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A weekly shot of what's buzzing and brewing in the Arab world.
Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock under December snow
Laura Thompson

ARABICA: Martyrs, Gitmo Rehab, Holy Site Surveillance

Morsi accused of "espionage"
Mohamed Morsi, the former Egyptian president deposed in a military-backed coup this past summer, is facing charges alongside 35 other defendants. The charges? Espionage and aiding terrorism.

Morsi was specifically accused of collaborating with the Palestinian political organization Hamas, in an alleged attempt to orchestrate what prosecutors characterize as an Islamist takeover. He was also accused of collaborating with Shia Iran — a rather bizarre accusation considering that the Muslim Brotherhood is a proudly Sunni Muslim organization.

Pro-Morsi Twitter users condemned, and mocked, the accusations.

One user tweeted an image of a sign reading, "Couldn't you come up with a less honorable accusation than colluding with Hamas!?"

الانقلابيين مش لاقين للرئيس مرسي..الا تهم تشرÙ� #مرسي_رئيسى #ضد_الانقلاب pic.twitter.com/5gNdxlu0tG

— مرسى رئيسى ياسيسى (@AMIREK1) December 18, 2013

Tunisia: where to turn when the 92 year-old won't take the job
Tunisia's troika of ruling parties and its divided opposition have finally come to an agreement, ending a major political stalemate that began this past summer. Fifty-year-old Mehdi Jomaa, the current minister of industry, has been named prime minister of the caretaker government, in place until the next elections are held. Jomaa is considered an independent technocrat with extensive experience in the private sector. He is considerably younger than other Tunisians nominated for the position, some of whom were well past retirement age, including 92-year-old Mustapha Filali, who'd served as minister of agriculture in the 1950s. Accordingly, Jomaa has promised a government of young ministers.

News outlets and Twitter reacted with surprise, as newspapers' front pages asked "Who is Mehdi Jomaa?" One responded with a rare photo in which Jomaa is seen having lunch with the German ambassador to Tunisia in the Western city of Beja.

Diplomatie du Méchoui :D visite à Béja, l'ambassadeur d’ #Allemagne Jens Plötner et ministre Mehdi Jomâa pic.twitter.com/QHxUX88MU0

— المسكوت عنه (@RymBN) December 11, 2013

Jordan to Israel: take down surveillance cameras at Muslim holy site
Jordan has demanded the removal of Israel surveillance equipment at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. The mosque sits on the Temple Mount, revered by both Jews and Muslims. Both the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Temple Mount are located in the contested city of Jerusalem, currently divided into Israeli-controlled West Jerusalem and Palestinian-controlled East Jerusalem.

Discussions on Twitter reflected the long uneasy cohabitation of Muslims and Jews in the context of Israeli presence in Jerusalem — what many Muslims view as an unacceptable occupation, while Israel considers an undivided Jerusalem its capital city.

An Egyptian Twitter user posted an image of Israeli soldiers posing in front of the mosque, arguing that the act constitutes a "desecration" of the holy site, as the soldiers simultaneously "are fighting Arab armies and seeking their downfall."

الخيانه أسلوب حياة المجندات الاسرائيليات يدنسن المسجد الاقصى لكن المجاهدون يحاربون الجيوش العربية ويسعون لاسقاطها pic.twitter.com/ggT1XhwbMU

— ÐÒ‘. Ḳĥαâ„"εá¸" (@IIKRII) December 12, 2013

Still, recent snowfall in the region has brought out the playful side of many who frequent the site, regardless of political or religious affiliation.

لانحسدكم على الثلج ولكن نحسدكم على المسجد الاقصى وقبة الصخرة .. الحمدلله الذي رزقني الصلاة �يه pic.twitter.com/nhbS7Bfa5U

— حمد لحدان المهندي (@hamadlahdan) December 14, 2013

Saudi Arabia welcomes home Guantanamo detainees — with "rehab"
According to the Saudi Interior Minister, two Saudi nationals detained for over a decade in Guantanamo are returning home. Before reintegrating into society, however, the militants will go through a "rehab" program obligatory for all Saudis jailed for radical Islamist activity.

The rehab program reportedly features counseling, sports and art classes, as well as religious instruction that rejects interpretations of Islam that sanction violence.

The program claims a 90% success rate, according to the Saudi government. Those "patients' that did return to a life of political violence, however, often rose quickly in the ranks of Al-Qaeda, prompting criticism that when "rehab" did fail, it failed miserably.

One Syrian Twitter user, a supporter of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, published a sarcastic tweet suggesting the the ruling Saudi family would send the prisoners directly to Syria to wage jihad against President Assad.

"Pentagon: Two Guantanamo prisoners sent back to Saudi Arabia … Come on, they're waiting for them over here in Syria! Don't delay in sending them, Saudi family!"

البنتاغون ترحيل معتقلين من غوانتانامو الى السعودية ...... يالله ناطرينهم عنا بسوريا لا تتأخروا بارسالهم يا ال سعود

— lamloma (@lamloma3) December 16, 2013

Assad has long worked to portray the Syrian opposition as dominated by militant jihadists, while presenting himself as a secular ruler fighting terrorists.

British surgeon killed in Syrian jail
Abbas Khan, a 32-year old orthopedic surgeon from the UK, turned up dead in his jail cell in Syria this past week. Upon his arrest more than a year ago, Khan was on his second trip to Syria, where he had been operating sometimes day and night to save those sometimes critically injured in Syria's bloody civil war.

Syrian authorities reportedly told Khan's family that he had committed suicide.

Khan's brother told CNN that the Syrian authorities claims were simply efforts "to defend them against the indefensible. He's Abbas Khan been summarily executed without trial or due process ... I think he's been silenced for whatever he might have to say."

Following news of Khan's death, a number of Twitter users began publishing tweets concurring with Khan's brother's allegations. One Twitter user reposted a Facebook image of Khan with his son, writing, "The surgeon Abbas Khan is a tortured martyr, Abbas is British of Indian origin and he died of torture in the dungeons of the Assad regime."

الطبيب الجراح عباس خان شهيد تحت التعذيب وعباس بريطاني من اصول هنديه استشهد �ي اقبيه النظام الاسدي تحت التعذيب pic.twitter.com/6QrOifxJyd

— ذو الهمه العاليه (@alneeser777) December 17, 2013

A Palestinian writer similarly tweeted: "The despicable regime of Bashar says that the British Muslim surgeon "Abbas Khan" committed suicide in his cell. The killers speak with their own sick logic, wanting the world to believe them."

نظام بشار الحقير، يقول إن الجراح البريطاني المسلم (عباس خان) انتحر �ي زنزانته. يتحدث القتلة بمنطقهم السقيم، ويريدون من العالم أن يصدقهم.

— ياسر الزعاترة (@YZaatreh) December 18, 2013

His message was retweeted 75 times in one day.

Fifteen-year-old Egyptian boy remains in jail — over a ruler
In today's hypernationalist Egypt, journalists have been jailed, the country's "Jon Stewart" taken off air, and prominent athletes banned from playing for "criticizing" the military-backed government, in power since the summertime coup. Now, a high school kid has similarly found himself detained in an adult jail, for possessing a much more mundane object: a yellow and black ruler.

The ruler, along with two notebooks in the student's possession, bore the four-fingered Rabaa sign, which has developed into an international symbol of solidarity with the embattled Muslim Brotherhood, which was removed from power on July 3, and has since increasingly become the target of the state security apparatus.

The offending ruler, belonging to 15 year-old Khaled Bakara, was reportedly peeking out of his pencil bag. Upon spotting the ruler, Khaled's teacher contacted the school director, who contacted the police. Khaled has since been detained under suspicion of defaming the army, inciting violence, and belonging to a prohibited organization.

A Twitter user tweeted an image of a woman holding a poster, reading, "Khaled, oh hero, your imprisonment will free a country!"

الط�ل ده محبوس �ي سجن الأحداث علشان كان شايل مسطرة عليها شعار رابعة ! pic.twitter.com/Z8E5d1NatB

— أخبار مصر ™ (@akhbaarmasr) December 18, 2013

Khaled's arrest comes as Egyptian students continue to demonstrate in support of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Three years after Tunisia revolution, first martyr's grave in ruin
The Tunisian Al Chorouk newspaper visited the grave of Muhammad Bouazizi, a Tunisian vegetable salesman who set himself on fire in December 2010, giving rise to a growing protest movement that would soon after reach the capital city. On Jan. 14, 2011, then president Ben Ali fled the country. Bouazizi, who had died from his burns, became the singular martyr of the revolution.

Al Chorouk was thus shocked to find Bouazizi's grave in a lamentable state, covered by weeds and thorny plants, in a cemetery difficult to find. Al Chorouk furthermore bemoaned the lack of any special indication on Bouazizi's grave of his status as a martyr who "shook the world" and "brought people to the revolution, refusing a policy of oppression and marginalization."

Still, Bouazizi's memory has been the source of some uneasiness and contention, perhaps in particular because his death is also considered a suicide, which is perceived as religiously prohibited. Efforts to commemorate him as a martyr with a public monument have so far been in vain.

More roadbumps for Geneva 2
Geneva 2 has faced more than its fair share of obstacles in its quest to end the bloody Syrian war that has forced more than 2 million Syrians to leave for neighboring states, while millions more remain displaced within the country.

Most recently, the Syrian Islamic Front has refused to participate in Geneva 2, giving no reason but clearly poised to challenge the political dominance of the more moderate Free Syrian Army, long recognized by the West as the representative of the Syrian opposition.

In the meantime, the powerful jihadi brigade Jubhat al-Nusra has claimed to Al Jazeera that "victory is near," in Syria, raising the possibility that the group could attempt to create an "Islamic state" in collaboration with other like-minded Muslims.

Geneva 2 is now scheduled for the end of January 2014, but the divided Syrian opposition has failed to produce a single unifying body, as more and more foreign jihadists have joined its ranks, frightening Western supporters. At the same time, the regime of current Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has variously expressed irritation with international intervention as well as courted global opinion to stand against an opposition it describes as terrorist.

In the meantime, secret talks reportedly continue using the Syrian government and rebel forces to further open channels for the transportation of humanitarian aid, desperately needed by the displaced population.

Iraqi policeman hugs suicide bomber, sacrificing self, saving others
An Iraqi policeman reportedly embraced a suicide bomber targeting a group of Shia pilgrims on their way to visit a holy site south of Baghdad.

According to Al Arabiya, the deceased police officer, named Ayoub Khalf, had two young children, aged six and nine. He was blown up when the attacker detonated his explosive belt, killing four other civilians. Khalf's courage is being credited with the low number of deaths in an attack that would typically be much more deadly.

Twitter users posted images of the young Ayoub, "the martyr who saved Shi'a visitors to Imam Hussein's shrine in Karbala, south of Baghdad."

@camary965 @alaanqqqaa @amer200992 @BatBatbh @SH_Karam الشهيد(ايوب خلÙ�)الذي انقذ الزوار الÙ�اتحة pic.twitter.com/isumHrjXvc

— ابو محمد العنزي (@salbook20091) December 20, 2013

On the road to Nalut, Libya
Laura Thompson

ARABICA: Unemployed Saudi Women, 'Arabs Got Talent', Libya Teacher Killing

Your weekly shot of what the Arab world is saying, hearing and sharing.

Many Saudi women clueless about job hunting
A new government study shows that a full quarter of Saudi women aren’t sure how to go about getting a job. Employment among Saudis is being encouraged in a country dominated by foreign workers, and women’s rights initiatives like an internationally publicized driving campaign is a sign of the times in Saudi Arabia.

Response to teacher's murder in Libya
According to a Twitter user, Ronnie Smith’s grieving wife placed lit candles at the spot where the American teacher was assassinated in Benghazi, the city that served as a capital for the Libyan resistance.

زوجة الاستاذ الامريكي روني سميث الذي اغتيل �ي #بنغازي توقد الشموع �ي ن�س المكان الذي قتل �يه زوجها #ليبيا

— Sarah (@SarahFighi) December 7, 2013

His early morning murder came after a string of other killings, including a car bombing during a police officer’s funeral.

Smith, who described himself as “Libya's best friend,” had been teaching for over a year in a local high school. He was out for an early morning jog when several unidentified men gunned him down.

A number of Libyans tweeted translations of a post reportedly from Smith’s own Facebook page, published just over a month ago: “There is one thing Libyans are good at: making foreigners feel like family.”

Other Internet users criticized Smith, though without endorsing his murder. One Facebook user posted a note pointing to Smith’s relationship with an evangelical church in Austin, Texas. The church had posted a letter indicating that Smith was in Libya in part to spread Christ’s message.

Proselytism is illegal in Libya, and Christian missionaries have been arrested there as recently as earlier this year.

A Lebanese Superstar
Najwa Karam, a Lebanese singer and superstar judge on the recently completed Arabs Got Talent, found herself again in the spotlight — this time on Twitter.

لا تنسوا التغريد مع #مسبحة_ناصر #خاتم_حلمي #نظارة_علي أو #مراية_نجوى Ù„Ù�رصتك بالÙ�وز بأحدى واحدة منهم #ArabsGotTalent pic.twitter.com/pxiQQMzge5

— Arabs Got Talent (@ArabsGotTalent) December 5, 2013

“Najwa’s mirror” was trending Wednesday, next to #Mandela and #PaulWalker. Karam tweeted an image of her phone, asking, “Who will win #Najwa's Mirror? Follow us tonight, on our last episode of @Arabs Got Talent” — a reference to the show's motto "Leave your mirror, pack your luggage and be ready for the new season of Arabs Got Talent."

#NKO من سيربح #مراية_نجوى؟ تابعونا الليلة �ي الحلقة الأخيرة من @ArabsGotTalent لمعر�ة إسم الرابح pic.twitter.com/LQSeUWQeS3

— Najwa Karam (@najwakaram) December 7, 2013

Twitter users responded with a firestorm of “Najwa's mirror” hashtags.

Karam created controversy recently when she supported an American singer on what is typically an Arab-only talent show. Jennifer Grout, from Cambridge, Mass., finished third place in the finals. Here is a video of her final performance, in which she sings a famous song by Lebanese-Egyptian singer Souad Muhammad entitled, “I’ve Missed You.”

Beliebers In Tunis
A young Swedish-Tunisian girl living in Stockholm started a Twitter trend after she uploaded a YouTube video asking for Justin Bieber to bring his concert and his new 3-D Believe movie to Tunisia.

Her video plea is followed by a clip of high school girls in Tunisia singing their hearts out to Bieber’s “All Around the World” and declaring themselves “Believers” — not to be confused with Bieber's regular fans, called "Beliebers." One student, Sandra, tells the camera, “I really don’t want to stay home on Christmas Day while other believers are having fun watching the Believe movie.”

#BelieveMovieInTunisia !! <3 pic.twitter.com/GKLqcNrup6

— Follow me Bieber plz (@sarrabelieber13) December 9, 2013

Cold aggravates crisis for Syrian refugees
Following snow, ice and freezing temperatures, the UN is more concerned than ever for the almost one million Syrian refugees currently living in the Beqaa region of Lebanon. Many lack heat, wood for fires, and basic protection from the cold in their often watery tents.

One Twitter user lamented, “Where are the rich Arabs and millionaires while displaced children live in tents in #Beqaa in #Lebanon snow.”

أين أغنياء العرب و أصحاب الملايين عن أط�ال النازحين �ي #البقاع �ي #لبنان ثلج و عايشين �ي مخيمات pic.twitter.com/PPoQUBeO9d

— NURAN â˜�ï¸� (@3___NoOr) December 11, 2013

Saudi film wins Oscar nomination
Wadjda, the first feature-length film made by a female Saudi director, has been selected as the Saudi Arabian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards.

أ�ضل أحداث مهرجان دبي الدولي السينمائي كان قضاء وقتا ممتعا مع مارتن شين! كل الحب, هي�اء pic.twitter.com/6POm2fIB43

— Haifaa Al Mansour (@HaifaaMansour) December 11, 2013

Director Haifa Al-Mansour — center — with Martin Sheen at the Dubai Film Festival. Translation: "The best of the events at the Dubai Film Festival was spending fun time with Martin Sheen!"

Saudi director Haifaa Al-Mansour found her 11-year-old actress one week before filming began. In an interview with The Guardian, Al-Mansour said she was committed to using only Saudi actors, despite being hard to find — Saudi actresses, in particular. Her lead actress hails from a conservative family in the capital city of Riyadh, and she reportedly received permission from her family to act until the age of 16, at which time she would need to find a more respectable career path.

Al-Mansour’s film appropriately focuses on the nuanced lives of Saudi women in a country whose especially restrictive, “protective” laws make women’s mobility difficult, though women resist in all kinds of creative, vigorous and often endearing ways. Al-Mansour’s film found financing from the country’s most powerful prince, Al Waleed Bin Talal, the benefactor of a number of endowed professorships in some of the most prestigious U.S. universities (such as Harvard University and Georgetown University).

Here’s the official trailer for Wadjda.

In Tunis
Laura Thompson

ARABICA: Mandela And Poet Mourned, Reindeer Meat, Adoption Death

Your weekly shot of what the Arab world is saying, hearing and sharing.

Mandela's meaning in the Arab world
Mourned by leaders and ordinary people around the world, South African leader Nelson Mandela, who died Thursday at the age of 95, held particular meaning in certain quarters of the Arab world. "Free, Forever" headlined Egypt's Al Akhbar daily:

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Mandela was remembered for resisting the forces of oppression in his own country, and specifically speaking out on behalf of the Palestinian struggle for independence after his release from prison. "The Palestinian people will never forget his historic statement that the South African revolution will not have achieved its goals as long as the Palestinians are not free," Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority said.

The outpouring carried across Arabic social media as well:

ليس العالم �قط من أصبح يتيما بعد #مانديلا،بل أيضا التاريخ.كان مانديلا آخر آبائه..رَحل وترك لنا م�همة تربية أبنائه"الزعماء" الق�صّر والعاقين.

— Ù…Ù�حمّد الرَّÙ�Ù"راÙ�ÙŠ (@RAFRAFI_MED) December 5, 2013

"Mandela’s passing orphaned not only our world, but also history - of which he was the last of its forbears. He moved on and left us the task of rearing his adolescent and recalcitrant children, today’s "leaders.""

Egypt mourns its "revolutionary poet"
Revered Egyptian poet Ahmed Fouad Negm died on Dec. 3 at the age of 84, a reminder of both changing linguistic and social landscape in the country.

Negm gained widespread recognition for his colloquial poetry, written in Egyptian Arabic. Up until then, most of Arabic-language poetry had been written in formal Arabic — which is rarely spoken in everyday life.

Born into a agricultural family, Negm had 17 brothers and sisters. Following his father's death, he was temporarily placed in an orphanage, returning to his village later on to work as a shepherd. Imprisoned briefly in his youth, he wrote his first poems from jail. Social issues and the suffering of the poor and oppressed were themes that would continue to occupy him for the rest of his life.

Translations of some of his Arabic poetry can be found here, including his "Who Are They, And Who Are We?" poem.

Negm's words were put to music by the famous blind Egyptian composer and singer, Sheikh Imam, whom he met in the 1960s in one of Cairo's poorest neighborhoods. This video, produced after the revolution, shows images of the poem's "we" — suffering Egyptians, unemployed, laboring, revolting — as well as the "they" — the country's corrupt ruling class. Several images of deposed President Hosni Mubarak are shown.

Egyptian cleric suddenly resigns
Sheikh al-Qaradawi, famous for his Al Jazeera religious TV show as well as his contentious fatwas (religious rulings), has resigned from Egypt's highest religious organization, Al-Azhar, accusing it of supporting the military-backed government responsible for ousting former President Mohamed Morsi.

The response was swift and severe, reflecting the absolute intolerance for any type of criticism in this hyper-nationalist moment of transition in Egypt, following the June 30 military takeover. A Sheikh of Al-Azhar retorted described Al-Qaradawi as a "terrorist who is estranged from Al-Azhar and from Egypt."

Twitter users speculated about the reasons why Al-Qaradawi's chose to resign now, months after the military coup. A Saudi Twitter user suggested that the resignation potentially pointed to a new role for Al-Qaradawi in Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, to whom he has long been linked and whose leaders are increasingly winding up in jail.

#القرضاوي_يستقيل إستقالة يوس� قرضاوي من هيئة كبار العلماء بالأزهر يشير لأمر خ�ي يخطط له الحزب الإخواني. pic.twitter.com/6J22sSI4Sn

— عبدالعزيز الموسى (@A_aziz_almosa) December 2, 2013

Al-Qaradawi has recently been in the spotlight for his support of the Syrian resistance. A YouTube video of one of his declarations describing resistance as an "obligation" has been repurposed to encourage the fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Al-Qaradawi was stripped of his Egyptian citizenship and has been denied entry into several western nations, including the United States, due to his often controversial writings and fatwas. One of his more controversial fatwas called the killing of Israeli civilians acceptable, describing them as occupiers along with their government; another called for the execution of novelist Salman Rushdie.

Some supporters argue that Al-Qaradawi's views are overly simplified by critics who portray him as an unrelenting extremist.They point out, for example, that after 9/11, Al-Qaradawi urged Muslims to donate blood urgently to help victims, declaring "the attack against innocent human beings a grave sin." He cited the verse 5:32 from the Koran, which reads in part: "Whoever kills a human being — unless for murder or for corruption done in the land — it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one — it is as if he had saved mankind entirely." Al-Qaradawi also famously denounced sectarianism between Sunnis and Shia in the wake of the Iraq war, a problem that still plagues the country today, and argued for moderation in permitting Muslims to consume minute amounts of alcohol (such as that present in energy drinks).

His sometimes ultra-conservative positions on women's rights — such as his insistence that "light" wife-beating could be permissible, and his support for female circumcision — seem to clash with the fact that his daughter Ilham is a world-famous nuclear scientist.

Adoption death in Qatar
The death of an adopted Ghanian child in Qatar has sparked discussion about cultural and religious differences over adoption. Eight-year-old Gloria, adopted by an American couple working in Qatar on preparations for the 2022 World Cup, mysteriously died in January of this year. Qatari prosecutors claimed the couple, Matthew and Grace Huang, had starved the child, while the parents maintained that Gloria had erratic eating habits, including binging and self-starvation. An Arabic language outlet reported that the charges were based on the testimony of one of the Huangs' other adopted children.

The Qatari police were reportedly suspicious of the Huangs' reasons for wanting a child who did not bear their "hereditary traits" and were "not good-looking." They allegedly speculated that Gloria could have been the victim of a trafficking scheme linked to organ harvesting. The payments they had made to an adoption agency apparently also aroused officials' suspicion. The California Innocence project has taken on the Huangs' case, calling it "wrongful incarceration."

The couple's two other adopted children have returned to the U.S. to live with their extended family during their parents' trial, who could face the death penalty if convicted.

Adoption as it is known in the West is not widely practiced in the Gulf, particularly in light of Islam's treatment of an adopted child as primarily linked to his or her biological family. An adopted child cannot officially inherit alongside his/her adoptive family's biological children and frequently does not take his/her adoptive family's last name.

Tips for Iraqi café owners: how to stop a suicide bomber
In the midst of the worst wave of violence since 2008, Baghdad's security command center is moving in to help owners of one of suicide bombers' most frequent targets: coffee shops.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry suggested to café owners that they hire security guards and allow only one entrance to their establishments, which makes incoming clients easier to monitor. They also urged the use of cameras.

In the month of November, nearly 1,000 people were killed in Iraqi attacks, almost all of them civilians.

After Al Jazeera English, "Hello" Al Arabiya With Subtitles
English and Arabic branches of the same news organization often report independently with different angels and even using different sources, leaving Arabic reporting impenetrable to the anglophone viewer. Al Arabiya has announced it is attempting to bridge that gap, allowing English-speaking viewers access to their Arabic news site through subtitles.

Saudi-owned Al Arabiya was founded in 2003 in response to the rapid rise of Qatar-owned Al Jazeera, and it has been described by some as a vehicle of Saudi Arabia's foreign policy. According to Andrew Hammon, Al Arabiya was intended to present a more moderate vision of the Arab world, dismissing "Al Jazeera's hip rejectionism when it came to the massive Western political influence in the region."

Perhaps to counter Al Jazeera English's increasing presence in the U.S. and European market, Al Arabiya has announced plans to offer English speakers access to its popular news broadcast.

The new subtitled broadcast is available here.

Norwegian halal reindeer meat
Following falling sales in Norway, a slaughterhouse in the north of the country has decided to offer halal reindeer meat for sale domestically and abroad.

The Islamic Council of Norway visited the abattoir and reportedly gave their seal of approval. As many have pointed out, "tis the season! Reindeer is a very popular meat for Christmas dinner in Scandinavia.

Tunisian president's "black book"
The information services of Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki have published a "black book" of all the journalists, artists, businessmen and businesswomen who allegedly collaborated with the former dictator, Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali.

Debates have persisted over what to do with those who had participated in Ben Ali's party — which in 2008, three years before the revolution that would oust the government, claimed over 2 millions members in a country with a population of about 10.5 million. The national assembly's efforts to ban members of Ben Ali's Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) party have thus far received lots of press, but have been unsuccessful. Despite Marzouki's party's efforts alongside the ruling Islamist party and other allies, members of the RCD still remain present on the political scene, including Ben Ali's relative by marriage Kamel Morjane.

Current President Marzouki hasn't had the most successful of presidencies, either, and his latest move — the "black book" publication — has earned him the ire of well-known public figures and avid Twitter users alike.

Progressive Islamic thinker Olfa Youssef lashed out at Marzouki on her Facebook account after she was named as a collaborator in the Ben Ali propaganda machine, for helping to "polish Ben Ali's image." After many other disappointments, she writes, "we discover today that you are a liar, that you accuse without evidence and fabricate charges." She continues, "I dare you to come up with even one piece of evidence to support these accusations … I am not a liar, and I do not fear you nor your rabid dogs."

Another Twitter user tweeted a cartoon portraying the Tunisian press as spineless, ready to relentlessly criticize those in power but unable to respond to any criticism of them.

The cartoon portrays Tunisian journalists harassing Marzouki and calling him names, including
! ("you puppet!") and ya muaqat ("you're only temporary!").

However, when Marzouki lashes back with his "black book," the journalists all run away, yelling, "We've been found out!"

Similarly, a Twitter user declared, "So this is a "puppet"? May we have more puppets then!"

Ù�طق ترشيح الزبيدي Ùˆ النابلي خرجلهم كتاب اسود Ùˆ واقÙ� سد منيع ضد الانقلاب Ùˆ ضد الانبطاح.. طرطور ماو ØŸ اللهم طرطره اكثر #Marzouki #Tunisie

— tounssi7orr (@tounssi7orr) November 29, 2013

The strangeness of the entire spectacle in the midst of Tunisia's political statement prompted one young Twitter user to declare: "Marzouki is like the white pencil in the box of colored pencils. You always find it there but you don't know what to do which it or what it's useful for. #Marzouki"

المرزوقي ي�كّرني �ي القلم الأبيض �ي باكو أقلام التلوين ... تلقاه ديما موجود امّا ما تعر�ش آش يعملو بيه والا لشنوّة يصلح ! #Marzouki

— Emir Ben Ayed (@Emir_BA) November 29, 2013

Another Tunisian journalist added a dose of humor:

Finally someone managed to beat the #Bieber hash-tag; this is by far #Marzouki "s greatest accomplishment #Tunisia #Tunisie

— Asma Smad (@AsmaSmad) December 2, 2013

In Sana'a, Yemen's capital
Laura Thompson

ARABICA: Nude Activist, Tunisian Rapper, Other News Buzzing In Arab World

Your weekly shot of what the Arab world is saying, hearing and sharing.

Egypt’s "nude activist" gains ire of religious right
Alia Al-Mahdi, a 22-year-old Egyptian woman, has become famous over the past two years for posting nude photos of herself on her blog as a way to protest patriarchy, sexism and violence against women.

Though she now lives in Sweden, where she has been granted asylum, Al-Mahdi is still making waves in her home country with her recent radical feminist and atheist take on the Muslim call to prayer (seen here in its traditional version inside a Cairo mosque).

In a Facebook photo posted Friday, Al-Mahdi replaced the opening of the call to prayer — “God is great” — with “Woman is great.” Where the Muslim muezzin declares, “I testify that there is not god but God,” Al-Mahdi instead proclaims, “There is no god, no ruler, no father.”

A prominent Salafist preacher called Al-Mahdi’s declaration proof of “apostasy” and called for criminal charges to be filed against her. In the Egyptian penal code, blasphemy is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. A figure at Egypt’s centuries-old religious institution Al-Azhar concurred, characterizing the call to prayer as one of Islam’s most sacred rituals.

Al-Mahdi has a history of upsetting her country’s conservative religious establishment. She has previously launched a call for men to send her pictures of themselves wearing the headscarf, and for women who wear the headscarf to send pictures of themselves uncovered.

She also made international headlines when she posed expand=1] nude in freezing cold temperatures in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Sweden to protest the inclusion of Shariah in the Egyptian constitution.

The constitution written and approved under the Islamist-dominated Morsi government named Sharia law (the divine law of God as revealed through the Abrahamic holy books, culminating in the Koran) as the main source of all legislation. This constitution is currently being “amended” by Egypt’s military-backed regime, which has indicated its intention to put the constitution to a referendum next month.

New Egyptian protest law under fire
Thirty Egyptian demonstrators protesting military trials of civilians were arrested Tuesday under a new law that restricts Egyptians’ freedom to protest.

The legislation, adopted Sunday, requires that organizers notify police three days before their intended demonstration. Human rights groups have severely criticized the law as basically criminalizing protests.

Twitter was abuzz with photos and tweets regarding the “protest law,” coming from both sides of the political spectrum. One user, sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, posted the following image with the message: “Your laws will not pass.”

#قانون_التظاهر #عند_أمك #مكملين !! :D :D pic.twitter.com/TJUdEVoGEs

— رزان :D (@Razan_ehab) November 24, 2013

Another user drew a parallel with the British occupation and the current military-backed regime, recalling the British prohibition of public demonstrations in Egypt.

#قانون_التظاهر 2013 #مصر #ماÙ�يش_Ù�ايدة pic.twitter.com/bAW3GBmIYE

— azza ahmed (@azza_ahmed9098) November 25, 2013

The Islamist Strong Egypt Party (Misr Al-Qawia), critical of both the Muslim Brotherhood and the military-backed regime, tweeted about the often minor policy differences maintained by the now-deposed Morsi government versus the current regime.

#مصر_القوية | #قانون_التظاهر .. ما بين حكومة #قنديل Ùˆ حكومة #الببلاوي pic.twitter.com/c8SBaSqecw

— حزب مصر القوية (@MisrAlQawia) November 26, 2013

In Tunisia, the dangers of calling police “dogs”

A Tunisian rapper on the run for months has agreed to appear in court to file an appeal, his lawyer said this week.

Weld El 15 became a nationally known outlaw after he was sentenced to two years in prison, and then 21 months, for his rap song “Boulicia Kleb,” or “Police expand=1] Are Dogs.” The rapper’s lawyer called the case a clear violation of freedom of expression and another example of the intentional marginalization of vocal youth.

But Tunisia’s Islamist Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh supported the prison sentence, insisting that Weld El 15 had incited hate against security forces and judges. Defamation of public officials is a punishable offense.

Reports have also circulated that some police officers harass those found listening to the song. One blogger site posted an interview with the mother of a Tunisian man, living in Switzerland, who was arrested during his summer vacation in Tunis while listening to the song.

Weld El 15 is scheduled to attend a hearing on Dec. 5. In the meantime, two rappers and a French-Tunisian journalist received suspended four-month prison sentences for expressing support for Weld El 15 during a trial earlier this year.

Kuwaiti women gets death sentence for murdering maid
A Kuwaiti woman has received a death sentence following the murder of her maid, whom she allegedly drove unconscious into the desert and then ran over repeatedly with her car. The homicide reportedly followed years of torture.

The Gulf is notorious for the mistreatment not only of its domestic workers, but also of its migrant laborers.

MBC and other prominent Gulf radio stations have been proactive in addressing the problem, broadcasting ads encouraging good treatment domestic help in light of Islamic values and the example of the Prophet Muhammad.

This ad, produced by the Program for the Spread of the Culture of Human Rights, reminds viewers that the Prophet Muhammad instructed Muslims to treat their workers with humanity: “Nourish them with what you eat, and give them to wear what you yourself wear and do not burden them with more than they can handle.”

A member of the Kuwaiti ruling family has also been sentenced to death for murdering his nephew. The alleged reason behind the killing? A disagreement over sports clubs.

A “Saudi Juliette” and her “Yemeni Romeo”
A 22-year-old Saudi woman has apparently traveled illegally to Yemen to elope with the love of her life — Arafat, a poor 25-year-old Yemeni man whom she had met in her Saudi village’s cell phone shop. Her family had refused Arafat’s marriage proposal, planning instead to have her wed another man. Momentarily detained by Yemeni forces for illegally entering the country, Huda found support with the he UN Refugee Agency — the UNHCR helped her get asylum — as well as Yemeni Internet users.

One Yemeni Twitter user posted an image to Huda’s family: “To the family of Huda: Yemenis will keep an eye on your pure daughter.”

مسا الخير والعا�يه * ورساله اوجهها الي أسرة ال�تاة السعوديه(هدى آل نيران) بسمي وبسم كل متابعيني وبسم كل اليمنين* pic.twitter.com/UxCj87nWWD

— كريم عــ الرحمن ــبد (@karim_ahmadi) November 26, 2013

Another supporter posted an Instagram photo of a poster advertising a Yemeni gathering in support of Huda. It reads, “We're coming, Huda!”

This modern-day Romeo and Juliette tale has perhaps garnered such significant attention because of mounting tensions between the comparatively poor and underdeveloped Yemen and its northern oil-rich neighbor, Saudi Arabia. Like Arafat, many Yemenis travel to Saudi Arabia for work, yet the Saudi government’s recent crackdown on undocumented laborers has forced many Yemenis to return home.

Sunset in Aleppo, Syria
Saudi Arabia
Laura Thompson

ARABICA: Beirut Bombing, Iraqi Executions, 125-Year-Old Man

A quick shot of what's brewing in the Arab world ...

Reactions to Iranian embassy bombing in Beirut
Many of the tweets in the wake of Tuesday’s bombing of the Iranian Embassy in Beirut that left 23 dead were prayers, representing the sectarian divide between some Sunni Islamists and Shia in the region.

One Twitter user, whose profile picture featured the black and white flag associated with Salafi jihadism (radical Sunni Islamism), tweeted a prayer for the attackers:

اللهم تقبل من قام �ي هذه الغزوة المباركة #غزوة_الس�ارة_الإيرانية_�ي_بيروت

— Ahmedalhamwi (@Ahmedalhamwi1) November 19, 2013

“Dear God, accept those who undertook this blessed invasion. #Invasion of the Iranian Embassy in Beirut.”

Iran is the most powerful Shia state while many other Middle Eastern countries have significant Shia populations, often repressed by Sunni-dominated regimes. Some radical Sunnis actually consider Shia to be non-believers.

Other Twitter users mourned the death of the “martyrs” killed in the attack.

#ان�جار_بيروت عزاءنا قائم للشهداء �ي بلدنا الثاني #لبنان رحم الله شهدائكم واش�ى الله جراحكم.. ونصركم على اعدائكم. pic.twitter.com/llamEKZYzW

— mustafa alshakarchi (@mgsiraq) November 19, 2013

Saudi journalist Abdulaziz Alkhamis of Al Arab denounced the attacks altogether, tweeting: “Each killing of innocents — no matter what their nationality or race or religion — is a crime and unacceptable act.”

@Bander150 كل قتل للأبرياء أيًا كانت جنسيتهم وعرقهم ودينهم جريمة وعمل مر�وض

— Abdulaziz Alkhamis (@alkhames) November 19, 2013

Another Twitter user evoked sectarianism when remembering the 1981 attack on the Iraqi embassy in Beirut, for which an Iraqi Shiite party, supported by Iran, was blamed. “It seems that the Iranians have begun to pay their bill for blowing up the Iraqi Embassy in Beirut,” Bander150 wrote, “…as poet Nizar Qabbani shed tears over his wife Balqis.”

Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani famously wrote a heart-wrenching poem about the death of his Iraqi wife Balqis, then employed at the Iraqi Embassy in Beirut. Here is a live recording of Qabbani reading the poem, along with a translation.

Deadly accident in Egypt, as train crushes a bus
A deadly train-bus accident in Egypt left 27 people dead and 29 injured, leading to widespread discussion about the country’s long-crumbling infrastructure.

The Ministry of Transport has blamed the crash on the bus driver’s error, though it also admitted that tens of billions of dollars are needed to improve the country’s deteriorated railway system. Some critics have alleged that the crash happened because the flashing light at the railway crossing no longer functioned, and so the bus driver was unaware of the oncoming train.

The ministry further announced that a development project, in partnership with the UAE, would put in place functioning train crossings in the next 10 months.

Young Saudis turn to the Internet for locally made entertainment
UTURN expand=1], a YouTube channel founded in 2010, offers a variety of series, including 3al6ayer, a Saudi version of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

UTURN represents something new in Saudi Arabia, where local television stations are either controlled by the state, owned by a member of the royal family, or principally religious in nature. Though 90% of Saudi households have satellite dishes and therefore have access to foreign programming, UTURN meets a need by providing local flavor for its 84% Saudi audience.

The station supports itself by creatively inserting products into its shows, working with companies such as Samsung, Saudi Telecom, Dunkin’ Donuts and Coca-Cola. The most recent broadcast with English captions — just activate them via the caption button on the bottom right-hand of the video — is available here.

Jet skiing in the streets of Riyadh
After two hours of rain in the normally arid Riyadh over the weekend, life in the Saudi capital ground to a virtual standstill. Schools were closed, as roads were overwhelmed with anxious drivers unfamiliar with flooded streets. At least one person died: a girl who was carried away by the water after she and her father abandoned their car.

To get around, at least one Saudi resident took to using his jet ski in the streets of Riyadh, causing an Internet sensation.

Death penalty boom in Iraq
International human rights organizations, along with the UN and EU, have condemned Iraq’s rising number of executions, while more bombings have contributed to a level of violence in Iraq not seen for five years. More than 5,500 people have died so far in 2013.

This week alone, 12 Iraqi men were executed, all for terrorism charges. The UN has criticized Iraq’s judicial system as “not functioning adequately” and has also condemned the use of torture to extract confessions, which can then serve as the basis for a death penalty.

Some Twitter users alleged that the death penalty was being selectively used by a Shiite government against Sunnis, reflecting a growing trend of violent sectarianism in the country. “The Iraqi Ministry of "Justice" executed 12 detainees, all Sunnis, in Baghdad’s Kadhimiyah prison,” one Twitter user wrote.

العراق:وزارة "الا عدل" العراقية تن�ذ حكم الإعدام بحق 12 معتقلا من أهل السنة �ي سجن الكاظمية ببغداد #iraq

— شبكة اهل السنة (@ahlalsunna2) November 17, 2013

Another tweeted the names of the Sunnis who had been executed “by the Shiite government.”

#أسرانا_�ي_العراق الأسماء التي تم تن�يذ حكم الإعدام �يها من قبل حكومة الرا�ضة �ي بغداد 6-لط�ي عدنان مخل� 7-س�يان حكمت ذياب 8-مجبل حمادي مجبل

— الحوراء العيناء (@alhwra_2012) November 18, 2013

The user called the regime “the refusing government,” a reference to Shia’s theological and historical divergences with Sunnis, the global majority.

Before the U.S. invasion in 2003, Sunnis had long dominated the Iraqi government, most prominently under the powerful figure of Sunni President Saddam Hussein, who ruled from 1979 until 2003.

Hey Albania, can we ask a little favor?
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons remains confident that Syria’s entire chemical arsenal will be destroyed by 2014, though logistical questions remain unanswered — the most important being: Where will the stockpiles be destroyed?

The Albanian government had been considering a request from the U.S. to host the destruction of the 1,200 tons of Syrian chemical weapons. But popular protests pushed the Albanian prime minister to refuse the request, as Albanians across the world took to the streets to protest.

Today's protest against #Syria"s chemical weapons in #Albania in front of the Albanian Embassy in Washington D.C. pic.twitter.com/9G0Gwxnj0U

— Rilind Latifi (@RilindLatifi) November 14, 2013

Saudi Arabia to build world’s largest metro system
The capital city of Riyadh will be home to the world’s largest metro system at 176 kilometers long. The country is reportedly investing $22.5 billion in the project.

A glossy video has been posted on YouTube showing where and how the train will function — and how much the capital city’s residents will love its free Wi-Fi and air-conditioning.

125-year-old Palestinian manrecalls life across three centuries
Omar Rajab Mohammad Toum was born in 1888 and for much of his life traveled widely without any identity papers, through countries without checkpoints. With a life spanning three centuries, Toum recalls the Ottoman Era, British Rule and the Israeli Occupation. Despite widespread polygamy in his time, Toum married only one wife and today has so many grandchildren that he "can’t remember all their names,” he told Al-Arabiya. He estimates their number at about 300.

Toum’s diet consists of olive oil and thyme for breakfast and rabbit meat for lunch, as well a ghee, a type of clarified butter.

Mural in Gaza City
Laura Thompson

ARABICA: Islamic Jihad, Egyptian Comic, Arafat Outrage

Your weekly shot of what the Arab world is saying, hearing and sharing.

Islamic Jihad emerges in Hamas shadow
In its efforts to remove Israel from the map, Hamas, the Islamist party in charge in Gaza, has a new competitor — or perhaps little brother: the Islamic Jihad resistance movement. Islamic Jihad has been growing in the shadows, an unofficial movement alongside the democratically elected Hamas, both dedicated to rocket attacks against a country they view as an occupier.

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Islamic Jihad logo — Source: Wikimedia Commons

Islamic Jihad officials have argued that the greatest achievements for Hamas in the battle against Israel were achieved when they were in the “resistance” — the very position in which Islamic Jihad now finds itself, Reuters Arabic reports.

Yoni Fighel, a retired Israeli army colonel and senior researcher in counter-terrorism, argues that Islamic Jihad remains “dangerous because to a degree it is uncontrollable,” existing completely outside party politics and international diplomacy.

At the same time, it is free from the responsibilities that can burden Hamas. Fighel says: “It doesn't have to feed all the Palestinians in Gaza, so it can be much more flexible and independent.”

Reaction to Arafat poisoning report
Nine years after Yasser Arafat's death, news that he may have been poisoned stirred people both inside the Palestinian territories and across the Arab world. A Palestinian woman living in Qatar tweeted the following image in commemoration:

#ياسر_عر�ات .... < الثورة ليست بندقية �َحسب > pic.twitter.com/4aYqtkuLfR

— رشــآ النـتـشـة (@Alnatsheh_Rasha) November 11, 2013

“The revolution is not the gun of the revolutionary only; rather it is a farmer’s pick, a surgeon’s scalpel, a writer’s pen, a poet’s quill.” — Yasser Arafat, 1929-2004

A Jordanian Palestinian woman tweeted similarly:

#ياسر_عرÙ�ات #Ù�لسطين *PS* pic.twitter.com/jHSM44dfsA

— Lian Mohammed (@liaano94) November 11, 2013

“One day, one of them will pass by my grave, to tell me that my country is no longer occupied.”

Al Jazeera released a special investigative report on the alleged poisoning by polonium, as supported by Swiss forensic reports. The channel’s documentary video has also been made available in English.

The Palestinian Investigative Committee has since called Israel the prime suspect in Arafat’s death.

A link to the Swiss report, published in English, has also been uploaded to the Al Jazeera website.

Breakdown in Geneva talks
The front page of the prominent conservative Iranian newspaper Kayhan called the recent Geneva talks “a mirage”:

Negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program have grounded to a halt amid accusations between France, the U.S. and Iran. The U.S. blamed Iran for backing out of a reported deal at the last minute, while Iranian officials criticized the hard line of France. And the Iranian media accused the French foreign minister of siding with Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had characterized the deal the U.S. was pushing as “very bad,” paving the way for confrontation between the two countries.

The next meeting for the negotiations has been scheduled for Nov. 20.

Polarization in Egypt: Bassem Youssef's show canceled
Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef — nicknamed “Egypt’s Jon Stewart” — found his show canceled just minutes before its scheduled broadcast, amid crackdowns on journalists and an overwhelming wave of hypernationalism in the country. Youssef’s El-Bernameg show had earned an international following and refused to spare the army his clever, often biting criticism.

Recent polls showed Egyptians completely split over the show’s cancellation, with 48% against and 44% supporting the suspension. Al-Arabiya called the show’s cancellation indicative of a growing polarization in Egypt.

Twitter users have not remained mute regarding Youssef’s silencing by the military-backed regime. One Jordanian cartoonist Naser Jafari posted a cartoon to that exact effect.

Floods in Baghdad

#علي التميمي #big LIKE #Baghdad #floods pic.twitter.com/NrbeBTdjvp

— Aouf A Sulaiman (@aoufasulaiman) November 10, 2013

Four days of torrential rain have flooded Iraqi streets, causing the government to declare an emergency public holiday Monday.

Deplorable conditions in Syrian prisons
The Syrian Union for the Defense of Human Rights recently published a report detailing horrific conditions in the military’s Sednaya prison, which reportedly houses about 14,000 prisoners, who include women and children.

The deplorable conditions include month-long solitary confinement, severe beatings, whippings, burning of the skin with chemicals and cigarettes, and overcrowding. Epidemics of untreated illnesses and infections were also reported, along with intentional deprivation of food and drink. Bi-weekly executions during the night were also reported, after which bodies were disposed of without notification to the families.

The great majority of the prison guards responsible for much of this torture are reportedly 20 years old or younger.

A giant rat in Yemen kills baby
A giant rat reportedly killed a one-year-old child in western Yemen, after entering the family’s mud and palm leaf shack and eating some of the child’s limbs.

Syrian refugee women open restaurant
A group of Syrian women, most of them housewives, have launched a project to sell traditional Syrian dishes in Beirut, Lebanon, with the help of the United Nations Refugee Agency. The project intends to help the refugees both preserve special characteristics of their regional culture and support their families during their time in Lebanon, while their country is at war.

“Our house was destroyed, and my husband is suffering from heart problems,” one 30-year-old woman told her fellow cooks, holding back tears. “My children cry every day because they can’t go to school in Lebanon.”

Another cook, from the city of Aleppo, told Al-Arabiya that preparing traditional dishes with other women from her country alleviated some of her homesickness: “Here, I feel like I am in my country, Syria.”

Saudi sick of insults
A member of the Saudi parliament has requested stricter laws to protect himself and other politicians from “humiliation, insult, libel and slander” on social networking sites as well as by the media.

A member of the Saudi parliament since 2005, Saud al-Shammari stressed that insulting its members constitutes an attack on the institution itself. Such attacks, potentially viewed by “millions of people,” should be classified as a “criminal offense,” he argued.

In Tunis
Laura Thompson

Tunisia Police Brutality, Morsi Bashing And Other News Stirring The Arab World

ARABICA: Your weekly shot of what the Arab world is saying, hearing and sharing.

Tunisian Police: Old Habits Die Hard
"Torture and murder by torture continues after a revolution that rose up against these practices." This could be read on the "Free klay bbj et weld 15" Facebook page — dedicated to freeing two Tunisian rappers sentenced to prison sentences for a song insulting police after a young man died while in police custody.

Walid Denguir was arrested on Nov. 1 by what critics describe as a group of "gangster police," known for their involvement in drug and alcohol trafficking. Denguir died during a subsequent interrogation at a police station in a southern neighborhood of Tunis. Investigative journalists, lawyers and angry Tunisian Internet users have posted graphic photos of Denguir's mutilated body, declaring that Denguir clearly died from torture. Here is the main Facebook page, "We are all Walid."

According the Tunisian site Nawaat, policemen told Denguir's sister that he had "died of a heart attack," while Nawaat calls the signs of torture "irrefutable." Journalist Ramzi Bettaieb posted a message on Facebook about Denguir's funeral, writing, "And as for the policemen Omar Al-Jebri and Faouzi Achouri, responsible for Walid's murder, I'll be right behind you until I bid you farewell in prison."

Ghazi Mrabet, a Tunisian lawyer known for his human rights and freedom of expression work, wrote on his Facebook page, "Tunisian police have not yet decided to change its practices … The Islamists in power — after having been the principal victims (though not the only) of this abjection for years — now close their eyes."

Three Signs Geneva 2 is an uphill climb
Geneva 2 is a set of U.S.-Russia organized talks to be held between the Syrian opposition and Syrian regime in the hopes of negotiating a peaceful resolution to the civil war. Despite some initial optimism, Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League envoy on Syria, indicated Tuesday that there is no date yet set for the peace conference.

So why is Geneva in trouble?

1) Divided Opposition. The Syrian National Coalition has recently confirmed its refusal to participate in the talks unless President Bashar al-Assad steps down. This follows individual declarations rejecting the Geneva 2 talks by leaders of opposition militias, such as that of Ahmed Eissa Al-Sheikh, leader of the powerful Syrian Suqour al-Sham brigade and head of the coalition Syrian Islamic Liberation Front.

2) Skeptical Regime. The Syrian regime remains very wary of international meddling in the negotiations and continually expresses skepticism of the UN-Arab League envoy Brahimi, who is slated to head the talks.

3) Iran. The two main organizers of the talks, the U.S. and Russia, have seemed unable to agree on the thorny issue of Iran's presence — a presence Russia has called essential and that the Syrian opposition has flatly refused.

Twitter lampoons and laments Mohamed Morsi
Morsi supporters came out in force on Nov. 4, the starting date of the deposed president's trial for the alleged killing of protesters last December — and not just in protests outside of the constitutional court.

"يسقط حكم العسكر" In front of the Constitutional Court.#DemocracyOnTrial #MorsiTrial #Cairo #Egypt #Morsi #Sisi #مرسي pic.twitter.com/2vIUaDD4Zo

— Bieber hater™ (@MedoShnider) November 4, 2013

"Down with Military Rule"

Al Jazeera Arabic journalist Ali Al-Dafiri mused, "Morsi was not alone behind bars yesterday. If you looked a bit closer, you would have found many: All those who dream of democracy were in prison with him, the whole nation was imprisoned." Al-Dafiri's message was retweeted almost 1,000 times. His employer, Al Jazeera, is known for its sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood and its opposition to the military-backed coup, resulting in the expulsion and harassment of its journalists.

Another Twitter user posted a picture of Morsi flanked by military leaders, with the words: "Lions will remain lions, and dogs dogs."


One critical tweet painted Morsi as a greedy madman living outside reality, intending to resurrect a role he had completely destroyed.

#مرسي من داخل الق�ص :أنا الرئيس الشرعي للبلاد وأطلب من رئيس المحكمة تمكيني من ممارسة صلاحياتي كرئيس pic.twitter.com/VezAOJ8SDu

— تعب كلها الحياة (@Hameess) November 4, 2013

Translation: The Mahmoudiyah Canal." (a polluted canal in Northern Egypt)

"What about it?"

"I want to buy it and get clarified butter and salty sardines out of it."

Another Twitter picture mocked Morsi's righteous declaration to the constitutional court: "I am your president!" The image reads:

"A security officer among Morsi's bodyguards: "What would you like to drink, doctor?"

Morsi responds, "Why aren't you calling me president!?""

Saudi Arabia's mass arrests of migrant workers
In a country where more than half the workforce are foreigners, thousands of undocumented workers have been arrested following the end of an amnesty period in early November. In an attempt to lower the unemployment rate among native Saudis, the Saudi government declared a limited grace period of several months before cracking down on workers without correct documentation. Human Rights Watch has criticized Saudi Arabia's program for foreign workers, in which the Saudis who sponsor migrant workers also have complete power over their workers' job changes and residency status.

The plight of migrant workers in the Gulf has recently come to international attention, after the UK newspaper The Guardian published an exposé of the "slave treatment" of migrant workers preparing Qatar to host the World Cup.

Headscarves return to Turkish Parliament
Four Turkish women parliamentarians wore headscarves to work, following the October lifting of a 90-year old headscarf ban in some governmental buildings. In an unexpected move, Turkey's Islamist Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan indicated that anyone interfering with a woman's now broadened right to cover her hair in public would face a prison sentence of three years.

The Turkish opposition criticized the lifting of the ban, arguing that it eroded the country's secular foundations.The ban remains for other public employees, including prosecutors, judges, police officers, and soldiers.

Armed heist highlights Libya's security woes
In an indication of growing insecurity, a Libyan central bank van was robbed of a reported $52 million in cash by a group of heavily armed gunmen. This late October robbery took place in the city of Sirte, the birthplace of foreign president Muammar Gaddafi, as well as the site of his death in 2011. Sirte remained a pro-Gaddafi stronghold until the end of the Libyan civil war, which left the city virtually destroyed.

Libya's struggle with ensuring security during the post-revolutionary transitional period has been complicated by a number of factors, including the proliferation of arms and arms trafficking; porous borders that allow the relatively easy transit of extremist groups; and finally the activities of armed groups which can easily overpower the comparatively weak and underpaid army and police forces.

Smiling martyrs on Facebook, Skyping the jihad
In a reported effort to attract more volunteers, al-Qaeda in Syria has invited members to post smiling images of fighters who have died in combat. The smile is intended to convey the joy achieved through martyrdom in the holy fight against Assad.

According to an Al-Arabiya article, al-Qaeda and other extremist groups in Syria have broadly made Internet technology a central tool in their fight, using Skype, for example, to recruit volunteers and to discuss battle tactics.

ARABICA: Tunisia Shooting, Saudi Driving And Other News Buzzing In The Arab World
Laura Thompson

ARABICA: Tunisia Shooting, Saudi Driving And Other News Buzzing In The Arab World

Your weekly shot of what the Arab world is saying, hearing and sharing.

Bassem Youssef: Egyptian comic back on air, back in trouble

He’s been dubbed the “Jon Stewart of Egypt,” and Bassem Youssef’s satire was considered a state enemy by the Muslim Brotherhood and then-President Mohamed Morsi. Now Youssef is back on TV with the first episode of his show El-Bernameg since the army’s June 30 ouster of Morsi. Sticking to his calling, which sees the powers-that-be as perfect comic material, Youssef didn’t hesitate to attack Egypt’s current military leadership (in particular Defense Minister General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi). And just that quickly, he is now facing charges for insulting government officials.

Youssef’s first show following a four-month hiatus seemed to offer a breath of fresh air for some in the stifling environment of journalistic repression, hyper-nationalism, violence, and international marginalization. Journalist Diana Moukalled argued that Bassem Youssef’s comedic spirit amid such bleakness offers Egyptians a third option, “outside the Islamists’ and military’s umbrella.” Another Egyptian woman, Moukalled writes, concurred in a tweet published after Youssef's show: “They asked me if I am with the Brotherhood or with Sisi. I told them I am with Bassem Youssef.”

Youssef’s future now remains no more sure than before. The comedian and his producers have long known that their show could get them in trouble, despite its usual disclaimer: “This show is sarcastic, comic, not factual, not objective, not neutral. Its contents and events are imaginary.” And in this first post-coup episode, Youssef finished the show by referencing the possibility that he will be silenced again: An arm appeared from below his desk, grabbing his notes and insistently replaced them with a new script. When Youssef threw the script away, the arm slapped him.

Police shooting exposes Tunisian tensions

A young man who refused to stop at several checkpoints in the chic Tunis neighborhood of Ennasr was eventually shot by police in front of a local junior high school. Rumors circulated wildly while security forces, news outlets, and even ministry spokespeople gave radically different versions of events.

The shooting illustrated first the incredibly tense situation in Tunisia, as negotiations around the current government’s impending resignation begin under a state of emergency.

The unreliability of Tunisian news outlets was also on clear display in the wake of this shooting, as the man shot in Ennasr was initially reported dead and then injured. News and social networking sites variously described the man as: a Salafist; a Libyan; a “bearded man” accompanied by four other “bearded men”; a well-known local musician; and finally a Tunisian traveling with two men who were French/Russian/Chechen, one of whom had a pierced ear. Various news reports indicated that the young man refused to stop because he: had a molotov cocktail and other explosives (related to his supposed Salafi Jihadism); was armed; had been smoking a joint; had been drinking and had a bottle of alcohol in his hand. One Twitter user sarcastically thanked the media for its “excellent” reporting, ending with a rebuke.

Merci aux médias qui nous ont assuré une excellente couverture des événements de #Ennasr ! Shame on you.

— A.A (@Scoulino) October 25, 2013

Saudi satire video: “No woman, no drive”

On Oct. 26, dozens of Saudi women took to the streets — in their cars — to demand women’s right to drive. Sixteen of them were fined for their participation in a movement that has taken root in the past two years but originally dates back to 1991. Though initial demonstrations were intended to be numerous, threats from government officials as well as the movement’s website (www.oct26driving.com) being hacked led organizers to call for individual women to brave driving only if they felt able.

And the tune initially playing on the hacked site of the Oct. 26 demonstrations? A song created by Saudi comic Hisham Fageeh, satirizing the recent debates in Saudi Arabia around the ban on women driving. Entitled “No Woman, No Drive,” the song riffs on Bob Marley lyrics to poke fun at the righteous opposition to women’s right to drive. The hacker apparently first missed the song’s irony, vowing on the site’s home page to “pursue anyone who supports this driving campaign through all means available to me.”

With 5.5 million views to date, the song melodically lampoons conservatives’ reasons for opposing women driving using no musical instruments — just voices, hands, mouths, and … beards. In reference to concerns that driving could affect women’s reproductive organs, Fageeh and friends sing, “Say I remember when we you used to sit, in the family car, but backseat / Ova-ovaries all safe and well, so you can make lots of babies.”

No more monkey business in Indonesia

The governor of Indonesia’s capital city Jakarta is forbidding the use of monkeys as street performers, for both humanitarian and safety reasons: concerns about diseases and animal abuse as well as potentially distracting motorists. The macaques, typically chained, perform strange and often over-the-top acts for tourists, such a riding bicycles while wearing doll outfits as well as dancing. Their teeth are often cut to prevent them from biting their owners, leading to terrible tooth infections. The Jakarta Post writes that owners often beat the monkeys and pull them around using ropes tied around their necks.

A video published by BBC Arabic shows images of chained monkeys, kept in small cages, as well as photos of banners produced by the “Jakarta Animal Aid Network.” The network’s website informs visitors that it is looks to “raise enough money to buy an island where we can release former Topeng Monyet dancing monkeys that have been saved from torture on Jakarta’s streets.” Forty monkeys have already been saved, according to the site, and are awaiting the new refuge.

A poster republished on the site promises that a donation of only $30 would buy 25 square meters of the island the association hopes to buy.

Libyan language battle

Libyan youth held demonstrations this week at an oil and gas site west of Tripoli to demand the recognition of the Amazigh language (also know as Berber), the mother tongue still spoken by some in North Africa descended from pre-Arab peoples. The Libyan General National Congress — the interim legislature — is set to hold a session on the contested issue of Amazigh language this week.

The congress had previously failed to adopt a law guaranteeing Amazigh language education, continuing the pre-revolutionary tradition of pro-Arabism. Other post-revolutionary protests, however, had born fruit, including that of the Toubou (speaking Tebu) and the Tuareg (speaking Tuareg, a major dialect of Berber), demanding national recognition alongside the Imazighen (Berber peoples). All three of these languages were then officially deemed “authentic linguistic and cultural components” of the Libyan national identity.

The Imazighen, as well as the Toubou and the Tuareg, have a long history of marginalization under the former regime of Muammar Gaddafi, who ruled Libya for 42 years. In mid-2010, before his fall from power, Gaddafi went as far as to say that Amazigh were “ancient tribes” that “no longer exist,” saying that it was “pointless to try to use the language of these tribes which have disappeared.”

Amazigh, as well as Tuareg and Tebu, cross the imagined borders between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, sometimes complicating their relationship with the countries that integrate them into their nationalist identities. Despite this, both Morocco and Algeria have integrated Imazighen as official national languages.

Rabaa reprise

The four-fingered Rabaa sign is again causing a stir in Egypt, where it first emerged with the help of Turkish soccer players into an international sign of support for deposed Egyptian president President Mohamed Morsi and the anti-coup movement. Social networkers have previously poked fun at the Rabaa sign, exasperated by its defiant symbolism following the August military crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood protesters. The Rabaa sign commemorates the massacre of hundreds of Morsi supporters in August 2013, including inside the Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo.

Now, the stakes for displaying the Rabaa sign seem to be rising amid Egypt’s hyper nationalist public discourse and its regime’s total intolerance for criticism. Some in Cairo's legal apparatus are apparently inclined to treat the Rabaa sign as the tool of the turncoat, as indicated in a retweet by IkhwanWeb (a twitter feed linked to the Muslim Brotherhood):

A President of #Cairo Court of Appeals: "The #R4BIA sign is high treason & all those who use it should have their nationalities withdrawn"

— Abdullah EL-Haddad (@AbdelHaddad) October 28, 2013

At the same time, even a gold medal did not save an Egyptian athlete from being suspended after appearing in a Rabaa T-shirt and making the now famous four-fingered gesture during an international competition abroad. Egyptian kung fu competitor Mohamed Yusuf was deported from a tournament in Russia in late October and is reportedly awaiting questioning in Egypt. He may be prevented from representing Egypt in the upcoming Kung Fu World Championship.