Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Torture in the Sinai

I spent a good chunk of the last week or two working on a piece on human trafficking in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. Bedouin have been holding sub-Saharan Africans hostage there for a number of years, not to mention trafficking weapons, ammunition, and other goods, but the subject has been receiving more media attention of late.

The hostages, primarily Eritrean, have told activists and refugee-aid workers that their kidnappers subject them to electrocution, burning with molten plastic, beatings, and rape.  Ransoms can reach $50,000.

Check out my story here.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Elections 2012: The view from Cairo

Watching the election results roll in required an extra level of commitment in Cairo, where the States' weekend switchover to standard time meant we were now an extra hour -- seven total -- ahead of the East Coast. The first polls closed at 1 a.m. Egypt time, and the networks called the presidential vote for Obama at around 6:15 a.m.

I didn't last that long. I attended an elections party at the apartment of the deputy press attaché at the U.S. embassy here, along with lots of Egyptian journalists, activists, and bloggers, as well as some American diplomats and reporters. CNN, Al Jazeera English, and Nate Silver's analysis alternatively flashed on screens and a projection around the place, and I scarfed down a cupcake with a red-white-and-blue elephant on it -- for the sole reason that it looked like Jumbo and I "like elephants," as I explained to an Egyptian woman sitting nearby as I grabbed it.

A journalist from Al-Watan, a daily newspaper here, also interviewed me -- in English, alas -- in a Google Hangouts session that may or may not be seen by anyone. The questions were along the lines of, "How do you see the election going?" "What are the differences between Romney and Obama?" and "Why do the candidates talk about why they love Israel so much?"

Lots of Egyptians seem to like Obama, and not only because they don't know who his opponent was (one cabbie put a Ruskie spin on Mitt's name, calling him "Romchav"). They generally support Obama but have been disappointed by the lack of change in American foreign policy in the Middle East since he took office, particularly after a soaring speech the president delivered at Cairo University in 2009 that promised a "new beginning" with the Muslim world.

I conducted some man-on-the-street interviews for The National this afternoon. Here's what one guy said:
Mohamed Samir, 30, a financial systems consultant in Cairo, said he - like many Egyptians - was relieved that Mr Obama had been re-elected over Republican candidate Mitt Romney. "Obama is closer to Egyptians and the Arabs," he said. "Romney, I think, is farther from us." 
"Maybe in the future, there will be more dialogue and there will be change going forward," Mr Samir said.