People in Arab countries want US to relax travel restrictions: survey

The US, long known as the land of opportunity, has always been high on the list for aspiring immigrants. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 27 October 2020

People in Arab countries want US to relax travel restrictions: survey

  • Arab News/YouGov survey shows desire to see US ease curbs on visitors from Arab countries
  • The US imposed travel bans on people from a number of war-torn Middle East states in 2017

BEIRUT: In the wake of the uprisings that shook the Arab world starting in 2011, political unrest and economic hardship across the Middle East and North Africa have left many clamoring to leave the region in search of safety and better opportunities elsewhere.
The US, long known as the land of opportunity, has always been high on the list for aspiring immigrants. Predictably enough, as many as three quarters of respondents to the Arab News/YouGov pan-Arab survey said they want the next US administration to make it easier for people from Arab countries to travel to the US.
“Many of the young generation of Lebanese want to leave the country today. It feels like history is repeating itself. It’s exactly what happened 36 years ago when I left. Anybody who could afford to leave would leave,” said Rania Matar, a Lebanese-Palestinian photographer currently on a visit to Beirut from Boston.
“However, unless people have American citizenship, the Lebanese and Arabs alike don’t seem as interested in the US as before. They seem more interested in going to Canada or Europe, and perhaps that’s due to the stringent travel restrictions that the US has placed many Arab nations under.”

Indeed, over the past three years it has become increasingly difficult for people from Arab countries to travel to the US, especially after President Donald Trump, who is up for re-election on Nov. 3, imposed sweeping travel bans on people from a number of Muslim-majority countries in 2017.
Executive Order 13769 placed tight restrictions on citizens of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. Plaintiffs challenging the order said the move was unconstitutional and broke federal statutes.
As a result, Trump issued Executive Order 13780, which amended some provisions of the first order, including the removal of Iraq from the list.
“Of course, they should ease up restrictions, especially for the younger generation, as they have zero opportunities in this part of the world,” Basel Dalloul, a tech entrepreneur who lives in Beirut, told Arab News.

“The US is still the land of opportunity for people in this part of the world. If you work hard and are tenacious in the US, chances are that you will make it and that’s what the US means to people here.”
For the 18 countries polled by the survey, 75 percent of respondents agreed that the US should make it easier for people from Arab countries to enter. The corresponding figure for Lebanon was even higher, 79 percent.
“The Lebanese are leaving Lebanon in droves,” said Dalloul. “Everyone and anyone who has the means to leave is leaving. The banking system here has collapsed. You can take out only 2 million Lebanese pounds now per week ($270 at the black-market rate). How does a family survive on that when they need to pay for rent, food, electricity and education?”

READ: The methodology behind the Arab News/YouGov Pan-Arab Survey

Lebanon has been rocked by mass anti-government protests since Oct. 2019, which began in response to new taxes. The protests soon escalated into expressions of rage against the entire political establishment.
Matters were made even worse on Aug. 4 when a port fire ignited a warehouse full of ammonium nitrate. The resulting blast devastated the city, leaving 203 dead and 6,500 injured.

The disaster seemed to underscore the perceived corruption and ineptitude of Lebanese officials and compounded public anger. With coronavirus containment measures already squeezing the job market, many young Lebanese have simply had enough.
According to this year’s Arab Youth Survey, two in five young Arabs are thinking about emigrating due to the lack of economic prospects brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, conflict and corruption.
Some 15 percent of 18-24-year-old respondents said they are actively trying to leave.
“There’s not many opportunities for Arab youth in the Middle East now,” said Mohamed Tahir, a Lebanese entrepreneur from Beirut. “It’s not just Lebanese but Arab youth across the region, including the Gulf.”

Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor


Egyptian festival celebrates Aragouz traditions

Updated 25 November 2020

Egyptian festival celebrates Aragouz traditions

  • The festival this year sheds light on the creative icons that inspired the aragouz

CAIRO: The second Egyptian Aragouz Festival has opened on Nov. 24, at the ancient Bayt Al-Sinnari, in Cairo. The aragouz is a traditional puppet figure dressed in red invented by Egyptians to ridicule situations comically.

Khaled Bahgat, a professor of theater at Helwan University and the founder of the festival and the Wamda Troupe for Aragouz and Shadow Puppets, said the festival is part of the initiative to preserve the Egyptian aragouz, after it was recognized by UNESCO in 2018 as one of the most important Egyptian artistic elements. He said that he wants the Egyptian art of aragouz to reach the world because it is an ancient Egyptian art.

The festival this year sheds light on the creative icons that inspired the aragouz.

The festival opened with a tribute to the great Egyptian creator Abu Al-Saud Al-Abyari in a reading of his story “Aragouz, Author and Idea,” which he published in 1953. Al-Aragouz was an important source of creativity for Al-Abyari.

The reading was followed by entries exploring how the art of aragouz shaped Egyptian comedy in the twentieth century.

The day closed with puppet performances of “The social media aragouz,” which reflected the impact of social media, directed by Ali Abu Zeid, and “The aragouz in the city,” directed by Nabil Bahgat.

On the second day, Reem Heggab will honor her father the late Egyptian poet Said Heggab, reciting one of his poems on the aragouz. This will be followed by two aragouz shows, “The Take Away,” directed by Mahmoud Sayed Hanafi, and “Aragouz, the Land of Myths.”

On Thursday, the theater department of the University of Alexandria will celebrate the aragouz with a lecture by Hany Abou El-Hassan, the head of the department, a workshop and a performance titled “Lorca and the aragouz,” directed by Nabil Bahgat and presented by the Wamda Troupe.

The performance honors the creativity of the Spanish poet and innovator Federico García Lorca, and will be held in the presence of the Spanish cultural attache.

The fourth day of the festival will honor the poet Fouad Haddad, whose son Amin Haddad will recite several poems from his father’s book of poetry entitiled Al-Aragouz. The poetry reading will be followed by a discussion.

Then there will be performances of “Aragouz Al Sima,” directed by Mustafa Al-Sabbagh, and “Al-Aragouz in Danger,” which deals with the greatest challenges facing the art of aragouz.

On the last day, the Faculty of Arts at Helwan University and the Department of Theater Sciences’ troupe will hold an open seminar with the department’s students to discuss ways to preserve the Egyptian aragouz.