28 Feb 2012

Everybody Loves Bashar, Everybody Loves The Constitution

Reading what the Syrian official press has written about the constitutional referendum last Sunday, one would think it is about a referendum in perfect referenda-addicted Switzerland !

On Syrian state TV and on other pro-regime media such as Dunia TV, it was non-stop "We Love The New Constitution" vox populi and analysts. Of course that came on top of the usual non-stop "We Love Bashar Al Assad" vox populi and analysts.

When you live in a dictatorship you automatically know what you are expected to say on state TV. You also know the price of not saying what you are supposed to say. And if you did say anything that was not within the pre-defined political line, you would not be on TV anyway.

In recent times live reporting has intensified on Syrian state TV, becoming one of the many ways the Syrian regime - like other regimes - utilises in its brainwashing attempts to make it look like "Everyboy Loves Bashar" !

However .. some things here and there did not work out during the live coverage. For example voters had no clue when they were asked what is it they liked about the new constitution !

The video below is probably the most famous video of all. It shows a lady who says on TV, live, that her sons are abroad but she brought the Family Card (it is where all family members are registered) with her "in order to" .. That is when she is interrupted so she doesn't complete the sentence: "vote on their behalf".. and another man says he wants to speak (to save the day?) but somehow forgets what he wanted to say. Hilarious!

Another video includes an interview with one of the heads of the electoral committees inside a polling station. He seems to have misunderstood the meaning of "transparency". It looks like he thought it meant that you know what everyone's vote is :)  and of course he reassures the journalist, live, that everyone has voted YES.. It is also obvious he is not speaking spontaneously. He is clearly reading from a paper, nervously !

There is even a facebook page created by those who oppose the new constitution https://www.facebook.com/Syriaforall1 and many relate their own experiences such as this Syrian who boycotted the vote, did not go to the polls only to find out that her name was included in a list of voters who voted YES, and the list included everyone in her neighbourhood! Another Syrian did go to vote but was told to vote YES even though he wanted to vote NO. Others reported that their ID's had been taken away from them by the army or the security forces on the street a day or two before the referendum and they were told to go pick them up at the polling stations !

Of course many Syrians did vote YES willingly. Many Syrians do support Assad. 
But it is difficult to imagine that a democratic free election could possibly take place under the same regime whose presidential elections have been a mere referendum on the continuity of an Assad, whether father or son. A regime that has always rigged elections and punished citizens who did not vote YES on presidential referenda. Add to that the on-going relentless crackdown on activists and protesters anywhere, coupled with an unwithered brutal military campaign by the Syrian Army against rebelling areas in Homs, Hama, Idlib and other places in Syria. 

How on earth can anyone claim to organise a successful democratic vote in a country where up to a 100 or more people get killed every day over democracy?


Special thanks to Tamara the @BlondeSyriana

22 Feb 2012

Saudi Arabia's "Bravest Man": Alone At Court?

Do you know about Khaled?

For many months we did not know anything about the famous Saudi citizen who dared speak up and demand freedom in his country. Many people referred to him as Saudi Arabia's bravest man. We presumed he was in jail... and indeed he has been. I found a statement by Amnesty International on his case. I also found information on his whereabouts (a prison named Al Ha'ir) and his up-coming trial - today Wednesday - on Shaimaa Khalil's Blog .  Shaimaa is the BBC journalist who managed, miraclously, to do the story about Khaled from inside Saudi Arabia.

Watch part of her story in Arabic, with English subtitles

After permission from Shaimaa, I am copying below her latest blogpost containing all the available information she got on his case


Khaled Jehani: The Only Protester

Khaled Mohamed Al Jehani stands trial in the Saudi capital Riyadh today. He's charged with speaking to foreign media about subjects which harm the kingdom and for demonstrating.

Khaled was arrested on March the 11th 2011 when he answered calls on social media pages to take to the streets of Riyadh and demonstrate in what was called the 'Day of Rage'.

At 'Grievance Square' or 'Diwan Al Mathalem' a demonstration was expected. But Khaled ended up being the only protester and despite the notorious security presence he came up and spoke to journalists.


Read my blogpost in Arabic خالد، "أشجع رجل في السعودية"، وحيد في محاكمته

خالد، "أشجع رجل في السعودية"، وحيد في محاكمته

انشغلنا كثيراً بأحداث ساخنة وأخبار لا تتوقف ليل نهار ولعل بعضنا نسي إحدى الشخصيات التي انبثقت من الحراك الثوري العربي: خالد الجهني، الذي أطلق عليه لقب "أشجع رجل في السعودية". منذ اختفائه - اعتقاله - بقيت أخباره شحيحة وشبه منعدمة

لكني أخيراً وجدت أخباره في مدونة شيماء خليل، الصحفية التي فجرت قضيته على بي بي سي قبل عام تقريباً في وثائقي نادر وجريء من داخل السعودية. أنسخ هنا - بعد إذنها - تدوينتها الأخيرة كاملة والتي تحوي آخر المعلومات المتوفرة حوله 

تتم اليوم الأربعاء محاكمة المواطن السعودي، خالد محمد الجهني، بالرياض، على خلفية اتهامه بالتحدث لوسائل إعلام أجنبية والإساءة للمملكة السعودية، وفق ما ذكرته مصادر مقربة من قضية خالد

وكان قد تم القبض على خالد يوم الحادي عشر من مارس/آذار عام 2011 حين لبى دعوة على مواقع التواصل الاجتماعي على الانترنت للخروج والتظاهر فيما سمي حينها "يوم الغضب". وفي هذا اليوم لم يكن خالد سوى المتظاهر الوحيد. ووسط الوجود الامني المكثف جاء خالد وتحدث الى فريق بي بي سي عند ميدان المظالم بالرياض. وقد تم القبض على خالد بعد فترة وجيزة من التحدث الى فريق بي بي سي. ووفق مصادر مقربة من قضيته فإن خالد مسجون حاليا في سجن الحائر. وأضافت هذه المصادر أنه منذ القبض عليه، تعرض خالد للتعذيب والإهانة اللفظية والحرمان من النوم لساعات طويلة والماء في بعض الأحيان. وتقول هذه المصادر إن حالة خالد الصحية متردية للغاية ولا يحصل على العناية الطبية اللازمة


أول تدوينة كتبتُها عن خالد العام الماضي ---> السعودي الذي نطق حرية .. فاختفى 

English version --> Saudi Arabia's Bravest Man

18 Feb 2012

سوف نبقى هنا.. سوف يبقى خضر عدنان

أغنية الثورة الليبية بامتياز

عندما وصلت ليبيا في يوليو تموز ٢٠١١ كانت هذه الأغنية هي الرنة الأكثر انتشاراً على هواتف الناس المحمولة في المناطق التي زرتها في شرق ليبيا، وخاصة بنغازي. وكانت الأغنية تسمع أيضاً في الشوارع سواء من السيارات أو من المتاجر أو من المنازل

الآن بعد مرور عام على انطلاق الثورة الليبية تعود إلي الأغنية .. لأنظر إليها بشكل مختلف - وإن كان سماعها طبعاً يعيد إلي بشكل تلقائي ذكريات الثورة الليبية والصمود الليبي. لكني اليوم أشعر أنها ليست أغنية الثورة الليبية فحسب، بل هي أغنية للحرية وللوطن في أي مكان كان

اليوم أهديها إلى فلسطين وإلى كل خضر عدنان .. إلى كل من يضحي مثل الأسير الفلسطيني المضرب عن الطعام خضر عدنان بأي شيء كان، حتى بحياته، من أجل الوطن ... كما تقول الأغنية : موطني موطني ، موطني يا أنا 

When Revolution Reaches Your Neighbourhood

Welcome to Mazzeh, my Damascus neighbourhood during my teenage and early adulthood years. It is unbelievable to watch massive demos taking place in those streets I know. I used to walk a lot instead of ride taxis or buses. So I often went through those areas.

Mazzeh is a middle class to upper middle class neighbourhood. In the eighties it used to be called the New Damascus, Dimashq al Jadidah, because it was a new neighbourhood joining Damascus after it had been considered an outskirt before.  

In this video on Saturday, mourners gathered massively under the snow in a funeral for those how had been killed the day before. It is pretty powerful.

In the revolution Mazzeh's importance for Damascus stems from several factors. 

First, it is where many embassies are based. They used to all be based in Malki or Abu Roumaneh, but in recent years many moved to the newer and trendy Mazzeh. In fact when I used to live there it was not that trendy, didn't have the cafes, restaurants and shops it now does. 

Second, it is close to one of Damascus' main and biggest squares: the Omayad Square, where pro-Assad rallies have taken place and where State TV and Radio has its headquarters, the Syrian regime's own Maspero (Maspero is the name of the Egyptian State TV headquarters and has been a very important clashing point both politically and in protests)

Third, it is relatively close to the presidential palace, the People's Palace, a palace named after the people but never accessible to the people of course. It is actually just up the hill from Omayad Square but it goes through a non-inhabited road all the way to the top, rising above the city.

Fourth, many nearby rebelling neighbourhoods in the bigger Damascus are reached through Mazzeh, such as Mouadamiyeh for example.

I know that demos have been taking place regularly behind Al Razi Hospital, on the main Mazzeh highway known as Autostrad. This is actually where the Iranian Embassy is located and videos on Youtube have shown many demos there. But the streets there are narrow and the demos get dispersed quickly. Interestingly enough, not far from there are many faculties of the University of Damascus, including the Faculty of Letters and the Faculty of Medicine.

I am told that in Saturday's Mazzeh demo at Sheikh Saad many were the same people that go to the usual demos behind Al Razi Hospital, which is closer to Omayad Square and the People's Palace than Sheikh Saad.

Anyway, as usual, the security forces accompanied by their thugs, eventually show up and have no mercy. In this video you will see them, uniformed and armed, along with their thugs, shooting at the mourners !

One really wonders : if these security forces and thugs were pulled out of Damascus and it became safe to go out in demos, how many Damascenes would come out against the regime? And how many would still come out to show support to the regime, freely and willingly?

Would there be a Tahrir Square in Omayad Square? Or may be in Abbasid Square? (Abbasid Square is another big square on the other side of Damascus not far from the rebelling Qaboun, Barzeh neighbourhoods).

Sunday is another day.. where again mourners will come out to bury the dead from Saturday's crackdown. Will they be shot at again?

It is the never-ending cycle !

You might want to check out ChubbyBlog's Damascus Spoke While It Was Snowing

Mapping Libya's #Feb17 Hashtag on Twitter

One year after the start of Libya's Revolution I came across this video in which the Twitter activity is traced during the first 24 hours of Libya's February 17th Revolution under the hashtag #Feb17. I presume they traced the first 24 hours as from February 17th.. although the protests actually started earlier than scheduled, on February 15th

But anyway I am proud to be among the main contributors to this hashtag. I covered the Libyan Revolution on Twitter from my Caracas home, almost around the clock. 

13 Feb 2012

معارضو تشافس انتخبوا مرشحاً رئاسياً يافعاً لمنافسته

إنها المرة الأولى التي تنظم فيها المعارضة انتخابات أولية

معارضة فنزويلية لطالما عـُرفت بانقساماتها لكنها على ما يبدو تعلمت دروساً من الماضي وتحاول أن توحد راياتها لتواجه تشافس لأنها فهمت ربما الآن قوته الانتخابية ومهارته وسحره الإعلامي وقدرته على استقطاب الناس وحنكته السياسية إضافة إلى الموارد المتاحة له لإرضاء كثير من الناخبين من خلال برامجه الاجتماعية التي أثبت بعضها نجاحاً كبيراً

تسللتُ بين المحتفلين أمس ليلاً بعد إعلان النتائج لأعرف انطباعاتهم وأسمع منهم.. وشعرت وكأن الزمن عاد بي إلى الوراء، إلى عام ٢٠٠٢ عندما حاولتْ المعارضة ، وفشلتْ، أن تنقلب على تشافس وتحرك الشارع في إضراب عام، فشل أيضاً.. كان معارضوه من أبناء الطبقات الوسطى يعلقون آمالاً كبيرة على إمكانية "التخلص" من "ذلك الرئيس الذي يتكلم كعامة الشعب" ولا يهتم بمن ليسوا من عامة الشعب. شعرتُ بهم أمس بنفس الروح، يعلقون آمالاً علقوها من قبل مراراً، لكن زعماء المعارضة خذلوهم في كل مرة

استطلاعاتُ الرأي كلها تشير إلى تقدم تشافس بفارق كبير حالياً، وإن لم يحصل أي حدث كبير يغير معطيات الأمور قبل انتخابات ٧ أكتوبر تشرين الأول المقبل، فسيكون من الصعب على مرشح المعارضة أن يفوز على رجل كاراكاس البوليفاري، مع أنه يختلف عن كل المرشحين السابقين لأنه يافع وخطابه السياسي جديد ليس مبنياً على معارضة تشافس فحسب.. لعل السيناريو الوحيد الذي يمكن أن يفتح أبواب قصر ميرافلوريس الرئاسي على المعارضة بمرشحها الجديد هو تراجع حالة تشافس الصحية والتي يكتنفها غموض شديد منذ اعترافه - بعد الإنكار - بإصابته بالسرطان دون أن يفصح حتى الآن عن مكان الإصابة

إليكم تقريري من كاراكاس حول الانتخابات الأولية للمعارضة الفنزويلية

تاريخ بث التقرير : ١٣ فبراير شباط ٢٠١٢
مكان التصوير : كاراكاس، فنزويلا
تصوير ومونتاج : ألبرتو كاسترو
ساهمت في الإعداد : إرمينيا فيرنانديس

أحوال اقتصادية معكوسة في فنزويلا

الآية مقلوبة في فنزويلا : الفقير تحسنت أحواله والغني ساءت أحواله

تاريخ بث التقرير : 7 فبراير شباط 2012
مكان التصوير : كاراكاس، فنزويلا
تصوير ومونتاج : ألبرتو كاسترو
ساهمت في الإعداد : إرمينيا فيرنانديس

2 Feb 2012

Egipto - Mucho más allá del fútbol

Se acuerdan de esto?

Fue el 2 de febrero 2011, hace un año. La Plaza Tahrir fue atacada por matones que vinieron a camello, caballo y burro. Todos estos animales habían sido traidos desde las Pirámides, a 17 kilómetros de Tahrir. Los enfrentamientos que duraron horas y horas y horas y fueron transmitidos en vivo por el mundo entero, se bautizaron la Batalla del Camello. Fue un día inolvidable en los 18 días de protestas que terminaron tumbando a Hosni Mubarak el 11 de febrero 2011.

¡ Ahora vean esto ! El 1 febrero 2012 :

Así que un año mas tarde, en un estadio de futbol en la ciudad de Port Said,
de repente termina un partido de futbol en caos .. y la violencia mata a mas de 70 personas, y resultan heridos casi 300 personas mas.

Ahora volviendo a la famosa Batalla del Camello de hace un año, todos los que estaban presentes en Tahrir cuentan como los Ultras demostraron ese día una gran valentía en enfrentar a los matones y proteger a los manifestantes. Estoy hablando de los mismos Ultras fanáticos de fútbol que normalmente se la pasan en partidos de fútbol, gritando y animando a su equipo !!

Los Ultras en Egipto han jugado un rol importante en la revolución, no solamente aquel 2 de febrero. Ahí estaban desde el primer día, el 25 de enero 2011, liderando y protegiendo las manifestaciones.

Personalmente no sabía de ellos hasta mi visita a Egipto después de la caída de Mubarak. El 19 de junio 2011 conocí al primer Ultra egipcio. El 19 de junio 2011 también escuché por primera vez un grito contra los militares y su Consejo supremo de las fuerzas armadas (SCAF) que tiene el poder ejecutivo en el país. Ese grito anti-SCAF lo hizo el Ulta que ven en la foto.

Fue justo en las afueras de la Procuradoría Militar. Un pequeño, muy pequeño grupo de activistas y algunos periodistas se habían juntado mientras la periodista y activista Rasha Azaba estaba siendo interrogada por los militares dentro del edificio de la Procuradoría por un artículo que había escrito. Miles de egipcios estaban siendo enjuiciados en cortes militares, siendo civiles, en los últimos meses. El Ultra gritaba: "Abajo el régimen militar". Y las pocas voces que había repetían detrás de él. Me impresionó la fuerza, la energía y el espiritú del joven Ultra. Mientras yo sufría en el calor del mediodía, él no se quedó callado ni un minuto.

Casi nadie en aquel entonces se atrevía a hablar contra los militares en Egipto, o inclusive pensar algo negativo de los militares. El ejército fue quien supuestamente "salvó la revolución", "salvó al pueblo de Mubarak", "está protegiendo a la revolucíon", etc etc. El Ejército de Egipto era "sagrado" en la cabeza de los Egipcios.

Pero ya en julio crecieron las voces contra los militares y estaban algunos activistas y familiares de mártires de la revolución acampados en la Plaza Tahrir. Los Ultras estaban ahí también por supuesto. Uno de ellos me ofreció una pequeña carpa para descansar mientras estaba haciendo un reportaje sobre Una noche en Tahrir para Al Jazeera. El Ultra se quedó delante la carpa para protegerme y para que nadie me molestara. Varias manifestantes mujeres me contaron que se sentían mucho mas seguras cuando estaban los Ultras porque son muy valientes y son "verdaderos hombres".

Ahora volviendo al presente. Tantos Ultras han muertos, han sido asesinados. Es sorprendente - o quizás no - que sean del club Al Ahly. Los Ultras de Al Ahly han sido justamente entre los revolucionarios mas activos y mas presentes en las manifestaciones.

Mientras la noticia de la muerte de los Ultras viajaba por el mundo, muchos probablemente pensaron que fue una pelea mas entre unos "hooligans" locos del fútbol. Sin embargo en Egipto las teorías de la conspiración y las acusaciones abundaban por televisión y en redes sociales. No olvidemos que los Egipcios habían tenido una semana intensa desde el 25 de enero 2012 cuando vino a Tahrir mas gente que nunca jamas, un año después del comienzo de la revolución. Luego hubo un mega robo de un banco, enfrentamientos entre manifestantes revolucionarios y manifestantes que apoyan a los Hermanos musulmanes, un sit-in fuera de la sede de la Televisión del Estado, etc.

Al comienzo del video podrán ver claramente como las fuerzas de seguridad se quedaron parados, viendo la violencia comenzando en el estadio. Con este tipo de imágenes ademas de testimonios de muchas personas que estaban en el estadio y contaron detalles sobre como se encadenaron las cosas y como por ejemplo llegaron personas de no se sabe dónde, las dudas de la gente en Egipto se hicieron aún mas fuertes sobre la posibilidad de que los Ultras pudieran haber sido el objetivo de estos incidentes.

Sea o no cierto, lo que pasó ya pasó. El daño está hecho.

En la estación del Cairo había miles esperando la llegada del tren desde Port Said con los Ultras. Eran ya las 3am del día 2 de febrero 2012. Familiares y amigos de los Ultras esperaban ansiosos para rencontrarse con sus seres queridos. Algunos Utlras salieron del tren, salvos y sanos. Otros llegaron heridos. Pero hay quienes nunca llegaron. Fue un momento con mucho dolor.

En la estación la voz de los miles se hacía cada vez mas fuerte:

"O les devolvemos sus derechos, o morimos como ellos"
"Abajo el régimen militar"
"El pueblo quiere ejecutar al jefe militar"

Las ambulancias llevaban a los heridos hacia los hospitales mientras los Ultras no heridos marchaban hacia la Plaza Tahrir, una plaza que conocen muy bien, una plaza donde ya habían sobrevivido varias batallas cruciales y donde estarían dispuestos a sobrevivir nuevas batallas.

Fue otro día doloroso e inolvidable y una noche sin sueño en la muy larga lucha por la libertad que llevan los Egipcios.


Versión en inglés / English version

Mas escritos sobre Egipto

Much More Than Football

Do you remember this?

Let me refresh your memory. It was on the 2 February 2011, one year ago. Tahrir Square was attacked by thugs on camels, horses and donkeys, which came all the way from the Pyramids, about 17 kilometers away. These clashes that lasted for hours and hours, being watched live on TV all over the world, came to be known as the Camel Battle. It was an unforgettable day in Egypt's 18 days of protests that ended up with toppling Hosni Mubarak on 11 February 2011.

Now look at this ! On 1 February 2012 :

So one year later, at a football stadium in the city of Port Said, chaos breaks after a football match and somehow violence ends up with a death toll of more than 70 people and over 200 injured !

Now going back to that famous Camel Battle a year ago, anyone who was there that day in Tahrir would tell you that the Ultras showed amazing bravery in standing up to the thugs and protecting the protesters from them. Yes. I am talking about football Ultras who usually spend their time and energy cheering and chanting for football teams. 

In fact Egypt's Ultras have played a very important role in the Revolution, not just on 2 February. They were there from day 1 (25 January 2011) chanting, leading and protecting the protesters.

I did not know about them until I went to Egypt after Mubarak's fall. It was on 19 June 2011 that I first met an Ultra. It was on 19 June 2011 that I first heard an anti-SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) slogan too, chanted by the Ultra.

It was outside the Military Prosecution's Office. A very small group of activists were gathered while journalist and activist Rasha Azab was being questioned inside. Civilians like Rasha were being tried, in the thousands, in military courts. The Ultra was chanting : Down with the Military Rule. I was impressed with his energy and internal force, especially in the heat of midday. I was melting in the sun while he never stopped chanting for the whole time that I was there. 

Hardly anyone back then dared chant against the military, or even dared have bad thoughts about the military. The military was the one that "saved the day", "saved the people from Mubarak", "saveguarded the revolution", etc. The Army of Egypt was sacred in the heads of Egyptians. 

By early July many more were chanting against the military rule and were camped in Tahrir Square. Ultras were there too. One of them got me a tent to rest in on the first night while I was doing a Night in Tahrir story for Al Jazeera about the sit-in. He stood outside the tent to make sure nobody would harm or bother me. Many female protesters told me they felt safer when Ultras were around because they were brave and were "real men".

Now back to the present. So many Ultras are dead. Suprisingly - or may be not surprisingly - from Al Ahly football club. Al Ahly Ultras have been among the most vocal and most active revolutionaries.

As the news travelled around the world about those Ultras being killed and injured, many probably thought : oh this was just another hooligans fight! But in Egypt conspiracy theories and accusations grew louder and louder on TV stations and social media. Let's not forget that Egyptians have had quite an eventful week since 25 January 2012 when more people than ever before turned up at Tahrir Square. That was followed by a major bank robbery, clashes between protesters and Muslim Brotherhood supporters outside parliament, continued sit-in outside State TV, etc.

In the beginning of this video you can see clearly how security forces stood by watching while violence was breaking at the stadium. Such footage coupled with countless accounts by witnesses with details of how things turned ugly only came to emphasise people's doubts that the ultras may have been tragetted.

Whether or not that is true, the damage is already done.

As the train from Port Said arrived at Cairo Station after 3am, carrying some of the Ultras, inlcuding injured ones, their family members and friends were waiting to see who would come out of the train, alive. Some did come out, safe and sound. Others came out injured. But some did not make it! It was a very emotional moment.

And.. thousands were gathered at the station.

The chanting was becoming louder and clearer:

"Either we get their rights, or we die like them"
"Down with the Military Rule"
"The People Want to Execute the Field Mashall"

Ambulances took the injured to hospitals while the Ultras marched on to Tahrir Square, a square they know very well, a square where they have survived many battles before and are ready for any new ones to come. 

It was yet another unforgettable day and an unforgettable - sleepless - night in Egyptians' long struggle for freedom.

Versión en español /  Spanish version

More Egypt posts