Arab Films Showcase Turbulent Year

November 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Regan Doherty

DFI-DTFF_englishDOHA (Reuters) – The Arab Spring of pro-democracy uprisings features prominently — both directly and more subtly — in the selections at the third annual Doha Tribeca Film Festival, kicking off in the Qatari capital this week.

The festival, launched in 2009 in the tiny Gulf Arab state, seeks to showcase the work of Arab filmmakers who this year were able to draw on the momentous political changes in their own countries for artistic inspiration.

Highlights include “Rouge Parole,” set in the tumult of revolutionary Tunisia, which charts the expulsion of its president and the country’s first steps toward democracy.

Sherif El Bendary’s “On the Road to Downtown,” set in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, follows the lives and hopes of six people connected in different ways to the city’s downtown core.

“Our selection of documentaries provides for reflection on political change. But we also offer a number of films that look into private worlds and subtler aspects of the Middle Eastern experience that are not always evident to political observers,” said the festival’s Chief Arab Programer, Hania Mroue.

“The Virgin, the Copts and Me” takes on an otherworldly subject in investigating the appearance of the Virgin Mary to millions of Egyptians via a videotape on which only true believers can see her image.

“This is a very important film for post-revolutionary Egypt, as it sheds light on the Coptic community, which was taboo to do a few years ago,” Mroue said.

The Algerian title “Normale” examines what happened in the Algerian street as neighboring countries’ dictators were being toppled.

“The youth in Algeria felt they could now express themselves more freely. The film addresses the revolution in a very subtle way,” she said.

Lina Alabed’s “Yearning” focuses on the lives of women in Damascus and their approach to personal freedom in a society dominated by men.

Women are also the focus in two sports documentaries that examine the taboos surrounding women and boxing in Tunisia (“Boxing with Her”), and the life-altering experience of a young women’s basketball team in northern Iraq (“Salaam Dunk”).

Other headliners include the world premiere of “Black Gold” with Antonio Banderas, set in the 1930s at the dawn of the oil boom and the first major motion picture shot in Qatar.

Laila Hotait Salas’ “Crayons of Askalan” recreates the powerful story of Palestinian artist Zuhdi al Adawi, imprisoned at the age of 15 in Israel’s notorious Askalan jail.

Qatar launched the film festival as a partnership between the Doha Film Institute and Tribeca Enterprises, which also operates New York’s Tribeca Film Festival.

Created as a way to rejuvenate lower Manhattan after the September 11, 2001 attacks which destroyed the World Trade Center, the Tribeca Film Festival in New York has become a showcase for international films with a political edge.

Organizers said the Doha event aims to do the same, using the festival to shine a spotlight on Arab cinema.

“We don’t want to focus only on the big names, we want to give a space also for new voices, especially from the region,” Mroue said.

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Mohammed Bin Hammam Withdraws from FIFA Election

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Parvez Fatteh, TMO, Founder of http://sportingummah.com, sports@muslimobserver.com

2011-05-30T144724Z_2134548283_GM1E75U1REF01_RTRMADP_3_SOCCER-FIFA-BINHAMAM

President of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Mohamed bin Hammam speaks during an interview in Doha in this January 5, 2011 file photograph. Mohamed bin Hammam will appeal against his provisional suspension from FIFA in the hope of taking part in the governing body’s congress this week.

Picture taken January 5, 2011. REUTERS/Fadi Al-Assaad/Files

Qatari soccer official Mohammed Bin Hammam withdrew from the race for presidency of international soccer’s top post of president of FIFA in the midst of corruption charges. The withdrawal of the only challenger paved the way for the re-election of a man who has been swimming in controversy since he set foot in office, current FIFA president Sepp Blatter. And that re-election is now official. Bin Hammam was subsequently suspended even before any investigation was undertaken. It has been alleged that he offered $1 million in bribes to Caribbean football officials.

Bin Hammam released a statement regarding his suspension. “I was punished before I was found guilty,” he said. “In a letter to Fifa sent this morning, Mohamed Bin Hammam protested against the unfair way he is treated by the Fifa Ethics Committee and the Fifa administration. Despite his explicit written request, he was not provided with the motivated decision of his suspension in due course and he was not able to file his appeal and was denied his last opportunity to get access to the Fifa congress.

“In his letter, Mohamed Bin Hammam stated 10 points which demonstrate very clearly that he is not getting a fair proceeding. “Most importantly, there is absolutely no justification for a suspension. The suspension is not necessary to conduct the investigation but constituted a grave violation of his reputation and created substantial damage without any necessity. Mohamed Bin Hammam repeated: “I was punished before I was found guilty. There are reasons to believe that the suspension was a solitary decision of the Chairman and not the Ethics Committee. A solitary decision of the Chairman is only possible in emergency situations, which was absolutely not the case here. The panel of the Ethics Committee was fully present.

“Mohamed Bin Hammam does not understand why the Ethics Committee found the statements of the sole eyewitness truthful when it came to the allegations made against him but disregarded the written statements of 12 CFU officials in his favour. The behaviour of the Fifa General Secretary at the media conference on Sunday evening was absolutely unacceptable and against all principles of justice. Sitting next to the Chairman of the independent Ethics Committee, he abused the event to voice his personal opinions and to comment on the results.”

“Because of this very unfair treatment, Mohamed Bin Hammam reserves all his rights, against this unprofessional and one-sided attitude, with the judicial bodies of Fifa and beyond. I am very sad and disappointed over what has happened in the last days. I will never accept how my name and my reputation have been damaged. I will fight for my rights. I thank all the people who have supported me during the last weeks and will support me further. Good days bring you happiness, bad days bring you experience.’”

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Indispensable IslamOnline Must Not Fail

April 15, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ramzy Baroud, Countercurrents.org

A widely popular Islamic website has been, until very recently, an undisputed success story. IslamOnline arrived at a time that millions of Muslims needed a common platform and a unifying outlet. Here was a website that neither shunned nor alienated. Its influence was upbeat and positive, rather than destructive or divisive. While it wasn’t an apologetic outlet, it reached out to patiently and progressively present Islam and Muslim issues to the world. These were understood and communicated by hundreds of scholars and qualified journalists, who toiled day and night from their Cairo offices.

Then something happened to abruptly bring the noble mission to an end. The success story suddenly became a terrible nightmare for hundreds of IslamOnline’s principled employees. The website (IslamOnline.net) remained online, but it was barely updated. Instead, videos were circulated on youtube, showing tired-looking IslamOnline staff chanting in the lobby of their building in Cairo. They were demanding the return of their editorial freedom and rights. They were calling for justice. These bright journalists, some of the finest in the region, should have been sitting behind their computers screens writing, editing and managing ‘live dialogues’ between inquisitive readers and learned scholars. Instead they were seated on the floor with signs and banners, shouting in coarse voices.

Something had gone horribly wrong.

Hadeel al-Shalchi tried to explain in a recent Associated Press report: “The Qatari government has forced out the moderate leadership of a popular Islamic Web site and plans to reshape it into a more religiously conservative outlet, former employees of the site said.”

According to the AP report, “The site was thrown into turmoil…when the owners attempted to change its approach, prompting 350 of its workers in Cairo to go on strike. Management in Doha then cut off their access to the site and have been updating it with news articles but not the diverse content IslamOnline is known for, said the former employees.”

IslamOnline is funded by al-Balagh, a Doha-based company. Al-Balagh was headed by well-respected Sheik Youssef al-Qaradawi, a most sensible and judicious religious authority. He is known, and much liked, for his progressive views on Islam. Al-Qaradawi is also very popular among Muslims around the world, not least because of his daring political views, his strong anti-war, pro-resistance stances and moral clarity on many issues. In short, al-Qaradawi is the antithesis of religious clerics who would do as they are told.

A striking IslamOnline editor described to me how the crisis developed. It sounded something similar to a coup: the Sheik was removed from al-Balagh, the site’s directors were relegated, a new management was installed (in fact imposed), and even the website passwords were changed so that employees could no longer access it. Devastated and enraged by the unwarranted moves, about 350 employees went on strike – only to find themselves subject to legal investigation by some company lawyers for exercising what is universally accepted as a fundamental right. The editor tells me that they were harshly criticized in particular for their uncompromisingly courageous coverage on Palestine and Gaza. Indeed, IslamOnline had worked tirelessly to bring greater awareness of the struggle in Palestine, to Muslim and non-Muslim readers alike.

Following the tragic events of September 11, few websites have played the vital role that IslamOnline has. Its editors did not serve the cause of fanatics, with their dreadful interpretation of the world and themselves, and nor did they adopt the mouthpiece position in favor of Arab governments. Equally important, they did not try to falsify a ‘moderate’ position to please any government – Arab or any other. Instead, they truly reflected and genuinely expressed the views of mainstream Muslims from all walks of life, and from all over the world. It was truly an impressive feat to see such an independent editorial line emerging from one Arab capital and largely funded by another.

But it seemed too good to be true – thus the terrible, chaotic and devastating changes that brought this vital to a standstill. The very means of presenting an eloquent Muslim voice to the world has been threatened.

The story of IslamOnline is being presented as that between rival Arabs: governments, groups and individuals. Reductionist terminologies– such as conservatives vs. moderates – are once again permeating the often predictable Middle East discourse. Many questions still remain unanswered.

In fact, the story of IslamOnline pertains more to media freedom and editorial independence in Arab countries than much of the above. The struggle is between the self-serving politicking few, and hundreds of media professionals – brilliant and inspiring young women and men who made up the staff at IslamOnline. For them, IslamOnline was not just another job. It was a mission, a calling even, and millions of readers around the world appreciated their work, every word of it.
One can only hope that IslamOnline will find its way back, with its current employees and current editorial line intact. The success story must not be allowed to end. Individual ambitions cannot stand in the way of this rare generational mission that is now simply indispensable.
- Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London), now available on Amazon.com.

Obama Picks Special Envoy to World Muslim Group (OIC)

February 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

ResizedImage130160-rashad Washington (CNN) – President Barack Obama appointed a special envoy Saturday to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the 57-nation organization that calls itself the “collective voice of the Muslim world.”

He is Rashad Hussein, an Indian-American Muslim who has been a deputy associate White House counsel, described by Obama as “an accomplished lawyer and a close and trusted member of my White House staff.”

Obama made the announcement Saturday in a video message to the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar. He said he made the move to broaden the outreach strategy toward the Muslim world he laid out last year in Cairo.

“Rashad has played a key role in developing the partnerships I called for in Cairo. And as a hafiz of the Quran, he is a respected member of the American Muslim community, and I thank him for carrying forward this important work,” Obama said. A hafiz is someone who has memorized the Quran, the sacred book of Islam.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be speaking Sunday at the 7th annual forum and Obama took the opportunity Saturday to laud the event and reiterate what he calls the “new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world” – a relationship that he says has been marred by “misunderstanding and mistrust.”

“The United States is responsibly ending the war in Iraq; we are removing all our combat brigades from Iraq by the end of August, and we will partner with the Iraqi people on behalf of their long-term security and prosperity. In Afghanistan and beyond, we are forging partnerships to isolate violent extremists, reduce corruption and to promote good governance and development that improves lives.

“We remain unyielding in pursuit of a two-state solution that recognizes the rights and security of Israelis and Palestinians. And the United States will continue to stand for the human rights and dignity of people around the world,” he said.

Obama said his administration has held thousands of events with students, civil society groups, faith leaders and entrepreneurs, including Clinton’s “landmark” visit to Pakistan.

“And I look forward to continuing the dialogue during my visit to Indonesia next month. This dialogue has helped us turn many of the initiatives I outlined in Cairo into action,” the president said.

Obama also listed outreach initiatives toward the Muslim world in education, economic development, science and technology, food security, and global health.
“None of this will be easy. Fully realizing the new beginning we envision will take a long-term commitment. But we have begun.”

Hussain has served as a trial attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice, a law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and an editor of the Yale Law Journal. He posted a message on the White House blog saying he is “honored and humbled” by the appointment.

“I am committed to deepening the partnerships that he (Obama) outlined in his visionary address last summer. I look forward to updating you on the Administration’s efforts in these areas over the coming months,” he said.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference says it is the second largest inter-governmental organization after the United Nations and that its 57-state membership is “spread over four continents.”

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Israeli’s Bid to Buy Al-Jazeera from Qatar

October 15, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

PressTV

al-jazeera An Israeli media tycoon has offered to buy the pan-Arab Al-Jazeera satellite television network from the government of Qatar.

Haim Saban, has submitted an offer to the Qatari government in a bid to purchase half of the Doha -based Al-Jazeera satellite network.

The Egyptian newspaper al-Mesryoon reported Wednesday that the Israeli billionaire is currently engaged in negotiations with Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, over the partial purchase of the media outlet. The talks are said to be conducted through an Egyptian mediator.

The account comes amid reports that the largest and most controversial Arab news channel in the Middle East is grappling with a terrible financial crisis at present. Saban had previously made an offer to purchase al-Jazeera in 2004, but it was turned down.

The Israeli-American magnate has supposedly made an offer of $5 billion for the popular Arabic-language news channel, in an attempt to get a hold of it and to broadcast a pro-Israeli message so as to influence the Arab opinion in favor of Tel Aviv’s hawkish regime.

Al-Jazeera spawned a media revolution in the Arab world after it was founded in 1996. The network is reliant on state financial largesse, estimated at over $70 million a year, but does not broadcast shows critical of the Qatari government. Al-Jazeera, however, does air programs leveling criticism at all other Arab governments.

Seban made his fortune by buying the rights to market the Japanese kids show, “The Power Rangers,” in America. He is a prominent supporter of Israel and the right-wing Netanyahu government. In addition, the Egyptian-born Jewish businessman is well known for his under-the-table dealings.

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Qaradawi Fiqh on Jihad

August 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

qaradawi Yusuf al-Qaradawi, probably the single most influential living Sunni Islamist figure, has just written a major book entitled Fiqh al-Jihad (The Jurisprudence of Jihad) which decisively repudiates al Qaeda’s conception of jihad as a “mad declaration of war upon the world.” At the same time, he strongly rejects what he calls efforts to remove jihad completely from Islam, and strongly reaffirms the duty of jihad in resisting the occupation of Muslim lands, specifically mentioning Israel as the arena of legitimate resistance.  Qaradawi’s intervention has thus far received no attention at all in the English-language media. It should, because of his vast influence and his long track record as an accurate barometer of mainstream Arab views.

His book, described by the Egyptian newspaper al-Masry al-Youm last week in a seven part series, is far more important than the much-discussed “recantations” and “revisions” of former jihadist intellectuals such as Dr. Fadl (Sayid Imam) and the leaders of the Gama’a Islamiya. The internal revisions by ex-jihadists (which Qaradawi praises) may influence that tiny group of extremists, and demonstrate  cracks in their intellectual foundations. But for the most part, the mass Arab public has never heard of and doesn’t care about them. And unlike the Gamaa leaders or Dr. Fadl, Qaradawi did not produce his revisions from an Egyptian prison cell (hence Ayman Zawahiri’s cutting rejoinder to Dr. Fadl, that Egyptian prisons hadn’t had fax machines back in his day). Qaradawi is different. Qaradawi, an intensely controversial figure in the West, appears on a weekly al-Jazeera program and is probably the single most influential Sunni Islamist figure in the Arab world. The Egyptian-born Qaradawi is closely associated with the Muslim Brotherhood (he reportedly turned down an invitation to become its Supreme Guide because he felt he had more influence from his base in Doha). He is a populist whose views generally reflect widespread attitudes in the region — he strongly endorses democracy, for instance, while also supporting Hamas attacks against Israelis. Whether he leads or follows popular opinion is a difficult and fascinating question — but either way, he is quite a useful barometer.

His criticism of al Qaeda is not new — he condemned 9/11 and has engaged in a number of public polemics with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and with the leaders of al Qaeda. But the timing of this book merits attention.   His views generally closely mirror trends within wider mass public opinion will reach a far wider swathe of the Arab mainstream and will likely have far greater impact than did the internal revisions which received such attention in the West. His intervention strengthens the impression that al Qaeda’s extreme form of salafi-jihadism is on the wane in the Arab world, but political Islam and the spirit of muqawama (resistance) remains strong.

Qaradawi’s text deserves lengthy discussion, but a brief summary here will have to suffice. Fiqh al-Jihad stakes out the centrist (wasatiyya) ground where Qaradawi has always comfortably resided (he has authored dozens of books about wasatiyya concept). He rejects two trends: those who seek to eliminate jihad completely from the Muslim world, stripping it of its power and its ability to resist (which is how he sees the project of much of so-called moderate Islam or secularists); and those who apply it indiscriminately in a mad campaign of killing of all with whom they disagree (like al-Qaeda). Straw men, yes. But very effectively allowing Qaradawi to distinguish between al Qaeda’s excesses and the legitimacy of resistance to occupation and to Israel.

Qaradawi also offers an intriguing broadening of the concept of jihad, away from violence to the realm of ideas, media, and communication — which he calls the “jihad of the age.” The weapons of this jihad should be TV, the internet, email and the like rather than guns. Persuading Muslims of the message of Islam and the importance of this jihad in the path of God should be the first priority, he argues: “the jihad of the age, a great jihad, and a long jihad.”  He also goes into great detail about the different forms of jihad, the need for pragmatism, and the diverse nature of possible relations between Muslims and non-Muslims.

There is much more to Qaradawi’s text worth discussing, including his views on international law (he deploys Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib to depressing effect), his form of argumentation, his categories of jihad, his conceptions of Muslim relations with non-Muslims, and much more.  Parts of it are deeply problematic, others are surprisingly forthcoming. But for now, I mainly want to signal the appearance of this important text, which deserves close attention from all those interested in such matters.

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Muslim Sprinter Wins Olympic Sprint Dressed Head to Toe in a Hijab

August 28, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

2008-08-22T060349Z_01_OLYTS603_RTRMDNP_3_OLYMPICS-ATHLETICS Sprinters have long been squeezing their muscular frames into the most eye-wateringly skimpy, tight and revealing costumes imaginable. But one female athlete at this year’s Olympics is bucking the trend for bulging lycra and naked torsos.

In 2004, Bahrain’s Ruqaya Al Ghasara took part in the Olympics wearing hijab.

Al Ghasara won her heat of the women’s 200m sprint at the Bird’s Nest stadium – despite being clothed head to foot. Al Ghasara finished first followed by France’s Muriel Hurtis-Houairi and Sri Lanka’s Susanthika Jayasinghe.

Admittedly, Al Ghasara ‘s hijab is a rather sportier version of the traditional dress. Clinging to her body as she powers down the track the hijab completely covers her head, arms and legs.

Known as a Hijood – or hijab combined with a sports hood – the costume was specially designed for Al Ghasara by an Australian sports clothing company. It allows Muslim athletes to compete while still adhering to the strict modesty required of their faith.

Al Ghasara, who was the Bahrain flag-bearer at last week’s opening ceremony, said the Hijood has improved her performance. ‘It’s great to finally have a high performance outfit that allows me to combine my need for modesty with a design made from breathable, moisture-controlled fabric,” she said.

‘It’s definitely helped me to improve my times being able to wear something so comfortable and I’m sure it will help me to give my best performance at Beijing.
‘I hope that my wearing the hijood sports top will inspire other women to see that modesty or religious beliefs don’t have to be a barrier to participating in competitive sports.’

In 2004 Al Ghasara defied objections from fundamentalists in her village to take part in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, running in the 100 metres.? And in 2006 she won the women’s 200m final at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, making her the first Bahraini-born athlete to win a major international athletics gold medal.

2008-08-22T060349Z_01_OLYTS603_RTRMDNP_3_OLYMPICS-ATHLETICS

Roqaya Al-Gassra of Bahrain celebrates winning her women’s 200m heat of the athletics competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in the National Stadium August 19, 2008. Behind Al-Gassra are Oludamola Osayomi (L) of Nigeria and Aleksandra Fedoriva of Russia.     

REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

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