News & Current Affairs

July 20, 2009

Enduring allure of Egyptian belly dance

Enduring allure of Egyptian belly dance

Ahlan Wa Sahlan belly dance festival

The Ahlan Wa Sahlan festival has been a big hit this year

Hundreds of women of all nationalities sway their hips and twirl in time to the beat of a drum in a hotel ballroom by the pyramids in Cairo.

Belly dancing is said to have been practised in Egypt since Pharaonic times and now it has caught on around the globe.

It is well-established in Europe and the US and has recently spread to Asia. This year dozens of dancers travelled from China for the Ahlan Wa Sahlan belly dancing festival.

“Because this is the land of dance, women have to come!” declares Raqia Hassan, the festival organiser.

“When she comes she can meet famous dancers and musicians. She can see the pyramids. Anyone who comes to Egypt one time, she cannot stop coming back.”

Japanese belly dance fan

Safa Bakr’s shop attracts women from all over the world

Raqia, who has taught many belly dancing celebrities, leads her large class through the basic moves of the dance putting together a routine.

“It’s fun and you can do this at any age,” says Ewa Horsfield from London. “You can express your own personality. It’s an individual dance. You just listen and respond to the music.”

Many speak of the fitness benefits of belly dancing.

“In China all ladies like for their health,” says Angel from Shanghai.

“This kind of dance began here. Here teachers [are] very, very good so all Chinese ladies want to come.”


Belly dancing is big business in Egypt thanks to the global market.

Designer, Safaa Yasser Bakr, runs a belly dancing costume shop in the historic Khan el-Khalili bazaar.

She helps a Brazilian woman try on a sky-blue sequinned bra and a matching skirt with a split up one side.

“In one show big stars change costume many times,” she tells her. “You need maybe five different pieces.”

Nowadays Safaa sells most of her alluring outfits to foreigners.

Safa Yasser Bakr

Safa sells her wares in Khan el-Khalili – Cairo’s Islamic heart

“I see people coming from France, Italy, United States, Argentina, Spain, Japan,” she says.

But in Egypt at large, many experts fear the dance is losing its appeal.

Society has become more religious and conservative over the past generation and belly dancing is not considered a respectable profession.

“I don’t like belly dancing. I don’t like to see a woman half-naked dancing and moving her body like that,” says one man on the street in central Cairo.

“It has a kind of sexual movement. That’s why I don’t like to watch it,” adds his friend.

An older passer-by remembers the famous dancers of the 1960s with affection but says he would not let his wife or daughters dance in public today.

“I liked the old belly dancer because you could not see a lot of her body,” he remarks. “They were very respectable – not like the new ones now.”

Enduring art

Dance historian, Mo Geddawi, accepts belly dancing is facing a challenging time in Egypt but says this must be seen in perspective.

“Forget about different governments and religion,” he says. “When Christianity and then Islam came the dance was taboo, but people continued to dance.”

“Sometimes in public it is less but the dance never died.”

For now though international devotees help to ensure the dance goes on.

Diana Esposito from New York came to Cairo on a scholarship to study the social and economic reasons for its decline but has become an accomplished belly dancer herself.

“The first time I saw it I thought the movements were so sensual,” she says. “I decided to try something new and it became an addiction.”

“I don’t see the dance being done properly anywhere else in the world. That’s why everyone flocks here – this is the capital of belly dance.”


July 19, 2009

China quarantines school groups

China quarantines school groups

Four British pupils in Beijing hotel

Some of the British teenagers holed up in a hotel room in Beijing

More than 100 schoolchildren and their teachers from the UK and US have been quarantined in Beijing after eight children were found to have swine flu.

The four UK and four US children are being treated in a Beijing hospital and are said to be in a stable condition.

China has this year quarantined hundreds of foreign visitors who have shown symptoms of the H1N1 virus.

The four Britons taken ill are from London schools. A further 52 UK pupils and teachers are under quarantine.

The hospitalised pupils are year nine students, aged 13 to 14; three from the Central Foundation Boys School, Clerkenwell, and one from Parliament Hill School, Camden.

High temperatures

Meanwhile, four of the British pupils under quarantine have told the news from their hotel room they are being well looked after.

The four, who attend Clevedon School in north Somerset, are all in their late teens and are part of a group of 12 from that school, plus two teachers.

“We are quarantined in the hotel and are all currently well as we have daily temperature checks which are all good,” they said in an e-mail sent from their hotel room.

“The hotel is really nice and we have proper toilets. We hope we experience more of China as we should be out within four days.”

One of the boys, Christopher Hicks, said that they had been visiting the Great Wall of China when they were called back, because they had previously shared a bus with a pupil from another school who had tested positive for the virus.

Another pupil, Joe Robinson, said: “We’re being treated very, very well. The food’s great. We’ve got our own individual tellies.”

They also had individual rooms, he said, although they had to wear protective face masks and were not allowed outside of the quarantined zone.

More than 600 Britons are on the trip, organised by the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT), the Department for Children, Schools and Families, the British Council and Chinese organisation Hanban.

Speaking about the four UK pupils who have swine flu, the SSAT’s Katharine Carruthers said: “They are being extremely well looked after and cared for, to the extent where they’re getting pizza delivered to where they are. They are all happy and getting better.

“There are a number of children in quarantine in very comfortable conditions in a four-star hotel in Beijing, who have been in close contact with the swine flu cases.

“Everyone is in good spirits, getting involved in activities and carrying on their Chinese learning.”

The vast majority of the students are continuing their trip as normal, she said.

The BBC’s Quentin Sommerville, in Beijing, said three of the four UK children were found to have high temperatures when they arrived in Beijing earlier in the week.

They were taken straight from the airport to a hospital where it was confirmed they had the virus. A fourth classmate fell ill later.

Chinese health worker tests flight from London  9.7.09

Chinese health officials monitor passengers arriving in the country

The American children had been in contact with the UK group and four of them were also diagnosed as having the virus.

Amii van Amerongen, from London, told the news that her 15-year-old sister was one of the children under quarantine.

“She called me this morning telling me that she is confined in a hotel and she is being very brave about the whole thing. She said it was quite intimidating – they have these ‘guns’ that they point at your head which measure your temperature,” she said.

Chinese officials told the news that the children were being well looked after and they had regular contact with their families.

Simon Calder, travel editor for the UK’s Independent newspaper, told the news that many countries were using “thermal imaging” at airports to test travellers, and the UK was viewed as a high-risk area.

Have you or your family been quarantined in China? Send us your comments and stories

Swine flu pregnancy tips reissued

Swine flu pregnancy tips reissued

A pregnant woman

A suppressed immune system makes pregnant women more vulnerable

The Department of Health has attempted to clarify its guidelines to expectant mothers and parents with children under five on how best to avoid swine flu.

Its advice to practise good hygiene by washing hands and surfaces regularly has been re-issued after a woman with the virus died soon after giving birth.

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) says all expectant mothers should avoid crowded places and unnecessary travel.

But the DoH says only the “particularly concerned” should consider the advice.

Concern over the effects of swine flu on new and expectant mothers has heightened since the death of Ruptara Miah, 39, in London’s Whipps Cross Hospital on 13 July. Her baby is said to be very ill in intensive care.

Good hygiene

Another child under six months old, who died in London, is also among the latest victims of the virus.

The refreshed DoH advice has been given greater prominence on its website.

Health experts say expectant mothers could suffer possible complications if they contract swine flu, such as pneumonia, breathing difficulties and dehydration, because they have suppressed immune systems. Young children are also vulnerable.

Most mothers-to-be with swine flu are being prescribed Relenza, an inhaled antiviral drug which treats the virus without reaching the foetus. However, where it is particularly severe, doctors can offer Tamiflu instead.

The NHS website stresses that most expectant mothers who contract swine flu will only have mild symptoms and recover within a week.

Belinda Phipps, chief executive of the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), said that while the risks for expectant mothers were low, women needed information to make an informed decision.

“If you are pregnant, you are slightly more susceptible to all infections. One of them is swine flu.

“It is important that pregnant women know that – and particularly other members of the population know that – so that they behave responsibly and if they are sick they don’t go and put themselves close to a pregnant woman.”

If you are pregnant, you are slightly more susceptible to all infections. One of them is swine flu
Belinda Phipps, NCT

The Department of Health said it advised women to plan their pregnancy carefully, but was not advising against trying to conceive.

“Mums-to-be are more vulnerable to any type of flu. It is particularly important that anyone who has existing health problems and is thinking about starting a family should talk to their GP first, as they normally would,” a DoH spokesman said.

Louise Silverton, deputy general secretary of the RCM, said women could not be expected to wait for the first wave of the pandemic to end before trying for a baby.

Speaking on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show, Alan Johnson, the new home secretary, said an unexpected aspect of the virus was that it was attacking the young, not the elderly as with seasonal flu.

He called on parents to keep using their common sense, saying the “vast majority” had been following public health advice.

Rates of flu-like illness

Twenty-nine people have now died in the UK after contracting swine flu – 26 in England and three in Scotland.

The government has warned that the number of deaths from the virus this winter in the UK could reach between 19,000 and 65,000.

However, during the 1999 to 2000 winter, seasonal flu deaths reached 21,000 and even during average winters there are normally anywhere between 6,000 to 8,000 deaths.

Swine flu public health poster

The National Flu Service will go live at the end of next week

We asked you whether you were concerned about the effects swine flu might have on expectant mothers. Here is a selection of your comments.

I am in the third trimester of pregnancy, and I am asthmatic. I am concerned that neither Tamiflu or Relenza will be suitable for me if I contract swine flu.
Louise, Nottingham

This is such stupid advice. I am pregnant and travel to work every day on a packed Tube. How am I supposed to avoid crowded places and unnecessary travel? It’s impossible. I can’t just stop going to work can I?
Laura, Hertfordshire

My daughter has a 4yr old son who has swine flu, she is 4 months pregnant and worried in case she catches it and it harms the baby, we are also worried about the treatments used in pregnant women. There is to much contradiction going around to know what to believe.
Tina, Essex

I am currently 24 weeks pregnant and have been ill and at home for 5 days now with bad cold symptoms. After consulting the doctor by phone I was told it could possibly be swine flu but how am I to know? I am usually very level headed in these situations but not sure that not swabbing pregnant women with symptoms is wise – at least if we know if we have it we can be better informed!
Anonymous, Wales

I am 36 weeks pregnant and came into contact with Swine flu last week. I experienced a slight sore throat spoke with a nurse at NHS direct and my GP and was completely reassured that I was fine and not displaying any symptoms. There is definitely some scaremongering going on but if you seek appropriate medical advice your fears can be eased.
Jo, Romford, Essex

I have got a 14 month old child and am currently pregnant. I’m very worried we could all catch the virus as a lot of people where we live are getting it. Also it is going round schools where my niece goes. I believe there should be vaccinations soon as possible for young children and those who it could endanger more than others
Nikki, Chelmsford, Essex


July 12, 2009

Shah Rukh honoured to be Dr Khan

Shah Rukh honoured to be Dr Khan

Shah Rukh Khan at the degree ceremony in London, 10 July 2009

Maybe I can keep the robes… ‘I’ve sweated in them’

Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan can now call himself “doctor” after being honoured in the United Kingdom for his contribution to arts and culture.

Bedfordshire University conferred the doctorate upon him at a ceremony in London on Friday night.

Khan said he aimed to use the award to help educate underprivileged children.

The actor, who has starred in dozens of films, already has his own waxwork at Madame Tussaud’s and has previously been honoured in France and Malaysia.

‘Top’ award

Khan was able to joke about becoming a doctor after frequent surgery in the past few years, most recently on his shoulder five months ago.

“Interestingly my kids don’t understand this doctorate and believe I will be awarded a stethoscope,” he joked at the degree ceremony.

The star was awarded the doctorate at a top London hotel instead of on university premises north of London because of the summer break.

The university received his nomination from Routes 2 Roots, an NGO that works towards people-to-people contact across the subcontinent, especially India and Pakistan.

Accepting the honour, Khan said he had received numerous awards as an actor but being given an honorary doctorate was the top achievement.

The actor left one of Delhi’s top schools with the best student award – but never finished a masters degree.

So how did he feel about receiving the honour?

“I get the feeling that I should further the cause of those underprivileged children who don’t get the opportunity to educate themselves,” he said, quickly adding that he should perhaps begin with his own children who are “highly uneducated as of now”.

The 43-year-old also added he was most scared of mathematics as a child, and intended to make sure his children were good at the subject.

Khan also joked that he might get to keep his university robes: “I have sweated in them – [they] can’t be returned unless I dry clean them.”

The ceremony was also attended by the famously barefoot Indian painter MF Hussain and British film maker Gurinder Chadha.

Other Indian stars to have been given honorary doctorates in the UK include Amitabh Bachchan, Shilpa Shetty, Akshay Kumar and AR Rahman.


Concert cancelled as boy stabbed

Filed under: Entertainment News, Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:09 am

Concert cancelled as boy stabbed

Alexander O'Neal

Alexander O’Neal had flown in from the US for the Southwark Park concert

A teenage boy has been stabbed in the leg at a festival in London leading to the cancellation of a set by US soul singer Alexander O’Neal.

The day-long event at Southwark Park in Bermondsey was stopped on police advice shortly after 2000 BST just as O’Neal was due on stage.

The boy, who also suffered facial injuries when he was hit with a bottle, was taken to hospital for treatment.

Several thousand people attended the event as part of Bermondsey Carnival.

Dozens of police were quickly on the scene and a number of young people were interviewed.

O’Neal had flown in from the US to attend the free event.

The our correspondentĀ  said there was booing from some sections of the crowd when the decision was announced.

The boy’s condition is not thought to be life-threatening.


July 11, 2009

Man dies at Serbia music festival

Filed under: Entertainment News, Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 4:39 pm

Man dies at Serbia music festival

A man from London has died after falling from a fortress wall at a music festival in Serbia.

Anthony Fisk, 22, fell from Petrovaradin fortress in Novi Sad during the annual Exit music festival on Friday.

He died in hospital on Saturday, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said.

Acts including Lily Allen, the Arctic Monkeys, Manic Street Preachers, Moby, Korn and Madness are performing at the festival, located north of Belgrade.

A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesman said: “We can confirm the death of a British national in Serbia following a fall at a music festival and we are providing consular assistance to the family.”

Up to to 190,000 people are expected to attend the four-day festival, which is due to end on Sunday.

The Exit festival began in 2000 as a spontaneous student uprising against the regime of Slobodan Milosevic.

Organisers hoped it would persuade music fans to vote to find an “exit out of 10 years of madness”.


British plane in US smoke scare

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 4:34 pm

British plane in US smoke scare

BA288 on tarmac at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, 10 July 2009

Passengers used slides to leave the aircraft

More than 300 passengers and crew aboard a British Airways jet at a US airport were evacuated down emergency slides after smoke filled the cabin.

The Boeing 747 had pulled away from the departure gate at Phoenix, Arizona, en route to London Heathrow when passengers began complaining of smoke.

There were shouts of “fire” and some people panicked but none were seriously injured, eyewitnesses told the BBC.

Fire crews found light smoke but no fire and suspect an electrical problem.

I never realised how fast you can go down those emergency slides – a lot of people, including myself, have little friction burns on their elbows
Charles Woolf
passenger speaking to the news

The incident occurred at about 2000 local time (0300 GMT) on Friday, said a Phoenix fire official, Capt Shelly Jamison.

About 15 people received minor scrapes and bruises, and one person was taken to hospital with shoulder pain.

Confirming the safe exit of all 298 passengers and 18 crew aboard Flight BA288, British Airways said the aircraft had been evacuated “following the usual procedures”.


Charles Woolf, 16, was sitting at the rear of the plane, waiting to return home to Fareham in the UK after a holiday.

Everything appeared normal as the plane taxied out, he told News, but after it had been waiting about 10 minutes for take-off, “a strange but harsh smell filled the cabin – it made my nose tingle and burned the back of my throat”.

“Some people started to cough, and a few started to worry and panic,” he said.

“After about five minutes, more people started to cough, someone towards the front of the aircraft shouted ‘fire’, the doors of the aircraft opened and the slides were deployed.

“People were pushing a bit to try and get to the exit, but I’d say within 20 seconds of the doors opening I was out of the plane.

“I never realised how fast you can go down those emergency slides – a lot of people, including myself, have little friction burns on their elbows.”

The 16-year-old praised the cabin crew’s professionalism.


July 5, 2009

Madonna in Jackson stage tribute

Filed under: Entertainment News, Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 7:59 am

Madonna in Jackson stage tribute

Madonna kicked-off her revamped Sticky And Sweet tour at London’s O2 Arena with a tribute to Michael Jackson.

Jackson, who died last week, was due to perform a series of 50 farewell concerts at the venue from 13 July.

As Madonna sang Holiday she was joined by a dancer dressed in Jackson’s unmistakable style of sequined jacket and sparkling white glove.

Madonna told the crowd: “Give it up for one of the greatest artists the world has ever known – long live the King!”

Signature moves

Pictures of Jackson as a boy flashed up on a giant screen as the dancer moon-walked across the stage to the strains of Billie Jean.

He went on to perform some of Jackson’s signature moves to Wanna Be Starting Something.

An estimated crowd of 17,000 watched Madonna perform at the first of two concerts in London this weekend.

She moves on to Manchester on Tuesday, followed by several dates across Europe.

Madonna closed the show with Give It 2 Me, and donned a jewelled glove, along with her dancers, in a final, simple, tribute to Jackson.

Solo stars

Lyrics from his hit Man In the Mirror scrolled across the screens. It read: “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make the change.”

Michael Jackson and Madonna montage

Jackson and Madonna both became huge solo stars in the 1980s

The tribute, albeit brief, impressed fans at the O2. Victoria Mears, of Billericay, Essex, said: “I really liked it. It seemed very fitting for the queen of pop to pay tribute to the king of pop.”

Nina Lawrence, 32, of Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, said: “It thought it was good, but it was a shame she didn’t sing one of his songs as a tribute.”

And Helen Levy, 30, of Winchester, Hants, said: “She seemed very passionate when she spoke about Michael Jackson. It’s clear that he was a great inspiration to her.”

Jackson and Madonna both became huge solo stars in the 1980s.

Speaking after the 50-year-old’s death on 25 June, Madonna said: “I can’t stop crying over the sad news.

“I’ve always admired Michael Jackson – the world has lost one of its greats, but his music will live on forever.”

A public memorial service for Jackson will be held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

Over half-a-million fans have applied for just 17,500 tickets available for the event.


MI6 chief’s Facebook details cut

Filed under: Business News, Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 7:44 am

MI6 chief’s Facebook details cut

Sir John Sawers

Sir John Sawers is currently the UK’s ambassador to the United Nations

Details about the personal life of the next head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, have been removed from Facebook.

The Mail on Sunday says his wife, Lady Shelley Sawers, put details about their children and the location of their flat on the social networking site.

The details, which also included holiday photographs, were removed after the paper contacted the Foreign Office.

MP Patrick Mercer, counter-terrorism sub-committee chairman, said he was disappointed by the couple’s actions.

‘Distressing and worrying’

He said: “Sir John and his family have been at the heart of the intelligence community for several decades now.

“It’s distressing and worrying therefore that these sorts of details should be appearing in the public domain. I would have hoped these sort of mistakes would not have been made by people like that.”

And the Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesman, Edward Davey, tells the paper he wants Gordon Brown to launch an inquiry into whether the disclosures have compromised Sir John’s ability to take up his MI6 post.

Sir John is currently the UK’s ambassador to the United Nations and will take up his new post in November.

The Mail on Sunday says the information included the couple’s friendships with senior diplomats and well-known actors including Moir Leslie from BBC Radio 4’s The Archers.

Lady Sawers revealed the location of the London flat used by the couple and the whereabouts of their three grown-up children and of Sir John’s parents, the paper added.

Diplomatic postings

Sir John is due to replace Sir John Scarlett as head of the overseas Secret Intelligence Service (MI6).

He has been the UK’s Permanent Representative to the UN since 2007.

Before that he was political director at the Foreign Office, an envoy in Baghdad and a foreign affairs adviser to former prime minister Tony Blair.

In that post from 1999 to 2001 he was involved in the Kosovo conflict and Northern Ireland peace process.

Elsewhere overseas he worked in the British embassy in Washington, as an ambassador to Cairo and in South Africa from 1988 and 1991 when apartheid was ending.


July 4, 2009

UK investigates Iran charge claim

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 1:14 pm

UK investigates Iran charge claim

Iranian hardline students burn US and British flags during a protest outside the British embassy in Tehran on 23 June 2009

Anti-British protests have been held outside the UK embassy in Tehran

The chief political analyst at the British Embassy in Iran has been charged with “acting against national security”, reports suggest.

The UK Foreign Office is investigating claims by his lawyer that he has been charged and will stand trial shortly.

A senior cleric has said some of the nine embassy staff arrested last month will be tried for inciting protests over Iran’s disputed election.

Britain denies fomenting discontent to undermine Iran’s Islamic regime.

Iranian news agencies have said all but one of the embassy staff have been released, although the UK government claims two remain in custody.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband says he is “deeply concerned” about the situation and has asked for talks with his Iranian counterpart.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman could not confirm reports that the adviser had been charged.


“We are still investigating. The situation remains extremely unclear and fluid,” she added.

News agencies have reported the lawyer as saying he has not yet been able to meet with his client or see the text of the indictment.

Protests gripped Tehran and other Iranian cities after June’s presidential election, amid claims the vote had been rigged in favour of the incumbent, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

On Friday, Ahmad Jannati, leader of the Iran’s supreme legislative body the Guardian Council, said: “The British Embassy had a presence and some people were arrested.

“Well inevitably they will be put on trial. They have made confessions too.”

However, he did not say how many employees would be tried or on what charges.

Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported this week that one of the detainees had played a “remarkable role during the recent unrest in managing it behind the scenes”.

Nine embassy staff were held last weekend. Britain says all but two have now been freed.

Mr Miliband said Britain was urgently seeking clarification from Iran about any possible trial or charges, which have reportedly been brought against one employee at Evin prison in Tehran.


“We are confident that our staff have not engaged in any improper or illegal behaviour,” he added.

The Foreign Office later confirmed that Iranian envoy Rasoul Movahedian had been summoned and the same message reiterated.

12 June presidential election saw incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad re-elected with 63% of vote
Main challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi called for result to be annulled for electoral fraud
Street protests saw at least 17 people killed and foreign media restricted

European Union governments have summoned Iranian ambassadors to protest against the detentions.

An EU official told us that, in addition, visas for Iranians holding Iranian diplomatic passports would be suspended.

The official said other measures, including the withdrawal of EU ambassadors from Iran, would be considered if the two staff members were not released.

Our diplomatic correspondentĀ  says Ayatollah Jannati’s speech marks a significant deterioration in the already bad relationship between London and Tehran.

Tehran has repeatedly accused foreign powers – especially Britain and the US – of stoking unrest after the election.

In the fallout from the crisis, Tehran expelled two British diplomats and the UK responded with a similar measure.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, last month described Britain, as the “most evil” of its enemies.

The issue of how to deal with Iran is set to dominate the summit of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialised nations in Italy next week.

Some EU countries have urged caution, arguing that Europe should engage with Iran, not isolate it.

But if the embassy staff are put on trial, the EU may have few other options than to tighten the diplomatic screw, correspondents say.

Older Posts »

Create a free website or blog at