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Middle East Eye staff pick their favourite articles of 2016

The best in Middle East journalism from our in-house staff and reporters in the field
Emergency personnel carry an injured man following reported air strikes by government forces on the eastern Shaar neighbourhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo in March (AFP)

2016 has been a year of upheaval like no other for much of the world - although while Europe reels from Brexit, the US reels from Trump and music fans reel from the deaths of Leonard Cohen, David Bowie and George Michael, 2016 has been much the same for most of the Middle East.

Amid continued turmoil, the failed 15 July coup in Turkey, the fall of Aleppo to Assad's forces, the final release of the Chilcot report and terror attacks in Brussels, Berlin and Ankara were all major defining events in the region.

In light of this, Middle East Eye's staff have gathered a selection of their favourite articles from 2016:

Graeme Baker, Senior Editor

"In a place where there is already a warped sense of time and space, a place where days of waiting – for visas, for escape routes - pass both quickly and slowly, where ghosts of foreign policies past come to roost, this week’s demolitions have created a disorientation across the latest community to build itself among the cesspools and sand dunes."

Spiky original reporting from Dania Akkad, sent to Calais at the last minute and managing to produce one of the finest reports I've read from the Jungle camp. It seems Akkad spoke to everyone there, and extracted brilliant stories and background from all of them.

Alex MacDonald, Journalist

“'We will sacrifice many sheep in Boris’ honour. We will repave our roads, repaint our buildings. We will give him the complete red carpet treatment if he visits his ancestral village'”

As many British people worked themselves into fits of anxiety over the possibility of Turkey joining the EU, it was fascinating to see how the people of Boris Johnson's ancestral home lauded the new foreign secretary as one of their own. A tremendous bit of reporting from Suraj Sharma that would have gone unnoticed by a lot of the British press, but which was nevertheless picked up by many of them after publication.

David Hearst, Editor-in-Chief

"It is highly unlikely to be a coincidence that he has been targeted after coming under such high-profile attacks – and Gani, who cuts a distinctive figure in long robes and a beard, now lives in fear: 'People think that there must be something in it for the prime minister to say such a thing. I sense people looking at me in a certain way. You can notice the difference.'”

Peter was one of the few journalists in the UK to take the serial defamation of Gani seriously. In so doing, he took on the BBC's Andrew Neil, David Cameron and Michael Fallon... and won. Peter's journalism forced the BBC to apologise and Fallon to offer damages.

Hanan Chehata, Features Editor

"Ullah, like Haidar, feels that women in the Muslim community face unique challenges. Ullah’s headscarf has attracted verbal assaults on several occasions, but she has also grown weary of the subtler prejudices attached to the hijab. Even when 'hijabis' are not being accused of terrorist loyalties, Ullah notes women who “cover” are often depicted as suppressed, weak, and hyper- or hypo-sexualised."

This feature highlighted the work of a few Muslim-American women who are trying to dispel Islamophobia by challenging stereotypes and dispelling myths about what it means to be a Muslim woman. In the wake of 9/11, the War on Terror, the rise of the far right in Europe and the election of Donald Trump in the USA, challenging Islamophobia is more important than ever and it’s good to see Muslim women speaking up for themselves – and being listened to. Utilising everything from podcasts and stage shows, to “know your rights” workshops and “healing circles", these women are helping to empower Muslim women and to educate non-Muslims who may be curious as to why so many women chose Islam as their faith and way of life.

Simon Hooper, Head of News

"As the dust settled over Rabaa, the huge divide in Egyptian society was far deeper than we ever could have imagined. We watched as friends and family, activists and those who called themselves supporters of human rights cheered on the massacre as if the blood of their fellow countrymen meant nothing."

Mahmoud Bondok's breathless first-person account of the 2013 Rabaa massacre, in which hundreds of people protesting against the coup that toppled elected Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi were killed by Egyptian forces, was rich in descriptive detail and packed a powerful emotional punch. This was a piece that captured the claustrophobic chaos of a day on which the dust has still to settle.

Dania Akkad, Opinions Editor

"At first, as I sat watching survivors of torture share their experiences on live television. I was just a spectator along with the audience and the rest of the world listening through live streams to the voices of survivors tremble with pain. But soon, I was deeply hit and suddenly felt the weight I bore for 23 long years before the 2011 revolution."

I'm a sucker for first person stories - we could use a lot more of them coming out of the Middle East where so often what we read in English gives us only a snippet of people's lives, and snippets mediated by journalists at that. So when Amel Agrebi wrote in November about how she became her family's breadwinner when her husband was imprisoned and tortured in Tunisia in the 1980s, I couldn't help but love it. Even more than speaking directly to us, and sharing such an intimate story, what I loved about Amel's piece were the details she shared that give you a sense - if its possible to fully understand - of the wide-reaching and long-lasting impacts that dictatorships have on people. And in the context of the region right now, that's critical to understand deeply.

Valentine Maury, MEE French Editor

"'I don’t believe the Yazidis will ever be like before. They destroyed us. How can we ever be like before? Just at look at us," the matriarch raged before adding that it is 'the worst genocide' her community has ever endured. 'When before were women sold, kids beheaded and families destroyed?' she almost yelled. 'Never. It never happened this way before. It cannot be worse!'”

This article is very important for women. Yes some Yazidi women have been freed from the Islamic State but that does not mean that it is the end of their suffering. It was however the end of media coverage. There is little done to help them psychologically after having been through what can only be described as hell. I find that this article enabled them to be heard and for us to hear the difficult truth about what they are going through. I am very impressed by how brave they were to express themselves.

Islam Zitout, Producer

"Syrians will not forget how progressives have failed them. For just as progressives have failed Palestinians for much of Palestine’s post-1948 history and have only recently started accepting the radical notion that Palestinians are human beings struggling against settler-colonial savagery they have repeated the same mistake with Syria."

With this article, I think for the first time MEE provided a platform to further a vibrant discussion that originated and dominated the twittersphere with regards to Syria, and I think the piece made a genuine contribution to a still long and often quite animated conversation.

Elodie Farge, French Editor

"Malgré les moyens colossaux consacrés à l’investigation de la tragédie du 14 juillet, lors de laquelle un homme a foncé dans la foule au volant d’un poids-lourd, tuant 84 personnes, le gouvernement français n’a toujours pas été capable d’apporter une seule preuve crédible que l’assaillant a bien commis sa tuerie au nom de l’État islamique (EI)."

The author of the article Alain Gabon argued that, unlike what French authorities, media and experts said at the time, there was no proof whatsoever that the Nice terror attack was carried out by an Islamist. He says that the attacker was not a jihadist, not a radical Islamist, not even a practising Muslim. He also said that French authorities, media and experts all had an interest in saying that it was an Islamist attack, and Daesh seized upon all this for its own propaganda. For me, Gabon dared to question the interpretation of the attack put forward by the French authorities, media, politicians and so on, and the voices that conflate Islam with terrorism, fuel islamophobia and strengthen IS by doing so.

Areeb Ullah, Journalist

"In such a situation I can't fall down crying, which I desperately want to. I have become used to this. I would fall down crying when I first saw this, but now, living it every day, it’s become unreal."

Zouhir's reporting has captivated and educated millions around the world. From profiling the last gravedigger in east Aleppo to exposing how hunger was used as a weapon by the Syrian government; his determination and bravery to tell the story of his people's suffering helped change the narrative on Syria, giving hope to the thousands suffering and wanting to be heard to the outside world.

Karim El-Bar, Editor

"When this 24-year-old nurse from Homs left his job he never expected to become the eyes of the world in Syria. An independent reporter in the 'most dangerous place on earth,' Hadi Abdullah has highlighted the horrors and hopes of the almost six-year-long Syrian civil war."

Hadi Abdallah's contribution to documenting the Syrian civil war has been invaluable for journalists and followers alike, demonstrated by the RSF award. His personal journey is meritorious, regardless of ones own political views.

Nick Hunt, Senior Editor

"Britain has been protecting Saudi Arabia and its allies as it fights a murderous and illegal war in Yemen. Saudi is a longstanding British ally, a vital buyer of British arms and key producer of oil. So there is every reason to assume that Britain has a strong reason to ignore or to underplay evidence that the Saudi-led coalition has been in breach of IHL, which gives very strong protections to civilians caught up in fighting, and bans the targeting of civilian institutions like schools and hospitals."

The best of Peter and Nawal's reporting covered the 200km tortuous drive from Sanaa to Saada, the reality they encountered and the people they met. Oborne wrote of the mother who gave birth amid the firestorm of an air strikes; of the ambulance drivers slaughtered as they assisted patients; and of the boy killed while playing with discarded explosives. Much of this misery is possible, of course, through the connivance of the arms trade in the region and the support it receives from Western governments, a point of disgrace that Oborne rightly highlighted in other pieces during the year. Soon after Middle East Eye published its series, an increasing number of media organisations began taking more of an interest in Yemen. Pressure grew on Riyadh as well government ministers.

Earlier this month, Washington blocked some munitions sales to Saudi Arabia.

Arwa Ibrahim, News Editor

"Shane Crawford is one of more than 100 Trinidadians believed to have gone to Syria. With a population of just 1.3 million, Trinidad and Tobago ranks among the leading countries per capita whose citizens have travelled there to fight for IS. But with IS territory imploding, the government in Port of Spain now faces the prospect of some of those citizens seeking to return."

Amandla's piece on Caribbeans joining the Islamic State in Syria is a distinctive contribution to the plethora of reports written on which people join the militant group and why. It was quite surprising to learn that the Islamic State has such influence in a place considered remote and isolated from events unfolding in the Middle East. Following the stories of men who left their homes to fight in Syria, the report uncovers lots of interesting details and informative context on an issue we'd known little about.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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