Jabeen (Jan. 2, 2012)


Hi everyone,

Sorry it has been so long for an update. A kind member of our community recently wrote and wondered about the long silence and it gave me the exact push I needed to write and update you again.

Where do I begin?

It has been an insane year. Since Aida and my initial trip to Tunisia in February, which you all made possible, we at ARA have grown and changed in some remarkable yet insane ways. We have jumped from a few stories a month to more than 50, and for clients that now include many American outlets as well as British and German ones. We went from coverage that was mainly focused on parts of Europe to now most of Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Japan and Central Asia. And we are being asked for Latin America!!!

Needless to say, managing that exploding growth has been very challenging and I think I had two days off this entire year from my now 16-hour days.

Still, it has been a wild ride, extremely rewarding and I am proud of what our reporters and I have built and the stories we have managed to get out there. And I would also say that I have never been happier or more satisfied as a journalist. So I will do my best to update you on the past six months as to why.


Since our early coverage of Tunisia and later Libya last spring, as you might remember, we sent two reporters (Sumi and Nurhan) to the Turkish border to cover the situation regarding the Syrian refugees there in June.

Besides writing blogs, which were posted on this site, we also wrote (and are continuing to write) stories on the continually escalating situation there.

I am posting the links to the stories below on our story about the refugee camps and also the wedding that Sumi and Nurhan stumbled upon at the border.

We still have a few we wrote but didn't manage to sell but are currently updating to resell as the situation has changed and we don't want to lose our work or the amazing interviews Sumi and Nurhan did.

Spreading the word: Syria's digital revolution
Syrians discover new 'power of their voice'

Syrian terror campaign forces refugees across northern border

Syrian refugees continue to stream into Turkey

Syrian refugees test ties with Turkey

The wedding day - Coming apart and coming together on the Turkish-Syrian border

A routine, care and gratitude: Inside the Boynuyogun camp at the Turkish-Syrian border

'We have to help them' - Syrian refugees a flashpoint for national discussion in Turkey

Turkey a beacon amid Arab world's uncertainty

Arab Revolutions team

At the same time, we created a dedicated Arab Revolutions team. While it has been slow-going, mainly because of our regular work that keeps us alive as reporters and also the eurocrisis coverage which has taken over a lot of this core teams' lives (Sumi, Ruby, Louise, Siobhan, me) the past few months, we have managed to build, grow and do some stories.

We concentrated on Syria and reported on the economic situation there with the help of our colleague, whom we can't name. This was very difficult and time consuming, both for our colleague, who had to be extremely carefully in his interviewing not get caught, as well as us who had to piece his reporting together from another language plus Arabic.

In the end, USA Today ran it but abbreviated -- they freaked on the lack of names in the story (they have the strictest anonymous source policy of any American newspaper and even so, did bend it for our story). Still, we can't name people because of the threat to their safety so much of our original reporting and the compelling voices got cut out. The original and the printed version are posted below.

Damascus feels effects of crippled economy

Original uncut version:

Damascus feels effects of crippled economy

We still have a pending Syria story, about how the civil war will likely NOT be fought on sectarian lines. We also have a story that includes an interview with the slain Kurdish-Syrian opposition leader Mashaal Tammo just weeks before he was murdered by the government's thugs. We are hoping to get those printed in the next few weeks along with one about the threat to medical personnel, and the pressure on them to give up activists and protestors. We are also preparing a profile on the activists keeping the revolution alive.


Along with Syria, we have been doing regular Egypt coverage thanks to our reporters, Mike and Sarah, especially on the elections. That included going beyond the elections to the situation of the Copts there as well as the revolution-fatigue experienced by many in the country.

Egypt's Christians Prepare for New Political Climate

Islamists maintain lead in Egypt

Rights groups: No true democracy yet in Egypt

Islamists gain backers seeking help, not oppression

Egypt's elections go smoothly amid protests

Protesters want voting delayed after recent military attacks

In Egypt, measuring gap between activists, 'silent majority'

Cairo crowds force faster transition of power on eve of vote


Regarding Libya, while coverage trailed for some months everywhere as the war wore on, Patrick and I contributed to the stories regarding Gadhafi's fall plus Portia regularly filed in the days leading up to that day as well as after. In the new year, Mike will be going back and doing some follow up reporting on Libya's transition and how that is going. I hope to be better about regularly posting our articles and updates, especially as we are getting a new website that should automate some of these functions (yes, I actually manually post everything with HMTL - it is very time consuming and sucks but our friend Hauke generously donated his time and talent to designing and building us a new site with a CMS).

Women frustrated by lack of representation in Libya

Libya celebrates, worries about future after Gadhafi

Libya at a standstill until Sirte falls

Gadhafi loyalists empty entire cities in fear of rebels

Residents of Gadhafi's hometown are caught in the middle

Hundreds of Africans held in Libya on mercenary charges

Doctor's song of freedom inspires Libyans

Many Libyans miss trappings of security under Gadhafi


We had one big piece about Yemen which got printed in English and German. It's by Jennifer who used to live in Yemen and ran the Yemen Observer during that time (she wrote a book about her experiences, "Woman Who Fell From the Sky" last year). It's a wonderful piece and really took a lot to execute.

Yemen: Descending Into Despair


Aida continued (and is continuing) to write about Morocco and the situation there in the months after we returned from Tunisia.

France Is Sending North African Graduates Home

Arab Art as an Early Indicator of Revolution

Morocco's Democratic Changes Fail to Appease All

Morocco's Mawazine festival stirs controversy

Constitutional reforms spark debate in Morocco

Violence Appears to Stall Reforms in Morocco

She also wrote a blog post for ARA about her decision to stay freelance: The ARA Blog: Freelance vs. staff: A no-brainer. She wrote about how going to Tunisia in February changed everything for her.

And then there is Tunisia, which started it all...

I wasn't able to go back for the elections because the costs were too prohibitive (prices for flights tripled). So I worked with a local talent, Akram, and we managed to get three stories out together as well as updates by Portia and Siobhan

Some fear for freedoms in post-revolution Tunisia

Islamist party seeks coalition in Tunisia

Tunisia votes after first Arab Spring

Elections demonstrate the big step that Tunisia has taken

Taking care of Libyan refugees strains generosity of Tunisians

Even so, there were issues. Some editors couldn't see why it was important to cover it. We also almost got our advancer knocked off the sked (story schedule) because of Gadhafi's death just days before the election. But I really pushed and managed to save it.

I was in Tunisia again in December for a working holiday. I spoke to dozens of people and was just moved by how much pride people still have in what they did. Of course there are issues but so many people, ordinary people across the country, told me they know things are bad economically but they also expressed patience: "We need to wait, these things (transitions) take time," went the common refrain.

It seems so different from Egypt, based on what my colleagues there tell me. It is still unfinished in Egypt but there also seems to be a bitterness, a revolution-fatigue. It is understandable when you consider what is going on there. But it was also refreshing to see how Tunisians continue to take pride in what they did and what they are still doing.

For example, one morning we were greeted at the breakfast table at our hotel by Anis, whom we spoke to everyday. Every day, he greeted us with "how are you this morning," and a big smile. On one day in December, that changed: "We have a new president," he beamed, forgetting protocol. At a store later that day, we were told by a shop keeper who just couldn't contain himself immediately upon entering, "We have a new president."

It is enchanting and the enthusiasm is infective.

We (Andy and I) were driving in the mountains in the south, listening to the radio talk show. They were playing "I had a dream" by ABBA in between interviewing a songwriter/singer. After the song was over, the host, fired up and lost her interview persona: "We had a dream, we had a dream that we would get rid of that dictator Ben Ali. Our dream came true..." We were astounded. She just kept going. It was hilarious, and moving.

People across the country can't stop talking about it, a year after it happened. Every conversation I had, no matter how casual had some reference to the revolution peppered in it. Tunisians I met brought up "dignity" over and over, and how they won it, or rather wrested it, back. Even a new stamp honors Mohammad Bouazizi, the young produce vendor who set himself on fire Dec. 17, 2010, has printed under his face: "La revolution de la dignite."

The stamp is for letters that go around the world.

And politics are all the rage. While I was there, they appointed a new government, that will be in charge of writing the new constitution and sheparding the country into new elections next year. A friend of mine, who until recently was completely apolitical, is now a regional leader of a party and full of zeal over creating a party structure, offices and bringing people on board - his entire family recruits friends, family, neighbors. He proudly produced for me the party's newly printed manifesto.

And while there is concern over the Islamists, the general sense I had was that people accept that they were the democratically elected party that received the most votes (and the underlying reasons why) and were proud of that. There was also a sense that if the party doesn't perform, they'll get kicked out by the voters and no small amount of pride in that either.

One interesting thing was the ongoing debate over what should be the national holiday: Dec. 17 or Jan. 14. No one could give me an answer. As of Dec. 17, they still hadn't decided. Regardless, Sidi Bouzid, the hometown of Mohammad Bouazizi threw a grand memorial ceremony on Dec. 17 honoring their native son, now a hero across the entire Arab world.

Still, the situation is still very dire. Hundreds of hotels across the country are closed and those people employed there out of work. Tourism is still lagging. I did see some tourists returning but the problem is bigger than Germans and French (the mainstay of the mass tourism industry) staying away: Tourists that want to come are finding it difficult as well. Charters are down to one a week from Berlin and other ways to fly to the country are expensive now.

I met a small group of Americans (that in itself was startling) in the Sahara and they told me how their tour got cancelled last February and how they hunted and hunted to find another one. They couldn't even book for 2012. Finally, they found a local operator and managed to get on a tour but it was quite an effort.

I found that insane, that people want to go to Tunisia and Tunisians need them to come and yet big operators and airlines are making it so difficult. Even so, my German hairdresser told me in November that he was planning to go to Tunisia for a short break (for the first time). "We need to support them, have solidarity with them," he said.

Another issue is Libyans, both refugees and rich Libyans who left during the revolution. According to Tunisians, thousands of Libyans are still being hosted by Tunisians in their homes, a real strain financially. At the same time, rich Libyans are buying up property on the coast and prices are exploding. One other element is crime: According to 911 operators and locals I spoke to, Libyans are causing violent crime to go up, in particular rapes and also in-fighting between pro- and anti-regime Libyans.

Still, one thing that stuck with me was how people told me that in spite of all the country has to grapple with, that now, after the revolution, they could and would build a new Tunisia and that they would "do it together." That was something new, they said.

In 2012, I hope to do more stories on Tunisia. I have quite a few story ideas, besides the obvious year anniversary. I hope to find the time soon. One urgent one I would like to write is a travel story. I don't usually write travel but I think it's urgent that someone help would-be travelers navigate the difficulties in getting there, getting a tour and also just discover how wonderful a place it is.

And next year, we hope to do more coverage on Syria and also on Bahrain - we are looking for a local reporter there.

Thank you all again for all your support - it was that backing that led us to cover Tunisia's revolution and transiton but also all the Arab revolutions. These are some of the most inspiring stories I have ever been involved with in my career. And I can tell you that reporters on our team have jumped at covering them, irrespective of whether they earn anything and at great cost to themselves, because they have bee so inspired.

Happy New Year!


Further stories and columns

Rapid Change as Arab Spring Slows into Winter

ARABICA - Kristen's regular column on what is being talked in the Arab world:

Dec. 28

Syria: Rebels step up attacks against isolated Assad

Syrians abroad accuse envoys of intimidation

Observers predict Syria is headed for civil war

Original uncut version: Syria on Verge of Civil War

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