Raha Moharrak Becomes First Saudi Woman To Climb Mt. Everest

Raha Moharrak
Raha Moharrak

Raha Moharrak has become the first woman from Saudi Arabia to climb Mt. Everest when she made it to the summit yesterday after a grueling climb.

The 25-year-old climber first had to convince her family to allow her to make the attempt, and then had to undergo rigorous training to climb the world’s tallest peak. She was part of a four-person team called Arabs on Top of the World. The team also includes Sheikh Mohammed Al Thani, the first Qatari, and Raed Zidan, the first Palestinian to make the attempt. Masoud Mohammad, an Iranian, is also on the expedition.

The team is working on a rotation system with other expeditions, so the men are currently trying to make the ascent.

The team isn’t only making history; they’re also making a difference. They’re trying to raise $1 million for educational projects in Nepal. A donate button can be found on their website. This is a cause near and dear to Moharrak’s heart. She’s currently a graduate student in Dubai.

Crazy Video: Wild Arabic Dancing In Texas


Arab culture has an image problem. Most outsiders think they don’t have any fun. As one acquaintance informed me, “Arabs are a dour lot.”

He’d never actually hung out with any Arabs. Anyone who has can tell you that they do have a sense of fun, as this video shows. Uploader noxalicious tells us this was filmed in Cafe Layal in Houston, Texas. This guy gets so into the music that he ends up on a table shaking what he’s got for all it’s worth. I’ve seen guys dance like this at weddings in Egypt and parties in Syria, but they weren’t quite so … jiggly.

If you want some more Arabic humor, here’s a video about Saudis in Audis, sent to me by Facebook friend and British Muslim activist Shelina Zahra Janmohamed. Somehow it was funnier coming from her.

St. Bride’s Church in London: a place to honor fallen journalists

St. Bride'sI am not a Christian. I have read the Bible twice and have attended the services of several denominations and remain unconvinced. Despite this, any time I’m in London I go to an old church off of Fleet Street to pay my respects.

Fleet Street used to be the center of London’s journalism industry and St. Bride’s was the journalists’ church. The newspapers have since moved away to less expensive neighborhoods but St. Bride’s still maintains its connections to the journalistic profession.

At this point I would usually launch into my historical song-and-dance and tell you how St. Bride’s was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, how its steeple may have inspired the shape of wedding cakes, and how there’s a Roman building in the crypt. None of that makes me go there. I go there because to the left of the altar is a memorial to journalists killed in the line of duty. A few candles illuminate photos and cards and a list of names. Yesterday two more names were added.

Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik were killed yesterday in the besieged city of Homs, Syria, when the house they were staying in got shelled. They were both seasoned war correspondents. Colvin had lost the use of an eye while covering the Sri Lankan civil war in 2001. Both knew the dangers and both went to Syria anyway.

I was familiar with their work because I’ve been watching the carnage in Syria closely. I spent a wonderful month there back in 1994 enjoying Arab hospitality and seeing the country’s many historic sights. I was there when the dictator’s heir apparent Bassel al-Assad died in a car crash and the nation pretended to mourn. His younger brother Bashar now rules Syria and is ruthlessly suppressing his local version of the Arab Spring.

When I visited Hama, I learned how the al-Assad family leveled the city to quash resistance there back in 1982. Once the fighting started in 2011, I feared Hama would be leveled again. I was right about the massacre and wrong about the city. It’s Homs this time, or at least it’s Homs for the moment. Syria’s dictatorship would level every city it owns in order to stay in power.I never had the honor to meet Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik. From their work I bet they were like the war correspondents I actually have met, with a deep love of humanity and a firm commitment to the truth. It would be presumptuous of me to put my job on a level with theirs, but it has taught me the same valuable lesson–that the majority of people around the world are good. Lots of folks believe that, but I know it to be true. I’ve had it proven to me over and over again in places my friends think I’m crazy to visit. Somaliland. Kurdistan. Palestine. Iran.

And Syria. The fighting and oppression and state-sponsored terrorism that Colvin and Ochlik gave their lives to reveal to the world do not diminish my estimation of the Syrian people one iota. The majority of Syrians are good, just as the majority of all people are good. And if you disagree don’t argue with me, argue with Anne Frank, who wrote the same thing in her diary while hiding out from the Nazis.

The news is so often negative that it’s easy for us to develop a negative view of the world and its many peoples. It’s important to remember, though, that those who travel the world for a living don’t share that view. Their travels have taught them better.

So when I’m back in London next month, this agnostic is going to St. Bride’s Church, not for a dogma I don’t believe in, but for an idea I do.

Photo courtesy St. Bride’s.

Arab American National Museum examines legacy of 9/11

Arab American National MuseumWith the tenth anniversary of 9/11 just two days away, the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, is examining how the Arab-American community has been affected by the terrorist attacks.

U.S. Rising: Emerging Voices in post-9/11 America runs from September 8-11 and is a series of forums and events both in Detroit and Dearborn. On the actual anniversary of September 11, the museum will offer free entry all day.

In an interview with Art Daily, museum director Anan Ameri said the attacks were a “wake-up call” that showed just how little most people knew about the Arab-American community and how many bad stereotypes were out there. One response has been the virtual exhibit Reclaiming Identity: Dismantling Arab Stereotypes. This looks at the origins of various stereotypes and compares them to the reality.

Starting on Veterans Day, November 11, the museum will host the exhibition Patriots & Peacemakers: Arab Americans in Service to our Country. This exhibit will focus on the community’s role in the U.S. army, Peace Corps, and diplomatic service.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

The Arab revolution: the reaction of one Muslim community

arab revolution, Arab RevolutionFor the past few weeks, headlines all over the world have been dominated by the so-called Arab Revolution, a wave of anti-government protests across the Middle East. I’m living in the Ethiopian Muslim community of Harar and locals here are absorbed in the events. Sitting in living rooms or cafes to escape the heat of the day, all eyes are glued to the satellite channels and conversation revolves around the rapidly changing events.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive tempered by caution. They’re happy to see a strong pro-democracy movement in Egypt but say that since the army is the real power, democracy is still in danger. While the West worries about the Muslim Brotherhood taking over, one recent university graduate told me, “They only use Islam for political gain. Deal with them in economic terms and there will be no problem.”

The main talk right now, of course, is about Libya. Descriptions of Gaddafi range from “crazy” to “stupid” to “evil”. Some Hararis even say Gaddafi is a heroin addict. “He has an injured back and started taking it for the pain. He has a Russian nurse who follows him everywhere and gives him injections,” one friend told me. I’ve never heard that before, but it would explain the bizarre interviews and why he wears sunglasses indoors. Everyone thinks he’ll go down fighting rather than give up control.

Most people here watch Al-Jazeera. That station has taken definite sides in the Libyan revolution. When Gaddafi’s government blocked the Internet, Al Jazeera started running the addresses for proxy sites to access Gmail and Twitter.

Mazzika 1, an Egyptian music video station, is now running a video about the uprising, showing the protests in Tahrir Square, the faces of some of the dead, and the final joyous victory, all set to inspiring music. It makes an interesting contrast to their usual fare of Arab starlets gyrating in front of the camera.Ethiopians have no love of dictators. When the Derg regime under Colonel Mengistu Haile Miriam assassinated Haile Selassie in 1974, it started a brutal repression across the country that killed 500,000 people in its first year. Nobody knows the total number of victims. A bloody civil war finally toppled the regime and Mengistu fled to Zimbabwe, where he still lives in comfort. Ethiopia now enjoys a democracy. It isn’t perfect, but mechanisms are in place to perfect it. Ethiopians want to see the same for the Arab world. “They need it,” one Harari said, “or they’ll never be free.”

One friend put it in Marxist terms. “The French had the first bourgeois revolution in 1780. We had ours starting in 1966 and now finally the Arabs are having theirs.” He feels it’s the next step to creating an egalitarian state.

The Hararis I spoke with are surprised and cautiously optimistic by the protests in Saudi Arabia. That nation has a huge influence in Ethiopia because of its sponsorship of Wahhabi mosques and madrasas. Wahhabism is a strict form of Islam that in strong contrast to the tolerant, easygoing Islam practiced by most Ethiopians. It encourages Ethiopian women to wear the niqab and denouces the Harari reverence for Muslim saints as unislamic. The face veil is alien to Ethiopian culture, and Harar’s many Islamic saints are a cornerstone of their religious practice. One Harari friend called the Wahhabis “poisonous snakes.”

I won’t be like many journalists and pretend the dozen or so people I spoke to are representative of the feelings of the entire population, only a huge opinion poll could claim that, but the daily conversations I’ve been having about the Arab Revolution provide a viewpoint I couldn’t get anywhere else.

And that’s one of the best things travel can give us.

Don’t miss the rest of my Ethiopia travel series: Harar, Ethiopia: Two months in Africa’s City of Saints.

Coming up next: Homestays in Harar!