Archives pour la catégorie English

All posts in English.

Penguin dance animation (teaser)

This message is here to announce that I’ll soon upload a report (or rather a video) about the penguin dance. It’s a Romanian wedding dance, simple and frankly ridiculous, that has become a phenomenon in Saudi Arabia and in the whole Middle East.

So now I’ve just got a teaser. It’s an animation that’ll be included in the video.

WARNING: contains silly music.

Why has Qatar stopped being diplomatic?

Khalid bin Mohammad Al Attiyah, the Qatari foreign minister.
Khalid bin Mohammed Al Attiyah, the Qatari foreign minister — Creative Commons, Marc Müller

Qatar is historically stuck between four powers from all four sides: Bahrain north, Oman south, Saudi Arabia west and Iran east. The country itself is too small to fend off a military assault from its neighbours. It is also prone to coups, including foreign-induced. To survive, it must thrive in diplomacy and keep good relationships with everybody. In the same way, it musn’t support a specific group or power to the point of polarising itself, because that would create enemies. Qataris have long been excellent diplomats, but now, they stand in the shade of troubling elements.

If diplomacy is vital for the survival of the nation, so why having created and supported Al Jazeera? As a television news network, this company holds a tremendous mediatic power. It is also widely associated with Qatar’s image and the other way round, and can thus heavily influence the country’s image. By its critical coverage of the powerful, Al Jazeera has always harmed Doha’s diplomatic efforts. Because of that, the Forgotten land of God has faced numerous diplomatic incidents. The latests include a diplomatic row with Egypt, which has jailed three Al Jazeera English journalists for 7 to 10 years on terrorism charges; and this spring’s showdown with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, who withdrew their ambassadors from Doha and called on the country to shut down Al Jazeera and to stop supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. In 2004, Washington even intended to bomb their Qatari ally to get rid of the satellite channel. The network’s most influential branch, Al Jazeera English, regularly criticises the relationships of its sister Arabic-language channels with Doha (I’ll soon upload a video about that).

If the absence of polarisation is vital for national security, why support the Muslim Brotherhood and thus get enemies? This support is the other reason for the aforsaid diplomatic upheavals with Cairo, Riyad, Abu Dhabi and Manama, four governments that do not like the Brotherhood. Recently, the Kuwaiti MP Nabil Al-Fadl accused Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood of supporting the Kuwaiti opposition.

Because of its support for the Brotherhood and of Al Jazeera’s editorial policies, Qatar became at odds with Saudi Arabia. It is the only country in the region with goods reasons to invade the small peninsula: to take hold of the gas fields that could save its oil-dependent economy. So it is the country in the region it was most important to keep good relationships with.

Source (about the historical Qatari need for diplomacy): « Qatar – a modern history » by Allan Fromhertz.
Further information about the incidents between Al Jazeera and the United States: The 9/11 decade — The Image War (part 3 — the episode deals with the media and propaganda in the war on terror in general, but most of it is devoted to Al Jazeera’s specific case)

To save its economy, Saudi should… invade Qatar

El Sharara oil field, Libya
El Sharara oil field, Libya – by Javier Blas, Creative Commons

Article en français : Pour sauver son économie, Riyad devrait… envahir le Qatar

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are at odds with eachother. Last spring, a diplomatic crisis erupted as Riyad withdrew its embassador from Doha and told the little peninsula to drop its support for the Muslim Brotherhood (enemies of the Saudis) and to shut down or tone down Al Jazeera. The kingdom threatened its neighbour with sea blockade if it did not comply (by the way, that would amount to an invasion). But an Islamist brotherhood and a TV channel may not be the only reasons for the diplomatic turmoil between the Wahhabi kingdom and the Forgotten land of God.

The Saudi economy relies heavily on oil. At first, when drilling into an oil reservoir, the pressure inside is enough to draw the precious liquid to the surface. But as stocks diminish, pressure diminshes too and eventually it’s not enough anymore. One must inject natural gas to push the oil and collect it. The quantity of gas required is so large that importing it is not economical; it must be extracted in the country, near the oil wells. Most oil-producing countries also happen to own the required gas fields. Saudis now regret to have burnt the gas seeping from the oil wells instead of reusing it. Prospections in the Empty Quarter, in the south-eastern desert, did not allow to discover any sizeable gas field. Even if there were indeed gas fields there, they would be too far away from the oil wells (in the Dammam region, on the Persian Gulf) to be economical. If Riyad doesn’t quickly find gas near its oil fields, the country won’t be able to extract oil anymore and its economy will collapse.

Near the Saudi oil fields lies Qatar, the third biggest gas exporter in the world. Alongside with Iran, it owns a large part of the North Field / South Pars, the largest gas field on the planet. The emirate stands on a peninsula smaller than Wales, virtually entirely desertic, and poorly defended if it wasn’t for the American base of Al-Udeid – it’s the largest in the region.

Finally, Vladimir Putin showed a few months ago that you can invade the little nearby peninsula if you wish to. In his case it was Crimea. Saudi Arabia could follow his exemple and wish to invade its very own little nearby peninsula.


Counter-argument: Washington has previously been allied with both the emirate and the Wahhabi kingdom, but its relationships with the latter have decayed recently. If the Saudi army invaded Qatar, the Americans would probably retaliate. Moreover, they own a large military base on the small peninsula.


Source: « Saudi Arabia on the Edge » by Thomas W. Lippman, pp. 58-60

The story of Abdalilah Shaya

Sanaa, Yemen's capital
Sanaa, the Yemeni capital. The old city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Version française de l’article : l’histoire d’Abdalilah Shaya

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Abdalilah Shaya is a journalist in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital. In early January 2009, he is approached by members of the local Al-Qaeda branch, as other reporters were before. Al-Qaeda groups in Arabia had been weakened for years. Their top members had been in Guantánamo and in Yemeni prisons. But since, the organisations’ leaders had either escaped or been set free. The Yemeni Nasir al-Wihayshi and the Saudi Said al-Shihri merged the Yemeni and Saudi affiliates of Al-Qaeda into a new entity: Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. They wanted to grant an interview to the press to announce this event.

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Before the interview, Shaya had to send his questions to Al-Qaeda. When everything was ready, he was blindfolded and taken to a safehouse. He was welcomed by Shihri, who put him a suicide vest to try on. After a short while, Shihri took the vest back, and tell the journalist that it was just a joke, even though the suicide vest was a real one. Then, Wihayshi arrived, along with food and drinks to make Shaya comfortable before the interview started.

The tape of the interview was released on the next day by Al-Qaeda, along with a video featuring Wihayshi, Shihri and two other AQAP commanders, Qasim al-Raymi and Muhammad al-Awfi. As the newly elected president Barack Obama was preparing to close Guantánamo, ex-detainees of the infamous prison were free and vowing to kill Americans.

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Two years later, in January 2011, Abdalilah Shaya is convicted of terrorism before the Yemeni court, following this interview. Tribal sheikhs press President Ali Abdullah Saleh to revert the verdict. By the end of the month, the president says he is ready to pardon the journalist.

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A few days later, on February 2, President Obama phones Saleh to talk about the nascent Arab Spring. Two weeks before, the Tunisian President Zine-al-Abidine Ben Ali had fled protests in his country to Saudi Arabia. Demonstrations had also erupted in Egypt a week before, and revolt is quickly spreading throughout the Arab world. Saleh had promised reforms in his country to fend off an upcoming uprising. Obama urges the president to make sure the Yemeni security forces “refrain from violence against Yemeni demonstrators who are exercising their right to free association, assembly, and speech”. Then, moving on to the case of Abdalilah Shaya, Barack Obama “expresse[s] concern over the release” of the journalist.

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The next day, Saleh withdraws his decision to pardon Shaya.

To this date, the journalist still remains in jail.

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Source: “The Last Refuge – Yemen, Al-Qaeda, and America’s war in Arabia”,

by Gregory D. Johansen

According to Reporters Without Borders’s Press Freedom Index, in 2011/2012:

.Yemen ranked 171th out of 179, with a score of 101,00 (the lower the better). It was (and is still) one of the world’s worst countries for freedom of the press, then on par with Sudan and Myanmar and worse than Cuba. In 2011/2012, it had fallen lower than it ever was before, mostly because of crackdown on protesters.

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The United States ranked 47th out of 179, with a score of 14,00. Both ranking and score are quite good and indicate no real concern about freedom of the press in this country.

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Picture: http://ko.fotopedia.com/items/flickr-350139897  by Eesti — Creative Commons

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A free man (short story dedicated to Abdullah Elshamy)

cc by-nc-nd Bruno Monginoux www.photo-paysage.com & www.landscape-photo.net

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This story is fictional and I hope it’ll remain so.

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A frail prisoner is lying against the wall of his cell, like a fragile wisp of straw standing in equilibrium. He has not eaten since the last time they managed to force-feed him; that is, what seems  to be an eternity ago. He has been on a hunger strike since several months. A felony had led him to prison. That was during the last eon. Instead of lying, he told the truth, and the sound of truth is unpleasant to the government’s ears. Since then, no prosecution, no trial, no charges, no justice and no real food in the stomach.

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They open the door of the cell and handcuff and blindfold the prisoner of conscience.

– “Where are you taking me?”

– “You’ll know when you’ll be there.”

The man is carried to a car. The engine starts. He falls asleep at the back of the vehicle.

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He is woken up by those carrying him out of the car. They enter a building in an undisclosed location. When they remove the blindfold, the prisoner is sitting in a dark room. A door lies open a few meters in front of him. His gaze crosses the corridor that stretches behind the door, up to a staircase in the bottom. The steps of it are sparkling with daylight. The sun must be shining outside. That beautiful, magnificent sun.

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– “You have been on hunger strike for several months now. We have done everything possible to prevent you from pursuing it. Threats, force-feeding, torture, and so on. But you have resisted, and you should be happy to have done so. Your strike has bore its fruit.”

The prisoner waits to hear what they will say next. He does not yet realise what is happening.

– “You are free now. You’re not in jail anymore. You’ll never set foot in that prison again.”

– “Really?”

– “Step through the door and walk up the stairs. Your freedom awaits outside.”

– “I’m too weak to walk. I’ll never make it up the stairs.”

– “Sure you can.”

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One of them takes him by the arm and helps him to stand up. Much to his surprise, he can stand on his feet. He can even walk, forwards, towards the sunlit steps. As he steps into the corridor, they close the door behind him. This is a strange way to release prisoners indeed. His eyes are fixed on the golden twinkling stairs. He cannot walk up them on his two feet, so he climbs them with the help of his hands. It is very difficult. These stairs probably aren’t very long, but they feel so for him. Up there, there is an old door. Light is beaming from above and under it. With a bit of apprehension, and longing to see the sky, he pushes the handle. What he sees beyond takes his breath away.

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He falls to his knees on the grass, not knowing if he could rise again. He stares in ecstasy at the sky, bewildered by the colour of it. He had never realised before the magnificence of a clear blue sky. A few clouds are being pushed by a gentle breeze. They look like distant cities floating in the air. The sun – this incredible sun – and the moon are shining side by side. He stays kneeling for a moment, looking skywards.

Birds are singing in the trees, and he realises it never occurred to him how melodious a bird’s song could be. The air feels extremely fresh and pure compared to the one he used to breathe in those damp underground cells. Beneath the scent of freedom, he can smell the perfume of plants and flowers. Eventually he lowers his gaze. A mind-blowing setting, trees with dense foliage and bark convoluted like smoke, wild plants flowering all around, large blades of grass. It strikes him that he never realised how green vegetation seemed to be carved out of emerald. He had never admired the beauty of grass. He remembers how he used to view all those wild plants as ugly weed, while in fact they are splendid. Beyond the trees, a dozen meters away, he sees a brooklet running among pebbles.

Then he notices something wonderful in the tree before him. Reinvigorated by the extraordinary beauty he perceives in this place, he stands up and blissfully rushes to the tree. Its branches are carrying dozens of ripe oranges. Immediately, everything else ceases to exist: the sky, the daylight, the birds, the grass, the plants and the stream. Without any further thought, he picks one of the fruits, peels its skin away and eats it. He hasn’t eaten any real food since months. It was as if this orange was the most delicious thing he had ever eaten in his whole life. Then he picks another, then another.

Before the time he spent in prison, he would have thought such oranges to be too small, too damaged or too dirty compared to what one could find at the supermarket. In the same fashion, if he had visited this place before, he would probably have seen it as dull. Now, he would only see the beauty of things. Maybe the difference between something normal and something remarkable, between a usual place and utter paradise, lies in the mind of who sees it. Prison has taught him that freedom is remarkable, and that so are the sky, the sun, the lullabies of the birds, the blades of grass, the weed, the brooklet and the oranges. That was probably why they had set him free to such a surprising place. Then, for a nanosecond, he regrets having spent his life blind to those wonders. It does not last. He tells himself that he is going to live every remaining second of his life to its fullest. As he looks again at this paradise on Earth, as he listens to the pleasant sound of wind rocking the foliage and of water running down the stream, smelling the scent of freedom and with the taste of an orange in his mouth, he feels that those euphoric feelings are just too much for his frail mind to bear and for his feeble body to endure. He swallows the fruit, lies on the grass and closes his eyes.

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After a short nap, he eats another few oranges and removes his shoes. He jumps into the stream, barefoot, water up to his ankles. Sparing no thought for the bilharziosis he could catch by bathing in freshwater, he washes his arms and face. Now he is thinking about his family. He dearly wants to come back home, to hug his children and to kiss his wife. Where is he? In which direction is the city? He had been taken here by a car, where is the road?

He puts his shoes back on and walks down the stream. His hunger strike has been successful. He had won a victory over the regime and won a battle for freedom of speech. He walks as a free man with a full stomach. He had not given up his dignity, and nothing had broken his will.

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Soon, he sees a man wandering by the brook. He walks towards him, greets him and asks him where he is. The wanderer looks very surprised. The astonished and confused former prisoner realises his interlocutor has suddenly grown wings, like an angel. The winged man tells him:

– “You still don’t realise what happened? You didn’t listen to what they told you? Your hunger strike has bore its fruit: you starved to death! This place is called heaven. They would never have let you out of that prison alive…”

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This short story is dedicated to Abdullah Elshamy, a reporter for Al Jazeera Arabic who is being detained since August 2013 by the Egyptian government. He has been on hunger strike for 4 months. His latest blood analyses show that his organs are failing and that he could die within a few days. Several hours after the announcement, he was taken to an “undisclosed location”, which today was revealed to be solitary confinement in Tora prison’s maximum-security Scorpion unit. He could have been taken to heaven.

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(photo taken in Plitvice national park, Croatia, by B. Monginoux / Landscape-Photo.net (cc by-nc-nd))

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Al Araby can’t be here to rebuild Qatar’s reputation

Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani
Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, emir of Qatar

The emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, wants to set up an Arabic-language news channel named Al Araby, as did his father Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani with Al Jazeera in 1996. Many have been speculating on Twitter that it would be to repair the damage Al Jazeera Arabic has done to Qatar’s reputation, by criticising Gulf states and by overtly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. This is not a logical explanation.

If Al Jazeera Arabic damaged Qatar’s reputation by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and by criticising other Gulf States – why not just tone it down? The network’s chairman, Hamad bin Thamer Al Thani, is a member of the royal family.

Moreover, the Arabic language channel may not quite be the Al Jazeera outlet that most damages Doha’s image abroad. Al Jazeera Arabic is a panregional outfit mired in trouble and which editorial line follows Qatar’s foreign policy. To the contrary, Al Jazeera English is a soaring channel with an expanding global audience, increasing credibility and more awards each year. But it does not stand in line with Doha – at all. It openly criticises its sister channels for their support for the Muslim Brotherhood, blames Qatar for its treatment of foreign workers, and overtly says it is an extension of Doha’s foreign policy and that it should not be trusted for those reasons (I will publish a video explaining all this). If there is a part of Al Jazeera Qatari policymakers should worry about, it is certainly not the Arabic language channel.

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Even though Sheykh Tamim is on the throne since last June, it is widely belived that his father Hamad is still pulling the strings. Tamim may want to create Al Araby in order to display his independence from his father’s influence: by setting up his own Al Jazeera.

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Both channels emphasize their independence regarding the government and both were created by a Qatari emir. Still, whereas Al Jazeera was made out of the ashes of the first BBC Arabic (1994-1996), Al Araby has no such unusual background, even though they are trying to recruit staff from the current (second) BBC Arabic. The media landscape is also different: in 1996, no free Arab media existed. Al Jazeera’s arrival induced a wave of new satellite channels. Nowadays, the market is much more competitive. Whatever happens, Al Araby is certainly not going to be a copycat of Al Jazeera Arabic.

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Bonus: rant about the “Al Araby” name

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“Al Araby” (the Arab one, masculine) sounds dangerously similar to “Al Arabiya” (the Arab one, feminine), the name of the Saudi news channel and Al Jazeera Arabic’s main competitor. Why this name, and not another? The creators of both Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya were not really creative, as if you glue together both names you get al-jazîra l-arabiya – that is, “the Arabian Peninsula” in Arabic. So, calling a channel “Al Araby” is lazy, if not laughable. Moreover, there are plenty of nice names out there, my favorite being “Al Lulua”. It means “the Pearl”, referring to Qatar’s former pearl industry, and it sounds so cute.

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Dear AP: some suggestions for your stylebook

AP stylebook.

 Dear Associated Press,

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I received the 2013 edition of your stylebook a week ago. It is largely up to my expectations.

I thought it would just include guidelines about which word to use in which context, but it also contains a punctuation guide, a code of ethics, about 40 pages on media law, a guide to new technologies, suggestions on how to write papers, and much more. It even explains how to write kitchen receipes.

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Your book is really great. It’s a journalism course on its own!

By the way, it’s really big (483 pages). I haven’t read it all yet, so please forgive my mistakes. Moreover, I’m just a little Frenchie, and it is a well-known fact that the French do not speak any foreign language, not even English.

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However, I have a few suggestions for the next edition of your stylebook.

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I was reading with amazement the kitchen part when I saw, with horror…

AP stylebook calories

Oh dear, my dear AP, how it is possible that an organisation as professional as you could make such a dreadful mistake! It’s 651 kilocalories (or kcal) per serving, not 651 calories (or cal)! A kilocalory is worth 1,000 calories. An adult’s mean energy requirements roughly amount to 2,000 kilocalories (or 2,000 kcal). 651 calories are what’s in a few bread crumbs. By the way, you should add a “calory” entry so no journalist ever gets wrong on that issue again.

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Then, I flipped through the pages and saw the entry dedicated to my favourite news channel. I read it and realised I forgot to introduce it to you!

AP stylebook Jazeera

Three things:

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1 – You write « Al-Jazeera » with a hyphen. Although it’s logical from a linguistic point of view, you say throughout the Stylebook that we should always use the company’s preferred spelling. By visiting the Al Jazeera English website, you can quickly see that their preferred spelling is with a space, not a hyphen.

Don’t worry, it’s not that important to put a hyphen instead of a space, or the other way round. What’s really important is that you do not write it “el-Djazira” as one of your competitor does (I won’t say which), nor “Al-Jezira” as my favourite newspaper does, nor – even worse “Al-Dschasira” as Germans do

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2 – Usually, when talking about a company in your stylebook, you write the full company name somewhere. Here, you could also write “Al Jazeera Media Network” somewhere.

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3 – The Al Jazeera Media Network is composed of the following main channels (list not exhaustive):

  • The Arabic language channel, which is pan-Arab as you describe in the entry. It was launched in 1996, reached a peak of influence during the 2011 Arab Spring and is now in decline.

  • The English language channel, launched in 2006. It says it is focused on the global South, although I feel it to be pretty balanced between the West and the rest of the world. It is more watched than its Arabic counterpart and is also more influential, thanks to its investigations. It is the reference news channel in Southeast Asia and East Africa.

  • The Balkans channel, launched in 2011. As far as I know, it is the reference news channel for this part of world.

  • The American channel, launched in 2013. Its viewership is still meager.

  • A handful of sport channels named BeIN SPORTS, in Arabic and French.

Putting that into consideration, I think that calling Al Jazeera a pan-Arab network is inaccurate. It would be better to describe it as “international”, rather than merely pan-regional.

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I turned the page, and then I saw…

AP stylebook Qaeda

One can spend hours debating about romanisation, especially of Arab words, but here is my advice if you don’t mind.

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This spelling makes sense when compared to transliteration: “al-qā’ida” القاعِدة

However, it does not represent the real prononciation. Usually, in a word form such as فاعل fā’il or فاعلة fā’ila, the unstressed “i” tends to become an “e” or a schwa. It is even more true when it is placed after the pharyngal ع ‘ayn, a consonant that tends to modify the vowel quality; and still more true when the consonant before the ‘ayn is a ق qāf, which also modifies the vowel quality. The actual prononciation of the word is thus quite similar to “al-Qaeda”. Moreover, most non-Arabs tend to stress the “i” instead of the « a » in « al-Qaida ». This is a mistake as wrong stress changes the meaning of the word. If the “i” is replaced by an “e”, readers will be slightly more likely to stress the “a” instead. But that’s really a debatable topic.

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Oh, while we’re at it, you may want to clarify the meaning of the adjective “veiled”. For instance, is a “veiled woman” a woman with a headscarf, face uncovered, or a woman with a veil on her face?

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Dear AP, those were all my suggestions. I hope the next edition of the Stylebook will be even more brilliant than the current one.

But please, correct the calory/kilocalory part. I can’t stand any more sleepless nights wondering how could the world’s most reknowned news agency have done something so awful.

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Best regards,

Victoria Castro, trainee journalist with bunny ears

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For any complaint, please contact my smartphone-bunny on Twitter: @EVictoriaCastro