Sexual harassment: a constant in Egyptian women’s life


Image“Their hands were all over my body and up and under my destroyed clothes. Again, my pants and underwear were pulled down violently and several men, at the same time, raped me with their fingers”. This is part of a testimony of a victim that was raped during the protests in Tahrir Square in June 2012. It is one of more than 20 stories that Egyptian human rights organisations have compiled from victims and witnesses from 2011 to 2013.

The testimonies tell a similar story each time: hundreds of men surrounding the victim and tearing-off clothes, veils and underwear to touch her violently and, in the worst cases, to rape her with their fingers and even sharp objects.

Sexual harassment, either verbal or physical, has become rife in Egypt, in particular, in the heart of the Cairo protests – Tahrir Square. Over 100 cases of sexual assault were reported during the last demonstrations that let the army take over and depose the president, Muhammad Morsi.

These numbers highlight the failure of the government and political institutions to address violence against women in Egypt. “No one had ever been accountable for what happens in Tahrir Square or during demonstrations. For example, in January 2013, cases were documented but there was no reaction from the government, no investigations were opened. People know that whatever happens in the square, there will never be any accountability for it”, explains Masa Amir, a researcher at Nazra Feminist Studies in Cairo.

Sexual harassment is an epidemic in the country, as is reflected in a UN Women study that reported that 99.3% of women in Egypt have suffered one form of sexual harassment or another; the majority saying to have been touched.

Amir denounces the inaction of the political institutions that “rather to address the issue, they use it as a political tool against the opposition”. She gives the example of Essam Al-Haddad, Assistant to the former President on Foreign Relations and International Cooperation, who drew a line between the two demonstrations on 29th June to conclude that the assaults indicate that the “crowds in Tahrir are out of control”.

The ones who are addressing the issue in Egypt are mainly individuals and civil societies who have launched grassroots initiatives to support women and raise awareness of violence against women.

For example the ‘HarassMap’ is an online initiative for victims and witnesses all over Egypt to anonymously share their experiences of harassment, and to report it through mobile phones and social media. The map collects all reports with information that tells the user what kind of harassment was and where it happened.

There is also the initiative of the Tahrir Bodyguards – volunteers that can be recognised by their yellow helmets and neon vests during the protests. They try to prevent sexual harassment while women are in the streets protesting.

A cartoon has also been created. It is Superrmakh – an Egyptian superhero, inspired by Superman cartoons, who helps women and girls stop their harassers.

With this initiative, Ahmed Makhloufto, the creator of Supermakh, wanted to break a taboo within Egyptian society by talking openly about sexual harassment and highlighting the pretexts and other factors that allow for it to continue.

The figures provided on sexual harassment in Egypt may be even higher as many cases remain unreported. The UN Women’s report stated that only 0.3 of women who were harassed contacted the police.

In Egypt, denouncing the harasser is a challenge for the victim as the police tend to convince the women not to pursue it further. “The police usually say it is ok, nothing really happened. Why do you want to get this man into trouble? And even if they document what happened, it is not treated urgently. The survivors often think that if they go to the police, they will be put under a lot of stress, no investigation will take place and nothing will come out of it”, confirms Amir.

The victims face a culture of impunity, denial and inaction regarding sexual harassment in a country where there is also a social wall to overcome. “The victims need a very supportive family and to be strong enough to speak out because our society tends to blame the girls for being harassed. They cannot tell their father or brother because she will be blamed. They usually say: you may have done something wrong or worn something that was not decent. And if they don’t blame her, they tell her not to talk about it because it will bring shame and disgrace to the family”, explains Nada Nashat from Centre for Egyptian Women Legal Assistance (ECWRA).

Despite all the obstacles, Nashat affirms that the number of women who speak out and report the harassment has increased. Another testimony of a victim of sexual harassment concluded, “we will not be frightened; we will not hide in our homes”.

Protests in Turkey show Erdogan’s Control over Mainstream Media

Middle EAst

penguins CNN

While one of the biggest protests was taking place in Istanbul in decades, the mainstream media turned a blind eye to reporting what was happening in the streets. The major TV channels such as CNN Turk and NTV chose to broadcast a cooking program or a documentary about penguins, instead of showing images of the clashes during which the police used brutal force, and teargas on peaceful protesters that were trying to stop the  demolition of  Gezi Park.

The mainstream media failed to report on the initial events and fueled the anger of many Turks who questioned the media blackout.

Emre Caliskan, a Turkish freelance journalist, points out one of the main reasons, “the majority of media companies have investments in other sectors and they are afraid to lose their contracts and be in the blacklist of the government”.

The media outlets in Turkey are owned by large conglomerates with interests in other sectors such as construction, energy, finance and tourism, as the study ‘Caught in the Wheels of Power’ published by TESEV states.

“Media owners were extremely dependent on the clientelist relations with the state which enabled them to acquire tenders to undertake massive projects financed by the public. This has prevented these companies from performing the watchdog function expected from the media in established democracies”, concluded the study.

Dr. Ceren Sözeri, co-author of TESEV report and professor at Galatasary University, gives an example of the close relationship between media owners and government. “A few weeks ago, Ferit Şahenk who owns Dogus Media, one of the biggest media groups in the country, took a big public procurement from the government, a new port for Istanbul called Galataport. As Prime Minister mentions, Şahenk always says that “Thank you my Prime Minister we have expanded thanks to you”, states Ceren.

One of his channels is NTV, whose chief editor resigned and apologised for the failure to inform the public about the protests. The protesters burnt out one of NTV’s news van which stands now as a symbol at Taksim square.

Self-censorship is a common phenomenon in the Turkish media that affects in particular journalists and reporters who fear to be fired. The European Commission has reported that several journalists have lost their jobs for writing articles openly critical of the government.

“The government interpretation of freedom of speech is becoming sharper and sharper by time. If you do not share the agenda, discourse and views of the government, then you do not have space in the media to express them”, affirms Emre.

Turkey was placed near the bottom (154 of 179 countries) of the World Press Freedom index and labelled the world’s biggest prison for journalists last year by Reporters without Borders.

Some TV channels did broadcast the Gezi protest images, such as Halk TV which belongs to the opposition political party (CHP). However, the Turkish public watchdog has fined these channels for “harming the physical, moral and mental development of children and young people” by broadcasting coverage of the Gezi Park protests.


In this case, as in the Arab protests, social media has shown to be the key channel used to report and find out what was happening in Turkey.

“The social media was very useful since the beginning. After the first attack we shared information about “where the police is”, “which way is safe” and “where to reunite”. In the first 5-6 days the news about Gezi park were only in the social media”, explains Ufuk Tanişan, who has been protesting in Gezi Park every day.

On the first night, more than 3,000 tweets per minute were sent about the protests, according to a study by New York University’s Social Media and Political Participation Laboratory.

The great influence of social media was also shown when a campaign was launched on Twitter to raise money for a full-page ad to call for support in The New York Times. More than $50,000 was collected in 21 hours and the ad was published in the newspaper on 7th June.

The discourse of the government has been very critical towards social media. Erdogan defined it as “the biggest menace to society” and protesters were detained for posting “misinformation” via Twitter.

People in Turkey have turned to social media, and alternative and independent sources to inform themselves, such as Bianet, an activist media organisation with a version in English, and  What is happening in Istanbul?, a website that was created by a group of activists in Gezi. This website aims “to provide up to date and verified information on the events in Istanbul as the majority of Turkish mainstream media continues to either ignore the mass movement that we’re witnessing on the streets of Istanbul, or distort the facts”.

Ceren highlights that “one of the positive gains of the Gezi resistance is that people are more conscious about the media in the country and that small and independent media outlets will gain more importance in the near future”.

Article published at Media Diversity Institute

How to Report on Refugees and Migration?

Europe, Uncategorized


2012 has registered the highest number of refugees and internally displaced people than at any time since 1994, according to the latest data published today by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). They report that more than 45 million people were displayed last year.

The coming Refugee Day, 20th June, has led to an increase in the number of articles in the media covering this topic, especially due to the conflict in Syria, which has emerged as a major new factor in global displacement.

Several official studies and reports have addressed the question of how to report on refugees and migration and analysed the mistakes that journalists make when they cover this issue.

For example, one of the bad practises among the media is that “little coverage is given to the human rights abuses and conflicts that force people to flee their homes, yet providing this global context would improve the quality of debate around asylum issues”. This is one of the conclusions of Reporting on Refugees: Guidence by & for Journalists, a study published by National Union of Journalists in Dublin.

UNHCR stated that war remains the dominant cause. A full 55 percent of all refugees listed in its report come from just five war-affected countries: Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Syria and Sudan.

Inaccurate terminology and commentary have also increased confusion; leading to prejudice. Frequently the words ‘refugee’ and ‘asylum seeker’ are used interchangeably, without distinction.

The report Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Media Briefing published by the Information Centre about Asylum and Refugees (ICAR) points to the same conclusion. ICAR analysed the UK media finding that journalists do not distinguish between migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.

They also denounce the bad practice of providing inaccurate figures. “Press articles and broadcast programmes contain expressions such as “thousands” or “hundreds” of refugees, which do not demonstrate a fair and balanced way to report about migration and humanitarian issues, nor do they make any reference to available statistical data. Precise data is crucial when talking about information on asylum seekers and refugees”.

The UNHCR has a website with statistical data available for any country. They provide data, reports, maps, and statistical information for field operations, and also statistical reports on refugees, asylum-seekers and returned refugees.

The ICAR report reveals also that refugees and asylum seekers who have been victims of harassment feel strongly that the press presents hostile images of asylum seekers and refugees and that those increase the likelihood of local persecution of individual asylum seekers and refugees.

The report suggests that “the best way to contrast the misrepresentation of refugees and asylum seekers is by pushing for their integration into mainstream media in order to have representatives from refugee backgrounds in the industry. This leads to the production of more diverse information and policies aimed at engaging different audiences”.


Furthermore, The Media for Diversity and Migrant Integration Project (MEDIVA) has compiled the codes of practice and ethics of journalists in 27 EU members’ states in order to identify relevant ‘non-discrimination’ provisions that reporters should follow.

MEDIVA seeks to strengthen the capacity of the media to reflect the increasing diversity of European societies and thus foster a better understanding of immigrant integration processes at a time when social cohesion and integration policies are put to the test by an acute economic crisis.

On the other hand, the Migrants’ Rights Network awarded this year examples of outstanding media coverage of refugee and migrant women in the UK. They looked for stories that challenged myths and stereotypes, and explored new angles on women and forced migration.

The winner in the print category was Zoe Williams for her article in the Guardian ‘Evicting asylum seekers? We just follow orders’. The winner in the online category was Len Grant for the blog Life Without Papers, which shines a light into the hidden lives of undocumented families. The winner in the broadcast category was Jackie Long for her report for Channel 4 News on chaos in the UK Border Agency and the impact that this has had on one individual refugee woman.

To mark Refugee Day, UNHCR has launched a campaign ‘If your family had just 1 minute to flee, what would you take?’. For example, Magbola Alhadi  (on the photo) chose to bring with her a pot when her and her children were forced to flee after  soldiers came and opened fire on their village.“It was small enough to carry on their 12-day journey, yet big enough to cook for her family”.

Article published at Media Diversity Institute

Media in Iraq Accused of Contributing to Sunni- Shia Division

Middle EAst


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”



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

Reporting on the Kurdish issue seen as supporting terrorism in Turkey


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

Artist Marwan Shahinn

Graffiti: the art of revolution in Egypt



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.

Screen shot 2013-01-24 at 10.17.04

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