Euphrates Spotlight

Under the Surface: Yemen Inside Out

by admin on April 10, 2014

Euphrates WC YemenSana’a, Yemen. Photo credit: Rooj Alwazir

“We are Yemeni women and men and we are capable, strong, proud human beings, and we need to be represented, by ourselves, as such. We come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. We have stories and histories.” -Yemen Inside Out

What comes to your mind when you hear the word “Yemen”? If the news is any indicator, you might think of Al Qaeda havens, drone strikes, tribal warfare, and poverty. Yemen is the Arab world’s poorest country, and consistently finds itself in the lowest global rankings in terms of corruption, human rights, and economic development. But like every society, there is much more to this Gulf nation of 24 million than what you see on the surface. Last month, young Yemeni activists set out to prove just that by launching Yemen Inside Out, a photography project aimed at breaking outside conceptions of Yemen and revealing the true nature of the country’s youth, hopes, and dreams.

The open-air exhibition was completed in early March, with a total of 233 portraits of Yemeni men and women from all walks of life and varying social, economic, and political backgrounds. The portraits are displayed all over the walls and bridges of Yemen’s capital, Sana’a. Asked to express themselves as they pleased, the individuals in the pictures deliver a powerful message. The project’s vision statement says, “Inside Out Yemen is about using the power of photography as a way to create an alternative space in which counter narratives can be told and shared. The Yemeni people who have been forced to live under a narrative of terrorism and hopelessness which has been destroying our families, communities and this land. We are here to say that we are worth so much more than these misrepresentations and misconceptions.”

Baraa Shiban, my friend and former colleague, helped produce Yemen Inside Out—his face is among those now illuminating Sana’a's walls. He was involved in the 2011 Yemeni Revolution, playing a significant role in peaceful demonstrations against longtime dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh and running a media center in Sana’a's Change Square. A longtime activist for political change, Baraa is now the Yemen Project Coordinator at London-based NGO Reprieve and is a youth representative in Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference. Thanks to Baraa, I was able to interview his colleague, Rooj Alwazir, a Yemeni-American activist who helped lead this campaign and who pioneered the hastag #SupportYemen. #SupportYemen is now an independent collective of filmmakers, web designers, and bloggers who work to document the struggles of a country in transition. Here, Rooj talks about her activism, the inspiration for Yemen Inside Out, and her hopes for Yemen’s future.

How long have you been working as an activist for change in Yemen? 

I’d like to say I’ve been an activist ever since I can remember, but I really began organizing right after the Iraq war. In Yemen, it was recent because I was born and raised in the U.S. and only moved to Yemen about a year ago. I had, however, been doing some solidarity organizing during the Yemen youth revolution in Washington D.C.

Who came up with Yemen Inside Out, and where did the support come from?

A group of us activists and artists came together and asked ourselves what was an issue we all cared deeply about that we felt didn’t get any or enough recognition. The answer was simple: “the U.S. Drone war” and “Yemeni misrepresentation”, so we decided what better way to show who we are as people and what we stood for than through portraits. Each of us have beautiful stories to share. Each one of us are different and unique in our passions, hobbies, emotions, etc. And with a country with so little we felt we had to show how amazingly optimistic, joyful and generous we still were despite all of that. What is especially beautiful about this project was that it wasn’t just important for the community to support us after the project, but that they were central to the whole process to begin with.

How did you decide who would be photographed?

We organized three events and invited people in schools, coffee shops, parks, and via Facebook. Then we just took to the streets and started asking people if they wanted to be photographed. Most of the time people just came up to us once they saw our big backdrop.

What has been the reception toward the portraits inside Yemen?

Lots of love, support and interest. The reaction was amazing and it also fuelled dialogue about the role of art in “politics”.

What are some positive developments happening in Yemen right now that you would like people in other countries to know about?

Families of drone victims have formed a union to stand up against this illegal and unjust drone war and to share their stories. The Yemeni Parliament and National Dialogue have also criminalized airstrikes.

What are your hopes for Yemen’s future, and what do you think must be done by Yemenis to achieve this?

I hope that Yemen will move beyond power struggles and towards a practice of collective liberation.  What we need to do is organize in our communities.

What do you think must be done by the international community to help Yemen achieve its goals?

Solidarity, not charity.

The Inside Out project has taken off in a number of countries around the globe, where people are transforming messages of personal identity into art. Thousands more portraits have been unveiled in the US, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Germany, Taiwan, France, New Zealand, Mexico, and beyond, raising awareness for issues like identity, freedom of expression, LGBT rights, HIV/AIDS, political unity, and more. Check out the Inside Out Project Yemen on Facebook and follow Rooj and Baraa on Twitter for more news on positive activism in Yemen.

“We are not terrorism or hopelessness. We are dreamers.”


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Euphrates Announces T.H. Culhane Visionary of the Year 2014!

by admin on March 29, 2014

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Euphrates is honored to announce Dr. Thomas Taha Rassam Culhane, aka “T.H.” Euphrates Institute ‘Visionary of the Year’ for 2014 and Keynote Speaker at Principia’s 65th Annual Public Affairs Conference.

Never before has the world been more inter-connected and interdependent, where climate change, financial markets, and terrorism transcend national boundaries and affect each member of the human family. This year, in line with our motto to “inform, inspire, transform,” the Euphrates Institute Board of Directors is highlighting the groundbreaking solutions to the global challenge of environmental sustainability pioneered by Dr. T.H. Culhane, who is bringing practical sustainable solutions to some of the world’s poorest urban areas, especially the Middle East.

National Geographic Explorer, T.H. Culhane has traveled the world transforming lives and our planet. Dr. Culhane has taken his skills of invention and ingenuity to bring sustainable energy projects, such as solar water heaters and biogas digesters, to the poorest of the poor in the Middle East, other developing countries, and to those right here at home, enabling them to repurpose natural resources and waste to power their basic needs.

Euphrates first encountered T.H. abroad in Israel and Palestine, where he was working with Bedouin communities to install biogas digesters to use their animal waste and food scraps to generate cooking fuel, and also presenting his work on solar projects to the renowned Arava Institute in Israel. He’s also worked in the favelas in Brazil, the jungles of Borneo and many other places!  A featured speaker at the Euphrates Summit in 2011, T.H. wowed participants with his ingenuity and passion.

Working with residents of Cairo’s poorest neighborhoods to install rooftop solar water heaters through his nongovernmental organization, Solar C.³I.T.I.E.S., T.H. describes the process: “The water heaters generate 200 liters of hot water and 200 liters of cold water for each household every day. And since the technology is completely CO2 free, it contributes nothing to global warming. If people don’t have access to enough water, it becomes a serious health issue. And when women spend all their time tending stoves to heat water, how can they go to school or get ahead?”

Culhane stresses time and again that living sustainably is practical and possible in a world where sustainable solutions often seem relegated to those who can afford to care about the environment. “We’re not being idealistic; we’re out to provide solutions. Solar energy plays a principal role in our work because it makes practical, perfect sense.”

Culhane continues, ‘We realize the value of collective intelligence. These neighborhoods are filled with welders, plumbers, carpenters, and glassworkers. We bring capital and plans; they bring talent and creativity. We build these systems together from scratch.”

With the same spirit of collective directed intention, Culhane and Solar C.³I.T.I.E.S plans to design and gift a biogas digester for Principia College. One of his recent biodigester builds took place in Hartsdale NY alongside an international team of innovators. Watch a video of T.H. introducing the biogas digester project.

A quote from Culhane in USA Today sums up his philosophy beautifully: “We feel that biogas is appropriate for everybody on the planet. We’ve done systems in Alaska, we’ve done systems in Botswana, I have one on my porch in Germany. My wife and I cook every day on yesterday’s kitchen garbage.’ 

Learn more:

Euphrates Visionary of the Year award
T.H. Culhane – National Geographic explorer
Biogas digesters: how do they work?


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Palestine: Poems of Resistance

by admin on March 16, 2014

WC_Palestine poems landscapeHashimye landscape, Palestine. Panoramio.com

This week, in solidarity with the ever-growing number of people across the world standing up to oppression and disenfranchisement, we’re spotlighting the stunning writing of Samah Sabawi, a Palestinian-Australian poet and activist whose work focuses on resistance in the Palestinian Territories. Based in Canada, Sabawi advocates reconciliation and dialogue between opposing parties, and through her writing, draws attention to the universal themes of injustice, dignity, and freedom. She writes:

To the people of Israel who fear our freedom: Don’t be afraid, we will liberate you too.
This is my rendition
Of an anthem to be sung
That day you and I
Will stand side by side
Shoulder to shoulder
Watching a new dawn
Wipe away
Decades of hate and savagery
The day I rise
From the ruins of your oppression
I promise you I will not rise alone
You too will rise with me
You will be liberated
From your tyranny
And my freedom
Will bring your salvation.

Sabawi’s goal is not to demonize or divide; rather, she aims to overcome divisions by uncovering common human bonds. From Palestine to Syria, from Ukraine to Venezuela, from Thailand to the Persian Gulf, Sawabi’s words resonate for all those who have lived under oppression and who have the courage to defy it. We hope to shine a light on the human element of what you see on the news and amplify these voices of progress and peace.

I am more than demography
I’m neither your collaborator
Nor your enemy
I am not your moderate
Not your terrorist
Not your fundamentalist
Islamist
Extremist
Militant
Radical
I am more than adjectives
Letters and syllables
I will construct my own language
And will defeat your words of power
With the power of my words.


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Les Dunes Electroniques – Celebrating Music in Tunisia’s Desert

by admin on March 1, 2014

WC_dunes electroniquesPhoto Credit: Facebook: Les Dunes Electroniques

Last weekend, several hundred young music lovers made their way to Tunisia’s southern desert to attend Les Dunes Electroniques, the first electronic music festival ever held in Tunisia. Featuring a range of European and Tunisian DJs, the festival was held between the desert towns of Nabeul and Tozeur, near the set of 2003′s Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. The erstwhile movie set has been meticulously preserved thanks to the dry Saharan desert conditions, and helps bring a growing number of tourists to Tunisia’s south, widely seen as less economically developed than its north and east coasts. Now, the region may be seeing a new form of tourism to boost its economy, foster artistic innovation, and project an image of Tunisia that much of its youth hopes to promote to the world.

“In Tunisia, the music scene is growing. We can feel free to express ourselves and our love for music however we want at Dunes Electroniques. We want people to know this side of Tunisia.” Leila, a student from Tunis, showed me photos of the event–a concert venue decked out in Star Wars decor packed with young people from all over Tunisia and beyond laughing and lounging in the sun. The weekend also hosted visitors from Europe and even the US. Yours truly was not able to attend as I had too much Arabic studying to do, but through hearing the stories of those who went, I can tell you I was extremely jealous!

From talking to several people who traveled south for Les Dunes Electroniques, it is clear the international festival was a success, both technically and symbolically. Tunisians described to me the feeling of harmony as hundreds of people gathered solely to have a good time and share something they all enjoyed. Commentators have even called it the “Tunisian Woodstock.” Events like this are helping put Tunisia on the music map, and helping attract more investment in the country’s desert south. But perhaps more than that, they are an expression of individualism and a manifestation of the will of young Tunisians to foster their personal and artistic freedom. Achraf, from the Tunisian city of Jendouba, told me, “In many other Muslim countries, you could not have festivals like this. In Tunisia we are fortunate because we have this freedom. Yes, there are problems in our country, but this freedom is essential for us.”

Actually first developed in the 1940s and 50s, electronic music is simply percussive music composed using electronic musical instruments and technology. Broadly referred to as EDM, electronic dance music has taken off in the US, Europe, and around the world. That it has drawn so much positive attention in Tunisia gives us yet another picture of how similar us mellenials are, regardless of nationality or language spoken.

DJs included French and Tunisian EDM artists, many of whom are just making their big breaks–check out the lineup here! The DJs mixed contemporary tracks with traditional Tunisian music, offering listeners a ridiculously cool blend of new and old to perfectly match the Sahara-meets-science-fiction setting. The finale number gave homage to the venue and the festival’s theme, blasting the Star Wars soundtrack as visitors soaked up the last rays of the desert sun and the stunning views around them. Thanks to the weekend’s success, two more festivals are planned within the next year–Electronic Waves is set to be held at the start of the summer, and is projected to be even bigger and better than this one.

Browse more news and photos from the festival on the Dunes Electroniques facebook page, and get a feel for the weekend’s vibe in this awesome youtube video showcasing highlights from the event.

“I can’t wait for the next festival”, Yasemin, from Tunis, told me. “I hope the festival scene in Tunisia grows–it will help our tourism industry and show people around the world how much Tunisia has to offer.”


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The Middle East at the Winter Olympics!

by admin on February 16, 2014

Euphrates WC Olympics_1Three-time Olympian Chirine Njeim became Lebanon’s first Winter Games competitor in 2002. Of her success, she said, “I feel like the Jamaican bobsled team!” Photo: Al Bawaba

As the world tunes in to watch the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, we are taking a look at the athletes from slightly warmer parts of the globe and showing you why they’re awesome. If you’ve been reading the news lately, you know that this year’s Olympic Games has its fair share of political baggage. So to give you a break from that, we’re getting to know the exceptionally few athletes who have made it this far, especially from countries where winter sports aren’t exactly mainstream or easy to practice. Competing in a variety of events, teams Iran, Lebanon, Morocco, Israel, and Turkey deserve the world’s full admiration and attention for their incredible achievements.

MOROCCO

Morocco’s two young Olympians–both Alpine skiiers–are only 18, but already have a very impressive track record. Dual Canadian-Moroccan national Adam Lamhamedi achieved gold in the 2012 Winter Youth Olympics, the first gold medal ever won by an African nation at a Winter Olympics event. He said, “I wanted to prove that Moroccans can ski well, and I proved it.” Boston-born Kenza Tazi began skiing when she was three, and hopes to one day study at Cambridge University in England and become a researcher. Her motto is this: Hard work pays off. Case in point!

IRAN

Team Iran will be feilding five competitors–three men and two women–in alpine and cross-country skiing. Iran’s youngest Winter Olymian, Forough Abbasi, is just 20 years old and has competed in five national championships for alpine skiiing. When it’s not the winter season, she is a competitive cyclist and works for the Cycling Federation of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Twenty-four year old alpine skiier Mohammad Kiyadarbandsari achieved Iran’s first Asian Winter Games medal in history during the 2011 Winter Olympics in Kazakhstan. All of Iran’s athletes began skiing in their counrty’s mountains between the ages of three and seven, and they give thanks to their parents’ support and teaching for having inspired them.

LEBANON

Beyond stunning beaches and amazing food, Lebanon also has incredible mountains, which helps explain why the small Mediterranean country has been a participant in every Winter Olympic Games since 1948. Eighteen-year old Alexandre Mohbat is a student in Beirut while he’s not training, and has impressively managed to fund his training himself, without sponsors. Twenty-two year old Jackie Chamoun, who also raced in Vancouver’s 2010 games, has been alpine skiing since she she was three. She is currently facing controversy over racy calendar photos taken a few years back, but does not regret her decision, calling on critics to focus on her athletic achievements instead. She hopes to make skiing more popular in Lebanon as a sports ambassador: “In the future, I would like to have plans for sports in Lebanon and for skiing, and to try to put in place facilities to encourage young people and to have the funds to influence authorities to invest themselves in the sport. We can do a lot to improve this.”

ISRAEL

Team Israel is being represented by five athletes in three different sports–figure skating, speed skating, and alpine skiing. American-Israeli figure skater Andrea Davidovich grew up in Vermont and has been training in New Jersey–she and her skating partner Evgeni Krasnopolski placed 7th in the European Championships earlier this year. Ukraine-born Vladislav Bykanov began skating in Israel at age 8 after he moved there, and has finished in the top 10 in multiple categories at the European Championships since 2011. His words to live by? “Never back down.”

TURKEY

Turkey’s six athletes will be competing in figure skating, alpine racing and cross-country skiing. Thirty-one year old cross-country skiier Kelime Cetinkaya is a seasoned Olympian–she became Turkey’s first female Winter Olympian when she made it to the Salt Lake City Winter Games in 2002. Alper Uçar and Alisa Agafonova are the country’s first Olympic figure skating pair–of his partner, Alper said, “”She is a really beautiful, talented partner. She is my photograph and I am the frame. I hold her like a frame and we like to make pictures on the ice for the audience.” Turkey has competed in 15 Winter Games but has yet to win an Olympic medal–maybe this year they’ll change that!

Whichever team you support, there is no denying the resilience and hard work of all of this year’s Olympians. The tenacious athletes from all over the Middle East have been making history for their countries and are inspiring young people around the region and the world to follow their dreams, no matter how challenging. Politics aside, they can all unite over their dedication and passion for their sports. Best of luck to them, and cheers to the Games!


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From Nashville to Beirut: Everitte Barbee, Arabic Calligrapher

by admin on January 31, 2014

Everitte American Flag 2

Everitte Barbee, 2013. The American Flag is depicted using only the symbols and characters from the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance written in the Diwani Jali script.

“If you read the Qur’an in its entirety, you’ll see that everything in it has a specific context. The idea was to encourage people to read the Qur’an and take a look at it for themselves. If I could make something the most beautiful that I can make it as a non-Muslim, as an American, maybe people will see that and think, “Okay, why has a kid from Tennessee decided to write the whole Qur’an? Maybe I should read it, maybe I shouldn’t hate or fear these people.”

Born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, calligraphy artist Everitte Barbee has been living and working in Lebanon’s capital since he finished college nearly three years ago. A former Arabic and international business major at the University of Edinburgh, Everitte began studying calligraphy during a semester abroad in Syria in 2009. Nearly five years later, his work has been exhibited in museums, embassies, and international festivals on three different continents. Euphrates was lucky enough to get an interview with Everitte–take a minute to browse some of his incredible artwork here!

What inspired you to study Arabic in the first place?

I became interested in Arabic after traveling in Northern India when I was seventeen. I was amazed at how welcoming and accepting the Muslims there were of Americans. People I met told me that while they had a problem with the American government, they loved the American people. I was really impressed and moved, and decided I wanted to learn more about the Muslim world and try to change the way America is perceived there.

How did you become involved with calligraphy?

Studying Arabic in college sent me to Damascus in 2009, where I studied calligraphy on Qamariyya Street under the master calligrapher Adnan Farid. I actually joined the classes because I liked a girl from my Arabic course who was taking them, and I wanted an excuse to hang out with her. I ended up loving calligraphy–I found it very relaxing, almost therapeutic.

I never thought I’d make a living as an artist–I hadn’t had formal art classes since high school. But as I got better, I put a few pieces online, they began selling, and things just snowballed from there. Most of my sales are actually to the US, Europe, and the Gulf, while the majority of my exhibitions are in Lebanon.”

Your work covers a number of themes, from pop culture to politics, and poetry to religion. Could you tell us about what inspired these themes and what they mean to you?

Pop culture

In all my work, I aim to celebrate the Middle East by taking a positive or lesser known view of the region. Some of the more Western pop culture references in my work don’t necessarily pertain to the Middle East, but the reasoning behind it is this–I feel that Arabic calligraphy is the pinnacle of human writing, the highest form of writing that man has created so far. It is one of the greatest exports of the Islamic world. And the pinnacle of modern entertainment, it is hard to argue, would be the American film industry.

So I paired these two pinnacles of global culture–the most sophisticated form of writing and the most sophisticated form of film culture–in the Pulp Fiction piece and the Star Wars piece. The movies were personal choices, and seem like a contradiction but in fact are both hugely popular in the Middle East–it might not occur to an American that some kid in Lebanon is a big Star Wars fan. And when a Tarantino movie comes out here in Lebanon, all the theaters are packed. For me, it just goes to show how similar we all are.

Politics

My map of Syria is just a red surface with a blank center in the shape of Syria that says, “We talk, we discuss” in Arabic repeated hundreds of times throughout the piece. It embodied the conflict to me–everyone is just talking about Syria, while the Syrians are the ones suffering.

The Afghanistan and Iraq map paintings were commissioned by the IVAW–Iraqi Veterans Against the War–and the text within the piece is the names of cities and places in each country like Baghdad, Al Basra and Erbil, and Jabrael, Rakwa, and Bilcheragh. Many of the prints went toward fundraising for the IVAW. My other political pieces generally focus on the themes of freedom and resistance.

American Identity

The text in the American flag piece is the Pledge of Allegiance. The piece deals with American identity really–who is an American? America is made up of every nationality in the world. So for me, writing the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic in the form of an American flag was one of the most American things I could do. It looks like a contradiction, but is not at all when you really think about it.

Religion

I base a lot of my work on Qur’anic scripture because it is, after all, the source of Arabic calligraphy. Calligraphy’s purpose is to express the Qur’an’s words. In my opinion, the Qur’an is the most beautiful book ever written–if you listen to it, the sound is just perfect. And people don’t often talk about the physical proportions of the writing–it’s really phenomenal. Whenever I write something from the Qur’an, the words just fit together like a puzzle. No matter what angle you study the Qur’an from, it has these bizarre perfections which I would never have expected. The pattern of the letters always balances out–it is visually stunning as well as audibly stunning.

When choosing images for my pieces, I do prior research by consulting other Islamic artists and calligraphers as well as sheikhs and imams (often they overlap) to ensure that the image is Islamically sound. I wouldn’t consider myself Muslim, but I think the Qur’an is an incredible book and I would encourage other people to read it.

Could you tell us a bit about the science of calligraphy itself?

Calligraphy has been around for 1400 years, and the expertise is passed down from master to apprentice to perfect the scripts. A lot of geometry and algebra is involved to make sure the space, weight, and shading of each letter makes the image look proportioned and balanced. Calligrapher’s ink is traditionally made from the ash that collects above kerosene lanterns in the mosque. While it’s manufactured now, I try to make as much of my own materials as I can. I think it’s important to know how a calligrapher 1000 years ago would have worked.

I was recently invited to the International Calligraphy Festival in Algeria, where I was the only non-Muslim calligrapher. My work was generally well received and I got a lot of support and advice from some of the best calligraphers in the world.

You are currently working on a project called “The Qur’an for Solidarity”. Could you tell us what that is, and where your inspiration came from?

There are 114 surahs in the Qur’an, and I aim to create one abstract image from each surah. The inspiration for the Qur’an for Solidarity project came after I read the Qur’an. Calligraphy owes its very existence to the Qur’an, so I decided I wanted to write the Qur’an in calligraphy, surah by surah, in its entirety.

So far 41 of the surahs have been completed, with help from sponsors–I am inviting families and individuals to sponsor surahs of their choice. Ideally, I hope to have sponsors from a wide variety of faiths and ancestry in a display of solidarity against Islamophobia and general religious and racial intolerance.

I aim to donate a bound final book to Park 51 in New York and to the Islamic Center of Murfeesboro, Tennessee, near my hometown, which has been victim to recent racial vandalism. So far I have received sponsorship from people in Pakistan, Palestine, Maryland, Tennessee, North Carolina, and the United Kingdom, from Muslim, Christian and secular backgrounds.

How much time goes into each calligraphy painting?

The shortest surahs may take a few days to complete, but longer surahs, like Surah 36, Al-Yaseen, has 8,000 words and took me 6 weeks to complete the final draft. That’s six weeks where I can’t make a mistake–otherwise I have to start over.

What other upcoming projects can we look forward to?

Another ongoing project I’m working on is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, painting one image for each article of the UNDP on large canvasses. The goal is to highlight the importance of this document and its potential to give America legitimacy in the world. If my work makes people think of human rights and the necessity of following this document, that right there is a goal in and of itself. The UN in Lebanon has been incredibly supportive, and has offered me space for exhibitions.

Where is home for you?

I love America. I’m still very patriotic, I love going back, I love Nashville. I miss the excessive friendliness, the positivity, the gung-ho nature that Americans have. That being said, Beirut does feel like home and I don’t want to leave–it’s difficult to imagine not living in Beirut. It’s such a nice place to live. But I definitely feel more American than anything else.

I consider myself very patriotic and pro-American–I’m certainly very critical of some aspects of US policies, but at the end of the day, my work is to improve American foreign policy, not to end it. I’d prefer that we take a constructive approach to the Middle East rather than a destructive approach.

How has your life been affected by the recent bombings in Beirut?

The bombings become so morbidly common that they seem less scary. You do see signs of the Syrian war everywhere, though. A quarter of Lebanon’s population now is Syrian refugees. There is definitely tension, but at the same time, Beirut is an incredibly easy place to live. I never feel unsafe here.

Beirut is such a melting pot, really a crossroads between East and West–you’re right in the middle of everything here. That is why I chose to live in Lebanon. It’s a great place to be an artist–there are loads of galleries, and it’s a really culturally charged place, which makes life more interesting.

Everitte has donated much of his work to charity auctions and helped raise money for environmental causes, war veterans, and the Syrian refugee crisis. In March, he will be displaying his work for the Barakat Foundation in Saudi Arabia.

Oh, and the girl from the calligraphy classes in Damascus? Everitte’s plan worked. They’ve now been together for nearly five years, share an apartment in Beirut, and couldn’t be happier.

 

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Free Voices from Tunisia

by admin on January 15, 2014

Euphrates WC Jan 16 TunisBab el Bhar, Tunis. Photo: Natasha Turak

Euphrates Publications Director Natasha Turak is currently based in Tunis, Tunisia. The following interviews have been conducted in either French or Arabic.

Last Tuesday, January 14th, 2014, marked the three-year anniversary of the day mass protests in Tunisia forced out the country’s longstanding dictator, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Tunisia’s pro-democracy revolution was the first in a wave of popular uprisings that, three years on, continue to rock the Arab world. The small North African nation of ten million has successfully avoided the level of bloodshed and violence so prevalent among many of its neighbors, and in fact led the Arab world in democracy rankings for 2013. Tunisia’s 2011 elections were carried out without the help of a dictator, military general, or monarch. Its citizens can now speak freely about things that would have landed them in prison not so long ago.Yet according to many Tunisians, the revolution is far from over.

As I write this, I’m sitting at a cafe near Rue Mohammed Bouazizi, named after the young street vendor who set himself alight in protest of abusive state authority–and in doing so, sparked an international movement. The same year of the revolution’s inception witnessed peaceful elections and the ascent of Ennahda, Tunisia’s moderate Islamist party, to the seat of power. Three years later, Tunisia is generally stable, but the government is criticized for being ineffective and living standards have not improved. As part of a pre-determined transition plan, Ennahda’s leadership stepped down last week to allow for an interim technocratic government to guide upcoming elections and approve the new constitution. On the revolution’s anniversary, I spent the day in central Tunis and talked to local Tunisians about their concerns, their frustrations, and their hopes for the future of a country that has spearheaded one of the most cataclysmic and unpredictable movements in recent history.

Malik, banker, age 42

Euphrates: Is the Tunisian Revolution over?

The revolution is by no means finished–we have not yet realized the objectives of the revolution. The Tunisian people wanted work, they wanted a better quality of life. The beginning was revolutionary, but what followed cannot be classed as a revolution. Ben Ali never paid for his crimes, and the economy has not improved. The real tragedy is that young people sacrificed the most for this movement, and Ennahda did not participate… yet Ennahda are the sole profiters of the revolution.

What are your thoughts on the Ennahda government?

Ennahda are completely incompetent. They know nothing about politics and have no experience in governance. Since the October 2011 elections, unemployment has gone up, crime has gone up, public services have deteriorated. This country was 1000 times better before the revolution.

If Ennahda is so poorly regarded, how did they win the 2011 elections?

There were never real political parties before the revolution–democracy had never been practiced, and all “elections” were just theatrics. We only knew one party and one president. Ennahda is also the biggest and most organized party in Tunisia right now.

What do you believe are the more positive outcomes of the January 2011 uprisings?

We gained freedom of speech, of expression–that is important. Young people were empowered to send mass messages through social media. But how far can these things take us if people cannot afford to eat? Maybe this is a phase of the revolution–but it is not completed yet.

Asma, schoolteacher, age 30

In Tunisia, we are lucky to have had such a relatively peaceful revolution. We had fair elections, and I think our development is a positive example for other countries. But there is still more work to do. Tunisian people must take it upon themselves to elevate their mindset and include everyone in the national dialogue–Muslims, Christians, Jews, and the secular and religious sides.

What are your thoughts on Ennahda?

Ennahda has a lot of problems. I do not support them, but I am thankful that they protected the rights of everyone to practice free expression. I have the right to wear my headscarf as a Muslim woman, but you are not obligated to–that is important. On my street, there is both a synagogue and a Salafist mosque, and a cathedral not far away–they have existed in harmony the whole time. We are free to blog and write about politics. It’s true that Ennahda did not improve the level of employment or infrastructure in Tunisia, but at least we have those rights.

What do you see as necessary for future political and economic success?

Dialogue is the most important thing. I hope the new leadership will reach out to all sides. Investment in public services and job creation is also key–when people feel that they are justly treated and can live well, there will be more stability and more goodwill between the government and the people. Finally, all the other political parties besides Ennahda must become more organized so that we have real options to choose from and there will be better representation.

Nasrin, history student, age 25

I was there in January 2011–I was in the street, protesting with my fellow Tunisians. The removal of Ben Ali was euphoric, but then the reality set in. This was the easy part, to agree on what we didn’t want. Now we must agree on what we do want for the country, and that is the hard part. I saw my friends in danger for this country, and now I have to say, regrettably, that things were better before the revolution.

How was life better before the revolution?

Of course, we did not have freedom of speech before–but we had other freedoms. Freedom from religious oppression. The goals of the revolution have nothing to do with the goals of the Islamists who took power after it. An Islamist government is the opposite of progress. I no longer feel safe wearing what I want–I feel pressured to cover up. There is trash everywhere in the streets, basic services are less reliable, people are hungry for work and they find nothing.

What do you see for Tunisia’s political and economic future?

I see many years of work ahead. Liberal parties need to become better organized so they can effectively pursue the objectives of the revolution. I worry for the rights of women–we have to keep voicing our rights every day. And I hope the new government will be competent in implementing economic policies that help the country grow, unlike Ennahda. Otherwise, the country will continue to deteriorate.

Western countries always talk about the “Arab Spring”–you know there is no term for this in Arabic? It is not an accurate term–”spring” implies that everything is easy and nice. Well, this is messy and complicated. Western media acts so shocked and disappointed when we don’t have a perfect democracy right away. Well, we have a very different history and a different culture. We never knew democracy before. So remember that before you judge us.

Hosni, Arabic teacher, age 36

Do you think life has improved since the revolution?

Absolutely. Yes, the economy is not doing so well, but dignity is the most important thing–that is why the revolution began. Give me freedom and dignity before you give me food. Since the revolution, we have achieved and safeguarded human rights we never had before. The elections were fair and peaceful, and now the government transitions are peaceful. I think my fellow citizens are capable of coming together to do what is best for the future of Tunisia.

What kind of a government do you want to see in power?

I hope Ennahda returns to power in the next election. Ennahda is the best option we have. They could have kept all the power for themselves, like in other countries, but they reached out to other sides. In the West, everyone is scared of the word “Islamist”–but all religions and groups in Tunisia maintained their rights. We have freedom of expression, religion, media, speech… People criticize Ennahda, but they are the only party with an agenda! Yes, they have problems, but they are better than the others who have no agenda. You give me a party with a better agenda, and I will vote for them.

What do you believe is key for a stronger Tunisia?

The new government must implement effective counter-terrorism policies. Eliminating terrorism will not only bring more stability but also more foreign investment. That will lead to more jobs and revenue for the country. We must also remember that we are all Tunisians–religious differences should not threaten that. These differences are only manipulated by politicians.

What are your hopes for Tunisia’s future?

I hope we will hold onto the progress we have made and continue to build on it. We see the conflicts happening elsewhere in this region and must do everything possible to prevent it here. I have faith in the Tunisian people to keep the spirit of the revolution alive–people young and old, men and women, Muslim and not Muslim. I am optimistic that our human rights will remain protected and that we will become a model in the region for democracy. Enshallah.

 

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Happy New Year from Euphrates!

by admin on January 2, 2014

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Happy New Year from all of us at Euphrates! 2013 was a huge year for both breakthroughs and ongoing challenges in the Middle East and around the world. We’ve taken a look at some of the last year’s biggest developments, from chemical weapons in Syria to a historic nuclear deal with Iran. Now we are looking to the future in anticipation of what 2014 will bring us.

We asked some of our readers what they saw as the most important issues for the Middle East in 2014. The top answers were Syria, the Israel-Palestine peace process, national unity, and democratic reform. A lot of these hopes have not changed, and in many cases, developments in recent months have fortified our optimism for peace and progress. For instance, Secretary of State John Kerry has clearly made it a top priority to advance peace talks between Israel and Palestine. Just last month, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he was ready for “historic peace” with the Palestinians based on “two states for two peoples”. When getting down to crucial issues like territory and security, the peace talks often appear to hit a wall—there is still much work to be done. But Palestinians too have voiced their desires for comprehensive peace—surveys reveal that 73% of Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza support peace with Israel, and a similar number applies to the Israeli public. And the Obama Administration is “determined to achieve a major diplomatic breakthrough” in negotiations between the two sides in 2014. We’ve seen unprecedented improvement in US-Iranian relations, and have seen that Americans and Iranians alike hope for continued progress in the nuclear agreements, increased trust, and economic recovery for Iran in exchange for transparency and security. A few sceptics in the US Congress have tried to derail the agreements by introducing new sanctions in Iran, but so far, they have been stopped. Iran’s recently elected President Rouhani has revealed plans for everything from boosting tourism and international relations to supporting women’s empowerment in the country. Take a look at these amazing and eye-opening “Letters from Iran” and discover close-up the mindset of hundreds of Iranians—you will be inspired!

On the other hand, harsh realities of devastation in Syria and clashes in Egypt, among others, are battles—for democracy, for representation, for justice—that are still very much in progress. Syria’s opposition is now more fragmented than ever, and the instability on the ground has helped bring extremist groups to power. Syria’s refugees are in dire need of support from the international community. Governments have sent millions of dollars worth of aid to Syria and its neighbouring countries, and in many places people are getting the help they need, but too many still are not. Meanwhile, just last week, the British government issued a plea to the international community to fully take on Syria’s humanitarian crisis, saying that “there is no better New Year’s resolution.” Their mission is in support of a UN appeal to raise 6.5 billion dollars in aid in 2014. We have seen inspiring stories from the region about resilience, dedication to peace, and unbelievable courage—the moderate forces within Syria and the civilians holding onto hope need all the support they can get from the international community. Find out how you can help by visiting the links at the end of this article.

Across the entire Middle East, millions are sacrificing their safety and well-being to achieve the human rights that so many of us have had for generations. From Egypt to Turkey, from Ukraine to Thailand, the fight continues into 2014. And like you and me, their main desires are peace, fairness, and stability for their families and their communities. I asked some of my friends what they wished for in the New Year, and here is what they said:

Mehdi, from Shiraz, Iran: I look forward to Iran’s economy improving and my country proving to the world that we are ready for peace. I hope relations between my country and America become so good that my friends in America can come visit me with no problem!

Sandren, from Alexandria, Egypt: What I want to say is that revolution isn’t about changing the upper hand in your country… It is all about changing how people think, and act. My hope for this New Year is to have a better people, not a better president… I think all nations of the Middle East are waiting for a miracle, for “the one” who would solve all their problems, and I think we should wait no more. We should start changing, solve our problems by our bare hands… surely I hope a better future. I hope to be safe in my own country, and I hope the best for every person in the whole world.

Mahmoud, from Cairo, Egypt: I would say my New Year’s resolution for Egypt and the whole Middle East is for the people to accept the diversity that has always been there. But diverse groups were apart from each other–people must understand how to talk, deal and even respect different mindsets and opinions, and still seek the freedom that we always dreamed of since the Arab Spring started, as well as working hard in finding or forming an independent political party/ideology that’s effective in terms of reaching out to the general public and having strong programs for building the future regardless of any mainstream ideologies (that being military, religious, or liberal views). Finally, I hope we focus more on how to build our countries and more innovation in solving the heart of our problems, and not just scratching the surface.

Neda, from Tel Aviv, Israel: I want safety and security for my country. That cannot happen without peace and trust between Israelis and Palestinians. Everyone I know wants a peaceful agreement and two stable states, and the more discover our common desires, the closer we will get to peace.

Ebram, Alexandria, Egypt: Peace… I hope that peace spreads all over the world. I think that although 2013 was full of violence, at least we had revolution on the 30th of June… about 2014 I am optimistic.

Here’s to a year of hope and progress for everyone, and a year of continued resilience in the face of oppression and conflict. We are constantly supporting and thinking of our friends and neighbours carrying on the journey toward peace. Here’s to them, and to a brighter 2014. Cheers!

 

P.S. Three days from now, Euphrates’ Publications Director (that’s me!) will be moving to Tunis, Tunisia, to study intensive Arabic. I can’t wait to dive into a new culture and bring rich new perspectives to your Weekly Currents! Stay tuned for updates and exciting close-up access to Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring!

-Natasha Turak, Publications Director


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Season’s Greetings and Year-End Giving!

by admin on December 20, 2013

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Thanks to all who have supported our work this holiday season! For those still looking to give, please read on for our annual appeal. Also, start the new year off with a little learning! The Euphrates community can receive 20% off the Principia online course ‘Arab Spring Part II’ this January. See below for a discount code and registration details.

Dear Euphrates supporter,

On the heels of a heated battle in Fallujah in the spring of 2004, I found myself regrouping beside the calm of the Euphrates River. As an intelligence analyst working with U.S. military forces to identify and expose our enemies in western Iraq, I was suddenly struck by this image of unstoppable tranquility and peace flowing through the center of a warzone.

Nearly a decade later, Euphrates Institute is the manifestation of this early notion that peace has the power to cut through any conflict. This past year has been about strengthening the scope and consistency of what we do, which is to share this vision with others through first-hand experiences and on-the-ground perspectives; and I am thrilled to be able to report on a number of ongoing activities that have headlined our work.

In the spring, Israeli graphic designer Ronny Edry and his family journeyed to the United States to speak at Principia College’s student-run Public Affairs Conference on youth empowerment, and collect Euphrates Institute’s 2012 Visionary of the Year award. Ronny started the Israel-Loves-Iran campaign with a belief that dialogue between these two “enemy states” should not have to start at the top. Through a single post, and the magic of social media, his move became a movement, and inspired numerous others, including Majid Nowrouzi’s response from the other side in the form of the Facebook group Iran-Loves-Israel. As it turned out, Majid and his family were themselves in the Midwest this past March, and so it was that Euphrates facilitated the first-ever face-to-face meeting between these two men and their families here at Principia College. Their time together included private conversation and public discourse in front of a local audience, as well as  radio interviews broadcast to millions through Voice of America and the NPR affiliate in St. Louis. Perhaps the most inspiring outcome of all, however, came in the way their two young daughters became fast friends within moments of meeting, despite the lack of a shared language, and in the face of competing cultural narratives. Their childlike innocence showed without a doubt that love is, indeed, man’s default mode.

As Euphrates strives to connect Americans with firsthand experiences and perspectives on Middle East issues, our work with the college Fellows program has been a centerpiece this past year. In the fall, 10 of our Fellows field-tripped eastward to Washington, D.C. on the eve of government shutdown to attend the third annual J Street conference. J Street is a pro-Israel, pro-peace lobby group dedicated to the realization of an Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution. Over the course of the weekend, our Fellows had a chance to hear from numerous politicians and policy makers (including Vice President Joe Biden and Israeli Knesset members), along with religious leaders, grassroots activists, and journalists, and connect with fellow students in attendance. And to top it off, several of them were able to join groups lobbying Congress on Capitol Hill.

In addition to off-campus experiential learning excursions such as this one, our Fellows have had a number of irons in the fire on campus, including: running regular lunchtime discussions on current events in the Middle East for the entire community; setting up Skype conversations with a variety of experts on the ground, such as an American expatwho now lives and works in Saudi Arabia, and a pacifist in Costa Rica; hosting a screening of the award-winning documentary “Gatekeepers” – which has compiled interviews with all six former heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli intelligence agency; organizing activities that emphasized prayer on the International Day of Peace; publishing blogs on a variety of topics; meeting weekly as a group to exchange ideas and insights; and conducting individual research projects to present as capstones to each semester.

When we haven’t been hosting international luminaries, working with our Fellows, teaching courses and giving talks, or sending out the Weekly Current email update to over a thousand people around the world, we have been working to build out a more robust organizational infrastructure. Most notably, in 2013 the Euphrates Board of Directorsnearly doubled in size, adding fundraising and financial experience, along with a voice of our youth, to its expertise. As a result, our Board will be playing a more active role in helping us to raise operating expenses; and we’ve been able to fill the CFO position on the Board with a new member who has helped take our financial systems to the next level. While this is not the most exciting stuff of a world change agent, it has proved to be imperative as we look ahead.

Looking ahead, we expect to develop and expand a number of good ideas in the coming year. For instance, we will again partner with Principia’s Public Affairs Conference, this year focused on the topic of sustainability, to celebrate the Euphrates 2013 Visionary of the Year. And as it becomes increasingly clear that our work is about connecting Westerners with on-the-ground perspectives and experiences worldwide, we expect to announce significant developments in our Travel/Study program that will increase our trip offerings in both quantity and variety of regions.

As we delve deeper into this work, we are so very grateful for all of the support we have received from a wide community of friends such as you. As the year draws to a close, we hope you will consider making a tax-deductible contribution to Euphrates to directly aid these important efforts in the name of peace overcoming conflict, and the cultivation of a greater understanding between us and the rest of the world.

Warmest holiday wishes from all of us at Euphrates!

To learn more about and receive 20% off ‘Arab Spring Part II’ taught by Euphrates Founder Janessa Gans Wilder, click here, enter EUPHRATES1 in the ”Coupon Code” box at the time of enrollment, and the 20% discount will be automatically applied to the original cost of $95. Register by December 30.

 


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Emel Mathlouthi: My Word Is Free

by admin on December 5, 2013

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Emel in concert in Paris, January 2013. Photo: Slate Afrique

While searching for new and different music last weekend, as I often do, I was led back to a Euphrates Weekly Current I’d written just under a year ago entitled “The Music of the Arab Spring”. I took some time to revisit the artists and songs I had written about, and was overwhelmed by a sense of amazement and admiration for these brave and talented musicians. While the dust of the Arab Spring may seem to have settled, it has left behind more debris and confusion than many had hoped. Now the efforts and dreams of so many Arabs, young and old, are in several countries being overshadowed by sectarian conflict, geopolitical interests, economic strife, and state-sponsored violence. It is so vital not to forget the aspirations of those courageous protestors and activists, many of whom no longer have a voice. I had the chance to discover this powerful song by Tunisian artist Emel Mathlouthi, “Kelmti Horra” (My Word is Free), which she sang in street demonstrations in 2011, turning it into an anthem for both the Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions. Watch her live street performance  and her later concert performance, sung in parts French and Arabic. The song’s origin is especially significant as Tunisia is the birthplace of the Arab Spring. It may not be on the news as much now as it was before, but the fight is far from over. We would like to share Emel’s lyrics below with you, and we hope you enjoy them as much as we did.

 

Kelmti Horra – My Word Is Free

I
 am 
those 
who 
are 
free 
and 
never 
fear
I
 am
 the 
secrets
 that
 will 
never
 die
I
 am 
the 
voice 
of 
those 
who 
would
 not 
give
 in
I
 am 
the 
meaning
 amid
 the
 chaos

I
 am 
the 
right 
of
 the 
oppressed
That
 is 
sold 
by 
these 
dogs 
(people 
who 
are 
dogs)
Who
 rob
 the
 people
 of 
their
 daily
 bread
And
 slam 
the 
door 
in 
the 
face 
of 
ideas

I
 am
 those
 who
 are 
free 
and
 never
 fear
I
 am
 the secrets
 that 
will 
never
 die
I
 am
 the 
voice 
those
 who
 would 
not
 give
 in
I
 am 
free 
and
 my
 word
 is 
free

 I
 am
 free
 and 
my 
word 
is 
free
Don’t 
forget 
the 
price 
of 
bread
And 
don’t
 forget 
the
 cause 
of
 our
 misery
And
 don’t
 forget
 who
 betrayed
 us
 in
 our
 time
 of
 need

I
 am
 those 
who
 are 
free
 and 
never 
fear
I
 am
 the
 secrets
 that
 will
 never
 die
I
 am
 the 
voice 
those 
who 
would 
not 
give 
in

 I 
am
 the 
secret
 of
 the
 red 
rose
Whose 
color 
the 
years 
loved
Whose 
scent
 the
 rivers
 buried
And
 who 
sprouted 
as 
fire
Calling
 those
 who 
are 
free

I
 am
 a
 star
 shining
 in
 the 
darkness
I
 am 
a 
thorn
 in
 the
 throat
 of
 the 
oppressor
I
 am 
a 
wind 
touched 
by 
fire
I
 am
 the
 soul
 of
 those
 who
 are 
not 
forgotten
I
 am
 the 
voice 
of 
those 
who 
have 
not 
died

Let’s 
make
 clay
 out 
of 
steel
And
 build
 with
 it
 a 
new
 love
That
 becomes 
birds
That
 becomes
 a 
country, a home
That 
becomes 
wind 
and
 rain

I
 am 
all 
the 
free 
people
 
of 
the 
world 
put 
together
I 
am
 like
 a
 bullet
I
 am
 all 
the
 free
 people 
of 
the 
world 
put 
together
I
 am
 like
 a
 bullet.

Emel has performed all over the world since the revolution, from Europe and Canada to Palestine and even a ground-breaking concert in Baghdad, Iraq in 2012. If you found these lyrics inspiring, you’ll love what else Emel has to offer. Check out her top tracks  and more here, as well as a one-on-one interview with Emel by CBC Music. Some of my personal favorites are Naci en Palestina  (Born in Palestine), Ya Tounes Ya Meskina (Poor Tunisia), and her breathtaking rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

Find Emel on Facebook and Twitter @MathlouthiEmel, and show your support for the artists of the Arab Spring, whose voices and dreams can never be extinguished.


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