The United Arab Emirates is a country known for its outrageous tourist attractions, each more ambitious than the last, from massive indoor ski slopes to archipelagoes of entirely man-made islands. Given this history, it might not seem so remarkable that space tourism pioneers are turning to the country for the tourists of the future: according to recent reports in Arabian Business and Arabian Travel News, tickets for what is being called the first commercial space flight, slated to take off at the end of 2014, have gone on sale in Dubai. It marks the first time the company behind the flight has opened ticket sales up to Middle Eastern consumers.
According to Arabian Business, the company, Space Expedition Corp. (SXC), is close to finishing its first reusable spaceship at a desert location outside of Los Angeles. When commercial flights begin, the spaceship will make four trips into space each day, breaking the sound barrier within a minute and entering space within four. SXC's founder and CEO, Michiel Mol, expects that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will approve the spaceship for commercial use by the end of 2014.
The company undoubtedly looked to Dubai consumers because of the city and the broader region's past space exploration-themed tourism projects (and, it probably goes without saying, the wealth that makes it possible). According to U.S.-based Mobilona Space Hotels, the company has received proposals from Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Doha for each city's own space-themed hotel. The hotel, which was first proposed by developers seeking permission to plan in Barcelona, would feature a "zero-gravity spa" and a mock space-training program in which guests would experience a "form of weightlessness" in a vertical wind tunnel. While Barcelona officials scoffed at the idea, Emiratis and Qataris were apparently more receptive. There has also been some chatter about plans to build a $3.3-billion Space City in Qatar with a number of space-related tourist attractions.
As interest in space exploration and space tourism has exploded in the UAE and the broader Gulf region, the recent news of SXC's marketing in Dubai has positioned the country to become what may one day be called a hub of space tourism. Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, the "space tourism arm" of his Virgin Group company and one of the most well-known commercial space flight companies, is partly owned by the Abu Dhabi government-controlled Aabar Investments, and part of the deal in which Aabar acquired the 32 percent-stake also included an agreement to build Virgin Galactic spaceport facilities in Abu Dhabi. When Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic company launched in 2003 with promises to send customers into space for the first commercial flights, Michiel Mol, who would go on to be the CEO of SXC, was one of the first to buy a $200,000 ticket. But as the years went by, Mol got restless and became CEO of his own start-up with similar aims. "We are David versus Goliath," Mol has said of the competition between SXC and Branson's Virgin Galactic.
And now, SXC, the Dutch start-up that's quickly becoming the dark horse in the race to capitalize on tourism's next frontier, has moved into what should be Virgin Galactic's home territory: the Emirates. Still, though, Virgin Galactic has quite a lead on SXC, with more than 550 customers compared to SXC's 250 and a fully operational spaceport in New Mexico, compared to the two SXC spaceports that are expected to open in 2017.
Both SXC and Virgin Galactic have set 2014 as the target year for taking tourists to space, but even since June, that target has been pushed back from early 2014 to late 2014. But if the companies ever make it to take-off, the pay-off looks promising: in 2012, a space and defense industry consulting company speculated the potential value of the commercial space industry would be $1.6 billion by 2020. If space tourism seemed far-out before, the practical trappings of profit calculations and, now, competition between companies that are no longer the only player in the business, represent an entirely new level of absurd. Welcome to the future -- or, maybe, just another outrageous and gimmicky tourist initiative on the Arabian Peninsula.
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Saudi Arabia has long relied on foreign workers to fill millions of low-paying construction, clerical and service jobs, in many cases illicitly. But as the government cracks down on illegal workers, tens of thousands of Filipino and Indonesian migrants are being forced to leave the country by November 3, or face up to two years in jail.
In response, senior Philippine officials flew to Saudi this week to negotiate the repatriation of 5,000 Filipino laborers who still have not been issued exit permits five days before the deadline, while Vice President Jejomar Binay wrote to Saudi King Abdullah pleading for more time. Indonesia, meanwhile, expects to repatriate 18,000 migrant workers, only 4,000 of whom have obtained exit permits. The repatriation process is costly for both governments and workers: The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs has offered to shoulder penalties and fines imposed upon their citizens in Saudi, and opened a temporary shelter in Jeddah for undocumented mothers and children; the Indonesian government is trying to facilitate low-cost flights for its citizens.
The Saudis' crackdown on foreign workers is part of a broader push to create more jobs for its own citizens. The government began prioritizing job creation in 2011, in an effort to stave off popular unrest (At the time, 25 percent of Saudi youths were unemployed), and instituted a "Saudization" policy. Now, fewer firms are allowed to employ foreign workers and, because migrant laborers require employer sponsorship to obtain work permits, many lost their legal right to remain in the country. (Some were already in the country illegally, having entered with the help of recruiters who operate outside the regulatory system). Since then, more than 800,000 migrant laborers have been deported.
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Saudi authorities have found a novel way of punishing women who defy the country's driving ban: jailing the men who support them.
Around 50 women got behind the wheel on Oct. 26, in an act of civil disobedience. While some of the women were stopped and fined, none were arrested. Instead, police apprehended Tariq al-Mubarak, a male columnist who worked closely with organizers and who had penned an op-ed promoting women's rights.
"This time they are not after women, they are after men who supported the women," women's activist Manal al-Sharif told Foreign Policy. "They're too afraid of people's reaction."
Women have organized against the driving ban twice before, each time eliciting swift and heavy-handed responses from the government. In 1990, authorities suspended women from their jobs and restricted their ability to travel outside of the country. Following a 2011 protest, police inciting international outrage when they jailed Sharif for nine days, and sentenced another woman, Shaima Jastaina, to 10 lashes (Jastaina was later pardoned by the king).
The latest demonstration was the largest and most widely publicized, as women uploaded YouTube videos of themselves driving, and supporters broadcast the event on social media. "The whole country went into an emergency state on Saturday," Sharif said, "As if it was in a war - just because of women drivers."
Yet, the government's official response was markedly tamer than in years past -- in part, perhaps, because of the verbal lashing Saudi delegates received at a U.N. Human Rights Council session last week. Following the demonstration, women reported being followed by secret police, and were criticized for choosing October 26 (Hillary Clinton's birthday) for their protest, but Mubarak remains the only person in custody.
Human Rights Watch characterized his detention as a retaliation against supporters of women's rights.
But the government's focus on Mubarak may bear more pernicious implications: By making one man responsible for the protest, authorities invalidate the women behind the campaign -- implying that the movement will come to little without male support. It's par for the course in a country where women are regarded as the legal minors of male guardians -- unable to marry, go to college, or undergo certain medical procedures without the permission of fathers, husbands, brothers or even sons.
Sharif argues that, since the 2011 protest, public perceptions of women are rapidly changing.
"I see men commenting on the movement," she said. "They say, ‘Oh my god, we never thought a single woman would have the bravery of 1,000 men. You go online, they say, ‘if you want to get your rights, listen to women.'"
The women's driving campaign enjoys broad support, bolstered by the ease and availability of social media. An online petition circulated before the October 26 protest collected nearly 17,000 signatures in one week. Just two years ago, a similar petition only garnered 3,000 signatures. "It showed that the society - and even men - was fed up," Sharif said. "This is huge, because women are realizing how powerful they are."
The next women's driving day is scheduled for November 30.
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CAIRO - In a town that lies less than eight miles from the center of Damascus, Syrians are starving to death. Some children in Muadamiyah have resorted to eating leaves to survive, while a group of Muslim clerics also issued a fatwa that the consumption of dogs and cats was permissible for the area's residents. Meanwhile, videos showing emaciated children's corpses continue to filter out -- victims of a siege by the Syrian regime that prevents the entry of either food or medical care.
In an article for Foreign Policy on Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the Syrian security forces' denial of humanitarian aid to places like Muadamiyah, calling on the world to "act quickly and decisively" to pressure the Assad regime to allow assistance to reach civilians. For some of the aid workers on the conflict's front lines, however, the United States and its allies have been all talk and no action.
"Secretary Kerry and others give support in a gray, non-focused way," said Khaled Erkoussi, the head of emergency operations at the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC). "It's not enough now to say, ‘we support you, Syrian Red Crescent.' What we want you to say is, ‘You must get your hands off the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, stop shooting at them, let them go to the areas [in need] with the support with the U.N.'"
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Sure, some have spent the past few days lamenting that Pakistani girls' education advocate Malala Yousafzai didn't receive the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. But several Russian news outlets and politicians have been grousing about a separate slight: the Hague-based watchdog Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) wresting the prize from their own human rights crusader and international peacekeeper: Vladimir Putin.
"This is absolutely unfair that the OPCW was given this title," State Duma deputy Iosif Kobzon, a member of Putin's United Russia party, told the state-owned news service Itar-Tass, according to Pravda.Ru. "Who forced Syria to destroy chemical weapons, if not Putin? Who made Assad sign all agreements of the UN Security Council for the destruction of chemical weapons? They should have given the prize to two nominees then. This is unfair, because Putin is making every effort."
The Russian federal news agency Regnum, meanwhile, reported on OPCW's win briefly before reminding readers that it is "noteworthy" that the "process of destroying chemical weapons in war-torn Syria" was initiated by Russia and its president. Not noteworthy, apparently, are Putin's aggression in Georgia and campaigns against homosexuals and immigrants in his own country -- recent actions that might, one would speculate, undermine his shot at a Nobel Peace Price.
Technically speaking, Putin is not eligible to receive the prize until next year, as nominations for this year's award had to be in by February 2013, and the Russian advovacy group that nominated him, the International Academy of Spiritual Unity and Cooperation of Peoples of the World, only submitted theirs in September. The group's nomination cited Putin's efforts to "maintain peace and tranquility" not only in Russia, but also in "all conflicts arising on the planet" -- a sweeping appraisal encompassing Russia's plan to put Syria's chemical weapons under international control in an effort to avoid U.S. military strikes.
But that technicality hasn't stopped Russian lawmakers from interpreting the Nobel Peace Prize committee's choice as a snub. Alexey Pushkov, the head of the State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, called it a "politically sophisticated choice" and a "cunning move" designed to withhold the prize from those who "truly prevented" the war in Syria.
Others have characterized the OPCW's prize as, at its core, an award to Putin. An article in Russia's English-language Moscow Times called the OPCW's win a "nod to Putin" since the organization was granted such a crucial role in the conflict as a result of negotiations brokered by Moscow. Federation Council member Valery Ryazansky was especially optimistic, telling Russia's state-owned news agency RIA-Novosti: "I believe that this is a recognition of the fact that the Russian government invited the international community to the decision on the Syrian issue, which was found to be most effective."
Another article at Russia's Mail.ru site reported that Syrian opposition leaders were angry at the Nobel committee for, as they saw it, implicitly praising Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in giving the award to the OPCW, reminding readers that Russia was "the author of the idea of destroying chemical weapons stockpiles in the country."
Assad, it seems, wouldn't mind the recognition. In an interview with the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar, the Syrian leader reportedly joked that the Nobel Peace Prize "should have been mine."
Maybe next year, guys.
BAYU ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images
That the first feature film shot in Saudi Arabia (a country with no commercial theaters) was directed by a woman (in a country where women still famously cannot drive) would have been enough to spark a media firestorm. That the film, Wadjda, which hit U.S. theaters last week, also happens to be good -- "a stunningly assured debut," wrote Slate; "sharply observed, deceptively gentle," wrote the New York Times -- has made it, and its photogenic director, Haifaa al-Mansour, irresistible.
Mansour's story about a young Saudi girl's quest to buy a bike -- so she can race her male friend Abdullah -- explores the lives and roles of women in one of the most conservative, traditional countries in the Middle East. It introduces us to the rhythms of daily household life in Saudi Arabia, a world that few outsiders ever see.
Mansour spoke to Foreign Policy this week about losing access to locations hours before a shoot, why it was so hard to recruit actors for her film, and the curious relationship between Saudi women and their drivers. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Fars News Agency, the state-run Iranian news outlet famous for picking up an Onion story and presenting it as news, has apparently decided that plagiarizing satirical articles isn't brazen enough. On Thursday, the news agency's editors reprinted a Foreign Policy article on the debate over chemical weapons in Syria. And by "reprinted" we mean they lopped off entire paragraphs, changed key words, and added others to turn the argument into a case for why the U.S. shouldn't take military action in Syria -- and why the rebels, not Syrian President and Iranian ally Bashar al-Assad, have committed unspeakable atrocities (oh, and Iran comes off looking pretty good too). "This article originally appeared on the US Foreign Policy magazine," the Fars article notes at the end of the story. We beg to differ.
With the Obama administration in an all-out blitz to gain congressional authorization for a strike On Syria, the debate over chemical weapons and a potential U.S. military retaliation has taken an inevitable turn: The conspiracy theories have arrived.
Perhaps President Obama planned the chemical weapons attack to create an excuse to intervene? Or maybe he just framed the Syrians? Or perhaps it was in fact a "false flag" attack carried out at Israel's behest? Or maybe the intelligence has just been wildly distorted? Or maybe the attack was in fact no attack at all but an accidental release of chemical weapons provided to the rebels by Saudi Arabian intelligence officials?
One theory is crazier than the next, but for these modern conspiracy theorists, no conjecture seems out of bounds. Here's your guide to the ugly turn the Syria debate has now taken.
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What does one Nashville soul food restaurateur think about Al Jazeera -- the Qatari-funded TV network, once vilified by George W. Bush as "hateful propaganda" - setting up shop in his hometown? Let's say he's skeptical, but open-minded:
"I don't know a lot about you," he told an Al Jazeera crew, who dropped by his restaurant to get his thoughts. "I'll know more when I see you on TV, and then I can have a better opinion once I get to see you."
Give them some credit for tackling the elephant in the studio head on. In the one-hour preview leading up to the official, much-anticipated launch of Al Jazeera America on Tuesday, the network was upfront about the possibility that the average viewer might find something about the network ... a little unfamiliar, perhaps?
One man, in one of many man-on-the-street interviews featured in the promo, said he'd "heard the name" Al Jazeera -- and knew that it had "something to do" with the Middle East. Another volunteered that it was "not in California," and "not in Texas" but rather somewhere far off and exotic: Iraq or Iran, maybe.
STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
CAIRO -- As the confrontation between Egypt's government and supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsy heats up, Cairo's new rulers have a new target for criticism -- the foreign press corps.
Egypt's State Information Service (SIS) released a statement Saturday criticizing some foreign correspondents for "steer[ing] away from objectivity and neutrality," which resulted in them communicating "a distorted image" of events in Egypt to their audiences. "Egypt is feeling severe bitterness towards some Western media coverage that is biased to the Muslim Brotherhood and ignores shedding light on violent and terror acts that are perpetrated by this group," the statement read.
I had a question for Nader Bakkar, the spokesman and co-founder of the Salafist Nour Party: How can Egypt avoid more of the bloodshed that has brought it to a crisis point since the military deposed Mohammed Morsy? There was a long silence.
"It's a very difficult question," he said eventually. "We understand that nobody can attack the military and they will stand without any reaction. But we don't want excessive reaction -- you should have the necessary emotional stability in front of civilians...At the same time, for the civilians who want to struggle against the military, we are trying to convince them that this will not lead to anything but more blood."
The message sums up the balancing act the Nour Party, the second-largest political movement only to the Brotherhood, is trying to achieve: It signed on to the "roadmap" that ousted Morsy, providing valuable Islamist cover for the coup, but has since been at odds with the new government and critical of the military crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood. They have taken the lead in pushing for a reconciliation with the Brotherhood -- but could gain the most if the Islamist movement is excluded from the political process.
David Degner/Getty Images
On July 11, the United States delivered its clearest message that it had made its peace with the military takeover in Egypt. Barely a week after President Mohammed Morsy was forced from office and three days after the army fired on pro-Morsy protesters, killing 54 of them, White House officials approved the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to the Egyptian military.
Now, Washington is making a U-turn. The Pentagon confirmed today that that the delivery of the fighter jets would be delayed due to the "current situation" in Cairo. "We do not believe it is appropriate to move forward at this time with the delivery of F-16s," said Defense Department spokesman George Little.
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CAIRO -- On July 8, Suad, a Syrian woman residing in Egypt, returned home with her mother after a trip to Jordan to renew her passport. Her three daughters and husband were waiting for her in the city of Alexandria, just a few days before the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan.
MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images
A leaflet distributed outside Al Jazeera's offices in Cairo, reading "the lies and the other lies" -- a play on the station's slogan, "the opinion and the other opinion."
CAIRO — As the Cairo press corps gathered for a press conference with a spokesman for the Egyptian military, some journalists reserved their harshest criticism for one of their own. Before the beginning of the event, which was intended to shed light on this morning's violence, members of the press chanted for the removal of an Al Jazeera reporter. As the reporter left amid cheers from the crowd, the military spokesman assured the audience that he supported freedom of the press and that "Egypt is a country of freedom and democracy."
It wasn't the first obstacle faced by Al Jazeera, which is accused by foes of deposed President Mohamed Morsy of being too sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood. Al Jazeera English correspondent Sherine Tadros tweeted pictures of two leaflets being handed out near the bureau's office in Cairo. "A bullet may kill a man, but a lying camera kills a nation," reads one of leaflets.
Al Jazeera isn't the only media outlet that's under fire. Across the country, there's a media divide -- full of overheated rhetoric that wipes out any potential for middle ground -- that mirrors how politics are playing out on the street right now. How the country can come together after this shock, or even agree on a single narrative about what happened, remains a mystery.
Among American stations, CNN has come in for the most grief for what anti-Morsy demonstrators view as its unsympathetic coverage. Protesters criticized the network's immediate decision to call the events a "coup" and blasted the network for labeling an anti-Morsy demonstration in Tahrir as supporting the deposed president. Some protesters have carried signs reading "CNN supports terrorism," while Egyptians in New York City organized a march to protest the network's coverage.
Like Egyptian citizens themselves, the media increasingly appears to be operating in two separate universes. While Islamist channels were shuttered shortly after the military takeover, some anti-Morsy outlets have given their readers the impression that the nation was unanimously in support of the Muslim Brotherhood's fall from power.
Al-Gomhoreya (The Republic), a newspaper with a staunchly anti-Islamist stance, has largely ignored the sizable protests in support of Morsy. Its front page currently makes no mention of the killing of dozens of pro-Morsy protesters at Cairo's Republican Guard headquarters today -- its headline currently reads, "Our revolution … is not a coup." Another article quoted "judicial sources" revealing that the Muslim Brotherhood had sabotaged an investigation into an attack on a prison during Egypt's 2011 uprising, and that the case would not be reopened.
The television coverage is just as politicized, according to Adel Abdel Ghafar, a visiting fellow at the American University of Cairo. On anti-Morsy stations, the struggle is increasingly portrayed as a battle against terrorism rather than a contest between two political forces. Abdel Ghafar noted the message that decorated the bottom of the screen during a program by satellite channel CBC that played a triumphant video of the massive anti-Morsy protests in Tahrir: "Against terrorism."
"It has become acceptable to say 'the terrorists of Rabaa al-Adaweya,'" Abdel Ghafar said, referring to the site of a major pro-Morsy sit-in. "Meanwhile, of course, the people in Tahrir are referred to as 'revolutionaries'."
For many of the media big shots involved in this feud, it's not only about politics -- it's personal. During Morsy's defiant June 27 speech, he mentioned CBC owner Mohamed el-Amin and Dream owner Ahmed Bahgat by name, accusing them of tax fraud. The two stations have returned the favor by blasting the Islamist opposition at every chance following the military takeover.
The media outlets of the Muslim Brotherhood, of course, haven't been any better. The movement's official website ran an article claiming that the military-appointed president, Adly Mansour, was secretly a Jew, though it then pulled the piece. The Brotherhood's political party also published pictures of dead children that it said were killed during the bloodshed at the Republican Guard headquarters, but which were really taken in Syria. The Egyptian military spokesman seized on this mistake at today's press conference, saying it was evidence of a "campaign of lies and psychological warfare" against the state. It was just the latest salvo in what has become an increasingly ugly media war.
This is a guest post from Cairo-based journalist Evan Hill. Follow him on Twitter @evanchill.
CAIRO -- It wasn't that long ago that Mohamed was protesting against Egypt's generals. Now he's welcoming their overthrow of the country's elected president.
"They [the military] learned from their experience, and we need the military to push Morsy out," said Mohamed Arafat, an organizer for the opposition Social Democrats.
The role of the Egyptian military in the protest movement -- what Morsy and his supporters have described as nothing short of a coup -- was almost inevitable. It was an intervention that many who wanted Morsy gone had contemplated, though few were willing to commit the faux pas of demanding it bluntly. Now, finally, they're speaking their minds.
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images
There's been an abundance of -- deserved -- criticism of CNN's coverage today, which spent much of the morning focused on the ongoing George Zimmerman trial while giving short shrift to the showdown between the military and Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
But if CNN's ears should be burning right now - what about Al Jazeera English? Around noon, EST, just as tensions in Egypt were peaking -- as rumors swirled of tanks taking to the streets in Cairo and President Mohamed Morsy being held under house arrest -- the Qatar-based broadcaster was showing viewers in the United States ... a regularly scheduled special about undocumented immigrants in America? (The channel switched to live Egypt coverage a few minutes before 1 p.m. EST, but continued to intersperse other programming.)
Screenshot/Al Jazeera English
People have a tendency to get carried away when hyping a new leader -- particularly one who represents significant change. Still, reports on Tuesday that the Muslim Brotherhood will be publishing a book on Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy's achievements -- nine months into his first term -- can't help but feel a bit premature, particularly considering the political and economic turmoil that continue to grip the country.
The 124-page book, literally titled, "Months of achievements...President Morsy builds Egypt anew," will be divided into five chapters chronicling the new president's successes, including freeing the country from military rule, endorsing the constitution, and supporting Gaza's uprising against Israel.
Author Reda al-Masry, whom the Arabic-language version of Egypt Independent identifies as an Egyptian "educational expert," explained his decision to write the book to the paper, noting that he feels the Egyptian press has given Morsy an unfair hearing (ironically, he praises Western media for giving Morsy due respect as a leader). Masry then goes on to cite an impressive list of "firsts" that Morsy has achieved. These include:
The last two firsts are nods to the corruption and nepotism that characterized the Mubarak years. But while, in some ways, Morsy has been a breath of fresh air, opposition members accuse the president and his administration of trying to monopolize power and control public discourse. In this light, the book seems more propoganda than political chronicle. In the Brotherhood's defense, recent reports that the Egyptian Ministry of Culture was planning to pay for printing the book and disseminating free copies to the public have been denied. Instead, the chronicle of the young presidency's accomplishments will be distributed to young Brotherhood members.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
When it comes to women's rights in Saudi Arabia, things always seem to move one incremental step (or, in this case, cycle) forward, two steps back. On Monday, AP reported that al-Yawm, a Saudi daily, had cited an unnamed Saudi religious police official as saying that women will now be allowed to ride bicycles in the country, but only for "entertainment" purposes.
The underwhelming story inspired its fair share of sarcasm in the blogosphere. Cartoon images of fully veiled women pedaling on bikes circulated online. Jezebel ran with the headline, "Saudi Arabia Lets Women Ride Bikes for Funzies." Meanwhile, Policymic listed five ways the change doesn't represent progress at all (and accompanied the list with a few can't-miss GIFs).
But, alas, even this modest sign of progress may have been an illusion. The pan-Arab daily al-Hayat spoke to the country's religious police chief who called the matter "funny," adding that because riding bikes is uncommon in Saudi society, officials never considered the practice as something to either be banned or allowed for women. (Al-Hayat also name-checks the outlets that were a little eager in reporting the AP story, including Fox, the Huffington Post, and ThinkProgress).
In light of the ambiguous wording, it remains unclear whether it would be acceptable for women to ride bikes in public if the mood strikes. My guess, for what its worth? Probably not.
(h/t: Riyadh Bureau)
Image entitled "Allowed", by Mohammad Sharaf
Conventional wisdom for women and men choosing a perfume or cologne generally holds that one should avoid making a strong statement with a scent. Let someone else's perfume sensually assault everyone else in the boardroom.
Not so, apparently, in Gaza, where a local company's newest fragrance is called M-75, named after the long-range rockets Hamas designed and fired on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem last month.
Marketed to both women and men (there are two different scents and his and hers bottles), the fragrance is meant to be a symbol of Palestinian resistance and a celebration that M-75 rockets were able to reach their targets during the eight day "Operation Pillar of Defense" in November.
According to the owner of the company, Shadi Adwan, "The fragrance is pleasant and attractive, like the missiles of the Palestinian resistance, and especially the M-75." Its goal? "To remind citizens of the victory wherever they may be, even in China."
The success of this political beauty statement has yet to be determined. M-75 costs twice as much as other perfumes in Gaza, due to its "luxurious" ingredients. Let's hope this doesn't lead to retaliation. No one wants to know what "Pillar of Defense" smells like.
MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images
The Uprising of Women in the Arab World is not pleased with Facebook.
The group, which advocates for women's rights in the Middle East, issued a press statement on Nov. 7 claiming that Facebook, once hailed as the catalyst of the Arab Spring, was purposefully targeting the organization through censorship. After a member posted a controversial photograph to the group's Facebook page on Oct. 25, group leaders say, the social networking giant reacted by blocking the image and suspending the account of the administrator who posted it for 24 hours.
"The photograph was part of a campaign which asks the members of our Facebook page to post pictures of themselves holding banners that explain why they support The Uprising of Women in the Arab World," Diala Haider, one of the organization's administrators, explained in an interview. "Women from all the Arab countries participated and expressed their demands and outrage at social discrimination and the ways in which women have been marginalized in the public sphere."
This particular photograph was posted by Dana Bakdounes, a young woman from Syria. In it, Bakdounes is pictured with her hair uncovered, holding her passport, which has a photo of her wearing a hijab. She also holds a sign which reads: "I am with the uprising of women in the Arab world because for 20 years I was not allowed to feel the wind in my hair and on my body."
Haider says that after the first time Bakdounes' photo was removed by Facebook, supporters of The Uprising of Women in the Arab World responded by posting the image to their own Facebook pages and on Twitter. Convinced that the removal of the photograph had been an error on the part of Facebook, one of the administrators, Yalda Younes, reposted the image to the original page. Facebook then allegedly removed the photograph again and suspended her account for seven days. The group filled out a feedback request stating that Facebook's actions were a violation of free speech, and on Oct. 31 the block on Bakdounes' photo was removed. But just a week later, after the organization posted a status update on Facebook asking its supporters to follow the group on Twitter and use the hashtag #DanaWind for solidarity, Haider says Facebook suspended all five of the administrators' accounts and sent them an official notice warning that their accounts could be deleted if they violated Facebook community rules again.
"We've had a lot of religious fanatics and extremists who use offensive and insulting language in reaction to our efforts," says Haider. "They call us infidels for supporting the freedom of women to choose things like whether to wear a veil or not. We've come under attack, but that was expected.... The real surprise was Facebook's reaction to the page."
In a statement posted on Reddit on Nov. 13 and confirmed to Foreign Policy as official by a Facebook spokesman, Facebook explained that the incident was simply an error:
"We made a mistake," the statement reads. "In this case, we mistakenly blocked images from The Uprising of Women in the Arab World Page, and worked to rectify the mistake as soon as we were notified.... To be clear, the images of the woman were not in violation of our terms. Instead, a mistake was made in the process of responding to a report on controversial content.... What made this situation worse is that we made multiple mistakes over a number of days, and it took time to rectify each of these missteps."
Incidents such as the removal of Bakdounes' photo raise questions about Facebook's content moderation system, which has come under fire in recent months. In February, Amine Derkaoui, a Moroccan employee of oDesk, one of the outsourcing firms that Facebook used to moderate its content at the time, leaked internal documents to Gawker detailing the social media site's content guidelines. According to the documents, while "camel toes" and breastfeeding mothers are off limits, "Crushed heads, limbs etc are OK as long as no insides are showing." Facebook terminated its partnership with oDesk in May.
An incident similar to the removal of Bakdounes' photo occurred in April 2011 when a photograph of gay men kissing was removed (and subsequently reposted by Facebook with an apology for its "error"). The site has also been criticized for blocking the New Yorker's Facebook page after the magazine posted a cartoon that depicted female nipples. In October, a group of Navy SEALS claimed that Facebook was censoring an anti-Obama meme when it took down the image and provided no explanation for its removal until after the story was reported -- at which point Facebook issued statements to news outlets apologizing for its mistake.
These episodes begin to make more sense when you factor in the system that, at least until May, Facebook used to moderate its content. Derkaoui told Gawker that he was part of a team of 50 people from across the globe -- many from poor countries -- who moderated Facebook's content from home for as little as $1 an hour. He did not return requests for comment, and Facebook has been tightlipped about which companies it now uses to moderate content, failing to respond to emailed questions sent by Foreign Policy.
Vaughn Hester, who works at Crowdflower, a San Francisco-based crowdsourcing firm that also tasks employees from around the world with moderating content, told The Daily Beast in September that "asking moderators to flag photos that are ‘offensive' can result in very different attitudes in terms of what constitutes offensive content versus permissible content." Given what seems to be the inherent subjectivity of the content moderation industry, as well as the vast cultural and religious differences between employees from different countries, it seems possible that a photograph like Bakdounes', which Americans might not find offensive in the least, could have upset a moderator from another country.
Panagiotis Ipeirotis, an associate professor in the Operations and Management Sciences department at New York University's Stern School of Business, says that there are many ways to identify and eliminate biases in the content moderation industry.
"You might, for example, compare different moderators' work against each other," says Ipeirotis. "So, if you're worried about cultural biases, you can take five moderators from different regions and get blended input on an image."
Ipeirotis says he is unfamiliar with Facebook's content moderation policy, but maintains that the content moderation systems of different companies are only as efficient as the standards they implement.
Haider says that while she understands that mistakes are made, it's important that Facebook take incidents like this seriously because arbitrary acts of censorship aren't compatible with the site's role as a forum for free speech.
"It's only normal that Facebook, which has penetrated the whole globe, hires employees from all over the world with various religious and cultural backgrounds," she says. "This becomes problematic only when those employees favor their cultural and religious biases over Facebook's policy of respecting freedom of expression. This is why Facebook should take serious measures regarding such mistakes. We trusted that Facebook would be a supporter of freedom of expression and the uprising; we have faced the opposite by feeling that Facebook is assisting extremists and misogynists to put us in a corner.... It is disappointing, to say the least."
Facebook outlines some of its guidelines for acceptable content on its community standards page while maintaining that it attempts to balance the need for a safe online environment with its commitment to freedom of speech.
"Facebook gives people around the world the power to publish their own stories, see the world through the eyes of many other people, and connect and share wherever they go," the page reads. "The conversation that happens on Facebook -- and the opinions expressed here -- mirror the diversity of the people using Facebook. To balance the needs and interests of a global population, Facebook protects expression that meets the community standards."
Despite the removal of Bakdounes' photograph, The Uprising of Women in the Arab World's Facebook page has over 66,000 likes, and Haider acknowledges the important role that social media sites such as Facebook have played in mobilizing activist groups such as hers.
"We wanted a forum that can provide a free space for women and men from around the Arab world to meet and voice their concerns and propositions for a better reality for women within the transforming Arab societies," she says. "In this sense, Facebook helps break the borders and helps in sharing real experiences and awareness with the least possible costs."
Speaking at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington D.C. this afternoon, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi of Yemen expressed unwavering support for the controversial CIA drone program in his country.
Hadi praised the "high precision that's been provided by the drones," adding that they leave "zero margin of error if you know exactly what target you're aiming at." He further acknowledged that drone strikes form an essential component of the campaign against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) because of the Yemeni Air Force's inability to carry out night operations with its aging fleet of Soviet-made MiG-21s. "It's highly unlikely," he said, that these aircraft "would be successful."
Hadi's public endorsement of the U.S. drone program, which has expanded exponentially under President Obama, represents a shift from his predecessor's policy of denying U.S. involvement. According to a 2010 U.S. diplomatic cable, for instance, President Ali Abdullah Saleh told Gen. David Petraeus, "We'll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours."
Hadi also accused Iran of seeking a foothold in his country by creating a "climate of chaos and violence."
Yemen, which is in the midst of a delicate GCC-led transition following the ouster of longtime dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, faces a conflict with Houthi militants in the north, a stubborn separatist movement in the south, and a growing Al Qaeda presence in the country's tribal hinterlands. Much of the country's infrastructure -- including schools, roads, and hospitals -- has been destroyed in the fighting and thousands of citizens have been displaced.
At the same time, Yemen is grappling with critical water and energy shortages, a burgeoning youth population, and the second highest unemployment rate in the Arab world.
In the mist of this crisis, Hadi charged, Iran is trying to "thwart the political solution in Yemen" as a hedge against its waning influence in Syria. Iranian spy networks, he said, are "backing military action" in the south and "buying political opposition figures and media figures."
Hadi sought to portray the security situation in Yemen as a regional and international threat as part of his bid to drum up assistance from international donors. AQAP, he said, is a "common enemy" that poses a "serious and real threat" to the West as well as the Arab world. Moreover, if Yemen descends into civil war, he warned, the situation will likely be "way worse than Somalia or Afghanistan to the area, to the region, and to the world."
Following Hadi's address at the U.N. General Assembly yesterday in which he called for "more logistical and technical support" in the fight against Al Qaeda, the Friends of Yemen -- composed of the P-5 and the GCC -- promised an additional $1.46 billion in financial assistance to Yemen, bringing the total to nearly $8 billion pledged by international donors.
When questioned by the Atlantic Council's Frederick Kempe about his country's most pressing needs, however, Hadi hinted at still more economic assistance: "Seventy five percent of the solution" to Yemen's crisis, he said, "is an economic solution."
No. 13 USC rebounded from the drubbing Stanford gave it last week by grinding out a 27-9 victory over Cal on Saturday. It wasn't flashy -- quarterback Matt Barkley did an awful lot of handing off -- but Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy, in New York for the U.N. General Assembly meeting, was probably relieved. "Go Trojans!" he said in a pre-trip interview with the New York Times. He did not offer any commentary on Barkley's tanking Heisman campaign.
Morsy, who completed his Ph.D. in materials science at USC in the early 1980s and whose two sons are U.S. citizens, has a complicated relationship with the United States. He told the Times that he "learned a lot" during his time in California, but then quickly clarified that he meant "scientifically." California's laid-back attitude about cohabitation, gang problems, and preponderance of "naked restaurants" all made him uneasy. "I don't admire that," he told the Times. "But that is the society. They are living their way." The future Muslim Brotherhood official apparently never really got into the swing of SoCal life.
But if he is still lukewarm on American culture, Morsy seems to have at least moderated his most outrageously anti-American positions since becoming president. Whereas for most of the 2000s he was all too happy to peddle 9/11 conspiracy theories -- "When you come and tell me that the plane hit the tower like a knife in butter, then you are insulting us...Something must have happened from the inside. It's impossible," he told the Brookings Institution's Shadi Hamid in 2010 -- Egypt's first democratically elected president at least steers clear of the topic now.
Morsy rankled American officials by reaching out to Iran and by failing to denounce (immediately) the attack by demonstrators on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, but on the whole, his approach has been what you would expect from the leader of a deeply conservative country that is understandably wary of the United States. (Egyptians have no illusions about who propped up Mubarak for all those years.) As Morsy said in the Times interview: "Successive American administrations essentially purchased with American taxpayer money the dislike, if not the hatred, of the peoples of the region." But if Morsy has been resolute about demonstrating his independence from the United States, he has also indicated that he wants to maintain a constructive relationship with Washington, going as far as saying that the two countries have the potential to be "real friends."
Since the embassy storming, however, Obama has been remarkably cool toward his Egyptian counterpart. On Sept. 13, Obama told the Spanish-language network Telemundo that he did not consider Egypt an ally -- a position the White House later clarified -- and he reportedly declined a request to meet with Morsy at the White House this week. It's not clear, however, what Obama expects of Morsy. On the one hand, he has repeatedly supported the right of Egyptians to "determine their own destiny." On the other, he appears nonplussed by Morsy's need to respond to domestic political forces.
Steven Cook, a fellow at CFR, has a good read on this cognitive dissonance:
Americans consistently fail to recognize that Arabs have their own politics and have the ability to calculate their own interests independently of what Washington demands. As a result, whenever a crisis erupts that presents Egyptian leaders with a choice of kowtowing to Washington or protecting their political position at home, domestic politics will win virtually every time.
Obama may not be able to fully appreciate the drama of college football, having attended only universities with second rate football programs, but maybe he and Morsy ought to watch the USC game next week and talk this one out.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir stands accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. But on Sunday, he met with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy in Cairo, where he received a dignified welcome at the presidential palace. A number of human rights organizations including Amnesty International urged Morsy to cancel the meeting -- which covered regional concerns as well as important bilateral issues like livestock trade and water rights in the Nile basin -- or arrest the Sudanese leader upon his arrival. "If Egypt welcomes Omar Al-Bashir it will become a safe haven for alleged perpetrators of genocide," Amnesty wrote in a press release.
Bashir, who was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in March 2009 for crimes against humanity and then again in July 2010 for three counts of genocide, cannot travel in much of the world for fear of being extradited to the Hague. But Egypt is not a signatory to the Rome Statute -- Jordan, Djibouti, and Comoros are the only members of the Arab League to ratify the ICC's founding charter -- and U.N. Security Council 1593, which referred the Sudanese crisis to the ICC's special prosecutor, merely "urges" non-signatories to "cooperate fully" with the criminal investigation.
In theory, Bashir should fear extradition from all 121 parties to the Rome Statute, but in practice he has been able to travel more or less freely in Africa and the Middle East. Here's a look at the genocidal jet-setter's travel itinerary since he was indicted back in 2009.
ERITREA - March 2009
Only weeks after the ICC issued its first arrest warrant for Bashir, the Sudanese president ventured to Eritrea to visit President Issaias Afeworki, who had invited Bashir in a display of anti-Western solidarity. In his invitation, Afeworki declared the ICC "anti-people" and the indictment a "defamatory conspiracy on the part of external forces."
EGYPT - March 2009
Two days after his visit to Eritrea, Bashir touched down in Cairo for a state visit with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. "There is an Egyptian, Arab, African position that rejects the way the court has dealt with the status of the president of Sudan," said Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit in a press conference.
QATAR - March 2009
Following his visit to Cairo, the Sudanese leader traveled to the annual Arab League summit in Qatar, where Arab foreign ministers endorsed a draft resolution rejecting the ICC's arrest warrant. The week before, Amr Moussa, then the secretary general of the Arab League, had cleared the way for Bashir's arrival when he said, "We in the presidency of the Arab League have a clear position on this request and we totally reject it."
SAUDI ARABIA - April 2009
CHAD - June 2010
Bashir travelled to Chad -- the first Rome Statute signatory to host the Sudanese president since the arrest warrant was issued -- in June 2010 in an attempt to mend relations with its eastern neighbor. Khartoum had previously accused Chad of aiding anti-government rebels fighting in Darfur, but Bashir declared the problem "solved" during his visit, adding that he and Chad's President Idriss Deby "are brothers."
KENYA - August 2010
Kenya, which ratified the Rome Statute in 2005, invited Bashir to witness the signing of its new constitution. An assistant foreign minister later defended Kenya's decision to defy the ICC warrant on the grounds that "Sudan's stability is vitally linked to Kenya's continued peace and well being."
DJIBOUTI - May 2011
After Ismail Omar Guelleh won a third term as Djibouti's president, Bashir attended his inauguration ceremony in May. Djibouti, which was the third Rome Statute signatory to flout the ICC arrest warrant, was referred, along with Chad and Kenya, to the U.N. Security Council for failing to arrest the Sudanese leader.
MALAWI - October 2011
Malawi, which signed the Rome Statute in 1999, hosted the Sudanese president for a trade summit last October. When the ICC demanded an answer for why Bashir had not been arrested, President Bingu wa Mutharika said that it was not his country's "business" to enforce the ICC's ruling. Malawi's new president, Joyce Banda, apparently does not share her predecessor's zeal for flouting international law, and denied Bashir permission to attend the African Union summit in Lilongwe in July 2012.
CHINA - June 2011
Chinese President Hu Jintao welcomed the Sudanese president to Beijing in June 2011. There, in a ceremony in the Great Hall of the People, he gushed about the two countries "traditionally friendly relations" before diving into talks with Bashir about how to keep the oil flowing to China following Sudan's impending partition. Interestingly, Bashir's flight to Beijing was delayed because he was forced to avoid Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, both of which denied him access to their airspace. China is not a signatory to the Rome Statute.
LIBYA - January 2012
Bashir traveled to Libya to meet with Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) officials last January in order to discuss immigration, among other issues. Libya is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, but the visit sparked outrage from human rights activists who called it "disturbing" and questioned the NTC's "commitment to human rights and the rule of law."
IRAQ - March 2012
Bashir attended the Arab League summit in Baghdad in 2012.
IRAN - August 2012
Bashir made an appearance at the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran in August, where, in one of the event's least-publicized moments of irony, he met with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Correction: Omar al-Bashir has also travelled to Ethiopia several times, the most recent being for the funeral of Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi in September.
Saudi Arabia is home to less than half a percent of the world's population -- and fully 16 percent of the world's proven oil reserves. Nonetheless, Citigroup projects that the desert nation may become an oil importer in the next 20 years. "If Saudi Arabian oil consumption grows in line with peak power demand, the country could be a net oil importer by 2030," Heidy Rehman wrote in a 150 page report for the bank.
Already Saudi Arabia uses a quarter of its fuel production and all of its natural gas domestically, meaning that its per capita consumption is higher than the United States despite its miniscule industrial base. Demand for electricity, moreover, is expected to grow by as much as 8 percent a year.
The Telegraph has more:
The basic point -- common to other Gulf oil producers -- is that Saudi local consumption is rocketing. Residential use makes up 50 percent of demand, and over two thirds of that is air-conditioning.
The Saudis also consume 250 litres per head per day of water -- the world's third highest (which blows the mind), growing at nine percent a year -- and most of this is provided from energy-guzzling desalination plants.
Analysts including Jeremy Leggett of the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security have suggested that dwindling Saudi Arabian exports could contribute to a global fuel shortage, potentially causing "massive stress to the global economy."
Rehman's report comes less than six months after another Citi report, which predicted an era of oil abundance -- and of reduced American dependence on OPEC:
[T]he US has become the fastest growing oil and natural gas producing area of the world and is now the most important marginal source for oil and gas globally. Add to this steadily growing Canadian production and a comeback in Mexican production and you get to a higher growth rate than all of OPEC can sustain.
Either way, Saudi Arabia's share of global exports is on the wane, so the United States had better stop treating it as a de facto Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
A cleric has issued a fatwa calling for the death of the editor of Morocco's Al-Ahdath Al-Maghribia daily newspaper, Moktar el-Ghzioui, after he went on television proclaiming his opposition to article 490 of the Moroccan penal code, which criminalizes premarital sex. The BBC reported last Thursday that Ghzioui is in fear for his life following his controversial public statements in defense of sex before marriage, which is still taboo in many countries and religions.
A Moroccan imam told the BBC that if the code prohibiting premarital sex was removed, "we will become wild savages. Our society will become a disaster."
Last year, also in Morocco, a judge ordered a 16-year-old girl named Amina Filali to marry the man who raped her. She committed suicide in March, prompting widespread outrage and condemnation of article 475, which allows a rapist to marry his victim in order to escape jail.
Morocco isn't the only country where the prohibition on premarital sex is sometimes violently enforced. Islamists linked to al Qaeda in Mali stoned a couple to death in July for engaging in sex before marriage. The couple reportedly had been living together for some time and had children together.
Majid Saeedi/Getty Images
It turns out that when you threaten to kill someone when making a job offer, it's difficult to guarantee their loyalty. Syrian prime minister Riad Hijab announced his defection from the regime Monday and vowed to support the opposition. He probably never wanted the gig in the first place: As the Associated Press reports, "Assad offered him the post and an ultimatum: Take the job or die."
Thuggish threats seem like the former opthamologist's preferred leadership style. One Sunni businessman, an opposition supporter close to the regime's inner circle, told me last year that Bashar has "anger-management issues." Walid Jumblatt, the Lebanese Druze leader, in 2005 relayed Assad's threat to "break Lebanon" if the world tried to force the Syrian military to stop occupying its neighbor.
The International Crisis Group's latest report on Syria also contains this anecdote:
On 8 May, Bashar met with over twenty leading Sunni businessmen from the capital. He said that he had heard that some of them were supporting the revolution. He said that, if it was true, he was willing to do to [the historical commercial hubs of] Hamidiya and Madhat Pasha what he had done to Baba Amro. He wanted them to know that this would pose him no problem whatsoever.
Somewhere in Damascus, there is surely a lamppost with Bashar's name on it.
The first six months of this year have been the hottest on record since 1895. In June alone, we smashed more than 3,000 temperature records across the United States. It was the 328th consecutive month in which the average global temperature exceeded the 20th century mean. As Bill McKibben put it, "the odds of [that] occurring by simple chance were [one in] 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe."
But if that much is obvious to most people who don't harbor deep suspicions about the value of science, the rate at which global warming is changing life on this planet may still come as a shock. Not only are the 3.7 million Americans living within a few feet of the coastline already experiencing more frequent flooding -- the result of rising sea levels -- but unusual weather patterns are likely to make food more expensive, and fast.
Figures released on Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture predict substantial increases in food prices as a result of weather patterns in the Midwest -- the worst drought in nearly half a century.
The prices of chicken, beef, dairy, and eggs are all supposed to rise between three and five percentage points this year. Corn futures have already spiked nearly 50 percent over the last month to roughly $8.00 a bushel on fears that crops will be ruined. (The Department of Agriculture estimated that 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop is in poor or very poor condition as a result of the drought.)
And it's not just the U.S. market that will be affected. The U.S. is the world's largest producer of corn -- exporting millions of tons every year to countries like Japan, Egypt, and China. In 2000, for example, Egypt imported 76 percent of its corn from the United States.
In 2011, revolutions erupted across the Arab world at least in part because of rising food prices. Recall that protesters in Tunisia wielded loaves of bread and Egypt suffered a spate of "bread riots" when grain prices spiked between 2007 and 2008. Now, more than a year after the uprisings, many Arab economies are struggling to get back on their feet. Significant increases in global food prices might well plunge them back into chaos.
But bad weather and worse crop yields in the U.S. are not the only forces driving grain prices skyward. Southern Europe, which typically supplies 16 percent of global corn exports, is having its own ecological disaster. Temperatures in the band that runs from eastern Italy to the Black Sea averaged about five degrees higher than normal last month, according to Bloomberg, baking corn crops that are in the critical pollination phase. Cedic Weber, whose company advises about 5,000 farmers in Europe, told Bloomberg, "in Europe we'll need to import a lot of wheat and corn...That's just adding to the problems we've got everywhere."
That doesn't bode well for the Egypts and the Tunisias of the world -- or for any other net importer of food, for that matter. As it happens, that's practically all of the Middle East and Africa, and much of Southeast Asia.
The big news out of Syria this morning is about chemical weapons -- and
whether or not President Bashar al-Assad will use them. But the
headlines, it turns out, are an especially bad place to start if you
want to get to the bottom of it. In fact, you would be forgiven for
concluding that Syria is either ramping up or winding down preparations
to use chemical weapons against either the rebels or an external force.
"Syrian regime makes chemical warfare threat," is the authoritative headline in this morning's Guardian. It is almost the exact opposite of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's (ABC) headline, which reads: "Syria moves to calm chemical weapon fears."
The New York Times, ever subtle, introduces a critical clause modifier: "Syria Says It Won't Use Chemical Arms to Stop Rebellion." This is the line taken by Businessweek which leads with: "Syria Says it Won't Use Chemical Weapons Against Insurgents."
If not against insurgents, then who? A Reuters headline holds the answer: "Syria says could use chemical arms against foreign intervention." Finally, the pieces are coming together. But what was the news item that headline-writers found so difficult to interpret?
The culprit, it seems, is Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi who made the following statement on Monday: "The ministry wants to re-affirm the stance of the Syrian Arab Republic that any chemical or bacterial weapon will never be used - and I repeat will never be used - during the crisis in Syria regardless of the developments...These weapons are stored and secured by Syrian military forces and under its direct supervision and will never be used unless Syria faces external aggression."
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy marked the first day of Ramadan today by addressing the nation in the inaugural episode of his new radio series. The program, called "The People Ask and the President Answers," gives the president a new platform to promote his "100-day" plan, which promises to improve security, make subsidized food and fuel widely available, and improve Cairo's notorious traffic problems.
The first 10 episodes have been pre-recorded and feature a "listener" asking Morsy a single question. Each episode runs about 5 minutes long and touches on a different subject, ranging from security, to housing, to unemployment, according to a report by UPI.
This morning, Morsy also addressed worshippers at his mosque, urging them to beat the lassitude that typically settles over Egypt during the holy month.
"Ramadan is a month of fasting and worship... and it is also a month of work and production," said Morsi in the speech which was broadcast on state television.
Morsy, it seems, was being extraordinarily generous. During the holy month, practically nothing gets done. As Vali Nasr put in FP in 2010, "[P]roductivity in the Muslim world plummets during the fast, and government business grinds to a halt."
Perhaps Morsy should take it up with the Egyptian people in the next episode of his radio show.
After six years of being stranded in Bahrain, roughly 100 laborers will be allowed to return home to India, the BBC reports. The workers, who were employed at the Nass Corporation until they quit in 2006, had been legally barred from leaving Bahrain because they terminated their contracts before the agreed upon date.
The company had accused the workers of "absconding from work" in 2006 after many of them left the company complaining of low wages.
The workers' visas were sponsored by the company, a requirement under Bahrain law for anyone leaving the country.
Nearly 400,000 Indians live and work in Bahrain and campaigners say many live in extreme poverty - they are often not paid the wages they are promised and their passports are taken away from them.
In 2009 Bahrain's own labour minister criticised the visa sponsor system, saying it was akin to slavery.
One of the laborers recently committed suicide by hanging himself from a palm tree in a public garden. He was the 26th Indian laborer who has committed suicide in Bahrain this year.
The Nass Corporation has reportedly agreed not to press charges against runaway workers in the future in exchange for being removed from an Indian government blacklist.
The headline in Bahrain's state-run Gulf Daily News was "Goodwill gesture by firm."
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
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