Archive for November 2012
Last updated: November 8, 2012
Shatha Al-Harazi takes a look at a British film production and questions its ability to portray her native Yemen.
Last month the US Embassy in Sana’a along with the British Embassy and the British Council screened the British film “Salmon fishing in Yemen”. Made in 2011, this romantic comedy-drama is directed by Lasse Hallström and stars Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Kristin Scott Thomas and Amr Waked.
The film is based on the novel with the same name by Paul Torday, which won the 2007 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for comic writing and was serialized on BBC Radio 4 in the UK. It also received the Waverton Good Read Award in 2008.
Screening movies in a country with no cinema culture is a rare event, and many Yemenis felt it was a unique and important opportunity to attend. Others went to watch or buy the cheap DVD copy of the film, not because of their interest in salmon fishing or British cinema, but mainly because the film has the word “Yemen” in the title.
According to a press release, the director of the British Council in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, Adrian Chadwick, said that Yemen-UK cultural ties go back centuries and this important book and film continue the tradition of cultural exchange between the two countries. He added that in recent years, literature and film have been two of the most fruitful ways that the British Council has explored and tried to understand both Yemen and the UK’s cultures.
The story of the film is just as the film title describes it, Salmon fishing in Yemen, an unrealistic venture as this sport is not known to Yemenis and as the country’s waters lack the necessary natural conditions for Salmon to live in.
In any case, a wealthy Yemeni Sheikh has a vision of bringing the sport to the Yemeni desert at the same time that the British Prime Minister’s overzealous press secretary decides to support any “good will” story that stops the media from talking about the British casualties in the Middle East.
Although the Sheikh puts millions into the project the film shows how the people don’t appreciate his idea. It portraits Yemenis as savages who look at westerners as enemies; at the end they destroy the dam that the Sheikh built and try to kill him.
However, there is a sub-story in the film, which is the romance that grows between the two Brits who works on the project. The British Council noted that “the film is not really about Yemen at all,” describing it as “a love story combined with a commentary on politicians and the things that they do.”
They added that the film “has raised awareness of Yemen in the US, the UK and Europe in a largely positive way, reminding audiences that this country has great potential – though perhaps not in salmon fishing.”
But the Yemeni audience did not seem to share this view, claiming that it depicted Yemenis as violent people in some scenes, which strengthen the negative stereotype against the country.
“The comedy in the movie, generally, was targeting the western…audience so it might seem tasteless to some of the easterners especially those who are not familiar with such kind of humor,” said Abdalnasser Abdul, a Yemeni who watched the film. “I think Yemen has only the name out of that movie, it doesn’t by any mean talk about or represent the way Yemenis live.“
He added that one should acknowledge that it is a comedy movie and there could be scenes that could be “offending to some of us” but are not actually intended to be so. And in general he found the film “A little bit comforting too – overall it does not present Yemenis as terrorists, but more as normal people living their own way of life.”
Rabee Mohammed, another Yemeni who watched the film, said that “they failed in presenting Yemen completely, the film doesn’t reflect the Yemeni mentality nor the lifestyle or even their appearance.” He added that the film showed Yemenis as “idiots who deny the power or science if it comes from the west.”
He strongly thinks that the film will push away foreign investors from investing in Yemen as it shows Yemenis acting against development and investment projects.
“The film only leaves a negative impression about Yemen,” he said. “It stereotypes Yemenis as terrorist which is the stereotype Yemenis and Arabs suffered from in the foreign media, especially in Hollywood. But this time it is in the British media, which is a little bit different.”
But it wasn’t all negative; some viewers found the film to be one of the best they have seen when it comes to portraying Yemeni customs.
“It could be the foreign film that has come closest in featuring Yemeni customs, although it wasn’t all Yemeni style,” said Hanan Al-Areqi, a Yemeni student who watched the film.
Abdul disagreed with this idea: ”I didn’t like how the costumes that were supposed to represent the Yemeni people were generally not the actual Yemeni ones, but rather more of a Gulf kind of costume.”
Even the Arabic dialect that was spoken wasn’t Yemeni – one can easily tell it is Egyptian and the custom was rather Saudi and Omani than Yemeni. It seems that those who made the movie did not put much effort into correctly portraying Yemen to the audience, which in this case know little about Yemen and in some instances are convinced that Yemen is a country of terror. The question then is why the need to use the word Yemen in the film when there is no reason to?
Shatha Al-Harazi is a recipient of the Vital Voices Global Leadership Award. She is a social media activist and a political and human rights journalist who writes regularly for Your Middle East. Shatha has reported from the front lines for a number of international news sources. She met face-to-face with ousted President Saleh in February 2011.
Last updated: September 29, 2012
The main coalitions at Change Square did not call for the protest, believing that ignoring the offense is the best Islamic response to the film, reports Shatha Al-Harazi, winner of Hillary Clinton’s Vital Voices Award.
50 US Marines were dispatched to Sana’a on “Mohammed the messenger of Allah” Friday, as a response to the violence that has gripped the Muslim world.
Nationwide protests accrued in Yemen provenances against the anti-Islam film “the Innocence of Muslims” that provoked Muslims to start anti-American demonstrations in many Arab and Muslim countries.
The protest in Sana’a demanded new laws that would respect all the prophets and apostles, not to offend them or the holy sites and create disincentives for both abuse towards the holy sites and to avert a rift between nations that embrace all religions.
The Friday lectures following prayers had different messages. Some were spreading the culture of violence to stop the “enemy” which is in this case the US, while others were calling for peace, reminding of prophet Mohammed’s behavior towards such insults.
On the second day in a row protesters demonstrated in front of the US embassy in Sana’a. Directly after the Friday prayer, people took off to the embassy from the al-Ferdos mosque. Around 2000 Houthis came to join the protest.
The security forces were now better prepared to stop the protesters from breaking into the embassy. Some people thought that this readiness should have been applied on Thursday instead, when four protesters were reported dead and almost 40 others injured by security forces. Tear gas and water cannons were used to spread the crowd.
According to the Ahrar al-Tagheer coalition one protester was shot by the Marines in Friday’s demonstrations.
On Thursday few had de facto seen parts of the 14 minutes video, but on Friday more people were motivated by curiosity to watch it. Before the Libyan and Egyptian protests, Yemenis were not even aware of its existence. They were busy by the defense minister’s assassination attempt that left seven dead on Wednesday.
The general reaction to the film among Yemenis is sympathy with those who protest and condemn it. But on the other hand the majority are against the violence.
The results of the protests were contradictory. Protesters demanded on the first day an apology by the US government, and escalated to demanding the expulsion of the ambassador. At the same time, President Abd Rabbu Mansuir Hadi apologized to the American government.
“Those who are behind are a mob that are not aware of the far-reaching plots of Zionist forces, especially those who made a film insulting the prophet,” said Hadi.
But for some Yemenis the US is the other face of “Zionist forces” in Yemen.
Hadi also warned that such acts could have a negative impact on what he called the good relationship between Yemen and the American people, according to the Yemeni News agency Saba.
However, political analyst Mohamed al-Sharabi said that these demonstrations will not change the Yemeni-American relationship, as it was not called for by the Yemeni government. In fact, it simply helped to justify the American troops’ presence in the country.
Furthermore, President Hadi has been a useful ally to the US administration in countering terrorism and fighting Al-Qeada. President Obama won’t endanger their relationship, especially this close to the upcoming presidential elections.
The military intervention in Yemen is what provokes Yemenis the most. Although the state department said that Washington has nothing to do with the film production, some protesters believe it was produced as a way of justifying American military presence in Yemen.
And the chant “Death to America” is not new in Yemen; it’s a popular slogan that children in school sometimes chant in protest during religious gatherings, or whenever there is an outcry against violence directed towards Palestine or Iraq.
In those same protests there is another popular chant, “O, Jews: Khaybar, Khaybar. The army of Mohammed will return,” referring to what happened in the year 629 in the west Arabian Peninsula when Mohammed and his followers defeated the Jews living in the oasis of Khaybar.
The US is always seen as the strongest ally of Israel, therefore, these two chants are somehow interlinked in religious-related protests. In 2006, the chant became a slogan for the Shiite sect in Yemen, the Houthis, who used to be fought by ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Neither the chants nor spreading banners by Houthis made Change Square much of a real provoking act to the American diplomats in Sana’a. However, since news of the anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims” broke out, the same chant became louder and this time posed a serious problem.
The protest that was first called by the Houthis leader on September 12 turned into something bigger. Many participated without knowing about the Houthis call, sensing it was a religious duty to join.
Reports say around 10,000 protesters marched to the American embassy on the first day. Although many reports described it as a spontaneous rally, Amran Ali, a member of al-Somod coalition, told You Middle East that the orders were clear from their leadership to break into the US embassy.
“These American have crossed all the lines, we wanted to kill any of them but unfortunately they left before we caught them,” he said.
A protester who wore jeans and t-shirt told Your Middle East that “Only protests that end with violence make headlines,” justifying the violence at the US embassy in Sana’a. “The Americans who think they rule the world, that they can kill us in our land and then insult our beloved prophet should realize that they are facing a nation of over 6 billion Muslims around the world.”
The Islah leader Abdulmajed al-Zandani, who is classified as a terrorist by the US, said in an interview with a local newspaper, “this is time for rage”.
Usually Houthis and Islah collide in sectarian conflicts that at one point escalated into a war, lasting for almost seven months in Haja and a year in Damaj. Yet, the hate for the US has united them.
“Today is not a day where we stop to think whether Houthi or Islah called for the protest and anger, the prophet doesn’t belong to one sect, his love unifies us, and if they thought they can differentiate us by sectarianism they should know by now how mistaken they are,” said a protester.
The main coalitions at Change Square did not call for the protest, believing that ignoring the offense is the best Islamic response to the film.
“We know that such a protest won’t end peacefully, people are driven by anger and we had previous information of the possibility for a riot,” said Adel Shamsan, the head of Change Square Media Center.
Other activists condemn the violence by both protesters and the security forces. Some even accused the ousted president’s thugs to be responsible for the violence since Saleh’s nephew remains at the head of the Central Security. President Hadi indicated that “the defection in the armed forces” was the reason behind the mob.
Videos by Change Square Media Center show the Central Security forces leaving their locations and joining the protest.
“One of the soldiers called on me to break into the embassy and destroy the cars, he even said if it was not for the security uniform I am wearing I would not stand watching,” said Shohdi al-Sofi, a protest photographer.
Change Square protesters condemned the mob saying that Yemen has embarked on a civic education since the 2011 revolution and the country is committed to peaceful means.
“We are not in favor of the US, especially after exposing the truth about the American drones role in killing so many civilians in Yemen,” said Ahmed al-Rufaidi from Change Square.
“But we lost over 2,000 lives in the Arab Spring by Saleh’s thugs and we kept being peaceful, it does not make sense that after almost 20 months we give that up.”
Shatha Al-Harazi is a recipient of the Vital Voices Global Leadership Award. She is a social media activist and a political and human rights journalist. Shatha has reported from the front lines for a number of international news sources. She met face-to-face with ousted President Saleh in February 2011.
Upon her return to Yemen from the United States, where she was honored with the Vital Voices Global Trailblazer Award, noted journalist and youth activist Shatha al-Harazi addressed a crowd of pro-democracy protesters at Sana’a’s Change Square.
Yemeni pro-democracy protester and noted journalist Shatha al-Harazi stands before photographers at Sana’a’s Change Square, the heart of the capital city’s youth revolution.
Secretary of State Clinton answers a question raised by Yemeni journalist Shatha al-Harazi during a Global Town Hall with Civil Society in Washington DC, yesterday. Al-Harazi began her question by saying, “Yemenis Are Not Less Important Than Americans” and then she asked an important question about if there is any consideration from the US administration to fight terrorsim along with the assistance of civil society in Yemen. She also raised an extremely crucial issue that is the drone strikes in Yemen by the US.
Clinton’s answer is a very typical one that we always hear from the US administration folks. However, at least, it was remarkable to see a female Yemeni journalist like al-Harazi, who relatively represents civil society in Yemen, openly asking Clinton.
Watch the video here,
LDF 2012 Fellow from Yemen, Shatha al-Harazi, adds another feather to her hat and raises the profile of the Leaders for Democracy project sponsored by the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) of the U.S. Department of State! The Executive Education Programs at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University would like to congratulate Shatha for winning a coveted Vital Voices Global Leadership Award.
On June 6th, the international NGO Vital Voices presented its annual Global Leadership Awards at Washington, DC’s Kennedy Center. This award as described by the organizers “honors and celebrates women leaders around the world who are the unsung heroines working to strengthen democracy, increase economic opportunity, and protect human rights.” Constituted in 2002, this year’s ceremony specifically recogznied female leaders like Shatha who emerged during the Arab Spring. Shatha was also honored with theGlobal Trailblazer Award, presented to women who advocate for women’s rights in the Middle East and North Africa.
Shatha is a human rights and political reporter at the “Yemen Times,” the first independent English-speaking newspaper in Yemen, as well as a freelance journalist who has published extensively in the Middle East and in Europe. She was a member of the main coalition participating in the Yemeni revolution and was part of the negotiating team who met with President Saleh. A human rights activist, she is one of the founders of the ADWARNA campaign to empower Yemeni youth, and a board member of the International Press Institute, which has worked on defending freedom of speech for the last 60 years.
Cheering Shatha among the audience was Executive Education MENA program manager, Julia Ganson, and Shatha’s fellow participants in the LDF 2012 cohort.
For more information on Shatha’s profile click here:
By Emily Wax, Published: June 6
WRITTEN BY DANA MCKELVEY, DC CORRESPONDENT | 15 JUNE 2012
On June 6th, the international NGO Vital Voices presented its annual Global Leadership Awards at Washington, DC’s Kennedy Center. An organization renowned for its educational and financial support of female leaders worldwide, Vital Voices celebrated this year’s awards along with the launch of a new book written by the organization’s Global Partnership President and CEO, Alyse Nelson – Vital Voices: The Power of Women Leading Change Around the World. The book’s foreword by Secretary Hilary Clinton, as well as Hilary Clinton’s annual appearance at the Global Leadership Awards, attests to the NGO’s legitimacy and far-reaching potential. Although Secretary Clinton could not make it to this year’s ceremony, her daughter Chelsea Clinton presented an award in her stead, accompanied by other famous activists, journalists, and politicians.
The event kicked off on Tuesday evening at the House of Sweden on the Georgetown waterfront, where speakers such as Melanne Verveer, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, lauded Nelson for her contributions to the organization. During Nelson’s time as President of the Vital Voices Global Partnership, the organization has expanded its network to include over 12,000 women leaders in 44 countries. Ambassador Verveer stated, “I’m very proud of Alyse,” and relayed the story of Nelson’s travels to the 1995 U.N. Conference on Women in Bejing, where she heard Hillary Clinton’s famous declaration, “Women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights.” Verveer attested that Nelson “told herself that day she would dedicate the rest of her life to helping women around the world, and she has truly done that.”
Ambassador Verveer also thanked the Swedish Embassy for hosting the event, noting that the majority of the Swedish cabinet is female, and that “the equality between men and women in Sweden on an array of issues, from economic participation to political to access to education” makes it “one of the most prosperous countries as well, because we know that where there is great gender equality, there is a better outcome for everybody.” Following Ambassador Verveer’s speech, previous Global Leadership award recipient Inez McCormack of Ireland commented on the humility she felt before a room full of powerful women, namely, fellow Global Leadership honorees, Vital Voices executives, and social entrepreneurship and non-profit pioneers.
The following evening’s event at the Kennedy Center Opera House also included appearances by illustrious women — and a few illustrious men. Wolf Blitzer of CNN joined an impressive group of female award presenters: Susan Ann Davis, Chair of the Board at Vital Voices; Diane von Furstenberg, former Princess of Furstenberg and fashion designer; U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison; Andrea Mitchell of NBC; Tina Brown of Newsweek and The Daily Beast; Carol Lancaster, Dean of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University; Chelsea Clinton; and Mariane Pearl, a freelance journalists and columnist for Glamour.
More striking than the ceremony’s presenters, however, were the award recipients. The nine honorees at the Global Leadership Awards, representing Liberia, Mexico, Samoa, Pakistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia, simultaneously incorporate and overcome their culture’s traditions in order to promote change. (Read more about the recipients here.) Although differentiated by their causes, their class, and their nationality, their views converge at internationally recognized notions of justice and equality. As Chelsea Clinton explained in her presentation of the Fern Holland Tribute, women’s empowerment is an issue affecting both sexes and certainly not limited to certain cultures. In reference to her mother’s experience as Secretary of State, Chelsea finds that she has “embedded… an ethos and understanding into the center of our American diplomacy around the world. In every American embassy, women’s voices are now paid attention to in the countries in which they’re based, and our diplomats now notice when women’s voices are silent.”
At the evening’s close, a final honor, the Global Trailblazer Award, was presented to five women who advocate for women’s rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Manal al-Sharif of Saudi Arabia, Marianne Ibrahim of Egypt, Shatha al-Harazi of Yemen, Amira Yahyaoui of Tunisia, and Salwa Bugaighis of Libya. A number of these women used international mediums to share, and hopefully transform, some of their nation’s customs. Manal al-Sharif, for instance, used Youtube to upload a video of herself driving, an act that is forbidden to Saudi Arabian women. Additionally, Shatha al-Harazi used social media as a means of journalism and activism during the Arab Spring, ultimately publishing freelance work in a number of international news sources.
The evening came to its climax with an appearance by Tawakkul Karman, the 2011 co-recipient of the Nobel Prize, the first Arab woman to receive the Prize, and the second Muslim to receive the Prize. Known as the “Mother of the Revolution” in Yemen, Karman offered some wisdom on the convergence of local and international women’s rights just after leading the audience in a cheer, “One, two, three, four, Bashar al-Assad out the door!”
She said solemnly, “Every great revolution requires great women. Every great country has great women.” Her words were especially moving as they followed an announcement that Manal al-Sharif could not join the ceremony because she feared she would not be able to return to her country. But Karman was filled more with hope for the future than lamentation of the present, and echoed the Global Trailblazer recipients’ attitude that their history was not solely that of women, but also of their country at large. Marianne Ibrahim of Egypt stated, for instance, that at the frontlines of the revolution, “for a few seconds… there were no sexes, just Egyptians.” By engaging in national and indeed, international causes, these women empower females everywhere — and create, in the Melanne Verveer’s words, “a better outcome for everybody.”
Photo above by Micky Wiswedel. All photos courtesy of Vital Voices.
Diane von Furstenberg, left, presents Rosana Schaack of Liberia with the Human Rights Award. Photo: Sharon Farmer/sfphotoworks.
Vital Voices founder Melanne Verveer, right, Amira Yahyaoui of Tunisia, Marianne Ibrahim of Egypt, Salwa Bugaighis of Libya, Shatha Al-Harazi of Yemen, listen as 2011 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Tawakkol Karman, right, presents the 2012 Global Leadership Awards. Photo: Sharon Farmer/sfphotoworks.
2011 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Tawakkol Karman speaks with audience members. Photo: Micky Wiswedel.
As the evening comes to a close, the 2012 Global Leadership Award recipients embrace. Photo: Sharon Farmer/sfphotoworks.