Inside the Middle East
November 30, 2010
Posted: 942 GMT
Passengers wait at ticket counter at Baghdad International Airport (Getty Images )
Passengers wait at ticket counter at Baghdad International Airport (Getty Images )

It’s really impressive to look up at the flight board at Baghdad International Airport these days – Abu Dhabi, Amman, Beirut, Istanbul, Cairo, Tehran are a few of the available daily trips.

I remember the days when commercial flights were limited to the one or two Royal Jordanian ones that were usually overbooked and getting out on one of those was always an “inshalla” – “God willing” scenario.

I also remember the days when you would glance around the airport and your average passenger would be the tattooed private security guy , the journalist, or the Iraqi member of parliament who would spend more time in Amman than in Baghdad.

Today, it was a handful of the usual suspects and a different crowd -  mostly Iraqi refugees, families who have packed their lives into one suitcase per person and set off on their journey to new homes.

As I queued up to get a coffee, a young Iraqi man approached me – I had met him a few years ago through work, he is now a refugee.

He asked me if I was going to the US – he was, along with his family.

Where are you going I asked – “Indiana” he said with a bit of a confused look, like he was not sure if I had heard of it. I told him I had visited Indiana a few years ago; “is it nice?” he asked.. I said yes, but very cold in the winter, we both laughed– Iraqis are more immune to the scorching heat of their country, not the harsh winters of the Midwest.

Why are you leaving I asked – he smiled and said “why would I stay? ...What should I stay for?” a familiar answer I have been hearing a lot lately from Iraqi colleagues, friends and people we meet—it’s also an answer that says it all and there was no reason to follow-up on that... I wished him luck as he walked away.

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Filed under: Christianity •Iraq •Islam

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November 29, 2010
Posted: 1929 GMT
Outisde a voting station in the Sayida Zainab area of Cairo, An NDP party candidate's poster dominates (Mary Rogers/CNN)
Outisde a voting station in the Sayida Zainab area of Cairo, An NDP party candidate's poster dominates (Mary Rogers/CNN)

We had to be patient to get pictures of people casting their ballots at the Yahya Mashhad School for Languages in the gritty northern Cairo district of Shubra Al-Khaima.

One voter would enter the room every ten minutes or so, slip behind a black curtain to fill out their ballot, drop it in a battered wooden box, sign the register, and then dip their finger in pink ink. After another long wait, the next voter entered.

Outside, earnest supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest opposition bloc, complained that their appointed observers had been denied the right to monitor the voting.

"There is no way we can ensure these elections were fair," Brotherhood supporter Mustafa told me.

Newspapers in Cairo Monday morning were full of reports of vote rigging and violence around the country.

According to the official Higher Elections Committee, turnout in Sunday¹s parliamentary elections was 25 percent. Independent observers say it was probably not even half that.

Initial results indicate the ruling National Democratic Party has cleaned up and that the Brotherhood has taken a serious beating. A round of run-off elections is scheduled for Dec. 5.

It's a dramatic turnaround from late 2005, when the Brotherhood surprised even many Egyptians by winning 88 seats, grabbing around 20 percent in the People¹s Assembly.

But that was then. In 2005 the administration of George W. Bush was at the height of its push for democratic reform in the Arab world, and President Mubarak¹s authoritarian government was squarely in the American cross hairs.

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Filed under: Egypt

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Posted: 1332 GMT
Rima Maktabi on Doha's corniche in front of the iconic Museum of Islamic Art.
Rima Maktabi on Doha's corniche in front of the iconic Museum of Islamic Art.

Hosted by Rima Maktabi from Doha, Qatar
Debuts Wednesday December 1, 2010

Modern Art in Qatar
Inside the Middle East brings you a sneak peak of Qatar’s newest cultural icon, the Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art. Set to open at the end of the year, Mathaf will feature thousands of modern and contemporary paintings, sculptures and installations by Middle Eastern artists. Chief Curator and Acting Director Wassan Al-Khudairi tells Rima Maktabi more about the latest in the nation’s heavy investments in art and culture.

Campus Forum: Qatar University
In the latest of our Campus Forum series, we introduce you to students of Doha’s oldest and largest university, Qatar University. Home to about 8000 students, QU remains the country’s only public university. Rima hears from students about their personal ambitions, balancing conservatism and openness in society, and life after oil in the GCC countries.

Sufis in Siwa
We bring you the sights and sounds of the “Siyaha” festival, an annual ritual performed under an autumn full moon by followers of Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam. Hundreds of Sufis gathered for the celebration in the remote oasis of Siwa in Egypt’s Western Desert.

Wine Revival in Jordan
Plus, a look at an ancient industry that’s making a modern comeback in an unlikely place. The tradition of winemaking in Jordan dates back to biblical times although today’s labels are still struggling to make a splash internationally as winemakers battle against the kingdom’s arid climate. Arwa Damon introduces us to one vintner aspiring to compete in Middle Eastern and international wine circles with his eco-friendly and organic style.

A Pilgrimage and a Royal Visit
We also bring you Nima Elbagir's report from the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca as she joined more than two million Muslims on the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Plus, highlights of Queen Elizabeth II's first visit to the United Arab Emirates in 30 years.

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Posted: 1055 GMT
WikiLeaks document: Saudi King Abdullah told an Iranian official: 'You as Persians have no business meddling in Arab matters.'
WikiLeaks document: Saudi King Abdullah told an Iranian official: 'You as Persians have no business meddling in Arab matters.'

By Tim Lister, CNN

(CNN) - U.S. diplomatic cables obtained by the website WikiLeaks and published by newspapers in the United States and Europe on Sunday reveal considerable anxiety among the Gulf states about Iran's nuclear program, with the Bahrain's king warning, "The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it."

The cables, many marked "Secret," were among several hundred thousand obtained by WikiLeaks and published by newspapers Sunday.

They reveal great concern among Arab states about Iran's regional ambitions. One cable describes a meeting between Saudi King Abdullah and White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan and other U.S. officials in March 2009.

According to the cable, the king told the Americans what he had just told the Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki. "You as Persians have no business meddling in Arab matters," the Saudi monarch was quoted as telling Mottaki. "Iran's goal is to cause problems," he told Brennan. "There is no doubt something unstable about them." Read full story...

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Filed under: Bahrain •Egypt •Iran •Iraq •Oman •Saudi Arabia •U.K. •U.S.

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November 28, 2010
Posted: 641 GMT
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, left, shakes hands with Iran's first vice president, Mohammad Reza Rahimi.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, left, shakes hands with Iran's first vice president, Mohammad Reza Rahimi.

(CNN) - Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri arrived in Iran on Saturday as part of a two-day visit to the country aimed at expanding relations, Iranian state media reported.

It is Hariri's first visit to Iran as prime minister, state-run Press TV said, and the visit comes a month after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad traveled to Lebanon on his first state visit to the country.

"We consider this visit to be very important and hope for further expansion of ties between Iran and Lebanon," Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.

During the trip, Hariri is expected to meet with Ahmadinejad, Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahibi, National Security Chairman Saeed Jalili and Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, Fars reported.

"Lebanon considers cooperation with Iran necessary for creating a common ground to fight the dangers that threaten the two countries and even the region," Press TV quoted Hariri as saying before departing Beirut for the Iranian capital, Tehran.

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November 25, 2010
Posted: 1027 GMT

A Christian protester was killed and dozens others were wounded Wednesday in violent clashes with police that erupted over permission to build a church here.

Egyptian police fired tear gas. The 150 demonstrators answered with Molotov cocktails.

In the aftermath of the melee, the ground in front of a government building in suburban Giza was littered with rocks and knocked-over potted plants.

An Interior Ministry spokesman said 93 people were arrested.

Tensions have been running high between Egypt's Muslim majority and minority Christians who make up about 9 percent of the people.

Copts, who are adherents of an Egyptian sect of Christianity, complain of discrimination, including the lack of freedom to build houses of worship. The government denies those accusations.

However, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has expressed concern that the Egyptian government and media have deliberately promoted sectarian friction ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for December.

"We've seen a clear uptick in recent weeks of incitement coming from media outlets and clerics espousing sectarian hatred and violence," said Leonard Leo, chairman of the independent, bi-partisan commission. "This kind of rhetoric goes too far and stokes the fire of extremists looking for ammunition to justify violent acts against religious minorities." Read more...

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Filed under: Christianity •Egypt •Religion •Video

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November 24, 2010
Posted: 1219 GMT

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Filed under: Egypt •Elections •Video

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Posted: 1126 GMT

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has arrived in the United States for medical treatment, the State Department said.
"We hope for his speedy recovery," the State Department said in a message from its official Twitter account late Monday.

King Abdullah ruled Saudi Arabia since 2005.
King Abdullah ruled Saudi Arabia since 2005.

The king left Saudi Arabia earlier Monday for treatment of a herniated spinal disc and a blood clot that was causing him back pain, state media said.

Saudi dignitaries met him when he arrived at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, the state-run Saudi Press Agency said.

The agency's report did not specify which hospital would be providing treatment to the ruler.
"The medical team recommended that he leaves for the U.S. to visit a spine-specialized medical center in order to complete medical examinations and for follow-up treatment," Health Minister Abdullah al-Rabeeah said during an interview Sunday with Saudi state television. "But I assure everyone that he is in a stable condition, and that he is enjoying health and well-being, and God willing, he will be back safe and sound to lead this proud nation."Read more..

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November 23, 2010
Posted: 811 GMT
An Israeli policeman looks across to the Egyptian border.
An Israeli policeman looks across to the Egyptian border.

Israel started building a barrier along its border with Egypt Monday. The Israeli government says it is to prevent illegal immigrants from crossing into the country and to stop smuggling.
The 240-kilometer-long, $370 million barrier will be part fence and part surveillance technology. The project was announced in January by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "This is a strategic decision to ensure the Jewish and democratic character of the state of Israel," he said.
The Israeli military estimates around 5,000 infiltrators entered Israel over the past year as well as 1.3 tonnes of hash and 130 kilograms of heroin. Read more..

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November 22, 2010
Posted: 1139 GMT
A lebanese surgeon performing a plastic surgery.
A lebanese surgeon performing a plastic surgery.

While the search for inner beauty is this month drawing Muslims to Mecca for the Hajj pilgrimage, a different kind of search - this time for beauty of a more obvious kind - is drawing many from the Middle East to another location.
The traditional Eid holiday that marks the start of the Hajj is used by many in the region as an opportunity to travel abroad for plastic surgery. Their destination is usually Lebanon, a country whose obsession with physical perfection has transformed it into a very different kind of Mecca.
"We are very busy at this time of year - we work like restaurants, when everyone is on vacation, we're working," Roger El Khoury, head surgeon at the Beirut Beauty Clinic, told CNN. Read more..

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