Enter My Contest!

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It’s time for a contest! My email newsletter is one year old, and to celebrate we’re going to try to reward old subscribers and new ones alike.

In case you’re not familiar with it, my newsletter is free and goes by email twice a week to subscribers. It offers a link to my latest column, some behind-the-scenes commentary, suggestions for books, and links to articles I admire.

I’m going to offer signed copies of my books to eight newsletter subscribers picked at random (eight is a lucky Chinese number, and I started my foreign correspondent career in Asia). In addition, we’ll pick one subscriber for a tour of The Times and lunch with me — or, if the winner is in, say, Madagascar, then a phone conversation with me. Or if you want something else, like me leaving your voicemail recording, that can be arranged.

In addition, I’m hoping to get more students to subscribe. So if every student in a classroom (university, high school, middle school or elementary school) subscribes to the newsletter, then tweet my assistant, Liriel Higa, at @idiplomacy. I’ll randomly skype one such class to answer questions, or if you’re in the New York area, I’ll invite you all to The Times.

This is, of course, a blatant marketing effort to draw more people to my newsletter. I’m always struck by how many people look for my columns but are unaware that the newsletter is the best way to get them — and is free. So consider signing up (or take my approach and sign up your kids!). And stay tuned for the winners.

As always, I welcome your thoughts on how to make the newsletter better. It’s an experiment, one that the rest of The Times is following as well. I’m always a bit uncertain how long to make the newsletter, what kind of items to include and so on. So for those of you who have already subscribed, your suggestions are most welcome — and help spread the word to those who aren’t subscribed yet and tell them to sign up.

Nicholas Kristof is the New York Times Columnist. This post first appeared on the pages of New York Times and used here with Author’s permission. Follow Nicholas on Twitter @NickKristof

Sharing Voices – Part II

Interviews about rights of women in Egypt – Hopes and Aspirations

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Nadia Siraj – Interviewee

Following the previous post about Maryam few weeks ago here is my II part of the series. 

Nadia Siraj (44, Cairo) was born in Saudi Arabia. She has lived half of her life in Saudi Arabia and half in Egypt. She has worked as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) expert for corporations such as the National Commercial Bank in Jada, Microsoft, British Consulate or Islamic Development Bank as well as in the Social Field in several countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Dubai. At some point, she decided to leave corporate and focus more on Meditation and Energy, which had always been her passion. She believes in the importance of empowering people regardless of any condition, thereby making people being themselves. Nadia loves self-expression through body (dancing and music). She is co-founder of a centre that promotes meditation through dancing in order to make people to find their own serenity.

Maryam and Nadia stories make you clearly see some aspects that negatively affect women. In their opinion, the increasing influence of wrong religious interpretations, tradition and even Capitalism (‘is the other extreme of treating a woman like an object and making her feel she is unworthy without having certain looks, buying certain products, etc.’) make women to be more exposed to harassment, to be forced to wear veil, to get married at certain age or being restricted of choices and submissive on relationships. This process has especially been strengthen since late 70’s, ‘when wahabi culture started being imported to Egypt’.

Nevertheless, Maryam and Nadia believe ‘women are awaking’. Women are becoming conscious about their situation. Rather, as Nadia notices, there is raising ‘a strong reaction reflected by feminism movements’, although, in her opinion, another positive respond to fight for equality could have been developed instead of a movement based on ‘frustration and opposition’.

Since the fall of Mubarak’s regime (February 2011), Nadia believes that the ‘revolution’ worked for something and the fall of Mubarak’s regime ‘broke something old’ so it triggered a process ‘in which people realize that there are other options in life’.

On the other hand Nadia  considers that ‘ her divorce was one of the big turning points in her life because she realized that all people, who interfered in her life and were so keen on finding ways to control her. They are not there anymore or they are only there when it requires control. She said, she started questioning many of the values and beliefs in which she had been raised and then she disregarded many of them without being reactive, because being reactive will make things worse’. She is instilling it to her son and her parents start ‘to see things differently when it comes to raising girls different from boys and controlling them more than boys. ‘It’s a learning process for all of us we are breaking cycles of unnecessary controlling and being controlled’ she said.

Nadia highlights her younger period in Saudi Arabia, where it was very difficult for a woman to have a job. More recently, she remembers the harsh period she spent because of her son’s custody: ‘I have suffered dealing with separation, and the law stands always on the side of the man more than a woman’ For Nadia it was even difficult to being with being divorced with a son.

Hence, when I asked Nadia about the role of men in women’s situation, she said: ‘there were successful women who were supported by their fathers, their husbands, their brothers, etc. I was lucky to be one of them in certain aspects of my life where my father was there to give me support. Nevertheless, it is not the case anymore because there is much competition and people are so busy with their own stories so a lot of women have to empower themselves by finding their ways’.

Talking about younger women Maryam and Nadia agree on the fact that there is a certain polarity or contrast, but at different levels. Nadia observed that new generations face ‘resistance from the elders, who cannot accept that the whole area of security (everything that they believe in and keeps them alive) is being shacked. They don’t want that. They want to hold on to what they know and believe, so the younger generations are challenging the older ones and only those of them (the young ones) who get stuck in the ego and self-victimization are not able to move on and adopt change’.

Thus, looking at the future like Maryam, Nadia has a lot of hope. She sees ‘more respect from young men and they are more in touch with their feminine side; whereas many women are standing for themselves, for their rights and being more confident’. However, she points out the way Middle East societies are viewed, especially from Western countries. First, ‘they are always focused on books and conferences. It is always focused on driving, entrepreneurs, etc. and it is not focused more on based wise on women’s need. Whatever they look at, it is more in favour of consumerism at the end; so entities that promote independence in these aspects make women independent only financially, thereby making more consumers as equal as men’. Thus, she doesn’t see this independence ‘as a genuine step in really being concern on women’. Secondly, she saw many women from different countries (Dubai, Morocco, UK, Iran, Turkey, US) who had their own issues. They ‘are not equally treated as men, not equally paid as men, emotionally or physically abused by men’. Hence, she doesn’t like the idea of ‘spotlighting Middle East as an area where women are oppressed and it doesn’t happen anywhere else’.

She told me that ‘it is happening everywhere in different ways’.

Javier Javier Milán López (27, Spain) graduated in Political Science and Public Administration and specialized in International Cooperation, Project Management and Development Processes. He has been involved in activist movements as well as getting involved into Social Field through volunteering. He has worked for NGOs at national and international level (Spain, Senegal and Egypt) as project manager assistant and consultant/facilitator. Currently, he is doing a European Volunteering Service in Romania. Milán López (27, Spain) graduated in Political Science and Public Administration and specialized in International Cooperation, Project Management and Development Processes. He has been involved in activist movements as well as getting involved into Social Field through volunteering. He has worked for NGOs at national and international level (Spain, Senegal and Egypt) as project manager assistant and consultant/facilitator. Currently, he is doing a European Volunteering Service in Romania.

 

Impressions of a day at the Munich railway station

On Saturday I was in Munich, at the railway station. Many thousands refugees had been announced. As soon as I got off the train, I noticed policemen. Everywhere policemen. And then I saw them, the refugees. They were held separate with a rope and only registered volunteers, police and them had permission to enter that area.

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When I arrived there were around thirty refugees outside the arches. I asked what was going on inside the archway. “There they get water, food and a first medical check is carried out,” was the answer I was given.

I saw a policeman slapping a child by mistake. He just turned and the child was behind him. No reaction. I did not expect any reaction from the policeman. But I would have expected one from the child. But it was as if he was used to it. As if he cared about nothing.

I saw a very young child (maybe 2 years old) going bananas and shouting out loudly at seeing a dog. He wanted to step out the area and stroke the animal. The policeman immediately grabbed him and threw him back to the crowd. It was just a reaction to a dog. It was just a child.

I saw a mother sharing biscuits with her daughter, and taking one out of the daughter´s mouth. She was probably hungry. Otherwise why would you take your child´s food?

I saw a Syrian baby toddle toward me as I was offering a lollipop. The little girl could not open it. Maybe it was seeing it for the first time in her life. Her brother also had his difficulties and I offered to help him. As he had taken the paper in the mouth, he first cleaned the lollipop on his sweatshirt and then handed it over to me. He then nodded his head for thanking me.

I also saw volunteers spending their weekend helping the refugees. Actually, organisations are overwhelmed by people who are offering their time, money and material things. There has been a surprising solidarity wave in many parts of Germany. Munich and Bavaria belong to them. I have seen old people buying sweets and chocolates for Syrian, Egyptian, Pakistani and Afghan children as if they were their grandkids. I saw tons of water bottles, sweets, clothes and blankets waiting for being distributed. I saw children saying “Thank you” when given a sweet, people clapping their hands and welcoming refugees, wishing them good luck for their future.

I spoke with Khalid, a Syrian man who moved to Germany in 1982. He was waiting for his cousin. And he was also helping people, explaining them what was going on, what would happen in the coming days. “They are confused”, he told me, “they get diverse information and most of them do not speak nor understand English, so communication is very difficult.” I asked him if the refugees who were arriving there were the poorest ones, as I saw the majority with cellular phones, tablets and other technological tools. “No”, he answered, “the wealthiest ones have left the country years ago. These here are barely above the average. The poorest are still in Syria.” I also asked him what people expect from a life in Europe, or Germany. “Their expectations are very high”, Khalid stated, “they come here with the belief they will find a well- paid job. This is the first shock. The integration will also be difficult: European and Arabic mentalities are very different. So there might be many clashes during daily life. But first, they must understand how to make the first steps. This is why I am here today.”

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Then I met Jaad, another Syrian guy who had reached Munich on Friday. “Now we are waiting for our train to Hamburg, where friends of ours live. There I will create a new life for my family, InshAllah. I have got an MBA and hope to find a job as soon as I have learned German.” They look exhausted. The kids are dirty, tired and hungry. “It was not possible for us to stay in Syria any more. The war will not stop in the next months and conditions are getting worse.” While telling me his story, his son, who was sitting on my lap, ate a muffin. A whole muffin. That’s what I call health!

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