Inside the Middle East
September 6, 2012
Posted: 1108 GMT

She screamed in the face of all the men in her village "Don't talk behind my back, don't play with my honor."

With the head of her rapist in her hand, Nevin Yildirim, a 26-year-old mother of two, walked to the main square of her village and told everyone about her murder.

"Here is the head of the man who played with my honor." She said after throwing the head in the middle of the square.

After continually raping her for 8 months, Yildirim, who said she is pregnant with the rapist's child, decided to take matters into her own hands and shoot the man twice and cut off his head when he died.

She said, 35-year old Nurettin Gider, threatened her with a gun and said he would kill her children, ages 2 and 6, if she made any noise.

In small villages like hers, honor is held above all else, and women carry the burden of honor for their families.

She was arrested short after the incident and now is asking for an abortion. In Turkey, abortion is only allowed during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.

The story went viral on social media and local newspapers. Some called her murder a heroic act after they said laws and society failed her.

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Filed under: General •Turkey •Video •Women

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August 25, 2012
Posted: 1027 GMT

Over 8000 people live in the Palestinian town of Allar. A number, 15 year old Bashaer Othman says is manageable to govern.

Othman has probably spent the best summer of her life. She ran the town…Literally.

Othman became the youngest girl in the world to serve as a mayor, when she was chosen as part of an educational youth program for the position.

“The real challenge is when I become a minister, I will deal with all Palestinians, not only 8000 people” says Othman.

For this ambitious leader this position has made her “fall in love” with political and social work and even made her consider a major in international studies upon graduation.

“Palestinians need a true leader and I want to be part of this leadership.” She says.

Othman tells CNN, she has been attending meetings and giving speeches and even signing off on projects for her town.

No shying away for this girl. She has been working at the municipality for almost a month and half and is already making some changes.

She wants to start a local civil defense unit.

“When there’s a fire, people used to wait for firefighters to come from a nearby town. Am currently working on opening a fire department with 6 branches across my town.”

Out of 255 members at the Local Youth Council in Allar, 12 boys and girls were elected to work as members of the municipality and Othman was elected to become the mayor for 2 months.

In the little time that she has this young mayor is hoping to give back to her fellows. And her friends are hopeful she will start a change that will make their future better.

The dearest project to her heart is renovating the town’s library. She says “I think it all starts with education.”

Othman, a usual contender in poetry and reading competitions in her town, thinks youth can start by reading.

“The library has been sitting there for years. The books are old and no one wants to go there.”

Othman has all the support she needs from Allar’s regular mayor, Sufian Shadid, who handed the power to her for two months

The youngster says she meets with the mayor everyday for an hour and they go over the projects she is working on.

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Filed under: Palestinians •West Bank •Women

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August 14, 2012
Posted: 2157 GMT

In a city like Dubai where radars are almost in every corner, getting an occasional speeding ticket is very common.

But a Bangladeshi woman living in the UAE has received more than 250 traffic fines in just 3 months.

According to this article in Dubai based, Gulf News, the fines accumulated over the past few months and reached $54,000 most of which were speeding tickets. Traffic violations usually cost between $163 and $272.

The  police says the record was broken in the past by a Saudi man who had to pay more than $100,000 worth of traffic tickets.

In cases like this, the police department cancels the driver's license and the car's registry.

Violators are allowed to pay the fines in installments., but so far the woman has not come forward to pay her fines.

Dubai Police releases a list of the top 10 traffic violators every six months.

The second on the list wasn’t far off behind, a Syrian woman has received 288 fines ranking second with a bill worth just over $50,000.

Although two women topped the list, police says men are considered more serious violators than women.

The 500 or more radars spread across the city helped reduce the death rate of car accidents.

In 2008, 294 people died as a result of car accidents, but the number was lower last year.

According to Dubai Police, 134 people died as a result of car accidents in 2011. Police revealed that an approximate of 2.3 million traffic fines are issued per year in Dubai.

The list for the second quarter of 2012 showed that out of the ten top violators, five were Emaratis.

Speeding and not leaving enough space between cars are common violations on the streets in the UAE.

In 2008, 200 or so cars crashed into each other in what became one of  the biggest car accidents in the history of the UAE.

Police at the time said fog and cars driving so close to each other resulted in the crash.

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Filed under: Dubai •General •UAE

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August 4, 2012
Posted: 2048 GMT

Egyptians are known for their humor even in the hardest of times, but it maybe too early for Egyptians to laugh off a prank like this.

Egyptian singer and actor Mohammed Fouad repeatedly hit the host of the show and Lebanese actress, Cyrine Abdel-Nour threatened to sue the program, after realizing that the kidnap they thought they were victims of was nothing but a prank.

Comedian and actor Ramez Galal, known for his extreme practical jokes, staged what looked like a terrorist attack on a tourist bus carrying the celebrities.

This was part of a comedy show “Ramez the Desert Fox”, a special series for the holy month of Ramadan on Egyptian channel Al Hayat.

The prank starts off with a group of men in a car chasing the bus and, after overtaking it, shooting and banging on the windows. Galal played the role of the terrorist, dragging his victims from the bus and blindfolding them

A bit too extreme? Some would agree.  Especially for a country that is still recovering from instability, following last year’s revolution that toppled Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, after 30 years in office.

The country has been battling ever since to pick up the economy and restore  security, a topic many thought too sensitive to be funny.

"The channel is aware that the program is a bit harsh, but it reflects the lack of security in Egypt and this is what makes it the most watched comedy show in Egypt," Mootaz Salah El-Din, a media spokesperson at Al Hayat TV channel, told CNN.  "Egyptians are known for their humor. They deal with hard times through practical jokes."

El-Din says that an ambulance is always available on set but so far they did not need to use it. The program has pranked 31 celebrities, he said.

"We give the celebrity the option to refuse showing the prank on TV, but none of the pranked celebrities refused," said El-Din.

Ramadan, the holy month of fasting in Islam, is the peak of airtime for all TV producers in the region. Shows like this one is what families gather around to watch.

Galal had a similar show last year’s Ramadan where celebrities were stuck in an elevator with a lion.

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Filed under: Egypt •Video

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July 3, 2012
Posted: 1328 GMT

When it comes to Dubai, it’s not uncommon to hear that the most expensive products in the world are on sale.

This year alone, shoppers at a luxurious shopping mall attached to the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, have had the opportunity to purchase gold-plated eyeglasses worth $75,000 and a somewhat more affordable, yet equally ostentatious, $5,500 gold-plated iPad.

Neighboring emirate, Abu Dhabi, has long been considered much more fiscally conservative than Dubai.  But the UAE's national capital also showed it's propensity for 'bling' in 2010 when the Emirates Palace Hotel (which cost a staggering $3 billion to construct) displayed a Christmas tree worth $11 million.  The tree was set up in the hotel lobby, just a few feet away from the world's first  gold vending machine.

The global financial crisis may have left most of us concentrating on saving money, but in the UAE, appealing to the very high end of the market went out of favor only briefly.

From owning multi-million dollar vanity car plates to exotic animals like cheetahs and tigers to using social media to brag about spending tens of thousands of dollars at a restaurant, on the surface, the UAE appears to be an avowedly austerity-free zone.

And now, the UAE is home to the world's most expensive cupcake.  Topped with actual gold flakes, Dubai's latest dish costs more than $27,000.

Bloomsbury’s, a boutique cafe in Dubai, calls their latest play for the masses a "work of art."  Art that a potential buyer only has a quarter of an hour to admire.

The expensive chocolate used in making the ’Golden Phoenix’ melts in 15 minutes, according to Shafeena Yusuff, the cupcake's creator.  The gold sheets covering the cupcake will also peel off when the chocolate melts, giving it a different look and taste.

Made specially to order, the dish takes up to two days to prepare and contains some of the world’s most expensive ingredients.

When asked why anyone would spend $27,000 on a cupcake, Shafeena said, “It’s just like buying an expensive painting, or an expensive car or even a watch.”

In this oil-rich desert nation, a $27,000 dollar cupcake with a 15-minute lifespan might be just the thing.

But so far there have been no takers.  Maybe all the customers are down the road at McDonald's, where the migrant workers – who make up the majority of this country's population – can get a Happy Meal for a meager $2.70.

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Filed under: Dubai •UAE

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June 24, 2012
Posted: 903 GMT

The 101st episode of 'Inside the Middle East' airs on Wednesday, July 4th at 12:30pm Jordan/1:30pm UAE.

Hope you can watch!

Want to see more?  Become a fan of the show on Facebook and follow host Rima Maktabi on Twitter.

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Filed under: Culture •Inside The Middle East •Jordan •Video

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June 10, 2012
Posted: 1315 GMT

US pop icon Madonna performs on stage during her first ever concert in the Gulf as part of her MDNA world tour at Abu Dhabi's Yas Island Stadium on June 3, 2012. An estimated 25,000 fans cheered and screamed as the Material Girl finally appeared on stage more than two hours late, wearing a skin-tight black outfit from her "Girl Gone Wild" album. (MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/GettyImages)

More than 20,000 fans waited in the warm weather for almost two hours before the 'Queen of Pop' Madonna kicked off her concert in Abu Dhabi last week, but her controversial performance is still echoing throughout the region today.

Coming from Tel Aviv in Israel, where she debuted her world tour last week, Madonna opened her Abu Dhabi gig with a series of religious, sexual and violent acts that left fans in both countries both mesmerized and shocked.

Some Madonna fans in the UAE, according to this columnist from Gulf Newspaper, were upset at the pop star for not abiding by their relatively conservative society.

At least one Twitter user noted a contradiction:

Madonna opened her first act  in Abu Dhabi with religious chants, and featured a huge cross on stage which was later cut in half.  In a later scene, Madonna carried an AK-47 and used it – mockingly – to kill a few of the dancers on stage.  She then proceeded to strip her clothes, albeit partially, leaving some fans with their jaws dropped in surprise.

It wasn't just in the UAE. Read the rest of this entry »

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Filed under: Abu Dhabi •Culture •Israel •UAE

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June 3, 2012
Posted: 1519 GMT

A Turkish court charged an award-winning pianist on Friday with insulting Islam on Twitter, according to the Associated Press.  

Fazil Say, a 42-year-old Turkish pianist, reportedly posted several tweets to his Twitter account which were perceived as supporting atheism and insulting of Turkey's “religious values”. 

Say faces up to 18 months in prison if convicted in an October trial, according to his lawyer's comments in this article from Agence-France Presse.

"It's unbelievable that it was made into a court case." Mr. Say told the New York Times. "The case, which is inconsistent with human rights and universal laws, is bad for Turkey's image," he said to Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper.

Here's the NYT on Say's controversial tweets:

Another Twitter post, this one written by Mr. Say, joked about a muezzin’s rapid delivery of the call to prayer, asking if he wanted to get away quickly for a drink. The messages are no longer available online. The pianist, who has frequently criticized the pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party government over its cultural and social policies, publicly defines himself as an atheist— a controversial admission in Turkey, which is overwhelmingly Muslim.

Read more on Say on his website and Facebook account.

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May 30, 2012
Posted: 1555 GMT

Arab clients smoke waterpipes after breaking their fast at a Ramadan tent in a five-star hotel in Dubai on September 16, 2008. (MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images)

Smokers in the United Arab Emirates may soon be feeling the squeeze.

Dubai is set to mark World No Tobacco Day this Thursday by banning tobacco sales for 24 hours, according to the UAE-based newspaper Gulf News.

More than 200 companies – including restaurants, gas stations, and supermarkets – have reportedly elected not to sell tobacco products for the day.

In the past five years, the UAE has banned smoking in closed public places, increased the price of cigarettes, and soon will cover tobacco-related products with graphic warning labels.

But banning tobacco altogether may be tough for some:

A pack of cigarettes in the UAE costs under $2, but the nation's rulers are intending to change that.  Measures such as a tax increase on cigarettes are just one example of  the country's plan to discourage smoking – especially among the younger generation.

“It is never too late for the smoker to consider quitting regardless of the type, amount or duration of smoking. Whenever you have the will, there will always be a way,” Dr. Abdul Razzak Al Kaddour, a cardiologist at the Sheikh Khalifah Medical City in Abu Dhabi, told the Khaleej Times.  The Sheikh Khalifah Medical City is putting up breath-analyzing booths on Thursday to help motivate smokers to quit.

Dubai residents welcomed the news on social media, but some noted that the day-long ban might not go far enough:

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Filed under: Abu Dhabi •Dubai •General •UAE

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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!”

Read the rest of this entry »

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Filed under: Culture •Egypt •Elections •Media

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