Inside the Middle East
January 2, 2013
Posted: 1144 GMT

In January, 'Inside the Middle East' travels to Tunisia, the nation where the Arab Spring protest movement was born in 2011.

Two years ago, the self-immolation death of a Tunisian fruit vendor, Mohammed Bouazizi, upset by a lack of opportunities for employment, sparked a wave of popular anger that quickly swept across the tiny North African nation, and eventually much of the Middle East.

Two years later, what has changed?  Not much in terms of the economy, many young Tunisians say.  The country is, however, becoming much more conservative - especially in the arts and culture scene.  The program interviews several artists whose work has recently been deemed "un-Islamic", as well as a conservative Salafist sheikh who explains why some forms of expression should be contained.

We also visit the north coast of Egypt, where millions of World War II landmines and other unexploded ordnance left buried in the desert sands are still - seven decades after the crucial Allied victory at the Egyptian town of El Alamein – creating problems for Bedouins living in the area.

'Inside the Middle East' also brings one of the world's most popular writers, Lebanese-American poet Khalil Gibran, to life, through a new play in Abu Dhabi that explores the heroic, and sometimes dark,
history of Gibran.

You can find all of the January showtimes here.

Want to see more?  Follow the show on Facebook for all the latest from 'Inside the Middle East.'

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December 17, 2012
Posted: 618 GMT

A look back at the highlights of 2012 covered on Inside the Middle East.

Want to see more?  Follow the show on Facebook for all the latest from 'Inside the Middle East.'

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Filed under: Abu Dhabi •Algeria •Bahrain •Culture •Dubai •Egypt •Inside The Middle East •Iran •Iraq •Israel •Jordan •Kuwait •Lebanon •Morocco •Oman •Saudi Arabia •Sports •Tunisia •Turkey •UAE •Women •Yemen

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July 12, 2012
Posted: 1137 GMT

Fans of the late-1970s "Star Wars" movies probably know that Luke Skywalker, a reluctant hero battling his way through the film's evil Galactic Empire, was raised on the windswept plains of Tatooine, a desert wasteland planet located on the outer rim of director/writer George Lucas’ fictional galaxy.

In reality, Skywalker’s house - known as the Lars homestead - is actually located in southern Tunisia. The whitewashed ranch was constructed on an outdoor movie set in a desert region known as Tozeur.

And after more than three decades of blowing sands and extreme Saharan heat, Skywalker’s domed home was beginning to fall into disrepair.

That’s where "Star Wars" superfan Mark Dermul comes in.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Filed under: Culture •General •Science & Technology •Tunisia

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May 20, 2011
Posted: 1128 GMT
A rabbi drinks a glass of fig alcohol at the 2010 pilgrimage to Derba, a Tunisian island
A rabbi drinks a glass of fig alcohol at the 2010 pilgrimage to Derba, a Tunisian island

By Joe Sterling, CNN

(CNN) – The political tension bubbling across Tunisia, Libya and the rest of North Africa has forced the cancellation of an annual Jewish pilgrimage to a historic synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba.

Roger Bismuth, a leader in the Tunisian Jewish community, said the community is concerned about the possibility of disruptions amid the ferment in Tunisia and the warfare in nearby Libya.

"We are scared people will take the opportunity to do something," said Bismuth, leader of a community that endured a deadly 2002 al Qaeda truck bombing in Djerba. "It's irresponsible to do it."

The annual pilgrimage is always held around the Jewish holiday of Lag B'Omer, which comes this weekend, and it is centered on La Ghriba, a revered and iconic synagogue in the heart of the island. It was targeted in the 2002 attack, which killed 21 people, including German tourists.

According to legend, Jews came to Djerba after the destruction of the first temple in Jerusalem, destroyed in 586 BCE, and the synagogue has foundation stones from that edifice.

read the rest of the story here on CNN's Belief Blog

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March 3, 2011
Posted: 627 GMT

Tunisia's rappers have long made a point of speaking their minds, their lyrics often bringing them into conflict with the old regime. But more than simply upsetting the status quo, according to one of the country's leading rappers their music was the "fuel" for Tunisia's revolution.

"Balti" is Tunisia's best-known rapper and one of the founding fathers of hip-hop music in the country.
His most popular videos have reached 350,000 hits on YouTube and he's performed to audiences of over 50,000, sharing the stage with such Western rap idols as Method Man.

His latest recording is "Zine el Abadine Ben Ali and the 40 Thieves," a barbed account of the former president deceiving his people.

Rappers risked the wrath of the authorities under the Ben Ali regime, writing and recording in secret studios. Balti says he was arrested and briefly jailed in 2005 for a song which wasn't one of his. Read more...

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January 19, 2011
Posted: 1225 GMT

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Filed under: Protests •Tunisia

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January 16, 2011
Posted: 640 GMT

Tunis, Tunisia (CNN) - Even while under curfew following the ouster of their long-serving authoritarian leader, Tunisians on Saturday experienced newfound freedoms online as their acting president promised a "new phase" for his embattled land.

Filters on websites like Facebook and YouTube, put in place under former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, were dropped and Internet speed picked up considerably - a development that followed the new government's vow to ease restrictions on freedoms.

In addition, three Tunisian journalists - including two bloggers critical of Ben Ali - have been freed from jail, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Saturday.

These developments come as Fouad Mebazaa was sworn in as the country's acting leader on Saturday, after Ben Ali and his family took refuge in Saudi Arabia following days of angry street protests against the government.

Speaking on national TV, Mebazaa, who had been the country's parliamentary speaker, promised to ensure the nation's "stability," respect its constitution and "pursue the best interest of the nation."

"Citizens, sons and daughters of our country of Tunis, in this important and urgent moment in the history of our beloved country, I appeal to all of you of various political parties, and nationalist organizations, and all civil society organizations to fight for the national interest and to respect the army's command and the national security in security matters, and to preserve private and public property and to bring the return of peace and security in the hearts of the citizens," he said. Full story...

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January 13, 2011
Posted: 1013 GMT
Tunisian demonstrators hurl objects towards security forces. (Getty Images)
Tunisian demonstrators hurl objects towards security forces. (Getty Images)

CNN's Tim Lister takes a closer look at the important role social media sites are having in the ongoing demonstrations against the government in Tunisia:

The protests that have gripped Tunisia in recent weeks are, to say the least, unusual. Organized dissent in the streets is rarely tolerated in Arab states, and human rights groups say the Tunisian government has had a short fuse when dealing with opponents. But what's going on in Tunisia is all the more unusual because the protests are being organized and supported through online networks centered on Twitter and Facebook.

So prolific are the educated members of the northern African nation's younger generation online that it has become a top priority of the Tunisian government to block and disrupt bloggers and others perceived as opponents.

The U.S. State Department - in an unusual public criticism of a pro-West Arab government - said last week it was concerned about "recent reports that Tunisian ISP providers, at the direction of the government, hacked into the accounts of Tunisian users of American companies including Facebook, and providers of email such as Yahoo and Google, and stealing passwords. This kind of interference," it continued, "threatens the ability of civil society to realize the benefits of new technologies."

Read the rest of the story here

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January 12, 2011
Posted: 841 GMT

From Rima Maktabi and Neil Curry, CNN

A member of the Tunisian security forces takes aim at a demonstrator on Monday in Regueb.
A member of the Tunisian security forces takes aim at a demonstrator on Monday in Regueb.

Tunis, Tunisia (CNN) - As clashes spread Tuesday, a Tunisian workers union called on President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali to order an independent inquiry into the deaths of demonstrators protesting high unemployment and poor living conditions in Tunisia.

Union sources said the death toll had exceeded 50 since mid-December, but Minister of Information Samir Abidi said approximately 21 people were killed during two days of rioting in two Tunisian cities near its border with Algeria. He challenged Arab and international news media who were reporting higher tolls to provide a list of the dead.

The unrest occurred in the cities of Thala and Kasserine, said Abidi. All of the dead were demonstrators; more than 30 police were injured, he said.

State-run television and the information ministry reported that violent clashes between police and demonstrators occurred Tuesday in a suburb of Tunis.

The union Tuesday demanded the release of demonstrators and said it will call a general strike in several southern cities in response to what it calls police brutality. It also condemned acts of vandalism.

Amnesty International said Tuesday - without citing a source - that "scores" have been killed in the protests and at least 23 people died in protests over the weekend.

The organization also said that "scores have reportedly been detained in the protests, with authorities carrying out mass arrests and night raids."

Amnesty called for an investigation into the deaths and for those responsible to be punished.

The demonstrations included demands for the government to improve social services. Tunisia's government called the protesters violent troublemakers. Read more...


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January 6, 2011
Posted: 1005 GMT
FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images) Tunisians gather to show their solidarity with the residents of Sidi Bouzid during a demonstration in Tunis.
FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images) Tunisians gather to show their solidarity with the residents of Sidi Bouzid during a demonstration in Tunis.

(CNN) – A 26-year-old unemployed man who was beaten by police and then lit himself on fire, helping spark violent demonstrations in Tunisia, has died, the Federation of Human Rights Leagues said Wednesday.
Mohamed Bouazizi died Tuesday in a hospital in Ben Arous, said Arthur Manet, spokesman for the Paris-based group known by its French acronym, FIDH.

Bouazizi was an unemployed college graduate. To earn a living, he started a fruit and vegetable stand. But he did not have a permit, and local police came after him last month, said Khadija Cherif with FIDH. "The police not only confiscated his stand, but they also beat him up," Cherif said.

Bouazizi set himself on fire, attempting suicide. He became a "symbol for all the young college graduates who were unemployed, and Bouazizi was a sort of catalyst for the violent demonstrations which followed in the Sidi Bouzid region," said Cherif. Read more...

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