International markets offer ray of hope to beleaguered Tunisia artisans

Middle East EFaisel Ben Ghorbel in his workshop in Tunis' old cityye – Tunis, Tunisia: Fakher Baklouti’s father taught him to work with olive wood as he was growing up outside of Sfax, an industrial city about halfway down Tunisia’s Mediterranean coast. The texture and patterns in the wood appealed to him, and he found it easy to turn into beautiful, artistic products. Now, Baklouti is proud to be a third generation olive wood artisan carrying on a traditional Tunisian craft. “It’s important for me that it’s purely Tunisian,” he said.

Since the country’s 2011 revolution, Tunisia has experienced a prolonged period of economic malaise that has made life more difficult for Baklouti and other artisans. Tourism has declined, shrinking an important client base, inflation has increased the cost of raw materials and cheap, and smuggled goods from Libya and Algeria have flooded the market.

Searching for opportunity and new markets in a Tunisian economy characterised by over regulation, rampant cronyism and widespread corruption, according to a recent World Bank report, is exceedingly difficult. As a result, Baklouti and other artisans have found it hard to make ends meet.

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Fear and nostalgia as Tunisia transitions to democracy

TN_VotersMiddle East Eye – Tunis, Tunisia: Several days before the Tunisian presidential elections, 26-year-old Ameni Hammami was sitting with a group of friends at a café in one of Tunis’ upscale neighbourhoods discussing candidates. Reflecting on what has changed since Tunisia’s revolution, Hammami noted that four years ago, they would not be having this conversation. “We would switch off our mobiles,” she said with a laugh, out of fear that the government would listen in on what they were saying through their phones.

On Sunday, 23 November, Tunisians participated in the first free presidential elections in the country’s history. According to official results released on Wednesday, Beji Caid Essebsi received 39.5 percent of the vote with interim president, Moncef Marzouki coming in second place with 33.4 percent. The two frontrunners, out of a field of 27 candidates, will now face each other in a run-off election to be held next month.

Coming a month after successful parliamentary elections, the international community is celebrating the vote as the final step in Tunisia’s transition to democracy. But, as the past weighed heavily on the first round of presidential voting, many Tunisians are less convinced that their country has crossed the threshold and see much more work that needs to be done to secure the new system…

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Tunisian youth skip presidential vote

TUNIS, Tunisia — Late IMG_0291Sunday afternoon, Nov. 23, Serine Limam, 21, purposefully strolled into a polling station in La Goulette, a suburb of Tunisia’s capital. She was resolute in her reasons for voting in Tunisia’s first free presidential elections. “It’s important for youth to vote because it is our future,” she told Al-Monitor.

Many of her friends did not feel the same way. “They think that, no matter what, Tunisia is not going to move forward and that their vote won’t change anything,” Limam said.

In Sunday’s election, Limam was the exception rather than the rule.

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Syrian students stuck in limbo

Walid Ikhlassi at Balamand University

Walid Ikhlassi at Balamand University

Eric Reidy – Al-Jazeera English – 15 November 2014

When Walid Ikhlassi left his home in the Syrian city of Aleppo in 2010 to attend university in Lebanon, his future appeared far more certain. He would complete his degree in architecture at Balamand University, located near the northern city of Tripoli, and return to Aleppo to work in his father’s civil engineering company.

“I already had an office there and everything,” Ikhlassi told Al Jazeera. “My future was planned.”

Four years later, his entire family has left Syria due to the civil war, and his father’s company no longer exists. As for Ikhlassi, “I [no longer] know what is going to happen next year.”

Read the full article



A Tiny Kingdom’s World Wide Warrior

Maryam Al-Khwaja at work in her office in Copenhagen, Denmark. Photo credit:  Ditte Lysgaard Holm

Maryam Al-Khwaja at work in her office in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Eric Reidy – – 5 June 2014

On August 8, 2013, Maryam Al-Khawaja walked up to a check-in counter at London’s Heathrow airport to pick up her ticket home. The woman who put Al-Khawaja’s information into the computer gave a confused look before informing her that she was not allowed to board the flight to her native country of Bahrain.

The government of the small, Persian Gulf island had contacted the airline and requested that Al-Khawaja not be allowed on this — or any other — flight to the country. The airline had no choice but to comply.

In that moment, at the age of twenty-six, Al-Khawaja officially became an exile. But her life had been heading in that direction for a long time. Born into a family of activists, the uprisings of the Arab Spring in 2011 thrust Al-Khawaja into the role of high-profile human rights defender. Now, as the Bahraini government has cracked down on dissidents, she can no longer return home.

For the three years since protests began in Bahrain, as the regime tortured and imprisoned members of her family and other activists, Al-Khawaja has been trying to raise awareness in the international community about the human rights abuses perpetrated by her government. Composed and confident, with quick, intelligent eyes that convey an energetic, undeterred dedication to her work, Al-Khawaja has unwittingly been preparing for this role her whole life.

Read the full article here


My Beacon Campaign!

Actors in Wajdi Mouawad's play 'Incendies'I recently launched a project on Beacon reader, a crowd funding platform for journalists. The project will help fund my reporting over the course of the next year and allow me to cover stories related to arts and culture and their intersection with social change in the United States and Middle East.
Your support is essential because stories about arts and culture are often overlooked by big media outlets. Yet, they tell us so much about how people experience and think about the world around them as their societies grow, change and go through conflict.
The way it works is you pledge anywhere from a $5 monthly subscription that you can cancel at any time up to a $1000 that will help me buy a plane ticket back to the Middle East this fall. If I get 35 people to support my project in this way, then my project will be funded!
In return, you will get access to all of the articles I publish on Beacon and all of the content published by other Beacon writers, who are reporting on unique, grassroots stories all over the world.
Find out more about my project here and support it if you can!

Ifrosh tests cardless e-commerce platform in Iraqi Kurdistan

Eric Reidy -Wamda – 28 April 2014

In recent years, the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan has generatedheadlines for its relative stability and booming oil-based economy. But so far, the economic boom has not been accompanied by the cultivation of a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem. Amed Latif Omar and Banu Ibrahim Ali, the two Iraqi-Kurdish co-founders of ifrosh, are looking to change that.

ifrosh is one of the first startups in Iraqi Kurdistan and, like many entrepreneurial ventures, it was inspired by a need in the community.

Omar and Ali are from Sulamaini, one of the economic centers of Iraq’s Kurdish region. Shopping in the city is largely done in traditional markets that fulfill most, but not all, consumer needs. “I needed to buy and sell things I couldn’t find in the bazaar,” says Omar, ifrosh’s CEO.

To help fill this gap, Omar and Ali came up with the idea for an online, community-based marketplace to connect merchants and consumers. The name, ifrosh, comes from the Kurdish word ‘to sell’, and is currently running a test period on the American University of Iraq, Sulamaini (AUIS) campus before launching in beta at the end of the summer…

Continue reading here.

From the archives: Hady Zaccak

I wrote this article exactly one year ago after interviewing Lebanese filmmaker Hady Zaccak and just rediscovered it online. 

Eric Reidy – SKeyes – 3 April 2013

“I am very attached to everything related to the socio-political environment,” says Hady Zaccak, a documentary filmmaker. “Beirut, of course, is always a center for this.”

Zaccak was born in Beirut, but his family left the city in 1976 because of the Civil War and went to the mountain. He visited the city during his childhood when there were calm periods and the roads were open. “My relation to Beirut was a more distant relation, seeing the city from afar,” at that time, he says.

“I started really discovering the city in 1992,” Zaccak continues, and tracing its emergence from the war. The first phase of this emergence involved people discovering what remained of the city from before 1975 following the destruction of the war.

The next phase was a period of reconstruction, which lasted from about 1995 to 2005. During this phase there was a feeling of not knowing the city anymore and a sense of amnesia, Zaccak says. “You are erasing everything and polishing everything as if nothing has happened and you are building a new future…

Read the full article here.

Palestinian software companies merge; set sights on changing U.S. healthcare market

Eric Reidy – Wamda – 1 April 2014

iConnect-Tech and 2i Software, two software development companies with front offices in Chicago and programming teams based in Palestine, have been working out of the same building in Ramallah for three years. Now, iConnect has acquired 2i’s Palestinian operation and is looking to provide business intelligence services for the U.S. healthcare market.

The origins of the deal between iConnect and 2i, inked at the end of February, stretch back to 2010. At that point, Kais Salhut, a native of Jerusalem who moved to the U.S. at 17 to attend school, was starting a Palestinian development team for 2i, which also has operations in Malta and India.

Salhut knew iConnect’s management in Chicago and was aware that the two companies had similar administrative structures with different specialties. It was only natural that a relationship would develop between the two operations. “We knew something was going to happen,” Salhut explains. “We just didn’t know what it would be…

Read the rest of the story here.

“Beirut Has a Special Magic”: An interview with Syrian artist Gylan Safadi

Beirut – SKeyes – Eric Reidy – 2 December 2012:


“I could not paint in colors anymore,” says artist Gylan Safadi about his current exhibition at ARTLAB gallery in Gemmayzeh. The exhibition, entitled “Ashes”, was an attempt by Safadi to salvage memories of faces, friends, dreams, and experiences amidst the destruction of war in Syria.

Safadi was born in Soueida, Syria in 1977. A graduate of Damascus University’s Faculty of Fine Arts, he lived and worked in Syria until coming to Beirut a month ago.

Damscus was a good place to work as an artist before the beginning of the Syrian revolution in 2011, says Safadi. Now, he says, “the city has changed. Everything is broken…

IMG_1671Continue reading the interview here.