March For England Embraces Brighton

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Screen shot 2014-05-08 at 11.06.02Every year on the first Sunday after St George´s Day (23 April), the March for England takes place in Brighton. Some people mark it in the calendar as a celebration of English patriotism, others cross it as a racist and fascist event.

It brings to the city, nationalists from across England to march, local anti-racists and anti-fascists groups to counter-protest and the security forces from all around the country to keep both groups apart and avoid violent clashes.

This year, about 200 people have taken part in the main nationalist march and between 400 to 500 counter-protesters have turned out to oppose them, welcoming them with the musical rhythm of Black is Black and several banners saying ‘Racists are not welcome here.’

One of those banners is held by a young girl on the seafront, who prefers not to be named. She says without taking her eyes off the march, “everything they say about being not racist or facist, is a complete lie. You can look at what they write on Internet and forums. This is just a front for their very racist and violent groups. They are not welcome in Brighton and they come here purely to rile people because they know this is a multicultural and liberal city.”

A few meters from where the girl stands, Mark Able hands out flyers against the march and copies of the Socialist Worker newspaper. He defines the event as “a horrible, racist and facist march that we keep having to put up with every year in Brighton even though very few Brighton people, if any, want it here. They come down and try to intimidate people but we always get a good turn out of anti-fascists and anti-racists.

John, who takes part in the march wearing a St George’s Cross flag as a cape, opposes and rejects all that has been said above. He explains, “the March for England is a day to highlight traditional values, cultural heritage and to remember the past. It is a celebration day”.

However, there doesn’t seem to be much joy and celebration. Hundreds of security personnel confine the nationalists inside a line of police, then police vans, and mounted policemen create another circle and finally, barriers are displayed along the seafront to separate both groups as much apart as possible.

Michelle Banks, all dressed up in white and red colours, says “I come down to Brighton from Somerset every year and used to do it with my kids, but not anymore as the confrontation has become worse”.

When asked, why not march somewhere else where they could do so without such opposition she responds, “the opposition we find makes me to want to come to Brighton even more. It is a free country and it is our right.”

In the city there is general consensus to reject this march. The main parties in the city held a meeting weeks before the event took place calling to ban or move the march somewhere else. Their message was clear. ”Please, don´t come here. It is not about politics. Your union does not represent our city and you are causing trouble”, affirms Lianne De Mello, from the Green Party.

Parties and community groups state that the march only causes problems for residents, intimidating the diverse communities of Brighton, disruptions for tourists, businesses and public transport, as the march takes place in the city centre. Last year, the police operation alone cost £500,000.

The stand that the police have taken is to maintain the same route as previous years. “The police keep them confined to one place in order to control them and limit the amount of trouble that can be caused. They march and then they head back to the train station and leave the city at the end of the day until the next year”, concludes De Mello.

 

 

 

 

 

“It is easier to be a journalist in Syria than in Egypt”

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The number of reports of arrests, harassment, detention and prosecution of national and international journalists in Egypt, as well as, violent attacks, has increased considerably in recent months. Therefore some could argue that media has become one of the main targets of the Egyptian government.

“The latest salvo in a propaganda campaign by the state-run and pro-military news media” in Egypt is a leaked video showing the arrest of two journalists in December 2013, reports The New York Times concluding that “the goal is to paint the arrested journalists as part of a terrorist conspiracy”. Both journalists shown in the video are established correspondents who were working for the English language affiliate of Al Jazeera.

Peter Greste, is one of Al-Jazeera journalists detained on suspicion of broadcasting false news in the service of the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood. He sent a letter from prison asking “how you do accurately and fairly report on Egypt’s ongoing political struggle without talking to everyone involved. (…) The state will not tolerate hearing from the Muslim Brotherhood or any other critical voices. The prisons are overflowing with anyone who opposes or challenges the government.”

Many professional associations and media outlets such as CNN, BBC, Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) and others, have condemned the arrests and called the Egyptian government to put an end to their “arbitrary imprisonment” of journalists that are seen as spies or supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Egyptians see a journalist as a traitor, someone who has an agenda and plot to destroy the country. The situation has deteriorated to the point that walking in the street with a camera is one of the most dangerous things”, explains Sergi Cabeza, a Spanish freelance journalist who has covered the Egyptian revolution since its beginning, during an interview.

Journalists working in Cairo denounce the hostility and violent attacks they suffer not only from the security forces, but increasingly from civilians. Sharif Abdel Kouddous, correspondent for Democracy Now in Egypt, tells the story of an Italian journalist friend who was “surrounded by an angry mob that set upon him with fists and sticks after a man began screaming that he was a member of Al Jazeera”.

Cabeza says, “it is easier to work as a journalist in Syria than in Egypt, at least it was before journalists faced to be kidnap.” He explains, “in Syria, the threat is a bomb, but you can walk in the street with a camera and you can interview anyone without being attacked. However, in Egypt you face huge hostility from the society.”

The government and its supporters say foreign media are distorting the situation in Egypt, which they argue is on the path to democracy. The Egyptian authorities have always sent the message that they seek a broad consensus, hearing and representing all the voices of society, in particular since they deposed Mohamed Morsi from the presidency last summer.

But the reports from Egypt claim that even tourists who take a picture of the Nile can be taken to the local police station because someone has confused them with journalists and reported them to the Egyptian authorities.

These incidents are just some among many that journalists in Cairo can tell. Kouddous says that these acts against media professionals “are direct result of a state-sponsored vilification campaign against journalists in general, and Al Jazeera in particulars.”

With the new anti-terrorist law, journalists are now prohibited from having or disseminating Muslim Brotherhood publications or recordings and face a possible five-year jail sentence if they violate the ban. “This prohibition and the arbitrary arrests of media personnel constitute grave threats to freedom of information in Egypt,” affirms Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Media professionals asked the Egyptian Minister of Information if interviewing a member of the Muslim Brotherhood would be considered a crime but they have not received a clear answer, although some examples incline the scale to an affirmative answer. A Dutch Journalist fled Egypt after she was accused of “fabricating news” and being member of a terrorist plot, reports The Guardian. She states that she was targeted because of meeting Aljazeera journalists in Cairo.

Where the country is heading is not very optimistic. Cairo Institute for Human Rights reports that during the referendum coverage in January the Egyptian media “have stigmatised those who hold opinions that differ from their own” and “deliberately abandoned standards of diversity and balance, choosing instead to wholeheartedly support and leaving no space for opposition or ambivalent voices.”

The Egyptian regime has silenced those voices that are critical and dissident and allowed only those that support its actions. These practices towards media and journalists remind of the ones used in another conflicts such as Yugoslavia, where divisions in society aggravated and moderate and minority voices were excluded. Cabeza defines that the current situation is seen by the Egyptian regime as a picture in black and white, “either you are with us or you are against us.”

Article published on Media Diversity Institute

Sexual harassment: a constant in Egyptian women’s life

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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”.

How to Report on Refugees and Migration?

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Refugeeday

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”.

Refugeeday2

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

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”.

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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

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