Media in Iraq Accused of Contributing to Sunni- Shia Division

Middle EAst

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The media in Iraq has been accused of exacerbating the sectarian tensions that already exist between Sunnis and Shia groups. Both factions own and operate many of the newspapers and radio and TV stations in Iraq, converting the media in their propaganda tool to spread their message and alienate the two Muslim societies.

Some critics have pointed the negative role that media is playing in the sectarian confrontation. There has been an increase of Sunni and Shia attacks across the country and especially in Baghdad in the last months.

Salah Nasrawi writes in Al-Ahram newspaper that “the Iraqi media and journalists are being caught in the crossfire of the country’s sectarian divisions and driven by warlords and self-centred politicians who are inflaming sectarianism for their own greedy interests”.

Overall, the Iraqi media are split into three camps – Shia, Sunni and Kurdish, each of which leans towards its own community instead of reporting on inclusive terms.

Shias accuse Sunni-owned radio and television of taking sides by presenting rumours or sectarian rhetoric and giving platforms for speakers and preachers to incite hatred. On the other side, Sunnis denounce that the Iraqi Media Network IMN, a national institution funded by the public’s taxes, is a tool of the Shiite Prime Minister al-Maliki and its failure to cover on going protests in the Sunni provinces, reports Osama Al-Habahbeh on his article at International Media Support.

Facing this situation, the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission has responded with a warning: “They [the media] should change their discourse and stop sectarianism.”

The current situation in Iraq brings back memories from the bloody years of sectarian confrontation between 2005 and 2008, when on average 3.000 people were killed every month and the media was used to demonise the other communities.

Dr Ibrahim Al-Marash found during his fieldwork in 2007 for his book on Iraq media that “a common perception held amongst the Iraqi public, and even journalists themselves, is that different factions have used the newspapers, radio and TV as ‘tools of war’.”

It is usually said that media can foment the conflict but also contribute the solution. In this case, the media in Iraq is being used for the former as the journalist Salah states in his article. “Iraq’s media now reflects the country’s political and religious divisions rather than being a diverse and free media and a means to inform, educate and entertain people and act as an essential instrument of nation-building”.

Emad Burnat: “My next project is to make a second part of 5 Broken Cameras”

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Emad Burnat

Emad Burnat, co-director of 5 Broken Cameras, has visited more than 40 countries in the last 2 years to promote his  Palestinian documentary. His schedule is filled with screenings worldwide. In four days, he has visited 6 cities in the UK. Then, he will go back for a few days to his hometown Bil’in before heading to Switzerland and the United States. His desire to spread his personal story in order to bring more attention to Palestinian life in the West Bank has made him plan a second part of the film as his next project

Q: How has your life changed since 5 Broken Cameras?

A: I have been travelling around the world visiting more than 40 countries to promote my film. I have been Oscar-nominated and have had the chance to meet very famous people that I used to see on TV, but to be honest, nothing has changed in my life. I am the same person, I live in the same house and I have the same car. For me, what is important is looking to the future, the future of my kids and the village.

Q: Has the success of your documentary improved the life conditions of your neighbours in Bil’in?

A: People in the village are trying to rebuild and plant new trees in the land that we got back after the Israeli Court ordered the government to change the route of the wall near Bil’in. However, in reality, people continue to demonstrate against the wall and the settlements every Friday.

In general, the situation is worse. There is no change or sign of good change. We face the Israeli occupation every day and the expansion of settlements and confiscation of our land.

Q: After 5 Broken Cameras, what is next?

A:  I continue filming the changes and events in the village. My next idea is to make a second part of the documentary within 2 or 3 years. It will take time as I want to find a good story to tell. It is not about making another film or getting rich and doing business, but it is something related to my life, my kids, my friends, my land and my country. The message of making this documentary was to show my story, my people, to show the reality of what is really happening in order to make people think, to make a change.

Q: What are the obstacles that you will face making the next film?

A: I think the most difficult thing will be raising the funds to make the documentary. There is not enough support or interest in making documentaries in Palestine.

Q: Has the number of organisations or individuals approaching you for cooperation after the success of your documentary increased?

A: No one has approached me asking to work together. The most important thing for me it is to continue screening the documentary, especially to the people who do not know much about the Palestinian problem. My effort is to show them our story, the story of the Palestinian people.

 Interview published at yourmiddleeast.com

Reporting on the Kurdish issue seen as supporting terrorism in Turkey

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A march against arrests of journalists in Turkey on March 31, 2011. © Gökhan Tan

 

“The main obstacle for Kurdish journalists or journalists covering the Kurdish issue in Turkey is that they are considered ‘terrorists’ and accused of making propaganda of illegal organisations through media”, explained the Turkish journalist-activist Rengin Arslan.

Of the 39 media professionals detained in connection with their professional work in the country, 30 cases directly relate to their reporting on the Kurdish issue, according to the latest figures of Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

The majority of these journalists, arrested by the Turkish authorities, are accused of creating propaganda for or being a member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) –  an armed group, or Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK) – an umbrella political organisation. Both groups are banned and listed as terrorist organisations by Turkey.

The PKK has fought against the Turkish army since 1984, demanding change  from an independent state to autonomy and recognition of their culture rise and identity. The Kurdish minority in Turkey constitutes up to a fifth of the country’s population, with between 14 to 20 million located mainly in the southeastern region.

Rengin condemns the fact that many journalists can be accused of supporting or promoting propaganda of terrorist organisations and that the Kurdish media, in particular, is being targeted.

Aydin Yildiz, a reporter for the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency, was detained in October 2011 and charged for being a member of KCK, for attending demonstrations of civil disobedience and the funerals of PKK members.

“Aydin was covering the events and he had been targeted because he was a Kurdish journalist working for an outlet that opposes the administration”, stated Aydin’s lawyer in the Turkey’s Press Freedom Crisis report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Studies conducted by think tanks and human right organisations concur that the main problem in the country is “the lack of the government’s ability to distinguish between reporting on terrorism and terrorist propaganda”.

The indictments against journalists are filled with journalistic activities. “You have contact with your editorial desk, with your information sources that may be on the ground. You have contact with people involved in PKK that inform journalists of protests. All this journalistic relation is part of the accusation of the indictments, taking that it is a structural collaboration and it is not journalism”, stated Erol Önderoğlu, representative of RSF in Turkey.

The legal system – the major obstacle

The legal framework and the judicial system are the major obstacles for press freedom in the country.  Its opacity provides a broad scope for the Turkish judiciary to accuse and arrest journalists.

The Anti-Terror Law, published in 1991 and aimed at a Kurdish rebellion in south-eastern Turkey, provides a wide range of action against pro-Kurdish media and journalists that cover the Kurdish issue as the terms ‘propaganda’ and ‘terrorism’ are vaguely defined.

The European Commission Progress Report on Turkey stressed the need for the country to amend its anti-terror legislation. It criticised that the legal framework on organised crime and terrorism is “still imprecise and contains definitions that are open to abuse, leading to numerous indictments and convictions”.

Cases in which terrorism or anti-state crimes are alleged are being tried in “special authority courts”, which are endowed by the criminal procedure code with extraordinary powers. It can impede the defendant’s lawyer from accessing the case files and hold suspects in custody for months, even years, without a hearing.

The journalist Aydin Yildiz spent 10 months in pre-trial, being released on 13 July 2012 and still  awaiting trial.

Over the last few years, the government has introduced changes to improve the legal system. A judicial reform package was adopted in July 2012 to end the use of special courts’ authority to regional criminal courts, prohibit the seizure of written work before publication and also ease restrictions on media reporting of criminal investigations.

However, “these reforms fall short of a significant improvement regarding freedom of expression”, stated the European Commission.  Currently, the Turkish government is working on a fourth judicial reform package to address some of the critics of the European Court of Human Rights.

“It is my hope that the fourth reform package will include the much-needed amendments to the Anti-Terror Law and the criminal code; amendments which will clearly distinguish between the exercise of freedom of expression and freedom of the media and any form of support for terrorism”, declared Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reviewed the Kurdish media, concluding, for example, that some of the most targeted media in the Kurdistan region, such as the Dicle News Agency and the daily Özgür Gündem, publish opinion pieces by pro-Kurdish and PKK leaders, which draws particular indignation from the authorities, but do not openly or directly advocate the use of armed violence.

Experts in press freedom agree over the need for the government to be more open to critical views over the Kurdish issue, and understand freedom of expression as a two-sided coin with information and ideas that can be favourable and regarded as inoffensive, but can also shock and disturb the authorities.

However, the European Union sees that Turkey represses critical views and freedom of the press continues to be further restricted in practice.

Prosecutors and courts in Turkey often perceive dissidence and criticism, as well as the expressions of minority identities, primarily as a threat to the integrity of the state. The Turkish judiciary tends to protect the interests of the state instead of the public’s right to receive information.

An example of this is the ranking of the World Press Freedom Index of RSF that places Turkey in the bottom, situated in the 154th place out of 179. Turkey was also labelled, last year, as the world’s biggest prison for journalists. “A sad paradox for a country that portrays itself a regional democratic model,” RSF stated.

Article published at yourmiddleeast.com

Artist Marwan Shahinn

Graffiti: the art of revolution in Egypt

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Artist Marwan Shahinn

Artist Marwan Shahinn

This week, Egypt will celebrate the second anniversary of the Egyptian uprising and many walls in the country remain covered in graffiti, reminding passers-by of the historic changes that the Arab Spring brought to the region.

When the revolution started, many forms of activism came up; street art being among the most popular. While Tahrir Square became the paramount place for the protests, the streets of Cairo transformed into a canvas that documented what was happening in the country. Much of this graffiti can be found today in a book called Wall Talk: graffiti of the Egyptian Revolution.

Mohamed Mahmoud Street

Darla Hueske

Different Egyptian artists collaborated to publish a book with their work from the streets of Cairo. Graffiti is one of the purest and most sincere forms of expression for them.  “This is our soul. This is documenting every battle, every fight”, explained Sherif Borai, the book’s editor.

For example, portraits of “martyrs of the revolution” were drawn on walls and buildings of Cairo. The face of Khaled Said was painted on the façade of the Interior Ministry.

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Khaled Said was one of the best-known cases, 28 year-old Egyptian from Alexandria that was arrested and brutality tortured by the police on 6 January 2010. A Facebook group was created in order to denounce his case. The page called “We are all Khaled Said” had thousands of supporters and protesters triggered in the main cities of Egypt.

It galvanised Egyptian society, afraid and outraged that anyone could be Khaled Said, and it brought thousands of people to the street, being one of the seeds that would eventually grow into Egypt´s 25 January revolution.

Another representative piece of graffiti is the eye sniper, as many protesters were shot in the eye by the police security forces during the demonstrations.

Mohamed Mahmoud Street

One of the most famous examples is the case of Ahmed Harara, a 31-year old dentist, who lost the sight in both of his eyes. The first went during the “Friday of Anger” on 28 January 2011 when a policeman from the Central Security Forces (CSF) shot at him. The second was a few months later, on 20 November, when he was hit by a pellet in Mohamed Mahmoud Street.

Some of the most popular works of graffiti were painted in Mohamed Mahmoud Street. It was an important artery for the protests as it connects the Interior Ministry with Tahrir Square and it was one of the bloodiest places as “more than 120 protesters were killed by the security forces in the first 17 months, 50 of them on this street”, stated Amnesty International.

Although, the government attempted to erase and whitewash some of the graffiti , the artists went back to the streets and repainted them. “In Mohamed Mahmoud Street we can still see layers and layers of graffiti”, affirmed Sherif Borai.

Egyptian presidents: the artists’ targets

Before the revolution, the image of Hosni Mubarak “was never used in graffiti or anything else, talking about him in any way other than praise and nepotism wasn’t allowed”, explained Karem Ibrahim, Egyptian artist and activist.

However, during and after the revolution, Mubarak has been one of the artists’ main targets. The same happened when Mohammed Morsi was elected President.

Karem affirmed, “his image was used so heavily in graffiti and other media forms to ridicule him and his party. Most of the time, there were no attempts from the Morsi camp to punish the makers”.

Screen shot 2013-01-10 at 17.19.05

The Egyptian uprising marked a milestone in the country’s history in all aspects. “After the revolution, people can say more, and more openly. The holy ring over the ruler’s head is broken and I don’t think it will be coming back any time soon”, stated the Egyptian activist.

From the beginning of the Egyptian uprising, people were inspired to fight the regime. Not only with graffiti but with slogans that were heard all over the world, such as “Olna aeesh adala horya”, (We ask for bread, justice, and freedom), and “Ash-shaʻb yurid isqaṭ an-niẓam” (the people want the fall of the regime). They also used humour to create satirical sketches to describe that the status quo in the region had changed for good such as  Le Journal du ZABA’s videos.

 

An updated version of this article appeared on yourmiddleeast.com

La crisis económica obliga a miles de españoles a hacer las maletas

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La delicada situación económica por la que pasa España, con el dato de desempleo que supera el 25% por primera vez en la historia, ha empujado a muchos españoles a marcharse al extranjero, siendo el Reino Unido uno de los destinos más elegidos.

En los últimos cinco años, el número de españoles residentes en el Reino Unido ha aumentado más de un 30%, según datos facilitados por la Oficina Nacional de Estadísticas británica (ONS, siglas en inglés).

Hasta junio de 2012, el total de españoles en el Reino Unido era de 77.000. Cifra a la que podríamos añadir dos más, Luis Valverde yAlberto Valenzuela, dos amigos que cambiaron el sur de España, por el sur de Inglaterra. Llegaron a Brighton & Hove hace casi dos meses en busca de trabajo y con la idea de aprender inglés.

Alberto y Luis dejaron el sur de España por el sur de Inglaterra.

Alberto y Luis dejaron el sur de España por el sur de Inglaterra.

Alberto, licenciado en Administración y Dirección de Empresas llevaba ocho meses en paro, después de haber aprobado unas oposiciones de las que nunca pudo encontrar plaza. Luis, profesor de Educación Física e Inglés, llevaba buscando trabajo un mes después de que no le renovaran en el colegio donde trabajaba.

“Decidimos venir a Inglaterra porque no había posibilidades de empleo en España y porque queríamos aprender inglés. Pero nos hemos encontrado que aquí hay muchos españoles y parece más bien que hemos venido a perfeccionar el español”, explica Luis.

Brighton & Hove es la segunda ciudad, después de Londres, donde más españoles han solicitado darse de alta en la seguridad social en el Reino Unido, según datos del Departamento de Trabajo y Pensiones.

Kieran Magee director de la agencia de trabajo Fpr group en Brighton & Hove explica, “esta ciudad es un destino clave porque tiene una ubicación estratégica, a menos de una hora de Londres, con playa y con un gran volumen de turismo, lo que ayuda a crear empleo. En concreto, la ciudad cuenta con más de 1.000 hoteles y 11.000 puestos de trabajo en el sector de la hostelería y turismo”.

Por ejemplo, el embarcadero de la ciudad, el Brighton Pier, es la tercera atracción más popular en Inglaterra con 6 millones de visitas al año, y la tercera empresa en dar empleo en Brighton & Hove. Cuentan con una plantilla de entre 70 personas en temporada baja y de 400 en verano. La empresa reconoce que el número de españoles que trabajan en el Pier ha aumentado de forma considerable.

“Hace dos años el porcentaje de trabajadores españoles era de un 2%, mientras esta temporada de verano alcanzó el 30%. Pero hablando del número de curriculums que nos llegan, el porcentaje es aun más alto. A finales de verano la proporción era de 80% de españoles, 20% de resto de nacionalidades con un perfil de entre 22-28 años con estudios universitarios y con un nivel de inglés bajo”, explica Arturo de los Reyes, Asistente de Recursos Humanos en el Brighton Pier.

Arturo y Arantxa llevan casi tres años en Brighton y sin fecha de vuelta.

Arturo y Arantxa llevan casi tres años en Brighton y sin fecha de vuelta.

Arturo se suma a los miles de españoles que han dejado España por el Reino Unido. Él y su novia Arantxa vinieron con la idea de quedarse un año, pero llevan ya casi 3.

“Cuando vinimos, no lo hicimos huyendo de España. Teníamos trabajo y veníamos a pasar un año para mejorar nuestro inglés y mejorar nuestras perspectivas de trabajo a la vuelta. Pero a medida que pasaba el tiempo nuestra situación mejoraba aquí pero las cosas empeoraban en España”, dice Arantxa.

Reconocen que los principios fuero duros. Apenas hablaban inglés. Trabajaron dando comidas y haciendo camas en un hotel y como camareros en un restaurante español. Con el tiempo, se han sacado el certificado Advance de la Universidad de Cambridge y piensan ir a por el Proficiency, que es el nivel más alto que otorga esta institución.

Actualmente, Arantxa trabaja en un bar de vinos y da clases particulares de español con la idea de sacarse el título de profesora de español en el Instituto Cervantes, y Arturo está preparándose para la nueva temporada de trabajo fuerte en el Brighton Pier.

Luis y Alberto se han hecho a la idea de que al principio tendrán que trabajar de lo que sea. “Éramos conscientes que venir aquí era trabajar en restaurantes o en la cocina. Sabíamos que durante el primer año no puedes aspirar a más a no ser que vengas con un nivel de inglés alto, lo que nosotros todavía no tenemos”, explica Alberto.

Hablar de cuándo se van a volver a España es un interrogante. “Venimos con la idea de quedarnos hasta que nos dejen. Si nos va bien no tenemos fecha de vuelta”, afirma Luis.

Arturo y Arantxa tampoco se han puesto fecha. “Mis padres siempre me preguntaban cuándo íbamos a volver pero ahora me dicen que ni se me ocurra”, dice Arantxa. “Y no pensamos hacerlo, por lo menos a corto plazo. Aquí siempre salen oportunidades, mientras que en España, por ahora, sabes que no hay nada que hacer”, asegura Arturo.

A schism within Israel’s society?

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The recent events that brought the ending of the exemption from compulsory military service for ultra-Orthodox men have shown the cracks between the secular and the ultra-Orthodox within Israel’s society.

The exemption, called Tal Law, started in 1948 when the Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion waived military service for 400 students; a number that increased over time to 37,000 in 2011.

They were dedicated to studying the Torah, Jewish Law, instead of doing military service that, in Israel lasts for 3 years for men and 2 for women. However, the Tal Law was suspended last August as Israel’s Supreme Court considered it unconstitutional.

With this decision, it is expected that the number of ultra-Orthodox conscripts will increase but not the interaction between them and the seculars. Prof. Yagil Levy, a senior lecturer at the Department of Sociology, Political Science and Communication in Open University of Israel, states that “the Haredi rabbis condition any integration (to the Israeli Forces) with separation to avoid secularization impacts and, of course, interaction with women”.

The Haredi, as the ultra-Orthodox are often known in Israel, traditionally keep to their own towns or neighbourhoods; they even have their own education system. Many ultra-Orthodox schools refuse to teach the core curriculum; so thousands of pupils grow up with only a rudimentary knowledge of maths and none of other sciences, foreign languages or non-religious history.

They also see the segregation between men and women as a strict religious rule to follow. This then creates clashes between them and the secular. For example, the attack of a woman for refusing to move to the back of a bus in Jerusalem and the harassment of an 8-year-old girl over her dress on her way to school in the town of Beit Shemesh last year.

Ultra-Orthodox men were responsible for these acts and justified their actions saying that they were defending the halakha (Jewish law). However, secular and moderately religious Israelis denounced these actions as a serious interference with their public lives. 

The conflict between secular and religious citizens in Israel is not something new; the above clashes are only the latest examples. In 1951, cars and buses were burnt in protest against those who did not follow the Sabbath observance, and, in 1958, ultra-Orthodox men protested against the opening of a mixed gender swimming pool in Jerusalem.

These examples draw a historical line of division between the secular and the religious community – a division that started even before the state was established.

When the state of Israel was created, a problem had to be addressed: how could a schism within the Jewish community be avoided? The decision was made to accommodate religious demands that were, at the same time, a challenge to the freedom of conscience guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence of Israel.

For example, in the 50’s, the rabbinical courts were granted with the absolute control of marriage and divorce laws, and the religious day of Sabbath was declared the national day of rest, which led to the prohibition of public transport on Saturdays.

These policies remain today in Israeli society which, among others, have created a sentiment of discontent among the secular population against the religious sector, as the former feel that the state has a permissive policy toward the latter.

Secular and moderately religious Israelis have come to see the ultra-Orthodox as an economic and social threat. More than half of ultra-Orthodox men are unemployed, in comparison with 14% of secular men, according to figures provided by the Israeli government – Figures that could increase,  as it is expected that the population of this group, which today conforms 10%, will rise to 17% in 20 years time. They have the highest birth rate, having, on average, eight children per family.

The situation among Israeli society is often described in the streets with the following sentence, “In Israel 1/3 of the nation serves in the army, 1/3 works, and 1/3 pays taxes. The problem is that this is all the same third”.

Remains of the repression in Egypt, an obstacle for press freedom

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Cairo has become one of the ten most dangerous places to work as a journalist. 75 journalists have been physically attacked and 81 imprisoned since February 2010, according to Reporters Without Borders (RWB).

Mohamed El Sayed, assistant editor for the Egyptian and Sudanese affairs newspaper Al Hayat, was one of the journalists to face the dangers of being in the epicenter of the uprising in the Egyptian capital in January 2011. “We were chased by the regime, police, and military agents especially the first days of February 2011. I was detained for 17 hours with a couple of journalists in a school at the beginning of the Egyptian revolution”, explained Mohamed.

Some journalists were hounded, harassed, and imprisoned without evidence during the first days of the uprising. However, a year after the first protests in Tahrir Square, the situation has not changed much.

“I went back to Cairo for a week on the first anniversary of the uprising and the situation was the same. We were surrounded by military and police agents and they tried to harass journalists and activists”, affirmed Mohamed.

These repressive methods have contributed to Egypt’s fall in the Press Freedom Index 2011-2012 released by RWB. Egypt fell from 127th to 166th.

Remains of the regime

The departure of the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, has not meant the fall of the entire infrastructure that supported the regime. Some critics state that the military is using the same old methods of censorship and intimidation of Mubarak’s regime.

The Supreme Council Army Forces (SCAF), which replaced the rais and will hold power until a new president is elected, has taken over the state media.

A few months after the revolution, people demanded the departure of those who were part of Mubarak’s regime in the public media. “The SCAF changed them but replaced them with military correspondents. 4 out of 7 state media chief editors were military correspondents who had long careers in the institution,” explained Mohammed.

However, not only journalists are being targeted, but also netizens who use internet to give their opinion. Both groups have been prosecuted before military tribunals for “insulting the army” or “spreading harmful information”. Egypt’s Penal Code and press law establishes prison and fines not less than 5000 Egyptian pounds (£530) if they are found guilty.

Some analysts believe that these terms are vague and they are used as a tool to prevent public criticism of the government and the military. “Now, there is to some extent press freedom, more than Mubarak’s period, but still restricted to critics to the SCAF”, affirmed Dr Mishrif, from King’s College London.

Maikel Nabil, an activist who had a blog about the military, suffered the consequences of criticizing the army. “He spent 10 months in prison and was condemned for two years. He was pardoned at the end of January after huge pressure from the political factions in Egypt,” explained Ahmed Kazi, journalist and activist.

The post that caused his prosecution can be found in Nabil’s blog. He wrote on March 2011, “the army did not stand by the people’s side, not even once during this revolution and that the army’s conduct was deceptive all the time and that it was protecting its own interests”.

A new agora

Even though, journalists and citizens know the consequences if they cross the red lines, they have not silenced them.

“Everyone in Egypt is talking about politics and the situation of Egypt. People express their concerns and fears about how the SCAF handles things in the country. Regardless of what the regime is doing people are participating actively”, affirmed Ahmed.

Egyptians have engaged in political debates that take place not only in the streets, cafes, and universities, but also on Facebook and Twitter. The social networks were important channels to spread the revolution and gather people in Tahrir Square at the beginning of the uprising, but also now after a year of the revolt.

“It has become a good channel for activists to communicate and to spread what happens in any inch of the country. The social media is playing a vital role in keeping the revolution going on”, stated Ahmed.

The social network has, therefore, become an important tool for communication and also a paramount source of information. For Mohammed, “twitter is at the moment the most credible source and keeps you updated all the time”.

The military has also seen the useful side of the social network. “They have a Facebook page that is used as the only channel of communication between the army and the people”, affirmed Ahmed.

The popularity of the social network in Egypt has situated the country with the highest number of Facebook users in the Arab world. Facebook had over 4 million Egyptian users in November 2010, now has over 9 million.

Social networks have converted into a new agora where to discuss and inform about what happens in the country, where the Egyptians keep demanding the reform of state media and the fall of prison and fine for criticizing the army.

Published in Mernet Newsletter April 2012

Tourism industry in the Mediterranean “paradise”: Can there be limits to aggressive growth?

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Yacht marina by Luis Paredes

What do one in three tourist share in the World? The answer is: they choose the Mediterranean to spend their holiday. Mild temperatures, a wide range of landscape and endless sandy beaches attract every year millions of tourists.

According to the final report of the “Coastal Tourism in the Mediterranean: Adapting to Climate Change” conference, which took place in Cagliari, Italy, from 8 to 10 June 2009, 300 million people visited the Mediterranean region in 2008, turning it into the world’s most popular destination.

The huge number of tourists has provided an important income to Mediterranean countries which have developed the tourist sector as one of the principal pillar of their economy. It has got positive effects on the society such as the growth of employment and promoting knowledge of culture and customs. In the case of local areas, the tourism helps to conserve the traditions which attract tourists to the region.

However, disadvantages have overtaken a number of advantages in most of the cases. The 80% of travellers’’ fees go to the airlines, hotels and other international companies, and therefore local businessmen and workers do not benefit much, according to the report “The Economic and Social Impact of Tourism”, by Batir Mirbabayev and Malika Shagazatova.

The destruction of the Mediterranean landscape has other negative effects, too. The view of virgin seas where the highest spot was marked by the vegetation has been replaced by the sprawl construction of touristic resorts, typically in the form of 20-storey towers, which repeat themselves throughout the coastline. The Mediterranean basin has got more than 40,000 km of coastline, more than half of which already heavily urbanized.

The desire to offer apartments with “zero distance from the sea” has been driving the individual builders and property development companies into building houses adjacent to the sea where the homeowners can nearly touch the water by simply leaning off their balconies. As a consequence, the massive touristic regeneration and infrastructure projects continue to pose a destructive threat on the ecosystem and biodiversity of Mediterranean coastal landscapes which contain 20% of the world’s plant species.

For example, in Murcia, southern Spain, the natural park Cabo Cope is going to become the biggest touristic resort in Europe. The park was unprotected by the local government in order to build 22 hotels with a total capacity of twenty thousand rooms, a marina big enough to host twenty thousand boats, five golf courses and ten shopping centres, according to the latest report by Greenpeace, entitled Destrucción a toda costa (this satirical title can be translated as “Costly destruction of all coasts”).

The new city will receive sixty thousand people which involve a significant increase in the consumption of natural resources such as fresh water. The Mediterranean coastline hosts most of its tourists over a three months period in the summer, a time when the water sources record the highest level of consumption. Mediterranean countries already suffer severe water shortages which are exacerbated by the amount used to watering gardens, golf courses and filling swimming pools. The situation gets worse due to the increase in temperatures and lack of rain due to climate change.

Thinking of solutions

The key phrase which explains how the tourism has become an enemy against the earth is the “irresponsible development”. For so many years the absence of any protective legislation, the ignorance of the damage to the ecosystem and the desire to make profit has shaped the tourism policies in the region.

Those who are against this trend stand and campaign for a sustainable tourism. They argue that countries should maximize the positive economic, social and cultural effects of tourism and fully reap its benefits, while minimizing its negative social and environmental impacts, according to the facts and opinions complied by the World Tourism Organization.

The United Nations agency has adopted a global code of ethics to promote an equitable and responsible world tourism order. The code highlights

, and its role also as a protector of environment by its support for the tourism activities which preserve the ecosystem and biodiversity.

If tourism development industry does not transform itself into a sustainable industry, the natural resources will be exhausted and the idyllic Mediterranean basin will become one of the last destinations where tourists would want to go for holiday.

 Published in Mernet Newsletter December 2009