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The New Weddings in India’s South: ‘Expect Some Magic’

A small group of friends and family gathered under a yellow canopy by a small pool, but the main audience was really the cameras: This was content for the wedding highlight video.

Dr. Pfizer danced her way to the poolside to a band of live drummers that led the way. She danced more and posed as the Steadicams rushed forward for a special-effect shot, and then stepped back to pan out. There were plenty of close-ups of her hands decorated in henna, which had taken six hours to paint.

When she took her seat under the canopy for friends and family to rub turmeric on her face, she wore aviators and danced in her seat as the D.J. cranked up another hit song from across the pool — this one drawing on London and Big Ben, to praise beauty.

You are like our own Queen Victoria

You are the clock, the Big Ben

When you dance,

The entire London dances with you.

As the guests took their seats in the hall for the evening ceremony, the dance troupe changed costumes repeatedly — a Sufi entrance with the groom, a Punjabi bhangra number that included a cameo by the bride, a mash-up of the latest hits where the dancers displayed their hip-hop moves. Another group, all women, performed a traditional Keralan Muslim dance, oppana, a hip-hop dance in jeans and T-shirts, and a flamenco-inspired routine.

In between, the tall wedding singer, wearing a turtleneck and chic glasses with transparent rims, entertained the crowd. He announced the bride’s first entrance.

The heads turned to the back, where Dr. Pfizer, surrounded by the female troupe of dancers, beamed with excitement in a dazzling ocean-green dress paired with stunning jewelry. Mobile phones came out for pictures. Music blared as the dancers shimmied and snapped their fingers, parting the aisle for the bride.

But before the bride had climbed the stage to take her seat, someone realized that the main camera that films the “wedding highlight” for YouTube and Instagram wasn’t set up yet.

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How the E.U. Allowed Hungary to Become an Illiberal Model

BRUSSELS — After long indulging him, leaders in the European Union now widely consider one of their own, Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, an existential threat to a bloc that holds itself up as a model of human rights and the rule of law.

Mr. Orban has spent the past decade steadily building his “illiberal state,” as he proudly calls Hungary, with the help of lavish E.U. funding. Even as his project widened fissures in the bloc, his fellow national leaders mostly looked the other way, committed to staying out of one another’s affairs.

But now Mr. Orban’s defiance and intransigence has had an important, if unintended, effect: serving as a catalyst for an often-sluggish European Union system to act to safeguard the democratic principles that are the foundation of the bloc.

Early this year, the European Court of Justice will issue a landmark decision on whether the union has the authority to make its funds to member states conditional on meeting the bloc’s core values. Doing so would allow Brussels to deny billions of euros to countries that violate those values.

a new media law that curbed press freedom. It overhauled the country’s justice system, removed the head of its Supreme Court and created an office to oversee the courts led by the wife of a prominent member of the governing party, Fidesz. Election laws were changed to favor the party.

External factors strengthened Mr. Orban as well, including in 2015 when a record number of migrants made their way to Europe and when the right-wing Law and Justice party of Jaroslaw Kaczynski came to power in Poland. He suddenly had an ally there, and his tough stance against migrants won him support elsewhere, too.

Mr. Orban quit the conservative alliance when it became clear that it was going to oust his party.

Mr. Weber still regrets the loss of Fidesz. “On one level, it is a relief,” he said. “But Orban leaving is not a victory, but a defeat” in the effort to hold the center-right together as “a broad people’s party.”

It has helped Mr. Orban that the European Union has few and ineffective instruments for punishing a backsliding nation. Even the Lisbon Treaty, which gave enhanced powers to the European Parliament, has essentially one unusable tool: Article 7, which can remove a country’s voting rights, but only if passed by unanimity.

according to studies by R. Daniel Kelemen of Rutgers University and Tommaso Pavone of the University of Oslo, the commission sharply reduced infringement cases after the addition of new member states in 2004. José Manuel Barroso, a former commission president, “bought into this to work more cooperatively with governments and not just sue them,” Mr. Kelemen said. Mr. Barroso declined to comment.

Attitudes have shifted. With taxpayer money at stake, the next seven-year budget in the balance and the disregard for shared values shown by Mr. Orban and Mr. Kaczynski on leaders’ minds, Brussels may have finally found a useful tool to affect domestic politics, with a mix of lawsuits charging infringement of European treaties combined with severe financial consequences.

A marker has finally been laid down, Mr. Reynders said.

The big moment comes this month, when the European Court of Justice issues its ruling.

If Hungary and Poland lose the case, as expected, it is unclear what will happen if both countries simply refuse to comply. The European Union will be thrust deeper into unknown territory.

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As Other Arab States Falter, Saudi Arabia Seeks to Become a Cultural Hub

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — A pregnant Saudi woman, far from home, finds herself stalked by inner and outer demons. A wannabe Saudi vlogger and his friends, menaced by the internet’s insatiable appetite for content and more mysterious dangers, try to escape a dark forest. At a wedding, the mother of the bride panics when her daughter disappears with all of their guests waiting downstairs.

These were just a few of the 27 Saudi-made films premiering this month at a film festival in Jeddah, part of the conservative kingdom’s huge effort to transform itself from a cultural backwater into a cinematic powerhouse in the Middle East.

The Saudi push reflects profound shifts in the creative industries across the Arab world. Over the past century, while the name Saudi Arabia conjured little more than oil, desert and Islam, Cairo, Beirut, Damascus and Baghdad stood out as the Arab cultural beacons where blockbuster movies were made, chart-topping songs were recorded and books that got intellectuals talking hit the shelves.

to promote pro-government themes.

In many ways, the region’s cultural mantle is up for grabs, and Saudi Arabia is spending lavishly to seize it.

At the Red Sea International Film Festival, held on a former execution ground, Jeddah residents rubbernecked as stars like Hilary Swank and Naomi Campbell strutted down a red carpet in revealing gowns, and Saudi influencers D.J.-ed at dance parties.

All this in a country where, until a few years ago, women were not allowed to drive, cinemas were banned and aspiring filmmakers often had to dodge the religious police to shoot in public.

CineWaves.

Although Saudi Arabia’s population is about a fifth of Egypt’s, the Saudis are more affluent and wired, making them more likely to pay for streaming services and movie tickets. At about $18, a ticket in Saudi theaters is among the most expensive in the world.

But the kingdom only allowed cinemas to reopen only in 2018 after a 35-year ban. Before that, Saudis escaped to nearby Bahrain or Dubai to go to theaters.

Now, the country has 430 screens and counting, making it the fastest-growing market in the world, with a target of 2,600 screens by 2030, Mr. Abdulmajeed said.

Film Clinic, a Cairo-based production company.

Several Saudi-Egyptian collaborations are in the works, and an Egyptian “Hangover”-style comedy, “Wa’afet Reggala” (“A Stand Worthy of Men”), was the highest-grossing release in Saudi Arabia this year, beating the Hollywood blockbusters.

Saudi productions may also continue to draw acting, writing and directing talent from Lebanon, Syria and Egypt — and will most likely need to do so to reach non-Saudi audiences, said Rebecca Joubin, an Arab studies professor at Davidson College in North Carolina.

“With Saudi opening up, they say in Egypt that it’s saving Egypt’s movie industry,” said Marwan Mokbel, an Egyptian who co-wrote “Junoon,” the Saudi horror film about the vlogger that premiered at the Jeddah festival.

Shahid, its Dubai-based Arabic counterpart.

That has created a big market for Arabic-language content.

Netflix has produced Jordanian, Egyptian and Syrian-Lebanese shows, with varying degrees of success, and just announced the release of its first Arabic-language feature film, “Perfect Strangers.”

Syrian and Lebanese studios that used to depend on gulf financiers — who, they complained, often forced them to water down their artistic ambitions by nixing political themes — are also turning to web series and Netflix for new funding and wider audiences.

a hip alternative to the somnolent broadcast television. Mohammad Makki recalled dodging the police, guerrilla style, to film the first season of his show “Takki,” about a group of Saudi friends navigating Saudi social constraints, a decade ago. Then, it was a low-budget YouTube series. Now, it is a Netflix hit.

“We grew up dying to go to the cinema,” he said, “and now it’s two blocks from my house.”

Saudi women in the industry faced even greater challenges.

When “Wadjda” (2012), the first Saudi feature directed by a woman, was filmed, Haifaa al-Mansour, the director, was barred from mixing in public with male crew members. She worked instead from the back of a van, communicating with the actors via walkie-talkie.

“I’m still in shock,” said Ahd Kamel, who played a conservative teacher in “Wadjda,” which portrays a rebellious young Saudi girl who desperately wants a bicycle, as she walked through the festival. “It’s surreal.”

As a young actress in New York, Ms. Kamel hid her career from her family, knowing they, and Saudi society, would not approve of a woman acting. Now, she said, her family pesters her for festival tickets, and she is preparing to direct a new film to be shot in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi political, religious and cultural sensitivities are still factors, of course.

Marvel’s big-budget “Eternals” was not released in Saudi Arabia — or in Qatar, Kuwait or Egypt — because of gay romantic scenes. Several of the non-Saudi films screened at the Jeddah festival, however, included gay scenes, nudity and an out-of-wedlock pregnancy.

Hisham Fageeh, a Saudi comedian and actor, said officials had told him future films should avoid touching directly on God or politics.

Sumaya Rida, an actress in the festival movies “Junoon” and “Rupture,” said the films aimed to portray Saudi couples realistically while avoiding onscreen physical affection.

But the filmmakers said they were just happy to have support, accepting that it would come at the price of creative constraints.

“I don’t intend to provoke to provoke. The purpose of cinema is to tease. Cinema doesn’t have to be didactic,” said Fatima al-Banawi, a Saudi actress and director whose first feature film the festival is funding. “It comes naturally. We’ve been so good at working around things for so long.”

Vivian Yee reported from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and Ben Hubbard from Beirut, Lebanon. Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, and Nada Rashwan from Cairo.

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Desmond Tutu, Whose Voice Helped Slay Apartheid, Dies at 90

His words seemed prophetic when, in 2016, an alliance of religious leaders in South Africa joined other critics in urging Mr. Zuma to quit. In early 2018, Mr. Zuma was ousted after a power struggle with his deputy, Mr. Ramaphosa, who took over the presidency in February of that year.

By then, Archbishop Tutu had largely stopped giving interviews because of failing health and rarely appeared in public. But a few months after Mr. Ramaphosa was sworn in as the new president with the promise of a “new dawn” for the nation, the archbishop welcomed him at his home.

“Know that we pray regularly for you and your colleagues that this must not be a false dawn,” Archbishop Tutu warned Mr. Ramaphosa.

At that time, support for the African National Congress had declined, even though it remained the country’s biggest political party. In elections in 2016, while still under the leadership of Mr. Zuma, the party’s share of the vote slipped to its lowest level since the end of apartheid. Mr. Ramaphosa struggled to reverse that trend, but earned some praise later for his robust handling of the coronavirus crisis.

For much of his life, Archbishop Tutu was a spellbinding preacher, his voice by turns sonorous and high-pitched. He often descended from the pulpit to embrace his parishioners. Occasionally he would break into a pixielike dance in the aisles, punctuating his message with the wit and the chuckling that became his hallmark, inviting his audience into a jubilant bond of fellowship. While assuring his parishioners of God’s love, he exhorted them to follow the path of nonviolence in their struggle.

Politics were inherent in his religious teachings. “We had the land, and they had the Bible,” he said in one of his parables. “Then they said, ‘Let us pray,’ and we closed our eyes. When we opened them again, they had the land and we had the Bible. Maybe we got the better end of the deal.”

His moral leadership, combined with his winning effervescence, made him something of a global celebrity. He was photographed at glittering social functions, appeared in documentaries and chatted with talk-show hosts. Even in late 2015, when his health seemed poor, he met with Prince Harry of Britain, who presented him with an honor on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II.

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‘Today’s Outfit Is Confidence’: Atypical TikTok Star Enchants Mexico

MEXICO CITY — At 49 years old and under five feet tall, Martha Izquierdo doesn’t exactly fit the mold of a TikTok influencer. But having survived sexual abuse, kidnapping, two bouts with cancer and two heart attacks, conquering social media was practically a cinch for this Mexican journalist.

Ms. Izquierdo, who lives in a small town in southern Oaxaca state, has amassed more than 600,000 followers on the social media platform, with her videos accumulating some 24 million likes.

What’s the message that has made her so popular in a time of pandemic and in a country experiencing record levels of violence?

“I started talking about issues that had to do with seeing life in a positive way,” Ms. Izquierdo said. “Confronting your fears, making people understand that each one of us is unique, irreplaceable.”

award-winning journalist with decades of reporting experience, Ms. Izquierdo is relatively new to social media stardom. As the pandemic began its assault on Mexico in 2020, she decided to open a TikTok account, where she goes by @marthaizquierdooficial.

a devastating toll on public health and the economy, Ms. Izquierdo offers her fans a dose of pure delight. And in a digital era where everything is photoshopped glamour, Ms. Izquierdo’s very ordinariness, whether exercising, driving to work or dancing to cumbia music in her back yard, has made her extraordinary.

Her colorful outfits are part of her appeal, from traditional Oaxacan dresses to bikinis for the beach — the long scar from cancer surgery that slices across her belly proudly on display. But Ms. Izquierdo’s brand isn’t so much couture as confidence.

“If you have to start over, start over,” she said in one clip. “That’s what life is all about — never giving up.”

the world’s deadliest countries for journalists, reporting the news came with immense risks: Often, her work involved covering the cartel-fueled violence that has terrorized the country for decades.

In 2007, three newspaper sellers in a city near where she lived were killed, she recounted, by the violent Zetas cartel, whose assassins had mistaken their victims for journalists. When Ms. Izquierdo went to cover the killings, she received an ominous phone call saying she was next.

surrounded and detained by armed men. It was only when the army arrived that Ms. Izquierdo was released.

Still, despite continually confronting danger on the job, Ms. Izquierdo said her greatest challenge in life came when her partner of 18 years, who had been battling cancer and kidney problems, finally succumbed.

“I wanted to kill myself because I loved him so much that I stopped loving myself,” she said.

Then, in 2015, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and given eight months to live. Again, she thought about giving up.

But her friends and family convinced her to keep fighting. She underwent chemotherapy and multiple surgeries, leaving her body scarred.

“I would cry in front of the mirror when I looked at myself because my body looked mutilated,” Ms. Izquierdo said. “I felt like Frankenstein.”

Eventually she defeated the cancer — but in 2017 it returned, this time in her stomach. In February of that year she had a heart attack.

After surviving a second heart attack months later, Ms. Izquierdo said everything changed. While unconscious, Ms. Izquierdo said she had a vision during which she heard her deceased partner’s voice telling her to go on living.

“If I came back to life it was for one purpose,” she said. “To keep living, to be happy, and to help other people with my life experience.”

It was that positive attitude that catapulted her to TikTok fame. But along with all the followers came the trolls, who called her overweight or unattractive. At first, the negative comments started getting to her; then, she decided to stop caring.

“When I was allowing myself to be affected by unfounded negative comments, I said to myself, ‘No — I love myself.’”

Before long, the number of negative comments started dropping, even as her followers increased. Watching haters change their attitude toward her, Ms. Izquierdo said, is what she considers one of the greatest achievements of her TikTok presence. That, and the messages she receives from fans telling her the effect she’s had on their lives.

A few weeks ago, one of those fans, Ms. Méndez, summoned the courage to contact her idol. The resulting phone conversation, she said, has turned her life around: She’s gone to see a specialist about losing weight and plans to start working out.

“I want to wake up dancing every morning like she does,” Ms. Méndez said. “She’s a woman worth her weight in gold.”

For Ms. Izquierdo, this kind of impact is the point of all her efforts.

“It’s all worth it if I can change someone who is facing a problem,” she said. “If I can make them smile.”

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In Cuba, Desires for Food and Freedom May Spark a Rare Day of Protest

HAVANA — The line starts during the day and stretches into the night. In the dark before dawn, there are hundreds of people waiting. Four women sleep on cardboard boxes, sharing a thin blanket. Others chat to stay awake. A nurse arrives after a 24-hour shift and takes her place.

They each hold a ticket to enter a Cuban government supermarket, which is the only place to find basics like chicken, ground beef and toiletries. At 5:27 a.m. on Wednesday, a man in a fraying baseball cap hands out ticket number 302.

“If you don’t get in line, you don’t buy anything,” said a 35-year-old cook who arrived at 6 p.m. the previous evening and who did not want her name published for fear of retribution.

Even in a country long accustomed to shortages of everything from food to freedom, it has been a remarkably bleak year in Cuba, with Covid-19 restrictions making life under tough new U.S. sanctions even harder.

Now a young generation of dissidents, many of them artists and intellectuals who rely on the internet to spread their ideas, are calling for a protest on Monday, a bold move with little precedent in Cuba. They hope to reignite the marches that filled the streets last summer to demand food, medicine and liberty — and to take on a government that for the first time is not made up of the veterans of 1959’s communist revolution.

Just days before the “Civic March for Change” was set to begin, the organizers appeared to be toning down the protests for fear of violence. Organizers have encouraged people to hang white sheets outside their homes, applaud at 3 p.m., and find other creative ways to demonstrate if they do not feel comfortable taking to the streets.

Despite Cuba’s one-step-forward-two steps-back dance toward openness, experts agree that Cuba is on the cusp of something important, even if the movement behind the protests is unlikely to bring down a Communist Party that has been in power for more than 60 years.

“We are witnessing an unprecedented counterrevolutionary movement in Cuba,” said Carlos Alzugaray, a former Cuban ambassador to the European Union and an academic who considers himself a “critical” supporter of the government.

It is a crucial moment for the Cuban government. A generation of young people who grew up under Fidel Castro and his brother Raúl are now facing Miguel Díaz-Canel, a longtime party stalwart who became president in 2018. At 61, he represents a younger generation of Cuba’s Communist Party, and the person tasked with seeing it into the future.

Mr. Díaz-Canel blames Cuba’s economic ills on the longstanding U.S. embargo, which has been ramped up in recent years. The Trump administration restricted travel to the island, cut off remittances and further locked the island out of the international financial system, pummeling its foreign exchange inflows.

He has proved himself just as willing as his predecessors to crack down on dissent. When protesters took to the streets on July 11, Mr. Díaz-Canel encouraged party members to rush after them. Government supporters pursued the demonstrators with batons.

Some 1,000 people were arrested and 659 remain jailed, according to a count by the civil rights group, Cubalex.

After Monday’s planned demonstration was announced, the Cuban government launched a massive media campaign against it, insisting that its leaders are pawns of the United States.

Yunior García, a playwright, has emerged as one of the movement’s leaders. He was among the founders of Archipiélago, a Facebook group of about 35,000 members that promotes discussion and debate. The group is the main promoter of rallies scheduled to take place in cities around the country on Monday.

“I believe that the role of art is to awaken,” he said. “We have to shake things up so that people with dignity that make up society decide to change things.”

The Cuban government has publicly criticized Mr. García, saying that workshops he attended abroad, such as one that was about how dissidents could forge alliances with the Cuban military, amounted to planning a popular uprising. Mr. García said he was doing research for a script.

Mr. García acknowledges meeting with American officials in Havana, but said he went to record a podcast and discuss the effects of the trade embargo.

His internet and phone services are routinely cut, he said, and he recently found a decapitated chicken outside his front door, a religious hex, which he saw as a political threat. State security has even visited his mother-in-law three times at work, he added.

“They have used every tool at their disposal to intimidate us,” Mr. García said.

Mr. García said on Thursday that he would march alone, in silence, on Sunday. He also urged others to take whatever peaceful measures they could on Monday to avoid provoking a reaction from the police.

His announcement, posted on Facebook, left unclear whether the rallies would still take place. Raúl Prado, a cinematographer and one of the platform’s coordinators, said demonstrators would protest “to the extent that the circumstances allow.”

If no police car is parked outside his house preventing him from leaving on the 15th, he will march to insist on the liberation of political prisoners and to demand human rights, Mr. Prado said.

“There is no other way to achieve change,” Mr. Prado said. “If it’s not us, then the responsibility will fall on our children.”

At least two coordinators of Archipiélago have been fired from their state jobs because of their involvement with the group, which Mr. Díaz-Canel has denounced as a Trojan horse for U.S.-backed regime change.

“Their embassy in Cuba has been taking an active role in efforts to subvert the internal order of our country,” Mr. Díaz-Canel said in a recent speech.

The U.S. government spends $20 million a year on projects designed to promote democracy in Cuba — money the Cuban government sees as illegal attacks on its sovereignty.

But Archipiélago members interviewed by the Times denied receiving any money from the U.S. government, and emphasized that Cuban problems are for Cubans alone to solve.

“Archipiélago is not a movement, a political party, or an opposition group,” Mr. Prado said. “It does not have a particular political line.”

The young and hip group of Cubans behind the Facebook group contrast with classic dissidents on the island, who were often older, unknown to most Cubans and deeply divided in factions.

The arrival of the internet, which came to Cuban telephones three years ago after diplomatic deals cut with the Obama administration, was a game-changer. With internet now widely available, ordinary citizens are abreast of anti-government activities, and are quick to post their own complaints as well.

Hal Klepak, professor emeritus of history and strategy at the Royal Military College of Canada, said the scale of opposition the government has faced this year is unparalleled in Cuba’s history since the revolution.

“No one had ever imagined tens of thousands of people in the streets,” he said. “It is visible and by Cuban standards it is loud. It’s something we’ve never seen before.”

But the question remains whether ordinary Cubans will attend Monday’s protest, considering the government declared it illegal, and its organizers have toned down their calls.

The protest was scheduled on the very day that quarantine rules are being lifted, tourists are being welcomed back and children are set to return to school. The wave of Covid-19 fatalities that helped fuel the July protest has largely subsided, and 70 percent of the nation is now fully vaccinated.

Abraham Alfonso Moreno, a gym teacher who at 5 a.m. held ticket number 215 outside the government store, said he did not protest in July and would not on Monday either. “In the end, it’s not going to solve anything,” he said.

He was more fixated on finding allergy pills.

Marta María Ramírez, a feminist, pro-democracy and gay rights activist in Havana, said the people who rushed to protest in July were more concerned about food than democracy, but that could be changing.

“The first cries were not for freedom. The first cries were more urgent: food, medicine, electricity,” she said. “Freedom came afterward.”

Frances Robles contributed reporting.

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