The List

The Heroines of the Arab World

Twelve women challenging their societies to change the status quo.

Sixteen-year-old Amina Filali became a cause célèbre for Moroccan women's rights activists when she committed suicide by swallowing rat poison after she was forced to marry her rapist in accordance with a court order. Her act triggered a human rights campaign -- including a sit-in outside Parliament, a petition, and a Facebook group -- to repeal Article 475 in Morocco's penal code, which allows men to escape punishment for crimes if they wed their victims. One week after Filali died in the northwestern city of Larache, hundreds of women's rights advocates filled the streets in the capital, Rabat, to protest the retrograde law.


Computer security consultant Manal al-Sharif made headlines in May 2011 when a colleague filmed her driving a car in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, as part of her advocacy campaign for Saudi women's right to drive. The video was posted on YouTube and Facebook, and it soon spread like wildfire. Four days later, about 600,000 people had already watched the footage. Although officials jailed her for nine days as punishment for breaking the prohibition on female drivers in Saudi Arabia -- the only country in the world with such a ban -- her actions successfully galvanized a rare bout of popular protest in the kingdom. On June 17, several dozen Saudi women got behind the wheel to repeat Sharif's act of defiance.


On March 9, 2011, Salwa el-Husseini, Samira Ibrahim, and Rasha Abdel Rahman were just peaceful protesters at a sit-in at Tahrir Square -- a small group of thousands who had gathered to protest against the ruling military regime. But that changed when they were arrested by the Egyptian military along with 15 other female activists, strip-searched, and subjected to "virginity tests" in which the hymen is forcefully penetrated to check for blood. The three broke long-standing social taboos by speaking out about their treatment: Husseini agreed to be filmed as she recounted what happened at a news conference, while Abdel Rahman gave graphic details of her abuse in court. Although a military tribunal cleared the doctor who performed the tests of all charges, Ibrahim won a major victory when a Cairo administrative court heard her case and banned virginity tests on female detainees in military prisons.


Pediatric consultant Najwa Fituri is in charge of treating premature babies at the al-Jalaa maternity hospital in Benghazi, Libya, but when the revolution against Muammar al-Qaddafi descended into a bloody civil war, she heeded a new calling: smuggling drugs to treat anti-Qaddafi fighters. A member of the female empowerment group Women for Libya, Fituri hopes to be part of a new generation of Libyan women. "If [women] are qualified, they should be leaders of Libya," she told the BBC in December. "Everyone has the right to dream."


Without the perseverance of human rights lawyer Razan Zaitouneh, the world would be even more in the dark about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's killings and torture of civilian protesters. Her daily reporting on the Assad regime's atrocities -- which she posted to her website, the Syrian Human Rights Information Link -- served as a critical source for foreign media. Although forced to go into hiding in March 2011 after the government accused her of being a foreign agent, Zaitouneh was awarded the Anna Politkovskaya Award for her human rights activism in a conflict zone, and she was a co-recipient of last year's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Foreign Policy also honored her in 2011 as one of its top 100 Global Thinkers. "I'm very proud to be Syrian and to be part of these historical days, and to feel all that greatness inside my people," she said in a video accepting the award. "We highly appreciate all the help … of those who supported us in any way around the world."

As one of the few Tunisian activists to blog using her real name under the regime of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, linguistics teacher Lina Ben Mhenni was risking her safety even before the uprising against the Tunisian regime began. Although her blog -- as well as her Facebook and Twitter accounts -- were censored under Ben Ali, Ben Mhenni forged ahead with her reporting during the early weeks of the uprising as the only blogger present in the cities of Kasserine and Regueb when government forces violently cracked down on protesters in the Sidi Bouzid region, regularly posting photos and videos of the violence. Today, Ben Mhenni continues to publicly condemn the widespread corruption in the current government. "The majority of young people do not feel any change at all and I think that they are right," she wrote in an October 2011 op-ed for the Guardian. "To talk of a revolution we have to cut totally with the past and with the old regime."


The sharp rhetoric of Asmaa Mahfouz played a crucial role in galvanizing the Egyptian revolution's massive protests in Tahrir Square. The activist and co-founder of the April 6 Youth Movement famously posted a video to YouTube challenging Egyptians to join her in Tahrir Square on Jan. 25, 2011, to protest the human rights abuses of President Hosni Mubarak's regime: "If you think yourself a man, come with me on Jan. 25. Whoever says women shouldn't go to protests because they will get beaten, let him have some honor and manhood and come with me."

Mahfouz may have helped topple Mubarak, but she still attracted the ire of the military junta, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), that came after him. In August 2011, she was court-martialed by the SCAF and charged with inciting violence, disturbing public order, and spreading false information through social media. Later that year Mahfouz was honored for her persistence when the European Parliament named her a co-recipient of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.


Tal al-Molouhi symbolized the Syrian regime's repressive policies long before the revolutions of the Arab Spring. A high school student who blogged poems and wrote articles advocating for Palestinian causes and a more just Syria, Molouhi was arrested in 2009 for her writing. The Arab blogosphere denounced her arrest as an example of the capricious and fanatical crackdown on free speech in Syria. In February 2011, Molouhi -- who was brought into court chained and blindfolded -- was sentenced to five years in prison. "This is my Homeland, in which I have a palm tree, a drop in a cloud, and a grave to protect me," says one of her poems. "My master: I would like to have power even for one day to build the 'republic of feelings.'"


Known as the "Mother of the Revolution" in Yemen, journalist and activist Tawakkol Karman emerged as a leader of the Yemeni protest movement after Tunisian activists ousted their president, Ben Ali, in January 2011. In addition to organizing student rallies in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, Karman led mass protests calling for the end of President Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime, including an Egypt-inspired "Day of Rage." A grassroots organizer and the chairwoman of Women Journalists Without Chains, Karman was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, becoming the first Yemeni to win the prize and the youngest Peace Prize laureate.


Asma al-Ghoul is not your typical Palestinian activist. A secular feminist who writes for the Ramallah-based newspaper Al-Ayyam and blogs at AsmaGaza, Ghoul is known for her vocal denunciations of violations of civil rights in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, catching the media's attention when she walked on a public Gaza beach with a mixed-gender group in 2009. When she publicly denounced her uncle -- a senior Hamas military leader -- in an article, he threatened to kill her. After she was beaten by Hamas security forces in March 2011 while trying to cover rallies calling for Hamas to reconcile with Fatah, an international outcry prompted the Hamas government to apologize and promise an investigation.




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Illustration by Peter James Field/ for FP



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The List

The World According to Glencore

"The biggest company you never heard of," as Reuters once put it, Glencore does business in dozens of countries on every continent except Antarctica. Here's a snapshot of this global empire -- and some of its murky local alliances.


Glencore owns Prodeco, a giant coal-mining operator worth an estimated $4.4 billion -- so big that it maintains its own port to speed exports to the United States and Europe. Prodeco has been accused of everything from strike-busting with military help to relying on paramilitaries to seize land and has been fined for illegal waste-dumping and other environmental violations.
Key business:


Glencore has stakes in two oil fields in Equatorial Guinea and an exploration contract in partnership with little-known Starc Limited. The Bermuda-registered Starc is a joint venture whose chief partners include Stag Energy, which for many years had an exclusive contract to market the government's share of crude oil. Stag has a simple business model, according to one well-placed source: "Keep President Obiang happy." Glencore's holdings in Equatorial Guinea were worth about $1 billion at the time of its initial public offering in May 2011. Deutsche Bank estimates that the firm's annual crude oil production there will rise from near zero today to 24 million barrels by 2015.
Key business:


Until embattled strongman Laurent Gbagbo was forced from power last year, Glencore was the "favorite trader" of Petroci, the state oil company, according to the Africa Energy Intelligence newsletter. In 2007, Glencore Energy UK provided cash-strapped Petroci with an $80 million loan to be repaid with future exports. At the time of Gbagbo's overthrow, the loan had been renewed three times and Petroci still owed Glencore around 650,000 barrels, worth about $70 million.
Key business:


A Glencore subsidiary owns a 73 percent stake in Mopani Copper Mines, Zambia's second-largest mining company. In 2000, Zambia granted Glencore and other foreign firms special development deals with royalty rates of just 0.6 percent (versus the normal rate of 3 percent) and a corporate tax rate capped at 25 percent. Glencore has been accused of colluding to artificially reduce taxable profits from Mopani; international auditors reported that Mopani sold copper to Glencore, its parent company, at as little as one-quarter the official price on the London Metal Exchange. Now Zambia's government has sought to collect roughly $160 million in back taxes it says Glencore owes. The firm denies the charges.
Key business:


In 2009, U.S. and Bahraini prosecutors investigated allegations that Glencore's employees had made $4.6 million in improper payments to executives at Aluminium Bahrain, a state-owned smelter, to secure below-market prices on aluminum products. Glencore denied the allegations; in 2009 it paid Aluminium Bahrain an out-of-court settlement of $20 million.
Key business:


Glencore's effective global tax rate for 2010 was just 9.3 percent, in large part because nearly half its 46 subsidiaries are incorporated in "secrecy jurisdictions," opaque financial havens like the Netherlands, according to a report by the NGO Publish What You Pay. Glencore's Rotterdam-registered Finges Investment is worth $18 billion, but doesn't have a single employee, according to corporate records filed in the Netherlands. Finges, a Dutch financial expert told me, is "nothing more than a piece of financial engineering."
Key business:
Tax haven


A 2008 U.S. Senate report revealed that an unidentified client of the LGT Group, a bank owned by Liechtenstein's royal family, discussed setting up a Panamanian shell corporation and bogus foundation to pay bribes on Glencore's behalf. "A small portion of the payments go … to the USA and Panama and may be classified as bribes," read an internal LGT memo. The client, a Glencore agent, had set up the account in 2002; prior to that, Glencore had made such payments directly, the memo said. An LGT executive refused to testify to the Senate about whether the bank had set up the Panamanian corporation or foundation as requested.
Key business:
Financial services


Glencore's relationship with Tehran dates to the regime of the shah, with whom founder Marc Rich enjoyed a close relationship. During the early 1970s Arab oil embargo, Rich brokered a deal to trade oil that Iran was supplying to Israel through a secret pipeline. Glencore continued to do business with Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and in recent years was a regular supplier of gasoline to the country. It halted deliveries in late 2009 under pressure from Washington.
Key business:
Oil and refined products


Glencore funneled roughly $2 billion through an offshore company to the oligarch Mikhail Gutseriev, described in a WikiLeaked cable as "not known for his transparent corporate governance." Reportedly booted by the Kremlin as chief of the state-owned oil firm Slavneft for resisting the company's privatization, Gutseriev made a comeback with Glencore's help. The cash infusion allowed Gutseriev to establish RussNeft, now one of Russia's largest oil companies. Glencore owns nearly half the equity of four of RussNeft's oil production subsidiaries and has sole rights to market its oil.
Key business:


In the mid-2000s, Glencore used an Israeli agent named Yoav Stern, who also represented the Romanian interests of Yakov Goldovsky, who had previously been convicted in Russia for asset-stripping state-run enterprises. Another Glencore business partner here was Romanian businessman Marian Iancu. Glencore sold him crude oil through an offshore company he controlled, Faber Invest & Trade, for processing at the Rafo refinery in Romania. Iancu was indicted for tax evasion and money laundering in 2006 and convicted in late 2011. A WikiLeaked U.S. State Department cable described Rafo as "embroiled in a web of corruption, money laundering, fraud and criminal charges" and included Faber among its "shady entities."
Key business:
Oil and refined products






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