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Exploring the Mawlids of Egypt

Cairo-based photographer Mosa'ab Elshamy goes inside the spiritual celebrations

It was late 2013 when Mosa’ab Elshamy wandered back into the Al-Hussein Mosque in Old Cairo. As a young boy, the photographer, who recently joined the Associated Press, accompanied his grandmother as she and others worshipped. Some people were holding onto the shrine of Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, while others were reciting passages from the Quran or weeping openly. “Inside, it doesn’t really feel like time has passed. The emotions that are there, the sounds that you hear—you can walk in and it’s going to feel exactly the same,” he tells TIME. Outside, the differences are apparent: more cafés, more traffic, more security.

Elshamy was looking for something to photograph that was a bit less restrictive than Cairo’s streets had become after Egypt’s revolution in 2011. And he found it. For more than a year, he documented the celebrations, or Mawlids, of saints and other holy figures of the Sufis around the country, marking his longest personal project to date.

Some 15 million of Egypt’s 90 million people are followers of the mystical Sufi philosophy of Islam. Worshippers at the Mawlids greet the shrines throughout the year to talk about their wrongdoings in the hopes that they can absolve them of their sins, Elshamy says. Many people will also go to ask for things, like women struggling to have children or men who cannot find jobs. Those who reject this religious philosophy say it’s a form of shirk, or idolatry, that has no place in Islam. (Attacks against shrines aren’t uncommon, especially in areas controlled by radical extremists.)

Part of what attracted Elshamy to the observances is the intimacy and spirituality of it all, displayed in ways that aren’t usually seen elsewhere in Egypt. “You don’t [typically] get that image of men, but here you see people almost publicly being proud of this vulnerability,” he says, “and I thought that was great.” Another main reason are the celebrations that surround them. Prayers and emotions displayed inside the mosques are met with rowdy festivities outside, including playgrounds and vendors, musicians and dancers. “It’s a lot bigger than just a religious celebration.”

The last Mawlid he photographed this past October was at the shrine of Abul-Hassan Al-Shazly. He was buried where he died—in Humaithara, of the Red Sea Governorate—and the mosque was built around him, so his worshippers travel there every year to honor him. Part of the celebration, Elshamy says, involves climbing one of the mountains the religious figure apparently stepped on, each day near sunset, then praying and singing while overlooking the mosque before descending to spend the night around the complex.

The weeklong celebration can coincide with the ‘Id al-Adha festival, so they’ll mark that occasion at the same time.

Elshamy says the project is what restored his faith after “a very tough year” in photography. “It was the year [when] many colleagues left Egypt or stopped photographing or switched to a more comfortable genre. I think everybody had to adapt in a way, when it was obvious how much more difficult it is becoming to just be on a street with a camera, or just try to document a protest or a clash.” This was his way of adapting, shooting something that was new and non-political and that he could continue to do freely.

“In a way this has been a bit of a silver lining, to discover things like this scene that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to,” he says. It all goes back to why he takes photos in the first place: “Seeing for yourself and keeping a record of what you see.”

Mosa’ab Elshamy is Cairo-based staff photographer with the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter @mosaaberizing. Mikko Takkunen, who edited this photo essay, is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism. Andrew Katz is a homepage editor and reporter covering international affairs. Follow him on Twitter @katz.

TIME Davos

Pharrell Williams and Al Gore Announce ‘Live Earth’ Concert in June

Former US Vice President Al Gore speaks next to US rapper Pharrell Williams during a panel session on the first day of the 45th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Jan. 21, 2015.
Laurent Gillieron—EPA Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore speaks next to rapper Pharrell Williams during a panel session on the first day of the 45th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Jan. 21, 2015.

Taking place over seven continents, it will be the largest event of its kind ever staged

Over 100 artists will take part in a second round of “Live Earth” concerts across seven continents on June 18., former U.S. vice-president Al Gore and singer Pharrell Williams announced Wednesday.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the two said the June event aims to raise awareness and demand action on environmental issues in the run up to a United Nations climate change conference in Paris in December.

“Instead of just having people perform, we literally are going to have humanity harmonize all at once,” said Williams, the event’s creative director, who has previously donated proceeds from his music to the Alliance for Climate Protection.

Gore said the event would be the largest ever of its kind, predicting an audience of 2 billion via TV, radio and online coverage. “The purpose is to have a billion voices with one message, to demand climate action now,” added Gore, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his work on climate change since leaving office in 2001.

The concert will play from Antarctica, as well as in “major stadiums” in China, Australia, Brazil, South Africa and the U.S.. The event will end at France’s national stadium in Paris, where a major climate pact is set to be signed at the December conference.

[Guardian]

TIME Philippines

Pope Francis and the Mystery of Manila’s Vanishing Street Children

A homeless child in the streets of Manila in 2014.
Noel Celis—AFP/Getty Images A homeless child in the streets of Manila in 2014.

Was the Philippine capital really purged of unsightly urchins for the Pope's recent visit, as media reports allege?

Pope Francis took the helm of the Catholic Church last year, vowing to refashion the institution “for the poor.” Yet during his recent five-day visit to the Philippines, where he presided over Mass for more than six million rapturous worshippers, it appeared many of the nation’s most impoverished were cruelly banished from view.

As the Pontiff touched down in Asia’s most Catholic nation, reports emerged that street children had been rounded up and caged in order to sanitize Manila’s streets. Local authorities vehemently denied this was a case, pointing out that the accompanying photographs of an emaciated toddler and young girl handcuffed to a metal pole had in fact been taken months earlier.

However, rumors continued to swirl as more anecdotal evidence arrived. So was the Philippine capital purged of unsightly urchins? In a word, yes, although only a small fraction of this was anything new.

According to local activists, street children are constantly being rounded up across this sprawling metropolis of 12 million. This is generally for vagrancy and petty crime — they are often scapegoats for the deeds committed by organized gangs — and, although numbers are hard to pin down, the Pope’s visit seemed to herald a slight uptick.

“There’s definitely been a ramp up,” Catherine Scerri, deputy director of the Bahay Tuluyan NGO that helps street children, tells TIME. “They were definitely told not to be visible, and many of them felt that if they didn’t move they would be taken forcibly.”

Those detained end up a various municipal detention centers sprinkled all over Metro Manila, says Father Shay Cullen, the Nobel Peace Prize-nominated founder of the Preda Foundation NGO. These local adult jails each adjoin euphemistically named “children’s homes,” which, like the adult facility, has bars on the windows.

Children are summarily kept for anything up to three months without charge, with little ones sharing cells with young adults. Many fall prey to serious sexual and physical abuse: Kids just eight-years-old are often tormented into performing sex acts on the older detainees, says Cullen. (Amnesty International documented such abuses in a December report.)

“They are locked up in a dungeon,” says Cullen, explaining that some 20,000 children see the inside of a jail cell annually across the Philippines. “We keep asking why they put these little kids in with the older guys.”

Nevertheless, Philippines Welfare Secretary Corazon Juliano-Soliman explicitly denies that homeless children were rounded up for the Papal visit, highlighting that they were, in fact, central to the 78-year-old Pontiff’s reception. Some 400 homeless kids — albeit in bright, new threads — sang at a special event (and posed awkward theological questions.)

Any children detained, explains Juliano-Soliman, were “abandoned, physically or mentally challenged or found to be vagrant or in trouble with the law, and we are taking care of them.” Father Cullen’s allegations, Juliano-Soliman suggests, are a sympathy ploy to win donations “One can’t help but think it’s a good fundraising action,” she says wryly.

However, Juliano-Soliman did confirm that 100 homeless families — comprising 490 parents and children — were taken off the street of Roxas Boulevard, the palm-fringed thoroughfare arcing Manila Bay along which Pope Francis traveled several times, and taken about an hour and a half’s drive away to the plush Chateau Royal Batangas resort. Room rates there range from $90 to $500 per night.

This sojourn lasted from Jan. 14, the day before Pope Francis’s visit, until Jan. 19, the day he left. It was organized by the Department of Social Welfare’s Modified Conditional Cash Transfer program, which provides grants to aid “families with special needs.”

Juliano-Soliman says this was done so that families would “not be vulnerable to the influx of people coming to witness the Pope.” Pressed to clarify, she expressed fears that the destitute “could be seen as not having a positive influence in the crowd” and could be “used by people who do not have good intentions.”

For Scerri, though, this reasoning doesn’t cut it: “It’s very difficult to believe that children and families who have lived on the streets for most of their lives need to be protected from what was a very joyous, very happy, very peaceful celebration.”

In fact, families involved were only told two days prior that they were to make the trip to Chateau Royal Batangas. “Many felt that if they didn’t participate that they would be rounded up,” says Scerri, adding that those who returned to their usual digs by Malate Catholic Church found large signs had been painted in the interim that prohibited sleeping rough.

Ultimately, whether jailed or stashed in a resort, “there’s nothing new,” says Father Cullen. “Every time dignitaries come it’s a common phenomenon for more children to be locked up.”

So where did Manila’s street children go? The truth is that most people didn’t really care, just as long as they did.

Read next: Pope Calls Out Philippines on Corruption and ‘Scandalous’ Inequality

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME ebola

Priests Assaulted in Guinea After Being Mistaken for Ebola Workers

They had gone to a local village to spray insecticides

Three priests from a church in Guinea were physically assaulted while visiting the village of Kabac on Tuesday, as locals suspected they were health workers who would expose inhabitants to the Ebola virus.

The villagers beat up the priests, who had planned to spray insecticide around the area, the BBC reported. They also vandalized the nearby town council building, setting fire to it after burning the priests’ car.

Guinea, one of the three West African countries worst affected by the Ebola outbreak, has lost nearly 2,000 people to the disease. The nation’s schools reopened earlier this week following a five-month break, soon after the U.N. said the number of cases nationwide had fallen to its lowest weekly total since August.

[BBC]

TIME Australia

Watch Non-Australians React to the Taste of Vegemite Pizza

"I hate this"

With Australia Day just around the corner, Pizza Hut has Down Under has launched a pizza that is quintessentially Aussie, or so they say.

It’s called the the Mitey Stuffed Crust and is filled with gooey melted cheese and an astringent brown paste made from leftover brewer’s yeast known as Vegemite.

Pizza Hut made a hilarious ad that shows backpackers in a hostel wincing in disgust as they try the new culinary delight (or travesty), with some saying it tasted like “medicine,” “petrol” or even “fish jam.”

Not so the Aussies. “The Mitey Stuffed Crust Pizza works unbelievably well with any of our topping combinations and we couldn’t think of a more quintessentially Aussie pizza to launch in time for Australia Day,” stated Fatima Syed, Pizza Hut Australia’s head of marketing.

And many have gone to Twitter in equal amounts of delight and disgust.

TIME France

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio Makes Solidarity Visit to Paris

"Both are cities that understand what it is to fight back"

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio toured Paris on Tuesday in a show of solidarity as the French capital reels from a recent series of terrorist attacks.

De Blasio arrived Tuesday morning and made at least eight stops on his trip, including meetings with Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and Jewish leaders the Wall Street Journal reports. “We’re here in solidarity because both of our cities have experienced terror, both are cities that understand what it is to fight back,” he said.

His first stop was the kosher supermarket where a gunman took hostages and later killed four of them. De Blasio then traveled with Hidalgo to the Charlie Hebdo office where, two days before the supermarket attack, two gunmen killed 12 people in retaliation for the satirical newspaper’s depictions of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.

“Mr. de Blasio was the first person to call me just after he heard the news. This was very moving for me,” Hidalgo said at a news conference. She added that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack “has made the people in New York stronger, and that is what he’s come to say to us today.”

[WSJ]

TIME Media

Why Taking a Page Out of a U.K. Tabloid Is Good for Women

Britain's biggest tabloid, Rupert Murdoch's the Sun, plans to retire its regular feature showing topless women

Across the globe only 24% of people featured in the news are women. Of those women who do feature, a significant portion appear in unhappy circumstances, as victims of violence or discrimination. Women with more positive messages to convey sometimes find themselves airbrushed out of the picture. So it may seem counterintuitive that feminists are hailing the decision by Britain’s red-top tabloid, the Sun, to drop a feature that for 44 years guaranteed women near-total exposure across the whole of its third page.

Yes, this Friday’s Page 3 Girl may be the last, and that’s — reasonably — good news. The Sun has not confirmed the move but its stablemate the Times of London reported that their mutual proprietor Rupert Murdoch had signed off on the decision to retire the photographs of bare-breasted models from the print edition of the tabloid. “It is about time, really,” as Yas Necati of the No More Page 3 campaign told the Times. She added: “When you open up the Sun, which is Britain’s biggest-selling family newspaper, you see images of men doing things — running the country, achieving in sport — whereas the most prominent image of a woman is one where she is sexually objectified.” The Sun’s skewed representation of the sexes was laid bare-naked in this film The Experiment, shot for the campaign.

But the film doesn’t entirely convey the pernicious genius of Page 3 or why Page 3 has been quite so damaging to women. Page 3 intends to be provocative, not just in the obvious sense, by titillating male readers, but in trying, and often succeeding, in provoking women into reacting against the Sun. Every complaint — and there have been many — served to foster a narrative equating feminism with joylessness, sexlessness, humorlessness and the ammonium stink of political correctness. The actual Page 3 items, by contrast, have often been funny, in the manner of British seaside postcards or the long-running movie franchise Carry On, in which bra straps twang and wide-eyed nymphets serve up double entendres. One Page 3 conceit provided each woman featured with space for a quote on a current-affairs issue of the day, under the punning headline “News in Briefs” — briefs being all the model in question would be wearing.

And if joy is not now unconfined among feminists at the departure of the Page 3 Girl, that’s partly because she isn’t actually leaving. She just seems to be putting on a wet T-shirt for appearances in the newspaper and will continue to disport herself topless on the Sun’s website. This is hardly a stride towards equality in the mold of the 1928 Equal Franchise Act or the 1970 Equal Pay Act, more of a tottering baby step on painfully high stilettos by a news organization that is just as liable to reverse direction if its bottom line suffers as a result.

Meanwhile bright individuals have rushed to act as the Sun’s useful idiots, decrying the disappearance of Page 3 as censorship and reinforcing the notion that a monstrous regiment of monstrous women are out to sabotage a nation’s innocent fun. Among their number, inevitably, are Page 3 alumnae including “international lingerie model” Rhian Sugden, who tweeted this:

Sugden is part right, except that the day has long arrived when people in comfy shoes and without bras determine the way the world is run and represented in the media. They’re called men. So if Britain’s leading red-top even slightly moderates the hostility towards women it cloaks as a bit of a laugh, that’s to be celebrated. In moderation.

TIME France

Paris Attack Hero Lassana Bathily Receives French Citizenship

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls (L) and French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve (C) award citizenship to Lassana Bathily in Paris, France, on Jan. 20, 2015.
Christophe Ena—AP French Prime Minister Manuel Valls (L) and French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve (C) award citizenship to Lassana Bathily in Paris, France, on Jan. 20, 2015.

The Muslim shop employee saved seven Jews from the Paris supermarket attack on Jan. 9

A 24-year-old Malian immigrant who hid a group of hostages during a terror attack at a kosher supermarket was awarded French citizenship Tuesday in a ceremony that showcased his courage and selflessness.

Lassana Bathily, who has lived in France for about nine years and filed his citizenship papers last summer, was fast-tracked for citizenship, sparing him from the notoriously arduous process of becoming a naturalized Frenchman.

Bathily, dressed in a black suit and white shirt, walked into Tuesday’s ceremony flanked by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve. He stood with his head bowed and his hands…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Japan

Japan’s Abe Faces Great Risk, Little Reward in ISIS Hostage Crisis

PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-JAPAN-DIPLOMACY-ABE
Abbas Momani—AFP/Getty Images Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe looks on during a press conference with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Jan. 20, 2015, in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Japanese prime minister has few options to act after ISIS holds two citizens to $200 million ransom

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pledged to do all he can to secure the safe release of two Japanese citizens facing death threats at the hands of Islamist extremists in Syria. But experts say there’s little he can do — and he faces great risks in doing it.

Abe was winding up a six-day trip to the Middle East when militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) released a video Tuesday threatening to kill two Japanese men captured last year unless the government pays $200 million in ransom.

Militants said the demands were in retaliation for $200 million in aid that Abe had pledged just days earlier to countries opposing ISIS forces fighting in Syria and Iraq.

Abe likes to present himself as strong on defense, having taken office two years ago promising to boost military spending, ease long-standing restraints on Japan’s military and promote “proactive contributions to peace” overseas. Even before the Syria crisis, his administration was reportedly considering plans to beef up a Japanese anti-piracy base in Djibouti for rescue and other military missions in the Middle East region.

But polls show that Japanese remain deeply divided by Abe’s defense agenda. The hostage drama presents Abe with “a rather tricky balancing act,” says Koichi Nakano, a professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo.

“Abe needs to appear to be both tough on terrorist intimidation and deeply concerned about the plight of the hostages,” says Nakano. “If he appears soft and unable to cope with the pressure, he might start losing support. But if he appears uninterested in the lives of the Japanese hostages, he might also fall out of favor.”

Abe emphasized that his government would work to secure the hostages’ safety at a press conference late Tuesday in Jerusalem. “The international community needs to cooperate and take action without yielding to terrorism,” he said.

Even so, the crisis is certain to polarize the Japanese public. Polls show a majority remain deeply committed to Japan’s pacifist Constitution, despite a swing to the right by political leaders. Conservative rhetoric about patriotism is unlikely to sway them, says Nakano. “Their reaction is more likely to be that postwar pacifism provides a better means to protect the Japanese from such threats than Abe’s ‘pro-active’ approach.”

Perhaps ironically, Abe’s move towards a more robust defense agenda was inspired, in part, by a similar hostage crisis in the Middle East in January 2013 when ten Japanese nationals were killed by Islamist militants at a gas complex in Algeria.

In that crisis, Japan was forbidden by law from attempting a rescue operation, or even sending troops to escort survivors or bodies of the deceased out of the country. That rankled Abe – a staunch nationalist who had been in office less than a month — and almost certainly contributed to a more aggressive defense policy than he had signaled during his election campaign.

Since then, Abe has overseen three consecutive increases in annual defense spending – after 10 straight years of decline – and has unilaterally dropped a ban on collective self-defense.

He has also established a new National Security Council, which concentrates decision-making in the Prime Minister’s office, and has authorized Japan’s armed forces to form a new amphibious warfare unit to help defend Japan’s thousands of remote islands.

But for all that, Abe has precisely no military options in Syria, says Grant Newsham, senior research fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies, in Tokyo.

“Japan lacks the necessary forces for an overseas rescue. They aren’t organized or equipped or trained for such missions, even if they were ordered to undertake them. That requires a lot resources in terms of manpower, equipment, transportation and intelligence resources. It’s not that easy,” says Newsham, a former U.S. Marine Corps liaison to Japan’s Ground Self Defense Force.

Nakano says it is almost certain that Abe will not pay the ransom for the freelance journalist and self-styled mercenary who were captured separately by ISIS last year. With few options remaining and time running out, the odds of the prime minister being able to keep his pledge seem low indeed.

Read next: Japan Cabinet Okays Record Military Budget With Eye on China

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME France

Paris Mayor Plans to Sue Fox News

The network retracted and apologized for inaccurate reports on "no-go zones" for non-Muslims

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said in an interview Tuesday that she plans to sue the American network Fox News after it broadcast inaccurate reports on Muslim “no-go zones” in the French capital, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks.

Her comments, which aired on CNN, come in the wake of multiple Fox News reports that describe areas of Paris as off-limits to non-Muslims and governed by Shari’a law, reports that were untrue and for which the network later apologized.

“When we’re insulted, and when we’ve had an image, then I think we’ll have to sue, I think we’ll have to go to court, in order to have these words removed,” Hidalgo told Amanpour in an interview. “The image of Paris has been prejudiced, and the honor of Paris has been prejudiced.”

Fox’s coverage of no-go zones was widely mocked by Parisian comedy programs. The network has since retracted its reports.

Michael Clemente, executive vice president at Fox News, responded Tuesday to Hidalgo’s remarks. “We empathize with the citizens of France as they go through a healing process and return to everyday life,” he said. “However, we find the Mayor’s comments regarding a lawsuit misplaced.”

Read next: Paris Attack Hero Lassana Bathily Receives French Citizenship

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