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Riots and Revolutions: My Arab Journey

Presenter Nel Hedayat 
Like all of us I've watched on the news as the Arab world has been rocked by uprisings - it's been amazing to watch and young people have been right at the centre of the protests. I've visited four of these countries on my Arab journey to meet some of the young rebels...

The second I landed in Egypt I could feel the buzz that comes with a million things happening at once: that feeling that my brain can't keep up with my eyes! This was a place where a real revolution had already happened; but when I got there, there were still protests going on against the Army.

My experience in the capital city Cairo was a rollercoaster ride. It started with just meeting a Facebook friend and ended with me in a riot, getting chased by the secret police! Standing there as the protesters squared up to the army, I was excited and feeling the rush… I was so naïve.

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Stuck between the army (who I saw hitting anything that came their way with wooden sticks), and the protesters (who were ripping up paving slabs and hurling them at our heads), there really was nowhere to run. We got out of no-man's land just in time but I was shaking for hours afterwards.

Bahrain, the next country in my journey, couldn't be more different even though it had also seen major protests during the Arab Spring. Glass skyscrapers, paved roads and Starbucks at every street corner – it was a big change from Egypt. But the silence on the streets and shopping centres felt wrong. It was as if Bahrain had faced a silent and unsuccessful revolution; one that seemed to have been choked off before it could even begin.

However, I discovered that wasn’t quite true. I had to go to the small towns before I saw any signs of something happening. I saw graffiti saying "down with the regime" plastered on walls which had then been painted over by the police, only to be sprayed on again.

During one protest in a small town, the police started to take action against the protesters and then, started shooting tear gas at us. It was chaos; people running everywhere and the gas burning my eyes and skin. I got away as soon as I could but the Bahrainis stayed on the streets for hours. Why were these people being tear gassed? What had the Bahrainis done to deserve this? Were they armed and dangerous? No. From what I saw they were carrying flags and flowers and chanting for peace.

Riots and Revolutions: My Arab Journey is on Monday at 9pm


  • Comment number 1.

    Watching this documentary now and am really very concerned. This presenter is too young and uninformed - her delivery is patronising and performed and seriously undermines what is a very serious situation. What happened to BBC balance, ethics and well trained reporters? Her delivery is fine for a children's Newsround show but alarming that the BBC would back and show something so appallingly covered on so important an international situation. Distasteful and dangerous and concerning for those victims she was allowed to approach under the BBC's name.

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    Thank you, johnjames, for saying so well what many of us are thinking about this programme.

  • Comment number 4.

    @JohnJames I strongly disagree. The point is that these revolutionaries are just like Nel. I feel that this gives us a perspective through the eyes of a young woman who sees she could very well be in the shoes of the subjects of this documentary.

  • Comment number 5.

    johnjames, do you stand by your comments after she was gassed by the military in the pursuit of the truth of what is happening in these countries?

    She is talking to ordinary people in ordinary language, and showing first hand the injustices being endured.

    I think it was a necessary and eye-opening documentary and I look forward to the next part. I don't think I could deliver such an honest and direct report, from someone with direct links to the cuture of the people caught up in the atrocity.

  • Comment number 6.

    This could have been a very important and well produced documentary. What were the producers thinking - the presenter came across as extremely naive, inexperienced and had an annoying way of interviewing & talking to camera - Really did a bad job here BBC 3 ! Yoof Network 7 - have'nt we moved on?

  • Comment number 7.

    This has been a disappointing documentary and as AndyT and JohnJames have pointed out, the execution and delivery are both below the standard expected from a BBC documentary.

    The over simplification of the Egyptian revolution and current situation is almost an insult to the viewers but most of all to the people still fighting for their rights in the streets.

    In an attempt to produce a documentary attractive to younger people, integrity was lost. Never have I seen the Muslim Brotherhood shown in such a positive light and moderate, considering its close ties with SCAF and its plans for an islamic state. Ignoring of the very sensitive topic of the situation of Copts in the country which form around 10% of the population also was extremely disappointing.

  • Comment number 8.

    I felt this to be a naive and almost frivolous way to present serious and complicated issues. The presenter came across as an over-excited child on an adventure holiday. It felt like children's television, not serious documentary making. It was so annoying I couldn't finish it.

  • Comment number 9.

    I agree with johnjames, the presenter came across as callow and excitable. Shame.

  • Comment number 10.

    I think JohnJames sums up the presenter and the documentary entirely. Nel Hedayat has little understanding of the issues surrounding the 'Arab Spring', this is quite clearly shown in her lack of prior research before being sent out to Egypt/ simply state 'I have seen what is going on in etc' is a display of her naivety. There was little or no discussion of the underlying issues in Egypt which caused the disgruntlement among young Egyptian (please look at Gigi Ibrahim in contrast). I was particularly astonished at her behaviour in Bahrain when speaking to the wealthy woman who was facing trial. Really how do you expect the general public to sympathies with their desire for freedom when bleating about the £'s spent on designer goods, going off to Paris etc (with Nel squealing away) whilst later showing a poor Shia neighborhood and stating Shia's are discriminated against? Doesn't make sense to me, you have rich Shia woman (driving) and poor Shia man but yet both are discriminated against in terms of jobs, positions, wealth...?! Overall, the entire program made a mockery of the issues facing the Middle-Eastern countries including the largely ignored migrant workforce who are always the silent victims!

  • Comment number 11.

    My sister in law posted a link about this documentary. I haven't been able to watch it yet as I live in Bahrain. I am very curious, especially as there have been so many negative reviews. I moved here in January 2011 with my young family. We were here when the tanks drove past our house on February 14th and the whole house rumbled. Having said that we have grown to love this wonderful island. I have Bahraini and Saudi friend's along with a multitude of other nationalities. I was very unhappy about the news coverage last year as the full story was not shown. I am glad that this year the media appear to have been more diplomatic about the situation.

  • Comment number 12.

    Thank you - I am so glad so many other people (who KNOW the full facts, I might add..) have made the same comment as I did on the Riots & Revolutions 'programme' link. The BBC should be ashamed of themselves - for continuing to get it wrong... and causing even MORE trouble for Bahrain.

    Jackie - (grew up there, and was there for 30 years, still have friends there, and regularly go back to visit - including last year in Feb/March.. )

    The Govt/ Ruling family may not see fit to give interviews- for the fear of causing even more bad feeling - however, that is not to say there isnt another side.

    As I said in my Programme 'rant' (this documentary really did get me agitated!) The 'protesters' ARE armed.. (and dangerous - to both civilian and the police) the police are showing remarkable restraint in only using tear gas (after an initial mistake..) the Shia (with Iranian allegiances...) ought to be careful what they wish for... (state like Iran...??) they have it good and do not (as the opulent 'Nada' tried to say - have any lack of freedom whatsoever . I have worked with, and had a fairly long relationship with one. They have extremely well paid jobs - and often choose to buy flash cars and Gucci ties rather than live in houses outside their rundown old villages (large Housing developments have been provided for them - courtesy of the Govt...!!) Its true - the Govt , police & army is perhaps not one that they might be trusted in....due to their allegiance to Iran - which has always laid claim to Bahrain -and it appears, has jumped on the 'bandwagon' at the time of the 'Arab Spring' (which Bahrain is not a part of - their trouble is completely different and very complex.) I dont envy King Hamad the job he has of trying to keep it all together / find a solution ! Its not even a Shia/ Sunni problem.

    I am so sad to see what has become of Bahrain , which is a beautiful, friendly place and has lived in harmony for so long. I sincerely hope it can all be sorted, but havent really got a lot of confidence that this can be done. Meanwhile, the US and Saudi armys are standing aid Bahrain if need be (thank goodness).

    My thought are with all those still out there - trying to get on with their daily lives, among all the mindless disruption these 'Popcorn revolutionaries' are causing !

  • Comment number 13.

    The presenter was young. She probably graduated from university recently and is probably trying to make a great career in journalism. As a journalist myself, I KNOW for a fact that right now, she is finding her feet in the cold world of ''Journalism'' and the comment here really are uncalled for. Give her a chance before you bury her in criticisms.
    The potential in this girl is immense and in my eyes, i see her going VERY far as a journalist. One thing I saw throughout the documentary was that spark of potential and reading the above comments really just saddens me. She probably is going to read this and think ''heck, they don't like me at all'' and will probably kill off her confidence which was evident in the documentry.

    Word to Nel (if you read this) : Confidence is key in this industry and you WILL be judged harshly quite a lot as your career progresses.
    Remember that not everyone will like you and it literally is impossible to please everyone.
    NEVER, i repeat NEVER, throw away what you believe in and stand for. You'll come to understand what i mean in a few years time.

    The documentary was not terrible however it was not brilliant either. The BBC however, with the experience they have, should have known better.

    To the above posters I pose the question: Who wouldn't feel excited/shocked in the situations which Nel found herself in? What we saw in that documentary is the raw emotions Nel was going through with all the commotion etc.

    I really hope this girl is given more documentaries to take part in because with practice will come perfection (sort of).

    A fellow Journalist.

  • Comment number 14.

    My overall impression of this programme is positive and I look forward to the Libya/Syria part.

    I acknowledge some of the criticisms mentioned above. Clearly, the producers wanted to engage a young demographic who have not followed the Arab Spring closely. The idea was to send Nel (the reporter) without detailed background history on the Arab Spring so that the typical young viewer who is relatively uninformed could relate and empathise with her experience.

    However, the political situation is hugely complicated (and very different in each country), so it was expecting a lot from Nel to throw her in without better historical preparation from producers. By comparison, when the reporter is more up on the political machinations and history of the country, as was the case for the "Women, Weddings, War and Me" documentary, it is easier for the audience to follow.

    Nonetheless, despite all this, I thought the programme was very informative on the personal experience of the protestors, many of whom are young. The reporter's curiousity and attentiveness to suffering (as well as her obvious commitment to finding the truth) brought the viewer close to the painful personal stories of the protestors. I was brought to tears on a number of occasions, in a way that I haven't with other reports. This is because the programme really and sincerely engaged with ordinary people and the people responded by speaking from somewhere near the depths of their hearts. Any programme that attends to the suffering of ordinary people and tries to establish the causes is immensely valuable.

    I also appreciated the fact that the programme went to Bahrain, a country whose uprisings have not received much coverage in the mainstream media. The protestors in Bahrain have been harshly and hastily suppressed outside of the 'spotlight' because Bahrain is an important strategic ally of US/GB and the protest was smaller and therefore more easily crushed. The programme gave a voice to these overlooked people who are desperate for freedom from oppression.

    In sharp comparison to a recent BBC documentary on 'Secret Pakistan' this programme (first part, anyway!) was engaging and truth-seeking. It could do more to help the viewer understand the politics of the Arab Spring but in giving the ordinary people a voice, giving the viewer a poignant experience of what it is like to be in the midst of government attack and shedding light on the 'stickiness' of authoritarianism, it is a very worthwhile watch. I look forward to the second part.

    All in all, I congratulate the BBC for offering different perspectives on this most important of political events, the Arab Spring. I just hope the BBC has more courage to admit that many of the dictators of the Middle East, including Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia are funded and supported by Western countries, including our own.

  • Comment number 15.

    'Irecommendglengreenwald' (?)

    You obviously havent taken the time (like the BBC) to read the above comments re the history of Bahrain... the 'protestors' are most certainly not 'oppressed' - as the documentary showing lavish lifestyles (and even acknowledged by 'Nel') proved. They have it good - compared to the Shia in Iran. Unfortunately, although they are a very passionate, romantic group of people, this also means they are very passionate - which often manifests in violence.

    Of course the US is hanging around - to protect the island from an Iran invasion - which would send the whole Gulf up in flames, and yes, naturally OUR oil supplies would be severely affected... (I'm sure even you would soon complain if energy supplies ran out).

    No- its not Nel's fault - its the BBC's for sending her out on such a mission. But I do agree - if she desires to get into the 'serious' reporting - she needs to leave the 'children's presenter' facade behind.

  • Comment number 16.

    Anybody interested in getting some truth - please watch this clip (filmed by the 'Protesters' !) and this means you, BBC !

  • Comment number 17.

    Jackie, Amnesty International have reported brutal violence against protestors:

    Moreover, the Bahraini regime initiated an inquiry into the crackdown (following pressure from US and GB, their funders) which admits that there was brutality, torture and deaths in custody. It reported that 35 people had died in the protests:

    Besides, the BBC programme showed Shia protestors who seems as if they were living anything but a lavish lifestyle. (eg. the man who'd been shot in the face, the young girl in the burka who said she was ready to die in protests etc.).

    It is undeniable that the Bahrain regime have violently suppressed protests. I don't doubt that some protestors have extremist views - just as in Egypt, where some fundamentalist Islamic elements joined with the democratic protests against the ruling regime.

    However, all reliable reports show that Bahrain is brutally suppressing people to maintain its dictatorship (with the funding of Western nations). The governing regime had a duty to deal with these by minimising bloodshed. Instead, as their own inquiry revealed, abuse and torture were used by the security forces.

    I think the BBC were absolutely right to commission this programme because it gave voice to ordinary protestors, providing a valuable insight into the continued protests and provided a much needed personal aspect to the story. I do agree, however, that it could have been more informative on the politics especially as a lot of people watching might not have followed the uprisings in any detail and because some of the issues are so complex (eg. the popular Muslim Brotherhood party in Egypt, why they have so much support and whether their vision of Egypt is repressive or not, which is touched on in the programme).

  • Comment number 18.

    I have watched all of Nel Hedayat's BBC3 documentaries. She is one of the best documentary presenters the BBC have. She is courageous, asks intelligent questions, and is good at communicating with the people she talks with and with the audience.

    One of the poster above said that this programme "felt like children's television, not serious documentary making". I feel that way about a lot of documentaries on the BBC, but I've never felt that way about any of Nel's.

    Yes, the programme didn't cover every issue everyone thinks is important about the situations in Egypt and Bahrain. That's because it's an hour long documentary aimed at a general audience, it's not a university lecture. And yes, Nel did sometimes come across as inexperienced, but experienced professionals are made not born - in order to become more experienced they have to actually have experiences.

    I do have one criticism - I found the music really intrusive and annoying. For example, at one point, when a protester got shot, the BBC played "horror film" type music. I really wish the BBC producers would relax and stop feeling they have to plaster music over everything. If I really want to listen to music at the same time as watching a TV programme, I can arrange that by myself!

  • Comment number 19.

    BBC please select more appropriate presenters for such delicate issues in future. Such a blinkered naive opinion is damaging. I and many of whom I have discussed the documentary with feel it was borderline insulting. Won't be watching again, it was cringe worthy. Shame.

  • Comment number 20.

    Jamie Mcfadden - here is a comment I made last night and I'm glad that you too see the potential in this very capable and articulate young lady:

    " I have just watched Nelufar Hedayat on BBCThree presenting a documentary about Riots and Revolutions: My Arab Journey, and I am absolutely astonished at the confidence and courage of this girl, whose youthful looks belie a maturity and intelligence that some of the comments on this forum do not give her credit for. I find her honest, intelligent, confident and courageous. She thought nothing of talking with these 'macho' men with courage and intelligence and a total lack of self-conscienciousness, and although these men could easily have treated her with patronising contempt as she is female and looks so young, they did not and showed a great deal of respect for her.

    I hope very much that we see Nulefurin more of these programmes. "

  • Comment number 21.

    It really is amazing how many armchair critics there are out there. It is very easy to criticise someone's performance from the comfort of behind one's desk! This is not a hard hitting documentary, destined for a Jeremy Paxman Newsnight style interrogation; but then it isn't supposed to be. The presenter is definitely guilty of being young, because she is 24. As such, to an older audience she could be considered naive. If, however, you consider the demographic that this documentary is aimed at - more a Newsround audience than a Newsnight one - then this programme hits all the right levels. It portrays a relatively innocent, but keen young lady on a journey of knowledge; to learn about the Arab Spring, just like her intended audience. At a time when Britain is quick to criticise it's youth and dub them the lazy "playstation" generation, any documentary on world affairs aimed at this demographic should be applauded, with or without its flaws. I am personally more inclined to ask why the "learned" older generation are that cut up about a programme that is so clearly aimed at their children in the first place.

    Yes it is not particularly balanced; yes it portrays the Muslim Brotherhood in a much more moderate gaze than it maybe deserves; and yes the part where they gush over the rich Bahraini lady's Paris shopping almost made me throw my iPad out of the window in disgust. But give the girl some credit, she's 24 years old and putting herself out there to some sort of benefit of her generation. If it gives our youth the tools to look further than their own doorsteps, to even consider the world at large, and ultimately question what is going on, then she's done her job. Armchair Generals, armchair politicians and armchair critics are some of the easiest things you can be; at least this girl has in some small way stood up.


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