Amid a sweeping crackdown on dissent in Egypt, security forces have forcibly disappeared hundreds of people since the beginning of 2015, according to a new report from Amnesty International.

It's an "unprecedented spike," the group says, with an average of three or four people disappeared every day.

The Republican Party, as it prepares for its convention next week has checked off item No. 1 on its housekeeping list — drafting a party platform. The document reflects the conservative views of its authors, many of whom are party activists. So don't look for any concessions to changing views among the broader public on key social issues.

Many public figures who took to Twitter and Facebook following the murder of five police officers in Dallas have faced public blowback and, in some cases, found their employers less than forgiving about inflammatory and sometimes hateful online comments.

As Venezuela unravels — with shortages of food and medicine, as well as runaway inflation — President Nicolas Maduro is increasingly unpopular. But he's still holding onto power.

"The truth in Venezuela is there is real hunger. We are hungry," says a man who has invited me into his house in the northwestern city of Maracaibo, but doesn't want his name used for fear of reprisals by the government.

The wiry man paces angrily as he speaks. It wasn't always this way, he says, showing how loose his pants are now.

Ask a typical teenage girl about the latest slang and girl crushes and you might get answers like "spilling the tea" and Taylor Swift. But at the Girl Up Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C., the answers were "intersectional feminism" — the idea that there's no one-size-fits-all definition of feminism — and U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres.

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Arizona Hispanics Poised To Swing State Blue

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Editor's note: This report contains accounts of rape, violence and other disturbing events.

Sex trafficking wasn't a major concern in the early 1980s, when Beth Jacobs was a teenager. If you were a prostitute, the thinking went, it was your choice.

Jacobs thought that too, right up until she came to, on the lot of a dark truck stop one night. She says she had asked a friendly-seeming man for a ride home that afternoon.

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Burning Down The House: Artistic Freedom Under Fire In Egypt

Jun 16, 2013
Originally published on June 16, 2013 3:50 am

On the morning of Oct. 28, 1971, Egypt woke up to a shock: The Khedivial Royal Opera House was on fire. The 100-year-old, rococo-style architectural gem in downtown Cairo burned to ashes. Ballet costumes, theater sets, musical instruments and velvet curtains were all gone.

Now, 40 years later, the new Cairo Opera House is on fire. This time, the threat isn't faulty electric equipment but administrative decisions that Egyptian artists say are fatal to their rich cultural scene.

The spark? The sacking of Enas Abdel-Dayem, the opera house director. Egypt's culture minister, Alaa Abdel-Aziz, defended the decision, saying he wanted to "inject new blood" into the Egyptian cultural scene.

For three days, Egyptian artists canceled concerts, ballets and operas at the country's biggest performance venue. Last week, they took their dancing and singing to the culture minister's office, engaged in a vibrant sit-in that has entered its second week. They vow not to leave until the culture minister does.

The angry protesters say the firing is an example of how the ruling Muslim Brotherhood is trying to control Egypt's cultural scene through the new minister. Some fear the Islamists are trying to suppress artistic expression that runs counter to their conservatism.

Similar culture clashes have been playing out in other Arab countries over the past couple of years as Islamists have risen to power and moved against more secular institutions.

Other Dismissals

In addition to Abdel-Dayem, Egypt's culture minister has fired seven senior figures from top positions in the ministry for no legitimate reasons, according to the protesters.

Performers' solidarity with Abdel-Dayem was immediate. On May 28, the day she was fired, the cast at the Cairo Opera House canceled a performance of Verdi's opera Aida and went on strike. It was a decision met by an extended standing ovation and shouts of "Bravo."

"Since the day he was appointed, [the culture minister] has issued random, irrational and illegal decisions and fired successful leaderships, complying with the instructions of the ruling regime and attempting to eradicate the identity of the nation," conductor Nayer Nagui announced from the stage.

Behind him, the cast held banners condemning the "Brotherhoodization" of Egyptian culture. In front of him, spectators chanted "Long Live Egypt!"

The Cairo Opera House is not the first Egyptian institution to suspend its activities to protest measures by the Islamist-dominated government.

However, its strike opens a new, high-profile battlefield for Egyptians dismayed at the country's direction since the 2011 uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak and led to the election of the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi as Egypt's leader. It's a decision that's created political polarization over the country's identity.

Growing Tensions

The current culture war is a part of this clash. In the narrow downtown Cairo street that separates the Opera House from the Culture Ministry, supporters and opponents of the culture minister stand face to face. Tension, metal barricades and police personnel on high alert separate them.

Only a few weeks earlier, a lawmaker and member of the ultraconservative Islamist Nour Party called for banning ballet from the Opera House, denouncing it as "the art of nudity" and for "spreading immorality."

In response, members of the Cairo Opera Ballet Company staged a defiant performance of the ballet Zorba the Greek outside the Culture Ministry.

"This comment [by the Nour lawmaker] is not a comment. It is a potential draft law," says poet Fatema Naoot, noting the rise of political Islam in post-revolutionary Egypt. "Previously, we would leave them, we would say this is freedom of speech."

"But now that these people are our lawmakers, they have the ability to deprive us from [the arts] if they want to," she says.

Naoot and other artists and authors say they are determined to win what they call "The Battle of the Opera." They're part of the group that stormed the Culture Ministry and vows to occupy its headquarters until the minister resigns.

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