Doria Shafiq won the vote for Egyptian women, and kicked the Brits out

“To know, to be able, to want and to dare,” Doria Shafiq Britain today is celebrating the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, passed on 6 February 1918, which gave women over the age of 30 who owned property the right to vote. The outcome was a huge achievement in the long road to equal rights for British women, but a 2015 film “Suffragette” has forced us to confront some uncomfortable details about the women’s movement itself. The nuances were not exactly captured in the film but in the reviews that followed it. Observers noted that suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst – played by Meryl Streep – had some outrageous views on imperialism; for a start she strongly supported […]

‘As a Palestinian on the stage I feel I’m fighting, I’m resisting’

When Mo’min Swaitat was five-years-old he would build toy towns made of stones in the forest near his hometown Jenin in the north of Palestine. The next day he would return to his construction only to find that Israeli soldiers had trampled them into the ground. “This is the symbolism of what happened to Palestinian villages,” Swaitat tells me. “I grew up at the end of the First Intifada and at the beginning of the Second Intifada. I saw the army everywhere when I was five.” Seventeen years on and Swaitat is an actor and a director living in London having studied at the London International School of Performing Arts (LISPS). His latest work is a dark comedy, “Alien Land”, […]

1,000 days of Saudi war on Yemen, backed by the UK

This week marks 1,000 days since the Saudi-led coalition launched a bombing campaign in Yemen. What followed was the world’s worst cholera epidemic and horrific human rights abuses on the ground yet Yemen has been dubbed the forgotten war because much of the world has ignored it. Data gathered by the Yemen Data Project and released this week shows that since 26 March 2015, when the war began, 15,489 coalition air raids have hit the country and nearly one third of these have targeted non-military sites. In the first half of December alone, 33 air raids targeted residential areas. The UN says that more than 60,000 people have been killed or wounded in the war whilst Unicef fears 150,000 children […]

The UK supported Saleh and every other Middle East tragedy

Shortly after photos of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, wrapped in a red blanket bearing a fatal head wound, were circulated on Twitter, a shot of him flanked by Tunisia’s Ben Ali, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak also did the rounds. It was a reminder of life as a dictator in the Middle East, where you can rule for decades only to meet a grisly fate, as Saleh and Gaddafi did, or be tossed aside and deposed from your throne like Ben Ali and Mubarak were. What do all four have in common? Dead or alive, none have faced accountability for the corruption and jailing of political protesters they oversaw during their lengthy reigns. All were primed […]

‘The Syrian conflict is a very big money machine’

Manaf Halbouni tells me that the price of tomatoes in Syria has increased 80 fold since the start of the conflict: “When I left Syria you used to pay five Syrian pounds for one kilo of tomatoes and at the moment it’s around 400… if you want to buy eggs you pay around 500 Syrian pounds. The prices are insane. I really ask myself how they manage to live. The salaries didn’t get higher just the prices.” Inflation is just one of the tragedies to come out of the war on Syria, along with the constant air strikes, bombs and shootings that terrorise people on a daily basis. Over five million people have fled Syria since the war started in […]

Code Name: Butterfly

Butterfly is not your average schoolgirl; at least not if you went to school in the UK. One of her best friends calls herself Dalal Mughrabi after the female Fatah fighter who played a central role in the 1978 Coastal Road massacre. Another classmate, Fida, is nicknamed Al-Khansa after an Arabian poet who was known for odes that mourned the loss of her two brothers. One of Fida’s brothers died in the First Intifada, the other in the second. It is these experiences of being a teenager living under occupation in Palestine that Butterfly paints for the reader in “Code Name: Butterfly”, a coming of age novel set in a small Palestinian village and which has been shortlisted for the […]

The million-dollar boat ride across the Mediterranean

At 3am, two weeks after he spoke out in a meeting against members of the ruling Popular Front for Democracy Party, security forces entered Mohamed’s house, beat him up in front of his mother and his wife and accused him of trafficking people out of Eritrea. Mohamed was taken to a prison in Hashfayrat, located in a closed military zone roughly 30 kilometres from the city of Keren, where he stayed for around a year. He had problems with his eyes, was denied medical treatment, and wasn’t given adequate food to eat. Eventually he bribed a military officer to liaise between himself and a smuggler to help him escape. The officer bought clothes and dates and distributed it between Mohamed […]

Balcony on the Moon: Coming of Age in Palestine

Ibtisam Barakat’s house in Ramallah is made of memories, not stone, she tells us. It is made of birds migrating in the sky, of her mother and father, of the skateboards her brother made from wooden vegetable boxes and of musical instruments shaped from rubber bands. It is these memories which fill the pages of her memoir, “Balcony on the Moon: Coming of Age in Palestine”, which was published in October 2016 and has been shortlisted for MEMO’s Palestine Book Awards. “Balcony on the Moon” charts Ibtisam’s extraordinary journey from childhood towards adulthood in extraordinary circumstances – the occupation. At the heart of the book is the juxtaposition between them and how Ibtisam navigates the challenges of both. One year […]

‘I am steadfast,’ says Egyptian preacher on death row

Sheikh Fadl Al-Mawla Hassan was at work at the Engineer’s Syndicate in Alexandria when Egyptian forces raided the building. Everyone, including the security guards and officials working for the company, were arrested. Once they had everyone in custody police started to investigate their background – were they active in politics, did they attend protests, were they anti-coup. With his long beard Sheikh Fadl was an obvious target. Before long authorities found that he was a known preacher in Alexandria and affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Shortly after his arrest a video of Sheikh Fadl wearing just his underwear was broadcast across Egyptian television networks – he had killed a Christian taxi driver, said the anchors, at the Rabaa sit-in in […]

‘The military plan to wipe out all Muslims in Myanmar’

“This village is a Muslim-free zone,” reads a sign hanging at the entrance to a village in an area of Myanmar outside Rakhine state. The orders are directed at the country’s Rohingya population, an ethnic group of around 1.3 million that live mainly in Rakhine and who have been described as the “world’s most persecuted minority”. It’s not difficult to see why. Since 1992 the Burmese government has imposed heavy restrictions on the Rohingyas. If they want to travel from one town to the other they have to pass immigration checkpoints and to do so the administration must grant them permission. Because requests are regularly turned down the Rohingyas have become isolated within their own country: “They’ve kept us in […]