June 7th, 2010
09:09 AM ET

For Arabs wooed by Obama's Cairo speech, flotilla response frustrating

After President Obama's speech in Cairo last year, Arabs were hopeful about the new President, selling shirts and celebrating him. Now, things are a bit different.

A lot has changed since the symbolic Cairo speech President Barack Obama dedicated to Muslims exactly a year ago.

Back then, I wrote a story headline "Middle East eagerly awaits Obama with curiosity and cautious optimism."

Today, it is safe to say that the curiosity has turned into skepticism and the cautious optimism has been replaced by flat-out pessimism. Headlines such as this one: "Muslim praise for Obama dries up a year after Cairo speech" are commonplace for the media who cared to remember the speech on its first anniversary. But, most Arab media didn't give the anniversary any coverage or even mention.

The Gaza flotilla disaster couldn't have come at a worse time for Obama's image among Muslims and Arabs. After all, 9 Turks died, when Israel stormed a flotilla of ships carrying aid to Gaza in an attempt to break a 3-year-old Israeli blockade.

Israel: Seized aid ship's passengers being deported | Navy seizes aid boat headed for Gaza

The Muslim world turned to the White House hoping for a stand that mirrors President Obama's promises to the Muslim world.

"The White House is trying to understand the circumstances of what happened," is what they heard.

Video: Obama: Israel has "legitimate" concern


May 28th, 2010
11:47 AM ET

Let's talk about 'Sex' - and the Middle East

"Sex and the City 2" may visit the Mideast, but it won't be showing in all the theaters there.

There comes a time in every person’s life when they are faced with an embarrassing conversation about sex. In the Middle East, every conversation about sex is embarrassing - that is if sex is discussed at all. But the popularity of shows such as "Sex and the City," which people can see via U.S. channels by satellite, makes you wonder how much of that uncomfortable feeling around the subject of sex is innate and how much of it is imposed by a society that considers sex, religion and politics as taboo.

In some parts of the Middle East, men and women may like the characters of "Sex and the City" and even imitate their looks and lifestyle but to have a conversation about one’s sexuality is considered inappropriate. In an emergency, if a most basic health-related sex subject is to be opened, it forces people to lower their voices and even speak in code to minimize embarrassment.

More than 20 countries make up the Arab Middle East. Their traditions and customs are as varied and as colorful as their local dress, food and dialects. The contrast between the two extremes can be shocking and serves as a perfect example for the West to stop lumping every Arab under the umbrella of the “Arab World.”

Lebanon is a good example of the liberal pro-Western extreme, where a half-naked woman with Botox-injected lips can show off her silicon-filled breasts on the same street as another woman covered in a black abaya from head to toe.

On the other side of this extreme equation is Saudi Arabia, where a woman doesn’t even have the right to drive a car or even be present in a public place without being accompanied by a male “guardian.”

Abu Dhabi, one of seven emirates of the Gulf nation of the United Arab Emirates, won’t allow "Sex and the City 2" to be shown in its theaters, although the movie supposedly takes place in the emirate. The producers weren’t even allowed to film scenes in the UAE and ended up shooting most of the film in Morocco.


May 20th, 2010
09:31 AM ET

Is Miss USA a Muslim trailblazer?

She's always wanted to be a beauty queen and her dream came true with one of the biggest titles - Miss USA 2010 - Rima Fakih.

As soon as the announcement was made, the labels appeared. She was described as Arab-American, Lebanese-American, Muslim-American. She became the center of controversy overnight after pole dancing photos surfaced and spread across the globe just as fast as an outlandish rumor started by a U.S. neo-conservative blog that she's a spy for the Shiite Lebanese group Hezbollah, designated by the U.S. and E.U. countries as a terrorist group.

It's hard to gauge which claim could possibly hurt the new Miss USA more: the racy pictures or the unfounded rumors alleging she is affiliated with Hezbollah. One thing is certain, the Internet feasted on the story and different groups with different agendas jumped on the opportunity this story afforded them.

Miss USA to Behar: Pole-dancing pictures were all in fun


April 28th, 2010
01:35 PM ET

Lebanon youth have hope, but can it cause drastic change?

Thousands of Lebanese youth took to the streets demanding a secular country.

“What’s your religion?” big signs asked and thousands of Lebanese shouted, “None of your business” in a daring, bold and ambitious effort to demand a secular country.

A group of young activists and intellectuals have prepared for the event for months mainly through social media. They created a Facebook page, produced several promotional videos which they distributed through YouTube and they engaged the media and the street in a subtle way until Sunday, April 25, the day of the march.

A couple of thousand people showed up. All age groups and genders were represented from babies in strollers to an aging generation of Lebanese who bore witness to atrocities that resulted from sectarian divisions in their country. They expressed through slogans their impatience with their country’s present status, where every aspect of their life rotates around religion and tradition.


April 22nd, 2010
09:46 AM ET

'South Park' Mohammed issue sparks debate among Muslims

A message on the "South Park" website explaining why the second part of an episode involving Mohammed can't be streamed online yet.

It took seven minutes of a "South Park" episode to change a devout Muslim’s features from an entertained smile to complete disapproval. He told his colleague, Lebanese blogger Bilal el-Houri, as he walked away from the screening, “This is disgusting.”

What the young man (he prefers to remain anonymous) found disgusting was the depiction of Islam’s revered Prophet Mohammed as a bear mascot in "South Park’s" 200th episode. The depiction was the show authors’ sarcastic attempt to highlight media’s uneasy dealing with the father of Islam as not to offend Muslims who consider any depiction of their prophet as blasphemous.

Since his followers insist on him not being shown in any form, producers have always struggled with ways to include Mohammed in story lines without showing him. The most famous of those depictions is the classic Hollywood movie ‘The Message’ by Mustafa al-Akkad about the life of Prophet Mohammed. Being Muslim himself, al-Akkad directed his entire film with extreme sensitivity building the character of the prophet around the wind or the light so it’s a presence that is felt or experienced but not seen.

The "South Park" episode showing Mohammed disguised in a bear suit earned the show creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker a jihadist campaign and a serious warning from a radical Islamic group based in New York City. The group posted on its website Revolutionmuslim.com a video filled with reminders of what fundamentalist Muslims did to those who in their eyes “insulted” their prophet.

On Wednesday night the episode continued the storyline of Mohammed in part II of the episode– but it aired with additional audio bleeps and image blocks reading “CENSORED." They also didn't have the episode streaming on their Web site. There was however, this message from the creators:

"After we delivered the show, and prior to broadcast, Comedy Central placed numerous additional audio bleeps throughout the episode. We do not have network approval to stream our original version of the show."

Comedy Central confirmed they added additional bleeps to the show than what was in the original cut. Whether the decision was an attempt to appeal to Muslims or to keep angry sentiment at bay, nobody knows, but tackling the issue of Mohammed in any way, beeps and censor marks included, still sparks concern among Muslims.