Kosovo prepares for historic poll
Political parties in Kosovo have finished campaigning as the territory prepares for its first parliamentary elections since its declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008, amid fears of a partition along ethnic lines.
Sunday's snap election comes after the government of Hashim Thaci, the prime minister, failed a vote of no confidence on November 2.
Around 1.6 million people are eligible to vote for the 120-seat parliament, an election official said. Twenty-nine political parties, coalitions and citizens' initiatives are in the race.
Ten of the parliamentary seats are reserved for minority Serbs, some of whom are running in the poll.
However, most Serbs in Kosovo are expected to boycott the elections, heeding calls from Serbia's leaders, who still consider Kosovo part of their country.
Thaci has called upon minority Serbs to break with tradition and vote on Sunday, urging them to build a common future for European Kosovo.
"I believe Kosovo citizens, institutions and people of Kosovo they will achieve high level standard of free and democratic elections," he said.
Justice sought over Jordan violence
Palestinian-Jordanian fans of Al-Wahdat club cry foul after Thursday's football clashes that left 250 injured.
Islamic group aiding Arab Israelis
Islamic Movement provides key social services, while Arab parties struggle for representation.
Israel's Arabs, who account for 20 per cent of the population, struggle with daily discrimination and living standards that are much lower than their fellow Jewish citizens.
Arab political parties say they are struggling for representation in the government to defend the rights of the minority group in the country, but are failing to put up a united front.
Sherine Tadros reports from Cana in northern Israel on why the Islamic Movement is emerging as the only group effective at providing key social services for Arabs in the country.
AMC Theatres and Eventful Empower Fans to Decide Where the New Independent Film MOOZ-lum Will Be Released
Kashmir lecturer arrested for exam questions attacking Indian crackdown
Students were asked to discuss whether anti-India demonstrators in Kashmir were heroes
Kuwaiti MPs accuse PM over violence
Opposition MPs say they hold PM responsible for a police crackdown at a public rally that left several people injured.
Kazakhstan's president urges scientists to find the elixir of life
Nursultan Nazarbayev calls on new research institute to concentrate on study to unlock secret of immortality
Ruling party sweeps Egypt's vote
Results indicate ruling party takes 80 per cent of parliament seats, which the opposition parties denounce as rigged.
Al Jazeera rejects leaked US claims
Al Jazeera says the leaked US cables about the network are very far from the truth.
Egypt's media squeeze
Before the elections the government clamped down on the media, but was this just a dry run for next year's vote?
The Listening Post Last Modified: 04 Dec 2010 07:29 GMT
Egyptians vote in runoff elections
Ruling party set to dominate second round of parliamentary polls, hit by withdrawal of two main opposition blocs.
Al-Qaeda 'planned poison plot'
Operatives plotted to kill government officials and media workers by sending them poisoned perfumes, Saudi Arabia says.
Qatar celebrates World Cup bid win
Frenzied celebrations erupt across tiny Gulf nation after it wins bid to host 2022 football World Cup.
Somalia's last poets sing of a country on the brink
In last of a series of dispatches from Mogadishu, Daniel Howden reports on the artists fighting to keep a tradition alive
The Mogadishu poets' club seldom meets these days. Sugaal Abdulle Omar is one of only a handful of survivors who have stayed on in the Somali capital despite what has become of the once beautiful coastal city. "The poet is always trying to talk about peace," he says. "But there is nowhere to talk about peace here and no one who wants to listen."
Taking a folded sheet of paper from his breast pocket he starts to read in a voice that's halfway between speaking and singing. Despite his peaceful protestations the maanso, or epic poem, he recites is savagely angry: "Anyone who committed atrocities against my people; anyone who dragged my people through the streets; one day they will be hanging from a rope."
Poetry is central to Somali culture. An oral culture where an officially recognised written form of the language only appeared in 1972, poetry has been the foundation of all artistic expression.
Historically Somalia's nomadic clans would have their own poet, and in some cases be led by them. The Dervish leader Sayyid Muhammad Hasan, remembered in British colonial literature as the "Mad Mullah", was a poet and mystic. "I would not have withheld anything from them, if they desired peace," he said of the British, who employed poets from their own clan collaborators to attack Sayyid during his rebellion. "But when they acted disdainfully, death marched straight at them."
When the British romantic and explorer Richard Burton travelled to the Horn of Africa more than 100 years ago, he found a place that "teems with poets", where "every man has his recognised position in literature". He also found the Somalis to be a "fierce and turbulent race". Both observations still hold true.
The Somali intellectual Said Sheikh Samatar used an essay on poetry to best explain that turbulence: "My brother and I against my half-brother, my brother and I against my father, my father's household against my uncle's household, our two households (my uncle's and mine) against the rest of the immediate kin, the immediate kin against non-immediate members of the clan, my clan against other clans and, finally my nation and I against the world!"
His Politics of Poetry was written in 1993, the year that the US mission to Somalia ended in the Black Hawk Down fiasco with 18 American soldiers dead. Since then Sheikh Samatar's description of a system of shifting alliances with no permanent friends and an abundance of enemies has been pushed to its logical extreme. Somalia has become the world's most failed state, sending most of its poets into exile in a vast Somali diaspora with communities from Minnesota to Stockholm.
This has meant that a tradition largely passed on orally – in which plagiarism was anathema and the original poet would be credited by the performer – has been written down and translated.
But poetry is still listened to rather than read by Somalis andthe cassette tapes of old havegiven way to digital clips watched over the internet.
Only a few bards such as the folk hero Mohamed Ibrahim Warsame, known to everyone as "Hadraawi" and famous for his peace marches, have stayed in Somalia. Almost none have remained in Mogadishu.
The "endless war" means the poets' club now comprises only nine regulars, says Sugaal. These days his largest audiences are online. Many people download clips of the 56-year-old's performances from YouTube. To make his point he leans forward, flips open his mobile phone and plays a maanso that's been set to music. Wanting to join in, he mimes the words in time to the tinny wail of the phone. This one is about love: "why does every woman who I try to seduce become my enemy?" it asks.
"When there was peace we used to write about love affairs," the poet laments. "But things have changed so much. Now there is war and we write about restoring peace."
It's not only those who long for peace that understand the power of Somali poetry. Across the battle lines of Mogadishu, radio stations such as Alfurqan and Andalus broadcast young jihadists from the Shabaab, who recite in perfect meter tributes to the Prophet and calls for the death of the infidels.
The young poet Hassan Mohamed Mohamud, aka Hassan Ja'ayl, became a target of the militants and had to leave Mogadishu in October after his station was overrun by the Shabaab, who now use it to broadcast propaganda. "After they confiscated our station, they wanted to kill me," he says. He was taken to the Shabaab stronghold at Bakara market, where he was tortured and shot. "Now I miss one finger and one toe. I had big wounds on my leg and back. I was bleeding so much that they thought I was dead. That's howI escaped."
Surviving on handouts in the Somali community in Eastleigh in Nairobi, he frets for the future of his art form.
"Poetry has changed," he says, blaming the Shabaab. "They don't allow songs and poems about love. Before them the warlords ruled Mogadishu and we as poets had a campaign and we preached poems on the streets about love and peace."
Many in the Somali diaspora like Sheik Samatar now despair that poetry has been "banished into the wilderness by the AK-47". He wrote recently that "the grim fact is that Somalia's literary death tops its political demise".
Those left behind like Sugaal admit that Mogadishu's current poets are a pale imitation of past greats: "The young poets are few and while hundreds would come before to listen, now they no longer do." Just as he refuses to leave the shattered city, he's unwilling to see the demise of Somali poetry.
"I'm not afraid, as long as there is Somali spoken in Somalia the poetry will not die. But if the war goes on there will be fewer and fewer people to hear it."
South Sudanese begin exodus from the north
If you drive around Khartoum, one can easily forget that soon there is a referendum that could change the borders of Sudan forever.
Apart for a couple of street banners calling for one Sudan, there is a feeling that northerners have collectively given up on the idea of unity.
"And for good reason," says our taxi driver Abdel Rahman. "The government hasn't done anything for them to want to remain with us, now it's too late to talk about unity. They had 5 years, they just woke up a month ago."
Rahman however doubts about the viability of a southern independent state "there is nothing down there," he says "but if they want to split, let it be".
According to the latest population census, 500,000 southerners live in the north. This number could be higher or lower, it's difficult to assess in a country where every statistic is politically charged.
The peace agreement signed in 2005 gives them the right to vote in the referendum for self-determination to be held in January.
Voter registration started on November 15 and I expected to see queues of southerners eager to take part in this historic moment … for southerners, these are the final laps in a deadly, decades-long struggle that cost the lives of an estimated two million people.
Instead, there was no one ... staff sat there idly waiting for closing time. It could not come quick enough. "Actually," says Jacob "since we opened the doors, only 30 people registered".
While I was there, a team of EU observers showed up. They say that voters turnout is low throughout. One observer said that one centre has seen one person in nine days.
So where did these hundreds of thousands of southerners go?
We headed to Hay Yousef on the outskirts of Khartoum where many southerners live. And there, on a barren square, under the blistering sun, a pile of mattresses, beds, and suitcases ... it just kept on swelling.
Children carrying cupboards, elderly bringing their belongings on donkey carts ... soon they will all embark on a long journey to the south, the homeland that they had escaped at the height of the war.
Now they are making the return trip, this time escaping the potential of conflict.
"People are talking separation or unity, politicians are making threats and we don't know what will happen," says Marco, a 25-year- old medical student.
He came to the north as a toddler, now he is leaving with the idea of not returning. "we will build our country, make it nice like Khartoum," he says.
One man butted into the conversation: "It does not matter whether its unity or independence, trouble is coming for both northerners and southerners" and in a country that knows the meaning of war and suffering so well, people rather feel safe than sorry.
Muslims worldwide say respect is key to better relations with U.S., West
WASHINGTON -- About half of Muslims surveyed worldwide believe the West does not respect them, according to a new Gallup report, and many say not desecrating the Quran and portraying more “accurate” Muslim movie characters could improve a strained relationship.
The findings are part of a report on “Measuring the State of Muslim-West Relations,” released Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010, at Gallup’s Washington headquarters.
“We also found that this concept of respect ... now includes perceptions of fairness in policies, not just culturally sensitive language,” said Dalia Mogahed, executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies.
Fifty-four percent of Muslims said being treated fairly in policies that directly affect them would be a very meaningful demonstration of respect.
Mogahed said the “policies” were not defined in the new report, but past Gallup studies have found that respondents were particularly concerned about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Nearly three-quarters of Muslims polled said increased respect for the Quran and other religious symbols would be helpful. About half want to see Muslims portrayed more accurately by Hollywood.
Researchers found people across the globe — from the United States to sub-Saharan Africa — believe the tensions between Muslim countries and the West are mostly avoidable.
“This was especially true among people who saw the conflict as political in nature,” Mogahed said, “rather than caused by religious differences.”
In most of the countries surveyed, people said greater interaction between Muslims and the West is a benefit rather than a threat. In the U.S., 76 percent of individuals saw such interaction as beneficial, compared to 63 percent of Iranians.
Gallup researchers classified individuals as being “ready” or “not ready” for Muslim-Western engagement based on their attitudes about commitment to such relations, as well as perceptions of respect and of future conflict.
Researchers said religion plays a key role in readiness.
“For ‘Not Ready’ individuals, irrespective of whether they live in majority-Muslim or Western societies, religion is the factor most likely to be cited as being at the root of Muslim-Western tensions,” the report stated in its executive summary.
The report detected a religious paradox between the two sides: people in majority-Muslim societies who were considered “ready,” and those in the West who were “not ready,” were both more likely to have attended religious services in the past week.
The findings are based on interviews with more than 100,000 in more than 55 countries between March 2008 and May 2010.
Opposition groups quit Egypt runoff
Muslim Brotherhood and Wafd parties drop out of second round of voting after failing to win many seats in first round.
Who is killing Iran's nuclear scientists?
One senior physicist killed and another wounded in coordinated attacks in Tehran, raising the question of whether there is a nuclear hit-team at work
Nuclear dilemma: Israel vs. Iran
To move towards a nuclear-free Middle East, the US must change its stance on Israel's nuclear weapons programme.
Sudan's grooving Dervishes
The Sudanese authorities are "careful" with foreign press. And – returning the favour – we are fastidiously careful back.
Visas to enter, a permit to be there, a third to practise the job. A licence for camera equipment and a Ministry of Information "meeter-&-greeter" at the airport to expedite its thorough inspection.
Then you apply for another permit to fly south to the areas controlled by the GOSS – Government of Southern Sudan – and, after a day or two, the Khartoum government office usually says: "Yes".
And you get a generous glass of sweet tea while the paperwork passes from desk to desk.
It wasn't always like this.
Filming or writing about the fighting in the south could get you blacklisted by Khartoum. But these days the southern struggle is internationally legitimised, and the country poised on the brink of a messy and very public divorce.
Khartoum seems to be resigned to the world's curiosity. And the ministries facilitate your trip.
But until those permits come through, Volkan the cameraman and I are in barely-operational mode.
"Don't even think about taking your TV camera to film on the street yet", advised a smiling ministry official," ... or you will get into trouble".
So when we heard the local dervishes were holding their regular Friday celebration in the oldest part of Khartoum, Omdurman, it was mobile-phone cams only in the bag, and off to a vast dun-coloured public cemetery on the outskirts.
Five o'clock in the evening, and the expanse was bathed in golden light. Two men had begun picking out a rhythm on tambors (WATCH VIDEO HERE).
Dervishes. We have those in Turkey, where we are based, and elegant and carefully-choreographed they are too. So what are dervishes doing in Khartoum? Could there be a Turkish connection?
Well, maybe ... maybe not. A learned and bespectacled local called Adil appeared at my side in the gathering crowd and when – after the usual pleasantries – he discovered we had flown in from Istanbul, told us that dervishes had arrived in Sudan with the Ottoman empire.
I'm not so sure – my subsequent reading suggests Sufism made it to Sudan from Arabia in the 16th Century. The Ottomans took another three centuries.
And this Dervish order could not have been anything but Sudanese in its spontaneity, diversity – and its fine rhythm.
The tambors had been joined by more drums, some simple instruments and a melodious chant of "There is no God but Allah".
All ages and ethnicities, with some of the finest moves coming from grey-haired men old enough to be great-grandfathers.
Smiling, laughing. Some wore the flowing white local galibeyeh and imma (turbans), others a long green belted robe - "in celebration of nature", said Adil - and an array of colourful hats. One man even sported a head of dreads.
"People come here from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds", Adil explained. "It's irrespective of social identifications and ethnic groups. One of the benefits of the Sufi in Sudan is that it unifies people”.
At around this point, a persistent nasal declamation from a distant loudhailer intruded on the festivities. I could see the red pulse of police car lights behind the crowd of spectators.
"What's going on?" I ask. "Ah," Adil replies, "that's a demonstration by Ansar al-Sunnah. They are anti-Sufi – they don't approve of them.
"But they are out on the street - they are not allowed to come into the cemetery to protest. If they did, there would be a confrontation. The police will not allow this."
That's fortunate, because small children have joined the dervishes in their celebrations, and the crowd of spectators has swelled appreciably, swaying to the rhythm.
This particular Dervish order was founded by Sheikh Hamad el Nil, now buried under the nearby mosque, with his extended family under neighbouring tombs – colourful pastel monuments amidst the modest dun mounds of the rest of the graveyard.
A rich and distinctive fragrance fills the evening air. It's frankincense, which I last smelt in this concentration in a Greek Orthodox church.
Volkan is equally surprised. It's a strange moment of devotional crossover. A Dervish with a wood and metal censor walks past, shaking out thick clouds of incense.
He stops by me, and gives me an extra puff. "This is so you become a Muslim", explains Adil.
"Allah is alive!" chant the Dervishes, exultantly.
A young man next to me is watching on, smiling quietly. I ask him where he's from, and he tells me the Nuba Mountains.
That's in the middle of Sudan, along the disputed border, where the troubled relationship of North and South Sudan could once again turn violent. His name is Sadi.
"This is my addiction, my celebration," he tells me, gesturing at the dervishes. "I come here every Friday – it makes me very happy".
He grew up in this neighbourhood of Omdurman, on the other side of the Nile from Khartoum.
There is a possibility that if the referendum on Southern independence on January 9 provokes a "hard" partition, people like Sadi will be expelled back South, whether they want to leave or not.
As the sun sets over the cemetery, the dervishes reach a final sustained and jubilant tempo, then stop for prayers.
Some of them just stop, lying flat on the ground in a trance-like state, in the embrace of spiritual ecstasy.
There are several million Sufis in Sudan. Their communing with the divine is said by some to have been influenced by early Christian and Hindu mystics.
Less than 10 per cent of Sudan's southern people are Christian – far more are animists, a form of nature-based mysticism.
Perhaps there's a little something in tonight's celebrations for everyone.
The police and Ansar al-Sunnah have gone. The booksellers and coffee-stalls are packing up. We take our leave in the still, warm evening air where the finest frankincense I have ever inhaled hangs in a haze over us all.