Jailed journalists

20144622167186734_20Late last year, three journalists working for Al Jazeera in Cairo were arrested and charged with terrorism and smearing Egypt’s reputation. The three men – Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy, and Baher Mohamed – are still in jail. They are not alone: according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 2013 was the second worst year on record for journalists imprisoned. I co-wrote an article for Al Jazeera, marking World Press Freedom Day, looking at cases of journalists – across the world – jailed for doing their jobs.

“Imprisonment can be through the explicit criminalisation of free speech – through, for instance, defamation laws – or through other charges like spying or drug trafficking,” explains Melody Patry, advocacy officer at Index on Censorship.

One allegation used frequently by authoritarian regimes seeking to silence critical news coverage is that such reports are “anti-state”. Of the 211 imprisoned journalists logged by CPJ, 124 were held for “subversion and terrorism” – many more than for charges such as defamation or libel. In 45 cases, no charges were disclosed at all.

You can read the full article over at Al Jazeera.

The Muslim Brotherhood in London

20144513358199734_20Last week, Downing Street announced that it would hold an investigation into the operations of the Muslim Brotherhood in London. The inquiry aims to establish whether the Brotherhood is a threat to British national security. Given that the organisation is the biggest political force in the Middle East; that it was, until recently, in power in Egypt; and that its affiliates remain in power in many different countries in the region, the suggestion that it is involved with violent extremism in the UK has been controversial. I wrote a piece for Al Jazeera, unpicking the possible reasons for the inquiry.

When it comes to any hint of violence, the UK is taking no chances. “The British don’t want to make the same mistakes they did in the 1990s, when Britain was accused of becoming a theatre for militant Islamists,” says Gerges. “The British government is not, as it has said, up-to-date on the Brotherhood in the aftermath of the Arab uprisings. They want to understand.”

A UK government spokesperson said it was “possible, but unlikely” that Britain would follow its allies in Saudi Arabia and the UAE in classifying the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation.

Yet many analysts have balked at the inquiry’s suggestion that the group poses a threat to British national security. “This is a communitarian, religious, conservative movement that focuses on politics and social mobilisation as the basic tools of its actions,” says Gerges. “Even if some individual members of the Brotherhood have engaged in violent activities, I don’t think this reflects the strategy or worldview of the organisation.”

The full piece is over at Al Jazeera’s website.

Arab women’s double revolution

Mona Eltahawy, the Egyptian-American writer and activist, emerged as one of the most prominent voices of the Arab Spring. In 2011 she was attacked by riot police in Cairo. They broke her hands and sexually assaulted her. When she spoke out about the attack, it made global headlines. Since then, she has continued her advocacy for Arab women, arguing that as well as the political revolution toppling dictators, a sexual and social revolution is required.

On Monday 2 December I appeared “in conversation” with Mona, at an event hosted by the Council for Arab-British Understanding (Caabu). There are several videos of the event over at Caabu’s website. Here’s the first video:

Writing and speaking

Members of the Free Syrian Army.
Members of the Free Syrian Army.

I’ve had a really busy few weeks back in the UK, so thought I would share a few links to some of my recent work.

New Statesman

Why are we still relying on decades-old stereotypes when we talk about the Middle East?

This blog looks at the stereotype of the “angry Arab”, arguing that such media narratives matter because they shape the way the world understands events.

Ending child marriage

On 30 September, I took part in a New Statesman/World Vision fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester. It was an interesting panel discussion, at the Town Hall, and I’ll post audio when it’s available.

New Humanist

I’ve recently started blogging regularly for the New Humanist, which is the magazine of the Rationalist Association (and hosted at their website).

Britain’s fear of being seen as a soft-touch has led to inhumane asylum policies

This post, written after my trip to the Tory conference in Manchester, looks at Theresa May’s new immigration bill.

Pakistan bombings are an attack on everyday life

After the fourth bombing in Peshawar in just a few weeks, I wrote a piece about Peshawar, the targeting of polio vaccinators, and the aims of terrorist violence.

Middle East Monitor

I blog regularly for MEMO, but here are a couple of longer pieces I’ve written recently.

What is there in common between General Musharraf and General al-Sisi?

This piece compares the 2013 Egyptian coup and the 1999 Pakistani coup.

“In a sense, the continuation of the Palestinian Authority has itself become an obstacle”

I interviewed Alvaro de Soto, the former UN special envoy to the Middle East whose leaked “end of mission” report in 2007 caused a stir.

Egypt and Pakistan

Tanks on the street in Egypt.
Tanks on the street in Egypt.

On 3 July, Egypt’s first democratically elected president in six decades, Mohamed Morsi, was ousted in a military coup. One country that has had no shortage of military coups is Pakistan, which recently celebrated its first ever democratic transition from one civilian government to another. I wrote a piece for the August issue of Prospect magazine comparing the two countries and exploring what Egypt could learn from Pakistan.

The piece is online here (behind a paywall), and here it is as it appeared in the magazine:

prospect egypt army cutting

I also wrote several blogs on the situation in Egypt for Middle East Monitor, notably here, here, and here.

Sex and morality

Activists in India protest after three ministers in Karnataka were caught watching porn, February 2012.

Some links to last week’s scribblings. On Monday, I wrote about the Shafilea Ahmed case and whether it is time to reconsider the term “honour killings”. To an extent, it is a useful shorthand, but on the flipside, there could be something exonerating in the phrase: after all, murder is murder and there is no need for it to be a cultural issue. You can read the piece over at the New Statesman.

At the other end of the spectrum, I wrote (also for the New Statesman) about the porn industry in India and how the internet is bringing it into the mainstream. It also looks at how homegrown porn stars, a relatively new phenomenon for India, negotiate that shame culture and the dishonour that goes with being open about sexuality.

Elsewhere (and on a completely different note), I wrote a couple of blogs for Middle East Monitor. The first discussed the attack on border guards in Sinai and the effect that might have on Gaza. The other looked at how Riyadh and Tehran are vying for the loyalty of new Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi.