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Scene from comic strip featuring Qahera
She’s got comic strip superpowers, fights for justice and gives bad guys a hard time. If this makes you think of Catwoman, then think again – for this is a new kind of superheroine with a visible difference.

Meet Qahera – the hijab-wearing Egyptian comic-book character fighting back against crime and prejudice.

She is the brainchild of a young Egyptian artist who created the first everEgyptian superhero in a web comic, and its picking up a growing fanbase.

“It all started as a joke with a group of friends,” Deena Mohamed says.

“It was my way to respond in my own way to things that were frustrating me at the time,” she laughs, “and when the idea of having superpowers was fascinating!”

But when Deena put the comic online a few months ago, she did not expect the scale of positive reactions.

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I wanted to send a message about the general Islamophobic backlash, and if I was going to address that, I needed to make a statement”

Deena Mohamed

Her website got hundreds of thousands of hits – more than 500,000 since September alone. Egypt is the top country of visitors to the site, followed by the US.

Deena also found enthusiasm among local publishers who asked her to create a printed version as well.

“It is insane. Way more exposure than I ever expected,” the 19-year-old art student says.

Inevitably perhaps, the creation drew some negative reactions, mainly from people not convinced about adopting the Western concept of a superhero.

Deena, though, does not agree.

“We are all exposed to the idea of comics and superheroes. We are exposed to Western media so often. So I guess I was just responding to that in my own way.”

Hijabi and strong

The name Qahera is the Arabic word for Egypt’s capital, Cairo. It also means the conqueror or the vanquisher.

Deena Mohamed 'self-portrait'
Deena says Qahera is aimed at shattering the stereotype that women who wear the hijab cannot be strong

Deena says she had her superheroine with the all-powerful name wear a hijab to combat a widespread stereotype that women wearing the Islamic attire cannot be strong.

“There is already so little representation of women who wear the hijab, although that is the majority of women I see around me, and it did not make sense not to make her wear hijab,” says Deena, who does not wear a hijab herself.

Hijab – the principle of modesty in Islam that includes manners of dress – is a religious obligation stipulated by the Koran, according to scholars at Al-Azhar, the highest seating of Sunni Islam.

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Sister, take off your oppression!”

Comic-strip character to Qahera

Deena says she had her eye on a Western audience from the beginning, another reason why her character wears a hijab, and episodes are written in English.

“I wanted to send a message about the general Islamophobic backlash, and if I was going to address that, I needed to make a statement.

“Women who wear hijab usually bear the brunt of Islamophobia,” she says.

One of her comics is tackling the Western misconceptions on submissive Muslim women.

“Look, it is a Muslim woman,” says one of the characters in a story featuring Western feminists.

“Sister, take off your oppression!”

But the superheroine reacts angrily to their call.

“You have constantly undermined women. You seem unable to understand we do not need your help!”

Street harassment

In the past few years, sexual harassment of women on the streets of Egypt has become a growing phenomenon.

While most women are usually helpless in this situation, Qahera does something about it.

Scene from comic strip featuring QaheraThe comic strip tackles the phenomenon of street attacks on women

Deena created an entire episode about harassment, where Qahera dons her long black hijab and carries a sword as she chases down male abusers, and flies to fight wherever a woman is mistreated.

“Never bother another woman again!” Qahera warns a beaten-up culprit.

The past few decades saw a majority of Muslim women in Egypt adopt the attire. On the streets of Cairo, there are few women with their hair uncovered.

But the modest Islamic attire fails to protect women from being abused.

The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women said in a recent report that 99.3% of Egyptian women have experienced some form of sexual harassment, whether physical or verbal.

Deena says the theme is based on real experiences with street harassment. However she does not encourage women to react the way Qahera does.

“If you are not alone and have enough support around you, you can call them out. But otherwise, you can just ignore it. It is really a difficult situation, and some women have to deal with it almost every day.”

‘Tribute to women’

Deena’s latest episode focuses on another issue that has been taking over the streets since the 2011 uprising – protests.

But she says it is less of a superhero comic and more of a tribute – to women who contributed to the revolution in so many ways.

“I remember at one point during the revolution, people would use statistics of attacks on women to discredit political movements – and Egyptians – at large. This keeps happening, consistently, both locally and internationally.

“People will abuse statistics as they see fit, but they will always ignore the women at the base of those statistics. So, politics and superpowers aside, here is my attempt at a tribute to real-life superheroes.”

 

Egyptian princess now known to be the first person in human history with diagnosed coronary artery disease.


The Egyptian princess Ahmose-Meryet-Amon, who lived in Thebes (Luxor) between 1580 and 1550 BC and who is now known to be first person in human history with diagnosed coronary artery disease, lived on a diet rich in vegetables, fruit and a limited amount of meat from domesticated (but not fattened) animals. Wheat and barley were grown along the banks of the Nile, making bread and beer the dietary staples of this period of ancient Egypt. Tobacco and trans-fats were unknown, and lifestyle was likely to have been active.

Both presentations were based on findings from the Horus study, in which arterial atherosclerosis was investigated in 52 ancient Egyptian mummies. Results have shown that recognisable arteries were present in 44 of the mummies, with an identifiable heart present in 16. Arterial calcification (as a marker of atherosclerosis) was evident at a variety of sites in almost half the mummies scanned, prompting the investigators to note that the condition was common in this group of middle aged or older ancient Egyptians; the 20 mummies with definite atherosclerosis were older (mean 45.years) than those with intact vascular tissue but no atherosclerosis (34.5 years).

Although relatively common at other vascular sites, atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries was evident in only three of the mummies investigated, but was clearly visualised in Princess Ahmose-Meryet-Amon (in whom calcification was present in every vascular bed visualised).

The CT scan image below shows that the princess, who died in her 40s, had atherosclerosis in two of her three main coronary arteries. “Today,” said Dr Gregory S Thomas, director of Nuclear Cardiology Education at the University of California, Irvine, USA, and co-principal investigator of the Horus study, “she would have needed by-pass surgery.”

CT scan shows atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries of Egyptian Mummy

Image: Calcification, seen as white, in the right (RCA) and left coronary arteries (LCA), each indicative of coronary artery disease.

“Overall, it was striking how much atherosclerosis we found,” said Dr Thomas. “We think of atherosclerosis as a disease of modern lifestyle, but it’s clear that it also existed 3500 years ago. Our findings certainly call into question the perception of atherosclerosis as a modern disease.”

If, however, the princess enjoyed a diet deemed to be healthy and pursued a lifestyle probably active, how could this “disease of modern life” affect her so visibly? Dr Thomas and his co-principal investigator Dr Adel Allam of Al Azhar University, Cairo, suggest three possibilities.

First, that there is still some unknown risk factor for cardiovascular disease, or at least a missing link in our understanding of it. Dr Allam noted a likely effect of genetic inheritance, pointing out that much of the human predisposition to atherosclerosis could be secondary to their genes. He similarly raised the possibility that an inflammatory response to the frequent parasitic infections common to ancient Egyptians might predispose to coronary disease – in much the same way that immunocompromised HIV cases seem also predisposed to early coronary disease. Nor can a dietary effect be excluded, despite what we know of life in ancient Egypt. Princess Ahmose-Meryet-Amon was from a noble family, her father, Seqenenre Tao II, the last pharaoh of the 17th Dynasty.

So it’s likely that her diet was not that of the common Egyptian. As a royal, she would have eaten more luxury foods – more meat, butter and cheese. Moreover, foods were preserved in salt, which may also have had an adverse effect.

Despite the suggestion of a genetic, inflammatory or unknown effect, Drs Thomas and Allam were keen not to discount those risk factors for heart disease which we do know about. Indeed, even in the study’s apparent association of atheroma with increasing age, there was a pattern of prevalence consistent with our own epidemiology today. “Recent studies have shown that by not smoking, having a lower blood pressure and a lower cholesterol level, calcification of our arteries is delayed,” said co-investigator Dr Randall C Thompson of the St Luke’s Mid-America Heart Institute in Kansas City, USA. “On the other hand, from what we can tell from this study, humans are predisposed to atherosclerosis, so it behoves us to take the proper measures necessary to delay it as long as we can.”

Most of the Horus study research was performed at the National Museum of Antiquities in Cairo and would not have been possible without the availability of non-invasive CT scanning, the focus of the ICNC congress in Amsterdam. CT scanning and nuclear medicine imaging are the cornerstones of modern quantifiable cardiac disease detection, with safe and reproducible results.

Desert plantations could help capture carbon.


Planting trees in coastal deserts could capture carbon dioxide, reduce harsh desert temperatures, boost rainfall, revitalise soils and produce cheapbiofuels, say scientists.

Large-scale plantations of the hardy jatropha tree, Jatropha curcas, could help sequester carbon dioxide through a process known as ‘carbon farming’, according to a study based on data gathered in Mexico and Oman that was published in Earth System Dynamics last month (31 July).

Each hectare of the tree could soak up 17-25 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, they say, at a cost of 42-63 euros (about US$56-84) per tonne of gas, the paper says. This makes the technique competitive with high-tech carbon capture and storage.

Klaus Becker, the study’s lead author and director of carbon sequestration consultancy Atmosphere Protect, says that a jatropha plantation covering just three per cent of the Arabian Desert could absorb all the carbon dioxide produced by cars in Germany over two decades.

“Our models show that, because of plantations, average desert temperatures go down by 1.1 degree Celsius, which is a lot,” Becker says. He adds that the plantations would also induce rainfall in desert areas.

Jatropha, which is a biofuel crop, needs little water, and coastal plantations would be irrigated through desalination, Becker says.

He also envisages a role for sewage in such large-scale plantations.

“There are billions and billions of litres of sewage that are discharged into the oceans every week, but instead we could send that water to the desert and plant trees,” he says. “In this situation, you wouldn’t need any expensive artificial nitrogen [to fertilise the trees].”

The team has also been working in Israel’s Negev desert, where they planted 16 tree species, which, they say, is preferable to a jatropha monoculture. “A diversity of trees is good for the environment, good for investors and good for preventing diseases,” says Becker.

At another of the team’s carbon farms — a jatropha plantation in Madagascar — the organic matter content of degraded soil has risen from 0.2 per cent up to three per cent.

Local people now harvest beans planted between the trees, providing a vital source of protein and creating a symbiotic exchange of nitrogen — fixed from air by beans — and shade provided by the jatropha trees.

“Previously, no one had the idea of using uncultivated land to plant these kinds of leguminous beans because they would not grow there. But after four or five years of applying cultivation techniques, the soil quality increases dramatically,” Becker says.

Alex Walker, a research assistant at the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London, United Kingdom, describes carbon farming as a “common-sense approach to rising carbon dioxide levels, with potentially positive biodiversity impacts”.

He adds: “It will grow on non-arable land, and so not compete with food production, but it is more difficult to process and subject to varying yields and absorption volumes”.

Egypt is pioneering an experiment in desert farming, using sewage water after basic treatment to produce wood, woody biomass and biofuel crops, such as casuarina, African mahogany, jojoba and neem, in addition to jatropha.
“In Egypt, there are 15,000 acres planted with trees of good quality but so far they have not been sold to create economic value,” Hany El Kateb, a professor at the Technical University of Munich in Germany, tells SciDev.Net.

According to El Kateb, Egypt produces more than 6.3 billion cubic metres of sewage water a year, and 5.5 billion cubic metres of this would be sufficient to afforest more than 650,000 hectares of desert lands and store more than 25 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually in new forests.

El Kateb points out that Egypt has an advantage over European countries that are leaders in forestry, such as Germany, because the same trees grow more than 4.5 times faster in  Egypt where the sun shine most of the year.

But Mosaad Kotb Hassanein, director of the Central Laboratory for Agricultural Climate in Egypt, says: “One of the big challenges of planting forests in arid areas is the lack of experience, expertise and technical personnel involved in the establishment and management of forest plantations.

“The project in Egypt was lucky to have technical assistance and support establishing  a forest administration from the German Academic Exchange .

Source: http://www.scidev.net