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November 5th, 2009
12:51 PM ET

Neda's mother: She was 'like an angel'

Wayne Drash and Octavia Nasr
CNN

The night before she was killed on the streets of Tehran, the woman the world would come to know simply as Neda had a dream. "There was a war going on," she told her mom the next morning, "and I was in the front."

Neda's mother had joined her in the street protests that erupted after Iran's disputed June 12 presidential election. But on that fateful morning, she told her daughter she couldn't go with her. As Neda prepared to leave, the mother was filled with anxiety.

"I told her to be very careful, and she said she would."

More than four months after Neda's death, her mother, Hajar Rostami, described the pain her family has endured and how grateful they are to millions across the world who have hailed Neda as a martyr - a symbol of freedom for Iran. She spoke with CNN by phone in her native Farsi from her home in Tehran a few days ago.

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Filed under: Iran • Octavia Nasr
October 27th, 2009
08:03 PM ET

Lashes or pardon? That is the question

Saudi King Abdullah used his power Monday to overturn a criminal court sentence of 60 lashes and a two-year travel ban imposed on female journalist Rosanna Yami.

Saudi King Abdullah used his power Monday to overturn a criminal court sentence of 60 lashes and a two-year travel ban imposed on female journalist Rosanna Yami.

Octavia Nasr
AC360° Contributor
CNN Senior Editor Mideast Affairs

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has been called "The King of Hearts" by many of his countrymen and women. This is a reflection of what many Saudis believe are his compassionate attempts to reform his ultra-conservative kingdom and bring it up-to-date with the rest of the world.

He used his power Monday to pardon Saudi female journalist Rosanna Yami. By doing so, he saved her from 60 lashes - a sentence handed down by a Saudi criminal court – and a two-year travel ban from the kingdom.

While this is an unusual move for the King, it certainly is not unprecedented. In 2007, he pardoned a woman who was gang-raped but was still sentenced to hundreds of lashes for being in the presence of the unrelated males who raped her.

The journalist’s case started with a controversial Lebanese TV show that explores taboos of the Middle East. When 'A Thick Red Line' featured a Saudi man - Mazen Abdul Jawad - bragging about his alleged sexual escapades, the station's Saudi offices were closed and Abdul Jawad was sentenced to five years in jail and 1,000 lashes.

FULL POST


Filed under: 360° Radar • Arab Affairs • Octavia Nasr
October 14th, 2009
10:32 AM ET

Women, bloggers & gays lead change in the Arab World

Cairo University students wearing niqab stand outside a university dormitory on Oct. 7

Cairo University students wearing niqab stand outside a university dormitory on Oct. 7

Octavia Nasr | BIO
AC360° Contributor
CNN Senior Editor, Mideast Affairs

The Arab Middle East teaches minorities some tough life lessons and shapes them in ways that might surprise you. While the effect of a conservative patriarchal society is expected to keep people under the thumb of tradition, culture and tribal and religious beliefs - sometimes too much oppression and control yields opposite results.

Having lived in several parts of the Middle East as a child, I learned that a woman doesn’t exist except as someone’s daughter, sister, wife or mother. Her opinion is not required, her emotions don’t count and she has no rights whatsoever – except those granted to her by a male.

With a few recent exceptions, an Arab woman’s testimony is not accepted in court. Most Arab women can’t travel outside their countries without permission from a male guardian, and most Arab women still can’t give nationality to their children. In Saudi Arabia women are not even allowed to drive cars. A popular Arabic saying describes it best: a good woman “has a mouth that eats but not one that speaks.”

The Arab Middle East taught me that sexual expression is exclusive to men. Men can have pre-marital sex, and when they’re married, their extra-marital affairs are ignored, justified or blamed on the wives. Their bodies are their own to do with them what they want. A woman’s body, however, represents her family’s honor. So, girls and women are expected to cover their bodies and repress their sexual feelings to protect the honor of the family.

FULL POST

October 1st, 2009
11:02 AM ET

Iran Nukes...or not?

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrives home Saturday after attending the U.N. General Assembly.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrives home Saturday after attending the U.N. General Assembly.

Octavia Nasr | BIO
AC360° Contributor
CNN Senior Editor, Mideast Affairs

How large is Iran’s nuclear ambition? How peaceful? The recent revelation about a clandestine uranium enrichment facility coupled with military exercises – not to mention a consistent defying rhetoric - can’t be comforting to anyone observing the Middle East region. Iran says its nuclear enrichment program is intended for peaceful purposes, but the international community accuses Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons.

In December 2005, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the Holocaust was a “myth” that Europeans invented as an excuse to allow the creation of the state of Israel. At the time, Mr. Ahmadinejad suggested that since the “Europeans are the ones who killed the Jews,” they should negotiate with the United States or Canada to give them portions of their land to establish a Jewish state.

Since that time and throughout his presidency, the Iranian President has reiterated the same line in many different variations and at different venues. As he addressed the United Nations General Assembly last week he said, “Countering this Zionist regime is a humanitarian principle. In fact the existence of the Zionist regime is an insult to human dignity. They try to support their myth of Holocaust, they lie.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad is set to serve a second four year term as President of Iran. His victory was challenged by street protests and outcries of dismay accusing him of “stealing the vote.” Despite all of that, and in total disregard of the crowds of Iranians denouncing him outside the UN Headquarters in New York, he spoke to the general assembly with confidence, “Our nation has successfully gone through a glorious and fully democratic election, opening a new chapter for our country in the march toward national progress and enhance international interactions. They entrusted me, once more the large majority, with this heavy responsibility.”

FULL POST


Filed under: Iran • Nuclear Weapons • Octavia Nasr
September 22nd, 2009
01:05 PM ET

Social networks: A niche for the voiceless

Octavia Nasr | BIO
AC360° Contributor
CNN Senior Editor, Mideast Affairs

A Muslim call to prayer can now be accessed any time and anywhere thanks to social media networks such as Facebook and You Tube.

Across the world, Muslims are creating online communities to discuss and promote their religion. At the same time, this open discussion is exposing and highlighting issues and concerns considered taboo within Islam and the cultures in which they live.

Syrian blogger Ammar Abdel Hamid sees Facebook as a niche for the otherwise voiceless. “The internet came and gave an opportunity for activists for new voices for young people, for democracy promoters, for human rights activists' he says.

In the Arab world, gays and lesbians are taking to the internet to mingle with like-minded people and promote tolerance and understanding. This is especially significant because in their culture they are mainly rejected and still referred to in derogatory terms.

FULL POST


Filed under: 360° Radar • Arab Affairs • Octavia Nasr • Technology
September 10th, 2009
04:16 PM ET

And the loser is....Lebanon

Saad Hariri said he will discuss taking the position of Lebanon's prime minister with his allies.

Saad Hariri said he will discuss taking the position of Lebanon's prime minister with his allies.

Octavia Nasr | BIO
AC360° Contributor
CNN Senior Editor, Mideast Affairs

The news out of Lebanon today was loud but not clear. Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri “declined” to form another cabinet after his proposed one was rejected by the country’s opposition. He “quit,” according to news wires; others wrote that he “stepped down” and he “resigned.” Still, others described the Lebanese billionaire’s decision not to submit another cabinet line-up as “giving up.”

With very few exceptions, the summary of a critical moment in Lebanon’s complex political landscape was reduced to an underlying message that Hariri is a “loser” who “failed” to form a national unity government. A natural expectation follows that now someone else will “succeed” where Hariri “failed.” But, anyone with good knowledge of Lebanon – its regional role and its stature in the world – should know better.

The same groups who wanted us to believe that the Hezbollah-backed opposition was heading toward a clear win in Lebanon’s parliamentary elections in June, want us to believe today that Saad Hariri is “quitting” and “stepping down” or “resigning” from forming a government.

The fact is that Saad Hariri is only the Prime Minister-designate. That means he becomes Prime Minister only when his cabinet gets approval from President Michel Sleiman and then the vote of Lebanon’s parliament. According to the constitution, the Premier-designate can present as many cabinet combinations as necessary to secure all approvals.

FULL POST


Filed under: Global 360° • Octavia Nasr
August 25th, 2009
10:17 PM ET

A compassionate deal?

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi (second from left) arrives in Tripoli, Libya.

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi (second from left) arrives in Tripoli, Libya.

Octavia Nasr | BIO
AC360° Contributor
CNN Senior Editor, Mideast Affairs

It’s been hard to convince Arabs that Abdel Basset al-Megrahi was released only on compassionate grounds. They’ve been calling his release a deal and they’ve been discussing the facts as well as the fallout, the noise and controversy that ensued.

For Libyans, it was no doubt a victory. On the same day, they descended on a palace of their leader Moammar Ghaddafi, cheered him on and called him their “happiness maker.”

For the rest of the Arab world, it was considered a deal early on. First, the timing was suspect. His release occurred one day before the beginning of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, about a week ahead of Libya’s 40th anniversary of the revolution that brought Moammar Ghaddafi to power, and a month before Ghaddafi’s planned trip to the US where his visit - and the air-conditioned tent that will house him - are already the subject of controversy.

FULL POST

August 21st, 2009
11:14 AM ET

Kingdom of controversies

Octavia Nasr | BIO
AC360° Contributor
CNN Senior Editor, Mideast Affairs

Have you ever heard of Klash the rapper? If you haven’t it could be because he’s from Saudi Arabia. Yes, the same Saudi Arabia, home of Islam’s holiest shrines and host to the yearly Muslim Pilgrimage to Mecca, one of the five pillars of Islam.

Klash sings about love and other things usually not openly discussed in Middle Eastern society; definitely not a topic of conversation in his native kingdom. Saudi Arabia is known more for its strict Islamic rule and ultra conservative society than for its men and women seeking earthly pleasures of any kind. Saudi women can’t even drive cars in their country or be seen in public with unrelated males by blood or marriage.

Like many of his fellow rappers around the world, Klash pushes the envelope. Take these lyrics to one of his popular songs for instance:

“Women are like cigarettes
Once you smoke them
You step on them
with your shoe.”

Saudi authorities were “offended” by such lyrics. They jailed Klash and forbade him from singing until he promised to clean his act.

Turki is another Saudi man who sings about love but only in his spare time. He appeared on Lebanon’s contentious show Thick Red Line to talk about the first and only woman who stole his heart. “She is the love of my life,” he told the reporter. Turki talks with passion about the many times he met his Saudi girlfriend and how they spent hours together on a beach, hidden away from a society where they knew their relationship may have been misunderstood.

FULL POST


Filed under: 360° Radar • Global 360° • Middle East • Octavia Nasr
August 14th, 2009
09:31 PM ET

Hands off of my Falafel!

Octavia Nasr | BIO
AC360° Contributor
CNN Senior Editor, Mideast Affairs

Have you had a Falafel sandwich lately? I have had at least five in the past month alone. You see, Falafel is my favorite food and I won’t miss an opportunity to enjoy the vegetarian sandwich. From Beirut to Singapore, I’ve tried all kinds of local twists and turns on the richly spicy chick pea and fava bean-based deep fried ball patties.

There is something wild about Falafel. I’m not the only one devoted enough to admit my love of this spicy vegetarian food; there are people all over the world posting silly videos of themselves idolizing the Middle Eastern specialty.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NV9y24S_NF0&feature=related

Falafel is comfort food for Arabs and Israelis alike. Each group claims to have the best and tastiest mix of ingredients. On both sides you can find the Kings of Falafel; and if this weren’t enough, I did eat once at a shop called “King of all kings of Falafel.”

FULL POST


Filed under: Middle East • Octavia Nasr
August 7th, 2009
05:21 PM ET

Will these scars heal?

Khidir, now 8, was kidnapped and held hostage for two years by operatives with al Qaeda in Iraq.

Khidir, now 8, was kidnapped and held hostage for two years by operatives with al Qaeda in Iraq.
Khidir and his father, Abdul Qader, recently talked to CNN about his ordeal.

Khidir and his father, Abdul Qader, recently talked to CNN about his ordeal.

Octavia Nasr | BIO
AC360° Contributor
CNN Senior Editor, Middle East Affairs

He looks like any 8-year old at first glance. He likes to play with his toy car and he dreams of one day becoming a police officer just like his dad. But, if you look closely into these innocent-looking eyes, would you be able to guess that this little boy was kidnapped, tortured and forced into hard labor before being rescued by Iraqi forces? Physical scars from nails being hammered into his legs and cigarettes put out on the bare skin of his shoulders, are visible on his tiny body. But can you see the psychological scars much deeper underneath? Can anyone?

I grew up during Lebanon’s civil war and I’ve seen and heard many horror stories of some people who survived torture and others who weren’t as fortunate. There is still something terribly touching about every story I hear, especially when it involves children and innocent bystanders who have nothing to do with the war or its games. They don’t carry guns, they don’t shoot at anyone, they are in no one’s way, they just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Khidir was in the wrong place at the wrong time when al Qaeda operatives in Iraq gave his father an ultimatum. They wanted the Iraqi forces to release some prisoners and because Khidir’s father is a police officer they kidnapped his six-year-old son to pressure him to release the prisoners. But Khidir’s father said he would have preferred his son to die a martyr than to release the terrorists. He didn’t realize his son would remain in captivity for almost two years. Khidir endured physical abuse and was made to work in the fields for his captors. Last December, he was rescued by Iraqi forces.

FULL POST

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