Homeless, helpless refugees use theater to push for a better life in squalid Iraqi camp

    DAQUQ, Iraq — On a bare stage with only two chairs and a table, Samahir Farhan portrayed before 300 people the sense of helplessness that refugees feel. It was easy to play the role and for the audience to empathize: They all are refugees.

“Our problems have become too many — we cannot bear it anymore,” Farhan said during one performance at a refugee camp near Kirkuk in northern Iraq, “We are tired of all this. It's been an entire year in this camp.”  

Read more at USA Today

Depth of war carnage comes into focus as Syrians start long struggle to rebuild their lives

CAIRO — In a grim irony, as a series of cease-fires in major portions of the country take hold in Syria, local activists around the country say the de-escalation of violence is revealing for the first time the scale of destruction wreaked by the 6-year-old civil war and the massive needs of the survivors to rebuild their homes and their lives.

But amid the carnage are signs that the slow business of rebuilding has begun.

Read more at The Washington Times

The Palestinian Museum Hosts Its First Exhibit

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_IRQ150410aa001.jpegBIRZEIT, West Bank—Sipping lemonade and orange juice, the crowd of local and international luminaries who attended the Palestinian Museum’s first exhibition this weekend hoped they were witnessing a new dawn for art and politics in the troubled region.

The museum’s director, Mahmoud Hawari, views the new institution and its first show, “Jerusalem Lives,” as a crucial step in fulfilling the Palestinian dream of an independent state asserting its rightful claims to Israeli-occupied territory.  

Read more at Al Fanar

Atheists in Muslim world: Silent, resentful and growing in number

BABYLON, Iraq — Lara Ahmed wears a headscarf and behaves like a pious Muslim.
But the 21-year-old Iraqi woman hides a secret from her peers at the University of Babylon: her atheism.

“I was not convinced by the creation story in the Quran,” she said. “Besides, I feel religions are unjust, violate our human rights and devalue women’s identities.”    

Read more at The Washington Times

Pakistan Prime Minister Sharif removed from office for corruption

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_PAK130912aa001.jpegLAHORE, Pakistan — Pakistan's highest court removed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from office Friday over corruption charges in a landmark decision expected to throw the nuclear-armed nation into political turmoil.

Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf said Sharif was "disqualified for life," although the court did not explicitly ban him from running again. It ordered that criminal charges be filed against him and his family.   

Read more at USA Today

In a bid to promote diversity, Egypt plans to restore Alexandria synagogue

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt (RNS) — A $2 million restoration of Egypt’s largest synagogue is the start of a government effort to keep alive the legacy of the Jewish community, whose members have largely left for Israel, France and elsewhere since the middle of the last century.

“We are experiencing a renaissance,” said Samy Ibrahim, vice president of the Cairo Jewish community, which, like the one in Alexandria, counts a population of less than a dozen members. “The government is elevating the profile of the heritage of Egyptian Jews.” 

Read more at Religion News Service

A Mexican-Syrian Friendship Sparks a Refugee Program

Adrian Melendez, a Mexican, first met Jackdar Mohammed, a Syrian, at a freshly constructed refugee camp in northern Iraq in March of 2013. Mohammed, both a refugee and a volunteer at the camp, jokingly offered the Mexican a spicy meal. A year later that encounter had changed both of their lives—and many others’ lives as well.

When Melendez first met Mohammed, he was working for Un Ponte Per, an Italian NGO partnered with the United Nations to support Syrian refugees in Iraq.

Read more at Al Fanar

Syrian rebels fear Bashar Assad benefits from Trump-Putin truce

CAIRO — Diaa Sroor recently watched as Russian troops move to the outskirts of his hometown of Daraa in southwest Syria, supposedly to act as observers under a cease-fire agreement recently struck between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at their much-anticipated Group of 20 meeting in Germany this month.

The Syrian acknowledged in an interview to having mixed feeling about the deal from the start. “The airstrikes have stopped,” said Dr. Sroor, 35, a medical doctor, “but the regime artillery units are still active outside the de-escalation zone.”

Read more at The Washington Times

10 Iraqi Universities Rebuild In Wake of Islamic State


Ten Iraqi universities closed their doors as the Islamic State seized swaths of northwestern Iraq three years ago.

Their campuses became battlefields. Bombs and mortar shells destroyed many of their buildings.

Read more at Al Fanar

Hard-fought victory in sight: Iraq close to retaking Mosul from Islamic State

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_IRQ150315aa001.jpegBAGHDAD — The culmination of the long, harder-than-expected battle to drive Islamic State from Iraq is at hand.

Following weeks of steady but bloody progress, Iraqi government forces announced Thursday that they were close to recapturing the landmark Nuri mosque in Mosul, a hugely symbolic victory retaking the holy site where Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his only known public appearance in 2014 and from which he declared the establishment of a radical Islamic “caliphate.”   

Read more at The Washington Times

First elephants, then rhinos — now donkeys are under threat


Ashley Ness was tracking down smugglers in the South African countryside earlier this year when she came upon an unexpected sight — hundreds of donkey hides hanging on tree branches.

The hides were on a homestead rented out to Chinese immigrants, said Ness, an inspector with Highveld Horse Care, a nonprofit animal rights group. Tractors, shipping containers and other detritus littered the property. Inside one of the containers, Ness and police officers found at least 3,000 donkey skins stacked.

 Read more at PRI

Egypt’s Coptic Christians question whether el-Sissi alliance can protect them from terror


CAIRO — Pope Francis is long gone from Egypt, but his April trip intensified a growing unease among Coptic Christians about President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s embrace of their 10 million-strong community.

During the pontiff’s visit, Mr. el-Sissi told Francis that the Egyptian government “is committed to treating all nationals equally on grounds of citizenship and constitutional and legal rights.”   

Read more at The Washington Times

Palestinian University Graduates Face Harsh Futures


HEBRON—Mohammad Ahmed studied accounting at al-Quds Open University in Hebron. He graduated with 3.7 out of 4.0 grade point average. But he’s never worked as an accountant.

“Two years after finishing my bachelor’s degree in accounting, I worked in a small furniture factory to earn money,” said Ahmed. “If I depended on my degree, I wouldn’t have a job in the next five years.”

Read more at Al Fanar Media

Rush-hour bombing near embassies kills 90, wounds hundreds in Kabul

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_IRQ151130aa01.jpegKABUL — At least 90 people were killed and hundreds wounded Wednesday when a massive explosion rocked a diplomatic area near the presidential palace in Afghanistan's capital.

Public health ministry spokesman Ismail Kawasi told the Associated Press that 400 people were injured in the bombing, which happened near Zambaq Square in the center of Kabul during rush hour.

Read more at USA Today

Rebuilding Mosul’s Library, Book by Book


A campaign to restore the holdings of the library of the University of Mosul has received an enthusiastic response since it began three months ago. Professors, students and private donors inside and outside Iraq are contributing books and other materials even before government military action to reclaim the city from Da’esh (Islamic State) has ended.

Islamic State seized the library when it captured Mosul in June of 2014, and made a show of destroying its books and manuscripts.

Read more at Al Fanar Media

Who's fed up with sex assaults on Egyptian women?


CAIRO — Munir Tawab admits he added to Egypt’s reputation for catcalling and groping women on the street.

But a new movement led by one man to combat sexual harassment — considered the norm in this country — has changed Tawab's actions.

Read more at USA Today

Palestinians clash over video of snacking politician on hunger strike in Israeli prison

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The deliberate release of a video showing Palestinian politician Marwan Barghouti eating cookies and a candy bar in his cell while supposedly leading a hunger strike against conditions in Israeli prisons has widened divisions as the 50-year anniversary of the Six-Day War approaches.

Israelis say the video highlights the duplicity of a terrorist. Palestinians are convinced that the leaked footage is either a setup or “fake news” about a charismatic leader whom many Palestinians view as a potential replacement for Mahmoud Abbas, the 82-year-old president of the Palestinian Authority.

Read more at The Washington Times

English speakers from Cameroon are joining Syrian refugees on migrant boats

Ngomba Lucas has given up on his education this year.

The 18-year-old has not attended school since January, when teachers walked off the job to protest the central government’s treatment of Anglophone Cameroonians in the largely French-speaking West African country. He’s missed so many classes, he couldn’t pass national exams anyway.

Read more at PRI

In Rwanda, growth is the only option

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_RWA161616aa001.jpegCAN ECONOMIC growth ever paper over hate and grievous bloodshed? Rwanda’s survival depends on that possibility. More than two decades ago, this small East African country witnessed one of the greatest crimes of the 20th century: Extremist ethnic Hutus murdered more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, often by hacking them to death with machetes.

Now, the country is remarketing itself as the region’s economic miracle — the Singapore of Africa, the hotbed of a burgeoning services industry, a forward-looking country boldly pushing toward a cashless economy through financial technology.

Read more at The Boston Globe

Syrian rebels cheer U.S. missile strike on Assad's airbase

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_SYR120911AA001a.jpegCAIRO — Syrian opponents of President Bashar Assad cheered the U.S. missile strikes on a Syrian regime airbase Friday, saying it's about time the United States responded to the Syrian strongman's brutality.

"Hitting regime targets which have been used to launch attacks against Syrian civilians for six years is welcome news," said Issam Elrayaes, 41, a captain in the Free Syrian Army, one of many rebel groups waging a civil war against Assad's rule.

Read more at USA Today

Like a phoenix, Egypt economy is rising from ashes

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_EGY130828AA002.jpegCAIRO — At first glance, software engineer Ahmed Elhaz, psychiatrist Mohammed El Shami and furniture maker Mahmoud Shaaban have little in common: One writes computer code, another provides counseling and the third uses carving tools to ply his trade.

Yet all three are benefiting from an unexpected turnaround in Egypt’s long-suffering economy.

Read more at USA Today

Pakistan wants millions of Afghan refugees gone

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_PAK151515aa001.jpegIn the bustling border town of Peshawar, Pakistan, the lines form early these days at this government office that processes residence permits. That's because Afghan refugees now live in constant fear of officials separating them from their loved ones or deporting them to their war-torn native country that many no longer consider home.

“The government of Pakistan has already deported my husband and my eldest son to Afghanistan,” said Afghan refugee Laiba Zeb, 27, who waited in line for hours at the registration office with her other remaining children.

Read more at PRI

Young Arabs have a message for their leaders: Security is about more than war and terrorism

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_EGY130705aa003.jpegPARIS — A bloody day in the heart of the City of Light left some of France’s best-known journalists dead and police tracking down the native Islamist terrorists suspected of carrying out the murders to avenge what they said were insults to the founder of their faith. One suspect surrendered and two others were missing.

The well-coordinated early-morning attack on the editorial offices of the Charlie Hebdo targeted the editor of the bitingly satiric weekly, Stephane Charbonnier, nine colleagues and a security guard, all murdered in cold blood by masked assailants who reportedly called out the names of their victims as they were shot.

Read more at PRI

Egyptian Copts finally fulfilling ‘dream’ of traveling to Jerusalem

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_EGY130305AA002.jpegAL-KOSHEH, Egypt (RNS) For decades, merchant Refaat El-Sayeh, a Coptic Christian, wanted to see the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and visit the Church of the Nativity in nearby Bethlehem. But mostly, he wanted to feel closer to God.

For years, those pilgrimages for Egypt’s Coptic Christians, like El-Sayeh, were discouraged.

Read more at Religion News Service

As the Syrian conflict turns 6 years old, conditions remain unbearable

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_SYR130328PT002.jpegCAIRO — Bombs rained down on the Al-Waer neighborhood in western Homs in Syria six times one recent day. As they fell, Abu Mahmoud remembered how his 13-year-old son, Mahmoud, and brother-in-law, Hotheifah, 22, died in a similar barrage.

"I was next to them in the house," said Mahmoud, 35, a farmer. "They didn’t have time to run away."

Read more at USA Today

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