Nazeeha Saeed about settling in in Paris and Berlin
Nazeeha Saeed was harassed by state authorities because of her journalistic activities in Bahrain. In this interview excerpt she speaks about how she settled in in Paris and Berlin and what differences she sees between both cities.
When I was in Paris I was learning the language and of course, through the language you also learn about the culture and literature and so on. I was a very active visitor of all museums and exhibitions in Paris, sometimes even on a daily basis. I was observing all the culture of the country that I’m living in. Because also the plan to move here came later. Because I was trying to fit, I mean, not trying to fit because there also, it is even worse to fit… You know, the French are – I don’t want to generalize because I have really lovely French friends and they are the most adorable, inclusive and respectful people – but of course the society and the police system there is very discriminative. So I was trying to educating myself about the country. And this is also what I’m doing here. This is the advantage of not being in the place where you are born. Because you are trying to learn, even about the small traditions, like bringing bread and salt to the new house. […]
I knew Berlin before I came here. I visited it very often. So it was not totally new for me. Each city has its own vibes. Like Paris with its classic, artistic, fashion, love, romance … in it. And Berlin with all its craziness and hippie-style and late-night dancing. It’s different. […] People continue until 8 in the morning here. So this was for me like: Wow, this city has a different level of energy. […]
The unfortunate is that when I came here, Corona came and I didn’t have a lot of chances to be a normal Berliner. I was busy finding a place to stay and then Corona came and now I’m starting again to discover places. I so far love it here and I have a lot of people here whom I know. That’s nice. And I would say that the Arabic speaking community is active here, not more than Paris. But the Parisian people who came from the MENA region, so Middle East and Nord Africa, they melted into the French culture. So they would do an event for Palestine or Tunisia or Algeria but they would speak in French the whole time. They are totally francophone. That’s also part of the colonial background. Here, they insist on keeping it in Arabic. Maybe because they are new and they are still the first generation. I’m enjoying this. I was participating in this events a lot. […] Here there is this Arabic small thing inside Berlin. This is one thing what makes it special and interesting here for me and I’m looking forward for this to start again so I can join again. […] They are all interesting persons, like artists, activists, musicians, writers … […]
I’m not starting from zero. I have friends here and also connections to ROG, 11The NGO Reporter ohne Grenzen, English: Reporters without Borders Deutsche Welle 22Deutsche Welle is a German public international broadcaster. and to some of these organizations, so if I need something I would give them a call. […] So I know a few people who are now bringing me into their networks. So this is how any new person would do it. […] I always believe that new doors will open somewhere. […]
1The NGO Reporter ohne Grenzen, English: Reporters without Borders
2Deutsche Welle is a German public international broadcaster.
Nazeeha Saeed worked as a journalist for international and local media in Bahrain for over 20 years. From 2011 she was exposed to state repression because of her journalistic work, especially on human rights issues. She was arrested and tortured for her critical reporting on the democracy protest movement, which erupted in Bahrain in the course of the “Arab Spring.” Nevertheless, she remained in the country until 2016 and was an activist for freedom of opinion and freedom of the press. In 2016 her journalistic license was revoked and a travel ban was imposed. She was sued for allegedly continuing to work as a journalist despite having her license revoked. As soon as the travel ban was lifted for a short time, Nazeeha Saeed left the country out of fear of further arrest. She first came to Paris to continue working with her previous clients. International organizations for free press work supported her in starting over in Europe and she succeeded in obtaining a right of residence even without asylum proceedings. She has been living in Berlin since fall 2019.
Nazeeha continues her journalistic work in Europe. She continues to write about the situation in Bahrain and the Gulf region, especially about human rights issues such as the situation of guest workers, women and LGBTIQ* persons. She also publishes articles on the situation in Europe, especially on exile life in Paris and Berlin. Nazeeha Saeed is committed to free journalism and gives empowerment and strategy workshops for journalists working in areas of political conflict. Because of her work she has become the face for violations of freedom of the press and freedom of opinion in Bahrain, which ranks 169th out of 180 in Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index.
In this interview she talks about how she tried to settle in first in Paris and now in Berlin. While on the one hand she sees it as enriching to get to know new cultures and languages, she also addresses the problem of demands for assimilation in discriminating social structures. Between Paris and Berlin, she sees not only the generally known differences in city “vibes,” but also how differently the intellectual Arab communities organize and present themselves. For her, the “small, Arab thing inside Berlin” was, in addition to the already existing private and professional contacts, an access door when arriving in Berlin. The Corona pandemic, however, made it more difficult for her to be “a normal Berliner” in her first months.
This interview with Nazeeha Saeed was conducted by We Refugees Archive, 15 July 2020.