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Special: Connect the World Goes on the Road in the Middle East. Aired 11:00a-12:00p ET

Aired December 24, 2015 - 11:00:00   ET


[11:02:01] BECKY ANDERSON, HOST: A very warm welcome to a special edition of Connect the World with Becky Anderson as we take a look back at

the places we've seen, the sights that we've seen and the people that we've met along the way as we took the show out on the road in 2015.


ANDERSON: From Istanbul to Jordan, Cairo to Qatar, we've taken to the streets to go beyond the headlines and bring you the people really driving

change in this region.

And everywhere we went, despite the huge challenges this region faces, we met people determined to create positive change in the cities and

communities in which they live.

Women in the Middle East are kind of doing what other people around the world are doing.

Take the mayor of Amman in Jordan, for example, a man with an ambitious vision for a city currently struggling under the weight of an

influx of refugees from war torn Syria.

Population growth, an explosion of population here as a result of the refugee crisis exemplified by many of what is happening over here. How big

a challenge is that to Amman?

AKEL BILTAJI, MAYOR OF AMMAN: You know, that population is putting me into either straight into five pillars that I had to work around.

What is environment? Just the massive amounts of rubbish...


BILTAJI: Trash and all that...

ANDERSON: Garbage.

BILTAJI: What do I do with it?

Two, the fluidity of traffic and the construction of roads, bridges, sidewalks, lighting streets and all these things.

Three, it's the zoning. How do I zone the city with all this pouring numbers of people from within the country and from outside the country? So

that zoning: commercial, industrial, the residential had all to be sorted out.

The fourth is the development. How do I develop communities? How do I bring in the harmony amongst communities to work together.

The fifth is the identity. When you have all that exponential growth or explosion of population, how do you bring them around to one identity?

ANDERSON: Well, how did you -- how are you trying to create this sense of identity for Amman?

BILTAJI: I brought them straight to one thing. I said, listen, Umuna Amman (ph). Amman is our mother. It has to take us all, but wait a minute,

we have to work it out together.

ANDERSON: This is a city steeped in history.

BILTAJI: 12,000 years.

ANDERSON: How do you construct a very modern city within such a challenging environment, not least the fact that this city is built on

seven hills. How do you plan for that going forward? BILTAJI: If you look at the construction even of the hills, you find that first they used to

walk up and start building from down up. That's how they started.

So, we later on in the 30s, 40s, 50, 60s, we -- the government, or the local government had to follow these trails, trails of donkeys, trails of

carts, trails of people, and start building streets. That's why in certain areas you find very narrow streets that are now into a one way.

One of the issues is fluidity of traffic and congestion.

ANDERSON: What do you say to those who say how about this wonderful old city and all this new construction here?

BILTAJI: The nature and the culture and the heritage of the old city, that is -- in fact, it has its character as well. The identity of Amman as

a whole is going to be the old and the new.

Your target is always ahead. His majesty has taught us if you even reach your target, before you reach it, start building an imaginary


No complacency. And I hope that this is the moral of businesman.

[11:05:13] ANDERSON: It is too easy to define a city just by the problems it faces, but as the mayor showed me, Amman is a city of big


And for one young innovator, the city's future lies in becoming the region's computer gaming center.

FAHAD AL-SAU, FOUNDER, NA3M; I want to introduce you to the NA3M team. We have our artists over here and our programmers over there.

We have the resources, we have the knowledge. We're educated where infrastructure exists. What I think needs to change is the perception about

what it means to be an entrepreneur.

You know, we are very traditional. We want that traditional paycheck. We need to kind of you know we get married young. We want to sustain our


ANDERSON: You say we in the region.

AL-SAUD: Yes, we, the region.

And you get those challenges.

But I think for us it's been flourishing.

ANDERSON: What does NA3M mean?

AL-SAUD: So many things. So many things. Literally, naem (ph) means yes. It also stands for New Arab Media. Nam is an incubator and an academy

and a safe haven for all creatives to come and express themselves freely, because we need that. We need -- I truly believe the revolution that's

happening in the region is not a political one, I truly believe it's an artistic renaissance that we're going through. And art is a mirror to

society and showcases all the different realities. So that's what NA3M is hopefully about.

ANDERSON: How difficult has it been to set up as a young tech entrepreneur in this region?

AL-SAUD: Well, the interesting thing is that in the region is actually more advanced when it comes to tech. We jumped on the startup wagon before

Europe. Berlin right now is just starting.

We have 35 percent of entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa are women, versus 10 percent globally.

So, there's a lot of initiatives from the government. Let's -- if you look at Jordan, it has a gaming fund that is focused on creating

opportunities for people to come and do animation and do creative work.

ANDERSON: Let's drill down here. How does a company like yours with the content that you develop help counter the message of a scourge like


AL-SAUD: Well, just I have a beard and I'm brown and I don't have bombs strapped to me. So I think that immediately kind of counteracts that.

We just wanted to just be a face, a face of the diversity within our region and how it counters it is that it -- it allows us to have a positive

narrative about ourselves to show us as people that are hard working, as creatives, as individuals that are from different backgrounds and religious

backgrounds and ethnic backgrounds coming together for a shared passion to bring positive impact to the region.

Progress is happening, but we need to understand and we need to provide different channels for that progress to actually grow. And I don't

know. I don't know what's going to happen in the region. I want -- I want there to be fire in a positive way. I want there to be passion. I want

their people to have opinions, but that means that they can speak their voice, and that's what's important.



[11:10:09] ANDERSON: Throughout our travels this year, we once again got the chance to meet women breaking down stereotypes and taboos in this

region. I want to reintroduce you to two amazing women I met in Cairo and in Jordan.

In Amman, a comedienne with bags of attitude, but first the author Shereen El Feki who I met in Cairo.


ANDERSON: A British-Egyptian Muslim raised in Canada, Shereen El Feki spent five years turning the spotlight on sexuality in the region speaking

to men and women of all ages and orientation. The results, a look at how religion, politics, economics and gender issues exert a powerful influence

on the most intimate lives of people here in the Middle East.

Given the sensitivity of this subject, how did you get people to speak?

SHEREEN EL FEKI, WRITER: It was interesting. You would think with the taboos it would be difficult to engage people, but my problem wasn't

getting people to talk about sex, it was getting them to stop talking about sex.

Because in reality across the Arab region and communities, women are speaking with women all the time about these matters, men are speaking with

men; the difficulties come in when you try to bring men and women together. And when you try to take this discourse into the public domain, in media or

in education, and very often the respectable way of talking about sex in the public is to talk about it as a problem rather than as a pleasure.

But I had the advantage of being both an insider and outsider, I have a connection to the Arab world, so it also -- but because I come from the

outside people felt more comfortable talking to me particularly women.

ANDERSON: Born to Welsh and Egyptian parents, but brought up in Canada of course. What did you find most surprising in your research?

EL FEKI: I would say given that the Arab Spring appears to have frosted over in some places, or exploded in conflagration elsewhere, what's

really amazing is that there are still green shoots of change. So, traveling across the region, I've met men and women who are

really pushing against the taboos in their communities, trying to get sexuality education into schools, changing laws around abortion, trying to

find a place for unwed mothers, even dealing with the really explosive topic of

homosexuality. The work is happening, just very slowly.

ANDERSON: Shereen, the Middle East hasn't always been so restrictive in terms of attitude to sex. When did things change and why?

EL FEKI: Well, we have a very long tradition as Arabs and Muslims, of speaking very frankly about sex, going right back to the time of Prophet

Muhammed, peace be upon him.

Indeed, there's very little in the joy of sex, or Cosmopolitan, or dare I say Fifty Shades of

Grey, that our ancestors weren't talking about a millennium ago.

The process of closing down happened over centuries. It's a very complex chain of events. It really gathered pace with the coming of

colonial occupation in the 19th Century and then it really took off with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism since the late 1970s.

ANDERSON: Shereen, Naomi Wolf after reading this said, and I quote, "important, brave and

necessary." I'm alluding to Sex and the Citadel. Important, brave and necessary, a great comment to have on the back of your book, and an

important commentator.

Do you think you're brave in doing this work?

EL FEKI: The people who are brave are the people who I spoke to, whether it's ordinary women who are struggling with, for example, female

genital mutilation or it's the activists who are really pushing against those boundaries as I spoke. They're the brave -- they're the really

brave, they're the determined people.

My small part is to really bring their voices to the fore and to not give people answers in the Arab region. They have to find them for

themselves, but to start them on the path asking the questions they've asked in politics. They're asking religion. It's time to ask those

questions of life in the bedroom as well.

ANDERSON: Her name is Tima Shomali, and she's taking the Arab world comedy scene by storm.

In a conservative society like Jordan, there aren't many female comedians touching on controversial and often taboo subjects.

But Tima is paving a new way, challenging stereotypes while being mindful of her culture and


Tima, humor is clearly universal -- and this is part of a question that came in to us from one of our viewers -- what are the differences, if

any, about comedy tailored to a Middle Eastern audience?

TIMA SHOMALI: Well, comedy is comedy, but basically in the Middle East we have different culture, different backgrounds, different lifestyle.

It's very different.

So basically the three pillars that is known is like you make fun of the three stuff -- sex, religion, politics. And these three stuff we can't

actually talk about, so we have to be creative in or comedy.

ANDERSON: Already...

SHOMALI: You have to go around it.

ANDERSON: As you say, you say you've got to go around them. There are red lines, but you

swerve them a little bit, don't you?

[11:15:02] SHOMALI: Of course we do. Because basically you have to do that, because we don't have this, like -- you can't have it in your

face, because no one will accept you, and they can't -- you can't tell the people the truth that they're hiding in their face. You have to play

around and find ways.

ANDERSON: We've been getting a lot of questions for you, surprise, surprise Fatima, on Facebook. Nick is with us, the digital producer on

this show. What have we got, Nick?

NICK THOMPSON, CNN PRODUCER: Hey, Tima, you have got millions of fans around the world. And a lot of them on Facebook have kind of asked us, you

know, just tons of different questions on a number of subjects, but the first one I wanted to ask you comes from Rula Banga (ph) in Vienna.

"As an Arab woman in the Middle EAst, how do you deal with sexim and sexist remarks?"

SHOMALI: I make fun of it. Yeah. Basically part of the thing I do when I hear a lot of comments that are the same and not only in the Middle

East. Sexism, like you face it everywhere. It's something in regard to the Middle East, but (inaudible). How do I deal with it? I just make fun

of it.

ANDERSON: What's your most difficult moment been as a comedienne in Jordan?

SHOMALI: Basically it's not like the whole idea -- there's a stereotype saying women are not funny and that's one of the maybe


ANDERSON: Does anybody agree with that here?

Everybody is shaking their heads.

SHOMALI: No one can know.

Yeah, so basically this is like I can say universal struggle, but for me in Jordan -- because in the beginning when I first started, it was very

hard for me. And because -- when you start something, it's always there is a lot of attacks, and people they are not very used to this kind of thing.

So, they'll attack you.

In the beginning, it was you don't represent Arab women, and you don't -- but that was a step that I had to take. And afterwards thank god like

my show became very popular.

ANDERSON: Yeah, very, very popular.

Tima, thank you.

Challenging taboos and breaking down barriers, both very family to Honayda Serafi.

HONAYDA SERAFI, FASHION DESIGNER: I'm doing it on dresses, on capes, on pants.

ANDERSON: A Saudi fashion designer I met in Riyadh, who believes her work can change misconceptions about her country.

You've given me of one of your habayas to try on, which is absolutely beautiful. Tell me about it.

SERAFI: Well, I always wanted to change the face, or the thinking of the black abaya here in the Middle East or in the Gulf. I always thought

that black is a beautiful attractive color and that the color is never what is framing the woman image if she is respected or not if she is, you know,

intelligent or not.

Actually the color is never a barrier for what a woman wants to show. So a white abaya is a big success here in Saudi Arabia now. And everyone is

following the trend.

ANDERSON: It's not easy to establish a business anywhere in the world. In Saudi, you are a woman. How big a challenge was that?

SERAFI: Well, let me tell you one thing. In (inaudible) our support is from my family, my father, my husband, my mother, like everyone was

supporting me because they believed that I have something ath iwant to produce and i want to show to the world that, yes, we're Saudis, we can do

like any other designers in the world. We're not different. Actually we have very similar ideas from the ideas they have.

These buttons are very authentic buttons. It has the Arabic, or Saudi, coin, you know. And old time ago they used to do it from gold and silver,

but now you know I just made it from metal. But I'm bringing all the heritage back to the modern clothes.

ANDERSON: How important is that to you?

SERAFI: Well, it's very, very important just to show that we have culture, yes.

I'm not, you know, copying any other designer from you know from the European countries or, no, I'm having my culture in my designs. So this

actually will show the Saudi woman that she's very intelligent, very elegant in the same time.

ANDERSON: What do you think the biggest misconception is about Saudi from the outside?

SERAFI: Well, everyone when they know that I'm Saudi they don't believe it sometimes.

ANDERSON: Why do ou think that is?

SERAFI: First, they always -- there is a stereotype about the Saudi woman or the Saudi people in general that they are very conservative. Yes,

we are conservative in our way, but it doesn't mean that we're not intellectual, we're not following the world or we're not following the news

wherever it is. We're very independent.

I wanted to show that, yeah, we're open-minded. Yeah, we're never -- we shouldn't hide our faces behind, you know, a black cover or anything. So

actually putting my mother's face on the fabric.

ANDERSON: That's amazing, mom's face on the fabric.

SERAFI: Exactly, but in like I have worked on it. I mean, there's some artwork on it. And I'm doing it on dresses, on capes, on pants, but in

different ways, of course, in different sizes.

It takes such power from a woman to put her foot in the business here in Saudi Arabia or anywhere in the world. And to show taht she is series

about her business. You know, I've ben traveling all over. I went to Beirut, to Turkey, to New York, to Paris to establish a business that can

go on for the -- you know, for generations.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know you're in Jordan when everybody smiles back in your face.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know you're in Jordan when you notice all the high prices at restaurants and cabs and bars.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know you're in Jordan when your clothes always smell like shisha.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know you're in Jordan when it feels like you're driving a bumper car.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know you're in Jordan when people can only express their

feelings through honking. Someone is in your lane -- beep. Someone crosses the street -- beep. Someone is in your face -- beep.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know you are in Jordan when every guy's dream is to have a Kia Civia car.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know you're in Jordan when you feel the hospitality and the generosity of people. Yes.

UNIDENITIFED FEMALE: You know you're in Jordan when everybody goes out from their homes to play with the snow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know you're in Jordan when you drink Arabic coffee.

UNIDENTIIFED MALE: You know you're in Jordan when you see the trash on the sidewalk while the trash can is there, the trash bin is right there.

ANDERSON: The opinions there of just a few of those that we met in Amman about life in the Jordanian .

Back in Cairo, we asked two local comedians to give us their very unique take of their sprawling city.

UNIDENITIFIED MALE: Midday Cairo traffic. Why did we agree to do this again?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because, you know people always sit around saying you know what I love? I love being stuck in traffic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, but this in-car Shisha, which is as you can see here. And so far it said just wait three minutes and it should be good

to go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's an Egyptian three minutes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But it's not -- like it just makes a beep at the beginning, does a little light show and just sits there laughing at how

much money you spent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't say we're shooting with a foreign network here, they think we're spies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, I'm not risking that one.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He asked what I shooting. I said we are shooting with porno in midday Cairo traffic.

All right, who is going to take your clothes off first? I say you start.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You seem to be in better shape. I'm just going to say that much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're starting to sweat (EXPLETIVE DELETED) here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, this is...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But it's all for CNN. Yes.

I don't know if you know this about Cairo, but we do not believe in lanes, lanes are for boring people.

So what we do is we communicate with our car horns.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's usually the celebratory horn. People do that when we just won a game or people are getting married or something.

So I'm doing it now. They're just going to think with got engaged.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love when people come to visit. You do like, yo take me to Tahrir, I'm like, all right, but like there's really -- this

isn't like a Times Square situation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But a giant flagpole.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A ridiculously oversized flagpole.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To commemorate our historically successful revolution.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have no opinion on the matter.


8k an hour, and we're stopped.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know they wanted to film a Fast and Furious in Egypt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here it's slow and still furious.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know can the highest we're shooting...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, tight white t-shirt guys really.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: we have a permit, buddy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's holding up all these people.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love the walk of shame back to his car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the thing is straight off the bat, yo, like, oh, we have a permit. Oh, prove it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yo, he was looking for a hero story.

I busted some CNN people filming their (EXPLETIVE DELETED0 in Cairo.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How dare they promote our country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to keep the sunglasses on for the entire period.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was (inaudible).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How to bust people on...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would have at least done the heroic you're not allowed to doing that here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, no shooting!

If anything, most people smile and wave, and want to know what we're shooting.

All right, I'm going to fake smoke it. Come on, take a puff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The good people at Shisha to go.

Staying in Cairo to end this tour, then, of the Middle East. And to play us out two young men

making a name for themselves far beyond their native Egypt with a cheeky play on words, I give you until next time, The Sharamofers.

They are called Sharamoofers, a band shaping Egypt's modern scene. Started three years ago by Ahmed Baha (ph) and Muriel Ackhan (ph), the

group's skyrocketed in popularity in Egypt and beyond.

With their YouTube videos watched millions of times by people across the region. And it's not only their hip clothes that challenge traditional

norms, their music, too, stands out fusing Arabic reggae and rock.

Their ultimate aim? Happiness for the masses.