Female war correspondents in the spotlight at Arab Women Forum

Female war correspondents in the spotlight at Arab Women Forum
The image many harbour of the intrepid war correspondent is patently masculine . (AN Photo)
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Updated 24 September 2022

Female war correspondents in the spotlight at Arab Women Forum

Female war correspondents in the spotlight at Arab Women Forum
  • Sky News reporter Arizh Mukhammed says conflicts bring journalists “closer to people’s suffering” 
  • Al-Hadath TV anchor Christiane Baissary debunks notion that women are not suited for war reporting

DUBAI: Journalists, whether they are men or women, have a duty to find out the truth and to tell the human story behind major world events, including the harsh realities of war. But, by virtue of their gender, are women better equipped to tell those stories? 

The view of women as the more “emotional” sex can sound dated to modern ears. But when a female journalist enters a war zone, it is often acknowledged that her access to the private lives of her sources, particularly families caught up in conflict, is often markedly different to the reception experienced by a male correspondent. 

Arizh Mukhammed is a Moscow-based war reporter for Sky News Arabia. Over the past few months, she had been deployed to the front lines in Ukraine to report on the Russian invasion, braving armed conflict and the human tragedies of war. 

“It is not easy to cover war, because, like any human being, you feel fear. And I feel fear,” Mukhammed told a panel discussion a session entitled “Storytellers from the war front” at the Arab Women Forum in Dubai on Tuesday. 

Mukhammed, who is half Russian and half Syrian, says wars bring journalists “closer to peoples’ suffering,” making it all the more difficult to remain objective about what they are witnessing. 

But the ability to empathize with the men, women and children a reporter encounters while deployed in a war zone undoubtedly gives their coverage a powerful human dimension that allows viewers to experience the agonies of distant conflicts. 

The question is, are women better equipped than men to document such accounts? 

“Women war journalists give a deeper dimension to human suffering,” Mukhammed told Arab News at the forum. 

“While men might surround themselves with the impression that they are strong and fearless, women have actually shown they are much more patient.” 

Christiane Baissary, a senior news anchor for the Al-Hadath news channel, said there is a common misconception that women are not suited for war coverage. 

“A soldier once told me that women should not be in a war zone. He was trying to convince me that I should not stay to cover the war,” she said. 

“This mentality is not just in the Middle East but everywhere,” Baissary said, adding that things have since changed and women are gaining more opportunities to cover conflict zones. 

The image many harbour of the intrepid war correspondent is patently masculine — a gung-ho adventurer who risks kidnap, injury, or even death to get as close as possible to the blood and gun smoke of war. 

Indeed, the role of a war correspondent can be extremely dangerous. On May 11, Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh was shot dead in the West Bank city of Jenin while reporting on an Israeli arrest operation, despite wearing protective gear clearly identifying her as a member of the press. 

“The killing of Abu Akleh is another serious attack on media freedom and freedom of expression, amid the escalation of violence in the occupied West Bank,” UN experts Morris Tidball-Binz, Reem Alsalem, and Irene Khan said in a statement on May 13. 

They called for a prompt and impartial investigation into the killing of Abu Akleh, in full compliance with UN regulations. 

“The role of journalists, especially in a context of heightened tension and marked by continuous abuses, like the occupied Palestinian territory, is critical,” the statement read. 

“Lack of accountability gives carte blanche to continue the litany of extrajudicial executions. The safety of journalists is essential in guaranteeing freedom of expression and media freedom.” 

Of course, Abu Akleh was only the latest reporter to be killed while on duty. According to the press advocacy organization Reporters Without Borders, scores of journalists are killed every year worldwide in connection with their work. Nearly a thousand have died over the past decade alone. 

“I think it was really important for us to highlight female war correspondents and women correspondents because what they are doing is out of the ordinary,” said Noor Nugali, assistant editor-in-chief at Arab News, who presided over Tuesday’s panel. 

“Usually when people think of correspondents, the first thing that comes to their minds (is that) women are too soft, women are incapable of handling such situations. 

“But, in reality, it shows the resilience of women, strength of women, and their capability of getting all angles and facts straight.” 

This evolving image of women, particularly those in the Arab world, was a key feature of the Arab Women Forum, and a special session, entitled “Saudi women pioneers: Change from within,” explored the issue in depth. 

“I think the creation of Vision 2030 is life-changing, honestly, for a lot of women and young people,” Lama Alshethri, editor-in-chief of Sayedati, one of the best-known magazines in the Arab region, told the panel. 

“I think we, our generation, have been able to reap some of the fruits of Saudi Vision 2030. And we were prepared for the change.” 

Vision 2030, the social and economic reform agenda announced in 2016 by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, emphasizes the need to inspire and empower all members of the society to realize the Kingdom’s full potential. 

Subsequently, women’s empowerment in the Kingdom has expanded rapidly. Saudi women are now more active in different spheres of the public and private sector. 

“I have not seen the change. I lived it,” Princess Reema bint Bandar, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, said in a special address opening Tuesday’s forum. 

“I know how important it is to open the workplace for women,” she said. 

“(However,) I realized that opening the doors wasn’t enough. Women had to be prepared to take advantage of those open doors and we have to equip them with skills.”

Iran’s hijab law under review: attorney general

Updated 6 sec ago

Iran’s hijab law under review: attorney general

Iran’s hijab law under review: attorney general
TEHRAN: Iran’s parliament and the judiciary are reviewing a law which requires women to cover their heads, and which triggered more than two months of deadly protests, the attorney general said.
The demonstrations began after Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, died in custody on September 16 after her arrest by Iran’s morality police for an alleged breach of the dress code.
Protesters have burned their head coverings and shouted anti-government slogans. Since Amini’s death a growing number of women are not observing hijab, particularly in Tehran’s fashionable north.
The hijab headscarf became obligatory for all women in Iran in April 1983, four years after the 1979 revolution that overthrew the US-backed monarchy.
“Both parliament and the judiciary are working (on the issue),” of whether the law needs any changes, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri said in the holy city of Qom.
Quoted on Friday by the ISNA news agency, he did not specify what could be modified in the law.
The review team met on Wednesday with parliament’s cultural commission “and will see the results in a week or two,” the attorney general said.
President Ebrahim Raisi on Saturday said Iran’s republican and Islamic foundations were constitutionally entrenched.
“But there are methods of implementing the constitution that can be flexible,” he said in televised comments.
After the hijab law became mandatory, with changing clothing norms it became commonplace to see women in tight jeans and loose, colorful headscarves.
But in July this year Raisi, an ultra-conservative, called for mobilization of “all state institutions to enforce the headscarf law.”
Many women continued to bend the rules, however.
Iran accuses its sworn enemy the United States and its allies, including Britain, Israel, and Kurdish groups based outside the country, of fomenting the street violence which the government calls “riots.”
A general in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps this week, for the first time, said more than 300 people have lost their lives in the unrest since Amini’s death.
Iran’s top security body, the Supreme National Security Council, on Saturday said the number of people killed during the protests “exceeds 200.”
Cited by state news agency IRNA, it said the figure included security officers, civilians, armed separatists and “rioters.”
Oslo-based non-governmental organization Iran Human Rights on Tuesday said at least 448 people had been “killed by security forces in the ongoing nationwide protests.”
UN rights chief Volker Turk said last week that 14,000 people, including children, had been arrested in the protest crackdown.

Iranian state media: Construction begins on nuclear plant

Iranian state media: Construction begins on nuclear plant
Updated 58 min 10 sec ago

Iranian state media: Construction begins on nuclear plant

Iranian state media: Construction begins on nuclear plant
  • The announcement comes as Iran has been rocked by nationwide anti-government protests
  • The new 300-megawatt plant, known as Karoon, will take eight years to build and cost around $2 billion

CAIRO: Iran on Saturday began construction on a new nuclear power plant in the country’s southwest, Iranian state TV announced, amid tensions with the US over sweeping sanctions imposed after Washington pulled out of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear deal with world powers.
The announcement also comes as Iran has been rocked by nationwide anti-government protests that began after the death of a young woman in police custody and have challenged the country’s theocratic government.
The new 300-megawatt plant, known as Karoon, will take eight years to build and cost around $2 billion, the country’s state television and radio agency reported. The plant will be located in Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan province, near its western border with Iraq, it said.
The construction site’s inauguration ceremony was attended by Mohammed Eslami, head of Iran’s civilian Atomic Energy Organization, who first unveiled construction plans for Karoon in April.
Iran has one nuclear power plant at its southern port of Bushehr that went online in 2011 with help from Russia, but also several underground nuclear facilities.
The announcement of Karoon’s construction came less than two weeks after Iran announced it had begun producing enriched uranium at 60 percent purity at the country’s underground Fordo nuclear facility. The move is seen as a significant addition to the country’s nuclear program.
Enrichment to 60 percent purity is one short, technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90 percent. Non-proliferation experts have warned in recent months that Iran now has enough 60 percent-enriched uranium to reprocess into fuel for at least one nuclear bomb.
The move was condemned by Germany, France and Britain, the three Western European nations that remain in the Iran nuclear deal. Recent attempts to revive Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal, which eased sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, have stalled.
Since September, Iran has been roiled by nationwide protests that have come to mark one of the greatest challenges to its theocracy since the chaotic years after its 1979 Islamic Revolution. The protests were sparked when Mahsa Amini, 22, died in custody on Sept. 16, three days after her arrest by Iran’s morality police for violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code for women. Iran’s government insists Amini was not mistreated, but her family says her body showed bruises and other signs of beating after she was detained
In a statement issued by Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency on Saturday, the country’s national security council announced that some 200 people have been killed during the protests, the body’s first official word on the casualties. Last week, Iranian Gen. Amir Ali Hajjizadeh tallied the death toll at more than 300.
The contradictory tolls are lower than the toll reported by Human Rights Activists in Iran, a US-based organization that has been closely monitoring the protest since the outbreak. In its most recent update, the group says that 469 people have been killed and 18,210 others detained in the protests and the violent security force crackdown that followed.
The United States unilaterally pulled out of the nuclear deal — formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA — in 2018, under then-President Donald Trump. It reimposed sanctions on Iran, prompting Tehran to start backing away from the deal’s terms. Iran has long denied ever seeking nuclear weapons, insisting its nuclear program is peaceful.

Sweden extradites outlawed PKK member to Turkiye: report

Sweden extradites outlawed PKK member to Turkiye: report
Updated 03 December 2022

Sweden extradites outlawed PKK member to Turkiye: report

Sweden extradites outlawed PKK member to Turkiye: report
  • Mahmut Tat, who was sentenced to six years and 10 months in jail for PKK membership in Turkiye, fled to Sweden in 2015

ISTANBUL : Sweden has extradited a convicted member of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to Turkiye as Ankara presses Stockholm for further steps in return for its membership in NATO, state media reported on Saturday.
Mahmut Tat, who was sentenced to six years and 10 months in jail for PKK membership in Turkiye, fled to Sweden in 2015 but his asylum request was rejected.
Tat arrived in Istanbul on Friday night having been detained by Swedish police, the Anadolu news agency reported.
He was taken by Turkish police soon after arriving at Istanbul airport and referred to court on Saturday, the private NTV broadcaster reported.
Turkiye has accused Finland and Sweden in particular of providing a safe haven for outlawed Kurdish groups it deems “terrorists,” and held back on ratifying their NATO bids despite an agreement in Madrid in June.
Finland and Sweden dropped decades of military non-alignment and sought to join NATO in May, after Russia invaded Ukraine.
The decision requires a consensus within the US-led defense alliance, but only Turkiye and Hungary are yet to ratify their membership.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu held trilateral talks with his Swedish and Finnish counterparts on the margins of a NATO meeting in Bucharest this week.
“The statements (coming out of Sweden) are good, the determination is good but we need to see concrete steps,” Cavusoglu said.
Ankara has said it expects Stockholm to take action on issues including the extradition of criminals and freezing of terror assets.

Conservative women join Iran protests for Amini

Conservative women join Iran protests for Amini
Updated 03 December 2022

Conservative women join Iran protests for Amini

Conservative women join Iran protests for Amini
  • Canada slaps more sanctions on regime

JEDDAH: Black-clad women in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province on Friday joined nationwide protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death.

Online videos showed dozens of women on the streets of the provincial capital Zahedan holding banners that declared “Woman, life, freedom” — one of the main slogans of the protest movement that erupted in mid-September.

“Whether with hijab, whether without it, onwards to revolution,” women dressed in body-covering chador garments chanted in videos posted on Twitter.

Women-led protests have swept Iran since Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, died following her arrest in Tehran for an alleged breach of the country’s dress code.

Security forces have killed at least 448 protesters, with the largest toll in Sistan-Baluchistan on Iran’s southeastern border with Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to Iran Human Rights, an Oslo-based non-governmental organization.

“It is indeed rare,” IHR director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said of the protests by women in Zahedan, which has seen men take to the streets after Friday prayers for more than two months.

“The ongoing protests in Iran are the beginning of a revolution of dignity,” he said.

“Women and minorities, who have for more than four decades been treated as second-class citizens, are empowered through these protests to come out to the streets and demand their fundamental human rights.”

Baluchi women were among the “most oppressed” in Iran and their protests were the most organized by them so far since demonstrations broke out across the country, Amiry-Moghaddam added.

Scores of men also took to the streets again on Friday, chanting “we don’t want a child-killing government,” footage posted online by activists showed. Security forces were seen opening fire with bird shots and tear gas on male protesters in Taftan, a locality in Sistan-Baluchistan, in a video published by IHR.

A prominent Sunni cleric said it was wrong to charge protesters with capital offenses. Molavi Abdolhamid, a powerful dissenting Sunni voice in the Shiite-ruled country, said it was wrong for the hardline judiciary to charge protesters with “moharebeh” — a term meaning warring against God — which carries the death penalty.

Meanwhile,  Canada has issued additional sanctions against Iran over its denial of rights for women and girls and for cracking down on peaceful protests, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly said.

The latest sanctions target four individuals and five entities that Ottawa said were tied to Tehran’s “systematic human rights violations” and actions that “threaten international peace and security.” She added that Canada “will not stand idly by while the regime’s human rights violations increase in scope and intensity against the Iranian people.”

Israeli peace activists show presence in West Bank hot spot

Israeli peace activists show presence in West Bank hot spot
Updated 03 December 2022

Israeli peace activists show presence in West Bank hot spot

Israeli peace activists show presence in West Bank hot spot
  • The video shows a soldier pushing a man to the ground and punching him in the face after a tense standoff with a small group of peace activists

HEBRON: Dozens of Israeli peace activists toured the occupied West Bank’s largest city on Friday in a show of solidarity with Palestinians, amid chants of “shame, shame” from ultra-nationalist hecklers.
The encounter in the center of Hebron signaled the widening rift among Israelis over the nature of their society and Israel’s open-ended military rule over the Palestinians, now in its 56th year.
After parliamentary elections last month, the most right-wing and religious government in Israel’s history is poised to be installed in coming days or weeks, with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returning to power.
In coalition agreements, Netanyahu has already handed key authorities in the West Bank to ultra-nationalist faction leaders, including former fringe figure Itamar Ben-Gvir, known for his anti-Arab rhetoric.
The new roles include oversight of Israeli settlement construction and the paramilitary border police, often deployed in Palestinian population centers.
At the same time, peace activists and pro-Palestinian rights groups have come under attack in recent years from right-wing politicians branding them traitors.
The immediate trigger for Friday’s tour was an incident in volatile Hebron that was caught on video last week.
The video shows a soldier pushing a man to the ground and punching him in the face after a tense standoff with a small group of peace activists.
Another soldier is heard telling the activists: “Ben-Gvir is going to sort things out in this place. That’s it, you guys have lost.”
The soldier uttering the taunts was initially sentenced to 10 days in military jail, but the army then reduced the sentence to six days.
As incoming national security minister, Ben-Gvir will have control over the border police whose troops are often deployed alongside regular soldiers in the West Bank.

As about 200 peace activists arrived in the center of Hebron on Friday, they were greeted by a group of protesters holding a banner reading: “The people of Israel demand: expel the anarchists from Hebron.” One man shouting through a bullhorn yelled, “shame, shame,” as the visitors listened to tour guides in a parking lot, separated from the right-wing protesters by security forces.
Friday’s visit was part of the regular offerings of anti-occupation groups, but turnout was larger than usual because of the election results and last week’s incident in Hebron, said Ori Givati, a spokesman for Breaking the Silence, one of the groups organizing the trip.
He said activists were worried — but also determined to continue their work, including tours to West Bank hot spots like Hebron, where dozens of heavily guarded settlers live in a city of tens of thousands of Palestinians.
“There is definitely fear for the safety, first and foremost for Palestinians under this occupation that are now going to be under a government that promotes hate and racism more than ever toward them, and toward our organization and other organizations and activists that are now in a reality where their activity here is delegitimized, also more than ever,” Givati said.
Those chanting slogans against the peace activists portrayed themselves as defenders of Israeli settlements and soldiers.
Matan Gerafi of the right-wing Im Tirtzu group alleged the activists aimed to discredit soldiers and branded them “anarchists.”
Palestinians were largely out of sight as the Israeli groups faced off.
Issa Amro, a Palestinian activist in Hebron, said he believes the hard-line ideology of Ben-Gvir and others will spread further in Israeli society.
“The settlers here are celebrating the election of their fascist representatives in the government,” he said. “What happens in Hebron will end in Tel Aviv.”