Shooting Erupts in Hama Before Arab Visit

December 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Mariam Karouny

2011-12-24T130622Z_661044096_GM1E7CO1MID01_RTRMADP_3_SYRIA

Men pray next to the coffins of people killed at security sites on Friday in two car bomb attacks, at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus December 24,2011 in this handout photograph released by Syria’s national news agency SANA. The United Nations expressed grave concern about twin suicide car bombings in Damascus and condemned the attacks that killed 44 people and lent a grim new face to the uprising in Syria.

REUTERS/Sana/Handout

BEIRUT (Reuters) – At least seven people were wounded on Wednesday in the Syrian city of Hama when security forces used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse a protest against President Bashar al-Assad, just a day before a visit by Arab peace monitors, a rights group said.

Live pictures on al Jazeera television showed gunfire and black smoke rising above a street in Hama as dozens of protesters chanted: “Where are the Arab monitors?”

Arab League monitors checking if Syria is ending its violent crackdown on popular unrest are due to visit Hama on Thursday. In its footage, al Jazeera showed one man bleeding from the neck as others shouted in the background.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the protesters were heading towards Orontes square in the city centre for a sit-in at the symbolic location where demonstrations were crushed earlier this year.

Security forces were not visible in the Jazeera footage. Unarmed protesters, some masked, were heard shouting “Assad forces are shooting us.” The protesters then began chanting: “Freedom for ever” and “We will have our revenge on you Bashar.”

Reuters could not verify the details as Syria has banned most foreign media from the country.

Hama, 240 km (150 miles) north of Damascus, has particular resonance for Syrians. The city was the site of the biggest massacre in the country’s modern history.

Troops overran Hama in 1982 to put down the armed wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which made its last stand there. Up to 30,000 people were killed, many of them killed in an army bombardment or executed in the streets by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad’s’ father, the late Hafez al-Assad. Parts of its old city were razed to the ground.

Twenty-nine years later Hama demonstrators demanding the overthrow of Bashar still revile the memory of his father, who died in 2000 after ruling Syria for three decades.

FREEDOM CALL

In the Jazeera footage, the protesters began cursing Hafez’s soul immediately after the gunfire was heard, before rushing to hide in alleyways.

A few looked out to shout a defiant freedom call before disappearing into hiding again. The shooting intensified, then one man shouted out that snipers were now operating in the area. Dozens of men squeezed themselves in an alley, chanting anti-Assad slogans.

“There is no turning back from the revolution,” they shouted.

Hama was among the hardest hit cities in an escalation of military attacks against urban centers where anti-Assad protests had been held.

In August, tanks attacked Hama for ten days, provoking Arab and Western outrage, after weeks of protests that drew hundreds of thousands of people to Orontes Square. Authorities said the operation was necessary to cleanse the city of “terrorists” according to the wishes of Hama inhabitants.

On Wednesday, part of an Arab League team went to a flashpoint area in the city of Homs but some of their planned tour was blocked when gunfire erupted, activists said.

Residents of Homs’s Baba Amr neighborhood initially refused to cooperate when the monitors arrived with an army escort and the team withdrew. But activists said a smaller group of monitors returned without the officer and were escorted by residents and activists on a tour of the turbulent district.

But the monitors could not enter an area where residents said they believed detainees were being hidden because gunfire erupted. It was not clear where the shooting came from.

“Residents were accompanying the team to the area to show them where they believe detainees are being held when suddenly there was gunfire near the checkpoint,” said Rami Abdelrahman, of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

(Editing by Giles Elgood)

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Amorous Driving Plagues Kuwait

December 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

rearview-hangerWhen applying for a driver’s license, you have to take a test composed of a variety of road safety and traffic questions. Things like, “How many meters is it safe to follow another vehicle?” or “What is hydroplaning and how is it prevented?” Even handling road distractions such as weather conditions, debris and cell phone usage is covered. What’s not covered is coping with flirtatious drivers while driving on the road. Granted this is not much of a problem in the USA, hence the absence of recommendations in state-issued driving manuals. However, in many parts or the world, amorous drivers are a force to be reckoned with and are responsible for the degradation of road safety.

Nowhere is amorous driving more of a problem than it is in Kuwait. Male drivers are the primary pursuers of female drivers. However, it is not uncommon to find a female driver chasing a male driver. Since dating and open mixing between the sexes is frowned upon in Kuwaiti society, many paramours hit the road in the hopes of finding love on the open highway. Spotting an amorous driver is easy as he often reduces his speed in order to peep into the windows of drivers on either side of him. His next move is to crane his neck in order to peer into a window, all the while he continues driving when his mind is not on the road. Once he finds an object of his affection, he will pursue the female-driven car in a bid to either talk with her or give her his phone number. This often results in a high-speed chase that not only puts both drivers at risk but also everyone else on the roadway.

The vast majority of women driving on the roads of Kuwait consider amorous drivers to be pests and do their best to avoid them. However, many of the misguided males simply will not take no for an answer. That is what happened this past week, in Kuwait, as a male driver became enraged when a female driver refused his advances and would not accept his telephone number. In an act of retaliation, he crashed into her car several times and rendered it useless. And while he did get away, the female driver managed to write down his license plate number. Kuwait authorities have launched a manhunt to reveal his identity.

The roadways are not the only places in Kuwait where women have to endure unwanted advances from male admirers. Malls and shopping complexes are veritable playgrounds for paramours on the prowl. They openly track girls from store to store whispering words of affection in order to get the attention they are after. If rejected, an imprudent male may launch into a bitter diatribe of obscenities in order to publicly embarrass her.

In a bid to reel in the reckless “Romeos” Kuwaiti authorities have begun shaving the heads of any male accused of harassing a female, whether on the road or in a public place. This year alone, at least a dozen males have been hauled off to the police station and had their heads shaved.

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Robo-Parking

December 15, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

roboparkYou know the feeling. The sheer exuberance experienced when a sweet parking spot opens up right before your eyes. It’s probably near the entrance of the place you are visiting and the perfect size to ensure your car won’t get dinged by the doors of your parking neighbors. Contrastingly, you might have experienced sheer disappointment after a stealthy driver swiped your parking spot right out from under your nose. Fights, shouting matches and even fatal attacks often occur over a parking space. This past summer, in Kuwait, a man stabbed another one to death over a parking space. Whether you live in New York City, London or Riyadh “parking space rage” is a very real occurrence.

The East & West Robotics Company located in Sharjah, which is a municipality of the United Arab Emirates, has seemingly come up with a surefire solution to parking woes for some citizens in Sharjah. According to the company website, “East and West Robotics was established by the Al Marwan Group to bring technological advancements and innovative ideas within the Middle East region and to give a new philosophy to industrial operations.” The company has created an automated parking garage in the heart of the city called The Robot Park Tower that features an automated parking system that makes parking a cinch.

The 31-floor parking garage is comprised of individual parking spaces to accommodate 200 vehicles. The garage features an intricate computer system that identifies empty spaces and fills each with a car. It is very user-friendly. Parking, and even retrieving, the car requires the user to send a “missed” call to a special telephone number. The system can park or retrieve a car in 45 seconds flat. While it is automated, human workers do keep an eye on it to ensure that it runs smoothly.

East & West Robotic predicts that more residential and commercial areas will soon rely on automated parking facilities, as parking in the country has been problematic for years. However, parking in such a state-of-the-art facility is not free. Those wishing to have their cars parked robotically pay in upwards of $1300 per annum. The hefty price tag will force many drivers to continue their battle-weary plight to find the perfect parking space in the least amount of time. Other drivers will gladly fork over the cash to enjoy stress-free parking, for at least part of the day.

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Ten Lashes

September 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

cane

“Corporal punishment is as humiliating for him who gives it as for him who receives it; it is ineffective besides. Neither shame nor physical pain have any other effect than a hardening one.” 

~ Ellen Key

You hop in the car, fumble with the keys, start the engine and prepare to take that first sip of coffee as you back out of the driveway. This is the way that many Americans start their morning as they set out to work for the day. For most people, getting on the road safely and reaching your destination on time are the primary concerns. However, for the women of Saudi Arabia, there is a new concern to be considered before getting behind the wheel.

This past week Saudi Arabian national Shaima Ghassaniya was found guilty of driving without the permission of her government. Her punishment, which would be a mere slap on the wrist in America for the same “crime,” is flogging. By definition the word flogging means, “To beat severely with a whip or rod.” Ghassaniya is to be flogged a total of ten times with her punishment to undoubtedly serve as an example for other women in the kingdom that dare to drive.

There is no law on the books in Saudi Arabia that says women are legally barred from driving. However, there is a law that states anyone driving on the roads of Saudi Arabia must have license. The catch is that women are not issued drivers license. Denying a woman the right to drive means that she must rely on a male relative, or sometimes even a male chauffer, in order to travel. For women who are single, getting around without a car is often a nightmare.

The driving laws seem archaic compared to the full driving rights that women enjoy in neighboring Arab countries, like Kuwait and Oman. “I would be lost without my car,” laments Raina Ahmed who is a schoolteacher in Kuwait, “I have to drive myself to and from work every day. I also use my car to take my children for all of their doctor’s appointments.” Female drivers in other Arab countries share the roadways with their male counterparts and are often safer drivers.

The news of the Ghassaniya’s flogging punishment comes on the heels of another announcement that could have been promising for the women in the region. King Abdullah recently announced on state-run television that Saudi Arabian women have been granted the right to vote and run in local elections. However, they will have to wait until the year 2015 to exercise these newly given rights. Perhaps, by then, they will be able to drive themselves to the ballot box.

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Taking the Wheel

May 26, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehanm, TMO

car-steering-wheel-lgMost women in America don’t think twice about hopping in their cars and hitting the open road to run errands, pick the kids up from school or simply enjoy a long leisurely drive. However, in Saudi Arabia, women are still banned from driving despite several high profile incidents over the years that has thrust the global media’s attention on the issue. This past week the issue was once again brought into the limelight as a female Saudi Arabian citizen took to the wheel and later posted the video on the popular social-networking site YouTube.

With her brother in the passenger seat, 32-year-old Manal al-Sharif, took a short spin that landed her in the slammer. The drive was deliberate as al-Sharif herself revealed in a recent interview in which she lamented her frustration for not being able to find a taxi one night, “I had to walk on the street for half an hour looking for a cab. I was harassed by every single car because it was late at night and I was walking alone. I kept calling my brother to pick me up, but his phone wasn’t answering. I was crying in the street. A 32-year-old grown woman, a mother, crying like a kid because I couldn’t find anyone to bring me home.” Al-Sharif learned to drive in the United States and holds a driver’s license from America. However, in her homeland, only men are issued driver’s licenses.

According to Saudi Arabian authorities, al- Sharif broke several laws after she got behind the wheel including, “bypassing rules and regulations, driving a car within the city, enabling a journalist to interview her while driving a car, deliberately disseminating the incident to the media, incitement of Saudi women to drive cars, and turning public opinion against the regulations.” Scores of Saudi citizens have rallied behind al-Sharif and begun to question the veracity of the driving ban on women especially when there is nothing on the books that legally bars a woman from driving.

Soon after her incarceration, a Facebook page was erected entitled ‘We are all Manal al-Sharif: a call for solidarity with Saudi women’s rights’ The page has already garnered 19,000 likes. Another fan page related to the women’s driving ban in Saudi Arabia is also getting a lot of support, to the tune of 6,000 likes so far, albeit for all of the wrong reasons. The page encourages Saudi Arabian men to beat their female relatives with a heavy brocaded rope known as the “Iqal”, which adorns the Saudi Arabian men’s headdress, should any of the women demand driving rights.

Al-Sharif remains in prison and her fate is yet to be determined. Some analysts have predicted she will stay in prison for five days, however it remains to be seen if she will face further penalties for deliberately flaunting the driving ban. Meanwhile, another Saudi Arabian woman copied al-Sharif’s drive this week and was swiftly arrested at a local supermarket. However, she was only held for a few hours and released.

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20th Century Muslim Scientists — Sameera Moussa

May 12, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Syed Aslam

220px-SameeraMoussaSameera Moussa was born on March 3, 1917 in Egypt. She was an outstanding Egyptian scientist. In 1939 she graduated from Cairo University with Bachelor of Science degree   in radiology .  She was appointed first as a demonstrator but because of her ability she became  Assistant Professor at the university, she was first woman to hold an  university post in those days. Sameera Moussa completed  her PhD  degree in England on atomic radiation. Being the first women to obtain a Ph.D. degree in atomic radiation, she earnestly sought to make nuclear treatment available for every one. During her  visit to America on Fulbright scholarship  she was invited to visit a place of interest in  August of 1952. On her way to  the place she was going she had car accident.  The car fell down  40 feet down hill which killed her immediately. The  accident was a mystery because the body of the driver could not be found at the place of  accident.  It is believed that   driver  jumped from the car just before it went down. The mysterious death of Sameera  led  people to believe that it was a planned assassination, most probably  the Israeli Mossad.

Here in England while she was pursuing  her studies she devoted her time and efforts to learn more about  the  peaceful use of  radioactive atom in combating cancer, especially when her mother went through a fierce battle against cancer. Throughout her intensive research, she came up with a historic equation that would help break the atoms of common  metals such as copper.

With an overwhelming drive to impart her knowledge to those who crave for it, she sponsored  an international conference under the banner “Atom for Peace” where many scientific figures were invited. The conference made a number of recommendations for setting up a committee for the protection against the nuclear bomb hazards in which she was an active member.

Sameera Moussa received  the Fulbright scholarship in  Atomic Radiation Program and came to  University of California at Barkley where she did some significant work in her field  . In recognition of her outstanding work and deep knowledge  she was allowed to visit the US secret atomic facilities. The visit raised vehement debate in US academic and scientific circles as Sameera was the first non US citizen  to have access to such facilities.

She  was offered the opportunity to receive Green Card so she could stay here in USA but she  turned down the offer and preferred to return home to pursue her dream of harnessing atomic power for peace and the welfare of all humanity. But her life was cut short by the planed accident otherwise  she could done a lot of work in her field of research. The Egyptian government have dedicated her name to the Atomic Department of the National Research. Her library has been donated to the university which have her own writings on Madame Curie, human struggle and other themes. 

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Precious Cargo

April 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

sleepycraYou can see them popping their heads through an open car sunroof as it speeds down the highway or bouncing up and down in the back of a car in motion. No, they’re not animals such as a cat or dog traveling with its master. They are unrestrained children living in some of the world’s richest nations. It’s a startling phenomena given that America’s legal system has gone to great lengths to protect American children traveling in motor vehicles in the United States by making seat belts and car seats for young children a part of the law. However, the utter disregard for the safety of children traveling in motor vehicles in the Middle East is alarming. In fact, it is an epidemic that threatens entire generations of children.

This past winter a father in Kuwait paid dearly for his lesson in passenger safety. A family trip to the desert turned tragic as the SUV the father was driving jostled under the bumpy desert terrain. His son was standing upright inside the car as his upper body was outside. All it took was a single bump to throw the son from the car and into the path of his father’s vehicle. With no time to regain control of the vehicle, the father ran over his son and crushed him to death. Stories like this are common all across the Middle East as many parents take the road less traveled by not securing all passengers before turning that ignition key.

The problem is widespread and, while most countries in the Middle East pay lip service to restraining children inside of motor vehicles and do have laws requiring car seats and seat belts on the books, there is no enforcement of vehicular laws meant to protect children. It is up to parents to decide whether or not to restrain their children inside the vehicle. Unfortunately, most parents pay little attention to the safety of their children inside the car.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), for example, has one of the worst records for unrestrained children in the Middle East. According to recent research, car accidents are the number one killer of children in the sheikhdom with 63% of child deaths last year alone being linked to car or roadway accidents. Further, UAE authorities have determined that an estimated 98% of children in the country are not restrained when traveling by motor vehicle.

There is little data regarding children and road safety in other regions of the Middle East as research over the issue in scarce. However the problem will most likely continue to deteriorate, as countless children will undoubtedly pay for the negligence of adults with their very lives.

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Leaf in His Hair

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Mahvish Akhtar, MMNS Pakistan Correspondent

I sat in my car being driven through the streets of Lahore and wondered what else I had to do after I was done with the task in front of me. I was going around running my errands since it was a Saturday. While I sat there in between getting the job done I thought about how much more I had left for today and how there was just not enough time. As my car stopped in front of the bank I sped to the ATM machine praying that I still have enough money left in the account. Exiting the ATM booth there was a lady ahead of me and was barely walking. First I tried to maneuver around her to get away quickly but there was no room to do that. Just then my eyes dropped to her spiked heal shoes and I wanted to scream at her. I wanted to say to her that lady, maybe if you had been a little bit more vigilant when getting ready and had worn sensible shoes you would not have such a difficult time walking over these uneven pavements. And maybe just maybe the rest of us who don’t have the whole day to waste, mind you, could go about our business a little bit faster. Once she was out of my way I was in my car once again and thinking of many other things that were more important than that woman and her shoes.

I was going along with my day trying to rush through time and in turn my life. Just then I had the most magnificent sight I could have with the kind of day I was having. A boy of about 12-13 years old was riding on his bicycle on the pavement next to my car. My car stopped for the red light ahead and I saw him. He was wearing dark brown shalwar qameez and had a mess of hair on his head about the same color. He was strutting along oblivious to his surrounding and to the fact that there was a leaf stuck in his hair. He was singing along to the beat of his own drum. He seemed so comfortable and happy even though it was hot and sunny outside and he was not sitting in an air-conditioned car like me. I couldn’t help but stop my car to talk to him. I guess for someone like me the idea of someone enjoying a casual day on a work day was completely absurd.

I waved at him and asked him to stop. He stopped on the side of the road a little surprised and said, “Madam I am not selling anything”, I told him I knew and also asked him where he was going, “home” he said. Then I couldn’t take it any more. I told him that there was a feather stuck in his hair. He caressed his hair and laughed when he felt the leaf there as though remembering good old times. He looked at the leaf and started telling me that he was playing with his friends they were throwing rocks at trees to see how high they could throw them. He said all this looking down at the leaf as though everything he was saying was written on it. Well it was a reminder any way. A little disturbed with the situation I asked him why he wasn’t in school. I was wondering why would parents let there little children roam around on streets rather then send them to school or have them do something else constructive. He looked at me with a glow in his eyes and told me that he does go to school. When? I said not believing him since it was 4 in the afternoon and he was on the streets and apparently playing with his friends. He said he goes to school in the afternoon. He said he has to work in the day and then late into the night so the only time he finds to study is in the afternoon. He said that his parents couldn’t afford to send him to school so one of the boys in his neighborhood who did his 10th class from a school was teaching him and a couple of his friends and making some money.

I was speechless after that. This little boy had taught me so much about my own life in a matter of minutes. Watching me quiet and unable to speak he asked me if he could go because he didn’t want to be late for his study session. I couldn’t say anything more to him. There was nothing I could tell him about life that he didn’t already know. In just the few minutes that boy was in front of me he taught me so much about life and how to live it.  As I watched him peddle off into the distance I thought about my life and everything I had wanted to be when I was his age. Trying to understand what I was feeling my eyes locked on the leaf on the ground. He had looked at it so carefully and I had felt a certain calm in him when he was holding it in his hands. I tried to look for that emotion but now it was nothing more than litter on the ground. Just then I heard my driver asking me if I was ready to leave. I wasn’t ready to leave. I wasn’t ready to go back to the same old hustle and bustle of my life. But unfortunately I did. Getting back into my car I realized we lived in two different worlds. His world was tough but was filled with innocence and charm. Yet my world is ugly and it renders one unable to move in front of the great jaws of what we call the wheel of life. That boy and the beautiful leaf in his un-kept hair is a distant memory now, just like everything else that is peaceful and lovable in this world that we live in.

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Taliban Reward Fighter for Shooting Down US Drone

February 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Malik Mumtaz Khan & Mushtaq Yusufzai, TheNews.com

MIRAMSHAH/PESHAWAR: Taliban in North Waziristan Monday rewarded one of their fighters with a new model car for shooting down the US drone on Sunday evening.

Also, government officials in the restive tribal region finally confirmed the downing of the US spy aircraft by Taliban militants. The militants led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur had claimed on Sunday shooting down the drone in Hamzoni village.

Tribal sources in Miramshah said the militants congratulated each other on Monday for shooting down the drone, known as `bangana’ locally due to the thundering sound of the pilot-less aircraft.

The militant was given a new car by the Taliban leaders as reward to shoot down the drone. The militants from adjoining villages thronged Hamzoni to have a look at the wreckage of the drone. Such drones have claimed lives of many militants and are considered the most fatal weapon.

The militants wanted to meet and congratulate their fellow fighter who accurately fired and hit the spy plane to the ground. Taliban sources confirmed that the man behind the downing of the drone had been gifted a car, but declined to name the fighter. They said he would be remembered as a `hero’ among the Taliban.
“The shooting down of the drone has lifted the morale of our fighters. It’s a huge success for the poorly armed Taliban against a powerful enemy,” remarked a senior Taliban commander, but pleaded anonymity.

He also claimed that four missiles were fitted on the drone when it was hit and shot down, but the missiles did not explode. Taliban said friends of the six tribal militants killed in the US drone attack on January 19 in Deegan village of Dattakhel tehsil had taken a vow to avenge the killing by shooting down the spy plane.
“Since then, a group of four well-trained militants had been waiting to hit the drones. They had also installed an anti-aircraft gun on their double-cabin pickup truck,” a Taliban source said.

The sources said six militants were killed on that occasion when the drone had struck a house and a car, which was about to enter the building. “They honoured their commitment made after the killing of their friends by the US drone,” said a Taliban fighter. Meanwhile, government officials in Miramshah said five spy planes were seen flying over various villages of South Waziristan Monday evening.

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