Category: Politix


It’s the go-to plot-line for some of the most popular stories of all time: fiercely feuding families, each raging with bitterness towards their enemies; each fueled by a relentless pursuit for power; each harboring an unwavering stubbornness.

But this isn’t some fairy tale. Not some CGI-filled summer blockbuster. Not a set of novels-turned-HBO-series.

This is really happening. Everyday. Right now.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been ablaze for decades, and arguably – depending on which history books you’re reading, what channel you’re watching, or what sites you follow – for much longer than that. Each side sharing startling similarities: compelling arguments against the other; claims to land considered holy; fervor for being recognized as ‘legitimate.’ Impassioned with rich and hallowed religions, Israelis and Palestinians similarly use their faiths to validate claims over the region. As the years have passed, both camps have made their mistakes; both have reneged on promises; both have backed out on peace talks.  There are two points, however, that don’t exactly straddle both sides as equally: the deaths of those caught in the carnage, and the media’s reporting of it.

As of this writing, there have been 28 Israeli casualties confirmed – two civilians and 26 soldiers killed in combat. However, Israeli strikes on Gaza have resulted in over 560 deaths, mostly civilian, along with the immeasurable destruction of Palestinian communities (well, what was left of them). We are learning more and more everyday about Palestinian children being caught in the crossfire; how the Israeli people now have an app to warn them of any potential missile strikes from Hamas (because that seems fair); and of journalists who are criticized (and/or fired) for reporting on what’s really happening in the region.

Are people just now awakening to the horrors that have been going on for what seems like ages? It’s a real-life ‘game of thrones’ that is eerily mirroring the acclaimed TV series (spoiler alert): everyone is getting killed off. Both sides undoubtedly have blood on their hands; but anyone who honestly reports on it, or dares to criticize Israel’s role in this on-going debacle, is quickly dubbed by American mainstream media (along with any U.S. officials who go on record) as “anti-Semite.” Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if the word “terrorist” or “terrorist sympathizer” gets thrown around either. You know, when they need a good sound bite.

Still, there are those who buck the system:

And social media has undeniably made exposing truth about this (and countless other under- and mis-reported issues) much more accessible to a wider audience; an audience that is starting to question the motives and political agendas of their own governments. Nonetheless, the Obama Administration has done what every American government has done since the creation of the Israeli state in 1948 and the subsequent Arab-Israel War: confirmed its unwavering alliance (and continued arms funding) of the brash little country in the midst of one of the most turbulent regions in the world. Social media be damned.

A more startling example of how twisted the story can get via traditional media is this one, where an American Jew – yes, you read that correctly – is voicing concern over Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories during the annual Jerusalem parade (in Israel). He doesn’t exactly get the star treatment:

Now, his explanation of what happened after his [peaceful/non-violent] demonstration:

What’s not clear (and for a very good reason) is where exactly this young man’s “court appointed attorney” came from. Without direct involvement – which would’ve undoubtedly made inconvenient headlines – is it not within the realm of possibility that the appointed attorney along with the reigning judge who over saw the case were “directed” to make this go away (i.e. dismiss the case and free the ‘suspect’) by order (i.e. pressure) of the U.S.? Not because they actually care about this kid; hell no. But because the minute he went viral with his message – a powerful and articulately stated one at that – he became a liability; a smoking gun. He’s an American and more importantly (and dangerously), a Jew. And we simply can’t have someone like him say anything that may call to question the U.S.’s position within this gaza of thrones.

It’s bad enough that the video of the incident and the subsequent explanation by the young man was shared so quickly and by so many; the U.S. certainly could’ve executed damage control in an effort to avoid any obvious and potentially media-susceptible intervention. Even with Obama’s recent claims to be “seriously concerned,” he still affirms Israel’s “right to defend itself” amid the rising death toll of Palestinian civilians.
The aftermath of an airstrike on a beach in Gaza City last Wednesday. Four young Palestinian boys, all cousins, were killed. Credit Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

The aftermath of an airstrike on a beach in Gaza City last Wednesday. Four young Palestinian boys, all cousins, were killed. Credit Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Another story was recently posted about the cease-fire/non-cease-fire back-and-forth that took place under President Sisi’s and Egypt’s “counseling.” Egypt? Really? So, instead of tapping into a stable country that might actually have some political pull with one or both sides of this conflict, we’re going with Egypt? Sigh.
Although a five-hour ceasefire did in fact occur to allow for humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip, most U.S. media reported that an extended ceasefire was accepted by Israel, the Arab League and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas but was rejected by the military wing of Hamas, the group that controls Gaza. What is not being reported as accurately (and as loudly) is the reasoning for the rejection.
Egypt’s reluctance to give up its mediator position, even though Hamas – with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood – can’t stand Sisi (a staunch anti-M.B.er), doesn’t help either.

The rest of the world is finally starting to really speak out against Israel and its dealings with Palestinians, yet Israel is getting more and more belligerent with an arrogance matched only by its ‘big brother’ – the U.S. Frustrating = a severe understatement. Even Sec. of State John Kerry was recently caught with his foot in his mouth and then reverted back to singing the tried-and-true tune that goes something like this: “America and Israel, sitting in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G.”

The minute we (America) actually start to take a stance that’s more aligned with the rest of the world, more aligned with human decency and more aligned with common sense, is the same minute progress may actually be made on this long, drawn-out subject. Slowly but surely others within the global community have been embracing this “radical” mantra, although it’s the U.S. that can actually do something about it. The “right of Israel to defend itself” is long overused. America should refuse to continue funding and arming a country that continuously (and unabashedly) denies that right to others. The right of Palestinians to live should be given the same weight and attention. This simply is not a fair fight.

This isn’t an Israel-bashing tirade mind you; the Israeli people are not the issue whatsoever. This is simply a call for justification and clarification of our continued support of a country that doesn’t do anything for us but bring misery. Our direct involvement and unwavering defense of Israel is the primary reason why this region is so unstable: other countries see Israel’s continual mistreatment of Palestinians and blame the U.S. for its refusal to remove itself from the situation. The Israeli people deserve better than to have their government continuously wage war in their name (sound familiar?), making violence and bloodshed a daily occurrence. 

Ethical reporting on what’s really going on, the outright questioning of U.S. involvement in the region and an international call – and persistent insistence on a realistic two-state solution are what need to happen for there to be any hope for this deteriorating saga. Unlike the show, this is a new kind of game; one where the thrones aren’t just made of ancient swords and the battles won with dragons, magic and unsullied soldiers. In fact, this isn’t a game at all.

 

Read more on this:

Hello everyone! I know it’s been while since I’ve cast one eye on two worlds and shared my findings with you, but believe me, I’ve been a very busy bee this past year:

I’ve been working on my Masters in Journalism and Digital Media and will – with any luck – finish this May (which I think is quite apropos).

At any rate, I figured the start of the new year would be a perfect time to delve back into my beloved world o’ blogging, and because so much has happened since we last cyber-spoke, a quick run-down on the hip-happenin’s that made 2013 so…well, 2013-ish, might be in order:

There was:

  • A “do-nothing” Congress (we’re still waiting for them to “work” on something of substance instead of arguing every single hour of all 11 days they’re actually in session).

The Worst Congress In Our Lifetime

  • A new progressive Pope (he’s shaking some things up – let’s see if he makes it into Dan Brown’s next novel)Pope_Francis_at_Vargihna

(photo credit: The Daily Aztec)

  • Edward Snowden (the NSA debacle, monitoring of Americans and a crap-ton of other countries and so far, no repercussions for the masterminds that orchestrated all this -AND THEN, VERY PUBLICLY, LIED ABOUT IT).

  • Healthcare.gov (and the love/hate/hate relationship between members the aisle (leaving the American people to shake their heads in disgust / frustration– how are other countries pulling this whole “Universal health care” thingy off??) P.S. And from the looks of it, the site’s homepage still has some kinks to work out, like overlapping and confusing text, and where’s that lovely young woman everyone was at some point screaming about?

Healthcare.gov

  • Syrian bombings – then the Syrian “We’re givin’ it all up” chemical weapon relinquishment campaign about a whole minute later.

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(photo credit: STR/AP)

  • Egypt’s military “coup,” which has apparently now been deemed “crimes against humanity”- and its declaration of the Muslim Brotherhood’s as “terrorists” (They’re the bad guys, folks, listen to us, we’ve got machine guns) **although full disclaimer: I happen to think that a lot of ’em are actually on Santa’s “not-so-nice” list).

Egypt Protests Intensify As Army Deadline Approaches

(photo credit: Ed Giles/Getty Images)

  • New York City’s first democratic mayor in decades (and yes, he’s married to a black woman and has bi-racial kids, what’s the biggie?)

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(photo credit: Kathy Willens, AP)

  • The Boston Bombings, the city-wide chase afterwards and the hoopla over a RollingStone Magazine Cover:

Five Revelations From Rolling Stone’s Boston Bomber Cover Story

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(photo credit: Rolling Stone, illustration by Sean McCabe)

  • Kim Jon Un’s questionably brutal execution of his uncle (was there or wasn’t there 120 dogs involved? why are we talking about dogs?!)

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(photo credit: YONHAP/AFP/Getty Images)

  • The legalization of marijuana in Colorado (new vacay spot!)

Colorado Lawmakers to Feds: Let marijuana businesses bank

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(photo credit: Theo Stroomer/Getty Images)

  • The purchase of The Washington Post by Amazon’s Jeff Besos (okay media industry, now let’s see what happens).

  • Wendy Davis, a pair of pink sneakers, and an honest discussion about abortion in America.

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(photo credit: Eric Gay/AP)

  • A sequester, a government shutdown, Nelson Mandela’s death and a schizophrenic sign-language interpreter.

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(photo credits for images on this row: Win McNamee/Getty Images; AP)

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(photo credits for images on this row: GlobalNews; PressTV)

  • The re-opening of dialogue between the US and Iran (and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tweeting no less! holla!)

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  • A super typhoon hits the Philippines, India has a rape epidemic, and Miley Cyrus’s twerking makes international headlines (subsequently, for longer than either of those other two stories).

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(photo credits: Reuters; Hindustan Times)

Miley-Cyrus-Tongue(photo credit: Liberty Voice)

  • And most recently, an ancient Egyptian brewer’s tomb is discovered (looks like what made for a good time then and now aren’t so far off).

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(photo credit: Supreme Council of Antiquities/AP)

Whew! That was a lot. And those were just a few of the tid-bits that fueled a year where some of the media touched on a few significant issues, though most really seemed to concentrate more on what racist ramblings members of the Duck Dynasty are mumbling and what gaudy new outfit Kim & Kanye’s new baby is donning. You know, the important stuff.

Still, there’s that whole world out there, with all its craziness and all its wonder. And I plan on sharing my opinions on the things I find that make the West and the Middle East more similar than maybe a lot of people might want to imagine. We are, after all, one big ole’ group of people that have to share the same ride through time; so instead of asking “Are we there yet?” maybe we should start asking, “Where’s the nearest Mickey D’s and/or Hummus Shack?” and enjoy the ride.

This is indeed a very interesting time in Egypt’s – and arguably, the entire Middle East’s – history. The notion that citizens are even ABLE to publicly voice opinion about their political, economic and social future is a significant step toward a progressive, modern democracy…one that we, my family, Middle Eastern friends and those who share in knowledge and experience within the cultures of this region, feel is worth noting (and quite frankly, worth celebrating).

The real challenge, however, is how to integrate that pro-democratic ideology into a society that has historically been sculpted by religious and military influence. The Mubarak regime was a corrupt and unproductive one, yet the Morsi regime (yes, it is a regime, once Morsi – a seemingly democratically elected President – declared his position to be unchallengable) has become a suffocating front for the Muslim Brotherhood agenda. At the very least, and for all its shortcomings and downfalls, the Mubarak regime kept the Brotherhood at bay, and religious fundamentalists were relatively kept in check. The Islamists sadly found their vocal platform in Morsi, and quickly established their newly found megaphone to impose a constrictive, oppressive zeitgeist over a people that want, by all accounts, to be free of any rule which dictates degrees of freedoms.

While by many accounts the protests were largely meant to be peaceful, former militants (mostly Morsi supporters and members of the Brotherhood) have helped escalate the violence. Granted, some protesters have perpetuated that violence as well, but that is precisely why the military (with many members reported to be largely in support of the protests) have insisted on participating in maintaining order while some sort of agreement is made between Morsi and his opposition. The line in the sand appears to have been identified as Morsi stepping down, which he’s so far refused to do.

We’re all watching to see how this plays out, but word on the street is several other candidates are already poised to fill his seat; some that had previously run against him in initial elections but lost. The argument I’m hearing from some Egyptians is, why even bother with yet another remnant of the past (these men are arguably related to the Mubarak administration)? Why not aim for a totally new (read: unaffiliated), progressive president? One who truly represents the “new” Egypt; an Egypt that values freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and a true societal movement forward?

There are still a ton of questions, and with baited breath, we’re all waiting to see what happens next for our beloved Egypt. The military indeed holds sway, but primarily due to its lack of complete dependence on religion, economics or international influence.

And so, I say this: my sincerest hope is that a genuine, long-term parliamentary democracy can be forged (and more importantly, maintained), but there has to be more than just a people who call for it; there has to be a fundamental shift in the way the entire region understands its changing role, globally and internally. Also, it would help immensely if, once a dude you don’t like is kicked out, you actually implement a plan that not only works to establish an actual, functioning democracy, but that also starts with putting a dude in office that you DO like. But alas, that part we haven’t quite managed to get right either.

Click here for continually refreshed live, up-to-date coverage.

What the next 24 hours will bring = unknown. But sadly, the likely outcome = mish quayiss, “not good” in Arabic.

Some are slow and steady; like that of a sleepy caterpillar, leisurely morphing into its glorious butterfly alter ego.  Some are swift and unstable; like an unsuspecting packet of slicked seeds suddenly bursting into a bag of buttery popcorn. Some are simply unpredictable; like adjusting to life in a wheelchair after a paralyzing car accident, or finding out that dollar lottery ticket just made you a millionaire overnight.

There are all types of transformations. The first story I ever produced in my fledgling journalism career went through its own, with – as I look back upon it – a little bit of each of those transformational qualities. And through its painstaking (and oftentimes frustrating) process, it made me realize that the desire to do good reporting and the compromise required to see that reporting go to air demanded a universal acceptance of one thing: its transformation.

Washington Week with Gwen Ifill, a highly respected PBS publication, announced its “Voice of the Voters” feature, and I excitedly submitted a pitch. I figured, why not take a stab at producing a high-quality piece of journalism and jump-start my resume with a renowned entity like PBS? I thought the “Voice of the Voters” project was a perfect way for me to do both, while investigating a subject that was near and dear to my heart: specific issues that are important to women.

As a first-year graduate student, I didn’t really expect to be chosen to move on to final production; I was, after all, competing with students across the country, most in their final semester of their graduate programs. But upon my selection by PBS (and my initial, personalized version of “shock and awe”), I went right to work on the logistics and mapped out the entire production process for my piece. I had a vision: lend a virtual megaphone to those young women (on my USFSP campus) who had stories to share about where they stood on women’s issues in the 2012 presidential election. This group, as far as I could tell, had not been adequately covered in the local media, and for that matter [it appeared to me] the entire subject of “women’s issues” was generally glossed over on the national stage as well. My aim was to do something different; something that would elevate a set of voices and allow those voices to uninhibitedly express their concerns as they cast their ballot for the next president. The feature, after all, was called, “Voice of the Voters.”

My original pitch to PBS, I felt, accurately reflected this vision. It outlined the history of Florida’s swing-state status in determining presidents, as well as its divided and varied voting demographics. I placed an emphasis upon candidly asking how local USFSP female voters felt toward issues they believed would have a direct effect on them. PBS producers explained that while that strategy was acceptable, I should also be sure to include some statistical information in order to set up a context in which to frame the piece. I agreed, since data establishing female voting trends and figures would only strengthen my story’s authority. Still, I didn’t want the piece to be about the numbers; viewers can go to a plethora of other media sources for that. I wanted my piece to be about the people.

I wanted to explore what young, college female voters thought of the older, male candidates who were vying for their presidential vote. What mattered to them? What didn’t? Did they relate to what the nominees (Barack Obama and Mitt Romney) were saying, and more importantly, did they believe them? Did they agree with them? Did they feel adequately represented or did they feel the system had let them down? To boot, I wondered what influence the media had in shaping the political ideologies of these young women. Essentially, I just wanted to produce a piece of investigative journalism that asked those questions and relayed the blunt, genuine answers I got in return. Nothing more, nothing less.

I found the interviewees all around campus. I made sure to seek out a varied assortment of ethnicity, ages (the best I could, given the college-student environment) and political party alignments. I managed to pluck five incredibly fascinating women – all with very different opinions and positions – and have these women open up to me about a variety of political and social issues that sincerely mattered to them. Some were more vocal than others, but all were passionate about one particular issue or another (and a few were more than passionate about more than one issue). Some felt strongly about a specific candidate, others were frustrated with both. All had something important to say.

With the raw footage from all the interviews, I began compiling the first draft script and rough cut of the piece. I found that some of the women used phrases like, “We are not walking vaginas,” and “The government needs to stay the hell out of women’s bodies.” I delighted in knowing that I was giving these women a platform to vocalize what mattered to them most in the election process. I had no reservations about turning in the first rough cut to PBS, since I figured they would appreciate that kind of refreshing frankness as much as I did.

I was wrong. Very, very wrong.

I was told immediately by PBS producers that the word “vagina” was not appropriate for national television. Additionally, the tone of some of the interviewees was deemed “combative” or that they didn’t seem well-versed enough on particular political issues to be discussing them. One critique after another was hurled by the network, though most were curt evaluations of an interviewee. I was also told by producers that more numbers were needed in order to visually support my talking points. I was baffled. Does the audience really need to see the figure “52%” on their screen in order for them to understand that 52 percent of Florida’s voting population were women? I was already saying it (in a voice-over), what more was necessary?

Apparently, a lot more. The producers emphasized the need for graphics – whether charts, graphs, even the simple numerical figures themselves just popping on screen in as large of a font as possible – was paramount in making sure the audience understood what I was saying. I felt that the information was delivered with great transparency and simplicity; there was really no need for additional facts and figures. I wanted the voters (i.e. the women) to tell the story, not the boring data.

Still, there was push-back from the network. Draft after draft, edited cut after edited cut, the piece began to take a new shape; one that was losing my fingerprint and showing signs of a new owner. One by one, the interviews got cut, with producers reducing the explanations to simply, “She didn’t translate well on screen.” Whether or not my translation was accurate, it sounded to me more like “she wasn’t attractive enough to air.”

What is worth noting is that, with every transformation, the original becomes more and more a distant memory as each iteration is born. As a frequent and frustrating tug-of-war ensued, I found myself wrestling with the gutsy position of sticking to my original vision, or compromising that vision in order to have the piece garner PBS’s stamp of approval to air. All the incredibly hard work I had already put into it sprung into my head, and I quickly realized that the project now had taken on a life of its own; one that I could either chase down the street or one I could let wander and ultimately become lost. I was getting my first lesson in professional journalism: transformation is – for the most part – inevitable.

It occurred to me that the voices that amplified a blatant or unflinching or even remotely unconventional stance were the voices that became the most [seemingly] stifled by PBS. To me – and perhaps only me – the piece shifted from being about the voice of the voter to the voice of the network. It was whittled down to only two interviewees, along with an additional expert interview that PBS producers explained would be a way to assign yet another level of authority to the narrative. I found that out of the two female USFSP students left on the piece, both were attractive, Caucasian brunettes, and – with their edited and re-edited footage – neither was expressing the combative tone that was included in the original piece. Just an observation.

What I was ultimately satisfied with turned out not to be my original vision. It was, however, still clearly traceable back to what I had originally sought to explore: how women felt about what mattered to them. I wasn’t able to include all the voices I wanted, but the voices I was able to capture each emanated a distinct individual presence. One voice surprised me, and delved into the social implications of women’s equality in the workplace; a lesser discussed issue that most female voters her age never mention. Another voice began convinced of a particular stance on women’s health and abortion, then – right before my eyes and thankfully on camera – transformed [herself] from conviction to uncertainty.

I had presented a glimpse into a world that wasn’t being seen nearly enough: the young Florida female voter. The process was long. It was full of edits and re-edits, tossing in numbers, taking out footage, framing the interviews to reflect a certain middle-of-the-road, let’s-not-rock-the-boat-too much flavor. Each critique from PBS producers was accompanied by an explanation of how that particular item or quote or image had to be modified, moved or eliminated. The transformation was slow. It was sudden. It was painful. It was enlightening. And it was what the network wanted in order to fit within a certain branding that was in line with the publication’s other content. And it was what needed to happen to have my very first piece air on the national media stage.

***

Four days before Election Day, I received a congratulatory email from PBS producers in thanks for the successful submission and for the diligent reporting and production efforts that were put forth in such an abridged amount of time. The piece was publicized by PBS just in time to air for Election Day. The link to the published segment on the Washington Week site can be found on directly this blog or here.

Selected to produce a piece for PBS’s Washington Week, I was honored to have been featured on the site’s “Voice of the Voters” segment, where I explored the battleground state of Florida; a state for most candidates to gain serious ground in electoral numbers. No time was this more obvious than in the race for the White House.

With the latest discourse on what have been dubbed as “women’s issues” surging through the national, state and local levels, questions arose as to what mantras women voters were taking into the booths with them, and in particular, what young women were thinking prior to casting their ballots for the next President.

In the piece, I take a look into how female students at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg were considering “women’s issues” – health (birth control, abortion, rape) and social (education, workplace opportunity,  equal pay),  and how these issues were influencing their vote in the presidential election.

Hello Peoples,

Apologies for the hiatus – I’ve delved back into graduate school and have been writing like a maniac, albeit covering issues that pertain strictly to the crazy world I’ve courageously entered: multimedia journalism.

Still, I had to include a snip-it of the solid articles that I’m finding which have helped to inform me on what kind of various types of crazy that’s happening on the other side of the pond. Egypt’s debacle of an elections process. Syria’s general ridiculousness. Iran and Iraq’s new romance.

And of course, what would this blog be if I those articles didn’t include info on the West’s (particularly the US) hand in it all…So here’s a taste of what’s shakin’ –>

Happy reading! (well, “happy” probably won’t be the exact emotion that these articles will elicit, but at least you’ll be informed)

 

Change isn’t easy. In fact, it can be rather frightening. Throw in words like “Muslim Brotherhood” and conjuring up the image of a peaceful green meadow with Arab children democratically frolicking along, waving the American flag and singing songs of peace starts to be a bit of a challenge. Talk about a spooky reputation that precedes them – even if it might not be wholly accurate. The Muslim Brotherhood comes across to the US and others as the dark cousin at the family reunion who’s eerily standing in the corner of the room, eying the party. No one quite knows where they’ve been all these years, but that dirty Harley parked outside and those prison tattoos spell trouble. Plus they keep shoving their hands straight into the queso dip and that’s just disgusting.

Ok, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Especially since there’s a good chance that motor bikes and body ink aren’t quite the Brotherhood’s fortés. Still, solid information regarding their motives for a new Egypt isn’t being fully related to (or understood by) most of the world, even their own people. However, since their Freedom and Justice Party is undoubtedly gathering strength in Egypt’s parliament after recent wins in election rounds this month, it’s a force that is making serious headway in establishing a grounded presence in post-Mubarak Egypt.

What seems to be the consensus among the Western world is that the Brotherhood is a strict, Sharia-law driven group that will bring back the more conservative views of Islam upon a historically moderate Egypt. It seems that the liberal Western-minded revolutionaries that began the uprise really didn’t utilize their educational advantage by truly thinking through what groups might emerge after the removal of a longtime seeded ruler. Bad move rebels. The Brotherhood is here and the key to either working with them or working towards removing them is to clearly comprehend what they’re actually about.

God is our objective; the Quran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of God is the highest of our aspirations.” That’s the credo of the Muslim Brotherhood – which, in all fairness, certainly does read as a rather stark and intimidating set of notions for any progressive Westernized thinker. Plus including the word “death” in your mission statement really doesn’t illicit warm fuzzy feelings. But get this: the Brotherhood is still considered less menacing by a vast majority of Egyptian voters than their competition for Parliamentary seats, the Salafist Nour Party, which is more openly violent and extreme in both political verbiage and action, as compared to the Brotherhood. The ironic thing is that the parties that represent the young modern reformers that famously rose up in Tahir Square, demanding a truly democratic change in Egyptian government are currently pulling a meek 13% in the first round of elections. So it seems at this point, a much more thorough understanding of the Muslim Brotherhood is definitely in order, especially since they will most likely be the next installment within the Egyptian government as the ruling party. Translation = it’s time for Egypt to be sat down and talked to about the latest addition to the family that the stork is bringing: a few new Brothers.

On December 9, 2011, Nicolas Kristof of the New York Times wrote about his personal experience with Muslim Brotherhood activists that I found rather revealing. He describes being exposed to a sort of enlightenment about misconceptions that have blanketed the Brotherhood’s caricature-like reputation across both the Westernized international community, as well as parts of Egypt itself. In his interactions with Sondos Asem, a 24-year-old middle-class graduate of the American University in Cairo who’s home he dined in, Kristof delved into the issues that commonly arise when speaking on Egypt’s civil unrest, and received rather interesting reactions from Asem and her family.

On The Oppression of Women:

Egypt has always been the cooler older sibling of the Mid-East when it came to women’s rights – although I certainly do use the word “cooler” here loosely. In comparison to more religiously rigid countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan, where women are required to wear hijab and are forbidden to exercise many of even the simplest rights granted to men, Egypt has maintained a much less secure chokehold upon its women. My mother and other female relatives tell me stories of how, growing up in 1960’s and 70’s era Egypt, they donned super short mini skirts, wore tons of eye makeup and rocked out to The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. Egypt was a country of liberated women under the beloved President Anwar Sadat, who in his time, changed Egypt’s socio-economic direction, among other things. Egypt actually had hippies, if you can believe it.

The Muslim Brotherhood has been thought by many Westerners to be associated with re-instituting the oppression of women – something that Asem strongly denied in her talk with Kristof. She explained that in addition to 50% of the Brotherhood being comprised of women, her own mother, Manal Abul Hassan is running for Parliament under the affiliation of the Brotherhood. Asem also asserts the same notion I referenced previously, that Egypt being religiously moderate is therefore incomparable to Saudi Arabia and the like. Rather, she says, Egypt should be compared to countries like Turkey, where amidst economic prosperity, an Islamic government reigns and where women are not objectified or mistreated, but are incorporated in government as vital participants.

Even the gruesome issue of female circumcision was brought up by Kristof, and Asem’s declaration of the Brotherhood’s stance on this topic was clear: the Brotherhood is against the barbaric practice of female genital mutilation. However, I gathered no further elaboration from Kristof’s interview with Asem on this particular subject, as the topic seemed to quickly shift to the Brotherhood’s views on economic policies and illiteracy – which Asem attributes to women’s real problems within Egyptian society. Suffice to say, the particular issue of genital mutilation was not one that Asem seemed to want to linger on for any length of time – which I found disconcerting since the unbelievably cruel practice is one that an immense number of Egyptian girls now commonly experience. I should note that the Mubarak administration – oddly enough – actually made some effort to stop this ridiculous custom. Go figure.

On Peace With Israel:

When Kristof approached this touchy subject with Asem, she dismissed it – along with the issue of alcohol consumption and wearing hijab – as policies that the Muslim Brotherhood do not plan on making any changes to. Claiming that creating jobs is the number one priority for the Brotherhood if it were to take over the Egyptian government, Asem explained that the country’s current economic disparity is what needs to be tackled immediately; and therefore the primary concern would be to reform the current economic system and eliminate the corruption that has reigned under Mubarak’s regime.

Even Kristof’s later interview with former foreign minister and Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa, was optimistic regarding the Brotherhood’s stance on continued peace with Israel: no matter what happens, Egypt will continue to nurture its good relations with the US and remain loyal to its peace treaty with Israel. When rebuilding a nation Moussa says, “You cannot conduct an adventurous foreign policy…We must have the best of relations with the United States.” If only Mr. Roger’s were still alive, I bet he’d invite them into the neighborhood. Well, maybe.

On Governing A Modern Economy:

Among the Brotherhood supporters and activists that Kristof spoke to, were liberal Egyptians who were a bit more skeptical of the Brotherhood’s motives – and ability to actually govern a modern Egypt. Many insisted that they [The Muslim Brotherhood] may exude a mild, peaceful demeanor now, but that there may be an intolerant streak that emerges later down the line. Talk about schizophrenia. Not to mention, many progressive Egyptians claim that the Brotherhood simply does not have the experience or political know-how to actually manage a modern Egyptian economy, with all the complexities that inherently emerge when any rebuilding of this magnitude takes place. What worries these modernists is that when push comes to shove, the Brotherhood will rely on Sharia-law or other rules of religion to make decisions that ultimately move the country back into the religiously conservative realm. It’s what tends to happen here in the US, when people aren’t quite sure how to handle things. Let’s just ask God.

What I truly reaped from Kristof’s intriguing experiences was that the Muslim Brotherhood is still a mystery to many – and as with most mysteries, it’s best to explore all the evidence, assemble all the clues and do all the research before declaring that Colonel Mustard must’ve done it in the library with the wrench. What the Brotherhood (and Salafists) did that was a politically ingenious maneuver to gain serious momentum in the elections: infiltrate the poorest, most uneducated portions of the Egyptian countryside and the like and convince those people – many times with bribes of food and money – that they are the best choice for a new Egypt. What did the progressive revolutionaries do to implant that same notion for their parties? Wait, they didn’t. Hence their current failure in gaining any sort of ground to compete with the Brotherhood. Which leaves us at…

Understanding the true nature of the Muslim Brotherhood is what is going to shed light on whether or not Egypt is moving towards a democratic, economically stable (and hopefully forward-thinking) society, or not. The idea of the Arab Spring in Egypt was to remove the corrupt, suffocating grip of a crooked regime and adopt a real working democracy. Let’s just hope – by trying to truly understand the entity that may be ruling – that the next wave of progress is done under the blanket of peace, fairness and clear thinking. After all, it took the United States of America a shade under a decade to get it right ourselves – the Constitution was written 7 years after the battle at Yorktown. When it comes to change, ‘scary’ really can be an understatement. But its an assumption that can be overturned by something much more potent: knowledge.

Coat of Arms of Egypt, Official version. Gover...

Egypt Coat of Arms Image via Wikipedia

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness“, a cherished phrase outlined in our Declaration of Independence is markedly and universally regarded as the essence of the basic rights afforded to each American. Plus there’s no denying that it rolls off the tongue ever so nicely.

In the US, it seems that while these three simple staples are inherently part of our culture, along with them, another fight is underway: to get more money for the hardworking American and to demand more accountability for those in power. The current Occupy Wall Street movement (and other Occupations throughout the country) are prime examples of how the American people are decidedly taking the Declaration’s most memorable phrase and manifesting it into their own destinies. The cry is pressing; government needs to be held liable for our current economic condition.

Across the pond, however, with the rise of what is being dubbed The Arab Spring, it seems that people are fighting too, but for things that the US luckily already has: basic human rights and a stable democratic government. With the ousting of Egypt‘s Mubarak, Libya’s Gaddafi, and the countless other civil uprisings all over the Middle East and Northern Africa, the people are finally speaking – and it’s louder and clearer than ever before. Nevermind a raise in wages or an explanation for why the mortgage bubble burst; they just want to be able to live under relatively peaceful conditions as human beings without fear of being beheaded or stoned. Doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

Still, what makes this time in our global environment most interesting is how similar these movements actually are in their fundamental purposes – even though they are so very different in their cultural foundations.

The US government has long been in bed with Wall Street, Big Business and the richest 1% of the population. There’s no secret there. And the Arab governments have long been in bed with the US, with much of their military and weapons-funding funneled directly through countless US administrations (both Dems & Reps are guilty on this one). So what we essentially have is this:  a governmental gang-bang with the “Do Not Disturb” sign indiscreetly hanging outside the door while both the American and Arab people wait outside with housekeeping.

Obama Administration: Arab People, You Deserve Better! American People, .. Uh… Sorry, We Got Nothin.

Baffling still is the unrelenting endorsement for the Arab uprising by the current US administration; an unwavering support for the military to step aside in countries like Egypt – allowing the people to put in place their own civilian-run government via a fair, democratic electoral process. Not to mention, another manipulable US ally in this unstable region wouldn’t be too shabby of a by-product. The US government’s consensus: hooray for the Arab Spring!

Conversely, the same US administration is producing an all but mute stance on the OWS movements that are taking place in their own back yards. No real response or tangible explanations are being offered to the American people, and the protesting is largely being ignored by top administrators. (coyly saying “we’re working on it” doesn’t really count either). Any response that’s not a muddled, ambiguous retort is one of complete cynicism. GOP candidates like the smug Newt Gingrich even go so far as to criticize the Occupy protestors by saying to “go get a job right after you take a bath”. Ah, eloquent words indeed. Especially coming from one of the dirtiest, corrupt hypocrites in all of US governmental history.
The fact is, no administrative support is going towards the uprisings that are occurring here in the US, but plenty of support is being ushered towards the Arab people who are rallying with a similar volume. Which brings me to:

So Egypt, Where’d You Get All That Tear Gas? Oh, Wait…

As Egypt’s unrest continues to swell, and more protestors are killed or injured by military forces and riot police, the question inevitably arises: where did all the tear gas, rubber bullets and nerve gas even come from?

Surprise, surprise. And by “surprise”, I mean “totally not a surprise”.

As much as the US claims that it supports the Arab Spring, and uprisings like that in Egypt, one wonders how the weapons being used against the very people who the US government is supporting are the same ones graciously supplied to the corrupt governments that the US actually helped put in place? Deep is the rabbit hole, indeed.

The simplified analysis here would be that, foreseeing the reality that Egyptian people have simply had enough, the best move for America would be to align itself with the winning side. It’s not just smart politics, it’s a safety mechanism the US has learned to utilize all-too-well over the years. So while Mubarak and Gaddafi were once very close US allies, now that their incredible unpopularity among their own people has removed them, best for the US to denounce these jokers and cuddle up with whomever’s next. In many cases with the Arab Spring, this means a civilian-installed leadership; most likely un-akin to what the US is used to dealing with. So good luck there.

But What About Here At Home?

As an Arab, I am extremely happy to see the tangible overturning of unethical Middle Eastern governments (aka dictatorships/tyrannies) and witness the people finally taking matters into their own hands – however dangerous the obstacles may be. There are generations of depravity to make up for, and so it will no doubt take just as long to establish something new and better; but there is a unified voice finally being heard, and that’s something that’s indeed long over-due.

But as an American, I am extremely disappointed that this same gusto for change hasn’t resulted in a more productive governmental transformation here; one that truly brings into question practices that are inherently damaging those three vital pieces of what we’ve collectively come to call our rights as Americans and that are outlined in our precious Declaration. If we are truly to set an example of how freedom of speech, peaceful demonstrations, and the right to organize are core principles that we wholly stand by, then we’d better start showing off our stuff right here at home. The spotlight is on and all that’s audible is the sound of crickets.

What are becoming evident now more than ever, especially through these movements, are the similarities shared between Americans and Arabs – revealing just how much of a cultural bridge exists between both worlds at the most elemental level. We are all in a similar pursuit: that of happiness.

Although we have a ways to go before November, I wanted to take a brief moment to address the recent allegations that GOP Presidential candidate, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO and Haagan-Daz Chocolate Walnut Flavor Herman Cain has found himself answering for as of late.

The fact that multiple women have come forward accusing Cain of sexual harassment is not surprising. Nor is his blubbering, tangled [and sadly predictable] denials. What intrigues me more than anything is our obsession with politicians’ sex lives, scandals and extracurricular activities rather than with their ability to function as leaders. While in the US, the word “character” keeps getting thrown around as a term used to deem one’s appropriateness to hold/not hold office, in many (and most) other places in the world, it really doesn’t take precedence over one’s ability to function as a leader. And in most other Western as well as Eastern nations, men are generally assumed – whether correctly so or not – to have these “happenings” going on anyway. The discussion, therefore, about the subject is usually shelved right from the get-go; allowing us all to just get down to business.

Before I come off as heartlessly dismissive of the merit of these weighty allegations, let me be clear: I do not agree with any of this kind of misconduct by anyone, politician or garbage collector, teacher or pastor, dentist or WalMart greeter. It’s never ok to treat anyone with any less respect than you’d want for yourself or for your loved ones. What I’m focusing on here is the harnessing of these “character flaws” as blatant distractions from the real issues – and from the actually relevant discussion of how this person can serve the greater good of the people who would elect him/her as their legislator. Period.

After witnessing the latest round of Republican debates – or as I like to call them, after-school specials – I noticed the incessant “boos” at any line of questioning that addressed Cain’s alleged indiscretions. These audience outbursts were followed by a solid round of applause after Chocolate Walnut’s obvious dodging attempts. It became abundantly clear how far off our pulse is on the importance of what actually constitutes a candidate’s merit for holding public office. The mentality isn’t, is this person able to address our concerns, propose valid, thoughtful plans to reach workable [and realistic] resolutions and otherwise serve to defend the greater well-being of the people. Rather, it’s all about what the latest post is on their Facebook page. I mean, come on; our society deserves better than to be constantly and systematically distracted from the real matters at hand – and both Dems and Reps are wholly guilty of it. Even in the Middle East and Asia, where very strong arguments can be made for the existence of historically corrupt governments [oftentimes not running in any sort of ideally ethical way] the personal lives of the candidates for positions within those governments are almost never brought into question. And for good reason: They.Just.Don’t.Matter.

Cain is incompetent. He does not have the cognitive capacity to run the faucet, let alone America. He has no business whatsoever being on stage debating [and I use that word loosely] about a government he doesn’t have a chance in all hell to ever run. But the judgment of his worth as a legislator should be solely based on his professional resumé, his ability to troubleshoot complex problems efficiently and thoughtfully, his comprehension of our governmental systems and their intricacies, and his past related experience. No personal issues – religion, marital status, iPod playlist, boxers or briefs, sexual history, sexual preference, or even professed misconduct should be part of the dialogue for what one can do as a leader.

Allow me to be even more transparent [and I’m talking Windex-kind-of-clean here]: If questionable activities like money laundering, misuse of campaign funds or extortion are part of allegations against a candidate, then by all means these issues are crucial components that should be instantly investigated and scrutinized. These kinds of points are what truly make up the “character” of a potential job-applicant for one of our most treasured places in society: that of a leader.

I’ve never really considered myself a feminist, in the traditional sense. I believe in equal rights across all spectra: gender, race, religion, hair type, skin tone, you name it. But I’d also like to think I live in a time [and place for that matter] where being a woman doesn’t translate into a constant struggle for that equality. But alas, (that word isn’t used enough – it’s got a dramatic yet poignant effect), we simply do not live under the utopian conditions that most of us naively assumed the 21st century was to deliver. Hell, I’m still waiting for my electro-laced pair of Nike’s and hover-converted DeLorean.

In a rather revealing Newsweek article published last month, the best – and worst – places to be a woman were outlined; where a rather thorough compilation of data was collected that spanned from how well women were treated within their justice systems to their participation in government. Five major factors were used when categorizing which countries in the world were optimal for women’s prosperity, and which were lacking: Justice, Health, Education, Economics and Politics. Each of these factors were graded on a scale of 1-100, and were evaluated  according to how well women fared when it came to these basic fundamental issues. Not surprising, primarily Westernized, progressive nations made it in the Top 20 where overall scores ranged from 100-85.

What was surprising, however, was The United States’ ranking: 8th overall in the world – something that most Americans might very well scoff at in disbelief. After all, this is the nation where the invention of the phrase “stay-at-home-dad” is considered a benchmark for judging how far the working mom has truly risen the corporate ladder. Sigh.

On the forefront of women’s prosperity in the international community with an outstanding overall rating of 100, was actually just a little fellow: Iceland. Piloted by a female president, this tiny nation leads all others in women’s rights, health, education, financial well-being and political clout. The US’s score is a good deal lower: 89.8 overall. Ouch. Our poorest grade was in women’s participation in government; arguably the foundation for which any improvement – and success – can be given a chance to be implemented into society.

As Kofi Annan, Former UN Secretary-General once said, “There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.” So it seems that without this incorporation and participation of 50% of the world’s population, any growth – economic, societal or otherwise – is bound to be stunted.

I began to then take a look into where the worst places to be a woman were and again, sadly I wasn’t too surprised by what I found: the poorest, most democratically lacking countries took the top ranks. Chad climbed to the No. 1 podium position with an overall score of 0. Yes, you read that correctly. Zero. Health and education were rated as non-existent, as women have basically no legal rights. And this wasn’t the only place with remarkably dismal scores. Countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Sudan where honor killings and arranged marriages are not only legal, but oftentimes condoned by the male-dominated governments filled the top 10 spots. At least they’re winning at something.

It seemed like the more I read about this, the more frustrating it was to realize that the underlying reasoning behind much of the world’s difficulties was the lack of vital, unobstructed female participation in absolutely every aspect of life: from active roles in passing legislation to the incorporation of women in the labor force as equal contenders for jobs, salaries, and the ability to climb the industry ladder. Without establishing the root for which fundamental change may have a chance to grow, no hope can be realistically garnered for any sort of development for women’s rights – in this country or any other.

We [The US] like to think we have it made over so many other places and admittedly, we certainly do have a lot to be proud of. There are private and governmental programs in place that support female-owned businesses, more women with college degrees than almost all other nations, and increased advancements in early breast cancer detection with new 3-D mammogram technology. But the US is still lacking severely in reproductive-health services, maternity-leave policies and the number of women holding political office (thanks Hillary, but we’re going to need a whole lot more assertive pant-suits to counteract the Sarah Palins/Michelle Bachmans that have effectively set back our gender another 30 years).

Still, women in other countries, mostly in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, have it a lot worse. While Egypt didn’t make the top 20 for worst places to live as a female, it certainly didn’t make any where near the top 20 best places either. With its growing political uncertainly – also echoed by many other Arab countries now in critical civil turmoil – there’s no telling where the future of women’s lib is heading. If Sharia law becomes incorporated more stringently into the daily lives of Egyptian citizens, (or any other Arab/Islamic country) this could substantially thwart any progress for women to make their mark in the growth of developing countries. As much as the US would like to believe that Egypt is the Mid-East pillar for democracy, its immensely flawed model obviously revealed an intensely corrupted system as evidenced by the ousted former President Mubarak. Amidst the already mighty reign of men in this and other Arab/Islamic societies, women oftentimes struggle to survive, let alone be heard – or even better: be participant.

Some people would argue that there are many things being done to promote the empowerment of women in business via microfinance programs: lending services that assist natives of impoverished countries. These programs claim to empower indigenous workers to grow their businesses usually based on the capitalist model, and many times use a particular emphasis on aiding women as their common-place tagline. Nevertheless, the impact that these programs have on women – or whole communities in general – have not been accurately measured, and therefore no concrete conclusions can be drawn regarding their effectiveness. It can be assumed however, that if women’s presence is not established in the governmental strata for which these programs are even permitted to be employed, any help derived from them would therefore have no fighting chance to exist.

This may sound bleak. And it is. Understanding where we are as a country, (and where everyone else is), is key in grasping how far we still have to go in the pursuit of women’s equality. But the answer is unquestionably clear: the establishment of women in government is the first and most critical step in moving forward toward progress in absolutely every way. While it is still very much a ‘boy’s club’, for any sort of international evolution to take place the female population must construct an assertive voice at the very base of our society – not just for the well-being of the gender, but for the overall advancement of our civilization.

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