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This is because the Muslim and Middle Eastern custom of compelling women to cover themselves – whether by law or convention – provides no guarantee of protection from sexual harassment. In Egypt 83 per cent of 2,000 women interviewed for recent a survey by the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights reported being verbally or physically abused. In Yemen the figure rose to 90 per cent. Lebanon’s men seem to be slightly better behaved: 30 per cent of women there reported being harassed. Yet while some women are fighting back, others are retreating from the street, even sending their men to go shopping. They are also dressing ever more demurely.

There are, however, signs that officialdom is finally taking notice of the problem. Legislation against harassment is before Egypt’s parliament and police have cracked down on gropers and hecklers. And in what may prove to be a landmark case, one man was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment.

Wealthier women are resorting to another method of keeping themselves safe and secure. There is a booming business for “ladyguards” who protect successful pop stars and entrepreneurs who feel uncomfortable being accompanied by male bodyguards. Falcon group, a subsidiary of Egypts CIB bank, has 300 ladyguards on its books.

Help unwanted

DRC [PEACEKEEPING]

The UN’s largest peacekeeping operation may be coming to an abrupt end. More than 17,000 troops are currently stationed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where internal conflict has killed more than five million people in the past 12 years. President Joseph Kabila has requested that the withdrawal begins by June. A recent UN report found that forces have failed to diffuse the crisis, and may even have made it worse. But Kabila also seems concerned that it looks bad not being able to control his own country, especially with elections looming in 2011. And those pesky foreigners also have a bad habit of writing reports about waning democracy and human rights in the country.

Painfully funny

Israel [HEALTHCARE]

There’s a right bunch of clowns working in Israel’s hospitals. And it’s all because of the training medical staff are getting at the University of Haifa. The college has created a three-year “medical clowning” degree that involves a mixture of theatre studies, nursing and psychology. The aim is to put a smile on patients’ faces and lift spirits. Clowns have been working in children’s wards in the US and Europe since the 1980s. Now, say advocates, it’s time to incorporate clowns into the medical staff. “Scientific research has shown that humour, fantasy, role playing and other techniques have similar effects to tranquillisers, sedatives and maybe even painkillers,” claims Dr Dina Orkin from Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek medical centre. She already uses clowns in her department of anaesthesia and the operating theatre – although they are not allowed to make people laugh out loud in case it causes damage to organs. Mazel tov for their efforts, but we’ll stick with a Swiss clinic.

Staying power

Côte d'Ivoire [ELECTIONS]

After three years delay, presidential elections in Côte d'Ivoire should take place in March. Laurent Gbagbo, whose term officially finished in 2005 as part of the negotiations that ended in the civil war, has stayed in office and -surprise- is set to win the vote. Having an elected leader again might mean investors return to what used to be West Africa's strongest economy, famed for cocoa and coffee.

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