Inside the Middle East
June 26, 2012
Posted: 1115 GMT
Rows of chocolate-filled syringes with fake Nutella packaging as posted on
Rows of chocolate-filled syringes with fake Nutella packaging as posted on

Chocoholics beware! There's a new take on the idea of "getting a chocolate fix."

Emirati newspapers Tuesday are flashing alarming headlines like "don't buy chocolate spread in syringes," "chocolate needles alarm bells,"  and "illegal chocolate syringes spark sharp response."

The Dubai Municipality has issued a stern health warning against buying or consuming (or presumably injecting!) chocolate-filled syringes after the photos above were circulated among UAE residents via blackberry, smartphones and social networking sites.

The photos show rows of syringes filled with what looks like chocolate, carrying the familiar label of the hazelnut chocolate spread Nutella. Regional distributors of the Nutella brand have issued fervent denials to the press that their product is in any way connected to these syringes and that there is no way they would be marketed or sold to consumers.

In a statement released by the municipality yesterday, the head of the food control department at Dubai Municipality said the civic body was working with the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Environment to take necessary action.

Some newspapers are reporting similar images dating back a year; but it might have been this online ad in the classified section of a local online shopping site that sparked this recent frenzy.

Posted June 15, it tells buyers to hurry up and get their choco-shots! Only 10 Dirhams! (about $2.70)

We called the number on the ad and got through to 17-year-old Abu Dhabi resident Salem Al Mihri. He told us that it was indeed him who was selling the candy contraband online.

"But what about the Dubai Municipality health warning?" I asked.

"What health warning?" Al Mihri asked. He hadn't read today's papers.

He claims he came up with the idea a few months ago while hanging out with friends – he considered it an entrepreneurial inspiration. Al Mihri says he bought the syringes from the pharmacy, filled them with Nutella spread and added and label and voila!

He says he sold all 30 of his creations to cousins – not the general public . Since our conversation, the photo on the ad has been updated to say "Sold Out."

Oh, and he was very insistent that the syringes were totally "sterile" and did NOT have hypodermic needles attached.

"It's a fun way to eat them, squeeze them out of the syringe, of course I didn't mean it as an injection!"

Al Mihri assured us this was an one-off idea done for fun. So the Dubai Municipality and the general public can rest assured that these fake products are NOT for sale (no guarantees that there won't be another copycat with an "entrepreneurial spirit")

Al Mihri says he'd like to go to university where he hopes he'll learn to be a businessman and where we hope he'll learn about trademark infringement and food health & safety.

Meanwhile, our final thought on the matter might be best reflected in this tweet...

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Filed under: Health •Social Media •UAE

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June 24, 2012
Posted: 903 GMT

The 101st episode of 'Inside the Middle East' airs on Wednesday, July 4th at 12:30pm Jordan/1:30pm UAE.

Hope you can watch!

Want to see more?  Become a fan of the show on Facebook and follow host Rima Maktabi on Twitter.

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Filed under: Culture •Inside The Middle East •Jordan •Video

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June 18, 2012
Posted: 1040 GMT

A general view of Rainbow Street at night in Amman on May 6, 2012. Rainbow Street in Amman's heart is abuzz again after posh 1920s-era homes were turned into restaurants, galleries and libraries, drawing hipsters, bohemians, intellectuals and hordes of tourists. (KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/GettyImages)

Walking down Rainbow Street in Amman on Friday night, I was thrilled by the positive vibes around the arty cafes and restaurants. Young Jordanians  strolled along the street, where beautiful old houses give the whole area a magical feel. Traffic clogged the area and I had to take a long walk to get to a restaurant where friends were waiting.

In February of 2011, I covered protests in Amman just as the popular uprisings erupted across the Arab world. They were nowhere near as frequent or as large as the protests in Cairo or Tunis, but on this same street I had met young Jordanians complaining about unemployment and a lack of opportunities.

Now the restaurants and cafes were buzzing with young and old. "La vie en rose in Amman", I told myself. Had things changed so much in a year?

A few minutes later I was sitting down to dinner with – among others – a minister in the current government and a businessman. And my rosy impression quickly dissipated. A heated discussion about Jordan's financial crisis dominated our conversation, during which I got a glimpse of the challenges that Jordan's 7 million people face.

The newly appointed Jordanian government decided on Tuesday to raise the price of 90-octane gasoline from JD0.62 to JD0.70 per Litre. Earlier this month, the government introduced new electricity tariffs, raising rates as high as 150 per cent across several sectors, and raised 95-octane fuel prices by 25 per cent.

"These are tough and unpopular decisions that must be taken or else the country will drown in an unprecedented financial crisis", the minister admitted. He agreed to be quoted on background.

One former minister also at the dinner added: "Jordan has been suffering from ongoing cuts in Egyptian gas supplies which escalated the issue of power supply. Add to this the influx of Syrian refugees, before that the Libyan refugees that Jordan was never compensated for. On top of all of this, the price of fuel is skyrocketing worldwide. Not to mention that if our Saudi friends don't send us some financial aid, the Jordanian government may not have enough money to pay salaries soon."

Last year, Saudi Arabia injected $1.4 billion in cash in an attempt to help its much poorer neighbor.  But this year no Saudi aid has yet arrived in Jordan, according to some officials here.

And while there may be an air of prosperity among the young elite on Rainbow Street, there's plenty of discontent elsewhere. That same day some 2,000 Jordanians braved the intense midday heat to take to the streets demanding reform and action and against widespread corruption.  The current government – just the latest in a series over the last two years – is only a few weeks old, but already under pressure.

These are the same demands I heard a year ago. Yet this time, the crisis is bigger than Jordan. With a 15-month uprising in Syria, a politically unstable Egypt and little help coming from rich Gulf countries, Jordan's economy is ailing.

More than ever, Jordan needs its summer tourist season to be a good one.

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June 17, 2012
Posted: 1932 GMT

The 'Inside the Middle East' team is filming in Jordan this week, preparing for our 101st episode which airs on July 4th.

Here's what our colleagues at the CNN Press Room had to say about our upcoming episode:

This month, ‘Inside the Middle East’ explores the stories of women throughout the region, highlighting Jordan in particular as a country whose constitution doesn't codify equal gender rights.

Host Rima Maktabi heads north of Amman, to a small village along Jordan's border with Syria, to explore the Hashemite Kingdom's notorious 'honour killings'. In the past decade, over 100 Jordanian women have been murdered by their own families. Their crimes? Bringing shame and dishonour on the community, typically for mingling with young men or committing adultery. The programme meets with one woman who fled nine years ago to a shelter, far from her family, to escape threats of death.

Maktabi also visits the United Arab Emirates Ewa'a Shelter for Women and Children, where victims are given medical and psychological care. She meets Sara Suhail, an Emirati social worker who has devoted her life to helping victims of sexual violence.

The programme also returns to Saudi Arabia to chart the progress of Jeddah United, an all-female basketball team that the programme first met in 2008, as they struggled in a conservative society where women are not allowed to play sports in public.

Want to see more?  Become a fan of the show on Facebook and follow host Rima Maktabi on Twitter. Read the rest of this entry »

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Filed under: Culture •Jordan •Lebanon •Saudi Arabia •UAE

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June 10, 2012
Posted: 1315 GMT

US pop icon Madonna performs on stage during her first ever concert in the Gulf as part of her MDNA world tour at Abu Dhabi's Yas Island Stadium on June 3, 2012. An estimated 25,000 fans cheered and screamed as the Material Girl finally appeared on stage more than two hours late, wearing a skin-tight black outfit from her "Girl Gone Wild" album. (MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/GettyImages)

More than 20,000 fans waited in the warm weather for almost two hours before the 'Queen of Pop' Madonna kicked off her concert in Abu Dhabi last week, but her controversial performance is still echoing throughout the region today.

Coming from Tel Aviv in Israel, where she debuted her world tour last week, Madonna opened her Abu Dhabi gig with a series of religious, sexual and violent acts that left fans in both countries both mesmerized and shocked.

Some Madonna fans in the UAE, according to this columnist from Gulf Newspaper, were upset at the pop star for not abiding by their relatively conservative society.

At least one Twitter user noted a contradiction:

Madonna opened her first act  in Abu Dhabi with religious chants, and featured a huge cross on stage which was later cut in half.  In a later scene, Madonna carried an AK-47 and used it – mockingly – to kill a few of the dancers on stage.  She then proceeded to strip her clothes, albeit partially, leaving some fans with their jaws dropped in surprise.

It wasn't just in the UAE. Read the rest of this entry »

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Filed under: Abu Dhabi •Culture •Israel •UAE

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June 7, 2012
Posted: 948 GMT

'Spiders in Space' was one of the stories from our 100th episode:

He likes science, spaceships, and spiders.  Now, Amr Mohamed, a 19-year-old Egyptian living in the coastal city of Alexandria, will get to combine all three of his passions.  Mohamed was one of two global winners of the 2012  'Space Lab' competition, a YouTube-sponsored initiative to send high-school science experiments into space.  His project – to see how microgravity will affect the zebra spider's ability to catch its prey – will be launched into space for testing by astronauts living onboard the Space Station later this year.  Maktabi traveled to Alexandria to meet young Mohamed, to find out how his experiment can help other Egyptian children reach the stars.

So how did Amr get into Space Lab?  Here's a look at Amr's video application for the project:

Read the rest of this entry »

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June 4, 2012
Posted: 1809 GMT

This month, 'Inside the Middle East', celebrates its 100th episode with a special look at education, focusing on the ways Egypt, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates are developing their future generations.  Our first airing is Wednesday June 6 (click here for showtimes in your area).

Here's a look at what's coming up this month on 'Inside the Middle East':

Read the rest of this entry »

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Filed under: Abu Dhabi •Egypt •Lebanon •UAE

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June 3, 2012
Posted: 1519 GMT

A Turkish court charged an award-winning pianist on Friday with insulting Islam on Twitter, according to the Associated Press.  

Fazil Say, a 42-year-old Turkish pianist, reportedly posted several tweets to his Twitter account which were perceived as supporting atheism and insulting of Turkey's “religious values”. 

Say faces up to 18 months in prison if convicted in an October trial, according to his lawyer's comments in this article from Agence-France Presse.

"It's unbelievable that it was made into a court case." Mr. Say told the New York Times. "The case, which is inconsistent with human rights and universal laws, is bad for Turkey's image," he said to Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper.

Here's the NYT on Say's controversial tweets:

Another Twitter post, this one written by Mr. Say, joked about a muezzin’s rapid delivery of the call to prayer, asking if he wanted to get away quickly for a drink. The messages are no longer available online. The pianist, who has frequently criticized the pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party government over its cultural and social policies, publicly defines himself as an atheist— a controversial admission in Turkey, which is overwhelmingly Muslim.

Read more on Say on his website and Facebook account.

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About this blog

Welcome to the Inside the Middle East blog where CNN's journalists post news, views and video from across the region. This is also a place where you can start the discussion so please keep your comments coming. We highlight not only current news stories but also anecdotes and issues that don't always make the top of the headlines.

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Inside the Middle East airs the first week of every month on the following days and times:

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