Friday, June 26, 2009

“Oppression is oppressed”

By:Nada Moselhy

“Don’t worry Am not going take your car license, am just going to take the driver’s to give him a lesson” This was the police officer answer to me when me and Yasmin went out of the Shepherd Hotel and found that he is taking the car license and the driver license from my driver!
“Are you out?”
“I just arrived, come because it’s not allowed to wait here for long” My driver replied.

I came out and saw the police security officer taking the license from my driver. It didn’t take me a minute to go out!!

So are people supposed to fly in to their cars or out of it so that the driver won’t take a minute to wait! Anyway, the police officer insisted on taking my driver license not because he waited for me, but because he was not very polite. I called my mum and she told me just pay the fine and take the license. I was totally confused on what to do. So I voluntarily asked, how much is the fine to give us the license? The police officer replied “50 pounds”

I gave my driver 50 pounds to go to another officer who has the license with him to pay and take it, and after three minutes he came back to me saying “He wants 100 pounds not 50!!!” We’re waiting for like 15 minutes just to take the license and the police didn’t stand that the driver will wait for like one minute and decided to punish him!!

I can imagine that my driver maybe replied to the police officer in a provocative tone, and usually anyone driving tries not to provoke any officer to avoid something like that to happen.

The use of power and oppression is such an annoying situation, I watched my driver literally begging the police officer just to give him back the license.

Later on that same day all the Boot Camp students got to meet Ayman Nour, who ran for presidency in 2005, was jailed for some time, and just got out of prison few months ago. I remember him saying “Even oppression is oppressed in Egypt” and when he said that I remembered the morning situation.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Boot Camp visits the Pyramids

This Is How We Do It: Getting Around in Cairo

Photos: Jillian Sloan

We cram ridiculous amounts of people in cars...

Ride small public buses with zero personal space and loud Arabic tunes...And have been spotted mingling with camels in the desert.

More funny transportation methods to come.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Journalists: Shapers of Perceptions

The Pope hates condoms and Muslims are terrorists. Right? Check the Internet or read the headlines before answering.

These concepts are less about truth and more about perceptions. These perceptions, in a way, are shaped by the media and consequently shape the public. Many of the problems between the Middle East and the West are (in part) perceived to be based on religious or cultural clashes. West v. East. Christian v. Muslim. White v. Brown.

Remedying these perceptions was the topic of “Us and They: Public Perceptions and How to Change Them” held Sunday, the second day of the Cairo Global Leadership Conference. Here, the speakers pointed to the media as both the cause and the cure for the status quo.

Roland Schatz, co-founder of Media Tenor International, and his colleagues pointed to the media’s “if it bleeds, it leads” news coverage, its culturally uniformed reporting and its reinforcement of stereotypes as furthering the gap between the West and East.

To counter this, the C-1 World Dialogue developed a strategy similar to a public relations campaign, only for cultures. Schatz, one of the co-founders of the C-1 dialogue, said to get positive news of interfaith relations above cultural clashes is possible by having larger and more newsworthy events for journalists to report on. When clashes occur, he proposed having mechanisms in place for the media, such as reliable sources available, to provide context to the situation.

There was some defense of the media by journalists present at the Sunday round table session.

“I feel very strongly that one has to be very cautious on relying on just the media to change perceptions,” said Jill Porter. “The press, in this part of the world anyway, often relies on opinion rather than facts and reliable opinion and this in turn reinforces stereotypes. I would suggest, to some extent, moving away from the focus on the media to shift the focus on education.”

Schatz also argued that cultures and religions need to educate their journalists, which the C-1 World Dialogue has begun to provide via seminars in Europe, Africa and the United States.

This discussion carried over into Monday morning’s press conference for the debut of the C-1 Annual Dialogue Report, which chronicles how trends in the media correlate to a society’s willingness to engage in interfaith and intercultural dialogue. The Reverend Canon Alistair Macdonald-Radcliff, director general of the C-1 World Dialogue and Abdallah Schleifer, AUC Journalism professor and a prominent member of the Middle East media, returned with Schatz to lead the press conference.

They were briefly joined by H.E. Ali Gomaa the Grand Mufti of Egypt, co-chair of the C-1 World Dialogue. Who had little time to chat with reporters from the AUC Journalism Bootcamp.

“We need profound change … to move religious discourse from aggressive and negative attitudes towards other religions, to the spirit of tolerance and co-existence,” Gomaa said in response to data in the report showing that 45 percent of Egyptians have negative perceptions of Christians.

Is anyone following you?

Only because I was at a meeting with Dr. Mohamed Habib - the first deputy chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood - yesterday, I never got any calls from my friends who used to call me on daily basis. So later on I called some and that's what I heard : 

My Palestinian friend asked "Are you sure no one is following you? What did you ask Muhammad Habib? Are you sure you'll be fine? "

My Iraqi friend said " What the heck ? Why did you go there ? These people are really dangerous."

My Egyptian friend said " I didn't call you because I felt for some reason you'd be arrested... and if they saw my phone number on your cell phone they'd suspect me."

I read a lot about the Muslim Brotherhood and I was really happy when we were at the meeting with Habib. I've always wanted to make sure how these people think and deal with others. I would say this is how a real Muslim should be like.

Muslim Brotherhood Visit Photos

Photos By: Cliff Cheney

We met with Mohamed Habib of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo on Monday for an informal question and answer session.

One of our own, Hind Al-Sulaiti, was drafted for translation duties when the professional translator did not arrive.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Whirling toward peace

The drumbeat began to slow. Men in white ringed the stage and turned back and forth to the beat, banging on large tambourines in time with the music. In the center, green shirt drenched in sweat, quilt-like skirt flying, one arm reached toward the sky and the other toward earth, the dervish was whirling.

As a kid, I used to stand in one spot in the kitchen and turn around endlessly. I would practice my spotting – a technique used in dance to avoid dizziness. Faster and faster I would spin, whipping my head around and around, transfixed by the same spot on the wall. I could last maybe five or ten minutes.

Last night I watched a man spin around for nearly forty-five minutes. He wasn’t spotting. Somehow, he managed to walk off the stage upright. To me it was remarkable. To him it was meditation.

The Mevlevi order of Sufis believes that whirling can bring one to a state of nirvana, the kemal. By spinning for long periods of time and focusing on the music and God, the semazen can abandon his ego and desires. It’s a way to grow closer to God and embrace God’s presence. The religious experience can last hours, so apparently forty-five minutes is the shortened, tourist-friendly version.

Sufis are generally characterized as the mystical sect of Islam. As my Muslim roommate Yasmin says, “Sufis are so chill.” They certainly seemed to be. The show started with dancing, music, and many smiles; as it progressed most of the dancers seemed to be elsewhere; their body was moving through the steps but their faces were deep in meditation, focused on some thing no one in the audience could see. The peace that came over them was far away from the cacophony of noises outside.

Cairo is a place of never-ending noise. There is always a car honking its horn. There are always shopkeepers in the market shouting things like “Welcome to Alaska!” and “Do you want to spend more money? I can help!” As I sit here, in our hotel lobby, I can hear silverware clanging, a phone ringing, and the low hum of what might be an air conditioner.

Last night we left the noise behind. That is, after five of us bargained for a cab, piled into the hunk of junk that emitted less than comforting noises, exited on a noisy street and got a little lost, and entered the standing-room-only courtyard thirty minutes before the free 8:30 p.m. performance. The crowd noise finally died down once the noise of singing, drums, and flutes began. Even the colors of the skirts seemed to contribute to the noise of the night. But looking up at the semazen, eyes closed, arms outstretched, I saw silence.

Somehow I doubt spinning in my hotel room will have the same effect.

Four star digs, courtesy Swine Flu

By Alexandra Moe

When I first entered my hotel room at the Shepheard Hotel in Cairo, I was in disbelief at the view. After hearing about the cases of swine flu in the dormitories of AUC, Caroline rescheduled our group to stay at the Shepheard in downtown Cairo. None of us thought that would translate into staying at a four-star hotel overlooking the Nile.

Small balconies with tables and chairs adorn each Nile-front room. It is breathtaking to sit outside and admire the skyline of Cairo and watch the cruise liners float down the river. I can’t say it is an all-around peaceful experience, as there is a major road beneath us on which drivers are constantly honking and slamming on their breaks - we definitely get a firsthand look at how people drive from up on the balcony.

My roommate Jen and I really enjoy relaxing on our balcony, sitting outside and enjoying the scenery. We have eaten dinner on the balcony, written postcards, and chatted about our experiences. It is surreal. We have been learning about the Nile since second grade and now we are staying in a hotel that overlooks it.

The view isn’t the only good aspect of the Shepheard Hotel, but is definitely what I consider to be the best.

The hotel was built in 1841 and has been a staple in the city ever since. In 1952, a fire damaged the hotel but the building was successfully restored. It has very historic architecture that is quite charming. With 300 rooms and six restaurants, plus numerous conference rooms, the hotel offers something for everyone. Many in our group love to sit on the 10th floor outdoors at The Terrace, sipping on Egyptian beer and smoking shisha while taking in the distinct-smelling air of Cairo and watching the Nile. In the lobby there are gift shops, a casino, and a small bank.

If I stopped writing now, the Shepheard Hotel would seem flawless and perfect, but it has its downfalls too.

The biggest hassle is Internet access. “I wish the Internet would work,” said Rachel, another student in our group. Being students, not to mention journalists, we rely on the Internet constantly to stay connected with family and friends and report on our stories. Back at our compound in Qatar, we took our wireless access for granted. Here in Cairo, Internet is only available in the lobby and mezzanine level of the hotel, causing all of us grief. The wireless is also spotty and consistently delayed. We are making the best of the situation but the lack of wireless and the quality of it is unfortunate.

Having said that, the hotel has been around for a while and undoubtedly is very old. But that is no excuse for not updating. Our room has a broken drain, another room has a broken toilet, and yet another has a broken doorknob. The elevators are slow, the chairs uncomfortable, and there is only one key per room. Perhaps I am just accustomed to hotels in America, but the issues we have with the Shepheard, a four-star hotel, seem as if they could be fixed relatively easily if the management wanted. We had to call three times until someone came to look at our drain and they still were unable to fix it. That seems unacceptable at such a well-known hotel.

Yet even with the poor wireless and broken appliances, I would not give up staying at the Shepheard Hotel. We are in the heart of downtown Cairo at a historic hotel with a breathtaking view of the Nile at a great price—what more could a tourist ask for?

"The policy we were longing for from America"

By Jennifer Cupp

The United States and the Arab world have a historic opportunity to enter into a new era of relations, said Ahmed Maher, the former Egyptian Foreign Minister, at a discussion on the Middle East and globalization on Saturday in Cairo.

The U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Margaret Scobey, joined Maher in his comments about the Obama administration’s emerging policy toward the Middle East. They spoke as part of a the Cairo Global Leadership Conference on globalization and the Middle East, hosted by Egypt’s International Economic Forum and Yale World Fellows Program.

Already, Obama’s response to the elections in Iran and the agenda he put forth in his recent speech in Cairo have given many Arabs hope for a new dialogue between the United States and countries in the Middle East, Maher said.

The Bush administration refused to meet with Iranian leaders until they met certain conditions. Under this administration, U.S. tensions with Iran escalated. The Obama administration is taking a different approach, with Obama saying even early on that he would be open to meeting with Iranian leaders to discuss tensions between Iran and America. The disputed presidential election in Iran hasn’t changed this.

The election controversy is an internal Iranian debate, Scobey. To help keep it that way, the United States has refrained from interfering, she said. “We don’t want it to become about the United States and its problems with Iran,” she said.

Regardless of the outcome, the United States will remain open to dialogue with Iran to resolve tension between the two countries in a peaceful manner, Scobey said. This isn’t a major switch from the Bush administration’s policy toward the Middle East, but the way of talking about it has changed. Obama’s acknowledgement and acceptance of the autonomous sovereignty of foreign countries is part of this change, Maher said.

Maher praised Obama’s decision to not confront Iran but enter into dialogue with the country. “This is what makes us respect him,” he said. “This is the policy we were longing for from America.”

Part of seeking peace in the region still includes addressing the same issues the Bush administration did and promoting the expansion of democratic options, Scobey said. Obama outlined these issues and his plans to start resolving them in his speech in Cairo. Topping the list were the problems of the Arab-Israel conflict, nuclear aspirations, and violent extremism.

But it isn’t only the United States’ responsibility to see the agenda for resolution through to completion, Maher said. The Arab world needs unity among its countries, so do the Palestinians, he said.

The Arab world, along with Americans, has high hopes for Obama, beginning with promises he made during the U.S. election and now those in his Cairo speech.

Maher said that Arabs are now looking for concrete actions from the United States. “We expect that when the president speaks he will follow words with actions,” he said.

Scobey said Obama has made it clear that America will take action and U.S. foreign policy is not an agenda based solely on dialogue.

Obama’s approach to Iran and the Middle East has the potential to forge a new future for the region and its relationship with the United States. Already, talk of attacking Iran has declined immensely, Maher said. Instead, it’s all about dialogue.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A throwback to the 1970s

By Jennifer Cupp

Thursday morning’s schedule afforded us a few extra hours of sleep. We then headed to the Egyptian Radio and Television Union building for a tour.

This was no Al-Jazeera.

The front lobby smelled like a barn. We waited there for almost an hour as Caroline negotiated with the men at the front desk. Eventually they led us through a security checkpoint and ushered us into a dirty, dimly-lit lobby. As a condition for entry, Caroline instructed each of us not to take pictures.

Our host led us to a dirty hall with a small elevator, located next to a bathroom, of all places. After waiting a few minutes for an elevator that never arrived, our host led us back to the lobby to a wall of elevators.

We exited the elevator into a smoky hallway. People lounged in the hallways, watching us as they puffed on their cigarettes beneath signs that read “No Smoking.” Three men prayed in a line on neatly laid out rugs. No matter where we stood, we were always in the way.

The interior of the building was a throwback to the 1970s. There were faux wood floors and walls. Employees watched us from their offices, sitting on faded brown, cracked leather seats. Pictures of reporters and the newsroom hung on the walls. They looked oddly similar to what we were seeing during our tour, but the quality of the pictures gave away their true age. It was as if the building was locked in a time portal from 40 years ago.

Our tour guide was a middle-aged woman in a hot pink, flowered head scarf. She rarely spoke in English, preferring to converse in Arabic with the Egyptian students.

First we visited a newsroom. Footage played on television screens mounted around the room and on the walls. Mirrors covered one wall from floor to ceiling, making the room seem twice as large.

We popped into a control room and a news studio where they film the news and current affairs shows. Then we headed down three flights of stairs.

The next studio we visited confirmed the building’s 70s look and feel. The walls were painted with bright orange, green, blue, and pink stripes. White bamboo completed the backdrop. Red leather chairs with white accent furniture completed the set, along with a bright orange wall with foil-covered vases. It was the set of Sabah Al-Kheir Maser, Good Morning Egypt.

Behind the cameras of the well-manicured set were dirty walls with exposed insulation and brown goop dripping slowly down the walls. We shouldn’t have been surprised, given our tour thus far, to find a room full of women on sewing machines in the basement. Even Karim, who works at the station, had no idea what they were doing there. We joked they were there for wardrobe, but it looked more like a sweatshop.

We stopped momentarily in a dark hallway as our guide talked in Arabic. Music drifted from an unseen room down the hall. A small wastebasket overflowed with trash. Cameras mounted on the ceiling watched our every move. The whole ambiance was incredibly eerie and summed up our experience at the station.

“This is the weirdest place I have ever been,” Rachel said, as she described a giant poster of a baby she saw in an office. The caption on the poster simply read “Lovly Baby” (sic).

Back in the lobby after a shaky elevator ride, we exited through a checkpoint and stepped out into the bright Cairo sun. We could finally breathe in fresh air—as fresh as the air can get in Cairo—and reflect on where we had just been.

“I think it’s always like that in Egypt,” Najude said.

“We are used to it,” Hind added.

The two sisters are living in Cairo as they attend the American University here.

The majority of us though were in disbelief—the tour was vastly different from our welcoming experience at Al-Jazeera a week earlier. The experience highlighted the difference not only between the editorial policies and ethics of Al-Jazeera and ERTU, but also the differences we’ve observed between Qatar and Egypt since arriving in Cairo.


By Nada Moselhy

Yesterday was our visit to the Egyptian Radio and Television building. I remember at the morning waking up very tired, since we didn’t take any rest after we returned from Qatar; all am thinking about is that I need more sleep. I couldn’t resist the feeling that I never visited that building before, though it came to my mind that it won’t be that promising like our visit to Al-Jazeera headquarters in Doha, but still I wanted to see how it looked like.

We arrived, and of course like many other places in Egypt you will always be interrupted by a police man saying to you “You are not allowed to take any pictures” and then as usual everyone asks “why?” and the perfect answer in Arabic is “Mamnoo3” (which means ‘not allowed’). Then what are we doing here?!! No pictures, not that interesting place and over all that we found out as soon as we entered the building that the person we are supposed to meet forgot all about us and he has a meeting!!! We spent like an hour standing waiting for the permissions to be issued for us to enter inside and for someone who can give us a tour.
After everyone was bored and tired of waiting, we entered the building. It seemed like everyone are out of their offices, so either they are not working or they are out to watch us!

We got the chance to take a look at the News studio, which surprisingly to me it’s a nice small studio with many screens in the back of the set that allows to show pictures or videos in the background of the presenter. Then we stepped in to “Good Morning Egypt” set studio, with its colorful setting, too bad we were not allowed to take any pictures in there!
“This was a waste of time” as Alex Moe said. Then the visit was done!! Nothing more to see.

"Cairo, It is love at first sight"

By Nada Moselhy

The plane became more near to land in Egypt airport, just a look from that small window felt like it’s been ages since we left to our trip to Doha (to us Egyptians). Usually people hate the pollution in Egypt and the smell that may come across their nose in many places, whether from cars or just the street smell. It was weird that we felt we’re breathing again, after spending 10 days in Doha; feeling frustrated from the heat and the lack of a city feeling. No crowd, no locals seen much, except in the malls and nothing much to do except shopping; that’s what some of us felt in Doha. The plane landed with the excitement the 12 American students have to explore the city, even in the airport impressions already started to develop. Carrie Sheffield a student at Harvard University said “Women are more colorful here”. Yasmine Amer who is an Egyptian American living in the States said “I miss Egypt; I just want to take a walk in the streets of Cairo”

I was amazed by the impressions I got from our American friends about Egypt. Clifford Cheney said “There is more energy and I feel like it is less oppressive. It isn't like what I expected.” The feeling of a city made its way in their minds, where Rachel Heaton added “When I arrived in Doha, the first thing I saw was McDonald's. That didn't happen here. Instead I saw crowded streets and a city, and I mean city like how I define city - a place with its own pulse and vibrancies.”

Instantly everyone changed their Facebook status expressing their impressions about Egypt, where Steve Furay posted “Cairo, it is love at first sight. Please, break my heart gently.” And Carrie also added “In Cairo, it's hot, loud and dirty. Love it!” And the difference between the two places was very clear, Gregory White added “In Cairo, Soaking up the switch from culture less coast to center of civilization's creation.”

Though after some days, every feeling we had about Egypt will return to its normal place; hating the noise, the crowded and dirty streets. But still you can’t do anything except getting used to that and enjoy your time. And for others, Cairo is like an adventure that has to be taken with no regrets.

Egypt Upsets Italy in a Cafe


This is what one of Cairo's cafes looked like last night as many people were watching the soccer game between Egypt & Italy... Believe it or not, Egypt national soccer team upset the World Cup winner Italy in Confederations Cup 2009! Unexpected result and Egyptians went crazy in the streets of Cairo. The camera I held can tell you the story!

P.S.  Al Hayat TV happened to be there, so I got the chance to shoot the vox pops they did!

Video by: Hind Al-Ibrahim - June,2009

Monday, June 15, 2009

A (very brief) visual summary of our time in Qatar

Photos by Jillian Sloan

The hard face of Qatar

By Gregory M. White

The fancy glass towers and shopping malls of Doha were gone. Instead, intricate mazes of pipes pumped oil and gases into huge industrial structures, tied together by miles of power lines. Flares burned into the open air. Men behind barbed wire fences worked in the desert heat clad in bodysuits, goggles and helmets. This was the hard face of Qatar we did not see in Doha. This was where the country's real money is being made. 

We were 40 kilometres south of the capital, at Mesaieed Industrial City, a zone designed and controlled by the state-owned Qatar Petroleum. Its purpose is to provide a massive environment for the creation of petroleum products and construction goods, such as concrete and aluminum. Infrastructure investment in the project for 2007 to 2015 is predicted to total $7 billion. All of these production facilities align with the deep-water on-site port, which is home to shipping facilities, used both by corporations and the US military.  

“Its not only to produce oil…and gas, but to produce other products downstream,” said Dominic Carlone, acting manager of QP’s business and investment group.

Examples of these downstream products include polyethylene, the key component in the creation of plastic products such as bags and water bottles. While the presumed strength of Qatar’s industry is in energy production, its cheap access to energy allows these products to be made at significant cost advantages.

The industrial zone's roads are largely empty, its streets dusty with nothingness, Mesaieed appears as a ghost town until you enter its industrial heart. It is a restricted airspace, and no photographs are allowed. However, a picture would show a darkened skyline of towers, not unlike the minarets that dot the region, but topped by exhaust flares. Workers hide from the harsh sun under trees scattered throughout the complex, eating their lunches and taking naps. Officials estimated up to 10,000 workers are employed in the industrial area.   

The complex exhibits a litany of visible petroleum products; storage silos are labeled for the different products gained from the refinery process. These include methane, propane, and butane but also steel and aluminum. Plants that produce the liquid gas products cost up to $500 million each, our tour guide explained, and use 100 million cubic feet of gas per day in production. 

With four currently operational, there are still plans for more in the future. The other raw materials for steel and aluminum production are shipped in from countries like Australia, Brazil, and China where energy costs are high. 505,000 tons of aluminum per year are produced in the industrial area. Foreign companies such as Norsk Hydro ASA as well as QP produce in Mesaieed and ship to global markets from the same location. “It doesn’t matter who wants to invest so long as it fits with what we want,” said Carlone.  

These production facilities coexist with a community of people and the homes they inhabit. The design and placement of these homes is the decision of Qatar Petroleum. As a managed community, QP has decided to make Mesaieed more openly planned than other similar towns in Qatar. Without the gated communities of Doha and with the perceived free movement of the imported work force, Mesaieed should have a much more Western feel. But this isn’t indicated in its reality, which is as bleak throughout its residential area as its industrial.  

Representatives who spoke with us were keen to emphasize their commitment to maintaining a high level of ecological safety and an environmentally friendly operation. Mesaieed’s convenient proximity to the Arabian Gulf allows for hydro cooling in massive amounts, with 40,000 to 50,000 cubic meters per hour being used in the industrial area. QP acknowledged the threats to air quality, the underground aquifer, and wildlife in the Arabian Gulf from the facilities. QP publishes the air quality statistics online hourly and pursues extensive testing of the aquifer to see leaks from tanks before they have an impact on the local environment. They also mandate that production facilities have a limited impact on water temperature from cooling in order to protect wildlife.  

I thought reporting in Egypt was hard ...

By Riham El Houshi

"Don't call me back. I will get in touch with you if I find anyone willing to talk." Click.  

That was one of several similar conversations I've had with sources here in Qatar. They refuse to speak to me and when I ask for contacts, they brush me off and hurry to warn those around them about the journalist who might call them for information.  

The result: in a week of interviews I have two people who have agreed to go on the record- anonymously. Even my official source at the embassy didn't want his name mentioned.  

There is an epidemic fear amongst expatriates here that a small misstep will get them fired and deported. And rightly so. According to Arab New Network, 700 Egyptians were sacked in 1998 because of a dispute between Qatar and Egypt.  

However, as my partner Rachel, who collects examples of irony, would note; it's ironic that we are facing this problem since our story is about Egyptians that have already been sacked due to Qatarization and/or a dip in the Qatari economy. But no, the same fear persists, defying all logic. 

The greater irony is that this issue contradicts a lot of what we are being told over and over again in the lectures of this boot camp, about the liberalization of Qatar and its media.  

So much so that when I asked Ahmed Al-Sheikh, AlJazeera Arabic's editor-in-chief, what obstacles they faced in reporting about Qatar, he said that not only are there no obstacles, but there are no stories to report on in this tiny country with the highest per capita income in the world.  

But if things are so hunky dory, as both the press-release-plagued newspapers here and the most critical Arab medium are insisting, then how did we, 24 students from Qatar, Egypt, and the U.S. come up with so many Qatar-related stories to write about? 

Stories from restrictions on the marriage of women to non-nationals to the Westernization of the educational system and the buying by the state of lands abroad to try and grow crops that can feed the growing population at home. Is it possible that these topics don't crop up in news meetings here, not even in news room gossip?  

Another lecture we had was on journalism ethics and was given by Ibrahim AbuSharif from North Western University Qatar. It was a typical talk on the penetration of convergence and the debate on balance and objectivity, using martyr versus dead, genocide versus crime, printing the cartoons of the prophet or refraining from provocations.  

But, like many lectures I have received over the past four years, it was given from the standpoint of the American journalist; the one who has paper trails, numbers and official sources at his fingertips, and can objectively decide what to use and what to discard. But how do we, as journalists practicing in the Middle East, make that choice? We have only so many bits of information given on the record, how is it possible for us to present the multi-side story?  

I have been told for very long that the problem with Arab journalists lies in their training, in their inability to understand the meaning of balance and objectivity. If there is anything I am learning from this boot camp, it is that the problem is with the societies that these journalists operate in.  

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Saturday, June 13, 2009

For a little flavour of the bustling city of Cairo before you all head there...

Friday, June 12, 2009

We’re Not in Doha Anymore

By Armand Emamdjomeh

Walking into the Irish Harp bar in the Sheraton Hotel in Doha, we stepped into a wall of smoke, sound and the sense that we weren’t in Doha anymore. Instead, we entered a world where despite the multiple nationalities present in the club, the languages were the universal – sex, dance and alcohol.

I knew it was going to be a long night when three Englishmen asked our group who performed the song “Creep,” played by the bar’s live cover band. This was instantly followed by the jovial cheers, whoops and display of general machismo that comes with winning a bet.

Despite the bar’s rule of women, couples and guests only the bar’s makeup was still about 80 percent male, of the international cheeseball variety complete with shaved heads, striped button down shirts and tight polo shirts meant to emphasize well-cultivated biceps. Perched at the bar was what must have been the last of Morrissey’s famous international playboys – complete with striped blazer, slicked back hair, cigarillo and tinted glasses behind which he could not so covertly scan the crowd.

(Disclaimer – this blogger was also wearing a striped button-down shirt, but was pretty sure that his Joy Division t-shirt underneath saved him from falling too far in with the crowd.)

I thought of a few days earlier, when we’d heard Professor Andrew Gardner of Qatar University speak of how the country compartmentalized different societies and cultures, with the goal of protecting the insular Qatari culture from Western influence.

Inside, drinks flowed freely – using the term loosely given drink prices – and the women donned the miniskirts and tight dresses that would never pass muster on the streets. Many of them – the “single women” allowed by the bar’s management – had the tad too much makeup and an eagerness to make eye contact that indicated they weren’t here just to drink and dance and wouldn’t be leaving alone.

Opposite the bar a crowd of male wallflowers silently sipped their drinks and watched the crowd. Some hunted to meet the eyes of the women, others seemed content drinking alone.

The bar-jam cover band, a couple notches above the karaoke pros that seem to dominate other bars in Doha, drove the crowd to a euphoric chorus during a rendition of Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer.” Unfortunately this gave way to pop dance, then the sort of European techno dance music that no one has any business listening to without the aid of further recreational assistance.

While certainly not my preferred drinking scene, I resigned myself to my preferred corner spot and bided my time with $9 beers, generating an alcohol and cigarette-fueled discussion on the global culture of drinking, and the urge to just have a good time. One of my colleagues put it best.

“We’re all just *&%^$$# human, and we’re all just !@$&@#$ drinking.”

I guess he’s right.

Women and Sharia

By Yasmin Salah Amer

The lecture given by Dr. Aisha Almannai, who is the Dean of College of Sharia at Qatar University, raised a lot of questions. 

First of all, based on what Dr. Almannai said about women and men being equal in faith and religious accountability, what is the issue with women leading prayer or women giving the Friday sermon? 

Just a little bit of background, it is not typical for a woman to lead a coed prayer or Friday sermon. Among all women or family, yes, but otherwise, it’s very rare. Just as a note, this is traditionally the same case for all of the Abrahamic religions, but some newer interpretations are starting to state otherwise.

Amina Wadud, who I mentioned as an example, is a professor of Islamic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. She became controversial after leading a mixed-gender prayer and a Friday sermon in the U.S. I’ve read a couple of articles by Wadud and much of her rhetoric sounds very similar to Dr. Almannai’s in particular to women having equal faith. She even mentions the way that the Quran addresses both women and men as a way of emphasizing that equality--“Muslimeen wa Muslimaat.”

The answer that Dr. Almannai gave was that women and men differ (mainly biologically) and therefore they have different roles. It’s basically the “separate but equal” philosophy. Almannai asked, “Would you [women] accept carrying luggage or being the security guard in front of a building at night? No.” This is an example of the fact that it inevitable that women and men are sometimes meant for different roles, but ones that are not supposed to privilege one over the other. 

However, I did not find these examples particularly relevant to her argument. Prayer and sermon do not need the same male muscle mass required to carry luggage nor does the mosque contain the same hidden dangers as a dark alley.

Here’s a good argument: prayer is a time of deep commitment and concentration and if you are familiar with how Muslims pray, you’ll also know this one. A woman can’t lead because then she’ll have to be in the front and so not only is this distracting to whom she referred to as “sick-minded people” but it also protects her from being looked at the wrong way. 

During the prophet’s time, women and men prayed side by side—separated by a few feet so it limits any “distractions” from one’s immediate or peripheral vision.” Also, I found the story about the prophet shielding the man’s eyes away from the woman interesting. As I interpreted it, this puts a lot of emphasis on male modesty, responsibility and self-control. These are points that I really wanted to discuss with Dr. Almanni if there had been enough time. 

In terms of giving a sermon or Khutba, I didn’t have time for a follow-up question asking Dr. Almanni’s view on it. She mentioned how women are leading in education and are starting to take on more leadership roles in society. She, herself is the Dean of Sharia at Qatar University, which is obviously an extremely important position. Obviously, Dr. Almannai gives many talks and lectures about Islam and Islamic scholarship. So my question is how is the fact that she is giving those talks fundamentally different from giving a sermon, which is meant to educate a group of people about religion?

Dr. Almanni brings up a very good point; she said that no one can possibly understand everything since mankind’s understanding of religion and divine power is limited. However, I think that a deeper understanding would come about from the debates, discussions and questioning of different interpretations. Now, to be fair and to take away some of my own credibility, I have not done a deep analysis of the Quran nor am I qualified to be a scholar—like Dr. Almannai. My critique is only based on the arguments that were presented to me in this lecture and my own limited understanding. So feel free to criticize or comment.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Grand Strategy

By Karim Gohary 
 "When looking at US foreign policy, the key is to view it is through the lens of 'Grand Strategy' (the overarching strategic framework that guides foreign policy)."  

This sentence started off our lecture by Steven Wright, Assistant Professor in International Affairs at Qatar University, who gave us a detailed explanation of the history of the relations between the US and the oil rich Gulf countries, starting from the Cold War up until President Obama's speech in Cairo last week.   

What was interesting to me was how each US administration did whatever it saw necessary to ensure a secure Gulf region and with it a constant flow of cheap oil to the world market. But each administration seemed to deal with the issue quite differently, leading over the years to past allies becoming present enemies.    

During the cold war the US strategy in the Gulf was that of a twin pillars approach, where the US supported Saudi Arabia and Iran to act as bulwarks of US interests and prevent any Soviet influence in the region. This of course changed following the Iranian revolution in 1979, which brought with it political Islam and the possibility of it spreading to other parts of the Gulf. Anything related to Iran at the time was seen as a threat to the other countries in the region and the US was seen as the way to protect them.    

One year later with the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war, the US strategy immediately changed to one of strategic balancing, where by keeping the two antagonists in the region weak through a prolonged war, thus not posing a threat to the rest of the Gulf States or to US interests. Iraq was given vast amounts of weaponry and money to continue the conflict. It's quite Ironic how security was actually achieved through war. During this period military relationships between the US and GCC countries increased dramatically. 

With the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, a different strategic situation emerged. The US now had a military presence on the ground, and as Wright points out, "it had enormous ramifications in terms of it leading up to the attacks on 9/11 and the growth of Sunni extremists, such as Bin Laden."  

During the 1990's the US followed a policy of dual containment, keeping Iraq and Iran weak through UN sanctions and containment, at the same time ensuring continued security in the Gulf. However, according to Wright this policy was ineffective.  

"It led to an enormous amount of suffering for the Iraqis because the oil for food programme, which was part of the sanctions, was a failure."  

The attacks of 9/11 were a turning point in US foreign policy and led to fundamental change. The doctrine during the years of George W. Bush could be described as a strategy of political transformation. 

"During the war on terror you could neatly replace every phrase of Soviet Union or communism with Al Qaeda and radical Islam, and you had the same rhetoric," Said Wright. "The US's overarching foreign policy on all regions of the world was directed with the objective of preventing the spread of militant Islam and terrorism." 

The US move towards fighting terrorism led to a drastic revision in the balance of power approach in the Gulf region. The US invasion of Iraq can be linked to this.  

The Neo-conservatives in the US saw that the root cause of terrorism and extremism was the lack of democracy in the Middle East and there was a need to fundamentally reform the region. As Wright stressed, "if you look at it from this perspective, the benefit of invading Iraq would be to establish a beacon of democracy in the region, which would cause a domino effect on neighboring countries and would make them reform themselves."  

But as Wright later made clear the US failed to understand the complexity of regional political participation and the informal political process in the Gulf region, such as the notion of "Majlis" (a meeting between the citizen and the ruler to discuss the people's needs and problems).  

"The US looked at political participation through the eyes of formal voting, elections and so on, but in the Gulf this has historically never been the case. It's always been a situation where you can have a more personal contact with the rulers." 

The blindness or ineffectiveness of the Bush doctrine led US – Gulf relations to reach an all time low, coupled of course with the war in Iraq, which as described by Wright "threatened the entire Gulf region". President Obama is already trying to change this situation, his speech in Cairo on June 4 started with, "This is a new beginning," but the road ahead will surely be bumpy. As for his approach to regional security in the Gulf, well as Wright puts it, "Till now it's still unclear." 

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Al Jazeera English Newsroom - Video

This is a short video clip of the Al Jazeera English newsroom.

Al Jazeera English Newsroom from Cliff Cheney on Vimeo.

Reforming Qatar’s University System

By Armand Emamdjomeh

An effective higher education system is inevitably a priority for any country wishing to develop a knowledge-based economy. Developing an elite research institution is even more of a priority for Qatar University, considering that it is the only national research university, according to Dr. Abdel Aziz El Bayoumi, professor and advisor to the president of Qatar University.

While the country has used its vast oil wealth to develop “Education City,” which contains world-class educational institutions such as Georgetown and Northwestern Universities, the country also has ambitious plans for the country’s sole national university.

In a classroom on QU’s male campus, Dr. El Bayoumi described the reforms that Qatar hopes will bring the university to equal status with the Western institutions in Education City.

Dr. El Bayoumi described the obstacles faced by the university, which include the lack of comprehensive academic oversight, an overly centralized administration and weak academic and administrative mechanisms.

Addressing these issues will include integration of current programs into a central College of Arts and Sciences, establishing a new college of Law, accreditation, emphasizing the recruitment of a top-notch faculty and increased oversight and accountability of university structures.

The university has also begun to implement entry and acceptance standards for incoming students, requiring a minimum score on high school exit exams and a 500 on the Test of English as a Foreign Language. Tuition is free for Qatari students, who comprise about 80 percent of the 8,000-member student body, and students are also eligible for additional financial aid based on test scores.

Middle East Journalism Boot Camp student Steve Furay asked about environmental research initiatives at the university, to which Dr. El Bayoumi pointed out the Environmental Studies Center, which works with corporations wishing to develop new projects in the country.

Swine Flu disrupts Bootcamp plans

By Doha Al Zohairy

“I’m not going to school next week,” my 20-year-old sister Asmaa told me couple of days ago over the phone. She just started her summer courses, but now the course is on hold until June 14, and might be canceled for the summer.

Only two days ago, two students in The American University in Cairo’s Zamalek dormitory were diagnosed with swine flu. Now, there are eight cases and the dorm has been quarantined for a whole week.

Panic started in Zamalek area as well as at AUC. In addition to closing off the dorm, AUC is closing the new campus located in New Cairo and everyone inside AUC is wearing a mask.

Quickly we got the news here in Qatar where six students from AUC, six others from Qatar University and 12 more from different universities from the United States are gathered in a journalism program.  We are supposed to spend ten days here in Qatar and ten days in Egypt.

I’m not worried about going back to my country next week. I’m more worried about my family who live there.

Here in Qatar, most of the parents of my colleagues contacted Larry Pintak the director of the Kamal Adham Center and the organizer of the program, to make sure that their daughters or sons won’t stay at the AUC dorm when we go back to Egypt.

Others just decided not to go.

“Well I would if you convinced my mother and my fiancĂ©,” said Mira Alkuwari organizer of the Qatar part program said. “But I know they wont agree.”

The rest of the Qataris are worried but they will still go.

But the students were supposed to stay in the Zamalek dorms, throwing the program’s planners into confusion.

“I have been planning for their accommodation and transportation for the past three months, now I have to re-plan everything again,” said Caroline Ghobrial, the organizer of the program in Cairo.

“I will be worried from the moment they arrive Egypt till the moment they leave about where are they going and who are they talking to. They are my responsibility.”

My American colleagues seemed to not be bothered.

“I’m not worried. Not at all,” said Anna Koulouris a senior student in Syracuse University. “We never had an epidemic before so that’s why we see swine flu, as, you know, just a flu, not more.”

“Plus all the people who died from swine flu in other countries had illness before so their bodies were already weak for any kind of flu,” she added.

Jennifer Cupp, a graduate student, said if there was an upside to getting swine flu in Egypt, it would mean her return trip would be delayed.

“(It would) actually will be ok with me, I would like to spend more time in Egypt,” Cupp said.

Eroding Arabic identity?

By Carrie Sheffield

Qatari leaders are struggling to implement sweeping changes to its K-12 educational system, which faces teacher shortfalls and concerns that anglicizing the national curriculum erodes Qatar’s Arabic identity.

During an address Tuesday, we heard from Mickie Mathes, an American-trained educator and professor at Qatar University’s College of Education, who told us about Qatar’s ambitious plan to move all public schools away from Education Ministry control to independent charter control.

Dismayed by dismal test scores, Qataris in 2002 adopted the charter system (it’s called the “independent” school system because the word “charter” didn’t translate well into Arabic) after commissioning a study by the California-based RAND Corporation. The think tank came back with three alternative models: charter, voucher or a modified centralized system.

The charter model proved most attractive, and by 2004, authorities certified 12 independent schools, 21 more in 2005, and 13 in 2006. This past school year, 85 independent schools operated, and by 2011, all schools must be independently operated.

Mathes said the beauty of the new model is its curriculum flexibility and the ability of parents to choose which school is best for their children. Schools must meet minimum requirements and test scores but are given wide autonomy. And the type of person or organization who can administer a school is wide open. For example, an oil company could bid to run a school or network of schools so long as they met a basic academic threshold.

“There’s quite a bit of independence, compared to what it used to be,” said Mathes, who said the country is experiencing a shortfall of qualified teachers who meet the new standards, including new licensure requirements. “It’s a fact. They need teachers, in all areas. They are just hustling to get teachers.”

As part of the curriculum reform, math and science must be taught in English, a hurdle for many teachers who are undergoing language training from British instructors.

Qataris in our group were concerned that adopting a Western-oriented system diminishes Qataris Arabic language abilities and diminishes the Qatari identity. Mathes acknowledged students’ Arabic skills are on the decline but said the English mandate was developed from within the country.

“Don’t forget this push came from the Qatari government.,” said Mathes, associate dean for academic affairs at QU. “I think this country really wants to put out there in the global market, and they want to have a global competition. They want to have citizens and future adults and children to be in global competition, and I think that is the focal point of doing this.”

Mathes said three subjects—Arabic, Social Studies and Islamic Studies—are conducted in Arabic, and this helps maintain Qatari social cohesion.

“I don’t think they are promoting losing their identity at all,” she said. “We want really strong teachers who have a strong competency in teaching Arabic. I hope that we never lose that.”

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The "Mouthpiece"

By Hind Al-Sulaiti

Wherever I go, I always find someone who recognizes my country because of Al-Jazeera. The TV station that began its broadcast with a six hour slot in 1996 has become a "hot" topic in the Arab world for its controversial shows. It started airing 24 hours a day in 1999 and has expanded into a network with a global reach. Today it is the only channel with bureaus in the war zones of Afghanistan and Gaza.

Today we visited the network and met with four officials and toured the facility. The editor-in-chief of the Arabic channel, Ahmad Sheikh, was probably the most interesting speaker. He spoke about Al-Jazeera's ethics and reporting policy, and answered "We get them!" to the million dollar question about Osama Bin Laden's tapes, something Al-Jazeera became known for. 

Sheikh refused to be put in one group with channels like Al-Hurra and Al-Arabiyyah, saying offers to interview the U.S. President had been made to the three at once, but his network turned it down. He also said he was not bothered by President Barack Obama's decision to hold his first interview with al-Arabiya rather than Al Jazeera. "We can wait for the next president," he said.

Seeing Al-Jazeera and realizing just how much it has accomplished over 10 years, it brought a sense of pride. I really wished that Al-Jazeera was not government-funded, but even though it is, it still holds a certain level of credibility found nowhere else.  

Inside the Control Room

By Jillian Sloan

For many Americans, Al Jazeera is most likely a vague word they heard somewhere, some time ago, associated with terrorism, propaganda or links to Al Qaeda.  

Not even close. For its viewers in the Arab world, Al Jazeera (which means “the Penninsula” in Arabic) is a news network free of censorship and government control that serves as a voice to the voiceless—and it has nothing to do with promoting war. 

Shedding the sour image as the mouthpiece for terrorism, Al Jazeera is rising as an authoritative news source for understanding the world. With over 69 bureaus across the globe, the Al Jazeera network is covering stories in countries habitually missed or glossed over by other prominent networks.  

During a tour of the studio today, I looked out over the first-rate newsroom with its HD capability and computer-operated cameras. The state-of-the-art equipment and facilities have only been in place since 2006, just 12 years after Al Jazeera’s first steps as a small independent network that, in the beginning, aired a teasing six hours a day.

After building itself a name through the coverage of the three wars in Iraq since 2000, it now airs 24 hours a day, seven days a week and in over 100 countries, excluding (for now) the U.S. According to the broadcaster, it’s the leading news channel on YouTube and its website receives 22 million hits each month. This is a news organization that’s got its act together. 

In the US, coverage of global events, particularly of the Middle East, is mediocre at best. In our meeting today with Hassan Ibrahim, a correspondent for Al Jazeera English and principle role in the documentary “The Control Room” (watch it streaming), he said, “The American people are done a great injustice by their own media.” 

A peek at today’s top stories on Al Jazeera Net and show the contrast in geographical and contextual focus. Al Jazeera’s lead story is the mosque shootings in Thailand, aided with a timeline for background information and numerous videos for added perspective. The story doesn’t make the cut on CNN’s top story list. In fact, the two top stories are an update on the France Air crash and Europe’s election.  

“We are less Western-Centric, European-Centric, which is appealing,” said Managing Director of Al Jazeera English Tony Burman. He said Al Jazeera provides a more global sense of this complicated world. 

In places like the Middle East, Africa and Asia where U.S. or British new organizations have sometimes as few as two correspondents, Al Jazeera has multiple bureaus and contacts with independent film makers who can produce material in some of the most inhospitable environments in the world.   

“I wish the understanding of the Middle East was a higher priority in the US,” Ibrahim said.  

The key is in the context. Ibrahim began to reference US history—some history that I’m not sure any American student in the room was even aware of—making the point (in this journalist’s opinion) that you can’t understand the present without knowing the past. US broadcasts and articles on the Middle East are mosaic tiles to a big picture never put into context. How does a car bomb or a shooting at a mosque paint any clear story of what’s going on and why?  

“Our goal is to help people understand the context,” Burman said. “The expectation from our viewers is a wider view and context for the issues in the region.” 

And many news organizations, particularly in the U.S., may argue that it’s difficult to convince people to eat the brussel sprouts of news. It seems that our attention only turned to the Middle East when it was suddenly our own countrymen in the danger.

Even then, the attention paid seemed minimal because the events that had been set in motion arguably thousands of years ago were already beyond our understanding, like trying to jump in eight rounds late to a game of Phase Ten. And many Americans I know have almost completely turned a blind eye to Middle Eastern news. 

Al Jazeera’s Deputy Director of Programs Giles Trendle said, “We had to find new ways to get people engaged in something they had heard about but probably did not know a lot about.”  

The Al Jazeera Documentary Channel is a new addition that airs Arabic documentaries that provide context to current events. All of Al Jazeera programs also run on Youtube, making it accessible even where the network channel is not. 

“[It] changes people’s perspectives on Al Jazeera,” said Trendle. 

Al Jazeera also received flak for broadcasting videotapes from Osama Bin Laden. To this, Sheikh said that former President Bush’s coined “Axis of Evil” began two camps, and “each one has to be given the chance to speak out.” It refers to the Al Jazeera motto, “The opinion and the other opinion.” The tapes are reviewed and edited and only what is newsworthy makes it on air, Sheikh said. 

One student asked how Al Jazeera got tapes from Bin Laden. Sheikh was not remotely surprised by the question and, smiling, said, “We get them. I don’t have to tell you how. Don’t expect me to tell you how. You have to protect your sources.”  

For at least this American, Al Jazeera is not a muddled conception of something evil or even foreign. If they live up to their promises of global understanding, I believe it will help reshape the landscape of world coverage and maybe, just maybe, convince America to get in touch with the world beyond our cousins.