Rahaf al-Qunun: 'I hope my story encourages other women to be brave and free'

     Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun is greeted by Canada’s foreign minister Chrystia Freeland. Photograph: Carlos Osorio/Reuters


Saudi woman begins new life in Canada after her family disowns her

 Saudi teen granted asylum in Canada hopes to 'encourage other women to be brave' – video

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, the Saudi woman who captured the world’s attention by barricading herself in a Thai hotel room after fleeing abuse in her own country, has said she hopes to inspire other Saudi women to be “brave and free”.

Speaking in her first interview after being given asylum in Canada, and landing in Toronto on Saturday, Qunun, told the ABC Australia her case might be the “agent for change” in Saudi Arabia, a country where women are denied basic freedoms and are not allowed to work, marry and travel without the permission of a male guardian.

“I think that the number of women fleeing from the Saudi administration and abuse will increase, especially since there is no system to stop them,” said Qunun. “I hope my story encourages other women to be brave and free.”

The 18-year-old added: “I hope my story prompts a change to the laws, especially as it’s been exposed to the world.”

Qunun, who was in her first year of university, described how her desire to be independent and to escape abuse inflicted by her father and brother had driven her to make the drastic decision to flee her family during a visit to Kuwait, and head for Australia, with a stopover in Bangkok. She had a visa for Australia but at Bangkok airport she was detained by the Thai immigration authorities, who then placed her in a hotel room ready to be deported back to Saudi Arabia.

After barricading herself in the room and refusing to leave for six nights, Qunun said she had expected the authorities to “enter the room and kidnap me” and had contemplated taking her own life.

“That’s why I wrote a goodbye letter. I decided that I would end my life, before I was forced back to Saudi Arabia,” she said. However, as she used Twitter to publicise her plight, abuse and her decision to renounce Islam, her campaign for asylum quickly gathered momentum and support around the world.

“I wanted to be free from oppression and depression,” she told the ABC. “I wanted to be independent. I wouldn’t have been able to marry the person I wanted. I couldn’t get a job without permission.”

Qunun had originally applied for asylum in Australia but confirmed it was the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that chose Canada because it processed her application more quickly. “This wasn’t my choice, it was the UN’s,” she said. “All I wanted was for a country to protect me. So, my choice was just for any country to protect me.”

Qunun’s father, who is a governor in Saudi Arabia, and brother had travelled to Bangkok following her escape in an attempt to bring her back with them. After news of her successful asylum in Canada, the family released a statement on Monday saying they had disowned Qunun and described her as “mentally unstable”.


Hannah Ellis-Petersen


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The world’s best falafel recipe comes from Egypt

 With a little practice you’ll be making tasty falafel like an old hand. Photograph: Jill Mead for the Guardian

A trip to Alexandria confirmed the best way of making falafel is not the most common. Try replacing chickpeas with superior fava beans, just like the Egyptians

few years ago, I set out to discover who made the world’s best falafel. The dish had been a staple on the Leon menu in one form or another since we opened, but I felt we had yet to perfect the recipe.

I started my quest by calling the great culinary anthropologist Claudia Roden, who declared with refreshing certainty that the best falafel was to be found in Egypt. They made it with fava beans (a kind of broad bean which is also grown in Britain), she explained, which made it lighter and moister than the falafel made from chickpeas elsewhere in the Middle East. In Egypt, she said, the best falafel were widely acknowledged to be found in the Mediterranean port of Alexandria. So that is where I went.

Once a cosmopolitan city filled with louche Europeans, Alexandria is no longer a place of beauty. Its neo-classical and art deco villas, in melancholy decay since the Westerners fled during the Suez crisis in 1956, are now squeezed between the square shoulders of concrete high-rises. But man, can the Alexandrians cook.


a lady making falafel Healthy, tasty and satisfying to make, falafel are a great food to make in advance, then keep in the fridge until needed. Photograph: Jill Mead for the Guardian


From the chargrilled corn-on-the-cob sold by street vendors on the Corniche to the delicate broth of crab and clams I slurped at an upmarket restaurant behind the boatyards, everything was cooked with a rare love and attention to detail. And everyone I spoke to agreed: the best place for falafel was the bustling fast-food institution Mohamed Ahmed.

Here, for under a pound, I ate until my innards begged for mercy: great pyramids of piping hot falafel – light and crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, flecked green with fresh coriander and spring onion.

I asked to speak to the chef, and they led me into the street and round the corner to an imposing wooden door. It opened on to a dark, high-ceilinged room, lit only by the flame from a gas burner under a huge vat of oil. Sitting beside the vat was the chef, repetitively forming falafel in the bowl of his hand and tossing them with a flick of his thumb into the oil at a rate of about 30 a minute. Every now and then he would scoop them out with a huge slotted spoon and pass them to a runner, who would sprint back to the restaurant to place these perfect golden nuggets on to the Formica tables.

I got the feeling he had been there, flicking perfect falafel into a vat, for at least 100 years. You and I will never match his expertise, but it’s worth a try. This recipe will take you as close to falafel perfection as you can get without a plane ticket.

Falafel heaven

Preparation time: 15 minutes, plus overnight soaking
Cooking time
: 5-8 minutes

Serves 4-6
250g dried split fava beans, covered in cold water and soaked overnight
3 garlic cloves, crushed
½ leek, finely chopped
5 spring onions, finely chopped
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp gram flour
1 tbsp chopped coriander
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp ground cumin
A pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and black pepper
Sesame seeds
Oil, for frying (rapeseed, rice bran or sunflower)

Serve with a simple minty yoghurt sauce and some flatbread. Photograph: Jill Mead for the Guardian


1 Drain the split fava beans well in a sieve or colander. Tip them into a food processor, along with the rest of the ingredients, except for the sesame seeds. Blitz the ingredients to a rough paste and tip it out on to a clean surface.

2 Divide the mixture into 12-16 pieces, each about the size of a small golf ball. Press them down with your fingers to make small patties.

3 Sprinkle around 3 tbsp sesame seeds on to a plate and coat each side of the falafels roughly with the seeds. Transfer them to the fridge for at least 10 minutes.

4 To cook the falafel, fill a small pan with oil to a depth of about 3cm. Heat the oil – it will be ready when a piece of bread dropped in sizzles and turns brown quickly. Turn the heat down and start to cook the falafel in batches. I cooked mine 4 at a time and kept them warm on a baking tray in a low oven. Cook each side for 2-3 minutes, or until it is golden brown then flip them over and fry the other side.

5 Serve with a minty yoghurt sauce (see below), flatbreads and spiced aubergine (recipes below).

Yoghurt sauce

250ml plain yoghurt
3 tbsp tahini
1 garlic clove, crushed
Juice of ½ lemon
Salt and black pepper
2 tbsp chopped mint

1 Whisk all the ingredients together, then thin the sauce down to a suitable pouring consistency with a little cold water.

Henry Dimbleby and Jane Baxter


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Brooklyn Museum Announces “Major Exhibit” on the Life and Work of Frida Kahlo

Brooklyn Museum Frida Kahlo Exhibit Brooklyn Museum Exhibits Frida Kahlo Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Nickolas Muray (American, born Hungary, 1892–1965). Frida in New York, 1946; printed 2006. Carbon pigment print, image: 14 x 11 in. (35.6 x 27.9 cm). Brooklyn Museum; Emily Winthrop Miles Fund, 2010.80. Photo by Nickolas Muray, © Nickolas Muray Photo Archive. (Photo: Brooklyn Museum)

This winter, the Brooklyn Museum will present a landmark exhibition that explores the art and identity of famed Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Called Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving, this ambitious show will present the various elements that “played a part in defining Kahlo’s self-presentation in her work and life.”

According to the Brooklyn Museum, Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving is based on Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up, a recent exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Like its British counterpart, this new exhibition will tell Kahlo’s story through three main channels: revealing photographs, iconic paintings, and authentic artifacts.

Ranging from rare childhood portraits taken by her father to a well-known series shot by photographer Nickolas Muray, the photographs featured in the exhibit offer an intimate glimpse into Kahlo’s short life. To both contrast and complement these objective images, the exhibit will also showcase ten of the artist’s self-portraits and a selection of drawings.

Finally, the exhibit will present possessions taken from La Casa Azul (“The Blue House”), Kahlo’s birthplace, childhood home, and place of death. Making their American debut, these telling artifacts include “noteworthy examples of her iconic Tehuana clothing, contemporary and Mesoamerican jewelry, and some of the many hand-painted corsets and prosthetics used by the artist during her lifetime.”

Together, these paintings, photographs, and objects “illustrate how Kahlo crafted her appearance, and shaped her personal and public identity to reflect her cultural heritage and political beliefs while also addressing and incorporating her physical disabilities”—a complex approach taken by Kahlo in both her life and work.

Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving will be on view from February 8 to May 12, 2019.

One of the most anticipated Brooklyn Museum exhibits to date, Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving will tell the iconic artist’s story through works of art, photographs, and artifacts.

Brooklyn Museum Frida Kahlo Exhibit Brooklyn Museum Exhibits Frida Kahlo Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954). Self-Portrait with Red and Gold Dress (Self-Portrait MCMXLI), 1941. Oil on canvas, 15 1⁄4 x 10 3⁄4 in. (39 x 27.5 cm). The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of 20th Century Mexican Art and the Vergel Foundation. © 2018 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Brooklyn Museum Frida Kahlo Exhibit Brooklyn Museum Exhibits Frida Kahlo Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954). Self-Portrait with a Necklace, 1933. Oil on metal, 13 3⁄4 x 11 in. (35 x 29 cm). The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of 20th Century Mexican Art and the Vergel Foundation. © 2018 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Brooklyn Museum Frida Kahlo Exhibit Brooklyn Museum Exhibits Frida Kahlo Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954). Self-Portrait with Monkeys, 1943. Oil on canvas, 32 x 24 3⁄4 in. (81.5 x 63 cm). The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of 20th Century Mexican Art and the Vergel Foundation. © 2018 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Brooklyn Museum Frida Kahlo Exhibit Brooklyn Museum Exhibits Frida Kahlo Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954). Self-Portrait with Braid, 1941. Oil on hardboard, 20 x 15 1⁄4 in. (51 x 38.5 cm). The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of 20th Century Mexican Art and the Vergel Foundation. © 2018 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Brooklyn Museum Frida Kahlo Exhibit Brooklyn Museum Exhibits Frida Kahlo Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954). Self-Portrait as a Tehuana, 1943. Oil on hardboard, 30 x 24 in. (76 x 61 cm). The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of 20th Century Mexican Art and the Vergel Foundation. © 2018 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Brooklyn Museum Frida Kahlo Exhibit Brooklyn Museum Exhibits Frida Kahlo Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954). The Love Embrace of the Universe, 1949. Oil on Masonite, 27 1⁄2 x 23 3⁄4 in. (70 x 60.5 cm). The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of 20th Century Mexican Art and the Vergel Foundation. © 2018 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Brooklyn Museum Frida Kahlo Exhibit Brooklyn Museum Exhibits Frida Kahlo Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954). Appearances Can Be Deceiving, n.d. Charcoal and colored pencil on paper, 11 1⁄4 x 8 in. (29 x 20.8 cm). © 2018 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Brooklyn Museum Frida Kahlo Exhibit Brooklyn Museum Exhibits Frida Kahlo Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Guillermo Kahlo, Frida Kahlo, c.1926. Silver gelatin print, 6 3⁄4 x 4 3⁄4 in. (17.2 x 12.2 cm). Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera Archives. Bank of Mexico, Fiduciary in the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museum Trust

Kelly Richman-Abdou


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A British photographer captures the Indian phenomenon of men non-romantically holding hands

A surprising cultural norm prevails in India: Men here like to hold hands.

Though masculinity is rigidly defined and homophobia rampant in the country, the practice is so common that it is rarely noticed. British fashion and celebrity photographer Vincent Dolman, however, found this gesture to be delightfully unconventional, and an interesting contrast to the West, where homophobia and cultural norms have made men of all ages uncomfortable with this kind of physical contact.

Dolman, who’s photographed the likes of Rihanna and Eminem, has been coming to India every year for a decade. On his return from a recent trip, he came across a photo he took of two men holding hands by the colonial-era Gateway of India in Mumbai. Charmed, Dolman decided to return to find more men hand-in-hand.

In June, he was in Mumbai for a week, wandering around the city, photographing hundreds of men of all ages holding hands on the beach, by the Gateway, and in the streets. The result is a series of around 15 images that capture a unique quirk of Indian life – and masculinity.

“It’s about friendship, and Indian men do it without even thinking about it...I found it really beautiful. It’s quite gentle and nice,” Dolman told Quartz. “But [the photos are] kind of holding a mirror up to Western society, saying, look, what have we lost? We’re just not like that with each other, and it’s sad really.”

Many of the men holding hands in public were quick to smile and laugh over being noticed by a photographer. Naturally, none thought there was anything remarkable about what they was doing.

“Sometimes, at the beginning, we’d stop people and I’d say, ‘Why do you hold hands?’” Dolman said. “And they were looking at me like I was stupid, like, why wouldn’t you hold hands, we’re best friends!”

Eventually, Dolman wants to expand the project to include other parts of India, seeking out men holding hands in the Himalayas and beyond.

Here’s a selection of his photographs from Mumbai:


Maria Thomas, qz.com


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Photos That Celebrate Being South Asian and Queer


All images © Alia Romagnoli / HUQTHAT

Henna collective Huq That is queering and modernizing the ancient body art.

Growing up in working class London and being Bengali, Muslim, and queer, Sabira Haque felt the weight of the prejudices pinned against her. At different stages in her life, she faced racism, sexism, classism, Islamophobia, and homophobia, causing her to feel a deep sense of fear.

“For a long time, I felt that my confidence had been knocked to the point of silence,” Haque tells VICE. Then she sought out art therapy in her early 20s, which helped her find her voice, and discovered safe spaces that introduced her to other people who had been through similar challenges.

Then, when it came time to plan her wedding a few years ago, Haque, who is now 29, looked deeper into Bengali marriage rituals and became fascinated with henna art, its application process, and rich history. She began practicing the ancient body art as a hobby, and after a year or so, decided to try it professionally.

The result is Huq That, a platform aiming to make henna more accessible by taking it outside of the traditional space. Haque is introducing London’s young creative community to the ancient art by hosting a myriad of cultural events and selling temporary tattoos.


Haque picked the name for her project to reflect the fact that people have trouble articulating her last name. “I wanted to play on that pronunciation, which sounds a lot like ‘fuck,’” Haque explains. Moreover, the project was a way to express her true self—in Arabic haque means “truth” or “right.”


She decided to launch the project with a collaborative photo shoot, done by a group of mainly brown, female, and nonbinary creatives. While doing research, she discovered queer photographer Alia Romagnoli on Instagram. The half-Indian, half-Italian artist uses her camera to explore what it means to be biracial and queer, and Haque saw her own background reflected in Romagnoli’s work.

Growing up in India, Romagnoli never saw images showcasing positive depictions of queer people, due to the country’s prevalent censorship laws. After moving to London and experiencing the city’s thriving LGBTQ+ community, she found the courage to come out. Photography became a vehicle to deepen her sense of belonging, empowering her to tell the stories of other underrepresented individuals.


Romagnoli and Haque worked together to concept a shoot for Huq That’s launch. They wanted to portray South Asian models through a female lens; instead of sexualizing them, the artists wanted to capture something raw and tender. They also wanted to counter South Asian bridal photo shoots they’d seen growing up, which perpetuated Eurocentric, whitewashed beauty ideals.

Romagnoli drew inspiration from old Bollywood films and stills from the 1970s and 80s, incorporating tropes like cheeky poses and facial expressions. She created colorful fabric backdrops that served as thrones, drawing on images of maharanis, or queens, in Indian folk paintings. She also applied a glowy, grainy texture to the photos reminiscent of old Indian portraiture.

Haque specifically sought out models of all different sizes and skin tones, many of whom had never modeled before. Romagnoli highlighted the models’ unique looks by using different lighting to suit each skin tone. “There was something so beautiful about how the women in the images interacted with each other, each giving and absorbing positive energy and creating a world free of judgement,” Romagnoli says.

Haque enlisted stylist Rhiannon Isabel Barry, known for styling streetwear-inspired looks that embody London’s working class—a look that has been mass-adopted by major fashion brands. In the images, the models wear Haque’s elaborate henna designs, along with traditional South Asian garments and jewelry, as well as high fashion pieces by brands like Burberry, Fendi, and Louis Vuitton. Other contributors included hair stylist Nadine Baptiste, makeup artist Umber Ghauri, and makeup director Salwa Rahman.


When Haque saw the finished photos, she felt as if her soul had been exposed. She couldn’t believe how much of her own vulnerability shone through the images, and she was so awestruck that she kept them to herself for two months. When they finally put the images on social media, Haque and Romagnoli received many messages of support from Indian women and Bengali femmes who saw themselves in a new way.

“I think some of the sweetest comments were from other queer Bengali femmes, who said seeing queerness expressed with Asian bridal garments meant a lot to them,” Haque explains. “I hope the images bring a feeling of appreciation, and an acknowledgement that it doesn't matter how you identify, everyone can have their dream Asian wedding.”

Moving forward, Haque plans to continue growing Huq That, with the added goal of practicing henna on queer brides and grooms. But the company’s first public foray captures the joy of being brown, femme, and queer. Romagnoli’s photos act as a scrapbook of sorts, in which the collaborators have taped their own personal experiences of henna and sisterhood, alongside their beautifully complex relationships to their cultural heritage.


Sara Radin


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Egypt’s Very Own Zööba to Open Branch in NYC

According to an official press release issued on Monday, Egyptian food restaurant chain Zööba will be opening its very first US branch in Manhattan’s Nolita district.

The Egyptian chain, which describes its achievement as the ‘first ever restaurant concept 100% homegrown in Egypt to launch in the the US’ was able to secure $USD 4mn to fund the flagship outlet.

Nolita, its name deriving from ‘North of Little Italy’, is a charming and picturesque neighborhood in Manhattan, known for its boutiques and stores.
Source: TimeOut

 As such,  founder and CEO Chris Khalifa as well as key senior members will be relocating to NYC while former Zööba marketing manager Ahmed Fahmy takes over as Egypt’s country manager. 

Zööba’s first branch opened in Zamalek in 2012 with a vision to have a Zööba in every major city in the world, according to Christopher Khalifa, the CEO and founder of Zööba.

It has six branches in Maadi, Zamalek, Tagamou, Heliopolis, Sheikh Zayed and Nasr City.

In June 2018, Zööba announced that it had partnered with SADF Trading and Development, a company that operates and scales an F&B franchise, which would help them open in 20 different locations over the following seven years.

The first new international branches to open are to be in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain as the chain seeks to expand to neighboring countries in the MENA region where Egyptian food is well-reputed.



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Tapu Javeri for LLF


In the summer of 1976, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Shakir Ali recommended Nayyar Ali Dada to the Lahore Arts Council to draw up plans for an arts center. Dada sketched the first blueprint of the Alhamra Art Center with messianic zeal. Even at that time of rising political uncertainty, the young National College of Arts (NCA)-trained architect was sure of one thing: the building planned for the Mall Road would become a fulcrum for the arts in the country’s cultural capital, an island of stability and reassurance amid turbulent times.

Sort-of completed three years later, during the martial law rule of Gen. Zia-ul-Haq, the iconic Alhamra did indeed start out as a hub of cultural activity, even during those early days of the dictator’s long dark rule. But nothing would go smoothly.

In the initial construction phase, the military rulers—preoccupied with turning Pakistan into a national-security state—were tight with funds, delaying completion beyond the original target. At one point, they demanded white mausoleum-like marble for the façade. Dada resisted, on purely aesthetic grounds. “If red bricks were good enough for the remarkable structures of Aitchison College and the Lahore High Court, they were good enough for us,” he says he told them. When that tack failed, he was able to convince them that brick would be far cheaper. He managed this by presenting them with a highly inflated bill for the marble. The junta didn’t bring up the matter again.

Despite the rocky road, the Alhamra programming by the Lahore Arts Council, which has always run the place, began almost as well as Dada had always believed it would. It hosted as regulars the poet Faiz, orator and actor Zia Mohyeddin, and composers like Feroz Nizami, with the live sounds from the orchestra pit delighting enraptured audiences. But the politics of the 1980s, with their undue exercise of censorship and other martial maladies, quickly intruded. Alhamra went lowbrow, hosting, among others, Pakistan’s longest running TV prize show, Neelam Ghar.

The space got a fresh start with the return to democracy in 1989, but the bottom fell out of the programming: where once giants had tread, “actresses” offered cheap entertainment for the masses with their risqué shows.

“It was frustrating,” Dada tells Newsweek, “Alhamra’s rich tradition was hijacked by cheap commercialism.” The place fell into utter disrepair. The ersatz entertainment—a far cry from the original ambitions of the purpose-built, four-acre haven—kept them coming, compounding the upkeep problem.

In 1992, Dada was asked to add to the existing structures. That year, Pakistan honored him with the President’s Pride of Performance Award. Six years later, the Alhamra—which fuses the traditional with modern design and takes its name from Spain’s Alhambra (“red castle” in Arabic)—won him the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. The jury cited it as “a rare example of flexible spaces that has enabled several additions to be made over time, each of which has in turn enhanced, rather than detracted from, its overall architectural value. This is a very popular and successful public building, projecting its complexities in a simple and powerful manner.” (Dada’s Alhamra Cultural Complex, situated near Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium and which echoes the Alhamra Art Center, was also completed in the 1990s.)



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Pakistani Student elected as President of the International Students Society at Utara University

Muhammad Hatim is a Pakistani student from Toba Tek in located in central Punjab.  He is doing his PhD in international relations at Malaysian university - Utara in Sintok. Recently, Hatim was elected president of the International Students Society (ISS) by more than 35,000 foreign students from 53 countries. ISS is an umbrella organization that represents International students from seven public universities in Malaysia. 
Back home during a school holiday, Muhammad Hatim, was warmly received in his hometown in Pakistan by scores of his relatives and community. 
Local Pakistan Tehrik-e- Insaf member of Punjab provincial assembly, Saeed Ahmad Saeedi, Municipal committee(MC) chairman Saeed ur Rehman Tahir, and a former member of the national assembly of Pakistan, Choudry Muhammad Ashfaq, visited the student and his father.
A big billboard installed by Municipal committee at the railway level crossing intersection greeting Hatim by locals. Hatim stated that in 2017 and 2018 ISS presidents were from China and Indonesia. He said that this was the first time that a Pakistani won the presidential election, defeating candidates of Somalia and Yemen. Hatim said his PhD is near completion. One of his next project's may be researching Pakistan-US relations for Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, and Defense Minister Pervez Khattak. Hatim would like to serve his country after completing his study in government's foreign ministry.
Hatim is the son of local grain market commission agent  Riaz Abid. He passed matriculation from local government Islamia school in 2005, FSc from Shorkot Cantonment's Pakistan Air Force college in 2008, and graduated with a degree in business management in 2012 from the UK's Newcastle University. In 2015, Hatim graduated with a masters in English literature from Lahore Government College University. Various local NGOs are also holding receptions for Hatim. His father, Riaz Abid, said his son winning the ISS presidency was a source of great pride for him, and his country.
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Meet the Kardashians of the Middle East


Influencers from Amman to Dubai have adopted show-all, tell-all lives with a fevered passion, ushering in a new kind of celebrity culture in a region where women’s thoughts and wardrobe choices are often kept private. These are the women snapping their way to social change.

BONJOURRRRR! HOW ARE YOU, SNABIES?” Zain Karazon trills to her Snapchat followers on a gray morning in Amman, Jordan. She’s just completed her lengthy beauty routine: her long, caramel hair expertly twisted into waves and fake eyelashes applied, giving her face a doll-like appearance. Her outfit is a Yeezy-esque ensemble of black tights, boots, and an oversize hooded denim tunic with distressed sleeves and the phrase “Where is my mind?” After posting a shot of her coffee, she grabs her two bedazzled iPhones and heads to a meet-and greet at a café, where she’s welcomed by a small army of teenage girls who chant their nickname for her (Zoozoo) and by baristas, transfixed behind the counter.

“When I was young, I wanted all people to know who I was,” says Karazon, 27. “Now, thanks to social media, I can say one thing and it reaches 1 million followers.” She refers to her Snapchat as Zain TV, 24 hours a day. “Everyone knows me—even leaders and kings,” she adds.

Zain Karazon
Mahmoud Othman

Everyone may know of Karazon, but they might not know what she does. She isn’t a conventional celebrity; rather, Karazon is one of a homegrown coterie of social-media mavens in the Middle East bucking tradition and repressive laws to seek fame and fortune online. The women are not unlike their hashtagging counterparts in the West, but the influencers here are forging their public profiles in a region much less comfortable with women showcasing their bodies and speaking their minds.

In addition to Karazon, there are the Abdel Aziz sisters—Alice, 30; Nadine, 26; and Farah, 25, in Beirut—who work with Adidas and Tod’s, and who spun a reality show out of their outfit-of-the-day posts on Instagram, where they collectively have more than 1.4 million followers; Fouz Al Fahad, 28, a makeup artist in Kuwait with 2.3 million Instagram followers who has collaborated with MAC Cosmetics on a lipstick; and Sazdel El Kak, 29, a Lebanese TV and radio host, who works in Kuwait and parlayed her social-media success (342,000-plus followers on Instagram) into a skincare clinic that launched in November.

Social-media mavens in the Middle East are bucking tradition and repressive laws to seek fame and fortune online.

Their lives are a seemingly endless stream of promoted products and party appearances, but they’re not just helping to shape the hottest looks of the season. They’re pushing the boundaries of acceptability by talking about everything from their love lives to body shaming to child marriage, inspiring other women in the region to chase different kinds of lives for themselves, too. “There are many people who are doing this for free things,” Alice Abdel Aziz says. “That’s not our goal. Our goal is to inspire and motivate people, and leave a mark.”

The rise of social-media influencers in the Middle East began in a far-off yet familiar place: Calabasas, California. In 2012, after the Middle East Broadcasting Center started airing Keeping Up With the Kardashians, salons in the region started noticing a demand for a Kardashian-fueled trend: contouring. “It freaked me out,” says Pierre Lahoud, a Lebanese makeup artist. “Women like to copy Kim Kardashian. They think she has that sexy look and Arabian curves”—referring to the family’s Armenian heritage—“and they have half of what she has.” And it wasn’t just their looks: As the Kardashians became full-fledged moguls, women in the Middle East began pursuing similar branding opportunities. El Kak, who bears a striking resemblance to Kim, down to her long hair and penchant for bodycon dresses, was touted as a look-alike on local websites. “I thought, That’s okay—they’re comparing me to a pretty girl,” says El Kak, whose goal is to franchise her name to beauty ventures.

Huda Kattan
Williams & Hirakawa / AUGUST Image

Motivation for fame also comes from a source closer to home: Huda Kattan, 34, cofounder of the Dubai-based Huda Beauty, who amassed 24.8 million Instagram followers from the success of her beauty tutorials. With a relatable tone (she once candidly wrote about being “blessed with super-hairy syndrome”) and an approach tailored to the region (she often reviews false eyelashes, an especially popular local trend), she developed a fan base that feverishly follows the trends she posts about. Kattan’s popularity—and her classic Middle Eastern features (full brows and lips, olive skin, long hair)—led to her own line of fake eyelashes at Sephora, and, today, makeup artists aspire to be featured on her feed. Al Fahad, the Kuwaiti makeup artist, got a boost in 2014 when one of her photos appeared on @hudabeauty. She profusely thanked Kattan, calling her a “true inspiration.”

Growing up in Kuwait, Al Fahad was a fan of Cindy Crawford. “I love a really strong woman who has it all,” she says. She studied finance but was into makeup and began posting about it online. Once she hit 7,000 Instagram followers, she realized the potential of social media. She studied up on best practices, developed a signature look (her naturally straight hair blown out into a voluminous, honey-toned mass of waves), and caught the attention of brands. She began traveling to events: a salon opening in Doha, Qatar, a perfume launch in Dubai, a Carolina Herrera preview in Bahrain.

Alice Abdel Aziz
Courtesy of subject

Soon, social media was taking over her life, but she had a day job as an administrative and faculty assistant at Kuwait University. She wanted to quit, but her parents, whom she lived with, objected. “You don’t know what’s going to happen with social media,” they told her. But the double life was exhausting: She would finish work in Kuwait City around 3 p.m., then fly to Dubai or Bahrain for events, return home after midnight, and start her university job at 7 a.m. After a few months, she quit. “I didn’t even tell my parents until a month later,” she says with a laugh. “I had to pretend I was going to work!” When she finally confessed, they “didn’t freak out much,” she says.

Al Fahad is now sought after by major cosmetics brands trying to tap into the Middle East’s market of young, makeup-obsessed women. Her manager declined to share how much she earns, but influencers in the region charge anywhere from $500 to $10,000 for appearances, says Zayna Al-Hamarneh, CEO and founder of MODE Marketing & PR in Jordan. Al Fahad now splits her time between Kuwait and Dubai and elsewhere; last year, she appeared at Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty launch in New York and promoted Messika jewelry at the Cannes Film Festival. At an event celebrating her MAC lipstick in Saudi Arabia, abaya-clad women crowded around her to take selfies. “It’s a weird thing, because I never thought social media could be this powerful,” she says. “Now, when I meet people, they get me flowers, iced coffee from Starbucks—it’s great.”

Farah Adbel Aziz
Photo courtesy of subject

Perhaps none of the Middle Eastern influencers knows more about just how great social-media stardom can be than the Abdel Aziz sisters. They developed a taste for European fashion on summer trips to visit extended family in Romania (their mother is a Romanian homemaker; their father is a Lebanese doctor). In 2012, Alice, the second-oldest (the eldest Abdel Aziz sister, Diana, lives in Nigeria with her husband and children), started an Instagram account, @styleinbeirut, and began by posting photos of her and her younger sisters’ outfits each day. Soon, other fashion accounts began reposting the images, and the feed grew to more than half a million followers. The sisters attracted the attention of global brands. Their big break came in 2015, with the premiere of The Sisters, a reality show exhibiting their high-flying lives. The show drew comparisons to Keeping Up With the Kardashians and generated a slew of international press, but it was panned as boring (an animated spoof called The Cousins poked fun at the sisters’ banal conversations) and went off-air after one season.

The short run had little negative impact on the sisters’ success. Alice has since launched a line of sunscreen and tanning oil; Nadine has modeled for Guess and appeared on the Lebanese edition of Dancing With the Stars; and Farah has collaborated with Adidas. Social media is now the sisters’ full-time job, netting them a collective $500,000 last year. “We make good money,” Nadine says with a touch of pride.

Their Instagram posts reflect people living in a relatively free city, in a social class where they don’t have to contend with many of the cultural restrictions governing other women.

One humid evening, Nadine arrives at Métropole café in Beirut’s upscale Minet El Hosn neighborhood wearing Céline sunglasses and an off-the-shoulder dress, then seats herself at a sidewalk table. Soon, Farah walks up in sweats, a tube top, and Hermès logo flats; she looks around and notes how “everyone is in Mykonos these days.” Alice arrives late, takes in the heat, and sweeps everyone inside to a table with air-conditioning and a view. It’s clear she’s the leader of the group.

The sisters insist on ordering a round of desserts. “Pain perdu!” they exclaim, promising it’s the finest in Beirut. When it arrives, they halt their conversation to film the server drizzling caramel over the dish, while Alice narrates into her phone, saying, “This is the best part!” as she posts to Instagram. As they dig in, they bicker like, well, sisters. “I think people don’t know my romantic side,” Alice muses. “Yes, they do, because you post about it!” Nadine interjects. They talk about boys: “It’s very important for a guy to be supportive of his girlfriend’s job, because it’s not easy,” says Alice, whose fiancé manages the sisters. “We have to take pictures all the time and know how to deal with fame.” In any case, she says, men can’t really object, since “almost all girls have public Instagrams.” The ideal man is “smart,” Farah says. “We should be able to have a conversation at the table.”

The Abdel Aziz sisters
Photo courtesy of subjects

Being outspoken about equality in romantic relationships is the kind of talk that has gotten the sisters noticed for more than fashion. Their Instagram posts—many snapped by their personal photographer—reflect people living in a relatively free city, in a social class where they don’t have to contend with many of the cultural restrictions governing other women. As a result, rather than play nice with critics, the sisters are empowered to talk back. Alice has had fiery words about body shaming for those who say she and her siblings are too skinny; in 2015, Farah was quick to correct an interviewer who asked if the sisters were “scared to be taken for another Lebanese bimbo.” “Lebanese women are not bimbos,” she said. “Just because women of our society like to dress up and take good care of themselves, people will rush to categorize them....Who ever said that a beautiful woman must be stupid?”

There are limitations—for example, they don’t collaborate with alcohol brands. “Most of our followers are from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, and we cannot promote something that is taboo for them. They’ll find it offensive,” Alice says. “You have to respect their lifestyle.” But that doesn’t stop them from posting selfies in bathrobes or hitting clubs in thigh-skimming dresses. “We live in a society that will criticize no matter what,” says Nadine. “We’re in the 21st century and the world is changing,” adds Alice. “Look at our ancestors, it wasn’t like they could go out wearing skirts. So the world is improving, and with all the social media and technology, we have to be different."

Sazdel El Kak
Courtesy of subject

But the spread of flashy, selfie-driven Instagram culture is in opposition to the moral codes of the Middle East. Conservatives are not happy with how the growing popularity of social media is changing the region. At a 2016 conference on the impact of technology on families organized by the National Council for Family Affairs in Amman, attendees from Palestine, Lebanon, Algeria, and Egypt discussed how social-media obsession was increasing moral degradation. In 2017, a Jordanian television host launched into a diatribe on Facebook, calling on women in Jordan to “repent” for how they dress and saying they encouraged “prostitution, adultery, and rape.”

Images of women defying conventions online have caught the eye of law enforcement, too. Karazon, the Jordanian Snapchat star, spent a week in jail in 2016 over an allegedly defamatory post in which she accused a doctor of having conducted the wrong surgery, leading to a woman’s death. In the same year, a woman named Malak al-Shehri was arrested in the Saudi capital of Riyadh for tweeting a photo of herself walking without an abaya, which is mandated by the country’s dress code.

More recently, a 27-year-old aspiring Saudi model was seen walking around a historic site in a miniskirt in a viral Snapchat video. (She was detained by the Saudi police and released without charges.) Haya Awad, 35, a fashion designer in Amman who has more than 78,000 Instagram followers, knows to tread carefully. “People following you online are really curious about your lifestyle, but, as a woman, I know my limits,” she says. She remembers once receiving a call from a friend who thought she was revealing too much. “I bought a pair of ‘hot shorts’ and snapped them—I wasn’t even wearing them—and my close friend in Dubai called me and said, ‘Haya, why are you posting this? This is too intimate!’” Awad says.


Haya Awad
Photo courtesy of subject

Despite such critiques—and the risk of arrest—a growing number of women are boldly sharing their opinions on a range of topics, including feminism and cyberbullying. In January 2017, a woman in Saudi Arabia used Twitter to call attention to the fact that her infant daughter was being abused by the baby’s father (the baby was removed from the father’s custody and given to the mother). Also in 2017, Ghina Ghandour, 38, an image consultant in Lebanon, posted an Instagram about an anti-sexual-harassment campaign in her country known as #mesh_ basita (which translates to “It’s not a small thing” in Arabic), writing “sexual harassment is not okay, it should not be normalized, and there is need for legislative reforms.” Even in the most conservative countries in the region, women are increasingly posting photographs of themselves from the neck down, or focusing cameras on their shoes or coffee cups. “The more you grow, the more you’re exposed to different mentalities and beliefs,” says Al Fahad, the Kuwaiti makeup artist. “I feel like there’s a long way to go, but in the Middle East, people are more accepting that there are different kinds of girls and guys.”

Saba Imtiaz


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5 Hijabis Get Real on What It's Like to Date When You're Muslim-American

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The good, the bad, and the cringeworthy

Let’s face it: we live in a hijab-obsessed world. In between religious fanatics who use hijab as a way of categorizing women into good girl vs. bad girl, or right-wing politicians who see hijab as the death of Western values, everyone has an opinion that they are a little too comfortable sharing.

And in the middle of it is your average hijab-wearing girl who just wants to listen to some trap music, contour like a Jenner, and not be asked her political views or ISIS every time she leaves her house. Can a girl breathe — or better yet, can she get a date? Sometimes, but the results can be cringeworthy.

When you wear a hijab, something as simple as getting a cup of coffee in the morning can turn into a political statement, and navigating romance isn't much easier. So what’s a first date like when you're Muslim? I mean I wouldn’t know I’ve never been on one — hi, mom — but these five young people below have, and they've lived to tell the tales.

"My first boyfriend was an all-American guy — think red meat, hunting, and football. Cue me, a little vegetarian hijabi entering his life. We somehow dated for two years, but the first time I had Christmas dinner with his family, his father asked me what I thought about Hamas. How about you just ask me what I want to be when I grow up instead?” - Zahra, 25

“I think the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to me is getting a Facebook message from this guy I met at a Muslim Students Association’s event. 'You’re like the hottest Muslim girl on campus. Wanna hook up tomorrow in the library? I’ll book a room,' he wrote to me. Here I am at my first week of university after spending 12 years at an all-girls school, thinking I am finally going to have my Princess Diaries moment, and instead I get this fool. Before I can answer him, he sends a second message. 'Never mind, I forgot tomorrow is Friday prayer and I would feel bad getting jiggy with it during prayer time.'

The best part is that he’s now married and I’ve always wondered if he met his wife using those smooth lines. And no, my Prince Charming has still not arrived.” - Anonymous, 23

“We had known each other for years. I met him at 18, liked him, and thought of him as a brother. We picked up Chinese food together, shared hoodies, and went out dancing. Years after we had moved to different cities, we had deeper feelings. We ended up reuniting in his hometown. He was insistent that his parents were away visiting his brother for the weekend, and I could stay over. I was hesitant: I knew his parents’ vibe, and finding me in their house would definitely kill it. But, I took the chance, and of course they ended up coming home early. My reaction? Don’t worry, I’ll hide, which I did while he distracted them and I sprinted from the basement to his bedroom. When he came up he said: 'Would you be comfortable in the closet?' I heard myself say: 'Of course!' And there began my first and last 12-hour stay in a boy’s closet. It was hilarious, until it became pathetic; and at some point it got pretty damn uncomfortable. The best part? His parents re-activated their front door security cameras when they got home. So my escape route the next day was that much more interesting. Suffice to say, lesson learned.” - Rayaa, 25

"It was our third date and things were going pretty well. I’ve always felt more comfortable dating non-Muslim guys, because it comes with fewer expectations. I wear a hijab, but I don’t think people realize that wearing a hijab doesn’t mean you have a pre-determined personality type. Anyways, he was walking me to my car and he was being super touchy feely. I’m not an affectionate person, so I was slightly cringing. And then he dropped this line: 'I can’t wait to have you tie me up with that thing.' He was talking about my hijab. He never texted me back, but that’s probably because I burst out laughing for about five minutes straight. What a weirdo.” - Iddel, 24

“On my third date with a non-muslim guy, he took me to the movies. 'I might try to steal a kiss,' he warned me via text. 'We'll see,' I responded, hoping to come across as coy, when I was actually terrified. When the moment of truth came, he touched his nose to my cheek, waiting for me to respond. Scared, I ducked and pulled away. 'Sorry,' I apologized, feeling stupid. I was 24 and couldn't even kiss someone without feeling like I was going to hell. Sunday school teaches you things you can’t unlearn, no matter how badly you want to. 'It's just a kiss,' he said, as if reading my mind. 'Maybe to you,' I replied.

Eman Bare


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