Sudanese cartoonist Khalid Albaih was lauded as “an artist of the revolution” during the Arab Spring, and now he’s pointing his pencil at other world events.
Albaih’s work is on display in an exhibit called “It’s Not Funny” at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, until July 30. Art Beat interviewed him at Sankofa Video Books & Cafe in Washington, D.C., in May.
What do you believe is your role as a political cartoonist?
“It’s about education first. I want to tell people what’s going on. I read a lot and then hope to let people know what I think about what’s going on. The second thing is creating dialogue, asking questions. […]
The great thing about social media is people talk to each other. People from different parties talk to one another. A person from the Muslim brotherhood will engage with a communist, and down the thread they become friends. They talk to each other. This is what we need in the region, people to talk to each other rather than to talk with guns.”
Is there any amount of self-censorship before you deliver your message?
“I don’t think there is anything that is strictly off limits. I think you can talk about anything you want to talk about, but it depends how you talk about it.”
Syrian refugee crisis: All your questions answered
The Syrian refugee crisis remains one of the largest humanitarian crises since the end of World War II. The number of refugees who have fled the country now exceeds five million, including more than 2.4 million children, and millions more have been displaced internally, according to the United Nations.
Syrians have poured across their borders since anti-government protests in 2011 spiralled into a full-blown war between rebels, government troops and foreign backers.
The first three months of 2017 saw more than 250,000 additional Syrians register as refugees, bringing the total to 5.1 million, according to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR.
“It’s not about the number, it’s about the people,” UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch said, noting that the conflict has now lasted longer than World War II. “We’re trying to look for understanding, solidarity and humanity.”
Turkey continues to host the highest number of displaced Syrians, at nearly three million, with an increase of 47,000 since February, Baloch said.
When is a person considered a refugee?
Refugees are persons forced to leave their homes and countries because their lives and freedoms are in danger.
The 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees describes a refugee as any person who, “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country”.
But this definition has been broadened to cover persons who are forced to leave their countries because of widespread violence, war and foreign occupation that has put their lives at risk in their home countries.
The reason for leaving one’s country is considered as the main factor in distinguishing refugees from migrants.
How and when did the Syrian refugee crisis start?
The flow of Syrian refugees to neighbouring countries started during the onset of the civil war in 2011.
The Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab countries inspired protests in Syria, prompting a crackdown by the Syrian army. As Syria descended into a civil war, it became divided into a complex battle between the government, rebel groups and foreign backers.
By May 2011, the number of refugees crossing the Turkish border was estimated at just 300.
What countries have taken in Syrian refugees, and which country has the most?
According to Amnesty International, Syrian refugees have sought shelter in five countries throughout the Middle East, including Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan , Iraq and Egypt.
Turkey is the largest host country of registered refugees, with nearly three million.
None of the six states that form the Gulf Cooperation Council - Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar - has signed the UN convention on refugees, which has governed international law on asylum since World War II.
However, the Gulf states say they have taken in hundreds of thousands of Syrians since the civil war began - just not as refugees.
In 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Syrian refugees living in Turkey could eventually be granted citizenship, but he gave no details on eligibility criteria or how long the process would take.
In Jordan, more than 26,000 Syrians have obtained work permits, but refugees do not automatically acquire rights to residency.
More than one million Syrian refugees have made Lebanon their temporary home, but last year, President Michel Aoun vowed to send them back to their home country.
Egypt also became a major destination for Syrian refugees, but many have since fled their adopted homeland, in part because of a rising tide of anti-Syrian sentiment that took hold during the unrest following the toppling of the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, in 2013.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain have broken off diplomatic relations and all land, sea and air contacts with fellow Gulf Arab state Qatar, in the region’s most serious diplomatic crisis in years.
Saudi Arabia on Monday said the move was necessary to protect the kingdom from what it described as terrorism and extremism. The kingdom also pulled all Qatari troops from the coalition fighting the ongoing war in Yemen.
The official state news agency, citing an official source, said Saudi Arabia had decided to sever diplomatic and consular relations with Qatar “proceeding from the exercise of its sovereign right guaranteed by international law and the protection of national security from the dangers of terrorism and extremism”.
Saudi Arabia cut all land, air and sea contacts with Qatar “and urges all brotherly countries and companies to do the same.” Despite the order for the border with Qatar to be closed, Saudi Arabia said that it will continue to provide all services and facilities needed by Qatari pilgrims currently in the Kingdom.
The decision comes after Qatar alleged in late May that it was the victim of a sophisticated propaganda assault including the publication of a series of articles hostile to Qatar in the US and the hacking of the Qatar government website in a bid to undermine its standing in the Gulf and in Washington.
The hacking of the website led to the publication of false remarks by the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, that purportedly had him criticising some leaders of fellow Gulf Arab states and calling for an easing of tensions with Iran. Qatar claimed there was “a hostile media campaign against the State of Qatar”.
In response to the alleged comments by the emir, Saudi Arabia and the UAE both blocked Qatari-based news outlets, including Al Jazeera, from broadcasting in their territory.
Qatar is home to the sprawling al-Udeid air base, which is home to the US military’s central command and some 10,000 American troops. It was not clear if the decision would affect American military operations. Central command officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Qatar has long faced criticism from its Arab neighbors over its support of Islamists. The chief worry among them is the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni Islamist political group outlawed by both Saudi Arabia and the UAE as it challenges the nations’ hereditary rule.
Gulf countries led by Saudi Arabia fell out with Qatar over its backing of then-Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, a Brotherhood member. In March 2014, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Qatar over the rift.
Eight months later, they returned their ambassadors as Qatar forced some Brotherhood members to leave the country and quieted others. However, the 2014 crisis did not see a land and sea blockade as threatened now.
In the time since, Qatar repeatedly and strongly denied it funds extremist groups. However, it remains a key financial patron of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and has been the home of exiled Hamas official Khaled Mashaal since 2012.
Western officials also have accused Qatar of allowing or even encouraging funding of Sunni extremists like al-Qaida’s branch in Syria, once known as the Nusra Front.
The row comes only two weeks after Donald Trump visited the Middle East to seal major defence contracts with Saudi worth $110bn, set up an anti-extremist institute in Riyadh and urge the Gulf States to build on an alliance against Iran.
Although it is unlikely Saudi Arabia would have instigated this action against Qatar without first informing the US, it is possible that Trump did not give the green light to such drastic steps.
The Egyptian-born Nobel-winning scientist Ahmed Zewail has died in the US, aged 70.
Mr Zewail won the Nobel chemistry prize in 1999 for his pioneering work in femtochemistry, the study of chemical reactions in ultra-short time scales.
A professor at the California Institute of Technology, he was a science advisor to President Obama and the first Arab scientist to win the Nobel Prize.
Mr Zewail became a naturalised American in 1982 after studying there.
No immediate cause of death was given.
In 40 years working at the the California Institute of Technology , he experimented with lasers to monitor chemical reactions at a scale of a femtosecond, which is a millionth of a billionth of a second.
He is also credited with developing a new research field dubbed four-dimensional electron microscopy, which helps capture fleeting processes and turn them into a kind of digital film.
Mr Zewail was appointed US science envoy to the Middle East, and became outspoken on political issues in his native country.
In 2014, he wrote an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times that urged the US to avoid cutting aid to Egypt after a military coup that ousted the elected president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.
He argued that constructive engagement was important in keeping Egypt as a partner in the war on terrorism.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi expressed his condolences over the death, saying the country had lost a son and role model.