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Gaza teenager runs for Palestine

May 6, 2016 | Al Jazeera

Inas Nofal aims to win medals for Palestine at international competitions, but training in Gaza presents a challenge.

MAGHAZI, GAZA - Tying the shoelaces of her bright green trainers, Inas Nofal prepares for her daily morning run. As Gaza's first and only competitive female runner, the 15-year-old makes heads turn when she races down the streets.

"Running is my life," Nofal told Al Jazeera. "Before I go to sleep, I think about which routes I'll run the next day."

Nofal started running last year with the support of a local coach, Sami Nateel al-Balad. Nofal's father, Mahmoud, tirelessly follows the two in his car, ready to intervene if his daughter faces harassment from authorities or the community. 

"Some people object to girls running and say bad things. It upsets me, but I try to hide it from Inas, because I don't want it to discourage her from her dream," Mahmoud said, noting he hopes she will help to change how society views girls and women.

Nofal hopes to win medals for Palestine at international competitions, but facilities for professional athletes are limited in Gaza. Three wars with Israel in less than a decade have caused major destruction in the small coastal enclave, leaving limited resources for sports and recreational activities.

Last month, Nofal suffered a further setback when she and dozens of other runners from Gaza were denied permits by Israel to travel to Bethlehem for the Palestine Marathon, which aims to shed light on Israeli-imposed restrictions on movement for Palestinians. 

For the full photo essay see here

In Palestine, women run for their rights

May 3, 2016 | Play the Game

As the fourth annual Palestine Marathon was held this year, it highlighted again Palestinians’ lack of right to movement, as over 100 runners from Gaza were not allowed to participate. Still, its rapid growth and popularity among especially Palestinian women also tell a different story.

BETHLEHEM - When the sun rose over Bethlehem on April first, the streets were already buzzing with life. Families lined up along the sidewalks and police officers tried to direct a few confused drivers off the main roads. In the meantime, thousands of people in white t-shirts with ‘Right to Movement’ written over the chest flocked to the ancient Manger Square in front of one the world’s most famous Christian sites, the Church of Nativity. But though the holy city is often associated with its religious roots, it has for the past four years also become linked to one of the world’s most politically sensitive sporting events, the Palestine International Marathon.

Starting only four years ago with 650 runners, the annual race has grown significantly with a total of 4,300 runners registered this year including one thousand foreigners from 64 different countries. Despite the fact that running is yet not widely common in Palestine the vast majority –and an increasing number – of the runners were Palestinians. They had made the trip from all corners of the West Bank passing Israeli settlements and military checkpoints along the way to run for their own right to movement.

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Animals suffer in Gaza's cash-strapped zoos

August 24, 2015 | Al Jazeera English

Amid a crippling Israeli blockade of the Palestinian territory, zoos in Gaza cannot properly care for their animals.

RAFAH, GAZA - On a dirt road, behind tall white walls decorated with faded paintings of zebras, giraffes and lions, lies Rafah Zoo.

It is hidden away from Rafah's busy streets, but inside, hundreds of colourful birds in cages tweet loudly - almost drowning out the sound of children playing in a pool nearby.

Opened in the late 1990s by the Jumaa family, Rafah Zoo was the first amusement and leisure park for communities in the Gaza Strip.

Jihad Jumaa, a zookeeper and son of the zoo's owner, told Al Jazeera that his father's original mission had been to provide a place for Gaza's families - small children, especially - to relax and enjoy themselves.

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PA police given more jurisdiction in occupied West Bank

May 1, 2015 | Al Jazeera English

An increase in unemployment due to life under occupation has given rise to crime in some Jerusalem suburbs.

For the first time since the second intifada, uniformed and armed police could patrol the streets of Abu Dis.

For the first time since the second intifada, uniformed and armed police could patrol the streets of Abu Dis.

ABU DIS, OCCUPIED WEST BANK - For the first time in more than a decade, the Palestinian Authority has been allowed to deploy police forces in Palestinian villages in areas controlled by Israel.

Years under occupation and a lack of proper law enforcement have transformed these once-thriving suburbs of Jerusalem into hubs for car thieves and drug and weapons dealers. Many residents are happy to see the police officers, even if their presence, so far, has been mainly symbolic.

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Israel's Joint List faces challenging road ahead

Mar. 29, 2015 | Al Jazeera English

Coalition of Arab parties is now the Knesset's third-largest bloc, but success hinges on its ability to form alliances.

Though one week has passed since Israel's legislative elections, Ayman Odeh - the leader of the Joint List, an alliance of four predominantly Arab parties - has not yet had a quiet moment.

Even before the final votes were counted, Odeh was busy visiting his geographical constituency, the first stop being the impoverished, unrecognised Bedouin villages in the southern Negev region. He had vowed during his campaign that he would visit these villages after the election.

"We are the only party that talks about national and social rights for both Arabs and Jews," Odeh told Al Jazeera.

Although the Joint List estimates that the number of Jewish votes was only a few thousand, he nevertheless sees the alliance as representing a new era in Israeli politics - as a force that fights for the interests of all marginalized groups.

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West Bank Bedouins fear 'a second nakba'

Mar. 23, 2015 | Al Jazeera English

An Israeli plan to forcibly transfer Bedouins to nearby Palestinian villages has met with
staunch resistance.

Residents of Abu Dis erect a tent in 'Bawabet al-Quds' to signal that they want to decide who lives and builds in the village's land. Feb 16, 2015 ©Lena Odgaard

Residents of Abu Dis erect a tent in 'Bawabet al-Quds' to signal that they want to decide who lives and builds in the village's land. Feb 16, 2015 ©Lena Odgaard

ABU DIS, OCCUPIED WEST BANK - In the middle of a small campsite consisting of two tin shacks, a group of men and women huddled around a fire burning in a barrel - oblivious to the gathering rainclouds and the Israeli military jeeps and soldiers surrounding the camp.

On the side of one of the shacks, the words "Bawabet al-Quds" - Gateway to Jerusalem - were spray-painted in big red and green letters.

The camp was located on a hillside next to the Palestinian village of Abu Dis, about four kilometres south of Jerusalem. It overlooked neighbouring Palestinian villages, as well as the red-roofed Israeli settlement of Ma'ale Adumim and a number of Bedouin communities of the Jahalin tribe.

Adel Salah, the mayor of Abu Dis, explained that the camp was established at the beginning of February after villagers noticed Israeli authorities preparing the area for the relocation of the nearby Bedouins.

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'We have a circus in Palestine'

Jan. 4, 2015 | Al Jazeera English

Palestinian youth are combatting the occupation and conservative social values - through circus.

Screenshot of the article on the front page of Al Jazeera's website

Screenshot of the article on the front page of Al Jazeera's website

BIRZEIT - A group of young men carry large barrels down the stairs and roll them across the concrete surface of the courtyard into a large, grey circus tent.

It is the only circus tent in Palestine and belongs to the Palestinian Circus School, located in the small Christian village of Birzeit in the West Bank. The school recently launched its winter semester, with a significant increase in participants: 220 students this year compared with 160 last year. This is largely due to a new programme for 8- to 12-year-olds living in the neighbouring Al Jalazon refugee camp.

The school is based in a renovated old Ottoman style building with thick, yellow, stone walls and vaulted ceilings. In one room are trampolines and mattresses; in another hangs a trapeze, and in the adjacent storage room are shelves filled with colourful juggling clubs and rows of unicycles.

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Gaza farmers struggle in war aftermath

Oct. 7, 2014 | Al Jazeera English

Israel's war on Gaza has taken its toll on all economic sectors, with the agriculture industry hit especially hard.

Sept. 3, 2014 ©Lena Odgaard

Sept. 3, 2014 ©Lena Odgaard

DEIR AL-BALAH, GAZA - Only days after a ceasefire was declared in Gaza, ending a 51-day bombardment by Israel, hundreds of farmers showed up at a distribution centre in al-Zawayda outside Deir al-Balah in central Gaza to receive sacks of fodder.

"We are distributing fodder and barley for all the sheep and goats in Gaza," said Ciro Fiorillo, local head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), to the crowd of assembled farmers. "For every herding family, we will be able to give the fodder needed to feed each animal for a month and a half."

Funded by the Canadian government, the fodder distribution was aimed at sustaining the remaining livestock in the area. Two major Israeli military operations within the past three years have drastically reduced Gaza's number of sheep and goats: A census in 2010 registered 73,500 animals, while only 58,000 were enlisted for fodder distribution this summer.

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Hundreds of Gaza children permanently disabled by this summer’s conflict

Sept. 19, 2014 | Al Jazeera America

Operation Protective Edge left Louay, 9, with shrapnel near his heart; doctors warn him against running or playing

9-year old Louay in his home in al-Zaytoun neighbourhood in Gaza City

9-year old Louay in his home in al-Zaytoun neighbourhood in Gaza City

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — After being declared dead earlier this summer, 9-year-old Louay is fortunate to be back home with his father and older brother, Odai, 13. But with their friends back in school this month, both boys are confined to the small, dark apartment where they live in al-Zaitun, a suburb of Gaza City, dealing with permanent disabilities from their recent injuries.

This summer’s 51 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas took a heavy toll on Gaza’s children, killing 501, according to U.N. figures. It injured an additional 3,374, and though the bombs have stopped, hundreds of those children, just like Louay and Odai, face an uncertain future as disabled.

Their story is one of two young lives changed in an instant. On July 21, Louay and Odai were at their aunt’s house preparing for iftar, the evening meal for breaking the fast during the holy month of Ramadan. Rockets suddenly hit the house, killing their mother, grandmother and aunt, who was pregnant, as well as her six daughters.

“The first rocket knocked me out, but when a second hit, I woke up, and when the third hit, I was running downstairs,” said Odai. “I saw that my little brother, Louay, was alive. I took him, and we ran together, but a canister of gas exploded and burned him.”

Their father, Zakarya Siyam, said he was preparing to go to the house when he heard on the radio that the home of his brother-in-law had been hit.

“I rushed to the house but didn’t find anyone. At the hospital I found them in pieces. Six children in small pieces of meat — also my wife and mother,” Siyam said with a blank expression in his eyes. The doctors were preparing to remove Odai’s leg because of shrapnel stuck in his knee and thigh.

“My father yelled at the doctors, ‘Don’t cut off my son’s leg,’” Odai recalled.

Although Siyam said Louay had been declared dead, he insisted he could feel a pulse. He put Louay in cold water and resuscitated him. After a week in intensive care, Louay opened his eyes. He sustained severe burns on most of his body and — more serious — pieces of shrapnel in his stomach and near his heart that doctors were unable to remove. Doctors have warned Louay against running or playing because of the risk of the shrapnel cutting his heart.

Odai, meanwhile, is in constant pain. Shrapnel crushed several bones in his leg, and he may never walk again.

Doctors told Siyam that both his sons need surgery abroad. But because Israel and Egypt have sealed all exits from Gaza, his only hope is that international organizations will facilitate and sponsor the needed treatment.

“They have already lost the most precious thing they had, their mother. I want to give them anything they ask for, but in Gaza there are no opportunities for treatment for my children. I’m an ordinary and poor man. In Gaza such people are neglected,” he said with exasperation.

Ismail Nasser is the chief pediatric surgeon at Al-Shifa, Gaza’s main hospital for trauma victims. Sitting in his office, he said most of the children he operated on during the war suffered severe injuries from shrapnel or from being trapped in collapsing houses.

According to numbers from Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, 1,064 residential houses were targeted by the Israeli army, and 17,000 were damaged or destroyed since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on July 7. As a result, multiple family members were often killed or injured in attacks, and more than half the fatalities occurred in or near their homes. 

Like Louay and Odai, many children who sustained serious permanent injuries also lost one or both parents, Nasser said. Losing a primary caretaker, he explained, will greatly affect their futures, not only because of the psychological trauma but also because they now require extra physical care.

“If, for example, you remove the spleen of a 5-year-old, he will suffer from low immunity and it is not easy to deal with,” Nasser said. “Or a patient who has lost a lower limb, for example, will need extra help.”

Many children, like the Siyam brothers, have witnessed six military operations in Gaza in eight years, which injured more than 5,000 children and has left a disproportionately high number of disabled among Gaza’s youngest generation.

“There is a huge number of children with special needs for rehabilitation, prosthetics, surgery and medical care,” said Steve Sosebee, president of the Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF). The Israeli military’s destruction of Gaza’s only rehabilitation clinic, Al-Wafa hospital, has made the situation that much more critical, he added.

“Even if we have the resources to pay for services for children who need them, the place they would go for rehabilitation doesn’t exist anymore,” he said.

The PCRF takes medical teams to Gaza, arranges treatment abroad for children and supplies children with disability aids. The organization is waiting for a shipment of about 400 wheelchairs, but Sosebee said its efforts are far outmatched by the needs.

Many disabled children will face difficulties carrying out daily activities as they return to neighborhoods where houses are severely damaged and cut off from electricity and water and roads are blocked by rubble.

In 2011 a survey by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics showed that more than half of Gaza’s disabled said they had difficulty performing duties outside their homes or just crossing the road. It concluded that 2 in 5 disabled people age 15 or older had never enrolled in school, leaving more than half of them illiterate and 90 percent unemployed.

Khalil Amer Jadily, who lost both his legs during an Israeli airstrike on his family’s home in the Bureij refugee camp during Operation Cast Lead in 2009, is trying to defy those statistics.

“When I woke up at the hospital, I saw my legs lying over my chest, and a person told me to pray to God for recovery,” recalled Jadily, who’s now 22. “I thought I would die. And even in this war I thought I would die.”

With help from the PCRF, he traveled to Dubai in 2010 to get prostheses. A year ago he started studying business administration at the Islamic University of Gaza and said he likes to swim whenever possible.

Though Jadily survived the bombs raining on Gaza this summer, his prosthetic legs didn’t. He left them and his wheelchair behind when he and his family were evacuated before the Israeli land invasion. When he returned, most of his neighborhood had been razed. He now uses an old, rusty wheelchair held together with blue tape.

He sympathizes with the many children whose lives were changed forever this summer.

“I feel sad when I think of the young children who got disabled,” Jadily said. “They will feel like they have died, but though they will never have a normal life, they will hopefully learn to live with it.” 

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Palestinians reclaim Gaza 'buffer zone'

May 5, 2014 | Al Jazeera English

Despite threats to their safety, Palestinians are farming in Gaza buffer zone as a way to regain land and livelihoods.

UMM AN-NASER, GAZA STRIP - Last year, Mahmoud Abu Madek was not a farmer. Sitting on his knees between newly planted potatoes and beans, 27-year-old Abu Madek expertly ensured that water from the irrigation system reached the seedlings. He carefully selected these two types of crops so their harvest seasons would overlap, guaranteeing him an income for a longer period.

"I haven't had a job before. This is the first opportunity I've had to work on land," Abu Madek told Al Jazeera. "For me it's a way to make an income and cover the needs of my family."

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Umm An-Naser, Palestinians work in newly established fields in the buffer zone. Nov. 5, 2013  ©Lena Odgaard

Umm An-Naser, Palestinians work in newly established fields in the buffer zone. Nov. 5, 2013  ©Lena Odgaard

Palestinians hit the right notes in Gaza

Apr. 18, 2014 | Al Jazeera English

Music school helps relieve tensions in conflict-torn Gaza Strip, but access to instruments remains a challenge.

9-year old Joanna plays piano at Edward Said Music Academy in Gaza, Nov. 10, 2013 ©Lena Odgaard

9-year old Joanna plays piano at Edward Said Music Academy in Gaza, Nov. 10, 2013 ©Lena Odgaard

GAZA CATY - From the outside, Gaza’s only music school does not look like one.

A grey-and-white cement building, it could easily pass for an office or apartment complex. But for the approximately 200 children who attend, it is not about appearance; it is about sound.

In the hallway of the Gaza Music School, classical music mixes with Eastern tones. In one room, a nine-year-old girl has one of her first piano lessons, singing with her teacher as she carefully tests the keys. In another room, two teenage girls play the violin - but they rush to close the door, giggling, when they notice someone is listening.

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What happened to Gaza's Apollo statue?

April 8, 2014 | Al Jazeera English

A precious statue vanished after its discovery in Gaza last summer and many suspect it is now a hostage to politics.

DEIR AL-BALAH, GAZA: Last summer, a life-size bronze statue of Apollo, the ancient Greek god of light and music, miraculously surfaced in Gaza. The work of art, which is 1.7 metres tall and weighs 450 kilograms, could be worth as much as $340m, according to Gaza's antiquities authority.

But it has since vanished from the public eye - and experts fear that the roughly 2,500-year-old statue could be lost or damaged forever as it has become hostage to a political dispute.

"It was a Friday and I went to fish," said fisherman Jawdat Abu Ghrab of how he discovered the statue. Standing on a cliff near the Gaza town of Deir Al-Balah, he pointed to the sea beneath him. "I discovered the area was full of rocks. I thought I would try and explore it - maybe I could find fish. But suddenly I discovered something in the water. I saw something buried in sand - one arm was raised. I was shocked because it looked like a human."

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Upsurge in Palestinian 'honour killings'

Mar. 25, 2014 | Al Jazeera English

Rights groups demand new laws to protect women from family violence after a spate of deaths.

Gaza City, Palestine - Two teenage Palestinian girls were killed in separate incidents last month in so-called "honour killings", revenge attacks carried out most often by family members against women suspected of "immoral sexual conduct".

The deaths sparked protests with more than 100 people assembling outside the general attorney's office in Gaza on March 3, demanding violence against Palestinian women come to a halt. Five women died in honour killings in the Palestinian territories in 2011. That number rose to 13 in 2012 and doubled to 26 last year.

"For the past three years, the number of women killed have increased each year," said Mariam Abu al-Atta, coordinator of the Amal Coalition to Combat Violence Against Women, at the recent demonstration. "Today we are here to stop these crimes. Criminals should be punished by law."

Wasting away in the Gaza Strip

Nov. 20, 2013 | Al Jazeera English

Closure of 'lifeline' tunnels means fuel shortages, power cuts, and sewage on the streets.

AL-SABRA, GAZA STRIP - Sami Haddad waded through ankle-deep sewage after a lack of electricity caused pumps at a wastewater treatment plant to break down. Around him there was a sense of panic with men shouting at each other and children crying.

The streets were dark and people edged along the walls covering their noses with one hand and holding their mobile phones in the other, using them as torch lights to find a dry spot to step.

"We're covered in filth from the sewage. The children are scared and we do not know what to do," Haddad told Al Jazeera.

"We have asked the government to do something, but they say there is no more fuel. We ask for help from anywhere. If the pumps don't start again, the sewage seeps into people's homes and their lives are in danger."

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Gay Pride Parade in Holy Jerusalem

July 31, 2013 | Al-Monitor


JERUSALEM - In a sparkling, beaded black dress and stilettos, 30-year-old "Gallina Port des Bras" bid welcome from the stage of "Mikveh" — the self-proclaimed "one and only lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and straight-friendly club in Jerusalem." Smacking her strawberry red lips and flipping her long blond wig, Port des Bras — whose offstage name is Gil Naveh — told Al-Monitor that though Jerusalem has bred the country’s most famous drag queens, the city is no easy place to be a drag queen, or for that matter gay.

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Israeli Wall Creates Limbo for Seam Zone Palestinians

July 2, 2013 | Al-Monitor

The land between the 1967 armistice line, the so-called Green Line, and the separation barrier being built by Israel in and around the West Bank is referred to as the seam zone. Many of the Palestinians living there hold West Bank ID cards, but their homes are on the western, or "Israeli side," of the barrier. While some have received Jerusalem identification cards allowing them to stay in their homes and move freely in Israel and the West Bank, others have only the West Bank permit, making them technically illegal in their own homes.

Two such people are Ruqayya and her mother Kefayah. When the wall was built through the village of Hizma, north of Jerusalem, their family’s three houses were separated from the rest of the village. 

“We are stuck here. We live disconnected from the world because no one can visit [our homes] without getting a permit to cross the checkpoint,” Kefayah told Al-Monitor at her daughter’s house. She added that when she had to go to the hospital urgently last year, she had to be carried to the Hizma checkpoint because Palestinian cars and ambulances are not allowed in the seam zone.

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Gaza Women Raise Voices Online

June 18, 2013 | Al-Monitor

Female activists in Gaza have turned to social media to air their thoughts, but on-the-ground activism is still constrained by a largely male-dominated society.

Sitting in an armchair with her feet tugged up under her and a laptop in front of her, blogger Malaka Mohammed typed 140 characters and clicked "tweet." She scrolled through the most recent tweets, then went to her blog where she reviewed a post she is working on before moving on to her Facebook page, checking recent comments from her more than 5,000 followers. The 22-year-old recent English literature graduate is one of Gaza’s most prominent online activists.

"I started with Facebook, because there is no house here without Facebook. Then, a teacher told me I should start a blog because I’m a good writer. I now have thousands of readers,” Mohammed told Al-Monitor at her home in Al-Shejaia in Gaza. "Whenever I write, reply or share I always think of the result and effect. The Palestinian issue is important. When you write something as a Palestinian, the entire world will think of you as representing Palestinian women."

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An Unusual Window on Palestinian Politics

May 22, 2013 | The Arab Review

When Palestinian TV station Maan News called for participants for a new reality TV show, an overwhelming 1,200 Palestinians ages 20 to 35 signed up. They were not dreaming of a record deal, or of getting a contract with a model agency, or even of marrying a millionaire or of managing a high-class restaurant. Instead their ambitions were nothing less than to become “The President”.

And though the winner might not become the “real” president of Palestine, the message is still clear: “Through this programme we create new young leaders and send a message to our current leaders that we need change and we need democracy,” said Raed Othman, Director of Maan News.

“And we send a message to the world that we are ready for democracy and [that we] deserve a country.”

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Gaza Rappers Persevere Despite Hamas Ban

May 20, 2013 | Al-Monitor

The Gazan hip-hop group Palestinian Unit has been traveling across Europe, performing for a growing fan base. Although their popularity is on the rise in Spain, France and Denmark, in Gaza they are banned. According to one of the group’s members, rapper Ayman Jamal Mghames, the official excuse of the Hamas-led government is that hip-hop is too “Western.” He has no doubt, however, that it is the messages in the group's songs that the authorities find problematic.

“We are political rappers. We talk about our daily life, and since we live a daily political life, political issues are part of our music,” Mghames told Al-Monitor in Gaza City. “We criticize the government’s actions, whether here or in the West Bank. We disagree with most of the politicians’ actions, not forgetting to mention the Israeli occupation.”

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Egypt: “There is no media freedom – only journalists defying the regime”

May 10, 2013 | International Media Support (IMS)

Two years after the revolution in Egypt, the country’s media is yet to be revolutionised, says Rasha Abdulla, Associate Professor and Chair of Journalism and Mass Communication at the American University in Cairo

While the current political instability gives room for people to speak out, it should not be mistaken for free speech, Abdulla told IMS at the Anna Lindh Foundation’s Mediterranean Forum in Marseille.

What is the current level of press freedom in Egypt?

“There is no freedom whatsoever. Journalists write what they want and criticize the president, but not because laws guarantee their freedom but because they are defying the authorities who tell them not to. Freedom is to know you are protected by the constitution. But if you say something the president won’t like and two hours later have a lawsuit hanging over your head, that’s not freedom. It’s a high risk people take every day.

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