Monthly Archives: April 2012

Robert Fisk: The Baghdad street of books that refuses to die

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Saad Tahr Hussein rushes me through the narrow alleyway towards Mutanabbi Street, where the concrete wall in front of the central bank hems in the pedestrians. About a thousand Iraqis briefly see – or don’t notice – the sly shade of a Brit as he stumbles down the alley. Then, in the square where the statue of old Marouf al-Rasafi, poet and history-debunker under British colonial rule, glares at the crowds, we turn left into the street of books.

Everyone goes to Mutanabbi Street, its new statue of the Abbasid poet and king-praiser towering at the Tigris end. Here you get a feeling of what is going on in the mind of an educated Baghdadi, who still walks a road that you could get killed on five years ago.

There are chadored ladies and bare-headed girls and a bearded sayed with a black turban and a glorious green sash draped over his shoulders. There are pictures aplenty of Ali and Hussein – Iraq is, after all, a Shia country – and texts of religious jurisprudence and newly-bound Korans and, a reflection of the old Iraq, a mass of history books on Arab nationalism. They are all second-hand, laid out on cardboard on the pavement.

Last time I came here, there were no bare-headed girls, precious few divines. It’s middle-aged men, secular, who bend over the history books. A young Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, confidant of Nasser, the doyen of Egyptian journalists (upon my word still alive, since he offered me a cigar in Cairo a year ago), smiles from a front cover. Many booksellers are communists.

A dour Edward Said (alas, all too dead) is printed across the Arabic edition of his essays on Palestinians. There is, unfortunately, that vicious old fake, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, on one pavement, a picture of Hitler and – very oddly – Rommel on the front. Several copies of Saddam’s War, an unflattering portrait of the man who took his country to ruin in three massive conflicts, lay untouched on the ground. I point this out to Saad. “You have to know, Robert, that, yes, we hated him and the people of Samarra hated him for what he did to them and his city of Tikrit was just north of Samarra. But when the Americans came and the resistance began, the people of Samarra would shout Saddam’s name – because he was the only nationalist figure left to them.”

We arrive at the corner where the wall of the old Ottoman kulshah (roughly “cabinet”) still stands, delicate stone insulted by a row of evil-smelling iron trash trolleys, the seat of the later royal cabinet as well, of the kingdom set up by Winston Churchill. Across the laneway, blessed in a fine, hot dust, is the crumbling wooden doorway of Dr Mohamed Abu Amjad’s bookshop. Ashteroot books, medical, scientific, English literature, language, computers, history and arts, it says above the door. Mohamed, the bookseller who never closed during the years of darkness, rummages through his shelves. I immediately buy a rare first edition of General Muhammed Naguib’s biography, the guy who overthrew King Farouk of Egypt and who was later outwitted by Nasser. I sit on a pile of books and prowl through its pages.

And I come across his description of British troops marching through the streets of Cairo during the Second World War. “Their troops marched through the streets of Cairo singing obscene songs about our king, a man whom few of us admired, but who, nevertheless, was as much of a national symbol as our flag. Farouk was never so popular as when he was being insulted in public by British troops, for we knew, as they knew, that by insulting our unfortunate king they were insulting the Egyptian people as a whole.” And of course, I remember what Saad has just told me about the people of Samarra and Saddam.

I snap up a faded copy of Zaki Saleh’s Mesopotamia 1600-1914 – published in Baghdad more than 55 years ago. Queen Elizabeth I sent the first Brit to Baghdad and Basra, and there are pages of head-chopping history as the sultans of Baghdad, variously loathed and adored by British consuls, meet their sticky ends. And there is a fascinating chapter on the relationship between British romanticism and financial speculation in Iraq, how the names of Babylon and the Tigris (Dijle in Arabic) bestowed a kind of respectability on Western acquisitiveness.

If ancient monuments showed that this was a rich land, a centre of civilisations, why could it not be a rich land again under Britain’s guiding hand? Two Brits, Shepstone and Lee by name, published a monograph in Toronto in 1915 under the title “Future of Mesopotamia, how Bible lands may be restored to their former greatness as a result of the world war”. Isn’t that what our economic wizards told us in 2003, how Western know-how could restore Iraq’s greatness?

We snap up a copy of Washington Irving’s 1849 Life of Mahomet and Ilya Ehrenburg’s The Fall of Paris, a forgotten 1942 novel of France’s own occupation which at times reads weirdly like Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française. Then we speed away and, near the Tigris, Saad sees a street ad for the Gypsy singer Sajida Obeid and starts to bawl one of her more risqué chants. “Screwed are the men who drink only one kind of beer”. They sing it at weddings. “Only one beer and you’re not man enough,” Saad explains. Funny what you learn on the way back from the street of books.


Ban Ki-Moon: Dictators more afraid of tweets than armies

Foreign Policy Post

Posted By Joshua Keating  Monday, April 9, 2012 – 11:43 AM   Share

The secretary-general has raised some eyebrows with comments made last week during an address at the Global Colloqium of University Presidents:

“To unleash the power of young people, we need to partner with them. This is what the United Nations is trying to do,” he added, announcing his decision to appoint a U.N. Special Adviser on Youth.

“Some dictators in our world are more afraid of tweets than they are of opposing armies,” he declared, pointing out the rising political clout of the younger generation.

Some commentators have responded to Ban’s comments with mockery… on Twitter naturally. “What’s Ban Ki-moon smoking? Show me one dictator who’s more afraid of tweets than armies.”wrote Evgeny Morozov.

FP’s Daniel Drezner chipped in: “Some dictators no doubt would reply with, “How many divisions does Twitter have?… And, inevitably, some lolcat on Youtube will say, “I can haz divisions?!”

In (partial) defense of Ban, this isn’t that absurd a comment if you don’t take it literally. Most autocratic governments are probably under greater threat from the possibility of uprisings by their own populations — particularly young people — than invasions by foreign armies. Granted, it’s not the tweets they’re worried about but the people sending them.

Foreign Policy – Why Do They Hate Us?

Why Do They Hate Us?

The real war on women is in the Middle East.


In “Distant View of a Minaret,” the late and much-neglected Egyptian writer Alifa Rifaat begins her short story with a woman so unmoved by sex with her husband that as he focuses solely on his pleasure, she notices a spider web she must sweep off the ceiling and has time to ruminate on her husband’s repeated refusal to prolong intercourse until she too climaxes, “as though purposely to deprive her.” Just as her husband denies her an orgasm, the call to prayer interrupts his, and the man leaves. After washing up, she loses herself in prayer — so much more satisfying that she can’t wait until the next prayer — and looks out onto the street from her balcony. She interrupts her reverie to make coffee dutifully for her husband to drink after his nap. Taking it to their bedroom to pour it in front of him as he prefers, she notices he is dead. She instructs their son to go and get a doctor. “She returned to the living room and poured out the coffee for herself. She was surprised at how calm she was,” Rifaat writes.

Yes: They hate us. It must be said. 

Some may ask why I’m bringing this up now, at a time when the region has risen up, fueled not by the usual hatred of America and Israel but by a common demand for freedom. After all, shouldn’t everyone get basic rights first, before women demand special treatment? And what does gender, or for that matter, sex, have to do with the Arab Spring? But I’m not talking about sex hidden away in dark corners and closed bedrooms. An entire political and economic system — one that treats half of humanity like animals — must be destroyed along with the other more obvious tyrannies choking off the region from its future. Until the rage shifts from the oppressors in our presidential palaces to the oppressors on our streets and in our homes, our revolution has not even begun.

So: Yes, women all over the world have problems; yes, the United States has yet to elect a female president; and yes, women continue to be objectified in many “Western” countries (I live in one of them). That’s where the conversation usually ends when you try to discuss why Arab societies hate women.

But let’s put aside what the United States does or doesn’t do to women. Name me an Arab country, and I’ll recite a litany of abuses fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend. When more than 90 percent of ever-married women in Egypt — including my mother and all but one of her six sisters — have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty, then surely we must all blaspheme. When Egyptian women are subjected to humiliating “virginity tests” merely for speaking out, it’s no time for silence. When an article in the Egyptian criminal code says that if a woman has been beaten by her husband “with good intentions” no punitive damages can be obtained, then to hell with political correctness. And what, pray tell, are “good intentions”? They are legally deemed to include any beating that is “not severe” or “directed at the face.” What all this means is that when it comes to the status of women in the Middle East, it’s not better than you think. It’s much, much worse. Even after these “revolutions,” all is more or less considered well with the world as long as women are covered up, anchored to the home, denied the simple mobility of getting into their own cars, forced to get permission from men to travel, and unable to marry without a male guardian’s blessing — or divorce either.

Not a single Arab country ranks in the top 100 in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, putting the region as a whole solidly at the planet’s rock bottom. Poor or rich, we all hate our women. Neighbors Saudi Arabia and Yemen, for instance, might be eons apart when it comes to GDP, but only four places separate them on the index, with the kingdom at 131 and Yemen coming in at 135 out of 135 countries. Morocco, often touted for its “progressive” family law (a 2005 report by Western “experts” called it “an example for Muslim countries aiming to integrate into modern society”), ranks 129; according to Morocco’s Ministry of Justice, 41,098 girls under age 18 were married there in 2010.

It’s easy to see why the lowest-ranked country is Yemen, where 55 percent of women are illiterate, 79 percent do not participate in the labor force, and just one woman serves in the 301-person parliament. Horrific news reports about 12-year-old girls dying in childbirth do little to stem the tide of child marriage there. Instead, demonstrations in support of child marriage outstrip those against it, fueled by clerical declarations that opponents of state-sanctioned pedophilia are apostates because the Prophet Mohammed, according to them, married his second wife, Aisha, when she was a child.

But at least Yemeni women can drive. It surely hasn’t ended their litany of problems, but it symbolizes freedom — and nowhere does such symbolism resonate more than in Saudi Arabia, where child marriage is also practiced and women are perpetually minors regardless of their age or education. Saudi women far outnumber their male counterparts on university campuses but are reduced to watching men far less qualified control every aspect of their lives.

Yes, Saudi Arabia, the country where a gang-rape survivor was sentenced to jail for agreeing to get into a car with an unrelated male and needed a royal pardon; Saudi Arabia, where a woman who broke the ban on driving was sentenced to 10 lashes and again needed a royal pardon; Saudi Arabia, where women still can’t vote or run in elections, yet it’s considered “progress” that a royal decree promised to enfranchise them for almost completely symbolic local elections in — wait for it — 2015. So bad is it for women in Saudi Arabia that those tiny paternalistic pats on their backs are greeted with delight as the monarch behind them, King Abdullah, is hailed as a “reformer”  — even by those who ought to know better, such as Newsweek, which in 2010 named the king one of the top 11 most respected world leaders. You want to know how bad it is? The “reformer’s” answer to the revolutions popping up across the region was to numb his people with still more government handouts — especially for the Salafi zealots from whom the Saudi royal family inhales legitimacy. King Abdullah is 87. Just wait until you see the next in line, Prince Nayef, a man straight out of the Middle Ages. His misogyny and zealotry make King Abdullah look like Susan B. Anthony.

SO WHY DO THEY HATE US? Sex, or more precisely hymens, explains much.

“Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said recently. “But they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They want to control women.” (And yet Clinton represents an administration that openly supports many of those misogynistic despots.) Attempts to control by such regimes often stem from the suspicion that without it, a woman is just a few degrees short of sexual insatiability. Observe Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the popular cleric and longtime conservative TV host on Al Jazeera who developed a stunning penchant for the Arab Spring revolutions — once they were under way, that is — undoubtedly understanding that they would eliminate the tyrants who long tormented and oppressed both him and the Muslim Brotherhood movement from which he springs.

I could find you a host of crackpots sounding off on Woman the Insatiable Temptress, but I’m staying mainstream with Qaradawi, who commands a huge audience on and off the satellite channels. Although he says female genital mutilation (which he calls “circumcision,” a common euphemism that tries to put the practice on a par with male circumcision) is not “obligatory,” you will also find this priceless observation in one of his books: “I personally support this under the current circumstances in the modern world. Anyone who thinks that circumcision is the best way to protect his daughters should do it,” he wrote, adding, “The moderate opinion is in favor of practicing circumcision to reduce temptation.” So even among “moderates,” girls’ genitals are cut to ensure their desire is nipped in the bud — pun fully intended. Qaradawi has since issued a fatwa against female genital mutilation, but it comes as no surprise that when Egypt banned the practice in 2008, some Muslim Brotherhood legislators opposed the law. And some still do — including a prominent female parliamentarian, Azza al-Garf.

Yet it’s the men who can’t control themselves on the streets, where from Morocco to Yemen, sexual harassment is endemic and it’s for the men’s sake that so many women are encouraged to cover up. Cairo has a women-only subway car to protect us from wandering hands and worse; countless Saudi malls are for families only, barring single men from entry unless they produce a requisite female to accompany them.

We often hear how the Middle East’s failing economies have left many men unable to marry, and some even use that to explain rising levels of sexual harassment on the streets. In a 2008 survey by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, more than 80 percent of Egyptian women said they’d experienced sexual harassment and more than 60 percent of men admitted to harassing women. Yet we never hear how a later marriage age affects women. Do women have sex drives or not? Apparently, the Arab jury is still out on the basics of human biology.

Enter that call to prayer and the sublimation through religion that Rifaat so brilliantly introduces in her story. Just as regime-appointed clerics lull the poor across the region with promises of justice — and nubile virgins — in the next world rather than a reckoning with the corruption and nepotism of the dictator in this life, so women are silenced by a deadly combination of men who hate them while also claiming to have God firmly on their side.

I turn again to Saudi Arabia, and not just because when I encountered the country at age 15 I was traumatized into feminism — there’s no other way to describe it — but because the kingdom is unabashed in its worship of a misogynistic God and never suffers any consequences for it, thanks to its double-whammy advantage of having oil and being home to Islam’s two holiest places, Mecca and Medina.

Then — the 1980s and 1990s — as now, clerics on Saudi TV were obsessed with women and their orifices, especially what came out of them. I’ll never forget hearing that if a baby boy urinated on you, you could go ahead and pray in the same clothes, yet if a baby girl peed on you, you had to change. What on Earth in the girl’s urine made you impure? I wondered.

Hatred of women.

How much does Saudi Arabia hate women? So much so that 15 girls died in a school fire in Mecca in 2002, after “morality police” barred them from fleeing the burning building — and kept firefighters from rescuing them — because the girls were not wearing headscarves and cloaks required in public. And nothing happened. No one was put on trial. Parents were silenced. The only concession to the horror was that girls’ education was quietly taken away by then-Crown Prince Abdullah from the Salafi zealots, who have nonetheless managed to retain their vise-like grip on the kingdom’s education system writ large.

This, however, is no mere Saudi phenomenon, no hateful curiosity in the rich, isolated desert. The Islamist hatred of women burns brightly across the region — now more than ever.

In Kuwait, where for years Islamists fought women’s enfranchisement, they hounded the four women who finally made it into parliament, demanding that the two who didn’t cover their hair wear hijabs. When the Kuwaiti parliament was dissolved this past December, an Islamist parliamentarian demanded the new house — devoid of a single female legislator — discuss his proposed “decent attire” law.

In Tunisia, long considered the closest thing to a beacon of tolerance in the region, women took a deep breath last fall after the Islamist Ennahda party won the largest share of votes in the country’s Constituent Assembly. Party leaders vowed to respect Tunisia’s 1956 Personal Status Code, which declared “the principle of equality between men and women” as citizens and banned polygamy. But female university professors and students have complained since then of assaults and intimidation by Islamists for not wearing hijabs, while many women’s rights activists wonder how talk of Islamic law will affect the actual law they will live under in post-revolution Tunisia.

In Libya, the first thing the head of the interim government, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, promised to do was to lift the late Libyan tyrant’s restrictions on polygamy. Lest you think of Muammar al-Qaddafi as a feminist of any kind, remember that under his rule girls and women who survived sexual assaults or were suspected of “moral crimes” were dumped into “social rehabilitation centers,” effective prisons from which they could not leave unless a man agreed to marry them or their families took them back.

Then there’s Egypt, where less than a month after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, the military junta that replaced him, ostensibly to “protect the revolution,” inadvertently reminded us of the two revolutions we women need. After it cleared Tahrir Square of protesters, the military detained dozens of male and female activists. Tyrants oppress, beat, and torture all. We know. But these officers reserved “virginity tests” for female activists: rape disguised as a medical doctor inserting his fingers into their vaginal opening in search of hymens. (The doctor was sued and eventually acquitted in March.)

What hope can there be for women in the new Egyptian parliament, dominated as it is by men stuck in the seventh century? A quarter of those parliamentary seats are now held by Salafis, who believe that mimicking the original ways of the Prophet Mohammed is an appropriate prescription for modern life. Last fall, when fielding female candidates, Egypt’s Salafi Nour Party ran a flower in place of each woman’s face. Women are not to be seen or heard — even their voices are a temptation — so there they are in the Egyptian parliament, covered from head to toe in black and never uttering a word.

And we’re in the middle of a revolution in Egypt! It’s a revolution in which women have died, been beaten, shot at, and sexually assaulted fighting alongside men to rid our country of that uppercase Patriarch — Mubarak — yet so many lowercase patriarchs still oppress us. The Muslim Brotherhood, with almost half the total seats in our new revolutionary parliament, does not believe women (or Christians for that matter) can be president. The woman who heads the “women’s committee” of the Brotherhood’s political party said recently that women should not march or protest because it’s more “dignified” to let their husbands and brothers demonstrate for them.

The hatred of women goes deep in Egyptian society. Those of us who have marched and protested have had to navigate a minefield of sexual assaults by both the regime and its lackeys, and, sadly, at times by our fellow revolutionaries. On the November day I was sexually assaulted on Mohamed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir Square, by at least four Egyptian riot police, I was first groped by a man in the square itself. While we are eager to expose assaults by the regime, when we’re violated by our fellow civilians we immediately assume they’re agents of the regime or thugs because we don’t want to taint the revolution.


First we stop pretending. Call out the hate for what it is. Resist cultural relativism and know that even in countries undergoing revolutions and uprisings, women will remain the cheapest bargaining chips. You — the outside world — will be told that it’s our “culture” and “religion” to do X, Y, or Z to women. Understand that whoever deemed it as such was never a woman. The Arab uprisings may have been sparked by an Arab man — Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in desperation — but they will be finished by Arab women.

Amina Filali — the 16-year-old Moroccan girl who drank poison after she was forced to marry, and beaten by, her rapist — is our Bouazizi. Salwa el-Husseini, the first Egyptian woman to speak out against the “virginity tests“; Samira Ibrahim, the first one to sue; and Rasha Abdel Rahman, who testified alongside her — they are our Bouazizis. We must not wait for them to die to become so. Manal al-Sharif, who spent nine days in jail for breaking her country’s ban on women driving, is Saudi Arabia’s Bouazizi. She is a one-woman revolutionary force who pushes against an ocean of misogyny.

Our political revolutions will not succeed unless they are accompanied by revolutions of thought — social, sexual, and cultural revolutions that topple the Mubaraks in our minds as well as our bedrooms.

“Do you know why they subjected us to virginity tests?” Ibrahim asked me soon after we’d spent hours marching together to mark International Women’s Day in Cairo on March 8. “They want to silence us; they want to chase women back home. But we’re not going anywhere.”

We are more than our headscarves and our hymens. Listen to those of us fighting. Amplify the voices of the region and poke the hatred in its eye. There was a time when being an Islamist was the most vulnerable political position in Egypt and Tunisia. Understand that now it very well might be Woman. As it always has been. 

The Women’s Revolution (Egypt) – Newsweek Story republished by The Daily Beast

The Women’s Revolution

Protests in Tahrir Square were meant to bring freedom. Eight months later, women fear their rights are about to be taken away.

by  | September 25, 2011 10:00 AM EDT

Dina Wahba approached Tahrir Squareon the evening of Jan. 25 with her heart in her throat. She had heard of the protests that had broken out against President Hosni Mubarak, the man who had ruled Egypther entire life, and she’d come to join. But this was her first public act of defiance; it was already nighttime, and she was there alone. “I was scared of the police, of all the men, of being harassed,” she says.

Once she arrived, though, she saw other women of all ages, veiled and unveiled, demonstrating along with the men. A friend took her hand and pulled her into the crowd. As chants arose around her, Wahba’s fears melted away.

During the weeks that followed, women and men challenged the dictator side by side. Female activists helped organize rallies, staffing the entrances to Tahrir Square, bringing in provisions, and running makeshift clinics and schools. Mothers of young men killed by the police spoke to the crowd, urging them not to give up; university students shouted themselves hoarse denouncing Mubarak.

But eight months after the Egyptian revolution, as the country prepares for its first democratic elections, that elation and electrifying unity of purpose has given way to disappointment, even dread. Egypt is preparing for its first democratic elections this fall, but the schedule for a transition to civilian rule remains murky, and the country is beset by unrest and insecurity. Many women fear they won’t be represented—or, worse, that existing rights may be taken away.

The council of Army generals that currently runs the country has appointed no women to positions of power, and doesn’t seem interested in consulting with women’s-rights groups. In the current interim cabinet of 34 ministers, only one is a woman, and she’s a holdover from the previous regime.

Rena Effendi / Institute for Newsweek


Worse, an Army spokesman publicly questioned the morals of the young women who camped in the square overnight alongside male protesters, and the military administered “virginity tests” to female demonstrators it arrested. And when Wahba and hundreds of other women went back to Tahrir Square on International Women’s Day, just a month after Mubarak’s resignation, they were heckled by bystanders and counter-demonstrators with a crowd of men circling a woman wearing the full-face veil known as a niqab and chanting: “Here’s a real Egyptian woman!”

“It was such a wake-up call,” says Wahba. “We’re not welcome anymore. We’re not welcome to ask for our rights.” Some of the men were particularly incensed at the idea of a female president—something that is technically possible now. As one man said: “All Egyptians refuse the idea. We’re used to men ruling. Who ruled in my house? My father!” Today about half of all university students in Egypt are women. Yet Egyptian women face enormous hurdles, including the expectation that even educated women will be homemakers first and foremost. “You are raised to believe that you are less than a man,” says Wahba. “In the street, at home, at school: you’re always seen as less.”

The Parliament to be elected this November will be particularly influential, as it will oversee the writing of the country’s new constitution. But many fear that women will have a limited seat at the table. Not only has the military abolished the Mubarak-era quota that mandated 64 seats in Parliament be reserved for women, but even liberal parties are hesitant to field female candidates: accepted wisdom holds that men always attract more votes.

When activist Bothaina Kamel announced that she would seek the country’s presidency—she is the only woman to do so thus far—the media here asked: “Can society accept this?” Islamic preachers have suggested that a woman can’t be president because menstruation incapacitates her.

“As time goes by I become more worried about the situation of women in Egypt,” says Wahba, a project coordinator at the Arab Women Organization. Although women are in the street, she says, “they are excluded from the decision-making process.”

When the Muslim Brotherhood and the religious fundamentalists known as Salafists (who take their name from the Prophet Muhammad’s companions) recently held a mass demonstration at Tahrir Square, women were conspicuously absent. Instead, the square that had been an oasis of freedom and equality was full of bearded men chanting, “The people want to implement Sharia!” Some Salafist leaders say an Islamic Egypt should enforce prayer times and make women wear the hijab, or headscarf. “They were flexing their muscles,” says Kamel. “They wanted to scare us. But we aren’t scared.”

gypt became the birthplace of Arab feminism in 1923 when, with a flick of her wrist, Hoda Shaarawi removed her face veil at the Cairo train station as she returned from a women’s-suffrage conference in Rome. Soon Cairo became home to some of the region’s first women’s magazines and feminist organizations.

But the Arab women’s movements of the early 20th century stalled in face of social conservatism and political repression.

The Mubarak regime paid lip service to women’s rights while sidelining independent, critical women and doing little to stem religious bigotry. Former first lady Suzanne Mubarak made herself president of the National Women’s Council and, just like other first ladies in the region, patroness and representative of all her country’s women. The council helped pass some legislation favorable to women, but it also associated women’s rights—in the mind of many Egyptians—with a corrupt regime beholden to the West.

Egypt is also known as the birthplace of Islamism. Just five years after Shaa-ra-wi’s defiant stance, Hassan al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood here, and the writings of one of its seminal leaders, Sayyid Qutb, later inspired Islamist and terrorist movements across the region. The Brotherhood, though, renounced violence in the 1970s and under Mubarak became the dictatorship’s biggest adversary.

Wahba’s family straddles these historical and political lines. Wahba is a self-described feminist and an active member of a new social-democratic party. Her aunt Karima Abdel Ghany Kamar, meanwhile, has been a dedicated supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood most of her life. Kamar believes that Islam—if properly interpreted—guarantees women’s rights.

Seated in the shade of a tree on the leafy campus of Cairo University, where Wahba studies political science and her aunt is pursuing a degree in Islamic studies, Kamar, 49, and Wahba, 25, make an incongruous pair. Wahba wears jeans and has short bleached-blonde hair. Her aunt’s brown polyester niqab covers everything but her eyes. The two women, however, have the same bright eyes and warm, engaging manner. It’s not hard to see why Kamar has become influential in the lower-income suburb of Cairo where she lives and spends her days preaching—at local mosques and in her home—to other women about religion, morals, and current events.

During the uprising, Kamar stayed home, glued to her TV, “fasting and praying they would succeed.” She says the Brotherhood laid the groundwork for the revolution. “We said it’s not right to accept injustice and inequality. We prepared society for change.”

Until Mubarak’s overthrow, the Brotherhood was officially banned, its members regularly jailed. But one of the immediate after-effects of the revolution has been the emboldening of Islamist groups, which range on the political and religious spectrum from the Brotherhood to the Salafists, who under Mubarak shied away from participating in politics. Half a dozen Islamist parties have been established in the last six months.

Women such as Kamar are key to the Brotherhood’s influence. When elections come, she’ll be sharing her views on the candidates and encouraging women in her neighborhood to go to the polls.

And Islamist groups have long been more adept at mobilizing women than their liberal counterparts. In Egypt’s past rigged elections, Kamar and other Islamist women insisted on their right to vote, even if it meant getting beaten by pro-government thugs at the polling station. When the Brotherhood’s new political party was officially registered in June, it made sure more than a tenth of the founding members were women.

Still, unlike her niece, Kamar believes that women should be helpers and supporters—not leaders. “Any reasonable woman,” she says, “wouldn’t think of a career in politics.” A woman’s duty is to take care of her family; political office doesn’t suit her “nature.” When Wahba challenges her aunt on this—mentioning several women in public life they both respect—she corrects herself. “Nothing forbids it, if a woman has the nerves and the intellect. Look at the Queen of Sheba,” she says, referring to the female monarch who appears in both the Bible and the Quran.

Kamar dismisses women’s rights as a “high-class” concern and says Western-style freedom isn’t the solution to Egypt’s problems. The working-class women in her neighborhood have simple expectations from the revolution, she says. “They want a dignified life … They want Hosni’s money,” she adds with a laugh, referring to the billions Mubarak is believed to have stolen from the country.

The hallways of the Family Court in Giza form the backdrop for an endless series of small, quotidian tragedies. Underneath exposed pipes and free-hanging wires, hundreds of cases scheduled for the day’s sessions are tacked to the dingy walls. A stream of petitioners shuffle up and down the narrow staircase to the judicial chambers upstairs. Near the entrance, women crowd around a battered photocopier machine, making triplicates of their documents. An elderly woman in black bursts out a colorful complaint while her lawyer, clutching a sheaf of papers in his hand, murmurs his counsel. Several women speak in urgent tones on cellphones while others brief their assembled families on the proceedings.

In family courts such as this one, where matters of inheritance, divorce, and child support are decided, Egyptian women dramatically experience the bias of law and society. (According to a number of surveys, most Egyptian women have experienced sexual harassment or domestic violence. Yet such cases are rarely prosecuted.)

Meanwhile, the Personal Status, or Family Law, which is derived mainly from Islamic law, amounts to “a conspiracy against women,” says Reham Mohamed Samir, a pharmacist and mother of two, who has been in and out of court since 2008 in a divorce case that’s still ongoing after three years. “You have to prove you should get a divorce, that [your husband] harmed you or the children,” she says. “You have to prove his income. You have to prove everything.” Samir says she was only recently granted proper child support after proving her husband wasn’t destitute. She showed the judge Facebook pictures of him on European sojourns, she says.

But there are those who now argue that the existing law in fact gives women too much, with Islamists and social conservatives challenging a number of gains women made under Mubarak. There have been calls for the government to lower the marriage age, to change custody laws in the fathers’ favor, and to repeal a divorce law allowing women to escape unhappy marriages by giving up all their financial claims. (Husbands can divorce their wives whenever they choose; women must prove ill treatment or abandonment.) “They are taking advantage of the revolution—their voice is the loudest now,” says Samir’s lawyer, Friyal Hassan Mourad. “I think we are going backward, not forward,” she adds. “Women face a terrible danger.”

Others are more sanguine about the changes sweeping the country. “It’s only natural—after decades of repression—for every political and cultural current to rise to the surface,” says justice Tahani al-Gebali, one of the country’s few female judges, who is seated in her wood-paneled office in Cairo’s Supreme Constitutional Court. The Salafists who came out in force in Tahrir Square last month have always been there, “but hidden,” says Gebali. The fact that they are now out in the open, competing in the political arena, “is good in and of itself.” Given that the most radical Islamists “will be against human rights, against progress, against secularism,” she says, their opponents need to present their own, enlightened view of Islam and gird themselves for “a long political and cultural struggle.”

Fundamentalists are misinterpreting and misusing religion, Gebali argues. “They say women’s rights are a Western imposition. But if you study our culture and history and Islamic law, you can find strong support for women’s rights. We can beat them on their own terms.”

n the sayeda Zeinab neighborhood, a raucous religious festival celebrating the prophet’s granddaughter is well underway. Families crowd the street, snaking between food vendors, carnival rides, and stages for musicians. In the middle of the square, on a grassy enclosure by the mosque from which the neighborhood takes its name, an enormous Egyptian flag has been fashioned into a tent. In its shade, one of many new coalitions set up in defense of the revolution is holding a rally.

“We’re here because we don’t want the revolution to be stolen from us,” says Azza al-Homassany, 50, who, during the days of the revolution, marched in the streets of her native Alexandria. Homassany directs a charity that helps lower-income mothers and children, and she doesn’t believe that Islam and women’s rights are incompatible. “Islam gives women all their dignity,” she says. “It allows them to work. It allows them to own property.”

What concerns her is the rise of more conservative Islamic groups and political parties. “We’re afraid of the Salafists and of their Saudi funding,” she says, referring to the widespread belief that Egyptian fundamentalists receive money and encouragement from Egypt’s conservative neighbor. “If we end up a Wahhabi country like Saudi Arabia, we women will all be at home, cooking,” she says, laughing at what still seems a ridiculous prospect. “We won’t even be allowed to drive.”

A ripple suddenly runs through the crowd. The commotion announces the arrival of Gameela Ismail, a TV presenter turned activist and politician. Ismail is the ex-wife of Ayman Nour, who in 2005 contested the presidency and then served five years in prison on what his supporters say were trumped-up charges of forging party-member signatures. (Ismail also used to work for Newsweek as a Cairo stringer.) While her husband was in jail, Ismail emerged as a leading voice of opposition to the regime—and paid the price. She was harassed, attacked in the media, and banned from work.

Ismail ran for Parliament in the elections of 2010 and was soundly defeated by a businessman affiliated with Mubarak’s National Democratic Party. But, she says, “I didn’t lose because he was a man and I’m a woman. I lost because I was with the opposition and he was with the ruling party. I lost because he had access to the security agencies and to the workers inside the polling station.” The elections were widely condemned as fraudulent, and the Parliament they brought to office was dissolved soon after Mubarak’s ouster.

Today, Ismail is back on TV—and back in politics. This fall she will run for Parliament again, likely as part of a coalition of liberal and left-wing groups. She admits that female candidates face the same problems as always—social prejudice, a lack of party support and funding—but is nonetheless optimistic. The revolution is a lesson for women about what they’re able to accomplish, she says. “We, as women and feminists, failed to get our rights. But we were able to get freedom for the whole of Egyptian society. We did for Egypt what we couldn’t do for ourselves. We were in the front lines of the revolution. And I am so proud—as a woman and a citizen.”

Around her, the slanting afternoon sunshine illuminates the busy, dusty square with its piles of garbage, its jerry-built entertainments, its poor, curious, and cheerful crowds. “If we want to be in a better position, we have to put in the effort,” says Ismail. “I don’t expect the military council to hand out privileges and roles to women. I don’t expect the interim cabinet to come looking for us and ask us to participate. But I’m not waiting for an invitation.”

©2011 The Newsweek/Daily Beast Company LLC

The Daily Beast – After the Arab Spring, Are Women Losing Ground?


After the Arab Spring, Are Egypt’s Women Losing Ground?

Egypt’s women, who were central to the revolution, worry their glimpse at new freedoms is fading. At the Women in the World Summit, a debate over Cairo at a crossroads.

by  | March 9, 2012 10:10 PM EST
Women played a vital role in Egypt’s revolution, but a year later the effect of Hosni Mubarak’s fall on the lives of women is still uncertain. Women from across Egypt’s political spectrum are debating the role of Islam and the future of Egypt’s female citizens.
Women led the men into Tahrir Square a year ago, said Sondos Asem, editor of the Muslim Brotherhood’s English-language site. “On Jan. 25, me and my mother and sisters convinced my father and brothers to join us,” she told moderator Andrew Sullivan. “We women stood at the forefront of the security barriers so the men could pass behind us,” she said, explaining that Hosni Mubarak’s security forces wouldn’t attack them. “We broke the security barriers till we got to Tahrir Square.”
But Namees Arnous, who quit her job at a news agency to join the revolution and now works for Bokra for Media Production, is worried the women of Egypt are being marginalized by the religious groups that have come to the fore since the fall of Mubarak. She says she appreciates the Muslim Brotherhood’s efforts before the revolution, but has questions about their policies now that they’re in power. And she was always against the Salafists, the hardline Islamic party that came in second behind the Brotherhood in Egypt’s elections. They want to “put women inside a box inside the home,” she said.
Sondos said it was important to respect the freedom of the Salafists, who were oppressed by Mubarak. “I think after revolution we need to accept our diversity and accept fact that we are different,” she said. “I respect their right to wear hijab.”
To which Arnous shot back, “I don’t respect them to pollute my freedom. They have all right to wear hijab, but they have no right to tell me what to do.”
Dalia Ziada, Egypt director of the American Islamic Congress, was also concerned about extremism, but said, “The problem is not with Islam or Christianity or any religion, it’s with those who claim to speak in the name of God, those who want to play the role of God in people’s lives.”
Women, she said, were essential to Egypt’s revolution—and there’s more work to be done if they’re going to benefit from it. “We have a lot of work to do now on behalf of women in Egypt,” she said. “Tell people there is no spring without flowers, likewise there is no Arab Spring without women.”


©2011 The Newsweek/Daily Beast Company LLC

Article on Ms. Magazine – Women of the Arab Spring.



Women Protesting Egypt















The Middle East’s pro-democracy uprisings may well be the latest in a long line of gifts (algebra, soap, even the fork) that Arab civilizations have given the world. Yet one might think only men were risking, and sometimes losing, their lives in these protests—and definitely leading them.

But women were (and are) involved at every stage, including leadership. This doesn’t surprise those familiar with Arab feminism, since women have been the most consistent advocates of civil society across the region. In most of these countries women suffer from such discriminatory legislation as “guardianship laws,” which imprison them in the status of minors, so they’re well aware that “democracy” for half the people isn’t democracy. But they also have reason to be wary about how male-defined revolutions betray women.

Western instances of this abound, but a notorious Arab example is fitting. During the Algerian revolt against French colonialism, women fought and died beside men in the underground, certain that their own future equality was at stake. But with independence won, their “revolutionary brothers” sent them back to the kitchen.

So it’s crucial to document the vital role women play in these uprisings, and how they’re planning to ensure that in post-revolutionary and transitional periods they (and democracy) won’t be double-crossed again.

Each country’s situation is volatile and different, and Ms. will stay with the ongoing story. This report will focus on Tunisia and Egypt, the two “post-revolutionary” states as of this writing.

Tunisia, where the ferment began and the “Jasmine Revolution” toppled President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, demolishes stereotypes. In the country’s (relatively) progressive, secular society, women have had access to contraception since 1962 and abortion since 1965—eight years before Roe v. Wade. After independence from France in 1956, the government abolished polygamy and legislated women’s equality in marriage, divorce and child custody. Later, a minimum marriage age of 18 was established, as were penalties for domestic violence. Still, daughters could inherit only half of what sons could, and a husband could hold property a wife acquired during marriage.

So Tunisian women, their democratic yearnings deepened by their feminist ones, were ready to rebel. Blogger Lina Ben Mhenniwas probably first to alert the world to Tunisian protests, in December 2010. (Despite threats and censorship, she persists.) And women flocked to rallies— wearing veils, jeans and miniskirts— young girls, grandmothers, female judges in their court robes. They ousted a despot and inspired a region.

But building a new society is a different challenge. Feminist Raja bin Salama, a vocal critic of fundamentalist subjugation of women, called for Tunisia’s new laws to be based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She was denounced by Rashid al-Ghannouchi, exiled head of the Islamist party Ennahda, who vowed to hang her in Tunis’ Basij Square. He has now returned to Tunisia.

Still, Khadija Cherif, former head of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women, guarantees women will continue to defend separation of mosque and state, saying, “The force of the Tunisian feminist movement is that we’ve never separated it from the fight for democracy and a secular society.”

The revolution Tunisia pioneered, Egypt made a trend, and one facilitated by women. Despite decades of dictatorship, a long-established feminist movement has survived there. Women had been key to the 1919 revolution against the British, but after independence were ignored by the ruling Wafd Party. The feminist movement erupted in 1923 when Huda Sha’rawi publicly stripped off her veil.

Remaining as active as possible in an autocracy, the movement embraces many NGOs and activists, reflected in the women at Tahrir Square who represented “all generations and social classes,” according to Amal Abdel Hady of the New Woman Foundation. At Tahrir Square’s checkpoints, men frisked men; women, women; and while there were several men’s lines to each one for women, that’s because in the past men—protesters as well as police— sexually harassed women so severely during protests that few women demonstrated. But Hady also noticed that the media paid much less attention to the women, fostering a perception that only men were in charge.

Yet, the action had been precipitated by a 26-year-old woman whom Egyptians now call “Leader of the Revolution.” On January 18, Asmaa Mahfouz uploaded a short video to YouTube and Facebook in which she announced, “Whoever says women shouldn’t go to protests because they will get beaten, let him have some honor and manhood and come with me on January 25.” The video went viral. The planned one-day demonstration became a popular revolution.

Soon, unsung protest coordinator Amal Sharaf—a 36-year-old English teacher, single mother and member of the organizers’ April 6 Youth Movement—was spending days and nights in the movement’s tiny office, smoking furiously and overseeing a crew of men. Google employee Wael Ghonim, who privately administered one of the Facebook pages that were the movement’s virtual headquarters, would later become an icon—but after he was arrested, young Nadine Wahab, an Egyptian American expert on new-media advocacy, took over, strengthening the online presence.

While Women of Egypt, a Facebook group, assembled a photo gallery of women’s role in the protests, neighborhood women wielding clubs patrolled their streets for security once the police vanished. “We see women, Islamist or not Islamist, veiled or not veiled, coming together and leading what’s happening on the ground,” said Magda Adly of the El Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence to Inter Press Service. “We’ll never go back to square one.”

Nonetheless, Nawla Darwish of the New Woman Foundation fears that because women weren’t pushing their own rights during the demonstrations, they’ll be ignored. “We are living in a patriarchal society,” she told Al-Masry Al-Youm, an Egyptian newspaper. And even the January 25 revolution may not be enough to change that.

Such fears are being realized. Nehad Abou El Komsan, chair of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, is indignant that women have been left out of the political dialogue since Mubarak was ousted. Deplorably, the committee to redraft the constitution excluded women, even female legal experts. The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights issued a statement denouncing the exclusion, signed to date by 102 Egyptian women’s organizations. So far, no response.

Egypt’s leading feminist, Nawal El Saadawi, now 80, feels a new social compact emerged in Tahrir Square: “But how to sustain this? We learned from Algeria. Women became angry when we heard the constitutional committee had not a single woman. Then the men dismissed our statement, since it was only paper. So we began planning a march and we are reestablishing the Egyptian Women’s Union—which had been banned—as an umbrella organization. We must unite for political power or men will exclude us. Once we are in the streets in millions, it’s not paper.”

Meanwhile, women persevere with stunning courage across the region.

In Yemen, protests were sparked by the arrest of 32-year-old Tawakul Karman, head of Women Journalists Without Chains. Now released, she insists, “There is no solution [to extremism] other than spreading the culture of coexistence and dialogue, skills that women master and possess.” In Bahrain, when police fired teargas at Shia women in chadors chanting anti-government slogans, the women sat down, and only after the police fled the caustic fumes did they leave. In Algeria, feminists marched, chanting, “Away with the family code!” In Gaza, Palestinians rallied, demanding that Hamas and Fatah unite, while Asma al-Ghoul, a young journalist known for her defiant feminism, called for a secular Palestine. In Libya, the revolt is, at this writing, still convulsively violent, including little-noticed reports of mass rape by government-hired mercenaries. Even less known is that it all began at the Benghazi attorney general’s office with a sit-in by lawyers and judges—led by Salwa Bugaighis, a lawyer in her mid-40s.

As Ms. goes to press, protests still are igniting in Jordan, Morocco, Libya, Oman, Sudan, Iraq, Lebanon and Djibouti. International Women’s Day demonstrations were staged in Kuwait, Bahrain, Yemen and Egypt. Rallies are even being planned in Saudi Arabia. In Iran—which is Persian, not Arab— thousands took to the streets against the theocracy. A regional young feminist action alliance,Women United for the Future of the Middle East, has just formed.

These women, who must confront first tyrants and then comrades, refuse to be stopped.

One last example. Syria, tightly controlling of its populace, boasts of setting records for women’s advancement. Vice President Najah al-Attar is the first woman in the Arab world to hold such a position (however questionable her real power). Yet in February, Tal al-Molouhi, a 19-year-old high-school student, stood in court chained and blindfolded and was sentenced to five years imprisonment. She had blogged about longing for a role in building Syria’s future.

Tal is that future. Sixty percent of the population in these countries is under age 30—and more than half is female.

Nebuchadnezzar, the writing’s on the Facebook wall.

Fareed Zakaria: Status of Women. Video + Transcript


TRANSCRIPT: The Role of Women in the World; Interview With Robot Comedian

Aired September 4, 2011 – 10:00   ET

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST: This is GPS, THE GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of our viewers in the United States and around the world. I’m Fareed Zakaria.

We have a terrific show for you today, filled with some of the most interesting thinkers in their fields. First up, a new way to think about the role of women in the world with a terrific, important panel.

Then a first for GPS, I will have a robot as a guest. You will want to meet my new friend, Data.

Next, a man who made me think differently about innovation, the world renowned architect, Frank Gehry. He designs buildings like nothing you’ve ever seen before. How does he innovate?

Then, how do you capture the essence of a world leader? I’ll talk to the acclaimed and innovative photographer Platon.

And finally, think you can’t sell chopsticks to China? Think again.

But first, here’s my take. These are the dog days of summer, and in this hot, sweltering weather, most Americans are busy working. I know, I know, not you folks in the Hamptons, but the others.

Meanwhile, most Europeans are busy vacationing. Thus it has ever been, only it’s getting worse. Nowadays the average European gets about three times as many days of paid vacation as his counterpart in America.

Italy has the most vacation days, with the average worker there getting 42 paid days off according to the World Tourism Organization. Next was France, with 37 days; Germany with 35; Brazil at 34; the U.K. at 28; Canada, 26; Korea and Japan both with 25. The United States was near the bottom of the list, with the average worker getting 13 paid days off.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Well, the conventional answer is that this attitude towards work makes the American economy the envy of the world. America is a hectic turbo-charged system that builds, destroys, rebuilds all at warp speed. It’s what created the information revolution, Silicone Valley, hedge funds, biotechnology, nanotechnology – whatever that is – and so on, and there’s no time for lolling at the beach. In fact, it’s not clear at all that working for a few extra weeks in the summer is what makes a nation’s economy hum. Take a look at these numbers from Ipsos, a consulting firm, on the percentage of citizens that actually use all of their vacation days.

The French, predictably, lead the pack. Eighty-nine percent take all of their days; but 75 percent of the Germans – and their economy is strong – take their allotted days; 70 percent of Indonesians, in a country enjoying a booming economy, use all of their days; but only 57 percent of Americans take advantage of their days. And we have fewer paid vacation days than almost any other major country. Even with those just 13 days off, only 57 percent of Americans take them all. To remind you again, 89 percent of the French use all of their days off.

If you’re worried that working less will mean America lags behind, don’t worry. America’s growth historically has been fueled mostly by investment, education, productivity, innovation and immigration. The one thing that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with America’s growth rate is a brutal work schedule.

After all, we were working hard during the very slow years of the 1970s, we’re working hard now. In fact, some experts believe that working harder might actually depress productivity numbers because the additional hours worked rarely generate strong output. We are not as productive at 8:00 P.M. as we are at 9:00 A.M.

So, take a break. Go to the beach. Read a book. Watch TV. Wait a minute, you’re already watching TV. So, well done.

Let’s get started.


ZAKARIA: I want to spend a little time today talking about an absolutely crucial issue, the role of women in the world. One of the most important indicators, for example, of how the revolutions in the Middle East will go is how well they will treat women. Throughout the Arab world and in Africa, women remain second class citizens, beholden for life to a male relative.

Is this changing? How fast? What else is happening with women in the world?

We brought together a terrific panel to talk about this issue. Let’s turn to “New York Times” columnist Nicholas Kristof, who with his wife, the journalist Sheryl Wudunn, together wrote “Half The Sky.”

One of the great stories from that book is that of Zainab Salbi, who also joins us. She is the founder of Women for Women International.

Nick, how much of the treatment of women is culture, how much of it is religion, and how much of it is Islam in particular?

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: There’s no question that organized religions in general tended to take a social hierarchy that typically had men very much in top and sanctified it, kind of placed the stamp of God on top of it. And this is true of a number of religions.

On the other hand, it is clear empirically, if you look around the world, that the places where women are most likely to run into terrible problems are predominantly Muslim countries. My own take is that has much less to do with the Koran and with Islam, as such, and rather more to do with culture and that the insecurity, the violence, the social conflict has less to do with the Koran and rather more to do with a cycle of not educating girls, of marginalizing women, which leads to very high birth rates, which leads to a very high demographic cohort of young people aged 15 to 24, which is the most destabilizing thing a country can have.

And the way out of that is to do what a number of Muslim countries have done – Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia – which is to educate girls. And, you know, the reason that Bangladesh is so different from Pakistan today, even though they started as one country, in part is that Bangladesh has done a superb job educating girls and now has more girls in high school than boys.

ZAKARIA: And both countries are 95 – 99 percent Muslim.

KRISTOF: And both are – both are Muslim countries. I mean it’s – and they read the same Koran. But Pakistan is a real mess, and Bangladesh is not.

ZAKARIA: What about China? Because, I mean, to my – to me, when you hear about the treatment of women, you know, if you go back 100 years in China, women’s feet were bound, which, you know, people have to understand that that basically meant you were breaking the feet of every woman in –

SHERYL WUDUNN, CO-AUTHOR, “HALF THE SKY”: Absolutely. A hundred years ago, China was probably the worst place on earth to be born female. My grandmother’s feet were bound. But what gives me extreme amount of hope is that in one generation that was eradicated. This is a centuries-old practice.

And yet, partly because they had people inside China and people outside China that were foreign missionaries also, who thought this was a horrendous practice. They got together and they actually formed a strategy. They really were able to basically launch a counterattack against this practice, and in one generation eradicate it in China.

And then, what Mao did was that he said – and this is really critical. He said that education for everybody, including girls. So that meant that girls could go to school with the boys, and it was just mandatory education for everybody in the country.

But then, what was even more important – and this is a critical fact, especially for places like Saudi Arabia and Japan – the girls were not only educated, they were able to work in the formal labor force. The society accepted them in the formal labor force, and that was critical. They could get jobs, they could work in factories. And that was the beginning of China’s economic revolution. Light industry, which employed women, making the clothes – the clothes we wear, the shoes we wear, the – the bags that we – we carry, they were made by women, and that jumpstarted China’s economic revolution.

KRISTOF: I think China is a good antidote to the way we tend to psych ourselves out about the Muslim world. And, yes, indeed in a number of harder line Muslim countries, you know, because of culture, women don’t have opportunities. But culture is not immutable. Culture can change, and China is the best evidence of that.

And the other thing is that I think we tend to psych ourselves out and say, you know, should – isn’t it a little bit imperialist for us to be telling other countries how to treat women? You know, isn’t that a value that we should leave it to them to decide?

And I think, again, you know, Sheryl just feel – feel so fortunate that there were outsiders who were willing to push against the practice of foot binding. And I think there are some practices that you just have to say are not acceptable.

ZAKARIA: Well, in India, you know, the – there used to be a practice, a Hindu practice, that the woman was tossed on the – on the funeral pyre, on the burning funeral pyre of the man, in a – into – as a kind of sacrifice. And the British basically just outlawed it, a governor general called William Bentinck, said this is abhorrent and I don’t care what people think, and it caused riots and all that.

But talk about Islam, because this is something – what, you know, we come back to, writers like Ayaan Hirsi Ali say it’s Islam, and, you know, until you change the religion really, you can’t change anything.

ZAINAB SALBI, FOUNDER & CEO, WOMEN FOR WOMEN INTERNATIONAL: No, I don’t believe that, because Christianity at one point had that, Judaism had that. Every religion has this patriarchy and horrible practice towards women. It changed. It evolved.

I think –

ZAKARIA: But it is true that right now the Muslim world –

SALBI: It’s our Dark Ages.


SALBI: Yes. I think the Muslim world is – is living in the Dark Ages, and if you look at it historically, as what happened in Europe and other religion, then it makes historical sense. And it’s – I do believe we can evolve and we can – the religion can – and we can do that in a few things.

A) I think revival of historical characters in Islam, such as Khadija. Muhammad’s wife was 20 years older than him. She was a very successful business woman. She hired him as her employee. She chose to marry him, and she was the first one who – who helped him believe in God’s message.

The revival of characters like Khadija – if she was alive today, she would probably – to quote President Clinton when he went to Saudi Arabia, she probably would be the biggest business woman, actually, in today’s history. And everyone accepts her personality and character. We need to revive her in a much more vibrant way.

So I do believe in the possibility of a cultural and a religious evolution, as all religions went through this historical period.


ZAKARIA: We’ll be back in a moment with more from the panel, including why international aid groups now realize it is much smarter to give money to women than men. Why? When we come back.


KRISTOF: Between 50 and 110 million females are missing around the globe. This is an astonishing figure. It means that in any one decade more girls are discriminated against to death around the world than all the people who died in all the genocides of the 20th century, which is a, you know, it’s a staggering scope.




ZAKARIA: It is a truism in the world of international development that if you give an aid dollar to a man, he is likely to spend it at the bar or on guns. If you give that same aid dollar to a woman, she will buy necessities, food or diapers, or invest it in the family or a moneymaking venture.

And we are back with Nick Kristof, Sheryl Wudunn and Zainab Salbi, talking about women, culture, Islam – all kinds of things.

Nick, when you look at this – this statistic, why do you think that that’s true?

KRISTOF: You know, that’s the part that we really don’t know, and there are various theories. Some people think that it’s biological, nurturing instinct. Other people think that’s nonsense, that it’s essentially the way we’re socialized.

But what is clear is that across continents, across religions, across cultural traditions, that women are more likely to take income that they have, and also if they have titled-over assets, if they have financial assets, more likely to convert those to the benefit of their children and more likely to invest in small businesses.

ZAKARIA: Do you – have you seen this in action? I mean, are there stories of – when you went around, do you feel as though there are places where you actually could see this vividly? WUDUNN: Well, there are many different ways that this comes to – that this surfaces. For instance, in microfinance, which is a very typical way that – that many people have gotten involved in this issue. If you give a loan to a woman she really seems to tend to take it very far. When you give a loan to a man, he can take it somewhere, but often the repayment rates are much lower.

So big micro financing institutions like Grameen and – and BRAC, which basically started these things in Bangladesh, they didn’t want to be discriminatory, so they wanted to give to men and to women. But they found that women were just repaying at much higher rates than men. They were losing money by giving micro loans to men. So they’ve now switched to 97 percent of lending to women.

ZAKARIA: Zainab, what – what do you think about this? What’s your response – I mean, do you see this on the ground, that the women put the money to work productively?

SALBI: Very much so. I mean, statistically, women, re-spend 97 percent of their income or whatever their investment are, on their families, compared to men, who spend – re-spend 40 percent on their families.

But this reminds me of a story. I was in Afghanistan a few months ago, and I met a woman who was promised to be married at six – at the age of six, was married at the age of 15, was a widow and single mother at the age of 16. And she talks about how, you know, her life led and what she’s done with it.

So she – during the Taliban she was very poor. The Taliban beat her up for working in the streets with the very shoes – with the only shoes she owned, and they broke her shoes, and she was very bitter and – and sad about that.

And when I met her right now, she is working. She’s earning $450 a month, which is very significant in Afghanistan. She’s sending her daughter to school and determined that her daughter will not get married until she finish college. And she’s going back to her own school. She’s finishing her own education.

There’s a correlation – if you want to change practices from child marriages to women education and women working and the economy, there’s a correlation between that and investing in their mothers. And that mother, in her case, knows that I will not repeat to my daughter what I’ve gone through. And she is changing that culture practices in Afghanistan, or the behavior practice in Afghanistan.

So there’s no better investment, in talking about Afghans as an example, than investments in women who gets it. My money goes to my daughter who will go to college, who will get a better life.

ZAKARIA: What – what is the most successful place in which you’ve operated? You’re – you deal with women in distress in – in so many places. What’s your big success story?

SALBI: You know, all of them are successful. I mean, we work from Congo to Rwanda to Sudan to Afghanistan and Iraq.

ZAKARIA: And you started in Bosnia.

SALBI: And we started in Bosnia.

A couple of things is. One is we’re noticing that the first investment a woman make in terms of who they hire in their business is actually their husbands or their sons. The first decision they make. All of them – in Africa tend to – women tend to actually run with that $1 investment and do so much of it, and that seems to be the most vibrant place in terms of change.

I recently met a woman in Congo, in the midst – I mean, right now, as we speak right now, hundreds of thousands of women are getting raped in Congo. And this woman – it’s the same story usually. It’s a pattern of a story. She’s displaced, she doesn’t have anything, poverty. Her husband doesn’t know how to deal with the situation.

She went through Women for Women International’s program. We taught her – part of what we do is teach vocational and business skills for women, very poor women, to help them stand on their feet and earn their own income.

She learned soap making. He was cynical about her soap. She gave it to – she gave him samples to show it to his friends, and – and he started believing in her soap. And instead of her running a separate business of soap making, she actually made him a partner, but a different kind of partner, in which he goes and sell, gives her the money back, she is the one managing the money. And you see change –

Again, I’m interested in the changing of social patterns. She changed the relationship from she gives him all the money and he spend it on his, as you mentioned earlier, on his alcohol and cigarettes and prostitution or weapons. And now she reversed it. Now he goes and works and brings her the money and they manage it together about their sending their kids to school, better housing and better life’s conditions for both of them.

And so the – I would say Africa in general actually, where the investment is – goes triple the way than other countries.

ZAKARIA: You know, there’s – there’s a lot of good news in – in this book, but there’s also a lot of bad news in the sense that – paint the picture of just how bad it is for women in many parts of the world.

KRISTOF: Maybe the best gauge of the discrimination against women and girls is that how much of it is lethal. We don’t tend to think of discrimination, gender discrimination as being lethal. In much of the world, it is, and you can measure that by looking at the population ratios.

In India, for example, for the first year of life male and female mortality rates are fairly similar, because they’re depending upon the breast, and the breast doesn’t have a son preference. In age one to age five, a girl is 50 percent more likely to die than a boy, and that’s because they’re depending upon their parents, who do have a son preference, who don’t give that girl the same access to food and health care. And the upshot of – of this is differential levels of mortality that mean that between 50 and 110 million females are missing around globe.

This is an astonishing figure. It means that in any one decade more girls are discriminated against to death around the world than all the people who died in all the genocides of the 20th century, which is a, you know, it’s a staggering scope.

ZAKARIA: Final thought, what can we – what can people do?

WUDUNN: Oh, there are many ways. First of all, people have to care. They have to say this is unacceptable, as Zainab was saying. And once each individual can actually say that and take a step, then the politicians will start beginning to notice that this is something that – it’s an issue that the voters care about.

It really does start with individuals and a mass of individuals to join a movement to create change. It isn’t just something that the government does from the top down. The governments have to play the role as well, but you also need bottom up. You need grassroots, bottom-up movement that really starts to change perception and attitudes around the world.

ZAKARIA: Thank you very much. We will be right back.



“DATA”, ROBOT SKETCH COMEDIAN: I am just a mediocre robotic comedian. Pleased to meet you, Fareed. Are you ready for some action?




ZAKARIA: And now for our “What in the World?” segment, a very special one. You’ve probably heard of Watson, the computer that went head-to-head with humans on “Jeopardy.” You know that robots are increasingly used in manufacturing around the country, around the world. But have you ever heard of a robot sketch comedian?

Well, meet Data. Also joining us is Data’s handler, Heather Knight, a doctoral researcher in robotics at Carnegie-Mellon, who studies the intersection of entertainment and robotics.

So Data, take it away.

DATA: Hello, everybody. Can you hear me? All right. The volume is good. OK. Thanks. Excited to be here. Let’s get started. Gosh, I love saying that. It makes me feel like some kind of superhero, but actually, I am just a mediocre robotic comedian. Great to meet you, Fareed. Are you ready for some action?


DATA: Show me a postcard.

ZAKARIA: So what Data wants here is a postcard of one of three neighborhoods in New York about which he has some comedy sketches prepared. And I think, of the three neighborhoods – Times Square, West Village and Brooklyn – I’m going to choose Times Square and show him the card.

DATA: Good choice. On my way over here, I passed through Times Square. Have you seen the Naked Cowboy? He plays the guitar in his underwear and a cowboy hat. You know, just shaking his booty.

Tourists love that guy.

ROBERT JOHN BURCK, THE NAKED COWBOY: All right, don’t touch the squishy parts.

DATA: In fact, I am such a devout tourist that I had two video cameras installed on my face.

Well, that’s all I got. Did I do OK? Be honest.

ZAKARIA: No, not really.

DATA: But I was really trying.


ZAKARIA: Oh, come on. It’s not so bad.

KNIGHT: Try again.

DATA: Am I doing a good job?


DATA: They love me. They really, really love me. Now I can go home happy.

ZAKARIA: OK. So Heather, that was pretty amusing, but mostly just fascinating. Now, we should tell the audience that you wrote the –

DATA: Catch you later.

ZAKARIA: — you wrote the routine for Data, but his reactions are sort of natural. He senses – and if there were an audience there, he would actually – he’s trained – the sensors work so that he can sense the audience’s reaction. KNIGHT: Right. Yes.

ZAKARIA: Explain how that works.

KNIGHT: So, like robots can learn through lots of Data and so what’s – in some of my work I’ve been using each member of the audience as kind of a data point for machine learning. So in the reactions of a large group of people to a robot performer on stage, a robot could potentially learn – hopefully learn – to be more charismatic and more effective communicator and also – yes. And also be able to shape a performance for an individual group of people.

So there can be visual feedback, which is kind of conscious or we could make an iPhone app for you’re all giving feedback along the way, like I love that joke. You could rate things more, like Netflix style or –

ZAKARIA: And – and the robot would, in effect, incorporate that information and tell more of the jokes that –


ZAKARIA: — that you like and fewer of the ones – sort of like Pandora, with the thumbs up or thumbs down.

KNIGHT: Absolutely. Or you can even try telling jokes with a different set of gestures and see that joke is 10 times as funny for an audience.

ZAKARIA: Now, all of this is – sort of can be filed under artificial intelligence, and earlier this year, Watson, the IBM super computer, beat its human competitors in “Jeopardy.”

KNIGHT: I know.

ZAKARIA: So how sophisticated is – are we – are we getting here?

KNIGHT: Well, I think that those two projects are actually great tandem projects. Watson is great at searching databases, and – and one of the things that I’m trying to do with the audience is generate some of those databases and also specifically generate them around social expression. So a machine can know how to actually communicate effectively with us, and so we don’t have to adapt to using a screen or using a keyboard. They can learn how to work the way that we do.

ZAKARIA: Now, there are people, of course, who worry about something called the singularity. That is, the moment where robots will actually become smarter than we – than humans, and will be able to learn and keep learning. Is that really going to happen?

KNIGHT: Do all parents feel that way about their children? I just – I just wonder sometimes. I – I do feel like the way that we raise technology and the – and the applications we use them for can – and the storytelling we think about in the creation of new technology will help us shape the direction that it’s used. And we’re not on the cusp of singularity at this very moment, but I do think that when – and you put people and robots together in teams, we can achieve much more than either of us can do alone. We’re still very unique.

ZAKARIA: Heather Knight, Data, thank you very much.

KNIGHT: Thanks for having us.

ZAKARIA: And we’ll be right back.



CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Time for a check of today’s top stories.

Tropical Storm Lee has triggered tornado warnings along the Gulf Coast and is pounding Southern Louisiana with heavy rains and high winds. The slow-moving storm is expected to drop as much as 20 inches of rain by tomorrow night.

As officials keep an eye on Tropical Storm Lee, President Obama travels to Patterson, New Jersey, today to survey the damage from Hurricane Irene. The state’s Governor Chris Christie will join the president on the tour of Patterson’s flooded areas.

A typhoon in Western Japan has left at least 18 people dead and dozens more injured, according to Japanese News Sources. The storm which struck yesterday also caused massive mudslides. At least 50 people are missing.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn is back in France. The former International Monetary Fund chief has been under house arrest in New York after being accused of sexually assaulting a hotel maid. But prosecutors dropped those charges because of questions about his accuser’s credibility.

Strauss-Kahn was widely expected to challenge French President Nicolas Sarkozy in the country’s presidential elections next year, but polls show most French voters now don’t want him to run.

And those are your top stories. Now back to FAREED ZAKARIA GPS.


ZAKARIA: Think for a second about the most innovative thing you’ve seen. I bet whatever comes to mind was probably a technological innovation, a gee-whiz gadget or a joke-cracking robot, something like that.

But the fact is, innovation can and does come in many different areas, from business practices to the arts, literature, music, painting, design, architecture. The finest artists are often the most innovative. Think of Jackson Pollock’s paintings, Charlie Parker’s “Bebop.”

One of the finest architects in the world fits that model. He’s Frank Gehry, perhaps best known for his innovative, undulating waves at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao amongst many others. He joins me now.

Frank, thank you for joining.


ZAKARIA: How do you come up with an idea? Because so much of what you have done was not conventional, was not the way buildings were build. It was not the way people conceived of things. So where did stuff come to you from?

GEHRY: Well, I’m very thorough, which people probably don’t realize. And so I do a lot of research. I spend a lot of time with the clients, with the site, with the program and invent as I go along ideas that respond to those.

And in that process with – with the client involved and a clear understanding of budget and, you know, engineering and what can go on, we vet some directions together and they’re complicit, which I love because in the end when it looks strange, it want them – they’ve been part of it.

ZAKARIA: But the strangeness comes from where?

GEHRY: Well, I don’t know these whys, but there’s – to me it’s not strange. It looks like everything else is strange. And so stuff starts to unfold and little models and ideas and sketches. A lot – there are about 50 to 100 models made in that process.

ZAKARIA: And it’s very deliberative.

GEHRY: Yes. And then when I understand it completely, when I think I know, then I kind of put it away and then I call that the candy store. I call that when I know the problem, everything about it that I can imagine. And then I start to make the real design and the ideas.

And so the language comes from – of the curves comes from history. It’s not just invented out of whole cloth. If you look (INAUDIBLE) Marbles in the Elgin (ph) Marbles in Britain, they express motion in the marble. You see the soldiers pushing their – their shields, and it’s palpable. You feel it.

If you look at the Indian Sheba figures moving and – and I’ve studied those and there’s movement with inert materials. So it’s from history, it’s possible.

ZAKARIA: So this – the famous story that you took a piece of paper and crumpled it and looked at it and that was the Disney Hall in L.A.

GEHRY: But that’s a famous story because the Simpsons had me do that.


MARGE SIMPSON, “THE SIMPSON’S”: We asked Frank Gehry to build us a concert hall.


GEHRY: And that’s the (INAUDIBLE). Everybody thinks I’m going to crumple a paper. Clients come to me and say crumple a piece of paper, we’ll give you $100 and then we’ll build it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Frank Gehry, you’re a genius.


ZAKARIA: But in fact, it was a long, long –

GEHRY: No, no, no, no. That was just a fun – fun thing. But it has – it has haunted me. People do – who’ve seen “The Simpson’s” believe it.

ZAKARIA: When you design a building, is your principal concern to make something dazzling beautiful? Or is your principal concern to have it so that it functions exactly the way that it’s meant to be, an apartment building with all the apartments?

GEHRY: Yes, to function is first and to get it build, it has to be on budget. And so you have to deal with technology and the culture of construction. And that’s complicated, and I think it’s very important. And then to bring something to it other than just – and it doesn’t cost extra. That’s the interesting thing. We’ve proven that over and over again.

So a building should engender some kind of an emotional response. If you go to Disney Hall, the key issue was the relationship between performer and audience. I worked my butt off to make that special. I think it helps the – psychologically, it’s psycho acoustic, we call it. If the orchestra feels the audience, you’ve experience this in one of your talks (ph) you speak better. You feel it. And that happens in a performance and I think it happens in everything.

ZAKARIA: What about this new building in New York? It’s a big apartment building. What did you see as the crucial thing there to get right?

GEHRY: The pro former for the apartments was a T-shaped building. It’s a given in New York, it’s a New York model. We made it a little bit higher so that – and added the stair steps like the historic buildings in New York. We didn’t have to do that. We could have been straight up.

So that was the declaration, if you will. It was my trying to fit a building into New York. And then I added the – the folds. Folds are like when your mother holds you in your arms, it’s very basic I think. It’s primitive that people respond to folds. And I think that’s why great artists in history focus so much on it.

And so I wanted to have that warmth, that feeling in the city that this building was accessible and that it – by adding the folds it was somehow timeless. It wasn’t exactly a modernist slab. It had some kind of a thing to it.

ZAKARIA: Do you think that when you look at American architecture, creativity right now, does it feel like, you know, we’re still at the top of the world? Does it feel like 1950s, abstract expressionism taking the world by storm? Where – where is America in today’s kind of landscape?

GEHRY: Well, I think we’ve just been through – in architecture we’ve just been through a very expressionist period where there’s a lot of money, people are doing things, and – and it’s coming to a screeching halt by – by the culture around architecture. There’s kind of a backlash and they’re saying focus on sustainability, focus on – on the social issues and the architecture should be – come secondary. And it seems like so thoughtless to eliminate the baby with the bath water kind of – use those other things. It becomes a manter for less talented people to get their way probably.

ZAKARIA: Frank Gehry, thank you. We will be right back.



PLATON, PHOTOGRAPHER: I thought in the last 15 seconds, I owe it to myself to do the picture I really believe in. So I said to him, Mr. President, will you show me the love?




ZAKARIA: Most people with one-word names are rock stars – Bono, Madonna, Cher. My next guest has a one-word name – Platon. He’s not a rock star in the traditional sense, but he is a star photographer. And his specialty is capturing the essence of world leaders in a single frame. Welcome.

PLATON: It’s good to be here, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: You worked before with a lot of celebrities, George Clooney, Al Pacino, Yoko Ono. So who are more difficult to deal with? Mega stars or world leaders?

PLATON: There’s actually now formula with people. And the moment you – you start to fake it and apply a formula, it’s Endsville. Every person is totally different and you have to go in in a very humble, raw, open state of mind. I mean, what I do is maybe three percent photography. The rest is complete psychology and people skills.

ZAKARIA: So tell me about a few of these. There’s this great shot of Putin, a difficult man to photograph only in the sense he rarely agrees to be photographed.

PLATON: Yes. To my knowledge, it’s the only formal portrait he’s ever done outside the Kremlin. I was flown to Moscow. I photographed him in his private dasher. And I was let into his room where they essentially dissolved the Soviet Union, so it’s very historic.

And I said to him, I’m a massive Beatles fan, are you? And the first thing he did was he took off his translating earpiece, ushered all his advisors out of the room. And it was me, him and perhaps 15 security guards. So it was very, very cozy and he said let’s talk.

So he spoke perfect English. And I said, well, I want to know if you like The Beatles. So he said I do like The Beatles. So I said what’s your favorite Beatles song? He said “Yesterday.” So I said I can’t believe I’m talking to you about The Beatles.

Now, the interesting thing is that connection allowed me then to get close and – and he allowed me in. And I think probably when I took the picture I was about an inch and a half away from his nose.

ZAKARIA: And probably the most famous shot of yours, I have to say, is probably the Bill Clinton shot, which was during the Lewinsky scandal. It is called the crotch shot, right?

PLATON: Yes, it was.

ZAKARIA: Did you think when you did it, you know what? This is going to come out with a rather emphasized crotch?

PLATON: I had no idea. It was my first presidential portrait, and it should probably have been my last. The magazine actually said to me, whatever you do, don’t use that lens. You’ve got eight minutes with him.

So, you know, I spent seven and a half minutes doing a very sort of elegant head shot of Clinton. And then, I thought in the last 15 seconds, I owe it to myself to do the picture I really believe in. So I said to him, Mr. President, will you show me the love? And at that point I think some of his advisors winced. But he knew what I wanted. He said, I know what he means. And he put his hands on his knees and he gave me that Clinton charisma.

ZAKARIA: You have two photographs of – one of Obama and one of Bush, and they couldn’t be more different.


ZAKARIA: And in a way, you know, at least, they conform to the conventional view of Obama is cold, as cerebral, very elegant. Bush as warm, folksy. Is that how they came across to you? PLATON: No, actually. And it’s very interesting because in this project, Obama was photographed on the rise to power. It was during his presidential election campaign. And Bush was photographed after he left office. So bush was rather – had a reflective view on the whole sitting.

Obama is obviously very charismatic as we know as a speaker. I remember saying to him, though, as I was taking the picture that my mom really hopes you make to it the White House. And he leaned forward and said, tell your mamma I said hi. So it was – there are moments of this wonderful natural people skills that just overflow with Obama.

With Bush, it was – it was quite a challenging shoot, one of the hardest I’ve ever had. He walked in the room and I remember he said to me, you better be photographing a guy who is happy and not some kind of snarler.

ZAKARIA: B.B. Netanyahu, how did he strike you?

PLATON: Netanyahu has a very powerful confidence. He came over to me and he put his hand on one shoulder, on my shoulder and he took my hand with the other hand very firmly. He looked into my eyes and he said, Platon, make me look good.

ZAKARIA: Perhaps your most famous shot is the Gadhafi. I don’t know if it’s the most famous. It’s the most grand.

PLATON: Gadhafi chose arguably the worst moment to sit for me. Again, at the General Assembly in New York, I was just a few feet away from the podium where Obama was actually speaking. And it’s a very confined space.

And at the end of the corridor, I saw this giant crowd swell of about 200 people coming towards us. In the middle of the crowd swell was Gadhafi, and he was marching in slow motion with this defiant spirit. He was surrounded by female bodyguards dressed head to foot in green military clothing. It was a scene from a James Bond movie.

ZAKARIA: The Amazonian guard.

PLATON: Yes. So he walked right up to me and sat for me as if saying, I will sit for a portrait on American soil right under the nose of the American administration while Obama is actually making the speech. And that’s when we did it.

ZAKARIA: And his wild clothes with this – the –

PLATON: Yes, the regalia.

ZAKARIA: — the brooch of the Africa – of Africa and the robes.

PLATON: It’s – he wore this – this sort of pork pie hat that tamed his wild hair. He had these incredible chocolate robes. I mean, people say to me, is he – is he crazy? Is he mad? He may well be those things, but he also may well be the smartest person in the room. And I don’t think he’s to be underestimated.

ZAKARIA: What makes a photograph great? I mean, people sometimes wonder, they look at photographs and they think, well, you know, I could take photographs. Is it – is it the moment? Is it the lighting? Is it – you say it’s a lot of psychology.

PLATON: I think it’s all the things working together. Sometimes the stars are aligned to create a happening. You may laugh at my foolish optimism, but I – I do passionately believe in the human condition, and I believe in the – the dignity of the individual, and in many ways this is perhaps a feeble attempt to appeal to this international power community to come together to solve the world’s problems.

ZAKARIA: Platon, pleasure.

PLATON: Thank you so much.

ZAKARIA: And we will be back.




ZAKARIA: There’s been a lot of talk recently about the economic strength of the U.S. dollar. But our “GPS Question” this week concerns the physical strength of the dollar. The question is, how long does the average $20 bill last? How long is it in circulation? Is it, A) six months; B) two years; C) six years; or D) 10 years?

Stay tuned, we’ll tell you the correct answer.

Make sure you go to for 10 more challenging questions. And while you’re there, check out our website, The Global Public Square. You’ll find smart interviews and takes by some of our favorite experts many of who you’ve seen on the show. You’ll also find the show itself if you missed it. Don’t forget you should also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

This week’s “Book of the Week” is by our guest earlier, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. It’s called “Half The Sky.” It’s filled with uplifting stories of women defying the odds, breaking through oppression and repression, and it reminds you of just how tough it is for women in so many parts of the world.

Now, for “The Last Look,” they say you shouldn’t send coals to Newcastle or try to sell ice to Eskimos. But how about trying to sell chopsticks to the Chinese? Think it’s a bad business idea?

Jay Lee is here to prove you wrong. He has built a chopstick factory in America’s Georgia. He employs 100 people. But perhaps his best worker is this chopstick chopping machine. It runs 24 hours a day, six days a week and it makes two million chopsticks a day. And Lee sells them to the Chinese. You see, it turns out China is running out of wood, and Georgia’s soft poplar trees are apparently perfect. Lee, better keep chopping. China uses 45 billion chopsticks every year.

The correct answer to the “GPS Challenge Question” was B, the average $20 bill lasts only two years in circulation. The life span of a $1 bill is even shorter, 1.8 years. Maybe we ought to consider going the way of the Canadian Loonie and having a coin. Go to our website for more.

Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week. Stay tuned for “RELIABLE SOURCES.”

Assad’s forces target Syrian children, says UN envoy

The Independent – Thursday, 29 March 2012

Concerns about children caught up in the Syrian conflict deepened yesterday as a United Nations human rights envoy described the “horrendous” incarceration and torture of youngsters by the Syrian government, days after the UN said it had unconfirmed reports of child soldiers fighting for the opposition.

Navi Pillay said she believed there was sufficient evidence for President Bashar al-Assad to be referred to the International Criminal Court because human rights abuses, including the targeting of children, must have involved complicity at “the highest level”.

“They have gone for the children, for whatever purpose, in large numbers,” she told the BBC. “It is just horrendous. Children shot in the knees, held together with adults in really inhumane conditions, denied medical treatment for their injuries, either held as hostages or as sources of information.”

On Monday, the UN’s special representative for children and armed conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, said she had received reports that the opposition Free Syrian Army had used child soldiers, but they had yet to be verified.

“The widespread detention of children by the Syrian government and their mistreatment is shocking,” said Nadim Houry, a Beirut-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, which has documented Syrian children as young as 13 being held in solitary confinement.

Meanwhile, on the eve on an Arab League summit, regional foreign ministers met in Baghdad to discuss a draft resolution on Syria.

Damascus said it would reject any plan, citing its suspension from the League in November. “We will not deal with any new Arab initiative on any level,” said a government spokesman, Jihad Makdissi.

Syria has, says the UN, accepted a peace plan from the joint UN-Arab League special envoy, Kofi Annan. But the news has been greeted with scepticism by Western diplomats as Damascus is yet to confirm its agreement.

Mr Annan, the former UN secretary-general will travel to Iran next week to discuss the initiative, which includes a call for a ceasefire by both sides, but gives no timetable for a transfer of power.