Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson

International correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin and covers Central Europe for NPR. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

She was previously based in Cairo and covered the Arab World for NPR from the Middle East to North Africa. Nelson returns to Egypt on occasion to cover the tumultuous transition to democracy there.

In 2006, Nelson opened the NPR Kabul Bureau. During the following three and a half years, she gave listeners in an in-depth sense of life inside Afghanistan, from the increase in suicide among women in a country that treats them as second class citizens to the growing interference of Iran and Pakistan in Afghan affairs. For her coverage of Afghanistan, she won a Peabody Award, Overseas Press Club Award and the Gracie in 2010. She received the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award from Colby College in 2011 for her coverage in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Nelson spent 20 years as newspaper reporter, including as Knight Ridder's Middle East Bureau Chief. While at the Los Angeles Times, she was sent on extended assignment to Iran and Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. She spent three years an editor and reporter for Newsday and was part of the team that won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for covering the crash of TWA Flight 800.

A graduate of the University of Maryland, Nelson speaks Farsi, Dari and German.

A small herd of European bison will soon be released in Germany's most densely populated state, the first time in nearly three centuries that these bison — known as wisents — will roam freely in Western Europe.

The project is the brainchild of Prince Richard of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg. He owns more than 30,000 acres, much of it covered in Norwegian spruce and beech trees in North Rhine-Westphalia.

For the 78-year-old logging magnate, the planned April release of the bull, five cows and two calves will fulfill a decade-old dream.

For centuries, Germany has been synonymous with beer. Tourists flock from around the world to take part in the country's many beer festivals, including the famous Oktoberfest.

Few Western countries are as conservative about home ownership as Germany, where less than half the country's citizens own property.

German banks have tough lending rules. Would-be buyers are usually asked to provide hefty down payments to secure mortgages, meaning few Germans even think about buying a home until they are settled and financially secure.

But the European debt crisis appears to be changing the traditions around home ownership. The resulting surge in homebuying, some officials warn, is driving prices too high and threatens the nation's economy.

In Egypt, voters appear to have approved the controversial draft referendum on a proposed constitution in the first stage of the referendum held across half of the country yesterday.

The outcome is unofficial at this point as the government has said it will not announce official results until the referendum concludes in the rest of Egypt next Saturday. The vote is being held in two stages because a boycott by many judges who were supposed to supervise the elections. Those boycotting say they reject the constitution because it doesn't have a national consensus.

Update at 2:54 p.m. ET: Voting Hours Extended:

Voter turnout on the first day of a referendum on Egypt's controversial draft constitution was so high in Cairo and nine other governorates that election officials decided to extend poll hours from 7 until 11 p.m. local time.

Germans are famous for their efficiency and being on time. But a much-delayed, expensive new airport in the German capital, Berlin, is rapidly destroying that reputation.

Located in the former East Berlin neighborhood of Schoenefeld, the new airport is to replace three others that serviced passengers in the once-divided city. One of those, Tempelhof — made famous by the Allied airlifts of food and supplies during the Soviet blockade of the late 1940s — is already closed.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's go now to Cairo, where demonstrators swarmed Tahrir Square last night to denounce the Egyptian president's recent decision to give himself unchecked power. This was the largest protest since Mohamed Morsi became president last summer. And it was notable because Egypt's secular opposition found a rare moment of unity. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson was on the square and she sent this report.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in foreign language)

More than half a dozen politicians in Germany are caught up in an embarrassing cheating scandal that last year cost the German defense minister his job.

The country's education minister is also implicated. She, like the other politicians, is accused of plagiarizing while earning a doctorate degree.

Their accusers are private citizens who use the Internet to coordinate their hunt for cheaters.

One of Germany's more famous cybersleuths is an American professor named Debora Weber-Wulff.

Germany, the economic engine of Europe, has been a key player in bailing out the Continent's most troubled economies.

Yet there are places in the former West Germany — like Oberhausen — that are struggling with their own debt problems, even as they pay hefty sums to revitalize former East German cities with transfers known as "Solidarity Pact" payments.

Borrowing To Stay Afloat — And Pay Out

The western Afghan city of Herat has become a thriving hub for the money exchange business, a consequence of geography and politics. Money-changers throng the currency market carrying thick stacks of Iranian currency, much of it brought in by the hundreds of thousands of Afghan workers who earn their living in Iran.

While the stacks of crisp 100,000 rial notes that money-changers bring to the market might look like a small fortune, the 10 million rials in each of these stacks is worth less than $400, because the Iranian currency recently lost more than half of its value.

There may be international sanctions against Iran, but not in Afghanistan's border provinces with the Islamic Republic where trade and money-laundering are thriving. Every day, millions in Iranian currency are brought in by taxis ferrying passengers. The Iranian money is exchanged for dollars, which are then shipped back to Iran. American officials recently ordered the Afghan banks to crack down on this phenomenon and it appears to be having some effect.

When the U.S. military handed over the detention center at Bagram Air Field to Afghan authorities this week, it symbolized an American role that is winding down — and the uncomfortable relationship between the two countries.

The prison, where Taliban and terrorism suspects are housed, has been a sore point for Afghans for years.

At the ceremony, an announcer read the names of Bagram prisoners who the Afghans said were wrongly detained and were now being freed.

For years, Kandahar province has been a key focus of NATO's efforts to stabilize Afghanistan. The volatile region is the birthplace of the Taliban, and its capital is the country's second-largest city.

American troops have begun leaving this area by the thousands and are handing security responsibilities over to Afghan forces. Afghan officials claim things are getting better.

But many residents don't trust Western forces or their own government's claims, and they are now turning to a third party for help.

A Dangerous City

In Afghanistan, girls are required by law to go to school. However, many of them never do.

Death threats, acid attacks and bombings by Taliban militants and other extremists lead many parents who support female education to keep their daughters at home.

Sometimes, it's the families themselves who stand in the way. School officials in conservative communities say relatives are often more interested in marrying off their daughters or sisters than in helping them get an education.

But some girls, like 18-year-old Rahmaniya, are fighting back.

Tens of thousands of American troops will be leaving Afghanistan as the NATO-led coalition enters its final two years in the country. Already, more security responsibility is being placed in the hands of the Afghan security forces, says U.S. Gen. John Allen, who heads the NATO-led coalition here.

"The insurgency is today confronted by a rapidly transforming and increasingly capable [Afghan army], which is bearing a larger share of the burden and a larger share of the sacrifice," Allen says.

Almost daily, Taliban assassins target Afghan government officials and community elders with ambushes or bombings. The United Nations says such killings are up more than 50 percent compared to the same period last year.

On Monday, the target was the powerful police chief in southern Afghanistan's Kandahar province. A suicide bomber struck the convoy of Gen. Abdul Raziq, who survived the attack and is at a U.S. military hospital recuperating from burns and other injuries.

In the past two weeks, seven Afghans in uniform have opened fire on Western forces. The most recent incidents occurred Friday. First, a newly recruited policeman in western Afghanistan turned his gun on U.S. military trainers, killing two and wounding a third. A short time later in southern Kandahar province, an Afghan soldier shot and wounded two foreign troops.

In the middle of southern Egypt's windy desert, wheat fields stretch as far as the eye can see on a 24,000-acre farm. It's part of a grandiose project called Toshka that was dreamed up 15 years ago by the government of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's authoritarian leader who ruled the country for three decades before being ousted last year.

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JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

In Egypt, voters went to the polls today to pick a new president to replace Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in a revolution last year. Voters are casting ballots just a few days after that nation's highest court issued a ruling that dissolves Egypt's first freely elected parliament, which was dominated by Islamists. The latest election is a runoff between an Islamist engineer and Mubarak's last prime minister, the two top vote-getters in the first round of presidential polls held last month.

Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison Saturday for his role in killing protesters during the revolution that ousted him from power.

A hushed courtroom listened as the head judge read the verdict: guilty of accessory to murder and attempted murder. Mubarak lay motionless on a hospital gurney inside a courtroom cage, his only noticeable emotion being the slight quivering of his lips.

The first free presidential election in Egypt begins Wednesday.

Twelve candidates are running for the top spot vacated by Hosni Mubarak during last year's revolution. But none is expected to get an outright majority, and if that proves true, then a runoff will take place next month between the two leading vote-getters.

Many Egyptian voters say they are excited about the presidential election, which the country's ruling generals promise will be fair.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Egyptians are getting ready for an historic vote, their first real presidential election since former President Hosni Mubarak was ousted during the Arab Spring. Twelve candidates are in the running. One them, former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, is already dividing voters ahead of Wednesday's vote. Many consider Shafiq a corrupt holdover from the old regime.

But as NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Cairo, he is gaining widespread support from Egyptians fed up with the growing insecurity in their country.

In Egypt's historic presidential race, opinion polls place the oldest candidate with the most political experience far ahead of his 11 rivals.

Many opponents try to portray Amr Moussa as a holdover from the hated regime of Hosni Mubarak. Moussa was Egypt's foreign minister under Mubarak and later the secretary-general of the Arab League.

Yet many voters believe he is the only candidate who can end the country's growing insecurity and economic problems.

In Egypt's first presidential debate, only the top two candidates participated. Voters go to the polls later this month to choose among a field of 13 candidates. The winner is expected to be decided in a runoff next month.

The two top Islamists running in Egypt's first real presidential race share a common history.

Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a physician, is a former senior leader in the Muslim Brotherhood whose moderate stance has made him popular not only with Islamists, but with liberal and secular Egyptians.

Mohammed Morsi, an engineer, heads the Brotherhood's political party, which holds nearly half the seats in parliament.

Yet despite their common political background, the two men are bitter rivals.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Egypt has made a request to Saudi Arabia. In effect: Please, send your ambassador back here to Cairo. The Saudis recalled their ambassador over the weekend, exposing tension in one of the most important relationships in the Arab world. The Saudis have the most money. Egypt has the most people.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Cairo, on what they do now.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

One of the Arab world's most popular comedic actors is facing jail time in Egypt after a judge ruled he insulted Islam in some of his past film roles. The case worries those already concerned about the growing influence of Islamists in Egypt. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson has that story from Cairo.

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After months of anticipation, and just a few weeks before the voting, Egypt now has a list of 13 officially approved presidential candidates.

Amr Moussa, the former secretary-general of the Arab League, is one of the 13, and he is ahead in most opinion surveys in advance of the May 23-24 election.

And in a reversal, Egyptian election officials agreed Thursday to let one of Hosni Mubarak's former prime ministers run for president.

Egypt's election commission is expected to announce the final list of candidates this week for next month's presidential elections. But which candidate will win is far from clear.

A recent Egyptian poll shows nearly 40 percent of voters have no idea who to support. Another 30 percent who had decided will be forced to select someone else because their preferred candidates were among the 10 barred by election officials recently.

As a result, Egyptian voters who were once excited about the prospect of their first free presidential election are growing frustrated.

Egyptian election officials upheld their ban of nearly half of the presidential candidates running in next month's contest. Among them are two leading Islamist candidates and the intelligence chief for former President Hosni Mubarak. The decision radically alters the race for a post that will shape Egypt's political landscape.

Minutes after official news outlets announced the election commission ruling, candidate Hazem Abu Ismail took to the airwaves to denounce it as a conspiracy.

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