art of resistance, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen

(Interview) Laleh Khalili | Between War & Commerce.

we-are-the-dream-makers-copy/We are the dream makers, Dubai by Arcadia Blank/

Laleh Khalili is professor of Middle East politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. She is the author of Heroes and Martyrs of Palestine: The Politics of National Commemoration (Cambridge, 2007) and Time in the Shadows: Confinement in Counterinsurgencies (Stanford 2013), and the editor of Modern Arab Politics (Routledge 2008) and co-editor (with Jillian Schwedler) of Policing and Prisons in the Middle East: Formations of Coercion (Hurst/Oxford 2010).

Khalili’s most recent research projects deal with the politics and political economy of war and militaries as it intersects with infrastructure, logistics and transport with specific focus on the Middle East.

Your book Time in the Shadows: Confinement in Counterinsurgencies deals with continuities in counterinsurgencies, with the way tactics of war shifted to elaborate systems of detention and encouraged policy makers to willingly choose to wage wars. Doing the research for this book, what were the biggest discoveries for you personally?

The moment I decided to do the project was one of those great epiphanies. I was doing the final research on my first book, which was about Palestinian refugees. I was talking to a Palestinian man who was raised in Lebanon and served as a PLO fighter during the Lebanese civil war. He was captured and held in prisons inside Israel. Around the same time I was interviewing him, the Abu Ghraib pictures were published. He told me it was difficult for him to look at those pictures because he was also kept naked, and dogs were used to intimidate him while he was imprisoned. It was a surprise for me to hear that.

Why was it surprising?

We often hear about different methods of torture that don’t leave marks used in these prisons, but the fact that there were other things, like dogs and nakedness, really interested me. When I started working on the project, which was originally about the different kinds of detention practices, the more I started to read, the more it became clear to me that this is not random. There is a particular way in which states that claim to be liberal, that claim to be following the rule of law and discourse of human rights, use particular methods of subjugation that seem to repeat across different contexts.

This was as true of the British and the French in the 19th and 20th centuries, and finally to Americans and Israelis nowadays. There are actual channels through which these forms of oppression travel. Finally, what became clear to me was that the more you made the war liberal in situations where people have a democratic say about the conduct of war, the more you fight a “humane” war, the better it is for arguing in favour of war. You can say you’re going to have a nice war, but in the end there’s no such thing as a nice war.

Just last week, more than a thousand Palestinians in Israeli prisons launched a hunger strike, demanding better living and medical conditions for approximately 6,500 prisoners. Unlike similar instances in the past, this hunger strike is being reported on by the mainstream media. How did the situation change from the time you did the research for Time in the Shadows, do you think there’s more media space for these issues now?

The media space for Palestinians opens and closes cyclically and it depends on what else is going on in the world. Between the time I began the research on the book and now there has been a space opening up for discussion about the kinds of atrocities that are committed. It’s also important to say that the politics around Israel and conditions of Palestinians inside Israel and under Israeli settler colonialism, and the way the media chooses to portray that have shifted.

This shift has less to do with counterinsurgencies and wars being fought and more to do with the successes Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) struggles have had in trying to find a voice in which Palestinians don’t get sidelined, in which the conditions they live in are amplified in European and North American media. That plays a significant role in us being able to hear about the hunger strike of prisoners.

One of the issues you deal with in Time in the Shadows is what happens when states expand beyond their borders. For the last couple of years in Europe, in dealing with the so-called refugee crisis,  we are witnessing the externalization of borders, not just in relation to third countries, but also within EU member states themselves. How does this re-articulation of border management practices, the formation of new institutions and policies, affect the ideas of nation-states, jurisdiction and sovereignty?

There are particular ways in which forms of control that were used externally are being used on refugees who are within the borders or are trying to cross the borders. The jurisdictional power now attaches to bodies. We get to move around Europe easily because of our citizenship, because of the rights attached to our passport. The absence of rights attached to that passport makes us profoundly vulnerable to different forms of coercion. The border is no longer a line on the map, it’s not a geophysical feature of the territory, but rather something that happens crosses the body of the person. The border ends up being me, ends up being you. That is one of the ways this externalization is being brought home.

What are the other ways?

There’s more of them, and they don’t have to do only with migrants. Domestic policing is being militarized and the kinds of tactics that were used in counterinsurgencies are being brought home in North America and Europe. They are used in counterterrorism operations against both citizens and those perceived  to be outsiders, whether or not they are citizens. Entire communities are subjects of these new kinds of policing, based on their religion, skin color, etc.

Bringing home of the external violence is fascinating – we see armoured vehicles being used in domestic demonstrations. But that is inevitable – when you’re waging big wars, it’s only a matter of time when those war methods and equipment will be used at home. And people of course, a lot of ex-soldiers become police officers and prison wardens.

In connection to what you mentioned before in regard to citizenship, Arjun Appadurai makes an interesting point how most of the citizenships laws we have today are based in the past, in blood, parenthood, etc. For a change to happen, he argues, we would need to think about citizenship based on the imagined future, on aspirations. Do you think there are possibilities for this sort of a citizenship narrative to become a part of the mainstream discussion?

The idealist in me would like to see more space for that, but looking at the way belonging is often used as means of exclusion, limiting access, limiting the ability to dream, it’s hard for me to imagine that sort of citizenship in practice. It’s interesting to think about aspirational forms of citizenship, and the dream of belonging, but I am not entirely sure without actual concrete instruments how to transform it into reality. It’s still important to remember that all forms of belonging draw borders, even the aspirational, future oriented belonging. All dream worlds come with attached catastrophes. It is important to think about what we aspire to, because the aspiration itself is not enough. The content of it is what matters.

In your recent projects you deal with the political economy of war and militaries and the way it intersects with infrastructure, logistics and transport. Your specific focus is on the Middle East. How did you come to this point in your career, where is the continuity with your previous work?

There are two things that brought me here. I was interviewing a US military officer about matters of counterinsurgency, and he said: “Oh, you academics and journalists, you all love everything that bleeds”. To really understand the war, he said, you need to look at military logistics, that’s where all the money is spent. That was the first signal that got me looking in that direction. The vast majority of US military budget around the war is spent on getting the fuel to the fighters, getting food, setting up where they live, getting the uniforms and ammunition. Food and fuel tend to be the biggest logistical expenses. There is an entire machinery behind that.

The second thing was that friends who work for the International Transport Workers’ Federation were interested in finding out more about the Arabian peninsula, and they encouraged me in this direction. It was a combination of wanting to find out more about the role of military logistics, and about the working conditions of people in these maritime settings in the Arabian peninsula. The Arabian peninsula was perfect for this because Kuwait and Qatar were staging grounds for the American war in Iraq, and the UAE continues to be a logistical staging ground for the US war in Afghanistan.

You’re primarily interested in the role of US and British military and oil companies in the Arabian peninsula. In which ways do the policies of these countries affect the infrastructure of the Arabian peninsula, and specifically the working conditions of people employed in the ports and maritime transport business?

It depends on the country. In Saudi Arabia, the role of the US is much more important than the role of the British, while in the smaller Emirates, as well as Oman and Yemen, the role of the British is much more important due to colonial history. Emirs in these countries continue to be advised by the British and to a certain degree the indirect colonial control continues today. The US and GB didn’t only have a substantial role in the structure of these states.

Oil companies and tanker terminals have a different history, but it is very crucial to the formation of these states and their transport infrastructures. The conditions of work that emerged in tanker terminals, the geographic placement of these terminals far from cities, the way they were automated from very early on, in the 1940s and 1950s, have been essential in shaping practices within container industries many years later.

The second thing that has been really interesting is that the oil companies, in order to be able to start extracting oil in the Arabian peninsula, have to bring in all the materials, pipes, heavy equipment.  They couldn’t do that because many of these ports simply didn’t allow for ships to come close enough, particularly in the Gulf area, where the coast is very shallow and tends to be mudflat, with no deep harbours. They had to build new ports and that shows the connection of the cargo history with oil companies.

In your lectures you often talk about the significance of Yemen and the city of Aden as a port, and the changes it went through in the recent history. Why is Aden so significant?

Aden was a British colony from 1834 to 1967. It was originally colonized because the British needed a coaling station in that location, but also the British wanted to colonize that area because of the location close to the Red Sea, and the East African coast and of course to India. With the opening of the Suez Canal in the mid-19th century, Aden became far more significant than it has been before. That’s when it becomes the fourth largest coaling station for ships in the world. There’s a long history of Yemen being on these trade routes, because it was a hub for coffee. Mocha coffee we know today is named after a port there.

After 1950s when the British lost their big refinery in Iran, because it was nationalized, a major refinery was built in Aden. The rise of Aden as a port continues until British are forced to leave by the anti-colonial struggle which begins in the late 1950s. The British didn’t want to give up Aden, it was a major city, cosmopolitan,  of strategic importance, and crucial to the conduct of empire, but later in the 20th century Americans are stepping into the game.

What has happened in the last decades is fascinating because now regional capital is injecting money into Aden, money from Dubai and so on. The deals that these companies are making  are corrupt.  Aden ended up taking Dubai Ports World, one of the biggest terminal management companies, to court and managed to cancel the 35-year container terminal concession with them. Now, when Aden is being destroyed in a war waged by Saudi Arabia and UAE, one of the first things UAE announced once they got the control of Aden, is that they will help rebuild the port. There’s such comfortable traffic between war and commerce.

In connection with Yemen, it is the only country in the Arabian peninsula that has (had) functional unions. Are there any possibilities for workers to organize in other countries?

In the Arabian peninsula, only three countries have unions – Yemen, Kuwait and Bahrain. The difference between them is that in both Kuwait and Bahrain unions are not as functional as in Yemen. In Bahrain there are independent unions, but they only cater to citizens, not to the migrant population, and they are only unions of state employees.. The same rules applies to Kuwait, except that it’s even more limited and the unions are practically the arms of the state.

Part of the reason for the existence of unions there and not elsewhere is that Kuwait and Bahrain had far more developed set of industrial relations with the British, and they allowed the creation of unions as ways of trying to channel nationalist and radical sentiments among workers. Unions were never allowed to emerge in other countries.

What makes Yemen a different case?

Yemen is a very different case, because unions there became quite significant for the independence struggle. Reading through the history of Yemen, one finds constant stories of worker mobilization in the ports. They still have a functioning set of unions, although at the moment, with no ports functioning,  workers are are receiving a small amount of aid but they are not working.

The presence of unions there is extremely important because it has meant that there has been far more accountability in terms of the managements of the ports and far more visible sets of protests against unjust policies.  These kinds of protests exist in places like the UAE  but because there are no unions there are no ways to organize them better and make them more substantial and longer-lasting.

Going through the history of protests organized by the port workers, how was the cooperation between different nationalities, because it is factor that can be used to divide the workers?

The response differs depending on the location and time. During times of very heightened nationalist sentiments, the unions tend to act as instruments of ethnic and xenophobic exclusion, and that is much more the case in the Northern part of the Arabian peninsula, than in the South. Yemen is a special case because so many of the workers in the ports were of Somali origin and the unions didn’t have the distinction between Yemenis and others.

The British actively tried to undermine cross-national unity. One of the things they realized is that if the workers in the ports were Arabs, from many different countries, they could be quite demanding in asking for their rights, and they couldn’t be easily pushed aside because their governments could protect them. This wasn’t as true for a lot of the South Asian workers whose governments wouldn’t protect them and they couldn’t easily mobilize together with the Arabs because of the issues of language. It shows how British were good at divide and rule.

Are these colonial labour tactics and structures still present today?

The structures of ports today, particularly the big, mechanized, automated container ports in the Arabian peninsula, still reflect colonial labour structures. CEOs of the ports and the top managers are usually from North and West Europe, mostly British, the next level of managers are European. After that come the administrators, which are usually educated Indians, and then you have a large labour force that comes from the migrant communities working in these cities.

The conditions in which they work are far more precarious then those of the expat communities, European and other. There are differentiated labour regimes operating in these settings, quite familiar from the past. It’s useful to have different nationalities working in clusters, because that way you can separate them and they can’t collaborate with one another and form unions or protest. It also helps to have deportable labour because the moment there are difficulties you can send them out of the country.

In a lot of your lectures and writings, you use literary examples. You often mention two books – Melville’s Moby Dick and Kanafani’s Men in the sun. Why are these books so important for the research you do?

Moby Dick is wonderful because it’s just a wonderful book. There is a really long tradition of reading Moby Dick as an allegory for labour struggle and many other things. It’s also important for all of the information and research that went into it, and the descriptive geography it offers to the reader.

Kanafani’s book came as a surprise to me, because I’ve read it a lot of times and I’ve always seen it as an allegory for the Palestinian condition. But when I read it again recently, it struck me how well researched it is. You can learn all sorts of details about migration routes of Palestinians who went to Kuwait to find jobs, but also about Trans-Arabian Pipeline and its pumping stations and how they were connected to roads and many other logistical features.

There’s also a third book, Abdul Rahman Munif’s Cities of Salt. It’s a wonderful, difficult and dense novel about the coming of Aramco to Saudi Arabia. It is deeply researched and I love it because there are so few memoirs of people who worked in the ports and oil industries in Saudi Arabia in the moment when Aramco came, and Munif is a wonderful documentor of this moment in time and all the changes that happen.

People underuse these amazing literary works as documentary sources. There’s also an amazing genre of fisherman’s songs from Kuwait and Bahrain, and I want to analyze them and see what else can we learn about the transformation from fishermen to industrial communities.

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This interview was also published on H-Alter.

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art of resistance, United Arab Emirates

Under The Splendor & Sparkle of The Gulf: Modern-day Slavery.

‘My message to the head of the Louvre would be to come and see how we are living here,’ said Tariq, a carpenter’s helper working on construction of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a $653 million Middle Eastern outpost of the iconic Parisian museum. Set to be completed in 2015, its collection will include a Torah from 19th-century Yemen, Picassos, and Magrittes.”

That is how Molly Crabapple’s article for the Vice, Slaves of Hapiness Island,  begins. It was published in August last year. What happened in the meantime with migrant workers of Abu Dhabi and the grand museums they are building? Well, everything is pretty much the same. Poor living and working conditions for the workers is still modus operandi in the Gulf, while spectacular museums grow like mushrooms after rain (Louvre Abu Dhabi is set to open in December this year).

slaves-molly-crabapple/image © Molly Crabapple/

Just this month, the United Arab Emirates has barred New York University professor Andrew Ross from entering the country after he published research about migrant workers and labor abuse in the Gulf State. Ross learned of the ban after arriving at the airport in New York, where he was set to board a flight to continue his research in the UAE. It has also emerged that a private investigator was hired to target him and a New York Times reporter, Ariel Kaminer, who wrote the expose on workers at NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus facing harsh conditions. 

A freelance journalist based in the Emirates who collaborated on the article, Sean O’Driscoll, said in an interview that he was also summoned by the authorities several weeks after its publication and offered immunity from prosecution and high pay if he would agree to publish pro-government articles. O’Driscoll said he refused and was later expelled from the country.

Capture/Construction workers can live as many as 15 men to a room. Space is so scarce that a dozen men can share a space of barely 200 square feet. One of New York University’s labor values states that contractors should not house more than four people in a bedroom. © Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times/

This was an important article – so important that it was not printed – the New York Times was not printed in the Emirates that day. It was the first time the New York Times was actually banned from circulation.

Gulf Labor, a coalition of of international artists working to ensure that migrant worker rights are protected during the construction of museums on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, also did (and does) a lot of work to put pressure on the Guggenheim Museum because the Guggenheim is also building in Abu Dhabi.

In their 2014 report, main observations were that the wages on Saadiyat Island remain very low, all workers had paid recruitment fees, but the fees have not been reimbursed to them (many of the workers take up big loans in their home countries in order to get to UAE  but then struggle to pay the debt in order to gain any profits), and there are no organized workers’ groups to speak to.

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/image – Gulf Labor facebook page/

There is a consistent pattern of fair labor standards violations and human rights abuses among the migrant workers in the UAE and also in Qatar, because it’s the same migrant-labor sponsorship system that brings workers from South Asia to these two countries. More than 80% of UAE and Qatar’s population are foreign workers. Most of these workers come from far poorer nations such as India, Bangladesh, Philippines and Nepal.

All of those people bare the same burden – like Crabapple wrote – “in company-branded jumpsuits, men toiled through their 12-hour shifts, welding and lugging rebar beneath the merciless sun.”

nyc149070/image © Jonas Bendiksen, Far From Home – Guest Workers of the Gulf/

In the meantime, those who try to speak up against this outrageous treatment of workers, end up being banned from the country, or their articles are not being printed. How come this is (still) possible?

• • •

For more on this story, I recommend the following articles/videos:

The Dark Side of Abu Dhabi Cultural Revolution, video by Guardian‘s Glenn Carrick

Slaves of Happiness Island, Molly Crabapple’s article for the Vice

Workers at N.Y.U.’s Abu Dhabi Site Faced Harsh Conditions, Ariel Kaminer & Sean O’Driscoll for The New York Times

Inside Story – The Plight of Qatar’s Migrant Workers by Al Jazeera English

United Arab Emirates: Trapped, Exploited, Abused, by Human Rights Watch

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art of resistance, Iraq, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Lebanon, Palestine, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates

(Interview) Tamara Abdul Hadi: A different Middle East.

Tamara Abdul Hadi is an Iraqi-Canadian photojournalist whose work I’ve been following for a while now. Her projects are strong and on point,  dealing with social injustice and deconstructing stereotypes. Through her work one can be constantly reminded how nothing is black and white, nothing is sealed in time and space – there’s a  lot of grey areas, but also a lot of colour to our world, and everything around us is fluid, ever changing. It is important to be reminded of that, especially when talking about the Middle East, the area often approached by oversimplification, constantly reduced to one (dark) image. It is like Suheir Hammad wrote in First writing since – „one more person assume they know me/ or that i represent a people/ or that a people represent an evil/ or that evil is as simple as a flag and words on a page/“.

It is never that simple. Here is the full interview I did with Tamara, discussing her project Picture an Arab man, self portrait workshops in Palestine, and first all female photo collective of the Middle East – Rawiya.

First of all – could you tell me – why photojournalism? When you finished your education, what was the motivation to pursue that as a career? Did you always know that is what you want to do?

I ended up pursuing photography shortly after getting my Bachelor of Fine Arts. I was specialized in graphic design at the time, but I was drawn to photography after I moved to Dubai and became fascinated by the city and its huge population of migrant workers. I started photographing them, wanting to share their stories, and thats pretty much where it started. At that point I started working at Reuters as a photographer and photo editor and then went on photographing news and features for the New York Times around the Middle East. Around that time, I started working on my own personal projects.

Zamisli arapskog muškarca, Tamara Abdul HadiPicture an Arab man, Tamara Abdul Hadi

 Another question would be – why Middle East?

That’s easy. It’s my home. Where I was born and where my family history lies.

 You are a founding member of Rawiya, first all female photo collective of the Middle East. How did that happen and what were the reactions of the public so far?

Me and the other Rawiyas had crossed paths in Beirut and decided to join forces and create a photo collective, believing that there is power in numbers and hoping to present an insiders view of our region. The reaction has been great so far, we especially appreciate receiving emails from young photographers in the region and plan to give workshops in the near future. Rawiya has so far exhibited in Europe, the US, Beirut, Lebanon, Kuwait and the UAE.

You’ve taught a one year intensive photography program for young Palestinian women with the UNRWA, at a vocational women’s college in Palestine. The aim of the project was not only to teach the women the skills of photography and editing, but also to empower them to do more. Can you tell me something about that experience?

It was a very important experience for me. The project’s aim was to encourage these young women to share the world around them, and tell stories visually. Many of these women came from conservative backgrounds so it was great to challenge them to go out and shoot pictures. I’m a big believer that photography, as with other arts and media, can be successfully utilized in engaging our youth and getting their voices heard.

zamisli arapskog muškarca , Tamara Abdul HadiPicture an Arab man, Tamara Abdul Hadi

 In your personal projects you set out to trigger social change and challenge stereotypes the Arab world faces. Can you tell me, in your opinion, what are the biggest stereotypes when it comes to Arabs and the outsiders perception of them?

There are so many misconceptions. All Arabs are Muslims. All women are oppressed. All men are the hyper masculine oppressors. There’s a side to the Arab world that gets SO much press, and that is what sticks in peoples heads. But there are people who want to know more and seek it out. If you look deeper, you will discover a region rich with diversity and culture.

 Your project, Picture an Arab Man, brings the viewer into a different relationship with stereotypes about Arab men – can you describe what were your main intentions with that project, and do you think you managed to carry them out?

My intention with Picture an Arab Man was to present the Arab Man in a more human way. When I started the project in 2008, I was sick of the generally misrepresentative portrayal of the Arab man, and wanted to bring about an alternative visual representation the contemporary Arab man.

 Do you believe that the project succeeded in encouraging Arab men to reflect on their own identity?

I hope so. I mean, with this project I presented a view, my view, of the Arab man. The father, brother, son, uncle, husband, friend. My father loves the project, so for me that is a success in and of itself.

Did your perception of Arab men change during the realization of that project and in which ways? 

I was moved by with their willingness to talk about their identities and masculinity, and of course their openness to be a part of this series. Every man that I photographed for the project believed in its message, and that, in essence, made the project worthwhile.

12Picture an Arab man, Tamara Abdul Hadi

 You also did a great project – Self portraits from inside Palestine. Journalists often deal with issues of presentation and representation, and people we see in the news almost never get a chance to choose how will they be seen, what moment will they be captured in, etc. Tell me something about the project and how you chose to approach these issues.

This specific project took place at Amari refugee camp in Ramallah, which people have called their home for decades. The residents of Amari and many other refugee camps are tirelessly photographed by outsiders. I thought, lets put the control in their hands. I wanted them to capture their own self portraits, and decide when to press button/shutter. It was an interactive exercise that promoted self expression, and really, community engagement. I usually focus this project on marginalized or underrepresented communities. I’ve since self portrait workshops with Syrian refugees in Amman, migrant workers in Dubai and youth in Kasserine, Tunisia.

A lot of your work is connected to Palestine and its people. Unfortunately, we’ve all seen and continue to see the new-old turmoil in Gaza. There is this perception these are the great escalations, and people seem to forget occupation itself is an escalation. What are your thoughts these days, when seeing the news, hearing the stories?

Palestinians are a resilient and beautiful people. There have been a lot of young photographers photographing the war and its aftermath in Gaza- and it is important to see it from a locals perspective.

Autoporteti iz Palestine, Tamara Abdul HadiSelf Portraits from inside Palestine, Tamara Abdul Hadi

 Do you have any special wishes and plans for the future projects?

Publishing Picture an Arab Man as a book is a big future project for me, as well as my own personal projects and photography workshops- like the self portraits series. I recently registered an arts organization- Fannan– which I am using as a platform for these workshops.

 

/ /all photos © Tamara Abdul Hadi//

 

For more on Tamara Abdul Hadi and her projects – visit her official website and Rawiya collective.

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art of resistance, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates

Beyond the architectural text (Middle East).

The Damascene House is beyond the architectural text

The design of our homes…

Is based on an emotional foundation

For every house leans … on the hip of another

And every balcony…

Extends its hand to antoher facing it.

Nizar Qabbani

Peter Gould is an Australian artist. In 2002, he began traveling around Middle East and was inspired by cities like Fes, Damascus, Istanbul and Mecca, with his work resulting in a great visual fusion of classical Islamic design elements with his vibrant, fresh graphic styles.

His photography is maybe best described by one of his curators:

Peter’s photography is as much about the spiritual as it is about the visual, offering no questions or answers but rather affording the viewer to simply being in that moment and that moment at first glance seems to curiously exist without time or consequence.”

010-Beirut-2Beirut.

015-MeccaMecca.

025-JerusalemJerusalem.

029-IstanbulIstanbul.

033-DamascusDamascus.

037-MuscatMuscat.

038-MuscatMuscat.

039-NizwaNizwa.

040-NizwaNizwa.

043-AbuDhabiAbu Dhabi.

fesFes.

marrakeshMarrakesh.

/all photos © Peter Gould/

For more on Gould and his work, visit his official website.

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art of resistance, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, United Arab Emirates

Picture an Arab man.

Tamara Abdul Hadi is a Canadian – Iraqi photojournalist. She was raised in Canada, and after graduation went to live and work for Reuters in UAE. Later on she moved and lived and worked all over the Middle East. Her personal photography projects deal with social injustice and deconstructing stereotypes.  She also initiated and taught photography and art therapy workshops to women and children in marginalized communities in Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq.

One of her most famous projects is Picture an Arab man. She spent years travelling around the world photographing Arab men and collecting material for a forthcoming book. About the project, she says:

The conceptual aim of this portrait series is two-fold: Trying to uncover and break the stereotypes placed upon the Arab male, and providing an alternative visual representation of that identity. Secondly, it is a celebration of their sensual beauty, an unexplored aspect of the identity of the contemporary Arab man, on the cusp of change in a society that reveres an out-dated form of hyper-masculinity. 

I have photographed men in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, UAE , Palestine and Canada. They have been Iraqi, Syrian, Palestinian, Lebanese, Egyptian, Sudanese, Emirati, Jordanian, and of mixed heritage. My plan is now to photograph men from the remaining countries of the Middle East to truly represent the diversity of the Arab region.

In these photographs the men are no longer portrayed as faceless members of a politicized group, a statistic on the evening news, and this project helps them as much as the viewers, to regain their personal identity as complex and unique individuals.

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daffy smallall photos ©  Tamara Abdul Hadi

For more on this project and Hadi’s other work, visit her official website.

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art of resistance, Kuwait, Qatar, travel, United Arab Emirates

Far From Home: Guest Workers of the Gulf.

Jonas Bendiksen is Norwegian photographer who likes working on stories that get left behind in the race for the daily headlines – journalistic orphans. Often, the most worthwhile and convincing images tend to lurk within the hidden, oblique stories that fly just below the radar.”

One of those journalistic orphans are the foreign workers in the arab Gulf oil states such as United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait. Their situation, living and working conditions are still rarely examined, and that is what Bendiksen decided to do with his photo essay Far from home – Guest workers of the gulf.

Artist statement:

This story explores the world of guest workers in the arab Gulf oil states such as United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait. While marketing itself as luxury playgrounds of tourism and business, close to 90% of UAE and Qatar’s population are foreign workers. Most of these workers come from far poorer nations such as India, Bangladesh, Philippines and Nepal, and the workers often endure very difficult employment and living conditions. Many of the workers take up big loans in their home countries in order to get to the middle east but then struggle to pay the debt in order to gain any profits. Oftentimes parents will leave their homes and children for a decade or more to try to build up savings for their family back home, putting a big strain on family relations. 

The World Bank estimates that the yearly sum of global remittances (the money being sent home by foreign guest workers) amounts to more than double all official foreign aid globally. 

Foreign guest workers therefore have a formidable economic impact, but often at a high personal cost.

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MM8083 Guest Workers - Philippines trip

MM8083 Guest Workers - Philippines tripall images © Jonas Bendiksen

For more on this photo essay, and more of Bendiksen’s other work – visit his Magnum profile, and his official website.

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art of resistance, Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates

Meet five inspiring Arab fashion designers.

Author: Vera Illugadóttir/ Your Middle East

These designers have one thing in common – they all challenge conventional ideas about fashion in the Middle East.

Khaled al Qasimi

“There’s always this underlying influence of the UAE and Middle East in my design. The characters I design for are usually urban tribal warriors and nomadic explorers. The idea of dressing as art is part of our culture. The smoking of incense and the placement of the headdress – there’s a whole art to it,” Khaled al Qasimi told CNN.

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Fashion design is perhaps an usual career for a royal, but al Qasimi, the son of Sultan Mohamed al Qasimi, the ruler of Sharjah, did not let that stop him. He studied literature and architecture in London before deciding to follow his dreams and go into fashion. He presented his first womenswear line in 2008, but has since found his niche in menswear. He presented the QASIMI HOMME collection in Paris in 2009 and has since built a loyal following.

Hatem Alakeel

“Rethinking the Saudi thobe is an awesome process for me because each time I am facing an ancient heritage from generations past. I believe that things must change in order to survive and the challenge is create a modern new look while retaining the elegant simplicity of the traditional thobe.”

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Saudi designer Hatem Alakeel dubs himself the “king of thobes”, and the stated mission of his brand Toby is to merge traditional Middle Eastern styles, like the thobe, the ankle-length robe worn by men in many Arab countries, with modern Western designs. Alakeel’s aim is allowing men to express their individuality and sense of fashion while still remaining faithful to the Gulf states’ culture and conventions. But his unique robes have even managed to attract attention and customers in the West, such as the rapper Snoop Dogg who bought a Toby thobe on a recent visit to Dubai.

Yasmine el Said

“At the end of the day, girls want to dress up. It’s what every girl in the world does. So I think the collection would be accepted by people here in Egypt, hopefully. But sometimes I feel like people won’t really get it. And I treat my clothes like my children. I’m very picky about how people use clothes,” Yasmine el Said told Manufactured Egos.

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Said studied at the prestigious fashion school ESMOD in Paris, returning home to Egypt to present her line -YASMINE- at 2012’s Cairo Fashion Festival. The collection’s edgy, bold looks created a stir at the festival, with Egyptian fashion bloggers describing Said as “probably the best thing to happen to Egypt’s fashion industry so far”. Her garments are highly exclusive, with only one or two copies manufactured of each design. Yasmine has said she hopes her unconventional garments will inspire Egypt’s women to “think differently”.

Salah Barka

“What I love about the revolution is that Tunisian artists are now emerging from everywhere! People have finally started to express themselves even more than they did before, they dare to showcase their work and this is fantastic!” Salah Barka said in an interview with Now Fashion.

Unlike many of Tunisia’s most famous fashion designers who are educated and work almost exclusively abroad, this up and coming designer has never left his homeland. You would not suspect it from looking at Barka’s cosmopolitan designs.

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The self-taught designer, who started out designing theatre costumes, takes inspiration for his colourful and playful garments equally from Tunisia’s rich cultural and historical heritage as well as the latest fashion on the streets and runways of London, Paris and New York.

Zhor Rais

“I truly want everyone to know about the Moroccan kaftan. I’ll pay the price to promote and market it abroad, and of course I’m happy when they sell, but it’s more important for me to be something of an ambassador for kaftans abroad,” Zhor Rais told The National.

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Moroccan designer Rais’s line of womenswear was lauded as one of the highlights of this year’s Muscat Fashion Week in Oman. The veteran designer first exhibited a collection in Oman twenty-five years ago, but her creativity shows no sign of stopping. Her extraordinarily colourful, patterned garments are inspired by traditional gowns of Moroccan women, the kaftan in particular.

Rais sets her sights high as her ideal demographic is not just the fashionable Moroccan woman — she dreams of making the kaftan an international phenomenon and has taken her work to fashion shows in Paris in pursuit of that goal.

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