Wanderlust…

The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

Archive for the ‘United Nations’ Category

The Battle Over Western Sahara Heats Up Over Controversial Development Plans

Posted by vmsalama on October 22, 2013

By Vivian Salama

The Atlantic

Oct. 22, 2013

Off of Africa’s northwest Coast, a long causeway leads from the Moroccan city of Dakhla to a fisherman’s wharf packed with dozens of heavy-duty ships. Men in red overalls soaked in fish innards come and go, carting with them the catch of the day— sometimes crab; sometimes mussels; sometimes 3.5-pound sea bass. Nearby, the fluffy white sand and calm waters of this ocean-front Western Saharan city have been a well-kept secret of European and Australian wind surfers for nearly a decade. The trickle of tourists pales in comparison to cities in the north like Fez and Marrakesh, where visitors from around the world flood the streets to indulge in heavenly cuisine and unique textiles.

Fisherman off the coast of Dakhla, Western Sahara (photo by Vivian Salama)

Fisherman off the coast of Dakhla, Western Sahara (photo by Vivian Salama)

The Western Sahara, a region that’s been locked in a four-decade battle for sovereignty, has long been off the radar of even the most intrepid travelers. The region, which is known to some as “Africa’s last colony,” is at the heart of ambitious development plans by the Moroccan government, which is seeking to boost investments, create jobs, and appease the indigenous Sahrawi population that has long sought independence. “When we do an urban development plan, we do it for the people,” said “Wali” Hamid Chabar, governor of Morocco’s southern-most region, part of the disputed Western Sahara. “Sustainable development cannot happen if you focus on some and leave a segment of the society behind. A development plan that only caters to the elite will not help anyone.”

Shortly after Spanish colonists began to withdraw from Western Sahara in 1975, the region was annexed by Morocco (and briefly, by Mauritania as well), making it the world’s largest and most populated “non-self governing nation,” according to the UN. Morocco says the Western Sahara has always been an integral part of the kingdom and Sahrawis are just as much Moroccan as the rest of its citizens. However, Sahrawis, backed by the Polisario Front liberation movement, have since called for independence from the rest of Morocco, claiming that they are living under occupation. In 1976, as Moroccan forces clashed with Polisario fighters in a bloody guerilla war, the rebel group and its supporters were virtually pushed out of the Western Sahara and into Tindouf, Algeria, where as many as 90,000 people are still living in refugee camps today.

Not all Sahrawis chose to leave the disputed territory, and many have since returned from the camps—the population of the Western Sahara now reaching over 530,000. While clashes between pro-autonomy activists and Moroccan forces still occur in spurts, the region has remained relatively calm since a 1991 UN-brokered ceasefire—with other regional conflict and turmoil often stealing the Polisario’s thunder.

But when Tunisians sent their longtime president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fleeing into exile in 2010, and millions of Egyptians took to the streets to overthrow Hosni Mubarak, the Moroccan monarchy paid close attention. Within months, the young King Mohammed VI proposed sweeping constitutional reforms with substantial human rights guarantees (although with no limits to his own powers). One significant change recognized Amazigh, the Berber language, as one of the kingdom’s official languages. The new constitution also placed prohibitions on torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, arbitrary detention, and enforced disappearances.

Only six months later, despite efforts to placate the opposition, Morocco’s Islamists achieved a historic victory in the legislative elections, signaling discontent even close to the seat of power. Today, Sahrawis living in the disputed territory continue to sound alarms over unfair treatment and persecution, saying that little has changed since the constitutional amendments were implemented. The government has since redirected its efforts toward economic development as a means for extinguishing any discontent. “Hundreds of our Sahrawi people are missing or were taken into custody by the police without reason and we don’t know anything about them,” says Khalili Elhabib, a Sahrawi human rights lawyer who spent 16 years in a secret northern Morocco prison.  (click here to read more)

Fishing Boats off the coast of Dakhla, Western Sahara (Photo by Vivian Salama)

Fishing Boats off the coast of Dakhla, Western Sahara (Photo by Vivian Salama)

Posted in Algeria, Arab, Arab Spring, corruption, discrimination, Economy, Education, Employment, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, North Africa, Sahara Desert, United Nations | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Dashed Revolution: The Cost of the Arab Spring

Posted by vmsalama on January 25, 2013

Vivian Salama

Newsweek Magazine (click here for original link)

January 25, 2013

Ismail Ahmed passes much of the day sitting on a small wooden chair outside his grocery–cum–souvenir shop in Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo, watching the cars drive by while smoking Cleopatra cigarettes, which crackle loudly with each drag. Gone are the days when busloads of tourists would pour into his shop near the Pyramids to pick up bottled water and $3 statues of the Sphinx. Since his fellow countrymen rose up against President Hosni Mubarak in January 2011, Ahmed’s business has dwindled. Gone are his hopeful expansion plans for the tiny shop, and his son Mohammed, who used to work alongside him, is looking for other jobs, because income from the store has become but a trickle. “Now if I see two tourists in a day, it means it’s a good day,” Ahmed says as he lights another cigarette. “The tourists are too scared to come to Egypt now. My store is not receiving enough income to support the family.”

Dashed RevolutionTwo years after revolutions unsettled and redrew the political map of the Arab world, the hope that inspired so many has not brought the desired change. Across the region, economies are unraveling, opposition groups splintering, and promises for establishing democratic secular governments now seem like a pipe dream.

War rages on in Syria, with more than 60,000 people killed so far. On one single day recently, more than 100 people were shot, killed, stabbed, or burned to death by the brutal security forces taking orders from President Bashar al-Assad. Many Syrians lucky enough to have survived the fighting are on the run, and with no end in sight, the 22-month-old conflict threatens to reshape the region. Some 2 million people—more than half of them children—have already fled Syria for Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and beyond. Already there has been trouble in Lebanon, which has its own bloody history, easily recalled and ignited, and regional observers fear political and sectarian grievances will follow the flow of refugees.

Gomaa, a 35-year-old restaurant owner who prefers to go by one name for security reasons, believes his country was better off before the uprising, and certainly his family was. His hometown of Idlib, an opposition stronghold, has been battered hard by the government, and after snipers moved into his apartment building, his family’s life turned into a nightmare punctuated by volleys of gunshots. Fleeing to Egypt with his wife and two young boys, he found that work was scarce and impossible to come by for a foreigner, though eventually he found a lead on a job as a restaurant busboy in Morocco, where he’ll be living with a large group of men in an apartment in Rabat. With little money to his name, he has arranged for his wife and kids to stay for free with family friends in Algeria. “Of course, I wish to be with my family, but I thank Allah that we are alive.”

In Tunisia, where, in despair over government injustice, vegetable seller Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself, inspiring the wave of protests that came to be known as the Arab Spring, demonstrators flooded into the streets earlier this month. Marking the two-year anniversary of the ouster of former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, this was no celebratory gathering, but rather a show of frustration by people who fear their new government is corrupt, religious, and self-serving. “Where is the constitution? Where is democracy?” they chanted, as police fired tear gas to disperse the crowds. Tunisia has recently been rocked by a scandal dubbed Sheratongate, which centers on allegations that Tunisia’s foreign minister, Rafik Abdessalem, abused public funds to pay for rooms at the five-star Sheraton hotel in Tunis, where he would meet his mistress for illicit trysts. “There are fewer jobs, and corruption and crime is worse than before,” complained Yazid Ouerfelli, 19, a university student from Tunis. “The country is also more divided now because of religion—it didn’t used to be like that.” (click here to read more…)

Posted in Algeria, Ali Abdullah Saleh, Arab, Arab Spring, Bashar Al Assad, corruption, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Europe, Foreign Policy, Hosni Mubarak, Iraq, Islam, Israel, Jihad, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Media, Middle East, military, Mohamed Bouazizi, Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Newsweek, North Africa, Oman, Persian Gulf, Politics, Protests, Qatar, Religion, Salafi, Saudi Arabia, State of Emergency, Succession, Syria, Tourism, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, United Nations, War, Yemen, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali | Leave a Comment »

STOP KONY…. and all the other bad guys doing bad things!

Posted by vmsalama on March 9, 2012

I don’t often write about Africa although it is a region near to my heart. I visited Uganda in 2004 — it is a beautiful country and anyone who visits will not soon forget the ear-to-ear smiles they receive from the people they meet. Invisible Children is a global campaign to arrest Joseph Kony and stop him from kidnapping, arming and killing children to fight his war via a militia he calls the Lord’s Resistance Army. This video is thought provoking (and stirring up a lot of controversy and debate as a result). There are bad people doing bad things around the world. Palestinian children in Gaza are dying every day. Families in Syria cannot leave their homes in Homs and Hama without fear of being killed by government contracted snipers, and hundreds continue to fall victim to attacks by the Sudanese government in the Nuba Mountains every month. Across Africa children are being used as foot soldiers in senseless wars. I wish more people would take initiative like film maker Jason Russell to bring crimes of humanity like those of Joseph Kony to light (Also, check out Ryan Boyette’s brave efforts in Sudan). I hope with all of my heart that they are successful.

Please take 30 minutes to watch this video to learn about this cause.

 

Posted in Africa, American, Arab Spring, Child Soldiers, Clinton, Darfur, Gaza, Invisible Children, Israel, Jason Russell, Kony, Nuba Mountains, Palestinians, Ryan Boyette, Stop Kony, Sudan, Syria, Uganda, United Nations, United States, Viral Video, YouTube | 1 Comment »

“The Protester”: A Photo Journal of the Egyptian Revolution

Posted by vmsalama on December 15, 2011

Thanks to TIME Magazine for recognizing the revolutionaries all over the world… I’ve been meaning to write this for quite some time but only finding the chance to do it now.

A year ago when Mohammed Bouazizi, a fruit vendor in Tunisia, burned himself out of frustration from a political system that neglected him, I was en route to Beirut ahead of the Christmas holiday and writing, mainly, about the credit crunch in the Arab Gulf states and mounting concerns that the banking system would not soon recover from the blow. Days after I returned from Beirut, my host, Rania Abouzeid, came to stay with me in Dubai in a desperate attempt to fly to Tunisia, where flights were almost entirely grounded amid an uprising across the country. It was hard to imagine then that the desperate act of this young man not only set in motion a revolution in his country, but around across the region.

Jan. 27, 2011: me and Rania Abouzeid heading to Cairo (at 3am -- ughhh!!!)

On January 14, 2011, following a month of violent protests against his rule, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali – Tunisia’s president since 1987 — was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia along with his wife and their three children.  A week later, Rania and I were on a flight to Cairo where calls for a revolution had begun to circulate on social media websites. They were days I will never forget, and with TIME Magazine’s 2011 Person of the Year issue being dedicated this year to The Protester, I want to share with you all a few memories and photos of the protesters I met in Cairo this year. (Click here to read some of my stories on the Arab Spring)

On January 27, two days after the protests officially begun, Internet and mobile phone service was completely cut off in Egypt and we were left guessing where crowds were gathering. After trying a few spots around town, Rania and I decided to go toward the Mohendiseen neighborhood near the Moustafa Mahmoud mosque. It was a good guess! About 500 protesters had gathered after Friday prayers where they came face to face with riot police chanting slogans like “The people want the end of the regime” and “Hosni Mubarak: illegitimate.”

We began to march, with the intention of going toward Tahrir Square. (Rania and I were quickly separated in the crowd and were each forced to continue reporting on our own). Weaving through side streets and alleys in the Cairo neighborhood, people watched us from balconies, throwing bottles of water, garlic and onions, and bottles of vinegar – all simply remedies for tear gas inhalation, because everyone knew what lie ahead.  The longer we marched, the more the crowd swelled, with protesters called on those people in their homes not to be afraid.
Photo by Vivian Salama

Cairo, January 27, 2011/Photo by Vivian Salama

photo by Vivian Salama

Cairo, January 27, 2011/Photo by Vivian Salama

Photo by Vivian Salama
Jan 27: Protesters Near Moustafa Mahmoud Mosque/Photo by Vivian SalamaS

Sure enough, we were quickly confronted by tanks and soldiers firing tear gas at the crowd. I’ve never seen so much camaraderie in my life. Soldiers at a nearby military hospital threw medical masks at the protesters and pharmacists handed them out to the crowds. At one point I felt quite ill from the tear gas. A man approached from behind me and pressed a vinegar-covered mask against my mouth and nose. A nearby vendor (who probably struggles to feed his own family with the pennies he earns) emptied his refrigerator, handing out water bottles and cans of soda to the fatigued protesters.

Every where I looked, people were helping each other, helping strangers tie their masks, sharing water bottles, aiding those who were most affected by the gas.

There was one point, marching with the crowd from Mohendiseen, when we approached a major intersection and I heard roaring cheers. I jumped up on a car to see what had happened and was personally overcome by emotion. From three different directions, massive groups of protesters were approaching the intersection – the other groups coming from as far as Giza and the Nasr City. They did this without Internet or mobile phones.

Photo by Vivian Salama

Cairo, January 27, 2011/Photo by Vivian Salama

Groups of young men pushed to the front of the crowd and began to battle riot police, taking over their vehicles and chasing them away. Our group, now numbered in the hundreds of thousands, pushed slowly across the historic Qasr El Nil bridge in an attempt to move into Tahrir. There were moments when I worried that an attack by the military would trigger a stampede – we were stuffed tightly onto the bridge. But every time protesters began to push back, the young men in the crowd would grab the women in the crowd and push them against the bridge railing so to protect them from being knocked down.

photo by Vivian Salama

Some were more prepared than others!! Cairo Jan. 27, 2011/Photo by Vivian Salama

It was a long night with protesters burning the ruling National Democratic Party headquarters and battling with soldiers in Tahrir. Riot police trucks were set on fire (and the Semiramis Hotel, where many journalists took refuge) was partially on fire for part of the evening. I was trapped in Tahrir for the night and forced to take a last minute room at the Semiramis. I woke up early the next morning to a different Cairo, where charred military tanks stood in the middle of Tahrir Square and smoke billowed from the NDP headquarters and, sadly, from the adjacent National Museum. It would take another two weeks (only!) to overthrow Hosni Mubarak but that first Friday was by far the most memorable. There is an Arabic expression that often refers to the Egyptian people as being “light blooded” (light hearted/good senses of humor). They definitely showed their spirit throughout the frustrating 19 days (and 30 years) it took to shake up their political system.

Photo by Vivian Salama

Tahrir Square, January 28, 2011/Photo by Vivian Salama

Photo by Vivian Salama

Tahrir Square, January 28, 2011/Photo by Vivian Salama

me in Tahrir (late January 2011)

I visited Bahrain in the weeks that followed and I spent a lot of time covering the uprisings in Yemen and, less so, the ongoing crisis in Syria. After years of battling misguided stereotypes of terrorism and violence, these protesters have showed the world that they desire freedom and a decent standard of living and they have the right to demand it just as those in Europe and the US demand of their governments.

The Tunisians, Egyptians and all the other citizens around the world fighting for democracy have a very long and bumpy road ahead.  The TIME Magazine Person of the Year issue questions whether there is a global tipping point for frustration. I believe what happened this year is, in large part, because of overpopulation and because of the global economic slowdown touched societies rich and poor – but toppled those that were already on the brink before markets crash. The world is smaller than ever thanks to the Internet and various technologies that allow us to share experiences with people on opposite corners of the world. As we continue to get closer, and the world, smaller, it will become impossible to distance ourselves from even the most seemingly remote events.

Photo by Vivian Salama

Cairo, January 27, 2011/Photo by Vivian Salama

Posted in American, Arab, Arab League, Arab Spring, Arabic, Bloggers, Cairo University, Censorship, Coptic, Culture, dictatorship, discrimination, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Environment, Foreign Policy, Hosni Mubarak, Internet, Journalism, Libya, Media, Middle East, military, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Negotiation, Obama, Politics, Qaddafi, Qatar, Recession, Refugees, Religion, State of Emergency, Succession, Syria, Terrorism, Tunisia, United Nations, United States, Yemen | Leave a Comment »

Iran Vows to Pursue Nuclear Program as Nations Eye New Sanctions

Posted by vmsalama on November 9, 2011

By Vivian Salama and Jonathan Tirone

Click here for original article

Nov. 9 (Bloomberg) — President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran won’t withdraw “an iota” from its atomic program and dismissed a United Nations report showing the country continued working on nuclear weapons capability until at least last year.

“The nation of Iran won’t pull back an iota from its path and will continue,” Ahmadinejad said today in a speech broadcast on state television.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and European countries set the stage for further tensions with Tehran over its nuclear program, saying they will pursue additional economic sanctions.

If Iran fails to answer IAEA questions about its suspect nuclear activities, “we are ready to adopt, with the support of the international community, sanctions of an unprecedented scale,” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said in a statement.

Britain will press China and Russia to increase pressure on Iran, U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague told lawmakers in the House of Commons in London today.

Those two countries have been obstacles to further sanctions through the UN Security Council. Russia will not support any new sanctions, the Associated Press reported, citing an unnamed Russian official. (more….)

HERE ARE TWO REPORTS I WROTE IN 2007 WHEN AHMEDINEJAD GRACED US IN NEW YORK:

Columbia Students and Iranian Academics Respond to Bolinger (Washington PostGlobal)

President Ahmadinejad Goes to Columbia (Newsweek/Daily Beast)

Posted in Iran, Nuclear, Sanctions, United Kingdom, United Nations, United States | Leave a Comment »

Egypt Calls on Nations to Provide Economic Assistance

Posted by vmsalama on February 15, 2011

By Vivian Salama and Mariam Fam

Click here for original story

Feb. 15 (Bloomberg) — Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit called on the international community to offer support for the economy, saying it “has been greatly affected by the political crisis that has rocked the country.”

The protests that culminated in the Feb. 11 ouster of the former president, Hosni Mubarak, have led businesses to shut down, scared off tourists and pushed up Egypt’s borrowing costs. The Mubarak-appointed government, now running the country under military oversight pending elections, is forecasting slower growth. It has promised a stimulus plan to address the economic complaints of the demonstrators, such as high unemployment.

Egypt’s finance minister, Samir Radwan, said yesterday the country’s budget deficit will widen to about 8.4 percent — less than some analysts forecast — as spending increases and economic growth slows after Mubarak’s fall. The Institute of International Finance in Washington predicts the budget gap will be 9.5 percent of gross domestic product, rather than the 7.9 percent previously forecast by the government.

The turmoil has cost the nation about $1.5 billion of tourism revenue, according to Central Bank Governor Farouk El- Okdah. It has also forced companies to close and sent the currency skidding to a six-year low. Before Mubarak’s resignation, the benchmark EGX30 Index tumbled 16 percent in one week. The bourse has been closed since Jan. 27.

Economic Growth

Aboul Gheit said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Abdulaziz bin Faisal al-Saud were among the officials who have called him to discuss support and developments in the country, according to a statement posted on the ministry’s website late yesterday. (click here to read more…)

Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, dictatorship, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Inflation, Middle East, Mubarak, Persian Gulf, Politics, Qatar, Recession, Saudi Arabia, State of Emergency, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United Nations, United States | Leave a Comment »