Leila Fadel

Leila Fadel is NPR's international correspondent based in Cairo.

Before joining NPR, she covered the Middle East for The Washington Post. In her role as Cairo Bureau Chief she reported on a wave of revolts and their aftermaths in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria.

Prior to her position as Cairo Bureau Chief for the Post, she covered the Iraq war for nearly five years with Knight Ridder, McClatchy Newspapers and later the Washington Post. Her foreign coverage of the devastating human toll of the Iraq war earned her the George. R. Polk award in 2007.

Leila Fadel is a Lebanese-American journalist who speaks conversational Arabic and was raised in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon.

Ahmed Kardous sets up an establishing shot. He trains the camera on the actors standing on a cliff overlooking a valley of greenery, and someone yells out, "Action."

Kardous is the director of photography for this Ramadan's breakout television show in Egypt. It's called Haret el-Yahood, or The Jewish Quarter.

The massive wave of people fleeing the Middle East and Africa face dangerous conditions to make the trip across the Mediterranean Sea, crowded onto rickety boats and overloaded ships. An estimated 2,000 migrants have died so far this year alone.

But, despite the danger, the burgeoning business of smuggling migrants has taken on some retail features.

Smugglers sending desperate migrants from Egypt to Europe are looking to make money — but they do offer discounts. Small children can go for free; migrants who organize a group can go free, as a sort of referral bonus.

It happens suddenly. One day, without warning, someone goes out to run an errand or go to class, and they don't come home.

Forced disappearances by Egypt's security forces aren't a new tactic in Egypt, but they're on the rise, human rights groups and activists say. And a cross section of activists, human rights defenders and journalists are being targeted.

At the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the booming call to prayer competes with the racket of construction.

The Grand Mosque is the destination for the most sacred Muslim pilgrimage and it holds the Kaaba, the black cube of a building in the center of the mosque known to Muslims as the House of God.

But skyscraper hotels increasingly dominate the skyline, dwarfing the Great Mosque where worshippers gather, and angering those who seek to retain the city's history and traditional architecture.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Things are changing in Saudi Arabia. The new king made a surprising move this week, choosing his nephew to take over as crown prince and his son to take the position of deputy crown prince.

The decision marks a generational shift. For the first time, a grandson of the founder of the kingdom is heir to the throne. And one young prince, the son of King Salman, is emerging as a war hero for many Saudis as the country continues to carry out airstrikes in Yemen.

Saudi airstrikes in Yemen began almost a month ago, targeting rebels who have taken over much of the country.

Internationally, there are concerns about increasing casualties and questions about the strategy in the Saudi operation, which is receiving help from the U.S., among others.

But at home in the kingdom, the war has sparked a patriotic fervor that's noticeable just about everywhere you turn.

Christopher Catrambone, a wealthy businessman from Lake Charles, La., docks his boat these days in Malta, the Mediterranean island he now calls home. That boat, called the Phoenix, has been getting outfitted for a series of trips set to begin in May.

But Catrambone and his crew don't intend to use the Phoenix for luxury cruises. He and his Italian wife, Regina, invested about $8 million of their own money to buy the ship and hire a crew for an entirely different purpose: to save lives at sea.

One of the self-proclaimed Islamic State's biggest weapons has been its terrifying propaganda. Highly-produced videos of brute violence are its hallmark: a man being burned alive in a cage; Christians being beheaded on a beach in Libya; a child being used to execute a suspected traitor.

But in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East, people are responding by laughing rather than cowering.

A Cairo criminal court has sentenced prominent Egyptian blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah to five years in jail for violating a controversial law that bans unlicensed protests.

Another activist, Ahmed Abdul Rahman, was also sentenced to five years on Monday. Eighteen other people were given three years, and several tried in absentia got 15 years.

As the judge read out his verdict, the courtroom erupted in protest.

Over the weekend a video emerged apparently showing the Libya branch of the self-proclaimed Islamic State beheading 21 men. All but one were confirmed to be Christian laborers from Egypt.

While this new variation on brutality shocked people around the world, the horror — and sorrow — hit hardest in a small, poor Egyptian town: Residents say 13 of the men were from El-Aour, a hamlet on the Nile River that is a mix of Christians and Muslims.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The headquarters of the National Oil Corporation in Tripoli are gleaming, the floors marble, the offices decked out with black leather chairs and fake flowers. It seems far from the fighting going on over oil terminals around the country.

But the man in charge looks at production and knows the future is bleak.

"We cannot produce. We are losing 80 percent of our production," says Mustapha Sanallah, the chairman of Libya's National Oil Corporation.

He looks like a typical executive, decked out in a suit and glasses. But beneath his calm veneer, he's worried.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

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At a recent protest, Libyans in the eastern city of Bayda chanted: "There's no gas, there's no electricity, you've brought us nothing, Thinni."

The protesters were referring to Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni, the head of one of Libya's two rival governments. His government is relegated to Bayda, a city of just 250,000 people because it doesn't control the capital in far-away Tripoli, hundreds of miles to the west.

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Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The main boulevard in Tunisia's capital, Tunis, is alive with political debate about the two candidates for president in this Sunday's election.

In one tent, campaign workers play music and hand out fliers for Beji Caid Essebsi, an 88-year-old candidate who held posts in the old regime and then served as an interim prime minister after the country's revolution in 2011.

In the northern Iraqi city of Halabja, near the border with Iran, we knock on the door of a 16-year-old boy who disappeared. His family says he lied to them, saying he was going on a picnic with a teenage friend. But they never came home.

"He disappeared in May," says the boy's older sister. "A few days later a letter arrived in his handwriting. It said, 'I'm in Syria. Don't look for me.' "

The boy, like most everyone in this city, is a Kurd, most of whom are Sunni Muslim. He joined the so-called Islamic State, a Sunni Muslim extremist group also known as ISIS.

Barzan is a young Yazidi man, with sad blue eyes. His mother, five of his sisters and his niece are being held by the so-called Islamic State, taken when the extremist group swept through the Sinjar area of northern Iraq in August.

They are seven of some 5,000 Yazidis still being held by the extremist Sunni group. The Iraqi women are enslaved and sold for sex.

His sixth sister is home with him now. She is just 15 and she was raped. To protect her identity we're only using Barzan's first name.

When militants from the self-proclaimed Islamic State swept through the Sinjar area of northern Iraq in August, they killed hundreds and kidnapped unknown numbers of men, women and children.

The fate of most of them is still unknown, but activists and those who have escaped recount horror stories of rapes and beatings. They're trying to focus international attention on those still being held.

Not one but two ousted presidents are on trial. In cages. As are a group of journalists from the Al Jazeera satellite channel. Then there are the countless activists facing charges that are widely seen as politically motivated.

If you like courtroom dramas, Egypt is the place to be these days. And while there's no shortage of high-profile trials, analysts say one thing hasn't changed in the three tumultuous years since the overthrow of the autocratic Hosni Mubarak: There's still no guarantee of a fair trial for the accused.

In Libya, disputes are settled by guns.

On a recent day, just west of Tripoli, the Libyan capital, gunfire erupts, a battle between two families. It builds for hours; people run for cover. No one intervenes — even though a Libyan army base is just a mile away.

Inside that military camp in a town called Zawiya are 230 young men from across the North African nation, part of the government effort to address the country's most glaring problem: an almost nonexistent security force.

Here are three numbers that tell the story of Egypt's security crackdown, its political turmoil and the simmering insurgency.

16,687. It's estimated that at least this many political detainees have been imprisoned since the military ousted the Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, on July 3.

4,482. At least this many people have been killed in clashes since Morsi's ouster, many at the hands of security forces.

Twenty people were referred to criminal court in Egypt today, among them three Al-Jazeera English journalists who have been in prison since Dec. 29. The charges are chilling.

Egyptian authorities say Canadian-Egyptian journalist Mohamed Fadel Fahmy was running a terrorist cell out of a swank hotel in the upscale district of Zamalek. He was aided by four foreigners, according to the charges.