, this misfortunate Egyptian has been isolated from many of the experiences in life he once cherished: going to work, driving a car, praying at church. Then, he received word that his dreams would soon be realized.

Father Bishoy El-Antony with an
Aghapy TV microphone.

“My prayers have been answered,” the man wrote in a letter sent to Father Bishoy El-Antony, director of the new Aghapy Coptic television network, which launched in October 2005. “For the first time in years, I will see my church, hear its liturgy, feel its blessing–everything but smell the incense.”

For millions of Coptic Christians around the world, their own television network represents a major milestone. Copts, considered the largest religious minority in Egypt, make up approximately 12.5 percent of the country’s 72 million inhabitants. Another two million live in diaspora throughout the world. Two new Coptic channels will target both of these groups, marking an important step for a minority denomination which prides itself on its orthodox ways.

“We need to identify ourselves,” El-Antony explains. “We need to spread our feeling, to identify the problems of the country, our problems as Copts. We have to have a voice.”

Currently broadcasting out of Egypt on secondary satellite networks are a number of Islamic programs, which generally revolve around the teachings of the Qu’ran, stories about the Prophet Mohammed as well as programs teaching youth the ways of Islam. There also are Christian based networks, the majority of which broadcast from outside Egypt.“We are witnessing and living in a television culture,” explains Ibrahim Saleh, a media expert and journalism professor at the American University in Cairo. “Morality is the name of the game — identifying this greater aura about the religion and trying to reach out to followers of this religion.”“We have a motto that if we are not on air, we are not on earth,” adds Bishop Moussa, who presides over the church’s youth affairs. “This is the language of this age.”

Coptic officials say that for some 15 years now, church patriarch Pope Shenouda III, Pope of Alexandria, Egypt, and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark, has tried to contact the Egyptian Ministry of Information in hopes of establishing a network for his followers. The attempts were ignored.

Currently, NileSat, the primary satellite provider in Egypt and across the Arab world, broadcasts one Coptic mass a week on its government-run cultural events channel, but Coptic leaders say it is not enough. They need their own channel.“We take a stand on a number of issues but they are not declared around the world in the best way,” says Moussa. “This channel is a way to declare our stand on certain issues and educate our people everywhere in the world. You can reach them in their homes all over the world.”Pope Shenouda decided the time was right to establish such a channel as a private network and in early 2005, the groundwork was laid for not one, but two Coptic networks, each through completely different sources.

“I’m not surprised it has taken so long,” admits Saleh. “Part of it is a matter of financing and arrangement, starting something that could work. This is a liberal modernized approach to religion.”

Aghapy TV


The first, CoptSat, directed by Bishop Marcos, developed through efforts by the Coptic Council of Bishops to establish programming for its followers around the world. Financed exclusively through private donations and church contributions, CoptSat has begun developing programs addressing the core issues facing the Coptic community, both in their spiritual and private lives. “Programming needs money and time,” says Marcos. “I cannot have something baring the name of the Coptic Church that turns out weak.” The only way to raise money, the Bishops concurred, was to begin their broadcasting–not in Egypt–but via cable providers in the United States. Marcos estimates that with a target audience of at least 100 thousand families in the United States, CoptSat would charge a monthly service fee of USD$10. This adds up to some $1 million per month. The monthly fees to the cable provider will cost approximately $50,000. The rest goes to programming–four hours worth, to be exact–employee salaries, equipment, maintenance, and eventually, to international broadcasting. In Egypt, broadcasts would air on Sat7, a channel already airing a number of Lebanese Christian programs, such as Al-Hayat (Life), and Moagiza (Miracle).

“To move on from America to Egypt and all the other countries in the world, I will pay $30,000 more,” says Marcos, who offered no approximate timeline for when CoptSat would officially take to the airwaves. “I want to encourage the people and tell them, anyone who wishes to watch the network should pay EGP 1 per month. And we will ask churches to pitch in and pay EGP 10, monthly. It is for the channel, the people should have a wish to make it better.”

Aghapy Network

Meanwhile, a separate, completely private effort was underway to establish another Coptic network. Under the auspices and private funding of Bishop Botrous, and with the help of Father Bishoy El-Antony, the Aghapy network, which derives its name from the Coptic word for “love,” began transmitting promotions for their up-and-coming network. With sophisticated, graphics-heavy promos depicting images of Coptic life in Egypt already on the airwaves, editors rushed to complete some 80 hours of programming in anticipation of Aghapy’s kickoff on November 14.

For decades, the Copts in Egypt have established themselves through print media. Kerazza magazine, which is distributed to Copts worldwide, serves as a newsletter on spiritual life and church affairs.Watany newspaper, which circulates in Egypt, focuses on more political issues, but does touch heavily upon Coptic affairs. As for the Coptic networks, church officials say their focus will be on reinforcing the faith of the church’s followers, and not converting or criticizing those of other religions.

“We’re not going to be involved in Anti-Islamic subjects or in political items,” explains Moussa. “This is a religious, pastoral, educational, expression of our views, of Coptic life. It’s not the goal to convert others to our religion. We want to maintain good relations with everyone.”

Like CoptSat, Aghapy also will begin its run by broadcasting exclusively to American audiences in English and Arabic, with the hope of going international within a few months. According to Father Bishoy, the channel will use low-budget production methods: Talk shows, on topics like women and the family will be taped from the living rooms of church members and staff members will then edit the programs, adding graphics and music. Then, according to Bishoy, the tapes will either be mailed or hand delivered to the TeleStar broadcasting center in the United States. TeleStar, an American satellite company, will then air previously taped programs shot and edited by Aghapy’s mostly volunteer staff.

Aghapy programming includes liturgies from Coptic churches around the world, Bible studies, Coptic language classes, biblical cartoons and programs for children and discussion groups. Father Bishoy does not concern himself too much with costs, saying private donations–both monetary and equipment–have covered the channel’s minimal expenses.

“We didn’t change anything; we didn’t change our prayers, our liturgy,” explains Father Bishoy. “So like any other faith, our followers need to be cared for, and we want to give them this care through our channel. If we wait any longer than we have, all the other channels will take over what should be our viewers.”

Posted in Arabic, Coptic, Egypt, Television | 1 Comment »