News & Current Affairs

September 14, 2008

Pope holds huge Mass in Lourdes

Pope holds huge Mass in Lourdes

Pope Benedict XVI has told tens of thousands of pilgrims in the southern French town of Lourdes that love can be stronger than all the world’s evil.

The 81-year-old pontiff gave the homily during an open-air Sunday Mass at the highly-revered Roman Catholic shrine.

Benedict is in Lourdes to mark the 150th anniversary of what many Roman Catholics believe was a vision of the Virgin Mary by a young local girl.

On Saturday, he also celebrated an outdoor Mass in the capital, Paris.

More than 200,000 pilgrims made the trip to Lourdes for Benedict’s first papal Mass at the shrine.

The pontiff is making a three-day pilgrimage to the sanctuary, which is visited each year by six million believers.

There is a love in this world that is stronger than death, stronger than our weakness and sins
Pope Benedict XVI

Benedict looked elated and moved by the rapturous welcome he received from the crowds – some of the faithful had queued through the night to make ensure their place.

Security has been tight, with more than 3,000 police officers drafted in to the area.

After his arrival at the shrine, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, Benedict prayed at the Grotto of Massabielle, also known as the Cave of Apparitions.

The riverside site is where 14-year-old peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous told local clergy in 1858 the Virgin Mary had appeared to her.

When he arrived on Saturday night, Benedict also drank water from a spring that believers say has miraculous healing powers.

Pope Benedict XVI has celebrated his first Mass at Lourdes

Saying Mass from under white canopies shaped like sails, the Pope told his listeners to be true to their faith because “it tells us that there is a love in this world that is stronger than death, stronger than our weakness and sins”.

He said: “The power of love is stronger than the evil which threatens us.”

Pope Benedict arrived in Paris on Friday for his first visit to France since becoming Pope in 2005. He was welcomed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whom he praised for promoting the role of religion in society.

France staunchly upholds a 1905 law that enshrines the separation of Church and state, but Mr Sarkozy has supported efforts to ease the country’s strict secularism law.

France is a Roman Catholic country but Sunday Mass attendance is now below 10%.

Before his visit, a French newspaper poll showed that more than half of those questioned had a positive view of the Pope.


Did you attend the mass in Lourdes? You can send us your comments
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September 12, 2008

Mass fainting in Tanzanian exam

Mass fainting in Tanzanian exam

Girls in a classroom in Tanzania

Fainting fits in schools are common in Tanzania

Junior school pupils in Tanzania experienced a mass fainting fit while taking their final year exams, an educational official has told.

The 20 girls at Ali Hassan Mwinyi School in Tabora started fainting after finishing their first paper.

“I’m not a specialist but I imagine this was a case of mass hysteria that does happen in some of the schools,” Midemo Paul Makungu said.

He said it only affected the girls, some of whom took 40 minutes to revive.

“There was chaos, crying, screaming, running after that first paper,” Mr Makungu, Tabora’s educational officer, told News website.

More than 140 Standard Seven pupils were taking the national exam at the school in the north of the country.

He said special arrangements were made so that those who had fainted could finish the other two papers they had that day.

“They eventually finished at 11pm,” he said.

It is not the first such incident at the school – over the last month there have been several mass fainting fits amongst the girl pupils.

“Normally this happens in girls’ secondary schools. It is very common here,” Mr Makungu said.

September 3, 2008

Egypt voices: Sexual harassment

Egypt voices: Sexual harassment

Seven Egyptian women talk about their experience of sexual harassment on the streets of Cairo. It is an increasingly common problem, with a recent survey suggesting more than four out of five women have been sexually harassed, while nearly two-thirds of men admitted assaulting women.

Noha Wagih

Noha Wagih
TV announcer

“I usually don’t answer back, but this time I did”

Posy Abdou

Posy Abdou
Shop worker

“I get harassed 100 times a day “

Nora Khaled

Nora Khaled
School pupil

“I was so scared and embarrassed, I cried”

Nancy Fakhr

Nancy Fakhr
Engineer

“When colleagues asked what was wrong, I lied”

Zeinab Boulaki

Zeinab Boulaki
Auditor

“My mother says I shouldn’t answer back but I think this is wrong”

Hoda Gallal
Housewife

“People gathered around but were not sympathetic”

NOHA WAGIH

Noha Wagih

Once I was out driving with my brother when he stopped at a supermarket and I waited for him outside. Two guys got out of a car and walked towards me in an intimidating way. They started commenting on the way I look and the way I’m dressed.

I usually don’t answer back, but this time I said: ‘I’m not here to get picked up, you know.’ This was too much for one of them who started shouting that I was crazy. I replied that even if I were a prostitute, I wouldn’t give him a second glance.

This made him mad. He came right up to me, shouting that he was a policeman and he would ‘show me’. In no time three more cars pulled up, and a group of men got out and started yelling at me and my brother.

I wrote down the number of the first car saying I was going to report him. He got so angry I thought he was going to beat me, so I slapped his face and started shouting ‘Rape!’ They all ran away, and I was left alone with my brother shaking with fear.

After this experience I want to make a program for TV about sexual harassment.

POSY ABDOU

Posy Abdou

I get harassed 100 times a day. I tried everything to stop it but it doesn’t stop. I wear loose clothes, I don’t wear make up, I spend more than an hour in front of the mirror everyday thinking of ways to hide my body.

I walk home everyday. It only takes me 15 minutes, I cross the bridge. It is usually very loud and busy, but that does not stop men from approaching girls, any girl, good looking or bad looking, covered or not.

I remember so many scary harassment’s. There was this guy who followed me and suddenly grabbed my bottom in front of everyone. I screamed but he ran away and no one interfered.

Once I was shopping with my father and aunt, and this guy kept staring at me and blowing me kisses. My dad shouted at him and started hitting him. I think men are doing this because they are jobless and have no manners.

NORA KHALED

Nora Khaled

I get harassed everyday, during the five minutes I walk from my house to the main street to take the school bus.Also in the seconds I cross the street when I finish my swimming class at the sports club.

I was waiting for the school bus once when a microbus driver followed me and kept calling me very bad names.

I was so scared and embarrassed, I cried.

NANCY FAKHR

Nancy Fakhr

I don’t walk a lot in the streets, because I have a car. But I get harassed by guys driving close to me, they try to grab my attention, it could lead to accidents.

The worst harassment I remember was last winter. I didn’t have my car and I was sleeping over at my sister’s house. I got up at 0700 to catch the bus and go to work. A guy followed me and kept calling me very bad names. I was horrified and I started walking fast, even running.

When he got very close to me, I was scared he would touch me, so I picked a stone from the floor and threw it at him and ran as fast as I could until I got to the main street and took the bus.

I was shaking and trembling. When I arrived at work, I collapsed and cried for a long time. When my colleagues asked me what is wrong, I lied and said I have family problems.

ZEINAB BOULAKI

Zeinab Boulaki

I get harassed whenever I walk down the street; even during the seconds I cross the street to take my car.Yesterday, when I was parking the car in front of my house, a guy grabbed my bottom, I shouted at him, and insulted him. At least I did something about it.

My mother says I shouldn’t answer back, but I think this is wrong. This way they will think they can harass anyone and get away with it. I know that shouting at someone who harasses me verbally or physically is not enough but at least it makes me feel better than doing nothing.

HODA GALLAL

I get harassed every day, although I am always carrying my baby. I thought being a mother would make me immune to harassment, but it made it even worse.

Once I was waiting for the bus with my child and a car stopped, the guy waved his hand at me with a 20 pound note. It was unbelievable. Another time I was walking home and this guy unzipped his trousers in a car next to me.

I screamed, but he shouted back very aggressively, saying ‘Who do you think you are? Why would I even look at you?’ People in the street gathered around us and to my surprise they were not sympathetic with me. They supported him. They all defended the guy because they do the same thing.

Once I was walking with a friend and this guy suddenly grabbed her from behind. We shouted for help and he ran away. A car stopped, they asked us what had happened, had we been mugged? When we told them that we’d been sexually harassed, they drove away. Isn’t this worse than robbery?

REEM IBRAHIM

I get harassed a lot. I can’t count the number of times, especially on public transport.

There was this guy who kept following me from one bus to another. If I stood up he stood by my side and if I sat down he sat beside me. Finally I shouted at him and insulted him, he left the minibus.

I stopped wearing skirts, and stopped doing my hair at the hairdresser’s, I also stopped wearing make up, even my fiance asks me why aren’t you taking care of your looks as you used to do.

But what can I do, I try to stop it but nothing works. I used to always have a smile on my face while walking down the streets, now I am always frowning, always provoked, always feeling the threat of someone approaching me physically or verbally.

At a bus or a microbus, I always feel there is a hand trying to touch me. It happened so many times, that I keep looking at the seat behind me as if I am crazy.

August 20, 2008

Struggling with India’s gender bias

Struggling with India’s gender bias

The number of female foetuses being aborted in India is rising, as ultrasound is increasingly used to predict the sex of babies.

What would you do if your husband’s family did not want you to have daughters – and insisted you took steps to make sure it did not happen?

Would you walk out or would you stay on and take a chance?

What if the bias against girls is reflected across society? Would that mean you could not make it on your own?

Vaijanti is an Indian woman who says she faces this dilemma.

She lives in the city of Agra, home to the Taj Mahal, perhaps the world’s most famous monument to a woman, the wife of a Mughal emperor.

“I had a lot of dreams in my heart,” Vaijanti says, “just like in the movies… but now I think of love as a betrayal.”

Vaijanti has taken her husband to court, saying he and his family insisted that she have an abortion because a scan showed she was expecting a girl.

Having already had one daughter, she says the pressure to abort the second child was intense.

So Vaijanti moved out of the marital home and now lives apart from her husband – with her two girls.

Gender skew

Testing and aborting for gender selection are illegal in India and Vaijanti’s husband and in-laws deny the charges against them.

Despite the obvious bitterness between her and her husband’s family, reconciliation is still possible.

Girl child

Girls still face discrimination in modern Indian society

But Vaijanti was unsure of what to do next. We wanted to find out if she thought India really is a country biased against young girls.

Despite the law, some Indians clearly are using ultrasound techniques to scan for female foetuses, in order to abort them.

Figures suggest as many as a million such foetuses could be aborted every year in India.

It is unlikely nature alone accounts for this gender skew – in Delhi, for instance, only 821 girls are born for every 1,000 boys.

Many Indian families regard daughters as a liability.

Expensive dowries must be arranged for their weddings and they frequently move into their husband’s households – making it less likely they will support ageing parents.

As Vaijanti had never travelled beyond Agra, director Nupur Basu took her on a whistle-stop tour of India.

In Rajasthan, she meets Jasbir Kaur, who left her husband after facing a similar predicament.

Told she should abort her girl triplets, she decided to go ahead and have them anyway.

She is a potential role model for Vaijanti, telling her: “You must educate your girls. Don’t lose courage. Don’t feel alone.”

Although millions of Indian girls are still left out of formal education, Jasbir Kaur’s three girls are doing fine in the local school.

Icon of globalization

In Delhi, there is good and bad news. Vaijanti meets women who have come into Delhi filled with hope, but end up begging on the streets.

In many places, boys are unable to agree to find girls to marry. Because of this, the nation will soon face an unimaginable crisis
Renuka Chowdhury
Minister for women

She also visits a disco for the first time in her life – no den of iniquity but a place where she meets some bright young women with good cheer and strong advice.

In Bangalore, there are also two sides to the picture.

This is the city that is world famous as an icon of globalisation and woman’s empowerment.

It has young girls working in IT, making good careers, and scooting around town on mopeds, listening to their iPods.

But there is another Bangalore – where some families still demand the expensive dowries traditionally given by a bride’s family to the in-laws.

And while Bangalore’s senior managers may encourage women, younger men may still question their qualifications and their right to work.

Finally Nupur also takes Vaijanti to Mahatma Gandhi’s retreat, where she hears that the revered leader was concerned about the bias against women.

Writer Tridip Suhrud says Mahatma Gandhi “would have been deeply perturbed with this entire social surge of… civilization to acquire this hard militant, masculine self-identity”.

He adds: “He would have fought it with femininity.”

‘Grave situation’

We wanted to make this film after a leading development expert, Kevin Watkins, suggested India had a curiously ambivalent role in the globalisation debate.

Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal was conceived as a monument to an emperor’s wife

Its booming economy is cause for hope, and the government is clearly concerned about both gender and economic inequality.

But if huge swathes of the populace do not share the increasing wealth, the whole Indian model of development may be called into question.

Meantime, Vaijanti’s immediate concern is India’s missing girls – unborn because of the desire to have boys.

Vaijanti and Nupur call on Renuka Chowdhury, the minister for women, who says: “This is a very, very grave situation.”

She adds: “In many places, boys are unable to agree to find girls to marry. Because of this, the nation will soon face an unimaginable crisis.”

When Vaijanti left Agra she was quiet but watchful. At the journey’s end, she is calm and eloquent as she weighs up whether to seek reconciliation with her husband’s family.

“I feel at peace… I will go back to Agra now and think about what I should do for my daughters and myself. I will go back and think about my decision.”


A selection of your comments on this story:

Nowadays females are doing much better in many fields. I think it is time now that men pay a dowry to see how it feels. We as men would not have been here without women. In our family women have studied at a higher level than the men, so where is the difference? I have daughter and son, and as my daughter is older, I have explained to her that she will be the head of the household after us in all aspects.
Ganesh, Vijayawada, India

How very sad and so short-sighted to consider abortion because of gender. Some parts of China already face a serious shortage of women for the very same reason. Why can’t people recognise that both genders are valuable but for very different reasons? As someone who strongly advocates a woman’s right to reproductive choices, it seems to me that the worldwide problem is not gender, but rather overpopulation.
Lisa, United States

The practice of dowry-giving by the bride’s family devalues women in society and is responsible for the widespread practice of aborting female foetuses. The skewing of boys to women born to families represents a social time-bomb. The law in India must be rigorously enforced with immediate effect.
Shouvik Datta, Prague, Czech Republic

I don’t understand why in Indian and European cultures, the tradition of the woman’s family paying a dowry to the man’s came about. In Chinese culture, the dowry or “bride-gold” is paid by the man’s family – which makes a lot more sense considering how much labour and other economic benefits a housewife ends up contributing in an old-fashioned family.
Shi-Hsia Hwa, Penang, Malaysia

This article creates an impression that the cause of all the gender bias in India are males. That is not what I saw when growing up in India. Several of the discriminatory, abusive practices against females are carried on by females themselves. Many times men have no part in this, nor do they have such intentions.
Kamal, Portland, USA

India is definitely a country biased against young girls and I am stating this as a fact, being a girl born in India. It is still a matter of pride to bear a male child and people still express their deep sympathy for a girl child. It sickens and saddens me to see so much hypocrisy in our society where goddesses are worshipped in temples and female babies are aborted and killed at homes.
Anisa Chaudhary, USA

My mother was one of these ladies. She was married at the age of twelve and was pregnant by the age of thirteen and a half. My father found out that I was going to be a girl and ordered my mother to have an abortion. When she refused, he and my grandfather beat her. A tourist saw them and stopped them. My mother married this wonderful stranger who brought her here and accepted me as his daughter.
Nia, Johannesburg, South Africa

August 19, 2008

Paraguayan Indian named minister

Paraguayan Indian named minister

Margarita Mbywangi in Asuncion in March 2008

Margarita Mbywangi pledged to serve all indigenous communities

An indigenous woman in Paraguay who says she was sold into forced labor as a girl has been made minister for indigenous affairs.

Margarita Mbywangi, a 46-year-old Ache tribal chief, is the first indigenous person to hold the position.

She has been an activist for many years, defending her tribe’s interests.

She was appointed by the new president, Fernando Lugo, who was sworn in on Friday, ending more than 60 years of government by the Colorado Party.

The new president, a former Catholic bishop, seems keen to demonstrate a decisive break with the past, through his ministerial appointments.

‘Forced labor’

But some Indian leaders have voiced fears Ms Mbywangi will give preferential treatment to her own tribe.

The mother-of-three promised to meet those who opposed her appointment, in order to ease their concerns.

“We are immediately going to help colleagues from different communities who are experiencing a difficult situation due to lack of potable water, food and clothing,” she told local Channel 2 television.

The new minister said that as a four-year-old girl she was captured in the jungle and was sold several times into forced labor with the families of large land owners.

She told the television station that she had also been sent to school, so she could read and write, and was now studying for a high school diploma.

The new minister also identified indigenous land rights as a priority, as well as protecting forests.

For an Indian the forest represents “his mother, his life, his present and future”, she said.

About 90,000 people say they belong to one of Paraguay’s estimated 400 Indian communities, in what is one of Latin America’s poorest countries, according to government figures.

August 16, 2008

Madonna turns 50: Highs and lows

Madonna turns 50: Highs and lows

https://i1.wp.com/blog.mobiles.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2008/04/madonna300.jpg

Madonna – one of the most successful stars in pop history – celebrates her 50th birthday on Saturday.

Use our interactive timeline to find out more about the ups and downs of her career.

Full name: Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone

Born: August 16, 1958, Bay City, Michigan, USA

Also known as: The Queen of Pop, Material Girl, Madge, Esther, Mrs Ritchie.

Biggest hits: Holiday, Into The Groove, Like A Prayer, Vogue, Ray of Light, Music.

Quote: “A woman who pulled herself up by her bra straps and has been known to let them down occasionally” (Bette Midler, introducing Madonna at Live Aid in 1985).

1963 – MOTHER DIES

Madonna’s mother, also called Madonna, dies of breast cancer. The tragic event has a lifelong impact on the singer. “You walk around with a big hole inside you, a feeling of emptiness and longing,” the star later says.

1982-1985 – INITIAL CHART SUCCESS

Madonna moves to New York in 1977, where she studies with choreographer Alvin Ailey and works as a model.

Madonna

Early music demos recorded with her boyfriend Stephen Bray make their way to Sire Records boss Seymour Stein, who demands to meet her, even though he is in hospital with a heart condition. Impressed with “the drive, the zeal, the ruthlessness” of a young Madonna, he signs her on the spot. But her first few releases only make an impact in clubs.

Holiday becomes Madonna’s first breakthrough hit in the US, reaching number 16 in late 1983. Her first top 10 hit comes a year later with Borderline, a song she later disowns. She is more proud of the subsequent, career-defining hits Like A Virgin and Material Girl. The sell-out Virgin Tour begins in 1985 with support from the Beastie Boys.

1985 – MARRIAGE

Madonna receives rave reviews for her role in mainstream film Desperately Seeking Susan (she previously made low-budget sexploitation movie A Certain Sacrifice in 1979).

She also hits number one with Into The Groove, plays Live Aid, and marries actor Sean Penn on a Californian clifftop, their vows drowned out by the roar of press helicopters circling overhead.

1986 – TRUE BLUE

True Blue

True Blue was the first time Madonna had a writing credit on every song.

The album True Blue, with its iconic Herb Ritts cover, cements Madonna’s reputation as the first lady of pop, reaching number one in 12 countries and spawning five hit singles.Papa Don’t Preach, which deals with teenage pregnancy, confirms the star’s willingness to tackle controversial issues, while Live To Tell’s raw vocals (recorded on the first take) show new emotional depth.

Her first world tour, Who’s That Girl, sees the singer mobbed by adoring fans in cities across the globe.

But Madonna’s film career takes the first of many serious beatings with the release of Shanghai Surprise.

A year later, she separates from Sean Penn, and the couple are granted a divorce in 1989.

1989 – LIKE A PRAYER

Like A Prayer video

The video for Like A Prayer caused storms of protest

The release of Like A Prayer marks the moment when critics first begin to describe Madonna as an artist, rather than a mere pop singer. The title track’s video, which shows the star kissing a black saint, causes storms of protest – but sends her straight to number one.She follows up the album with the hit single Vogue and the lavish Blond Ambition tour. At the end of 1990, Madonna seals her reputation with a Greatest Hits album – The Immaculate Collection.

1992 – SEX

Sex book

The sex book was shot by noted fashion photographer Steven Meisel

A coffee table photo book, Sex, finds Madonna in a number of sexually explicit poses with the likes of Naomi Campbell and Vanilla Ice. The book is derided in the press, and the dark and seedy Erotica album suffers as a result.Two years later, she makes a bizarre, expletive-filled appearance on David Letterman’s talk show. Madonna asks the host to smell her underwear, smokes a cigar and quizzes Letterman on whether he urinates in the shower. When she refuses to leave the stage, several audience members shout “get off”.

The show marks a low point in public perception of the star.

1996 – EVITA

Madonna’s casting in Evita helps to rehabilitate her image – and her film career. Meanwhile, she falls pregnant to fitness trainer Carlos Leon, giving birth to her first daughter, Lourdes, in October.

1998 – RAY OF LIGHT

Ray of Light

Ray of Light was produced by British musician William Orbit

Ray Of Light marks a musical return to form. Its laid-back blend of dance and electronica catches the pop superstar in a reflective mood, musing on fame and parenthood. She continues to mine this rich seam of futuristic pop with Beautiful Stranger in 1999 and Music in 2000, albeit with diminishing returns.In the meantime, she meets Guy Ritchie at a party thrown by Sting’s wife Trudi Styler. The couple have a son, Rocco, before tying the knot in Scotland days before the new Millennium.

2004 – RE-INVENTION

Re-invention tour

The Re-Invention tour took more than $125m (£62.5m) in ticket sales

After the lacklustre American Life album, Madonna looks to the past for her Re-invention World Tour. Highlights including the yoga-inspired dance routines of Vogue, and a bagpipe version of Papa Don’t Preach.She follows it up with a love letter to disco, Confessions on a Dancefloor, produced by the tour’s musical director Stuart Price. Based around European dance music – including a prominent Abba sample on Hung Up – sells 8 million copies, but its singles perform badly in the US.

The accompanying tour draws flack when Madonna performs Live To Tell while strapped to a mirrored cross, wearing a crown of thorns.

2006 – ADOPTION

Madonna and David Banda

Madonna ‘s adoption was challenged by Malawian civil rights groups

Madonna visits Malawi, arriving by private jet in the capital, Lilongwe. She says she is in the country on a humanitarian mission to visit Aids orphans, but government officials say she plans to adopt a child.A week later, Yohane Banda tells the Associated Press news agency the star has adopted his 13-month-old son, David. “I know he will be very happy in America,” he says.

Madonna denies she has used her status to “fast-track” the process, and the adoption does not receive final approval until 2008.

2008 – KEEPING BUSY

Hard Candy

Hard Candy features collaborations with Justin Timberlake and Kanye West

Showing no signs of letting up the pace as she approaches 50, Madonna parts company with record label Warner Brothers to sign a ground-breaking contract with concert promoters Live Nation.She is also inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; releases an album, Hard Candy; directs her first film, Filth and Wisdom, and produces I Am Because We Are, a documentary about Aids orphans in Malawi – all while fending off rumours about trouble in her marriage.

After celebrating her 50th birthday, the megastar sets off on her Sticky and Sweet world tour next week.

August 12, 2008

Spotlight on Egypt’s marriage crisis

Spotlight on Egypt’s marriage crisis

Ghada Abdelaal with her book Ayza-Tgawwiz

Abdelaal’s story started as an online log – now she’s working on a sitcom

“I want to get married” is a perfectly normal thing to say for a young Egyptian man. But when a girl says it in such a conservative society – let alone writes a book with that title – she is making a political statement.

“Girls are not supposed to be actively seeking something, a girl simply exists for someone to marry or divorce her,” says the author of the top-selling book, Ghada Abdelaal. “To say she wants something is seen as impolite.”

The book started as a blog, before it was spotted by an Egyptian publisher and printed as a series of comic sketches in which flawed and failed suitors knocking at her parents’ door.

A paranoid policeman, a hirsute fundamentalist, a pathological liar and other hilarious caricatures portrayed in sparkling Egyptian vernacular.

Marriage anxiety

The veiled, softly-spoken Abdelaal is a sharp and witty observer of social incongruity in Egypt, a feisty spirit trying to tear up stifling tradition.

They ask young girls here when they are three or four, who would you marry… they implant the idea your only purpose in life is to get married
Ghada Abdelaal

She says her target is not Egyptian men but a tradition known as “gawwaz el-salonat” (living room marriage), where a stranger is brought to the family home and the daughter must decide whether to marry him on the basis of this brief encounter.

“People who go for a picnic need to know each other a little longer than that – let alone make a lifelong commitment.”

The book’s popularity – it is in its third print run with a sitcom in the offing – reflects a widespread anxiety in Egyptian society. More and more young people cannot afford to get married.

Although the book focuses on finding Mr Right, she acknowledges finding an affordable flat remains an almost insurmountable obstacle. Many young people stay engaged for years before they can save up enough money.

“By the time they actually get to live together, they are already tired of each other,” says women’s rights activist Nihad Abou El Qoumsan. This causes the unusually high rate of divorce among the newlyweds in Egypt, she says.

Such is the impact of property prices on the marriage crisis, a popular talk show has invited engaged couples to join a draw to win a flat.

A new apartment will be given away by a wealthy businessman every day of the fasting and holiday month of Ramadan, in September. Huge numbers have registered.

Sexual frustration

Some describe it as a social time bomb. Religious customs mean there is no sex before marriage. So how do young people react to this situation?

I don’t think people who harass women on the street are necessarily single, or necessarily sexually frustrated
Anthropologist Hania Sholkamy

Sociologist Madeeha al-Safty of the American University in Cairo believes one consequence is sexual harassment of women and rape reaching unprecedented levels in Egypt.

“If you are frustrated, there is the possibility that you take it out [through] violence.

“Some people choose the safer way in moving towards a more religious attitude – not necessarily extremism, but it might reach the point of extremism,” she adds.

But anthropologist Hania Sholkamy hesitates to link the problems of sexual harassment and rape to the marriage crisis.

“I don’t think people who harass women on the street are necessarily single, or necessarily sexually frustrated. There are many millions of people who are extremely frustrated, but they do not harass women.

“I think the issue is one of violence and gender disparities, pure and simple.”

Gender disparities is a theme running throughout Abdelaal’s book, from the provocative title questioning the woman’s passive role in a traditional society to the way children are brought up.

“They ask young girls here when they are three or four, who would you marry… they implant the idea your only purpose in life is to get married.

“Even after she goes to school they tell her that a girl’s only future is in her husband’s home. So what happens when a girl for any reason cannot get married. Should she set fire to herself?”

August 5, 2008

Mexican set for Texas execution

Mexican set for Texas execution

Jose Medellin

Jose Medellin, now 33, has been on death row since he was 18

A Mexican man whose case has drawn international legal attention is set to be executed in Texas for the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl.

Barring a last-minute stay, Jose Medellin will face lethal injection at 1800 local time (2300 GMT).

The International Court of Justice had ruled that Medellin was entitled to a new hearing as he was not told of his right to contact a consular official.

Texas says its courts are not bound by the rulings of the ICJ.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called on the US to abide by the ICJ ruling, AFP news agency reported.

“All decisions and orders of the International Court of Justice must be respected by states,” he is reported to have told a television station in Mexico City, where he is attending a world Aids conference.

“The United States should take every step to make sure the execution does not take place.”

Medellin’s case dates back to 1993 when two girls, Jennifer Ertman, 14, and Elizabeth Pena, 16, were raped and murdered by six gang members in Houston.

A general view of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, file pic from February 2008

Set up in 1946, the ICJ is the highest United Nations court

Medellin, who was born in Mexico but moved to the US as a child, was convicted of Miss Pena’s murder.

At the time of his arrest, police did not tell him that he could request assistance from the Mexican consulate – in violation of the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

In 2003, Mexico, which does not have the death penalty, filed a lawsuit at the ICJ on behalf of Medellin and 50 other Mexican nationals on death row in the US who had also not received consular support.

The court ruled in Mexico’s favour, and ordered that their cases be reviewed.

Texas acknowledged that Medellin had not been told he could ask for help from Mexican diplomats, but argued that he had forfeited the right because he never raised the issue at trial or sentencing.

State officials also argued that it would not have made any difference to the outcome of the case.

Earlier this year, President George W Bush ordered Texas to comply with the ICJ ruling, but the Supreme Court justices subsequently decided 6-3 that he had overstepped his authority.

Case is ‘clear’

Last month, in response to an urgent request from Mexico, the ICJ ordered the US to “take all measures necessary” to halt Medellin’s execution.

But Texas judicial authorities said in response that the law in Medellin’s case was “clear”.

“Texas is not bound by the World Court but by the US Supreme Court, which reviewed this matter and determined that the convicted murderer’s execution shall proceed,” a statement from the attorney general’s office said.

On Monday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected a request by Medellin and his legal team for a reprieve.

Medellin’s legal team are still hoping the Supreme Court will grant a stay of execution that would give Congress time to enact new legislation compelling US states to abide by ICJ decisions.

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