Category Archives: Freedom

Saudi women selling tissues on streets for a living

Saudi Gazette
RIYADH — Many Saudi women have resorted to selling tissues on the streets to provide for their families, Al-Eqtisadiah daily reported.
This trade was usually the domain of expatriate children at traffic signals, but has now become a daily routine for many Saudi women.

Such women sit along streets for more than eight hours a day in the scorching heat, freezing cold and other weather conditions because they have no other source of income.

Along King Abdullah Road, Um Nayef, a Saudi woman in her 40s, said she has seven children to support.

Her husband has abandoned her and his children and is not providing for them.

Her relatives have also neglected her and her only option was to sell paper tissues along streets.

“This activity does not provide me with enough income but it has at least allowed me to stop asking people for money and assistance.”

She noted that many, however, do offer assistance when they learn of her situation.

Um Nayef pointed out that she does not have the money to deal with other products and selling tissues provided her with the best solution due to their low cost.

Um Abdullah, a Saudi woman in her 30s, said her income is around SR50 a day and she sells paper tissues throughout the day.

She leaves her selling place before sundown because she is afraid of the dark.

“There are many who sympathize with me and offer extra money for the tissues that is enough to support my family for a few days.”

Um Safyah said her husband has abandoned her and their five daughters, while she is illiterate and could not find a job.

She receives food from a charitable organization but claimed that it is not enough for her children.

“I also could not obtain social security payments because I am married and such benefits are only for widows and divorced women,” she said.

Dr. Majeedah Al-Najem, assistant professor of social studies at King Saud University, defined poverty as the inability to meet basic living costs.

She said that there are 1.2 billion people worldwide whose income is less than one dollar a day.

She added women on limited incomes outnumber men living in the same conditions by a ratio of 2.5 to 1.

“Poor families supported mainly by women are 30 percent more than those supported by men,” she said.

She pointed out that this is due to the limited opportunities available for women compared to men, especially during social and economic crises.

Al-Najem noted that among Arab countries, the UAE has less poor women than men, 83 for every 100 poor men.

“In the Kingdom, Kuwait, Sudan, and Oman there are between 120 to 160 poor women for every 100 poor men and in Syria that number is 271 poor women,” she said.

She asked for a review of social security system payments and beneficiaries of the system.

Al-Najem believed social security payments should take into consideration the cost of living.

Israel offers full rights to all

In his piece on The Hill’s Congress blog, “Israel’s ‘Jim Crow’ treatment of Palestinians continues”, Tibi once again maligns and libels the country which he purports and is paid to serve, not only as a elected official, but also as the Deputy Speaker of Israel’s parliament.

Perhaps more than anyone else, Tibi represents all that is wrong with parts of the Israeli Arab leadership. Rather than encourage integration among our community, the community of Arabic-speaking Israeli citizens, Tibi supports segregation, calling for the complete ostracism of any Israeli Arab who volunteers for national civilian service.He knows his political future rests on the continued demonization of the State of Israel and its Jewish majority. Tibi and many other Israeli Arab politicians spend much of their term in office on lavish trips to meet with regional despots and repressive regimes, rather than representing the people who democratically elect them and pay their wages.

During the last Knesset, before the revolution in Libya, Tibi and other Arab Members of Knesset travelled to meet with former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Describing the visit to Gadaffi’s Libya as “wonderful,” these Israeli Arab MK’s were feted by the autocrat who discussed with his guests ways to end the existence of the State of Israel in its current form.

While the Syrian regime was massacring its people, another Arab Israeli Member of Knesset led a demonstration of support for Bashar Assad, claiming the Syrian leader was the “victim of aggression” even while the rest of the world stands aghast at his systematic butchery.

While Tibi and many of his cohorts are recklessly supporting and encouraging some of the most brutal regimes and terrorist organizations in the world, their local constituency is ignored.

However, there is another way.

As a member of the Arabic-speaking Druze minority, I served my country on the battlefield and I now serve my country in its legislature as Deputy Speaker.

During my few years in the Knesset I have quietly set about assisting our community without making headlines. I initiated an overhaul, repair and modernization of the sewage and water systems and the electricity grids in predominantly Arab areas in the north of the country, long ignored by others.

Furthermore, in a voluntary capacity, I created and continue to oversee a youth movement comprising of thousands of school children from the Arabic-speaking Druze community who are taught to love their country and contribute to society.

From among the graduates of our movement, we claim the highest percentage of Israeli army elite unit members in the country.

This is what can happen if one chooses integration and contribution over ostracism and demonization.

No one is going to deny that there are problems in the State of Israel, as there are in any state. However, the state has not created any laws that differentiate between peoples based on religion, nationality or background. What is most noticeable in Tibi’s article is that he fails to provide even one example of what he claims is “discrimination.”

In fact, the opposite is true.

In our whole region consisting of over 350 million Arabs, there are only 1,658,000 Arabs who have complete political and religious freedom and have the right to vote in full democratic elections.

It is no coincidence that all of these Arabs live as full and equal citizens in the one Jewish State.

From its very beginning, the State of Israel demanded full equality before the law.

In Israel’s Declaration of Independence, its first leaders wrote that: “it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the holy places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

It has stayed true to its principles.

The only question remains, what is our role as Arabic-speaking Israeli citizens? Will we pick up the gauntlet and contribute and assist in the building of our country, as Kennedy encouraged, or will we, like Tibi, continue to malign it while preventing our community from the progress, development and integration it requires and deserves?

Amar is a Druze citizen of Israel and deputy speaker of the Knesset.

#Yemen: Child brides the victims of poverty, tradition

SANA’A — Forced into marriage when she was only 13, Saadah is now back in her impoverished Yemeni family’s cramped home with two children, little money and dreams of returning to school.

“I don’t want a husband ever again. All I want is to get a divorce and study,” Saadah says as she sits in the small room she shares with her two boys, dark circles shading her weary eyes.

“Child brides,” or “death brides” as they are sometimes called, are quite common in poor, tribal Yemen, where barely pubescent girls are forced into marriage, often to much older men.

Saadah’s ill father, no longer able to sustain his family, married her off five years ago in an attempt to spare her from her family’s poverty.
But her husband soon began forcing her to beg on the capital’s streets with her boys until she fled back to her parents’ home.

“He would beat and verbally abuse me and my family,” says Saadah, now 18, whose name means happiness in Arabic.

She is dressed in black from head to toe, but there are still traces of fading orange henna on the fingernails of her fidgety hands. Her two boys, aged three and four, look on as she recounts the nightmare of her marriage.
“My life is difficult with my parents, as we rely on small amounts of aid from our neighbors to survive. But this is still better than living with my husband,” Saadah says.

Her 16-year-old sister Amnah was also forced to marry, and wed a man who agreed to pay her father’s 20,000 riyals ($93) worth of debt three years ago. “I am a victim of early marriage,” says Amnah, who was also abused by her husband before she escaped after just five months with him.

Activists have been pushing for a draft law that sets a minimum age for marriage.

Human Rights Minister Huriya Mashhoor told AFP last month she wanted to revive a 2009 bill — which would have set the minimum age for marriage at 17 — and amend it to raise the age to 18.

Activists say the bill was shelved when lawmakers from the Islamist Al-Islah party blocked it.

Before the unification of Yemen in 1990, the legal age of marriage was set at 15 in the north and 16 in the south. But legislation in the united country does not specify any age limit.

Human Rights Watch said last month that 14 percent of girls in Yemen are married before the age of 15, and 52 percent before 18, citing Yemeni figures and 2006 data from the United Nations.

In certain rural areas, girls as young as eight are sometimes given in marriage to much older men.

The husbands of child brides often “beat and abuse them, deprive them of food, and force them into sex,” according to Ahmed al-Qurashi, head of Seyaj, a Yemeni organisation for the protection of children.

Last month, reports emerged that an eight-year-old girl named Rawan had died from internal bleeding after sexual intercourse, following her marriage to a 40-year-old man in a remote area in the north.

Authorities have denied the claims, and presented to reporters a girl who claimed she was Rawan and was never married.

While some neighbors sympathize with them, Saadah and Amnah are still sometimes met with reproachful stares on the streets.

“Some people look down at us because we escaped from our husbands’ houses,” says Saadah.

However, their 14-year-old sister Nemah says she has learned from their bitter experience.

“I will only get married after I’ve continued my education,” she says with a smile. — AFP

No profile pic? Mufti says posting Twitter, Facebook photos is un-Islamic

An Indian Mufti has declared that posting photos on Facebook and Twitter is “un-Islamic.” (Photo courtesy: AFP)

An Indian Mufti has declared that posting photos on Facebook and other social media sites is “un-Islamic,” according to an interview with the Press Trust of India (PTI) on Sunday.

Abul Irfan Naimul Halim Firagni Mahli, who helps to run two telephone helplines advising people Islam related issues, said that Muslims should avoid social media sites and women in particular should refrain from posting pictures of themselves online.

“Women should not post pictures on Facebook or anywhere else on the Internet. This is un-Islamic,” he told the PTI in an interview.

“Women are not allowed to show their faces to anyone apart from their male kin like father and brothers, so posting pictures on Facebook is ‘haram’ (forbidden),” added Saif Abbas Naqvi, who also runs the helplines, in an interview with the PTI.

“We are liberal. We are not Taliban-minded. When youngsters ask us if they can have a Facebook or Twitter profile, we allow that. But the Shariah (Islamic law) does not allow women to post pictures,” Naqvi stated.

However Mahli did concede that social media usage could be justifiable if an online account was being used for business purposes.

“If one is on Facebook for business purposes or for constructive purposes, then the account is justifiable,” he stated.

An Intimate Look at Life in a Harsh Russian Gulag

BY MAX AVDEEV AND JULIA IOFFE

K-28, a maximum-security Russian penal colony, is located in Yertsevo, in the northern Arkhangelsk region near the Arctic Circle. It was once part of a cluster of camps founded in the late 1930s as part of the Gulag system. Today, it houses over 1,000 prisoners, many of whom were convicted on murder or terrorism charges. “Most of them killed two or more people,” says photographer Max Avdeev, who shot the prison in February 2010.

Given the growing number of Russian political prisoners who find themselves in jail—Mikhail Khodorkovsky, two members of the punk band Pussy Riot, and soon, opposition politician Alexey Navalny—we thought we’d show you what Russian penal colonies look like. This is one of the harsher ones.—Julia Ioffe

The head of the prison.

Prisoners are kept in distinct sectors to prevent them from sharing items and ideas with other groups. For example, prisoners convicted of terrorism charges (mainly from Chechnya) are kept together in one sector.

A young rabbi from Moscow leads a ceremony with Jewish prisoners. Prison authorities tolerate all religions, figuring that a practicing prisoner is less trouble than an idle one.

A roll call is taken three times a day.

Prisoners return to their sectors after dining.

The prison and environs in winter. Guards are allowed to shoot an escaping prisoner after he has crossed the middle wooden fence.

A prisoner working in the kitchen.

This prisoner killed a man who was nearly 10 inches taller, and did so “without special devices”—that is, with his hands.

This prisoner, convicted of killing two people, chops wood.

This inmate was allowed to keep his mustache after proving that it was a part of his family heritage dating back to the 16th century.

This inmate oversees the prison’s Russian Orthodox church, which is attended by about 30 inmates.

The sign reads, “Every employee is a teacher and a controller.”

A prayer room for Muslims.

This prisoner runs the library.

Workers return to their sector at night.

An inmate bakes bread.

Young rabbis from Moscow speak with prisoners.

The dining hall.

The prison barracks.

A prisoner who has been transferred to another prison returns his mattress.

Locals near the railway station. There are two trains a day out of Ercevo—one to Arkhangelsk in the morning, and one to Moscow in the evening.

These prison guards are on a 2-hour, 25-kilometer trip for a shift change with guards at a colony-settlement of about 100 non-dangerous prisoners. It’s about -31ºF outside, and around 10ºF inside the truck.

A prisoner hauls timber.

A prisoner chops trees.

Guards form a perimeter, discouraging prisoners from making a run for it.

Pakistan TV host defends show that gives away babies

AFP// In the battle for TV ratings, Pakistan’s top channels are making money out of Ramadan by broadcasting round-the-clock chat shows mixing prizes, charity and prayer.

As the top-rated show fends off allegations of poor ethics for giving babies to childless couples live on air, producers tell AFP that there is nothing wrong with blending religion and entertainment.

Members of the studio audience queue for hours for ringside seats at Aamir Liaquat Hussain’s 12-hour, daily broadcasting extravaganza which combines microwave raffles with child adoption.

With a closely cropped beard, spectacles and smile plastered permanently to his face, Hussain is no stranger to controversy.

But unable to substantiate his alleged degree in Islamic studies from Spain, he revels in his status.

“It is not commercialization, it is not showbiz. It is real Islam,” he told AFP. “I am the religious icon of TV.

Sumaya, an 18-year-old student queuing up to get a pass onto the show, is a massive fan.

“According to me he is the most popular because of the gifts and also because they are helping poor people, and people for Iftar and what they are saying about Islam,” she told AFP.

On his TV set, a wedding hall at a Karachi hotel, adverts for ketchup vie for space with pictures of camels grazing in the shade of artificial palm trees.
Hussain croons into the microphone about the virtues of fasting, of inter-faith tolerance and recites the Koran.

He plays with children, oversees the cooking of oily chicken masala and invites Sufi singers to perform religious songs, whipping the viewers into a frenzy.
The show lulls its guests, getting ever hungrier, toward sun down and the breaking of the fast when plates of dates, battered vegetables and sugary delicacies are handed out to much relief.

After dinner, there are quizzes — with mobile phones, a motorbike and even a car as prizes.
Last month, two infertile couples, whose request to adopt had just been approved by a charity, were called into the studio to be handed a baby live on television before millions of viewers.

“It was our dream to have a child,” said Tanzeem, new mother to Fatima, barely a month old with blue eyes.

Hussain and the charity claim to want to break taboos about adoption, encourage women not to abandon unwanted children and men not to divorce wives who can’t have babies.

The giveaways were criticized in the Western media, but in Pakistan, a country with millions of desperately deprived children in need of good homes, others defended them as social work.

Television channel Geo and the charity insisted both couples were fully vetted prior to the show after already signalling their desire to adopt. Instead there has been as much concern about fears that Islam is being commercialized in a crude TV ratings war with the 30 days of Ramadan raking in even more revenue than cricket.

“Aamir Liaquat Hussain’s show is the biggest success in the history of Pakistani TV,” one Geo executive told AFP.

“It’s a race,” hit back a producer at rival channel, ARY.

“Big money is involved,” he said. “We talk about millions of rupees (tens of thousands of dollars) per month for a star.”

A salary of even $10,000 is a fortune in a country where teachers can earn just $100 a month.
ARY’s answer to Hussain is Junaid Jamshed, a rock star from the 1990s who says he turned his back on money and partying to become a preacher after the 9/11 attacks which he felt demonized Islam. ARY cuts a more conservative image. Guests remove their shoes before coming on set, as if in a mosque. During advertisement breaks, Jamshed turns toward Makka to pray in a corner of the studio.

But the set also has cookers, motorbikes and mobile phone ads. Prize draws recite verses from the Qur’an, calling for public donations to help the sick and disadvantaged.

jamshed compares the rise of TV preachers in Pakistan as a catch-up to Christmas programming in the West and defends the mix of religion and entertainment.

“This is what Islam is. The essence of every religion is to make people happy and… to help people,” he said.

Producers say that the segments of shows where gifts are given away have “phenomenal ratings.”
Jamshed’s co-host, Waseem Badami, sees nothing wrong in a ratings war but says decency still needs to be upheld.

“If all the TV channels are doing Ramadan transmissions, yes their prime objective is commercial. Why should we lie about this?“

“We are trying to maintain both that we want to be in the race but at the same time… this is a very sacred platform.”

The Supreme Council of Cyberspace

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