Euphrates Spotlight

Iran and Algeria in the World Cup!

by admin on June 19, 2014

world-cup-iran-nigeriaIranian forward Ashkan Dejagah during Monday’s match. Photo: northjersey.com

The World Cup is upon us! After four years of anticipation, the most-watched sporting event in the world is finally underway in Brazil. I’ve been keeping up with the games here in Tunis, and can proudly say I cheered my heart out (in a crowded café, alone) when Team USA won their first match against Ghana. This year, Algeria and Iran, widely considered the Middle East’s two best national soccer teams, are taking part. Algeria went from being ranked 103rd in the world by FIFA World Rankings to 22nd in 2014. Their first game against Belgium was a 2-1 loss, but the squad is optimistic about their next match against Korea on Sunday. Iran, the top-ranked team in Asia, has a particularly interesting story in the 2014 World Cup—its fourth ever—and it is much more closely tied to world politics than you might expect.

Back in November, we wrote about Iran’s recently-elected president, Hassan Rouhani, in our article US-Iran Relations: A New Optimism. While progress has been slow, there has been huge improvement in the nuclear negotiations between the US and Iran, and much greater cooperation and transparency than under the Islamic Republic’s previous president, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. Nevertheless, the myriad unilateral and multilateral sanctions imposed by America and the EU in 2012 because of Iran’s controversial nuclear program have significantly altered Iran’s World Cup experience and prospects.

In the year between qualifying for the World Cup and the start of the competition, a team would typically play 12-15 warm-up games with other countries. Up until one month ago, Iran had played one. This is because the Iranian Football Federation has not been able to collect the funds it should have received from international organizations due to sanctions on several kinds of global financial transactions. There have even been reports that Team Iran was not able to purchase extra jerseys for its players, meaning the athletes could not exchange shirts at the end of games. These disadvantages have a big impact in Iran, where soccer is the most widely watched sport in the country. To give you an idea, when Iran qualified for the World Cup last year, the celebrations in the streets were roughly the same size as those that took place after President Rouhani’s electoral victory. Rouhani is well aware of this; which explains why one of his first high-profile international  meetings following his election was with FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

Iran’s soccer team was ranked 1st in Asia and 43rd in the world by FIFA’s 2014 World Rankings. The limits put on the team because of international political dealings and the actions of its government seem very unfair, yet Iranians are still hopeful. Mehdi, a current Washington DC resident originally from Tehran, said, “It’s ridiculous that the team should pay for this. We don’t want political problems, we just want to have a chance and to share this with the world. Our team had less preparation than any other country, but they are still fighting hard. I have faith in them.”  Dena, from Shiraz, said, “Iran’s team and all of our fans have nothing to do with the nuclear program. The World Cup is to unite, not to divide. I think Iran will have a great future in soccer when things get better with the talks. This year will be hard, but you never know what could happen!” And why not be hopeful—Iran’s last practice game against Trinidad and Tobago was a morale-boosting 2-0 victory for Iran—its first win in any World Cup warm-up match.

So far, Iran has played one match, against Nigeria. The result was a 0-0 tie. Iranian forward player Ashkan Dejagah said in a recent interview that although they missed two goal opportunities, they defended well. “Of course I am so happy for obtaining our first point in the 2014 World Cup”, he said. Despite the team’s economic and logistical setbacks, the whole country is watching with anticipation and excitement in the hopes that maybe, for the first time, Iran will make it to the competition’s second round. The team will go up against Argentina next, one of the world’s top squads, but Dejagah is optimistic. “It has always been a dream of mine to play in the World Cup, and I am proud to show off our football in Brazil”, he said. “Perhaps we will have a surprise.”

Taking part in the World Cup at all is already so much to be excited about, and Iranians all over the world are celebrating. In my hometown, Bethesda, Maryland, Iranian restaurants and kebab shops airing the games have been packed to the brim. My friend Michael, from Iran, said, “I don’t care about the politics and I don’t care about whether our chances are bad—we made it in and I am proud of my team no matter what! So let’s celebrate it!”


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Euphrates Walks in Tunis Fashion Week!

by admin on June 11, 2014

WC Euphrates Fashion WeekHaythem Bouhamed SS14 gowns grace the runway. Photo: Shinymen.com

So I’ve been a freelancer of sorts since my arrival in Tunis last January–freelance writer, blogger, editor, teacher–and, as of recently, freelance model. Through friends, I met some people working in Tunisia’s fashion industry, and when I saw a casting call for Tunis Fashion Week a few weeks back, I though to myself… why not? (Actually, my first thought was, “Tunis has a Fashion Week?!)

I went to the casting with a friend, spent about an hour feeling rather intimidated by all the tall gorgeous Tunisian girls around me, but lo and behold, a week later, I got the call! Now, in what many locals here call “typical Tunisian” fashion, the event was scheduled for one week after we were notified of our casting, giving us a nerve-wrackingly short amount of time to rehearse, organize, and travel around the city to go to different designers’ fittings. At the fittings, I got to meet some of Tunisia’s well-established and up-and-coming designers like Ahmed Talfit, Leila Zrrim, and Tunisia’s number one designer, Haythem Bouhamed. Leila and I hit it off so well that she invited me to her family’s house for Ramadan next month! Score.

The week flew by, and suddenly the three days that comprised Fashion Week were upon us. The event was held at the Acropolium of Carthage, one of Tunisia’s most famous tourist sites, home to thousand-year-old Carthaginian ruins. The enormous church is perched on the top of a hill overlooking the Mediterranean–not a bad spot to set up!

In the hours before the show, backstage was chaotic and exciting, filled with bustling press, cameramen, lights technicians, hair and makeup artists, designers, assistants, and a bevy of models. Most of the girls walking in the show were Tunisian born and raised, along with a few French, Polish, and Ukranian models… and one American,yours truly!

In Pictures: Backstage, Tunis Fashion Week

As the guests began trickling in for Fashion Week Day 1, it hit me that we hadn’t had a single practice walking on the runway… because it was still being built! “Ok, brace yourself Tasha, you can do this!” I told myself. I had walked in a few charity shows in college, but this was different! I started getting nervous–what if I tripped on my dress? What is something goes wrong with my clothes? What if I fall in my heels? Ahhhh!

Hair and makeup was done, we put on our first outfits, took a few selfies (naturally), the lights dimmed… and the show began. I let the music pump me up, and realized what a truly unique oppurtunity this was. “So, Tasha, don’t mess it up!!” I told myself. My walk was a blur–it went by so quickly, hundreds of people watching, cameras flashing–but I made it. And I didn’t even trip once! The adrenaline felt crazy and when I walked off the runway, I couldn’t stop smiling… Even if I did walk off on the wrong side. :)

In Pictures: Tunis Fashion Week Day 1

Days two and three included more rehearsing, which was great.You can see me walking in Day 2 here–look out for the bright pink pants! And here again in my very American attire repping our makeup artists, Mac Cosmetics. And for day three, BCBG‘s Max Azria–one of the biggest designers in the fashion world today–came to the show to watch his Spring/Summer 2014 line debut on the runway! As it turns out, Max Azria is Tunisian! Tunisia’s Minister of Tourism, Amel Karboul, welcomed him by praising his work and praising the work of all of Tunisia’s budding designers, artists, and models–”Fashion”, she said, “is the democratization of art.” At the show, people came from all over the world and from all backgrounds to celebrate creativity and beauty. No attention was paid to race, religion, or sexual orientation–we were all there to celebrate hard work and ingenuity and to marvel at all the diverse and stunning work that came out of such a tiny country.

In Pictures: Tunis Fashion Week Day 2

Ahmed Talfit, one of Tunisia’s top designers and the sole male designer represented in Muscat Fashion Week 2013 in Oman, said previously, “The most important thing is that we all come together to do something positive for Arab women and regional fashion. To empower and raise the importance of women in society – that’s our collective purpose. I’m committed to making women as beautiful as possible, emphasising their elegance and determination.”

Watch all of the catwalk shows and check out all the designers from Tunis Fashion Week 2014 on the Fashion Week Tunis Facebook page! To all of the designers, models, makeup and hair stylists, photographers, technicians, organizers, stressed-out fashion interns, and press… Bravo, and see you next year!

-Natasha Turak, Euphrates Publications Director


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A Visit from Wisdom

by admin on May 26, 2014

EuphratesWC_khalilgibran_232326“This is a portrait of my mother’s soul. The soul is there, the simple majesty.” Khalil Gibran

“You are my brother and I love you. I love you when you prostrate yourself in your mosque, and kneel in your church and pray in your synagogue. You and I are sons of one faith – the Spirit.” – Khalil Gibran

Khalil Gibran was a Lebanese-American artist, poet, and writer who emigrated from Lebanon to America with his Maronite Catholic family at the age of twelve. Due to his family’s poverty, Gibran received no formal education in Lebanon, starting school instead at a settlement house in Boston’s South End in 1895.

Over the years, Gibran developed his talent in art and writing and was mentored by teachers and established artists like Fred Holland Day, the first American to advocate the acceptance of photography as a fine art. Publishers began using Gibran’s drawings as book covers when he was only fifteen. He came from a large family, steeped in Maronite tradition, and found some of his greatest inspirations in Christianity, Assyrian culture, and his mother. Close to his roots, Gibran returned to Lebanon for university, where he started a student literary magazine. in 1902 he came back to America, where his writing and art career took off and continued until his death in 1931. His best-selling work in English, The Prophet, a series of 26 poetic essays, has never been out of print and was one of the best-selling books of the 20th century in America. In the Arab world, Gibran was considered a literary rebel for his intense and romantic style, and in Lebanon is seen as a literary a hero to this day. His work was frequently themed on spiritual love, and in particular the universality of spirituality and mankind. He used to say, “I am not a politician, nor do I wish to become one. Spare me the political events and power struggles, as the whole earth is my homeland and all men are my fellow countrymen.”

This week we’d like to share with you a poem by Khalil Gibran, A Visit from Wisdom. During times of confusion, stress, and self-doubt, Gibran’s words resonate universally and help to place our troubles in beautiful perspective.

A Visit From Wisdom

In the stillness of night Wisdom came and stood
By my bed. She gazed upon me like a tender mother
And wiped away my tears, and said : ‘I have heard
The cry of your spirit and I am come to comfort it.
Open your heart to me and I shall fill it with light.
Ask of me and I shall show you the way of truth.’

And I said : ‘Who am I, Wisdom, and how came
I to this frightening place? What is this world that leads me whither I know not, standing with me in despising? And this earth
That opens wide its mouth to swallow bodies and
Lets evil things to dwell on its breast? What manner of things
Are these mighty hopes and these many books and
Strange patterns? What are these thoughts that pass
As doves in flight? And these words composed by
Desire and sung by delight, what are they? What are
These conclusions, grievous and joyous, that embrace
My spirit and envelop my heart? And those voices mourning
My days and chanting my littleness, what are they?

‘What is this youth that plays with my desires
And mocks at my longings, forgetful of yesterday’s
Deeds, rejoicing in paltry things of the moment,
Scornful of the morrow’s coming? O Wisdom, what are they?

And she answered, saying:
‘You would see, human creature, this world
Through the eyes of a god. And you would seek to
Know the secrets of the hereafter with the thinking
Of men. Yet in truth is this the height of folly.
‘Go you to the wild places and you shall find
There the bee above the flowers and behold the eagle
Swooping down on his prey. Go you into your neighbor’s
House and see then the child blinking at the
Firelight and his mother busied at her household
Tasks. Be you like the bee and spend not the days of
Spring looking on the eagle’s doing. Be as the child
And rejoice in the firelight and heed not your Mother’s affairs. All that you see with your eyes was and is for your sake.

‘The many books and the strange patterns and
Beautiful thoughts are the shades of those spirits
That came ere you were come. The words that you
Do weave are a bond between you and your brothers.
The conclusions, grievous and joyous, are the
Seeds that the past did scatter in the field of the
Spirit to be reaped by the future. That youth who
Plays with your desires is he who will open the door
Of your heart to let enter the light. This earth with
The ever open mouth is the savior of your spirit from
The body’s slavery. This world which walks with
You is your heart; and your heart is all that you
Think that world. This creature whom you see as
Ignorant and small is the same who has come from
God’s side to learn pity through sadness, and knowledge
By way of darkness.’

Then Wisdom put her hand on my burning brow
And said:
‘Go then forward and do not tarry, and have not fear of thorns on the path, For before walks Perfection.”

-Khalil Gibran


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Strides of Innovation in Morocco

by admin on May 9, 2014

wc moroccoStudents and Professors taking part in Cadi Ayyad University’s Astrophysics program. Photo: Morocco World News

Morocco is the Western-most country in North Africa, and is a monarchy of 33 million people. Although witness to some demonstrations during the Arab Spring, the kingdom well-known for its pristine vacation spots and exotic food managed to keep its government intact, opting to pursue compromise and greater openness instead. Where are they now? Euphrates takes a look at some of the forward-looking efforts Morocco’s leading institutions have set into motion, with a focus on technology and science.

  • Morocco hosts first Open Government Data Forum in Rabat

Morocco’s 2011 Constitution, created in the wake of the Arab Spring protests, established for its citizens “the right of access to information for public administrative bodies, elected institutions, and bodies investing in a mission of public service.” Now, taking after President Obama’s Open Government Directive in 2009, the North African kingdom is officially committing to greater transparency of information between government institutions, private organizations, universities, and journalists. The initiative, launched during a forum organized by the Moroccan Association of Electronic Governance for Development (AMGED) and the National School of Computer Science and System Analysis (ENSIAS), emphasizes both bottom-up and top-down engagement, taking account the needs and demands of many sectors of Moroccan civil society. These steps are hoped to foster greater trust and reconciliation between the citizens and their government. The Secretary General of the Economic, Social, and Environmental Council, Mr. Guerraoui Driss, says that “Open Data is the bulk of the new generation of human rights and it has been constitutionalized in order to ensure its legitimacy and equal access to information. It will contribute to the economic growth and upgrading in national engineering.” The new directive will allow Moroccans more access to what their government is doing, in turn pressuring the government to perform more effectively and listen to the people’s demands. Despite a lack of total press freedom, this is a huge step in eradicating the corruption that has crippled development in Morocco and many North African states.

  • Marrakech Cadi Ayyad University hosts bi-annual International Space & Solar Physics Program

Organized by the United Nations, Cadi Ayyad University, the International Space Weather Initiative (ISWI) and the Amateur Astronomy Association, Marrakech’s University of Cadi Ayyad is currently hosting the fifth edition of the Oukaimeden International School of Astrophysics (OISA)  program. The goal of this week-long program, which brings globally-renowned physycists together and collaborates with parters from around the world like the University of Illinois and L’Observatoir de Paris, is to help train the next generation of astrophysicists and encourage young Moroccan students and researchers to pursue careers in the field of physics. One of the Moroccan Physics Society’s most important events, this year’s OISA program is focused on the theme of space weather and solar physics. Understanding space weather, while incredibly complicated to the average person, is essential in the development of satelite equipment and navigation systems. The bi-annual event will provide lectures, workshops, trainings sessions, and excursions for aspiring Moroccan astrophysicists and PhD candidates.

  • 22-year-old Moroccan developing world’s first projection tablet

Moroccan entrepreneur Youssef Taleb, 22, is currently designing the world’s first tablet that will be able to project its screen and keyboard. Complete with a built-in micro projector and laser keyboard, this revolutionary tablet would allow its user to work on any surface. Taleb went to school at the American School of Casablanca and studied at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco and Regent’s University in London before returning to Morocco to launch his project, “Provok Developments”, which is currently working on building the tablet. Taleb’s passion for technology and gadgets goes way back; in high school, he says, “I grew up nurturing my passion for technology by spending nights hacking into my friends’ computers instead of reading Steinbeck’s novel”. Struggling with a bad economy and high unemployment, Morocco relies very heavily on tourism for its revenue and is known more for its scenery and culture than its technology or innovation. Taleb wants to change this. “I strongly believe in Morocco’s tech sector”, he says, “and I think that with a slight push and some guidance things could go a long way for this industry. Hence, developing and commercializing the worlds first ‘Projection’ Tablet is an idea that I would only bring to life in my country.” Planned to be funded through crowdfunding, the tablet is still in early development phases, but appears to be very promising. Check out the promotional video for it here–awesome!

In addition to its impressive strides forward in technology and science, Morocco was recently praised by the UN Security Council for its commitment to consolidating human rights, and is being recognized globally for its efforts to move forward and innovate. The country has also seen a 24% increase in foreign direct investment in the last year. With an often spotty human rights record and a troubled economy, change is not easy–so positive development, achievement, and international investment are highly welcomed. Given what is being accomplished right now, there is a lot to look forward to.


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A Scottish Bagpiper in North Africa

by admin on April 28, 2014

Ross Bagpipes WC_nPiping for a small admirer in Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia. Photo: @TheFirstPiper

Armed with a kilt, a camera, and his bagpipes, 24-year-old Ross O’Connell Jennings is at this very moment driving around the Tunisian Sahara in a rental 1998 Renault. His mission? To be the first person to play the bagpipes in every country of the world. Raised in Shanghai, China, Ross is an aspiring TV presenter who recently graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a degree in Economics and Chinese. The half-Irish half-Scot has quite the story, picking up new friends and sponsors along the way as he now takes on country number 15. I’ve had the pleasure of hosting Ross while he visited Tunis, and was so impressed and entertained by his project that I had to write about it.

Last weekend, I joined Ross in Kelibia, a coastal town in Northern Tunisia about two hours from the capital. As soon as he began playing his pipes—Scotland the Brave, then the Star Wars theme—an audience formed, and local passersby began whipping out their phones to capture what for many was their first time ever seeing or hearing the traditional Scottish instrument. The impromptu seaside concert ended with just about everyone in the vicinity, teenagers and grandparents alike, taking pictures with Ross and exchanging Facebook contacts—he was definitely a hit.  Despite language barriers, you could feel the good vibes just by looking at the huge smiles on everyone’s faces. Ross was happy to share his adventure with Euphrates–check out our interview with him here!

Euphrates: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be a piper!

Ross: I got my first chance to play the bagpipes when I was 13 years old. We were coming to the end of a Monday morning school assembly and in marched a lady playing the bagpipes. After introducing myself to the mysterious lady-piper, Bernie Aitken, I promptly signed down to the lessons that were being offered. 4 years, 4 remembrance ceremonies, 4 school concerts, 150 hours of bagpipe lessons and endless hours of practice later, I had finished school and for a short period of time became the only Piper in mainland China.

What are some of the highlights of your piping career so far?

In China I found myself in various piping positions: Piper for the Duke of Argyll in Shanghai 2008/9, Piper to the Shanghai Royal Salute Polo Tournament 2008/09 and I even led the 2009 Shanghai’s St. Patricks Day Parade. In 2010 I was the official Piper for the UK Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo and acted as the Personal Piper to The First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, for the duration of his time in Shanghai.

What inspired you to take on this adventure to pipe in every country of the world?

The idea came to me at the end of 2013. A couple of years ago I started filming myself bagpiping in different countries with the aim of making a 1-minute video, similar to all those travels videos, like STA Travel’s “Move” video, but last year I decided that I should make this a lifelong aim to bagpipe in every country. Like many people I love to travel, but I wanted to mix it up by bringing the pipes along! On top of this I like doing things differently and encouraging people to do the same, so I’m trying to practice what I preach.

How many countries have you piped in so far?

So far I’ve travelled to about 55 countries but I’ve only piped in about 15, so I’ll have to return to quite a few! Everywhere I’ve piped has been awesome, but some of my favorites would have to be Cuba, China, South Africa, and Tunisia.

What is your favorite thing about playing the bagpipes in foreign countries?

My favorite thing has to be how people react. People smile a lot (and cover their ears!), they ask questions, and in some cases even give advice! This sounds super cheesy but it’s lovely how music can bring people together and break down barriers.

What is the most challenging thing about playing the bagpipes? And the most challenging part of being a travelling piper?

For me the biggest challenge playing the pipes is tuning them. It’s always easier with someone else’s help. When travelling, the heat and humidity messes with the reeds and drones, so that throws me off sometimes!

When I’m on the road, lugging around all my kit is definitely a challenge. The pipes, kilt, jacket, camera… All this on top of everything else I need can be a bit of a pain, but people seem to help out wherever I go! Also piping in around 100 degree heat and extremely high humidity is pretty hard (and sweaty!).

Tell us about some of your favorite moments in Tunisia so far.

I was piping on the beach in Kelibia and a Tunisian girl who happened to be carrying a drum came by and asked to do a duet! We had a whole audience by the end of it, it was brilliant (photo here!). Just yesterday, I was piping by the old city gate in Mahdia and got all the shopkeepers to clap along, and then got invited for tea! And last night, in the Southern desert town of Tataouine, I was invited to pipe at a charity dinner for the Tataouine soccer team—so unexpected but awesome. Tunisians are super friendly and they seem to love the pipes, probably because they have their own pipes, the Mezoued, so whenever I mention that word they love it! I feel so welcomed here and would definitely recommend a visit to anyone. Sharing a bit of Scottish culture is always so fun and I love seeing how similar people around the world really are, especially when it comes to enjoying music. It’s managed to put a smile on the face of even the grumpiest policemen.

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We wish Ross the best of luck on his adventures, and we’re big fans of his TwitterFacebook, and Instagram updates! Find out more about Ross’s story and whereabouts on his website, TheFirstPiper.com, and see how you can get involved, become a sponsor, or even join him yourself!

More links:

Twitter @FirstPiper

Facebook.com/thefirstpiper

Instagram @TheFirstPiper


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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 mind when you hear the word “Yemen”? If the news is any indicator, you may 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 for 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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