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Inside the Middle East
July 14, 2009
Posted: 806 GMT

(CNN) - A family in Saudi Arabia has taken a genie to court, alleging theft and harassment, according to local media.

The lawsuit filed in Shariah court accuses the genie of leaving them threatening voicemails, stealing their cell phones and hurling rocks at them when they leave their house at night, said Al-Watan newspaper.

An investigation was under way, local court officials said.

"We have to verify the truthfulness of this case despite the difficulty of doing so," Sheikh Amr Al Salmi, the head of the court, told Al-Watan. "What makes this case and complaint more interesting is that it wasn't filed by just one person. Every member of the family is part of this case."

The family, which has lived in the same house near the holy city of Medina for 15 years, said it became aware of the spirit in the past two years.

"We began hearing strange noises," the head of the family, who requested anonymity, told Al-Watan. "In the beginning, we didn't take it seriously, but after that, stranger things started happening and the children got really scared when the genie began throwing stones."

A local charity has moved the family to a temporary residence while a court investigates, the newspaper said.

In Islamic cultures, a belief in genies, or jinns, is common.

Genies not only appear in pre-Islamic fiction such as "Arabian Nights," but are also mentioned in the Quran.

Many Saudis believe invisible genies live among them and are capable of demonic possession and revenge.

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Filed under: Saudi Arabia


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July 13, 2009
Posted: 928 GMT

CNN's Ben Wedeman reports on a project that uses recycled materials to build a school for Palestinian Bedouin children in the West Bank.

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Posted: 925 GMT
MOHAMMED SAWAF/AFP/Getty Images. Iraqi children perform hand-stands at a gymnasium on the outskirts of the southern city of Karbala, some 110 kms from Baghdad, on July 12, 2009. The club, which is popular during the summer school holidays, is frequented by boys and girls, providing gymnastic lessons to children and teenagers up to the ages of 19-years-old.
MOHAMMED SAWAF/AFP/Getty Images. Iraqi children perform hand-stands at a gymnasium on the outskirts of the southern city of Karbala, some 110 kms from Baghdad, on July 12, 2009. The club, which is popular during the summer school holidays, is frequented by boys and girls, providing gymnastic lessons to children and teenagers up to the ages of 19-years-old.
MOHAMMED SAWAF/AFP/Getty Images. An Iraqi child rubs chalk on his hands as a coach helps another child performing on parallel bars at a gymnasium on the outskirts of the southern city of Karbala, some 110 kms from Baghdad, on July 12, 2009.
MOHAMMED SAWAF/AFP/Getty Images. An Iraqi child rubs chalk on his hands as a coach helps another child performing on parallel bars at a gymnasium on the outskirts of the southern city of Karbala, some 110 kms from Baghdad, on July 12, 2009.
MOHAMMED SAWAF/AFP/Getty Images. An Iraqi youth trains at a gymnasium on the outskirts of the southern city of Karbala, some 110 kms from Baghdad, on July 12, 2009.
MOHAMMED SAWAF/AFP/Getty Images. An Iraqi youth trains at a gymnasium on the outskirts of the southern city of Karbala, some 110 kms from Baghdad, on July 12, 2009.

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July 12, 2009
Posted: 856 GMT

By Ben Wedeman
CNN

ABUSIR, Egypt (CNN) - Today, I met Cleopatra's lawyer. Well, not her lawyer but someone who is determined to defend the legendary queen against centuries of bad publicity.

Kathleen Martinez, an archaeologist from the Dominican Republic, wants to mend Cleopatra's tattered reputation.
Kathleen Martinez, an archaeologist from the Dominican Republic, wants to mend Cleopatra's tattered reputation.

Kathleen Martinez is a young archaeologist from the Dominican Republic who has toiled for three years on a barren hillside overlooking the coastal highway linking Alexandria with the Libyan border. According to the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, it's here, at a spot known as Abusir, that the tomb of Marc Antony and Cleopatra might be located.

I met Martinez in a dusty tomb full of bones at the excavation site. She recounted to me that, as a young girl, she listened in on a scholarly discussion in her father's library about Cleopatra.

"They were speaking very badly about her and about her image," she recalled. "I got very upset. I said I didn't believe what they are saying, that I needed to study more about her."

Martinez went on to earn a law degree but continued to be fascinated by the saga of Cleopatra. Four years ago, she managed to convince Zahi Hawass, the untiring director of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, to allow her to start excavating at Abusir.

Her fascination with - and admiration for - Cleopatra is intense. The last queen of Ancient Egypt, she told me, "spoke nine languages, she was a philosopher, she was a poet, she was a politician, she was a goddess, and she was a warrior."

In short, Martinez believes, Cleopatra was a woman way ahead of her times.

And given that history is written by the victors - in Cleopatra's case, the Romans - her press was somewhat less than complimentary. It was "bad propaganda," in Martinez's words. For that reason, she told me, "I want to be Cleopatra's lawyer."

With Hawass, Martinez is now working on a book about Cleopatra to repair all that damage.

The tale of Antony and Cleopatra has fueled the popular imagination for centuries. Ill-fated lovers were a favorite theme for William Shakespeare, and the Roman noble and the Egyptian queen certainly fit the bill.

Marc Antony was a no less fascinating character than Cleopatra. In his youth, he led a life of heavy drinking and womanizing. According to the Roman historian Plutarch, Antony accumulated debts of 250 talents, the equivalent of $5 million, before reaching 20.

To escape his creditors in Rome, he fled to Greece, where he studied with the philosophers of Athens, before being called to join the Roman legions in the east, then serving under Julius Caesar.

After Caesar's assassination, Marc Antony became embroiled in a series of power struggles and eventually ended up in Egypt.

Egypt was the enemy of his former ally, Octavian, who would go on to become the Emperor Augustus, the first emperor of Rome.

Octavian defeated Antony's forces at the battle of Actium in 30 B.C. Shortly afterward, Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide, he by his own sword, she by a poisonous asp.

Octavian, according to Plutarch, allowed them to be buried together "in splendid and regal fashion." But no one knows where.

The sudden focus on Antony and Cleopatra has also reignited an old debate over the latter's looks. Was Cleopatra a stunning beauty a la Elizabeth Taylor, or somewhat less spectacular?

Researchers from Newcastle University in England claimed in 2007 that, based upon coins found from the period, she was quite homely, with "a shallow forehead, long, pointed nose, narrow lips and a sharply pointed chin."

The same researchers didn't have a very flattering assessment of Marc Antony either, saying he had "bulging eyes, a large hooked nose and a thick neck." No Richard Burton.

This does contradict Plutarch's description of Marc Antony as having "a noble dignity of form; and a shapely beard, a broad forehead, and an aquiline nose [that] were thought to show the virile qualities peculiar to the portraits and statues of Hercules"?

Hawass hasn't had much to say in defense of Marc Antony, but he claims the coins found in Abusir show Cleopatra was "beautiful."

At Abusir, he showed me one of the coins with Cleopatra's likeness. "The only thing you can see here is her nose is a bit big."

That's because, Hawass insisted, "when you draw a face on a coin you cannot draw the beauty of a queen, and therefore I think that the lady who captured the hearts of Julius Caesar and Marc Antony cannot have been ugly."

Egyptians, who are intensely proud of their country and its ancient heritage, may be forgiven for their insistence on this point.

I tend to take the middle ground on this one. Beauty is more than skin deep, and what seems to have captivated Julius Caesar and Marc Antony was not physical but rather inner beauty. Watch report from CNN's Ben Wedeman on Cleopatra »

Plutarch wrote in his "Life of Antony" that "for her beauty was in itself not altogether incomparable, nor such as to strike those who saw her." In other words, she was plain. Plutarch goes on to write, however, that she was intelligent, charming and has "sweetness in the tones of her voice."

The mystery of what Cleopatra really looked like may never be solved. In any event, it's just one of many mysteries in Egypt.

Others include the obvious ones: How were the pyramids built? Who built them? Why were they built? How old is the Sphinx?

Hawass dismisses with lusty contempt the people who espouse the more fantastic theories (that aliens built the pyramids, that the Sphinx is more than 10,000 years old), labeling them "pyramidiots."

But there are other historical mysteries out there that have yet to be answered.

Some archaeologists are trying to find the tomb of Alexander the Great (who died in Babylon but, according to some ancient historians, was buried in Egypt).

Others are searching for the remains of the lost army of Cambyses - 50,000 soldiers dispatched on a mission by the Persian Emperor to attack the Oracle of Amon (today's Siwa Oasis in western Egypt) only to disappear during a sandstorm in the Sahara Desert.

There has been plenty of excitement in the past few days over reports that Martinez and her team are about to find the long-lost tomb of Antony and Cleopatra.

Alas, the enthusiasts are going to have to be patient.

The summer residence of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is just down the road from the site. For security reasons, no one is allowed on the hillside where the excavations are taking place from May through November. So unless Mubarak decides to overrule his security detail, the solving of this mystery will have to be put on hold for at least another five months.

We've waited 2,000 years. I guess we can wait a few more months.

Filed under: Archaeology •Egypt


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Posted: 741 GMT

According to an article in Iran's Tehran Times, Iranian scientists have become the first in the Middle East to clone a calf as part of the country's stem cell research program.

Photo ISNA/ Hossein Baharloo
Photo ISNA/ Hossein Baharloo

Click here to read the full article.

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July 11, 2009
Posted: 1552 GMT

Octavia Nasr
CNN Senior Mideast Affairs Editor

Marwa is already dubbed the “Hijab Martyr.” Many believe she was murdered because she’s Muslim and wears her religion on her head in a Hijab, the Muslim head cover. Her heinous cold-blooded murder in a Germany courtroom has sent shockwaves across the Middle East and now it is spreading across the world.

Marwa was 31 and three months pregnant, when she appeared at a Dresden courtroom to testify against a man who had already been convicted of verbally attacking her by calling her a “terrorist” at a playground with her 3-year-old son. Instead of justice, Marwa and her family were met by a tragic fate.

On July 1st, in the Dresden courtroom, the same man identified only as Alex M. stabbed her 18 times in front of her son and husband. As her husband tried to defend her, he got his share of the stabbing and he was shot by a police officer who mistook him for the assailant. Marwa later died in the hospital. Her husband is still in critical condition.

Two Egyptian researchers at Dresden University, Mohammed Ahmed Khalif and Magdi Khalil, told CNN that on that fateful day, their trust in Germany was shattered.

“We have fear about our family here, about our children” said Khalif. He said he is disappointed by what he believes is a muted response by the German public and its politicians.

Khalil agrees with Khalif. He adds that some people in Germany could possibly harbor an anti-Muslim sentiment. He suggested twisting this around to see how people would react to the same story. “What do you think if we have an Egyptian guy who kills a German woman in a court? What do you think would happen,” he asked.

Germany’s government spokesperson Thomas Steg stressed that, “In Germany we cannot tolerate, right wing extremism, hatred of foreigners nor Islamophobia.”

For many in Egypt and across the Middle East, this response came late and wasn’t enough.

Egyptians mourned the death of Marwa with shock and outrage. As it is customary in the Middle East when someone dies young, the 31-year-old pregnant mother was buried in a procession fit for a bride, while across the nation people continue to take to the streets in sympathy.

Underneath the sadness of mourning, anger is brewing at what people in the Middle East call a hate crime. They are moved by news reports of how Marwa died.

Many have taken to the streets, waving banners that call her stabbing death a hate crime and that it’s racially motivated. They say Marwa was killed because she’s Muslim and wore the Muslim headscarf.

When they felt their calls for justice were going unnoticed, Egyptians along with other Arabs and supporters from around the world, took to the Internet, which has become the voice for the voiceless in the Middle East region.

On Twitter, they asked for sympathizers to spread the message that a life was lost and they want the world to pay attention.

They accused the media of failing to highlight the murder.

They criticized Europe in general and Germany in particular for becoming increasingly extreme towards minorities, especially Muslims.

And on Facebook, they asked for justice; calling for the harshest possible sentence for the assailant and an apology from Germany. They created pages where people can pay homage to a woman who has now become known simply as the “Martyr of the Hijab.”

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July 10, 2009
Posted: 1129 GMT

Note from IME Producer: If you attend one of these performances please send us your impressions, pictures and videos!

July 17th : Yves Lecoq – master impersonator, with 150 voices in his repertoire, famous for having impersonated former French president Jacques Chirac for 30 years, Yves Lecoq now imitates current French president and other prominent figures. 

July 23rd: Sugar Ray and the bluetones. Harmonica player, lyricist and singe, two-time Grammy Award nominee Sugar Ray Norcia has been performing with his band since the late 1970s. His music derives from an eclectic set of influences and probably shows most in his original tunes. With his quiet, cheerful, unassuming personality, Norcia is the kind of person people go to with their personal problems.

July 31st : Nancy Ajram. A multi-platinum selling Lebanese pop folk artist, one of the decade's most important superstars in the Middle East, Ajram is the 3rd best selling female artist in Lebanese history.

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Posted: 1119 GMT

Note from IME Producer: If you attend one of these performances please send us your impressions, pictures and video!

July 11th: David Fray: A bright young French pianist dedicated to the Germanic repertoire. Nominated for the Victoires de la Musique Classique in February 2008, David Fray's outstanding performances have won him numerous awards and have moved audiences from Europe to Asia.

July 16th through 18th: Caracalla Dance Theatre: The world-renown Lebanese folk dance troupe presents in a world premiere a folkloric journey into a Lebanese traditional village.

July 25th: Deep Purple: In a breathtaking historical background, Deep Purple will set the stage on fire. With more than 100 million albums sold worldwide and thousands of performances since 1968, Deep Purple are a true source of inspiration for a whole generation of musicians.

August 1st: Ron Carter Jazz Quintet and Eddie Palmieri Salsa Sextet, from the acclaimed Miles Davis Quintet in the 1960s to being a reference in the education of music, Ron Carter will be performing in Baalbek with his thrilling quintet. Eddie Palmieri has a musical career that spans over 50 years as a bandleader of Salsa and Latin Jazz orchestras and has nine Grammy awards.

August 13th: La Traviata - one of Giuseppe Verdi's most famous and immensely popular operas. "Les Choregies d'Orange" will revive this opera with around 180 participants to be performed acoustically for the first time in Lebanon during a magical evening at Baalbeck.

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Posted: 1101 GMT

Note from IME Producer: If you attend one of these performances please send us your impressions, pictures and videos!

July 14th through 18th: Grease The Musical – Recently voted number 1 musical of all times, Grease The Musical, with the original London superproduction, is the ultimate family show with the feel-good mood of the fifties and a brilliant collection of timeless songs.

July 19th: Jethro Tull – Ian Anderson, rock flutist, brilliant composer and extravagant showman, founded Jethro Tull in 1968. Jethro Tull acquired a worldwide cult status, creating classic masterpieces such as "Aqualung", "Thick as a Brick" or Anderson's reinterpretation on flute of Bach's "Bouree". All of these hits and many more will be performed at Byblos to a rock audience ranging from 15 to 65.

July 21st: Misia, The new voice of Portuguese fado takes Amalia Rodriguez musical heritage to new heights, adding her own modern and electric touch. This superb singer will interpret a selection of great fado classics as well as pop covers ranging from Dalida to Johnny Cash.

July 23rd: Gonzales – CocoRosie – Y.A.S
Gonzales, an outstanding, provocative performer, will play his "Solo Piano" pieces, reminiscent of the work of Erik Satie and Keith Jarrett.
CocoRosie, founded in New York by the Casady sisters, CocoRosie mixes folk ballads with electronic rhythms, creating a truly innovative and sensual sound.
Y.A.S – Yasmine Hamdan, ex-singer of "Soap Kills", is back to Lebanon with a new album "Arabology" produced by Mirwais, Madonna's sound producer.

August 8th through 12th: Saif 840, a historical epic play by Mansour Rahbani. The story of people eager for freedom and seeking to live in dignity, a story of resistance against repression, injustice, invaders and tyrans.

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Posted: 1029 GMT

Note From IME Producer: If you attend one of these performances please send us your impressions, pictures and videos!

 

July 18th: Emir Kusturica & The No Smoking Orchestra: A rock gypsy concert by the internationally acclaimed director and musician Emir Kusturica with The No Smoking Orchestra. Kusturica is winner of 2 Golden Palms in Cannes and a Silver Bear in the Berlin film festival.

July 22nd: Madeleine Peyroux: She confidently walks the line where jazz, country and blues collide. Her unique voice can best be thought of as the Billie Holiday of the 1990s.

July 25th: A world Premiere: Gabriel Yared, accompanied by the Budapest Concert Orchestra conducted by Dirk Brosse, soprano: Gaelle Mechaly. The Lebanese Oscar winner and composer Gabriel Yared will perform live for the first time, in his home country, his memorable film music scores. Projections of some of Yared's best movies such as l'Amant and The English Patient...

July 31st: Hanine Y Son Cubano – Big Band: Hanine's amazing voice vehicles the Tarab tradition mixed with Cuban harmony and rhythm. Beautiful cross-mating of two totally different music worlds.

August 9th: Guy Manoukian accompanied by the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra and Special Guest Mario Reyes from the Gypsy Kings Family. Recipient of the Armenian Music Awards, Guy Manoukian plays Arabic and Armenian fusion at its best.

August 12th: The Palestine Youth Orchestra & Marcel Khalife: In a tribute to Mahmoud Darwish. A poetic opera Ahmad Al Arabi, written by Darwish and composed and performed bu Marcel Khalife, soloist Omeyma Al Khalil and Reem Talhami along with a 100 piece orchestra and choir. The concert celebrates Jerusalem Arab Cultural Capital 2009.

August 15th: Kadim Al Sahir, upon poplar demand, once more Kadim al Sahir returns to sing Nizar Kabbani's poetry.

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Welcome to the Inside the Middle East blog where CNN's journalists post news, views and video from across the region. This is also a place where you can start the discussion so please keep your comments coming. We highlight not only current news stories but also anecdotes and issues that don't always make the top of the headlines.

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