Inside the Middle East
May 24, 2012
Posted: 1254 GMT

Egyptians headed to polling stations on Thursday, for a second straight day, to place their ballots in what many are calling the first free presidential election in Egypt's history.

Political cartoonists have always been a burden for leaders in tightly-controlled, autocratic political systems. In the old Egypt, under the three-decade rule of former president Hosni Mubarak, the press was less regulated than some of its other Arab neighbors.  Still, Egypt's press has opened greatly since Mubarak's February 2011 ouster, and cartoonists are relishing new freedoms that allow them to unleash their creativity.

Here's a look at what Egypt's political cartoonists had to say about this historic election:

From Egypt Independent, an independent online daily:

This cartoon shows a dentist treating a patient and – referring the nation's newfound political freedoms for voting – says, “Your voice is really bad. You give it to the wrong person every time. Take care this time!”

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Filed under: Culture •Egypt •Elections •Media

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January 24, 2011
Posted: 1231 GMT
A former Israeli government official claims Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas almost reached a deal in 2008.
A former Israeli government official claims Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas almost reached a deal in 2008.

Palestinian negotiators offered to give up large areas of East Jerusalem to Israel during negotiations dating back to 2008, the Al-Jazeera network said, suggesting Palestinian leaders have been willing to offer much larger concessions in private than they had previously acknowledged in public.
On Monday a former Israeli government official said an agreement was almost reached during negotiations between former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas from the end of 2006 to September 2008.
"After dozens of meetings between Olmert and (Abbas) there was a proposal that was reached ... this offer was on all the issues we call core issues," Yanki Galanti, a former Olmert spokesman, said in an interview Monday with Israeli Army radio.
The core issues in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are considered to be the status of Jerusalem, borders and refugees. Read more...

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Filed under: Israel •Jerusalem •Media •Palestinians •Peace Talks

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November 1, 2010
Posted: 748 GMT

Check out the new and improved CNN Arabic website for comprehensive coverage and original content on news, politics and features in Arabic.

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Filed under: CNN Coverage •Media •Science & Technology •Video

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September 30, 2010
Posted: 901 GMT

The UK daily The Guardian is reporting today that it has exclusive access to secret documents indicating that the repeated jamming of Al-Jazeera Sports' satellite transmissions from the World Cup originated in Jordan.

In response, the Jordanian government issued a statement calling the allegations "absolutely baseless and unacceptable," saying "the government is ready to cooperate with any team of independent experts to examine the facts, and is certain that any such examination will prove these allegations false."

Back in June there was widespread anger among football fans around the region as up to seven matches being broadcast live from South Africa were disrupted by interference that the network referred to as "sabotage."

The Guardian is speculating that this interference, which it claims can be traced to a location near the Jordanian city of Al Salt, came in the wake of a last minute TV deal going sour that would have allowed viewers there to watch the games for free; an allegation that the Jordanian government rejects.

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Filed under: Jordan •Media •Science & Technology •Sports

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August 29, 2010
Posted: 850 GMT

Bahrain has begun investigating the case of Shiite activist and spokesman of Al Haq political movement Abduljalil Al- Singace, according the Emirati newspaper Gulf News.

This comes amid reports that the kingdom's prosecutor has issued a gag order on the media from further reporting on the case.

"Based on the requirements for discretion in order to reach facts and in line with Bahrain's public order, Dr Ali Al Buainain, the public prosecutor, has issued a gag order on publishing, through print, audio, video and online media, news or details on the case of the terror network," the Gulf News quotes a Bahraini public prosecution source as saying.

"No details or hints about the investigations should be published and violators of the gag will be imprisoned for up to one year or fined. The only exception is the statements issued by the public prosecutor."

Al Singace's arrest on August 13 upon his return from London and subsequent detention of other Haq supporters intensified clashes between rioters and security forces.

The New York Times reported on what seems to be a widespread crackdown on Shiite activists in the wake of the heightened tension.

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Filed under: Bahrain •Human Rights •Media

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June 24, 2010
Posted: 1314 GMT

See full article in the UAE newspaper The National.

ABU DHABI // Visitors to websites that promote terrorist activities – many of which are accessible in this country – can now be charged with supporting terrorism, though strong evidence of criminal intent is required for conviction, a top state security judge says.

Chief Justice Shehab al Hammadi, who presides over all state security cases at the Federal Supreme Court, said a legal precedent had been set with the conviction of six people in April for operating a terror organisation, meaning that viewing such sites could now be considered a crime. As the first case to include charges of visiting jihadi websites it paved the way for other courts to approve charges against visitors to such sites.

Mr al Hammadi said that even if a website was not blocked, convictions could still be obtained if prosecutors showed a defendant had “criminal intentions” in visiting them. Examples, he saidd, included downloading extremist content from the websites or forwarding links to friends.

“These websites are available for everyone and it is almost impossible to block them, just like it is difficult to monitor all satellite channels. But when a person visits them and spreads their news or content among his or her acquaintance, that is considered like a crime they witnessed or committed,” Chief Justice al Hammadi said in an interview with The National.

Filed under: Media •Science & Technology •UAE

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February 12, 2010
Posted: 549 GMT

By Joe Sterling, CNN

(CNN) – Despite the rise of the Web and its freewheeling second-by-second ferment, government efforts at control and censorship remain rife across the Middle East and North Africa, a new report said Thursday.

"In the Middle East and North Africa, the Internet has offered many people access to information and the outside world that would have been unimaginable a few years ago," according to the International Press Institute's latest report: the IPI Press Review 2009 Focus on the Middle East and North Africa.

Protests in Iran led to censorship and arrests of journalists, the report says.
Protests in Iran led to censorship and arrests of journalists, the report says.

"However, government control of the media remains tight in almost all [Middle East and North Africa] countries, and censorship and self-censorship are prevalent throughout the region."

The Internet has emerged as a challenge to officialdom and its pronouncements and reaction from activists. Journalists say government efforts to stem the flow of information are futile.

Communication on the popular social media sites, where people are attempting to elude the strictures of their governments, is playing a cat-and-mouse game with widespread independent reporting in places like Iran and Egypt.

But, said Anthony Mills, managing editor of the World Press Freedom Review based in Vienna, Austria, "Overall, things are getting worse."

In Iran, authorities cracked down on journalists after protests surfaced when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner in the June 12 presidential election, a victory that many in Iran say was fixed.

"Dozens of journalists have been detained without trial, and several sentenced to long prison sentences," the report said. "As demonstrators took to the streets, a news blackout was imposed on the foreign media. And yet, through social media networks like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, news of a violent government crackdown seeped out."

With the rise of the Internet, censorship efforts have emerged in Iran and other places across the region.

Iran "also cracked down on online media following the disputed June elections, and arrested online activists in an effort to stop the spread of dissenting information and opinions," according to the report.

Egypt, for example, uses a law designed to combat terror for arresting and detaining bloggers.

But Abdul Rahman al-Rashed, general manager of the TV network Al-Arabiya, said the resistance to the flood of Internet information from government and other sectors of society is like trying to stop the Nile River from flowing. They can't halt it.

"A lot of information is getting through to the average person, in Cairo, in Jeddah and Dubai. Censorship will not stop the free flow of information, in my opinion," he said.

Al-Rashed said the business needs of the telecommunications companies, the integral role the Internet plays in business, and the demand from citizens can't be thwarted. He said there might be remote regions where censorship can work because there isn't access to the Internet in such places.

Octavia Nasr, CNN senior editor for the Middle East who monitors social media sites, said young people are boldly circumventing the official media censorship across the Middle East with Twitter, Facebook and alternatives.

"People are taking matters into their own hands," Nasr said. "Traditional media is not necessarily a driving force."

Azza Matar, translator at the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information in Cairo, Egypt, said governments want the Arab world to use the Internet for fun and not interfere with government and serious issues, but people are circumventing the officials with new media.

"We're trying to express ourselves and expose the lies," she said.

People from different countries prefer different kinds of new media, she said. As for Iranians, who are gearing up for a day of protests Thursday against the regime on the Islamic Revolution's anniversary, she said Iranians prefer Twitter because it can't be blocked and "is faster than blogs in conveying messages for masses."

Neziha Rejiba, vice president of the Tunis-based Observatory for the Freedom of Press, Publishing and Creation and editor at Kalima Radio, said that theoretically, the whole world is getting its information online, but in the Middle East, censorship remains a reality, with cyberpolice blocking sites or even, as in the case of Syria, the Internet itself.

There is a dynamic in the Middle East between censorship and self-censorship.

"When journalists sit down to write a piece, they have to keep in mind the reaction to what they're writing. They're either scared of sanctions or revenge."

Bahrain's Foreign Minister Khalid Al Khalifa said the Internet "has revolutionized the world" and "has helped foster creativity, innovation and freedom."

There have been complaints there about the recent blocking of Web sites in Bahrain.

While Al Khalifa said regulating different kinds of censorship internationally is impractical, he said in the Middle East, censorship takes forms he has mixed feelings about.

"Censorship can be taken too far to silence dissent and opposing views, but it can also be used as a tool to prevent potentially destructive and damaging ideas and behavior. There is increasing concern about harmful content on the Internet from violence, inciting racial hatred and terrorist activity, to sexual content and pornography, which justifies censorship on moral grounds," Al Khalifa said.

As for other aspects of the Middle East and its media, the report reveals several relative silver linings when it comes to press freedom: the environment in Lebanon, Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

Lebanon has a "far and more diverse and vibrant media than any other Arab country," but the institute found that "most of Lebanon's media outlets are unduly influenced in their journalism content by powerful political figures to whom they are financially and politically beholden."

Mills said the media in Lebanon can be characterized as "partly free" because there's a lot they don't talk about, such as criticism of military intelligence and the head of state, for example.

According to the report, "Israel has one of the most open media environments in the Middle East" for Israeli journalists with a wide range of opinions and commentary.

At the same time, Israeli security policy prevents Israeli journalists from traveling into the Palestinian territories without special permission, and Palestinian journalists are prevented from entering Israel.

The report said both Israeli soldiers and Palestinian security forces interfere with the work of Palestinian journalists, and that journalists in Gaza have to resort to self-censorship.

Freedom of speech and press in the United Arab Emirates gets "some of the highest marks in the Arab world," but it "still has a long way to go."

The report cited a "number of taboo topics that journalists in the United Arab Emirates are not supposed to touch and indeed, most of the media do not," such as criticism of the ruling family. Across the Middle East, criticism of royal families and words perceived as insults to Islam have been criminalized.

In Iraq, violence there has dropped and so has the number of journalists' deaths, but "the U.S. military continues to imprison journalists without charge" and local security forces have been responsible for beating journalists. There is concern about the rise of proposed legislation stifling media freedom.

In Syria, which has "one of the world's worst records on media freedom," the media outlets are owned or controlled by the government. Political unrest elsewhere, the report said, is accompanied by media crackdowns, such as in Yemen, where there has been an insurgency in the north and civil unrest in the south. Elections in Algeria and Tunisia have also led to press freedom violations.

Governments have controlled "moral content" as well, the report said.

"In Saudi Arabia, several people involved in the production of a television show about sexual attitudes were sentenced to flogging and jail terms. In Sudan, journalist Lubna Hussein was sentenced to a flogging for wearing trousers. Following international uproar, the punishment was reduced to a fine, which was then paid by a pro-government journalists' association."

Filed under: Bahrain •Egypt •Iran •Iraq •Israel •Lebanon •Media •Palestinians •Saudi Arabia •Tunisia •UAE

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January 16, 2010
Posted: 523 GMT

By Octavia Nasr
CNN Senior Editor, Mideast Affairs

Arabs worried, wept, prayed and even had a moment of silence in honor of Haiti’s tragedy and its victims. My measurement came from Twitter as Arab media left much to be desired in that department.

Death tolls continue to rise from the devastating January 12 earthquake in Haiti.
Death tolls continue to rise from the devastating January 12 earthquake in Haiti.

In 140-character messages many Arabs on Twitter and other social media expressed their sadness over the tragedy and offered advice on donations and activism. Some were worried about friends who were in Port-au-Prince on business; they expressed their anguish to an audience that listened and tried to help. Later, a select few came back to express relief that they found their missing while others dipped in a larger pool of sadness.

This one in particular caught my attention. Someone with a distinctly Lebanese name asking another person inside Haiti about his relatives:

@ziadsaliby @RAMhaiti Hello sorry 4 disturbing u do u know annything about Fouad Abd or his family? he has a SM called emile abd market

When my colleague Jack Gray suggested that he should check with the Lebanese Foreign Ministry, Saliby didn’t need 140 characters to express his desperation and loneliness in this daunting process.

@ziadsaliby but lebanon doesn't provide any information... that's why were trying to find info sololy.

Sana Tawileh is a Lebanese mother and professional who is active on Twitter. After posting messages of concern, she came back with this message:

@SanaTawileh We finally got news, so glad that my friends in Haiti are safe!!! It's a real disaster there...Prayers for everyone in Haiti...

Tawileh organically took on the role of moderator on things “Haiti” for a small community of Tweeps that follows her updates. Among other things, she encouraged them to be active, make a difference and warned them of scams if they decide to donate money.

Tawileh is now in Muscat, Oman, where she wrote me, “Haiti is mentioned in the newspapers on the cover page; but no buzz on the subject.”

Tawileh, who describes herself as a “humanitarian” says that a group of her fellow Lebanese are interested in helping Haiti and she will try to assist them through her contacts in Haiti and in the United Nations. Her answer to why she volunteered her voice for Haiti she said, “I always shout out for humanity, for Lebanon, Palestine or Haiti. It’s not political, it's just Human.”

A young Sudanese peace activist reached out to me to tell me what his group is doing to help people in Haiti.

Mohab El Shorbagi (@Mohabkady) serves as Peace mediator and the Secretary-General of the U.N. Youth Club. He is now in Raffah to assist in a “relief mission to Gaza and to promote the Arabic Text of poems by Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire.” He says he’s coordinating with other members of his group around the world to head to Haiti within the next few days to focus on children.

With his other group, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, he will be organizing a blood drive around the Middle East especially for Haiti. The absence of an official response to the devastation in Haiti does not stop him from being appreciative of the west. “I should like to think that such a genuine and well-founded reverence for life corresponds to the Western people intrinsic nature” he said in his message to me. He does not hide his disappointment with Arab countries that “lack strategy and unification” he says. So, he takes it upon himself to take action and he feels that his role at the UN affords him that luxury.

As far as the official actions on the ground, here is what we could gather today:

Jordan loaded a military plane with canned foods and bid farewell to a medical team heading to Haiti. Prince Rashid Bin Al Hassan, head of Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization said the following, "We, in Jordan and under His Majesty's directives, join the international community in expressing our sympathy to the people of Haiti. And we, as the Hashemite Charitable Organization of the Jordanian Armed Forces, will take our part in the international effort to bring aid to the people of Haiti, as we have done all over the world whenever we have been asked to do so."

We learned from a local news agency that Qatar sent a plane loaded with 50 tons of humanitarian aid.

According to a news item in local media, the United Arab Emirates head of state, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan has ordered that his country’s Red Crescent start a humanitarian aid bridge to assist the Republic of Haiti and “lend a helping hand to the victims.” The report also said that Sheikh Khalifa has directed the Red Crescent to work with the various charities in the country to determine the kind of aid they will be contributing.

Right now, more than 48 hours after the devastating earthquake struck the Island of Haiti, the only official Arab reaction came from Lebanon where Prime Minister Saad Hariri expressed his nation’s “solidarity with quake-stricken Haiti” and pledged to “contribute to international aid.” In a statement Hariri said, "This human tragedy pushes us to comfort Haiti’s people and participate in international efforts to remove the traces of the disaster."

With the exception of Lebanon’s print media which for the most part highlighted Haiti on front pages, Arab media made modest mentions of the devastation and human tragedy. On larger channels such as the Doha-based Al-Jazeera and the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya, the earthquake and its aftermath were dealt with as a news item alongside regional and international developments. In Jordanian newspapers, the death of three Jordanian Peacekeepers was the headline introducing the Haitian tragedy. A similar case in Tunisia which lost one national who worked for the UN in Port-au-Prince.

As for Arabs on Twitter and other social media, they continue to try to help as they move on in their daily routines.

On the discrepancy in Lebanon’s reaction versus the rest of the Arab world, Sana Tawileh believes a sense of “Freedom” is leading Haiti’s official and public expression of support in Lebanon. While Mohab El Shorbagy is not counting on any officials to act let alone tell him what to do. He’s just confident that he’s heading to Haiti to help first hand. In our exchange, he quoted Nobel Peace Laureate Albert Schweitzer to express how he really feels:

@Mohabkady: "whenever a man turns he can find someone who needs his service & Arab leaders turn to staying in power 4 a long time.”

Filed under: CNN Coverage •Media •Science & Technology

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October 30, 2009
Posted: 909 GMT

All of us at CNN are counting down the days to the launch of our newest bureau and production facility. After Atlanta, London and Hong Kong – Abu Dhabi is set to be our fourth broadcast hub when it launches on November 3rd. We will have a nightly newscast from there called Prism hosted by Stan Grant so be sure to tune in!

We'll bring you a behind-the-scenes look at how the bureau came together on the next IME airing November 4. Meanwhile, here's a sneak preview!

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Filed under: Abu Dhabi •CNN Coverage •Media

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August 10, 2009
Posted: 803 GMT

By Mohammed Jamjoom

(CNN) - The Saudi Arabian office of a Lebanese television station was shut down after the station aired an interview with a Saudi man who bragged about his sex life, authorities said.

Saudi authorities closed the office of LBC (Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation) for "two reasons," Abdul-Rahman Al-Hazza, spokesman for Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Culture and Information, told CNN.

"No valid operating license, and a violation of media policy in Saudi Arabia."

He said LBC violated the media policy by filming and subsequently airing an episode of its popular show "A Thick Red Line" featuring Mazen Abdul Jawad, a 32-year-old airline employee and divorced father of four who spoke openly about his sexual escapades, his love of sex and losing his virginity at age 14.

Abdul Jawad is also shown in his bedroom, where he holds sexual aids up to the camera. The episode ends with him cruising the streets of Jeddah in his car looking for women.

The episode caused an uproar in deeply conservative Saudi Arabia, where Sharia law, or strict Islamic law, is practiced. Pre-marital sex is illegal, and unrelated men and women are not permitted to mingle.

The segment in question has been posted on the video sharing site YouTube since its initial broadcast last month, and has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

Local media reported Abdul Jawad was arrested a few days after the program aired, and has been detained since last week. Some reports have suggested he could face punishments as severe as flogging or even the death penalty for the alleged crime of publicizing vice.

Suleiman Al-Mutawae, acting spokesman for Jeddah police, told Arab News, an English-language daily newspaper in Saudi Arabia, that speaking about promiscuous acts "is a violation of the Sharia regulations on the one hand and against Saudi customs on the other." All newspapers require government permission to publish in Saudi Arabia.

Before Abdul Jawad's detention, Arab News reported he initiated a damage-control campaign, apologized for his comments and was considering filing a complaint against the show's producers for presenting him "in the worst possible manner by taking two hours of footage and condensing it down to a minute-long segment."

CNN has been unable to reach Abdul Jawad or his lawyer for comment. LBC has not commented on the situation.

Asked how long LBC's Jeddah offices will be closed, Al-Hazza said it was "too early to ask that question," but noted that only the Jeddah offices of the channel had been shut down. LBC's Riyadh office remains open, he said.

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Filed under: Media •Saudi Arabia

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