Zooming In

July 22, 2008

Egyptian Men Harass Women, Say Egyptian Men

Gelf highlights overlooked coverage from local media around the world. In this edition: Mass impeachment in Thailand; Finnish blogging restrictions; and widespread arsenic contamination in Indonesia.

Adam Conner-Simons

Some of the most insightful writing from outside the US comes from local media. In this occasional feature, Gelf identifies noteworthy stories that haven't gotten much attention outside local borders.


A study released this week found that areas of Myanmar and Indonesia face a significant risk of drinking groundwater contaminated with arsenic that could cause cancer. The research, published in the journal Nature, used digitalized models to create "probability maps" of arsenic concentrations in five South East Asian countries. According to study co-author Michael Berg of the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, areas with levels that exceeded World Health Organization guidelines include the east coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra and the Irrawaddy delta in Myanmar, while the Chao Phraya river basin in Thailand was also deemed a low-risk area. "Our findings indicate that the problem of arsenic contamination is much more widespread than what has been known to date,” Berg tells Gelf. He is hopeful that the problem can be overcome, as long as countries work to “raise awareness of the affected people, provide measures for drinking water and evaluate sources of arsenic-free water such as rain-water harvesting.” Ironically, the contamination in the area may have stemmed from the installation millions of shallow tube wells that were meant to transport drinkable water in the 1970s and 1980s.


With the Olympics just around the corner, there are more and more stories about doping athletes. Recently, Dutch runner Simon Vroemen revealed on his blog that he recently tested positive for the banned anabolic steroid Dianabol. The European 3,000m steeplechase record holder dismissed the results as a fluke, citing fifteen years of clean tests and arguing that Dianabol "increases muscle weight and volume (not so much strength)" and therefore would not give him an advantage him as a steeplechase runner. Drug experts are skeptical of his defense—according to Millard Baker of SteroidReport.com, anabolic steroids are "particularly beneficial" for endurance athletes like Vroemen. "I am always willing to give athletes the benefit of a doubt," Baker says, "but the statements Vroemen offers are weak, misleading and wrong." In any case, ANP reports that the test results have prompted Vroemen to pull out of this year's Olympics.


The world's largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) carrier ship was unveiled in a naming ceremony at the Geoje Shipyard in Busan, South Korea. The Q-Max LNG carrier, built by the Qatar Gas Transport Company, was formally named "Mozah" after Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Nasser al-Misnad, who heralded the historic event for "[showing] the vision and dream of a nation…and the dedication and commitment of thousands of individuals from around the globe." With a volume of 266,000 cubic meters and a length of 345 meters, the carrier is as large as 108 Olympic-size swimming pools. According to Deputy Premier and Minister of Energy and Industry H.E. Abdullah bin Hamad Al Attiyah, the Q-Max LNG marks one of a series of upcoming projects for the company that will make Qatar the world's largest producer of LNG, providing more than 30 percent of the planet's total production volume.


Americans are familiar with calls from both sides of the aisle to impeach our country's leaders, but never an entire cabinet. In Thailand, the anti-government group People's Alliance for Democracy submitted a petition to Senate Speaker Pasobsuk Boondej seeking to impeach every single member of the country's cabinet. The petition criticized Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama's signing of a joint communiqué supporting Cambodia's bid to include the Preah Vihear Temple as a World Heritage site. It argued that the government violated Article 190 of the Constitution by signing the document without advance endorsement from the parliament. Facing mounting pressure, Pattama curiously resigned from the cabinet saying, "Although I didn't do anything wrong, I would like to show my spirit and take responsibility by stepping down."


The Helsinki Times reports that the Finnish government has proposed regulations to limit hate speech on the internet by making bloggers responsible for comments posted by readers on their sites. The new rules echo Swedish law, which states that bloggers—just like magazine editors—are obliged to remove illegal language (i.e. hate speech) from their websites. The proposal comes just two months after the controversial court case of Seppo Lehto, an extreme-right activist who was found guilty of gross defamation and inciting ethnic and religious hatred. He was sentenced to more than two years in jail—the longest sentence for a freedom of speech crime in the history of the country. While US law does not restrict reader comments (yet), that hasn't stopped American companies from suing bloggers in the past. In August 2005, the now-defunct Traffic-Power.com filed a lawsuit against SEOBook.com because a group of anonymous commenters supposedly published trade secrets and defamed the company on the blog's comment board. The judge threw out the case within six months.


It should come as no surprise to regular readers of this feature that the Arab world has some work to do on its sensitivity towards issues of sexual harassment, but a new study in Egypt suggests that the problem is even worse than we thought. According to the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights, 83 percent of Egyptian women have reported being harassed, and 62 percent of men freely admit to doing it. While most Egyptian men (and women) thought that the women who were being harassed had brought it on themselves by wearing immodest clothing, evidence suggests that most harassed women were actually wearing traditional Islamic clothing. According to humanitarian news agency IRIN, much of this has to do with systematically weak sexual harassment laws. Cairo-based newspaper Al Ahram Weekly has reported that during the festivities of Eid Al-Fitr in 2006, the police "completely abandoned its role of protecting the public," doing virtually nothing to stop the rampant harassment, which ranged from lewd comments to physical groping.

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Article by Adam Conner-Simons

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