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.



Mon September 5, 2011
Middle East

Mubarak Trial Resumes In Egypt

In Cairo, the trial of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is scheduled to resume Monday. On the first day that testimony is expected, the judge has banned cameras from the courtroom. Mubarak is accused of ordering the killing of protesters during the uprising earlier this year. The 83-year-old denies the charges.


Tue August 30, 2011

Libyan Rebels Set Deadline For Surrender

Libyan rebel fighters advance in their tank about 60 miles east of the town of Sirte on Tuesday, Aug. 30. Sirte is Moammar Gadhafi's hometown and the last bastion of his loyalist forces.
Eric Feferberg AFP/Getty Images

Libya's rebels say they have more than 10,000 fighters surrounding Moammar Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte and are waiting for the order to attack.

The rebel officials say that order will be given this Saturday. But over the next few days, they will try to negotiate the peaceful surrender of Sirte, the last major bastion of Gadhafi's forces.

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Mon August 29, 2011
Conflict In Libya

Libya's Ex-Prisoners Finding Their Way Home

Originally published on Mon August 29, 2011 8:06 pm

The walls of the Libyan Red Crescent office in Benghazi, Libya, shown here on Monday, are covered with photos of the missing. Some disappeared during Libya's revolution, but some have been missing for more than 10 years. Now, thousands released from Libya's prisons are being reunited with their families.
Susannah George NPR

In Libya, thousands of rebel fighters and political prisoners freed from Moammar Gadhafi's notorious prisons are making their way home. But tens of thousands more are still missing.

Anxious relatives and friends in the eastern city of Benghazi have flooded the airport and docks night after night in hopes of finding their loved ones arriving by plane or by boat.

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Sat August 27, 2011

Libyan Rebels Plan Rule, Prepare Final Assault

Originally published on Sat August 27, 2011 10:53 am


SCOTT SIMON, host: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News, I'm Scott Simon. Libyan rebels say they've secured most of Tripoli and taken a key border crossing to Tunisia. That crossing is vital to getting food and supplies into the Libyan capital where the human situation is growing dire. Members of the rebel council in Benghazi say they're relocating to Tripoli where they will set up an interim government that will rule Libya into 2012. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. Soraya, thanks for being with us.

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Thu August 25, 2011

Libyan Rebels Ask Oil Workers To Return To Brega

Now that the regime of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is crumbling, residents of some cities outside the capital are returning to their homes. Brega, site of an important oil installation, is one such city. It changed hands several times during the conflict but it is firmly in rebel hands, and its residents are trying to re-establish their lives.


Mon August 22, 2011
Middle East

Egyptians Fear Military Stymies Democracy Push

The Egyptian military is cracking down on pro-democracy activists, particularly those using the Internet to convey their message. The military rulers are also putting out statements to try to turn public sentiment against the activists, who were pivotal in starting the uprising that ousted former leader Hosni Mubarak.


Mon August 15, 2011

Mubarak Makes Second Court Appearance

In Egypt Monday, former President Hosni Mubarak made his second appearance in court. And much like his first appearance earlier this month, the day proved more dramatic than substantive. The judge once again delayed any testimony against the former president. Mubarak is charged with complicity in the deaths of hundreds of protesters earlier this year — and with corruption. His two sons are also on trial.


Fri July 29, 2011
Culture And Traditions

At 7 Days, Egyptian Babies Mark First Rite Of Passage

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 11:36 am

Israa Saad Diab lifts the cover from her son Hamza's face, while her husband, Ibrahim Muhammad, watches, after the traditional Sebou ceremony in Mansoura, Egypt, on May 27.
Holly Pickett for NPR

In Egypt, survival and the number 7 are inextricably linked. It's on the seventh day that a child's existence is first formally acknowledged to the world in a ritual that dates back to Pharaonic times.

But the ancient tradition — called the Sebou — has taken on new and not always happy turns since a revolution earlier this year ousted longtime President Hosni Mubarak.

Building An Infant's Character

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Wed July 13, 2011
Middle East

Rifts Develop In Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood

In Egypt, the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood is now the most organized political force in the country. It is poised to capture a significant amount of power in nationwide elections being planned for the fall.

But dissension in the brotherhood's ranks has been growing since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. Key figures in the group are bolting, and at least one has been expelled, causing some in Egypt to question whether the decades-old movement can survive.

Members Split Off For New Parties

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Thu June 30, 2011
Reporter's Notebook

Tripoli's Lone Chinese Restaurant Still Delivers

Chef Lao Wei Xiong cooks up a carry-out order for foreign reporters in the kitchen at al Maida restaurant in Tripoli.

Most foreigners fled Libya earlier this year when a popular uprising to oust Moammar Gadhafi turned into a brutal war. But in Tripoli, one Chinese family that runs a restaurant is trying to hang on.

Few people come to al Maida Chinese restaurant, which once counted Gadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam, among its customers. NATO airstrikes and gun-toting thugs make eating out an unsavory prospect for most people still in the capital.

The exceptions are foreign journalists seeking an escape from the lackluster cuisine of the hotel they are restricted to by the Libyan government.

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Thu June 16, 2011

Libya's Government Minders: Everything Is Normal

In Libya, government forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi have been fighting rebels for months. Government officials, however, do everything possible to deny there is a war on and pretend that everything is just fine across the country.


Tue June 14, 2011

Gasoline Shortage Tries Libyans' Patience

Volunteer Ibtisam Saadeddin, who wears a khaki uniform and a badge and pins with photos of Moammar Gadhafi, says she patrols the line at the women-only gas station to make sure no fights break out.
Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson NPR

For Libyans, one of the main hardships caused by the worldwide campaign against their leader, Moammar Gadhafi, is a nationwide shortage of gasoline.

Fighting has nearly ground to a halt the oil-rich nation's ability to refine fuel. A naval blockade keeps any fuel tankers from leaving or reaching the North African nation's ports.

The shortage has led to cars lining up as far as the eye can see outside Libyan gas stations providing what little fuel is left at normal prices. But being a woman there means you may not have to wait as long to fill up.

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Fri June 10, 2011
National Security

Justice Department Agrees To Plea In Drake Case

The Justice Department has agreed to a plea deal with Thomas Drake, a former National Security Agency employee originally charged with 10 felonies, including violating the Espionage Act. Jane Mayer, staff writer for The New Yorker, joins Melissa Block to talk about how Thomas Drake became accused of being an enemy of the state.


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

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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