The first full year of Your Middle East has been an extraordinary one for us. Our network has grown to include almost 200 contributors worldwide, and we continue to portray the Middle East in every possible nuance and from all angles.
The following is a small selection of stories that engaged and captured our readers’ hearts and minds in the past year.
Interview with a Saudi atheist
“Please bear in mind, that people are witch hunting for us…so be careful which details you use,” Jabir begins. He is right to be concerned, for he is an atheist in a country where advocating beliefs other than those of a Sunni Muslim engender imprisonment, possible torture, and a theoretical possibility of execution.
Although Jabir is not his real name, he is still wary of publicly voicing his views. Saudi Arabia is an intensely hostile environment in which to express non-Islamic religious beliefs, let alone a lack of belief. Indeed, for many Saudis, atheism – mulhad in Arabic – is far more disturbing than believing in a different religion. Atheism, as argued by many clerics in Saudi Arabia, leads to dissolute lives, carnal pursuits, immoral behaviours, and ultimately, eternal damnation.
The surfers of Gaza
With his board tightly tucked in beneath his arm, Ahmed Mousa makes a run towards the ever-stretching sea of Gaza calling out for the others to join in.
Ahmed and nearly 40 other young Palestinian men between the ages 20 to 30 have managed to put the hardships of their lives aside by riding the waves of the Gaza sea.
“Despite the daily challenges we all face here in Gaza, the peaceful beaches here have the tendency of drowning our worries; even if it’s for a little while. I particularly have some sort of connection with the sea,” Ahmed said.
Mashrou’ Leila: The soundtrack of an Arab generation
“Ya Albi, (my heart)
I hope this message finds you healthy, inspired, and far from apathy.
I’m sorry I haven’t written in so long.”
Begins a love letter. This letter, however, is not between two lovers, but between a band and their audience. Mashrou’ Leila is the Lebanese sensation that emerged from the Beirut underground indie scene some five years ago. When announcing their concert dates, the band takes on the persona of Leila, a self-described “dancer in love with a revolutionary”, writing to a nameless lover. She continues:
“Today I found myself walking down Hamra Street, humming Abdul-Halim Hafez’s ‘Ana Leik Ala Tool’ to myself, and I could swear I heard you singing the harmony into my ear. It made me giggle a little burn into my chest. I worry you might get caught in a protest, imprisoned, kidnapped, missing, gone. But I know you need to do what you need to do; I wouldn’t ask you not to, but please be safe. Someday, I promise, worry will be a sentiment completely alien to us.”
Diary from Damascus
Photographer John Wreford has lived in Syria for many years and still remains in his house in Damascus’ Old City. Here, he gives a very personal account of the last couple of weeks’ events.
A warm summer evening sitting in a central Damascus restaurant overlooking the city, the mountain of Qasyun lit like a Christmas tree, we were under no illusion all was well in Syria. But here in the capital life went on almost as usual. We discussed how things the last week or so had calmed down, then for a moment we paused for thought, the calm before the storm perhaps.
No more than a few days later the storm well and truly blew into town. For months, the opposition and regime had been battling each other in the outer suburbs of Damascus. The sounds of shelling and artillery echoed across the city, peaceful protestors were still coming out in large numbers, more and more clashes could be heard, but by and large everything tended to take place in certain areas.
Why don’t men cover their faces?
Yemeni blogger @Dory_Eryani tells her intimate story about what’s feminine and masculine in the Middle East.
We used to play at my aunt’s garden when we were younger…girls and boys, there was no difference… we grew up together… we used to race, play, laugh… sometimes we would fight playfully… we used to watch TV together… cry at the end of sad cartoons together… we grew a bit older… we began to study for our classes together… whenever we’d fight we used to threaten the other that we’d tell on them to the teacher… we used to play practical jokes on one another… we’d laugh with all our hearts…