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DUBAI (Reuters) - Twitter Inc launched advertising services in the Middle East and North Africa on Sunday as the social media firm seeks to exploit a tripling of its regional subscriber base following its widespread use during the Arab Spring protests.

Digital advertising is relatively undeveloped in the region, accounting for an estimated 4 percent of its total advertising spending, but a young, tech-savvy population and rising Internet penetration points to significant potential for growth.

"The two are interconnected - the rapid growth of our user base with the timing of why we want to help brands connect with that audience," said Shailesh Rao, Twitter vice-president for international operations.

Twitter does not provide a regional breakdown of its more than 200 million users worldwide, but Rao said its MENA subscriber base had tripled in the past 12 months.

The company has recruited Egypt's Connect Ads, which is ultimately owned by Cairo-listed Orascom Telecom Media and Technology, to launch advertising initially in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

Pepsi and Saudi telecom operator Etihad Etisalat (Mobily) are among its confirmed clients, the company said.

Twitter says the products it promotes typically have an audience response rate of 1 to 3 percent, significantly higher than traditional advertising rate of 0.1 to 0.5 percent.

"Social media advertising is totally different because it relies on what people say. It's about two-way, not one-way, communication," said Mohamed El Mehairy, Connect Ads managing director.

(editing by Jane Baird)

Copyright (2013) Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions

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ESSAY CONTAINS EXPLICIT CONTENT

EPF 2012 Finalist

 

Ayman Oghanna

Yesterday’s War, Today’s Iraq

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My father left Iraq in the 1970s. He would not have recognised it, by the time I had gotten there. It was 2009 and Iraq had nearly car-bombed, kidnapped and executed itself into oblivion.

‘Cultures that may seem as durable as stone’ wrote Anthony Shadid, ‘can break like glass, leaving all the things that held them together unattended.’
And Iraq was broken. It’s shattered pieces unattended by the humming of generators and of U.S. drones overhead. Trust lay only in your family, in your tribe, in your sect. If you were lucky enough to be part of a sectarian majority, it lay in your neighborhood – now purged of rival tribal threats, both real and perceived.

The myth of Iraq a proud country, had stopped in my father’s time. Asir al thahabi. The golden age. Before Saddam, before the eight-year-war with Iran, before Kuwait, before sanctions, the myth before the fall. Today’s Iraq is many fractured pieces. A simmering federation of Sunni, Kurd, nationalistic and pro-Iranian Shia, whose first civil war has ended, whose second seems just at the corner. It’s a nation of many nations, lots of little failed states underneath the veil of a much larger one.They are identities by no means new. They have been laying dormant since the fall of the Ottomans, created alongside the artificial state carved out by the victorious imperial powers.

The goal of my project is to confront the multiple identities in Iraq today and examine their relationship to the greater Iraqi state. I have been living and working in Iraq since 2009 searching for a glimpse of the country that my father had left behind. I can’t see it. Perhaps it had never existed in the first place. A necessary nostalgia for better days, during such consistently disappointing ones. I don’t know yet.

If it does exist, however, it is within these smaller communities. Each vying for a future in the new Iraq. The project I am trying to fund, is an attempt to build a cultural narrative of the new Iraq.

 

Bio

Ayman Oghanna, 26, is an independent photographer and journalist working in the Arab World. A British-Iraqi, born and raised in London, he now lives out of Istanbul. His photography, writing and multimedia stories have appeared in The New York Times, The New York Times Sunday Review, Businessweek, The Guardian, The Economist, Time and Vice Magazine. He is currently based between Istanbul and Iraq, where he continues to work on ‘Yesterday’s War, Today’s Iraq’ an on going project on life in the new Iraq.

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The United States and allied forces have been in Afghanistan for over ten years, an occupation that approaches the 2014 deadline for a full withdrawal of those forces. As the transition draws closer, problems with security, the economy, and cultural mores are growing even more apparent. Included in this monthly look at Afghanistan are images that highlight these issues, as well as images that point to a more hopeful future. The activist group YoungWomen4Change prepares posters demanding women's rights even as the horrific torture of 15-year-old Sahar Gul, who refused her husband's family's demands that she become a prostitute, came to light. Also included here are images of another Afghan girl, 12-year-old Tarana Akbari, who witnessed the terrible suicide bombing in Kabul that killed at least 80 Shiites during observances of the Ashura holiday. The bombing has raised fears of renewed sectarian violence. -- Lane Turner (37 photos total)
A man feeds pigeons in front of the Shrine of Hazrat Ali, or Blue Mosque, in Mazar-e-Sharif on December 22, 2011. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

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In this post, featuring images from the last quarter of 2011, we remember a tumultuous year of change across the globe, the capture of Khadafi, the 10th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the passing of Apple icon Steve Jobs, fire, famine, flood and protests. A memorable year, indeed. -- Paula Nelson -- Please see part 1 and part 2 from earlier. (EDITOR'S NOTE: We will not post a Big Picture on Monday, December 26, due to the Christmas Holiday ) (51 photos total)
A defaced portrait of fugitive Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi in Tripoli on Sept. 1, 2011 as the fallen strongman vowed again not to surrender in a message broadcast on the 42nd anniversary of the coup which brought him to power. (Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images)

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IN MOURNING
IN MOURNING: Dagmar Havlova, seen through the window of a hearse, and thousands of Czechs paid their respects to her husband, Vaclav Havel, in Prague Wednesday. Mr. Havel, whose ‘Velvet Revolution’ toppled communist rule, died Sunday at age 75 after a respiratory illness. (David W Cerny/Reuters)

MANY OPTIONS
MANY OPTIONS: A vendor sat near displays of cellphone numbers of Kuwait’s Zain and South Africa’s MTN carriers in Khartoum, Sudan, Wednesday. (Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters)

SOLDIERS STRETCH
SOLDIERS STRETCH: Soldiers rehearsed Wednesday on Rajpath Boulevard in New Delhi for India’s upcoming Republic Day celebrations. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press)

DIGGING OUT
DIGGING OUT: A boy shoveled mud from his home in Iligan, Philippines, Wednesday. Flash flooding from Typhoon Washi left hundreds of people dead and displaced hundreds of thousands. (Erik De Castro/Reuters)

HELPING HANDS
HELPING HANDS: Soldiers carried Zeinab al-Shogery, whose leg is injured, from a polling station in Giza, Egypt, Wednesday. The country is holding staggered parliamentary elections. Recent clashes between the military and pro-democracy activists have left at least 14 people dead. (Nasser Nasser/Associated Press)

VOTER OUTREACH
VOTER OUTREACH: Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov.Romney waved to voters inside a pizza parlor in Newport, N.H., Wednesday. (Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)

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Philip Toczylowski, of Philadelphia, sits by his son’s grave with a trumpet at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Friday, Dec. 16, 2011, a day after the Pentagon declared an end to the war in Iraq. Toczylowski says that he plays taps every time he visits the grave of his son, Army Major Jeffrey Philip [...]

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Of the myriad lessons that can be gleaned from the Arab Spring, perhaps the most inspirational is the confirmation that there’s strength in numbers. So it’s hardly a surprise that several photographers who’ve made their livelihood documenting the Middle East – including the aftermath of the revolutionary riots from earlier this year – would apply such a lesson to their work.

Hence, the Rawiya collective, a photography cooperative made up of six female photographers from across the Middle East, who’ve pooled their resources, contacts and talents to not only strengthen their work, but to also expand their reach.

The photographers—Tamara Abdul Hadi (currently in Beirut), Laura Boushnak (currently in Sarajevo), Tanya Habjouqa (currently in East Jerusalem), Dalia Khamissy (currently in Beirut), Newsha Tavakolian (currently in Tehran) and Myriam Abdelaziz (currently in Cairo) – had each previously built careers shooting across the region, working the hard news cycles for various publications. However, the women felt that important social and political stories were still going unseen and wanted a platform to share them.

So when Tavakolian first approached Abdul Hadi and Khamissy during a trip to Beirut in 2009 with the idea of forming the collective, the women were enthusiastic. Boushnak and Habjouqa were asked to join the group soon after and in August 2011, Abdelaziz, whose work covering the Egyptian revolutions was admired by the other women, also joined the collective. The women spent long nights in Beirut cafes and chatting over Skype, discussing their vision.

The focus of Rawiya – which means “she who tells a story” in Arabic – is on capturing the region’s social and political issues as well as its stereotypes through photo essays and long-term projects. Unsurprisingly, this has translated into a body of work that spans the spectrum of subjects from dancers to displaced citizens to drag queens. The images are powerful and, thanks to the already extending reach of the group, now garnering an audience.

Rawiya made its official debut at the Format Festival in Derby, U.K. this March and the women say they’ve already benefited from exhibiting as a group. They went on to showcase their work at the Empty Quarter Gallery in Beirut, which led to invitations to exhibit in Greece and Kuwait. Because each woman brings a new region and issue to the collective table, they all benefit from one another’s audience.

In addition, being the first cooperative of its kind from the Middle East – with only female photographers – has provided the women with an extra bump in prominence. Of course, being female in a male-dominant industry isn’t without its challenges, yet the women insist that their gender hasn’t hindered their work. “When people ask me if it is more challenging being a female photographer in this region than a male photographer I usually answer ‘no,’” Abdul Hadi told TIME in an email. “I personally have had access to places a male photographer wouldn’t, which ends up being more of an advantage.”

The women hope to capitalize on that advantage and have plans to eventually expand the collective, hoping to work with other female photographers from across the region whose work they admire. Because that’s another way the collective has strengthened one another’s work: by inspiring it.

Read more about Rawiya here.

Megan Gibson is a reporter at the London bureau of TIME. Find her on Twitter at @MeganJGibson. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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The veterans project of Brooklyn-based photographer Jennifer Karady uses the narrative, set-up shots of art photography to address real people and events more typically treated by photojournalists. In 2004 she began reading about the profound effects of combat stress and eventually decided she wanted to make photos with veterans to stage their war stories. When she discovered that post-traumatic stress disorder was being successfully treated with virtual reality technology, with veterans re-enacting their “trigger” moments, she knew she had hit on a way to tell the veteran’s narratives.

Ms. Karady says: “I realized that making a photograph about one’s experience could potentially offer relief to veterans suffering from psychological trauma and that perhaps I could utilize my artistic practice to help people. The idea evolved as I realized that I needed to create a safe space in which veterans could re-enact their moment from war. Though this project is conceptually inspired by a therapeutic model, I am extremely aware that I am not a therapist, and I do not claim that the process is clinically therapeutic. However, the process can be helpful for the veteran in transforming an experience that may have had a negative effect on his or her life into a positive experience. Also, I’ve found that the act of telling one’s story publicly can be deeply empowering and validating.”

Ms. Karady’s photos are the culmination of months of interviews, preparation and planning. Her exhibition, “In Country: Soldiers’ Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan,” will be at the CEPA Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y. through Aug. 27. The show is already hanging but officially opens July 15 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. The text that follows is transcribed and edited from interviews conducted by Ms. Karady.

Former Specialist Shelby Webster, 24th Transportation Company, 541st Maintenance Battalion, U.S. Army, veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, with children, Riley, Dillin and Sidnie, brother Delshay, and uncle Derek; Omaha Nation Reservation, NE, October 2010

I was 20 years old when I joined the Army. I was a single mom and I had two babies that I left – a two- year-old and a three-year-old. When I found out that I was deploying, I remember crying on the phone to my dad, “I don’t want to go.” I didn’t join just to join. I joined the military thinking I would give my kids a better life.

I drove a PLS (palletized load system truck). We transported all sorts of supplies from Kuwait into Iraq when there was nothing there. Whatever they needed, we hauled. The funny thing about it is that we weren’t armored. We only had flak vests and our little M16s.
When we convoyed into Iraq for the first time, it was probably two o’clock in the morning. I remember being so tired and seeing explosions and thinking, “Wow, this is like the movies. This isn’t happening.” Then we started getting attacked. We had a big convoy of about 20 trucks. We stopped and my squad leader, Sergeant Jackson, jumped out and said, “Be ready, lock and load!” At that point I thought, “How am I going to shoot and drive?” I remember shaking and almost freezing up. And my TC (passenger and vehicle commander), Gabe, said, “It’s OK, Web. It’s OK. I’ve been through this already.” He was trying to reassure me because I was terrified. They had us line up all the trucks in four rows. Sergeant Jackson told us to get out of our trucks just in case. So we were in the sand, lying in the prone position just waiting. Then we hear gunfire and I remember thinking, “What am I going to do, I’m a girl.” I lay there crying to myself, “God, please, I don’t want to die. I want to go home to my kids.” I was so scared. It was so hard.

I’m Native American and I believe in my culture. I believe in my Omaha ways. I said a little prayer to myself asking God to protect me and to watch over my babies if something were to happen to me. This feeling came over me and, I don’t know if it was my subconscious or what, but I heard a voice that said, “It’s going to be alright.” I recognized that voice as my Grandpa Danny’s voice. I was 10 when he passed, but I remember him – he was a good grandpa and always protective. In this moment I also smelled cedar and we pray with cedar. When I smelled it, I took a deep breath and I smelled and smelled. I thought, “What the heck?” I looked around and asked Gabe, “Do you smell that?” He said, “No, I don’t smell nothing.” I could still see and hear tracer rounds and explosions and could feel the ground shake. But a feeling of calmness had come over me and I thought, “I can do this.” When I called home and told my Dad that I smelled cedar, he cried. He said, “Well, we’ve been praying for you. We’ve been having meetings for you.”

My Dad had my kids while I was gone. It seemed like during those two years I saw my kids probably one or two times. My kids are ten and eleven years old now and I had another baby after I got back. My youngest is now five years old and totally different compared to my older kids who have separation anxiety – they always have to know where I am. My youngest is more independent; she’s her own kind of person. But the older two are always looking for me, asking, “Where’s Mom?” And I say, “I’m right here.”

Shelby Webster works as a probation officer at the Omaha Tribal Court.

Former Satellite Communications Specialist Aaron Grehan, 11th Signal Brigade, U.S. Army, veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, with girlfriend, Neta, and mother, Judy; Peterborough, NH, May 2007

Four months into my tour of Iraq I got kidney stones because of all the calcium in the bottled water. I was airlifted to a place called LSA Dogwood, which is just outside Baghdad in the middle of the desert. It’s a pretty good-sized tent hospital. Now, the thing with this place is that there are no trees; there’s nothing out there. It was probably 120 degrees during the day—a good bit hotter than it was in downtown Baghdad. The tent next to mine housed all the burn victims, both U.S. troops and Iraqis. It was miserable. There were nothing but screams and moans coming from that tent.

I had an IV because they wanted me to pass the kidney stones, so every two hours I had to get up and go to the bathroom. I had to walk through the tent with all of the burn victims. There’s guys over there whose legs would be so blackened that it didn’t look like a leg, and there were little kids that you couldn’t even recognize as a human being. It was horrible. At that point I really started looking at the war differently. I saw how it affected people—the inhumane consequences. They couldn’t have stuck me next to a worse tent to have to walk through every day.

About six days into my hospital stay, there was a loud explosion. And then another one, and another one. Soon we’re all getting under our cots as if that’s going to protect us from some 3,000-pound hunk of metal coming in and exploding. The explosions are getting more frequent and more intense. You could hear commotion from all the tents; everybody’s yelling and screaming, commands are being shouted, confusion. People don’t know which command was coming from where. Sometimes the military can be so inefficient like that. Somebody came in and said, “We gotta get out of here!” Then someone else came in and said, “No, stay put!” Then another person came in and said, ”We’re getting transported out of here. Everyone get outside so we can get into vehicles!”

We headed outside and everybody’s out there in their hospital gowns, their asses are hanging out in the wind. Half of us had our own IV bags, just holding them up, and mine kept backing up so I could see this stream of blood going in. It sucked because it hurt. We’re outside and it’s 120 degrees and we look over and there’s this cloud of smoke a quarter of a mile away. Everyone is wondering what is going on, and finally word circulates that there’s an ammo dump over there. Real smart of the U.S. Army to store all of these munitions and explosives so close to a hospital. They had millions of pounds of IEDs, explosives, etc. It had gotten so hot out there that one of them exploded and it set everything else off, at this point everything from grenades to rockets, and the rockets had started going off, zipping around randomly. It was pretty insane.

We got word that there were no vehicles. There were probably over a thousand of us just sitting outside not knowing what to do. Then we were told to start walking in the opposite direction of the cloud of smoke. There was this mass exodus of people in hospital gowns holding their own IV bags walking through the desert. We walked almost two miles over open desert before they sent vehicles to pick us up.

Aaron Grehan is a psychedelic trance DJ and organizes electronic dance events in and around New England.

Former Staff Sergeant Andrew Davis, 75th Ranger Regiment, U.S. Army, veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, with wife, Jodie, and Iraq war veterans and friends Tom and Andy; Saratoga Springs, NY, October 2009

At the beginning of the war, my mortar section and a company of rangers were sent to Haditha. There is a hydroelectric dam about nine kilometers long on the Euphrates River that was rumored to be laced with explosives. If it blew, it would flood the Euphrates floodplain, keeping us out of Baghdad. It was supposed to be a two-hour mission, and we ended up in a thirteen-day firefight.

It was about day five when Jeremy, one of my mortar gun-leaders, was hit. It was the middle of the day and hot as hell. There was a wall on the front of the top of the dam and a wall in the back. We were on the backside, and we started making shelters to protect us from the harsh sun. We placed our rain ponchos on the wall of the dam, secured them with rocks and stretched them to the ground, creating a little tent. I told my soldiers constantly: “Don’t fucking stand up, you’re a silhouette, you’re on top of this dam, they can see everything you’re doing, right?” But since the artillery hadn’t hit anywhere close to us in a few days no one thought that anything was going to happen.

Jeremy and I were literally sharing a poncho, and one of the rocks holding it in place fell down. Jeremy stood up to fix it, we heard a whistle, and he was laid out. His eye was just kind of dangling and it was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. I quickly called for the medic. In the meantime we stopped the bleeding as much as we could, put his eye in his head, and covered his head. The medic came down, and I started gathering my men to move once the medic took over. The last thing I remember was looking at Jeremy and seeing the medic, and he went like that [makes gesture of sliding hand across throat], and I just thought, “Holy f***, all these guys were best friends.” I wasn’t even worried about me anymore.

After that, I told my soldiers to get down to the water and clean the blood off their clothes. They had their buddy’s blood on them, and we weren’t getting new clothes anytime soon. You can’t be wandering around with your friend’s blood because it ruins morale. We started joking about it, making eyesight jokes, which sounds morbid to your average person, but it’s the only way to get through it. Looking back, things like that were just sick, but everyone laughed at the time. It gave new meaning to the fight; everyone got more careful. I always think about all of us sitting in a circle with our helmets and Kevlar on, and it was hot and there was blood everywhere, and just making jokes. It was so primitive and so sick but it was what helped get everybody back to normal.

I was an avid backpacker and camper before I went into the military. I was an Eagle Scout, I was always camping, and I won’t set foot under a tent now. When I think about it, I honestly don’t know if what happened on that dam is the reason, but I won’t anymore. My wife has probably asked me a hundred times to go camping. I don’t even like sleeping away from my base—I mean, my house.

While Andy Davis’ friend and colleague Jeremy survived his injuries, he is currently blind in both eyes and sustained some brain damage. Andy ran for the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2006 and narrowly lost the election. He is the cofounder of a nonprofit that assists student veterans on campus based at the University of Minnesota. Andy presently works for the New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs in Albany, NY.

Former Staff Sergeant Starlyn Lara, C Detachment, 38th Personnel Services Battalion, 1st Infantry Division, U.S. Army, veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom; Treasure Island, San Francisco, CA, January 2010

We were in a convoy between my camp at Kirkush Military Training Base and Camp Anaconda in Balad, which is where everything happens—that’s the hub. At the time I was the FOO (field ordering officer) and I was responsible for all of the money that came in and out of the installation. I would convoy very frequently in order to transport money—like $100,000 in cash—under my vest.

I was in a Humvee, but our unit isn’t a tactical unit, so we didn’t have armored Humvees. What we had were Kevlar plates that lined the seats but not the vehicle. They were designed to keep you from dying but not designed to protect you. When the bomb went off, it actually shot pieces of the engine up. I was in the passenger seat. As soon as the vehicle exploded, my first thoughts were about the safety of the money. Then there was just all this blood, and I didn’t know where it was coming from. My ears were ringing from this huge concussion blast. I couldn’t hear, and my vision was blurred. And so many things were happening. I couldn’t make out the sounds around me—I was disoriented. I was looking…the windows were shattered and my arms were cut, I was bleeding, and I just couldn’t figure out where all of the blood was coming from. It seemed like forever but it probably took place in the blink of an eye.

There are many things that connect me back to that moment. It’s usually only when I can’t sleep or when I am sleeping. I had a really weird dream that I was chasing a pink rabbit. I was trying to catch the damn pink rabbit and it was huge. I think it’s funny—I’m laughing in the dream, going, “I can’t believe this pink bunny!” And then, the pink bunny runs into the street, and I’m wondering, “Why is the pink bunny in the street?” And I stop, and the pink bunny gets hit by my Humvee. I see myself in the vehicle and I realize that the pink bunny is the bomb. So sometimes my dreams aren’t necessarily reliving the experience. They’re some kind of distortion, how I find ways to cope with the things that really can’t be coped with. There’s really no easy way to get around them.

Starlyn Lara currently works as a human resources/accounts payable assistant at Swords to Plowshares, a nonprofit veterans organization that provides numerous services for veterans in need, and as a part-time emergency medical technician.

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Playful, sensual and elegant are some of the words that describe Serge Leblon's photographs. His images are anything but harsh, opening up an evocative world of fantasy and desire. In fact, the Belgian's romanticism is somewhat at odds with the aggressive sexiness found in mainstream fashion imagery. Even though he has a spark in his eyes, Leblon comes across as a discreet and humble man.

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