Gaza Instagram stars want world to get the picture

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Palestinian Kholoud Nassar, 26, uses her mobile phone to take pictures for her social media account in Deir Al-Balah in the central Gaza strip. (AFP)
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Palestinian Fatma Abu Musabbeh, 21, uses her mobile phone to take pictures of children for her social media account in Deir Al-Balah in the central Gaza. (AFP)
Updated 12 October 2017

Gaza Instagram stars want world to get the picture

GAZA CITY: They may not be able to leave Gaza without Israeli or Egyptian permission, but their photos can.
The two women are among a small number of Instagram stars in the blockaded Palestinian enclave, showing followers a different side of their homeland from what much of the world may be used to hearing or seeing.
“I see Instagram as a window,” says Kholoud Nassar, 26, wearing a pink hijab and fiddling with a toy car that features in many of her pictures.
Fatma Mosabah, 21, agrees, saying that “when I open the Internet I can talk to people across the world.”
Both have more than 100,000 followers on the social platform and say they get recognized multiple times a day in the tiny territory that is home to two million people.
In the enclave sealed off by Israel to the east and north, Egypt to the south and the Mediterranean Sea to the west, it is impossible for Gazans to leave without permission.
Neither of the women has left Gaza in more than a decade.
Israel also refuses to give permits for tourists to visit the strip, leaving most people outside to imagine life there.
And with three wars since 2008 between the strip’s rulers Hamas and Israel, many people’s ideas of Gaza center on devastation, poverty and suffering.
The women use Instagram, with its focus on pictures over text and political arguments, to show another side.
“War is a part of Gaza, but it is not all Gaza. I wanted to show there was more to Gaza — as in any country,” Nassar tells AFP in a cafe near the coast in Gaza City.
“Take America: there is poverty, there are destroyed homes, but at the same time there are beautiful places. Gaza is the same.”
“Through these pictures I want people to see Gaza, how people live, eat and work.”
Nassar’s pictures range from young children to harvests, all bathed in a range of colors, while Mosabah shows all sides of daily life.
Both women feature heavily in their own pictures, with wide smiles.
Mosabah agrees that the aim is to “change the perception of Gaza” away from political matters.
“To show its beautiful side, that’s the most important thing. Far from the destruction, blockade and the wars.”
A UN official recently said the strip may already be “unlivable.”
Despite Gazans receiving only a few hours of electricity a day in recent months, social media outlets remain popular.
Ali Bkheet, president of the Palestinian Social Media Club, estimates that around 50 percent of Gazans have Facebook, though numbers on Instagram and Twitter are significantly smaller.
He said the decade-long Israeli blockade had made Gazans particularly keen to use social media “to express ourselves and communicate our voice.”
Nassar started before the last war in 2014 and documented the human toll of the conflict.
In the three years since, she has sought to focus on how Gazans struggle through terrible conditions — including creating a “trying to live” hashtag to show how people were putting their lives back together after the war.
The toy car, an old Volkswagen Beetle Nassar carries in her bag at all times and which features in dozens of her photos, has become a trademark helping her connect with others.
People from across the Arab world now send her pictures of the real cars, which she posts on her page.
For Mosabah, Instagram is also a source of revenue — making between $300 and $400 a month from e-marketing and adverts on her page.
In a region where 60 percent of young people are unemployed and the average salary is a couple of hundred dollars, she has carved out a niche for herself.
Sheldon Himelfarb, CEO of US-based PeaceTech Lab which has researched how social media impacts political awareness, said social media can help break down barriers between people across the globe.
But he warned researchers were still trying to assess whether the selective nature of what is published helps or hinders efforts to gain a fuller picture.
“I believe in my conversations with university students. They seem to imply they are more aware about parts of the world than certainly their parents were. But whether or not they are more accurately informed I don’t know.”
Instagram is of course a selective version of life, with the women taking dozens of pictures before deciding on their favorite to show the world.
But despite the thought that goes into their selections, they aren’t protected from the bane of social media — trolls.
Islamist group Hamas has conservative attitudes toward women, as do many Gazans.
Mosabah says she blocks between five and 20 people a day on Instagram who make inappropriate comments.
“Maybe I take a picture with someone, they say the picture is shameful because I was with a man. I do a lot of blocking,” she laughs.
For Nassar, it has even strayed into the real world.
Once she was taking pictures in Beit Lahia, one of Gaza’s most conservative areas, when women started screaming at her.
“There are people here who criticize me — they say ‘you are going out, taking pictures. You should stay at home and cook’,” Nassar says.
“Maybe because I wear a hijab they criticize me more.”

Arab sport stars petition against ‘politicization’ of World Cup by Qatar’s BeIN

Updated 18 June 2018

Arab sport stars petition against ‘politicization’ of World Cup by Qatar’s BeIN

DUBAI: Some of the biggest names in Arab sport have signed a petition to protest against the “politicization” of World Cup coverage by Qatar-owned broadcaster BeIN. 

The petition has already attracted more than 58,000 signatures, including those of some of the Arab world’s most prominent athletes and media personalities — with all calling for an end to the politically-driven comments carried by some of BeIN Sports’ hosts and pundits.

The website created the petition and invited fans around the world to urge FIFA President Gianni Infantino to investigate the coverage by the Qatari broadcaster’s Arabic channel.

Prominent sports figures, players, commentators and referees have all signed in protest after BeIN’s presenters and pundits were found to be intentionally making political comments in live coverage during and after the World Cup matches.

Among the signatories are Egyptian national football player Ahmed Hassan, Al Arabiya’s Sports Editor Battal Al-Goos, and former Saudi national team captain Yousif Althunaian.

BeIN Sports holds the rights to broadcast World Cup games across the Middle East and North Africa, although its channels are not available in Saudi Arabia, one of four Arab nations locked in a diplomatic dispute with Qatar over the latter’s alleged ties to terror groups. Doha denies the charges. 

“Sport rises above politics. FIFA tried to keep politics away from game. As fans, we are saddened by BeIN using its permission to telecast sports to transmit its political agenda, violating FIFA rules,” the petition read.

“BeIN exploited its rights to aggravate (the) dispute between Qatar and Saudi, insulting our nations during the opening match,” it added.

The petition website includes nine clips from BeIN Sports featuring pundits and presenters politicizing the World Cup’s opening match between Saudi Arabia and the host nation, Russia. The petition is available in ArabicEnglishGermanFrench and Spanish.

In one of the station’s broadcasts, a commentator accused Saudi Arabia of “selling out the Palestinian cause,” while in another the host suggested the Kingdom’s top sporting officials will become “prisoners at the Ritz-Carlton,” a reference to the detentions in Riyadh during last year’s anti-corruption drive.

Egyptian media analyst Abdellatif El-Menawy said BeIN had “distorted the global football event” by using it as a political tool against Saudi Arabia.

“This is an infringement of the rules and standards of professional media,” El-Menawy told Arab News on Saturday. 

“BeIN Sports has abandoned neutrality and professionalism,” he added, saying the network’s coverage after Saudi Arabia’s 5-0 defeat by Russia was “gloating” and “sarcastic.”

Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar, said the political differences between BeIN Sports’ Arabic and English services were similar to those between Al Jazeera’s news channels. 

The news service’s Arabic channel has “unprofessional and unethical” commentary that is not seen on the English station, Al-Shehri said at the weekend. 

Another commentator called the disparity between BeIN Sports’ Arabic and English offerings “Al Jazeera syndrome” — in reference to the different political stances held by the news network’s two main channels. 

Lawyers contacted by Arab News at the weekend called on FIFA to investigate the matter saying the international football governing body “will have to look into and should take very seriously.”

BeIN Sports could not be reached for comment. FIFA had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.

BeIN broadcasts World Cup games across multiple countries, and it is not yet clear whether it has breached any regulations in any of those countries.  

But the UK communications body OFCOM said that, while it does not regulate BeIN Sports, there are strict rules covering impartiality concerning the broadcasters it does cover.

“With regards to those broadcasters we do regulate (including the BBC and ITV), we have strict rules in place regarding due impartiality and due accuracy, and undue prominence of views and opinions,” OFCOM told Arab News.

Global football commentators and sports journalists said that it was not right for broadcasters such as BeIN to mix football and politics. 

“Personally I don't make any remarks on politics or religion or whatever situation is going on. I only focus on football, mostly on analytic. This is my way. But I'm commentating in English - whatever is happening in Arabic I don't know,” said Pedro Correia, a freelance football commentator for Abu Dhabi Sports

"I keep it separate, I don't mention any kind of politics. It's my personal way of doing things. I just don't want to bring any politic or religious references into my work … I'm strictly about analysis, the football and what is going on on the pitch. I don't go political."

Journalist Lev Savari of Russia Today agreed, telling Arab News: “The World Cup should be free from people trying to use it to get some political benefit or say something negative about another country. Just enjoy the football.”

Sohail Sarwa, a journalist at The Daily Ittefaq in Bangladesh, said that there was “no reason” to mix sport and politics. 

“This is the World Cup and while we know that sports and politics can't be kept apart, we should try do as much as we can to keep the World Cup special,” Sarwa told Arab News.