What's in a veil

Our friend Sarah Carr opens a blog post about the Egyptian government's latest misguided, ineffectual attempt to legislate what women wear on their heads ("Secularisn't") with some reflection on her own distaste (and doubt over the validity of that distaste) for the niqab, the full face covering. 

I mean there are a million ways to abuse a child on the abuse spectrum. Perhaps allowing/encouraging her to wear neqab isn’t that bad. I think why it bothers me is that it sexualises a child, since for women who wear it, the neqab is an interpretation of the veil, which ultimately is about modesty. No child should have to think about that, and no one should be thinking about that while looking at a child.

I think a lot of people struggle to explain why they feel so differently -- why they feel a line being crossed, or draw a line -- about the hejab (head scarf) and the niqab (full face covering). I like to keep the criminalization of fashion to a minimum, and I think the French ban on the headscarf is ridiculous and discriminatory. But there is more than a difference in degree between covering your hair and covering your face. What's troubling about the niqab is a very obvious thing: it's dehumanizing. We anthropoids acknowledge each other by looking each other in the face and in the eyes -- doing so is one of the most powerful, most meaningful and sometimes uncomfortable (as we've all experienced on public transportation) interactions we can have. To become faceless is to erase yourself and to greatly limit your capacity to relate to others and for others to relate to you. 

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Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.

Ahmed Benchemsi on secularists in the Arab world

Ahmed Benchemsi on secularists in the Arab world 

An interesting argument from Moroccan journalist Ahmed Benchemsi regarding the plight of Arab secularists and their need to stand for their values rather than compromise. It's a fascinating question, and (as an ultra-secularist like Benchemsi) I have a lot of sympathy for what he says, but I have disagreements about the way he frames it. It's something we've briefly discussed in the past and even thought of having a podcast about.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Of liberals, secularists, Islamists and other labels

I want to discuss here the labels assigned to Arab political parties and politicians (if you want to get to that directly skip till the end of the following quotes), but before let me point out what started this post — a fine piece by Nasser Rabbat on Steve Walt's blog, Arab secularism and its discontent:

Is this a new turn for the West? Did the West support the secularists before the revolutions? And has Arab secularism really become irrelevant? My answer to all three questions is an emphatic no.

Many good points he explores each in turn, before concluding:

Arab secularism, however, remains on the street and online. Though outdone in the current rush to power by the Islamists, it still has the ability to reassert itself in the political arena, if not as the ruling party, at least as lawful opposition and guardian of the principles of civic freedoms. The culture of lawful opposition, long absent under the totalitarian regimes, needs to be reinserted into the political discourse. This is as important a function as good governance for the well-being of the nascent Arab democracies. To that end, the efforts of the discontented revolutionary youth and the seasoned secular intellectuals should be united under the umbrella of political parties. The West should help them by recognizing their crucial political role and by treating them as long-term partners not just as recipients of training and aid.

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The civil state: an Egyptian infomercial

I love this short informercial on what a civil state is. It airs on Qabila TV, which I hadn't heard about, and advocates the creation of a civil state. In the cute cartoon, the state is compared to a bride and there are three choices: the theocratic bride, the military bride, and the civil bride. The first two have little tolerance for disagreements, whereas the civil bride-state does. It's well done, the music is good, and the message simple (if of course a secular one.) Personally I'm glad to see it's out there.

[Hat tip: Sarah Carr.]

What Islamists say a secular Egypt will look like

In the (extremely unlikely, not to say nearly unimaginable) event that Egypt took a strong turn towards militant secularism, Islamists here have put together a video (linked to by the Muslim Brotherhood's twitter feed) showing what the future of the country will look like. 

Some highlights:

It all starts when in a new constitution in 2012, Egypt no longer designates Islam as the religion of state and removes the references to Sharia as the main source of its legislation. 

  • In 2013, the Egyptian parliament outlaws poligamy.
  • In 2014, women's rights organizations celebrate a new law that gives women equal inheritance rights. 
  • In 2015, women are prohibited from wearing the hegab in public buildings.
  • In 2017, the first movie theater "specializing in porno films" opens.

Obviously sexual freedom spreads, and tourism declines due to the spread of sexual harassment (Ed. Note: This is particularly ironic for those of us aware of the current rates of sexual harassment).

I don't know what's funnier about this video: the hysterically ominous music; the fact that women's rights groups are represented by a grinning blonde drinking a beer; or the way it ends up describing Bizarro Egypt, where up is down, left is right and Islam doesn't dominate every aspect of public life (politicians get in trouble for opening their speeches with "in the name of God.")

It just goes to show that playing on feelings of fear and indignation (even if you are ascendant and everyone is actually scared of you) is at the basis of most politics. More about the video's predictions after the jump.

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Links for 09.12.09 to 09.13.09

صحيفة عكاظ - موسوعة الأفلام.. تكرار أسماء واقتباسات صريحة | On a new Encyclopedia of Arab Cinema, categorizing 4350 films. [h/t: Lina] ✪ The Arabic Student | Blog on learning Arabic, with vocab lessons and more. ✪ US in raptures over Arab film - The National Newspaper | Regarding the new film on the Arab-American experience, "Amreeka". ✪ YouTube - Al Jazeera: Debate between a liberal and an islamist in Egypt. | MEMRI video of a debate by the Egyptian secularist intellectual Sayyid Qemani on Jazeera, debating Islamists and the host. ✪ Muslims Widely Seen As Facing Discrimination - Pew Research Center | "Eight years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Americans see Muslims as facing more discrimination inside the U.S. than other major religious groups. Nearly six-in-ten adults (58%) say that Muslims are subject to a lot of discrimination, far more than say the same about Jews, evangelical Christians, atheists or Mormons. In fact, of all the groups asked about, only gays and lesbians are seen as facing more discrimination than Muslims, with nearly two-thirds (64%) of the public saying there is a lot of discrimination against homosexuals."
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