NPR: Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson

Foreign correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Cairo and covers the Arab world for NPR from the Middle East to North Africa. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

In 2006, Nelson opened the NPR Kabul Bureau. During the following three and a half years, she gave listeners an in-depth sense of life inside Afghanistan, from the increase in suicides among women in a tribal society that sees them as second class citizens, to the growing interference of Iran and Pakistan in Afghan affairs and the impact of Western policies in the region. For her coverage of Afghanistan, she won a Peabody award, Overseas Press Club award and Gracie in 2010.

Nelson came to NPR in 2006, after spending more than two decades as a newspaper reporter. She served as Knight Ridder's Middle East Bureau Chief from 2002 to 2005 where she specialized in covering Iran. As a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, Nelson was sent on extended assignment to Iran and Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Nelson spent three years as an editor and reporter for Newsday and was part of the team that won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for covering the crash of TWA flight 800. She also spent time at the the Orange County Register covering Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

A graduate of the University of Maryland, Nelson speaks Farsi, Dari, and German. She is married to long-time reporter Erik Nelson and they have a son.



Fri June 10, 2011
Conflict In Libya

Libyan State TV Talk Show Not The Usual Propaganda

Yosif A. Shakeir is host of Ashem al-Watan (or "Hope of the Nation"), which is seen on the Libyan state TV channel. The show is using the airwaves in Libya to keep hope for Moammar Gadhafi's regime alive.
Johnathan Blakley NPR

There's a war Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is waging in addition to the one against Libyan rebels and NATO: a propaganda war on the airwaves. His goal is to persuade Libyans to support him, and his top commander in that effort is a U.S.-educated political scientist.

The Libyan pundit hosts a nightly show broadcast from Tripoli that he claims is styled after some of America's most popular television programs. The show, called Ashem al-Watan, or "Hope of the Nation," isn't your usual Libyan television fare.

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Sat May 28, 2011
Middle East

Egypt Border Opening Brings Relief To Palestinians

Egypt reopened its border with the Gaza Strip on Saturday, ending a four-year-old blockade. The move brought badly needed relief to the Palestinian territory's people, but it could deepen Egypt's rift with Israel.


Mon May 23, 2011
Middle East

Saudis Impatient For King's Promised Reforms

Saudi King Abdullah months ago promised changes in what analysts say was a bid to quiet growing frustrations in the desert kingdom. But now, much of the king's words are ringing hollow with many Saudis who say they see little change.


Sat May 21, 2011
Middle East

Egypt, Uncensored: New TV Station Tackles Injustice In this image from a show called Hashtag, the host discusses the Twitter hashtag #FreeTarekShalaby, which began after Shalaby, an Egyptian activist, was arrested during protests outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo. He was later released." href="/post/egypt-uncensored-new-tv-station-tackles-injustice" class="noexit lightbox">
The newly founded Egyptian news channel 25TV broadcasts on their website, In this image from a show called Hashtag, the host discusses the Twitter hashtag #FreeTarekShalaby, which began after Shalaby, an Egyptian activist, was arrested during protests outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo. He was later released.

The revolution in Egypt can be seen now on the country's satellite television network in the form of a 24-hour news and entertainment channel. 25TV's programming is not always polished, but it is honest and uncensored — at least most of the time.

Its approach to coverage is unique in a country where the government has strictly controlled the news for decades. In fact, staffers joke that their goal is to do all the stories that Egyptian state television won't touch.

And while Egyptian television hosts are usually quite suave, 25TV's Seif Khirfan is not.

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Thu May 19, 2011
Middle East

Poverty Hides Amid Saudi Arabia's Oil Wealth

As an oil exporter, Saudi Arabia is one of the richest countries in the world. And with an economy that is continuing to grow, its reputation among many people in the Arab world is that of a nation of extravagance and, sometimes, excess.

But when you look beyond the luxury SUVs, upscale malls and glittery high rises in the desert kingdom, a far different view of Saudi life emerges — one laced with poverty and unemployment, affecting millions of people. It's a problem many Saudis are reluctant to acknowledge.

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Sun May 8, 2011
Middle East

Voters Disenchanted In Upcoming Saudi Election

Registration is underway in Saudi Arabia for a national election this September to fill seats on nearly 300 municipal councils.

It's only the third time in the kingdom's history that a nationwide vote is taking place. And it comes at a time when citizens in other Arab countries are rising up to demand democratic reforms.

In Saudi Arabia, only men can vote and only men can serve on the councils.

Few people are signing up to vote, and some Saudis are dismissing the upcoming elections as a gimmick.

The Last Election

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Wed May 4, 2011
Reporter's Notebook

In A Land Of Few Rights, Saudi Women Fight To Vote

It was pretty sobering to hear a group of Saudi women I met recently tell me they feel they have the least freedom or rights of any women in the world.

They have no right to vote in the rare, countrywide elections Saudi officials hold or to drive on the kingdom's roads. They have little say in matters of marriage and divorce. They can't travel unless their male guardian — who could even be their child — gives them a letter granting them permission to do so.

Never mind the mandatory black robe and veil that they must put on whenever they leave the house.

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Mon May 2, 2011
The Two-Way

In His Birth Country, Reaction To Bin Laden's Killing Is Muted

In Saudi Arabia, reaction has been muted to the killing of Osama bin Laden. The Saudi Press Agency carried a bland statement expressing hope that it would be a "step that supports the international efforts against terrorism."

But Saudi bloggers and tweeters are abuzz. One person tweeting is Jamal Khashoggi, former editor-in-chief of the Saudi Newspaper al-Watan. He knew bin Laden and fought alongside other Arabs in Afghanistan during the Soviet era. He last interviewed bin Laden in his home in Khartoum in 1995.

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Mon April 25, 2011
Middle East

Yemen's Saleh Wants Immunity Before Stepping Down

Originally published on Mon April 25, 2011 7:55 am



Now many of those Guantanamo detainees are from Yemen, a country we'll talk about next. It's facing a major political transition. Yemen's president Ali Abdullah Saleh has been in power for more than three decades and is considered and important U.S. ally in the battle against al-Qaida. But after widespread protests against his rule, he now says he is willing to step down within a month if he and his family are granted immunity from prosecution.

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Thu April 21, 2011
Middle East

Rising Religious Tension Sparks Fear In Egyptian City

Many who took part in Egypt's popular uprising hoped it would lead to improved relations between the country's Muslims and the Christian minority.

But in some Egyptian cities, residents say religious tensions are worse than ever. One of the hotspots is the southern Egyptian city of Qena, where there have been several attacks on Christians by Islamist extremists.

This week, thousands of Muslim hardliners are blocking railroad tracks and roads in and out of the city to protest the appointment of a Christian governor.

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Tue April 19, 2011
Middle East

Women Press For A Voice In The New Egypt

For the first time in Egyptian history, a woman is running for president.

Buthayna Kamel's candidacy in elections expected later this year is the result of the youth uprising that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak and his ruling party.

Still, many Egyptian women say they feel shut out of the new government that is emerging. They worry that unless they take bold steps, women will end up with less political clout in the new Egypt than they had under Mubarak.

A New Freedom Meets An Old Problem

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Tue April 12, 2011
Anti-Government Protests Roil Egypt

With No One In Charge, Frustration Rises In Suez

Many people in Egypt credit protesters in Suez city with spurring the popular uprising that led to the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak.

Three of them died in a hail of police bullets on the first day, motivating tens of thousands of people to take to the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities.

But 10 weeks later, Suez residents are disillusioned with a revolution they complain has turned their city on its head.

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Sat April 9, 2011
Middle East

Troops, Protesters Clash In Cairo

Protesters in Egypt's Tahrir Square clashed with security forces Saturday. They're unhappy with the pace of pursuing corruption, among other things.


Thu April 7, 2011
Middle East

Activists Say Egyptian Military Continues Repression

When Egypt's revolution drove former President Hosni Mubarak from office, the military stepped in to oversee the country's transition to democracy. But the revolution's leaders and activists fear that move has backfired.

They accuse the military of continuing the repressive practices of Mubarak's much-hated security forces and replacing Egypt's legal system with its own brand of justice.

A 'Parallel Legal System'

Almost daily, relatives and supporters of detained Egyptians come to an imposing military court compound in a Cairo suburb.

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Sat March 19, 2011
Middle East

Egyptians Vote On Amendments To Constitution



Egyptians vote today in the first election since ousting Hosni Mubarak from power last month. At stake: nine amendments to the constitution that the former ruler helped create. Supporters say the referendum is the first step toward a real democracy in Egypt. But opponents argue the measures leave too much power in the hands of Egypt's future presidents and they want the constitution scrapped.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports voter turnout is unusually high in some districts.

(Soundbite of people speaking foreign language)

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