Manhattan Protesters March Against Gaza War

Yesterday's demo was ten times bigger:
Thousands poured into city streets Saturday in protest of the Israeli assault in Gaza. Even the cold temperatures couldn't turn the massive group away as their anger and frustration over the hundreds of Palestinians killed so far brought them out for another day of demonstrations. "We want the attacks to stop on gaza because gaza people are not animals," said one protester. "It's just sad, like David versus and Goliath, we throw a rock and they throw a bomb, it's not fair," said another protester. "Everyone has a right to live, not just Israelis, Palestinians also have a right to live," said another protester. The fight for that right sparked one of the largest turnout of protesters since the conflict started a week ago. After meeting in Times Square armed with signs, Palestinian flags, and bullhorns, the crowd then marched to the Israeli Consulate on 42nd Street and 2nd Avenue where masses of people stretched for blocks.
   
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Al Fataah: Feminism and Journalism in the Making

A while back I went into the Diwan bookstore in Zamalek only to find out that a book that I had spent around two weeks proof reading for publication is finally out (though as expected my name is not mentioned in it). This book is a compilation of all the issues of Al Fataah (The Young Woman), the first ever Women’s magazine in Egypt (and most probably in the Arab world) which was published from November 1892 till March 1894 by Hind Nofel.

What is impressive about this magazine is not just that it provides insight into the birth and development of women’s rights movement in the country but it also provides insight into the birth and development of journalism. Also, the hundreds of articles it contains are very representative of the age from the too ornate and flowery language that uses too many synonyms and images to the strong class consciousness that lurks behind many of the op-eds.

The magazine contains everything that is thought to be of benefit to the making of an upright and enlightened new woman. There are autobiographies of important and influential women (most of whom are European royalty or intellectuals and interestingly the very first woman portrayed in the very first issue of the magazine is Queen Victoria!). Many articles are dedicated to the art of home making, etiquette and health and every once in a while you find glossy magazine prototype articles describing the weddings of daughters of Egyptian nobility and the contents of their new houses. There are even articles summarizing some of the wacko 19th century scientific theories on race.

My favorite articles are the op-eds in every issue, reading them you learn a lot about the contradictory conservative and liberal aspects that struggled for control within the minds of these early feminists. Thus, while for instance they strongly defended their belief that gender roles in society are manmade and not natural, you find them criticizing European and American suffragettes for wanting to trespass into the world of politics which is described as solely for men!

The women writing in the magazine show strong awareness of and ties with other contemporary women’s movements not only in Europe as expected but also in the USA. In fact, one of the magazine’s contributors, Estir Azhari, was invited and went to the 1893 Congress of Women that was held during the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

You can find the book, which was compiled and reprinted by the Women and Memory Forum as part of their goal to bring to light the underestimated size of women’s contributions to the Arab social and cultural history, at Diwan Bookstores in Zamalek and Heliopolis or at the headquarters of the WMF itself (83 Shehab St. Mohandesin, third floor). This compiled book also contains an interesting introduction by Professor Hoda Elsadda. However, in it the WMF made a few alterations to how some words are spelt to make them follow today’s modern standardized spelling (eg. In the 19th century many Arabs tended to spell anything with a hamza with a ya’).

If you are in the USA, you can find the original copies of the magazine at the Yale University Library.

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Saudis Turn Headlights on Male Guardianship

And the battle goes on...
By Sanna Negus WeNews correspondent Saudi women's rights activists are pressing for reforms to lift the sharp restrictions they face in their conservative society. Some believe the time has finally come and they will soon have the right to drive. Sixth in a series on women and Islam. DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia (WOMENSENEWS)--A woman drives a car in a grainy video posted on YouTube, her silhouette framed by a loose veil as she congratulates women on March 8, International Women's Day. She is Wajiha al-Huweidar, a Saudi women's rights advocate. "Obviously, I'm driving my car in a remote area," al-Huweidar says in Arabic. "Only in remote areas in Saudi Arabia are women allowed to drive, I'm sad to say. In cities--where they really need to drive--it is still forbidden." Hundreds of responses poured into YouTube: some praised her bravery, others called her a whore. The same day the video was posted, al-Huweidar and other activists presented a petition signed by 126 women to the Saudi interior minister, Prince Nayef Bin Abd al-Aziz. The signatories are women with driving licenses from other countries, offering to teach their countrywomen how to turn the wheel. In January the government signaled that the driving ban will be lifted, and many people seeking reforms in Saudi Arabia believe this is the year. In the meantime, it remains a lightning rod for women's rights activists who see it as a first step toward easing the rules of male guardianship that follow their every move. Al-Huweidar learned how to drive as a graduate student in Virginia over 10 years ago. For her, the driving ban is especially important because, unlike wealthy Saudi women, she cannot afford a chauffeur. "Driving is not the most important thing, but it is a symbol of freedom," al-Huweidar says from her home in Dhahran, a city in Saudi Arabia's oil-rich Eastern Province. "We want to achieve some kind of justification as humans." Women's driving was officially forbidden in 1932, when the authoritarian monarchy was established. Saudis observe a strict form of Wahabbism that sharply curtails women's freedom of movement under its interpretation of Sharia, or Islamic law, which is observed across the legal system with the exception of secular tribunals for commercial disputes and complaints against government officials. Saudi Arabia's Sharia dictates that in order to travel a woman needs permission from her "mahram," a male guardian who is her husband or relative. The mahram is also necessary for education, marriage, financial transactions, having surgery; everything. In Saudi Arabia, women are never mature enough, legally speaking. "Our biggest problem is that we have no say in the biggest questions of our lives; we have no control over them but, rather, depend on the mahram," al-Huweidar says. "We want to correct this, but are starting from the simpler issues (such as driving) because they have nothing to do with Islam or taboos. They are rights taken away from women." Some theologians have voiced fears of women being harassed by men if they drive. Other influential religious scholars have pointed out that the driving ban is not based on Islam but on social beliefs. A February poll in the Arab News found that only 10 of 125 male respondents categorically rejected women behind the wheel.
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University Faculty Members on Strike

Yesterday, for the first time ever in Egyptian history, most Egyptian university faculty members went on strike as a first step towards forcing the government to improve their living conditions and the conditions of higher education in the country. The decision to strike came after months of negotiations with the government that led to nothing because the government that gave away millions of pounds in a few minutes to football players (because they have finally learned how to kick a ball) claims it can't afford to increase the salaries of professors, workers and doctors all at once. For many years now Egyptian universities have suffered from strong governmental and state security control that monitors everything from how many students should be accepted by each university to who is allowed to be invited inside campuses for conferences. In addition to that, academic funding and salaries have not increased at a suitable rate to meet the growing inflation rates since the late 1970s! Here are some links to stories about the strike: http://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2008/03/23/47332.html http://www.almesryoon.com/ShowDetails.asp?NewID=46377&Page=1 http://www.ikhwanonline.com/Article.asp?ArtID=35715&SecID=304 http://www.elbehira.com/elbehira/nd_shnws.php?shart=2263 And here is the official (Egyptian regime) side of the story. While an estimated 1200 faculty members demonstrated outside his office, the president of Alexandria university claimed that the school day went smoothly and no strike took place! http://www.masrawy.com/News/Egypt/Politics/2008/march/23/univ_stri.aspx [See Arabawy for full length English report and pics]
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Influential Women's Magazine Silenced in Iran

Iran has a feminist movement I truly envy. Hope its current crazy government wont succeed in putting an end to it like ours did fifty years ago! zanan-3489.jpg
By Maura J. Casey WeNews commentator Iran has just closed Zanan, an influential women's magazine that covered international politics, prisons, Islamic law; never chocolate cake. Maura Casey says the closure could be temporary; if not, it's a terrible loss. Editor's Note: The following is a commentary. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Women's eNews. (WOMENSENEWS)--Iran's most influential women's magazine, Zanan, has become the latest victim of a government intent on censoring, harassing and imprisoning opponents, journalists in particular. Officials accused the monthly journal of damaging society by being too negative toward Iran and closed the publication Jan. 28. Zanan is hardly alone, of course. Iranian courts have used similar rationale to close many scores of newspapers and magazines in the last 10 years, particularly those that called for free speech and greater civil liberties. But Zanan, which means "women" in Farsi, was one of a kind; it was the only serious women's magazine in Iran and had a wide following, both in Iran and around the world. Zanan's crusading editor, Shahla Sherkat, who lives in Tehran, founded the magazine 16 years ago to explore serious topics that affect women in the Islamic Republic: politics, women in prison, international issues affecting women and the impact Islamic law has on women's lives. Sherkat also ran book reviews, stories about women in sports and health issues, among other topics.
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Benazir Bhutto Assassinated!

Couldn't believe it when I heard it. I really appreciated and respected her.

Benazir Bhutto killed in attack

Benazir Bhutto at the rally on 27 December 2007

Benazir Bhutto had been addressing rallies in many parts of Pakistan

Pakistani former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has been assassinated in a suicide attack. Ms Bhutto - the first woman PM in an Islamic state - was leaving an election rally in Rawalpindi when a gunman shot her in the neck and set off a bomb. At least 20 other people died in the attack and several more were injured. President Pervez Musharraf has urged people to remain calm but angry protests have gripped some cities, with at least 11 deaths reported. Security forces have been placed on a state of "red alert" nationwide. There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attack. Analysts believe Islamist militants to be the most likely group behind it.

Map: Scene of the assassination

Ms Bhutto, leader of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), had served as prime minister from 1988-1990 and 1993-1996, and had been campaigning ahead of elections due on 8 January.
Benazir Bhutto's coffin leaves hospital in Rawalpindi

Benazir Bhutto's coffin has now been taken from the hospital

It was the second suicide attack against her in recent months and came amid a wave of bombings targeting security and government officials. Nawaz Sharif, also a former prime minister and a political rival, announced his Muslim League party would boycott the elections. He called on President Musharraf to resign, saying free and fair elections were not possible under his rule. The United Nations Security Council held an emergency session and later said it "unanimously condemned" the assassination.
This is what happens when military men rule a country.
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The Latest Anti-Torture Demonstration

Been super busy lately and though there have been many important things going on in town that I wanted to post about I just didn't have the time to and though I thought I won't be posting until December what happened to Dr. Laila Sweif, Dr. Bouthaina Kamel, blogger Inas Hosni and blogger Ahmed Al Gizawi is just not something to let pass especially that I believe that what happened to them has not received the attention it deserves. On Thursday 5 Nov members of the "Egyptians Against Torture" Committee and Kifaya movement gathered in front of the Omraniya police station to protest the torture and death of two men who had been in the custody of that police office. As usual, the number of state security officials and soldiers way out numbered those of the protestors. The protest was quickly dispersed and each protestor was cordoned separately and beaten up or chased around side streets. Dr. Laila Sweif was "arrested" and kept in one of those green state security trucks for hours and then was finally dropped off on some street. Ahmed Al Gizawy was also arrested and taken to state security head quarters and was released a while later. Here is a report on the issue by Inas herself. What has happened shows that state security tactics haven't changed one bit while on the other hand public and blogosphere enthusiasm seems to have waned. Over a year ago the news that one demonstrator was kidnapped would quickly reverberate through the Egyptian blogosphere and petitions denouncing what had happened would circulate. This time, however, very few blogs commented on the incident (though many local and international news agencies and newspapers reported on the event very briefly) and apart from one petition against what happened to Dr. Laila by the March 9 group I haven't seen any other reaction. The over all reaction, again with the exception of very few, has been very weak and hence truly insulting to those who died due to torture and to those who protested their death. I'm not an activist, never saw myself as one, but I do believe in the power of words. What has kept many bloggers out of jail and and what has made many activists still have faith in their ability to make a difference is that many people reported on what happened, so many, that those in power could not afford to act as if nothing is happening. So, please, do not stop writing when it comes to such matters. How many more deaths and arrests do we need to speak up or write? Or is it that interest in human rights in Egypt is only important when blessed by the US department of state?
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Iraqi Refugees Turn to Prostitution

So much for "Operation Iraqi Freedom":
By OMAR SINAN, Associated Press Writer Wed Oct 24, 3:24 AM ET DAMASCUS, Syria - The Iraqi women jump onto the stage at the al-Rawabi club, their long black hair swinging, their young faces caked with makeup. Iraqi pop music booms out as they sway and dance under strobe lights. Nearby, a woman nicknamed At'outa meets her paying dates — men who hand over $90 a night for companionship and sex. This club in northwest Damascus represents one of the most troubling aspects of the Iraqi refugee crisis — Iraqi women and girls who are turning to prostitution to survive in countries that have taken them in but won't let them or their families work at most other jobs. No reliable figures of Iraqi prostitutes exist, but an increase in the number of Iraqi women seen in recent months in clubs and on the streets of Damascus, Amman and other cities suggests the problem is growing as more Iraqis flee their country's violence. Most of the Iraqi women at the al-Rawabi club appeared to be in their late teens and early 20s although some were older. While some danced on stage, about a half-dozen others strolled around the tables, smiling at men and inviting offers to sit down for a drink. Ayman al-Halaqi, a club manager here, said Iraqi dancers are cheaper to hire than Syrians. Back home, even dancing in a skimpy costume would be considered shameful. Iraqi women who go beyond that can earn 10 times more from a single encounter with a client than by working a full day as a housemaid. At the al-Rawabi club, the usual customers are mostly Iraqi or Syrian men, but summer brought the annual flood of visitors from Persian Gulf states and Saudi Arabia. Bassam Abdul-Wahid, a 27-year-old Iraqi who runs an import-export business in Damascus, was partying with three male companions at the club one evening. Sporting three gold rings and a flashy gold bracelet, he motioned for more whiskey as two slender young Iraqi women in tight jeans slipped into chairs at the men's table. Abdul-Wahid, a regular at al-Rawabi, joked that he likes his table to be "an example of Iraqi generosity." As the liquor flowed, the women laughed and exchanged "high-fives" with the men — but refused to talk with a reporter. At'outa, a blonde in her late 30s whose nickname means "little kitten" in Arabic, agreed to tell her story but refused to give her real name for fear neighbors or her children would learn what she does. Last year, she fled Iraq with her son and two daughters, all teenagers, after her husband was gunned down by militants in Baghdad's volatile Ghazaliyah district. After a few months in Syria, her late husband's savings were running out. She tried working as a tailor and a housemaid, but could not make ends meet, she said. Then, a man offer to cancel a $250 debt in exchange for sex. Since then, she has regularly met other dates at the al-Rawabi club, where sex earns her enough money to pay the bills.
Thanks FT
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Arab Female Journalists Stand Up for Press Freedom

Though most of the complaints mentioned in the article are specific to certain Arab countries and hence cannot be generalised, never the less it is always a good thing when women of the same career get together to discuss their rights.
Arab Female Journalists Stand Up for Press Freedom By Rita Henley Jensen - Editor in Chief View larger slideshow - AMMAN, Jordan (WOMENSENEWS)--Freedom of the press and women's equality can be characterized as culturally invasive concepts in much of the Arab world. The region is dominated by nations that are still ruled by kings and queens and governed by religious leaders who advocate enforcement of gender-specific roles and clothing. Moreover, the region's violent conflicts have taken the lives of 19 journalists and three news media workers so far in 2007, according to reports by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. As the sole media representative from a Western nation attending the sixth annual conference of the Arab Women Media Center for 60 female Arab journalists on press freedom and gender equity within the media, I assumed I should behave with circumspection so as not to offend. I also expected the other attendees to do likewise. That misapprehension was quickly put to rest by the laughter and voices raised in song that filled the bus one night as it left the conference center, taking us all to dinner at an authentic Jordan open-air restaurant. A radio journalist from Palestine knew the words of traditional songs and she led the other 20 or so in the back of the bus in one song after another, each one a little bit louder and each one causing a little more laughter. She then began clapping and the others began clapping too, with the sheer joy of being together. Then high-pitched ululating started and all clapped, ululated, laughed and sang for the 30-minute ride to the restaurant. Nothing was muffled or subdued about this group, chosen from among 450 print reporters, broadcast news producers and on-air talent, and Internet journalists from the 22 Arab-speaking nations. The attendees, mostly between ages 25 to 35, spent three days in late June in Jordan to consider issues rich in complexity for their profession, their nations, their religion and their gender.
To read the whole article click here.
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Women's Enews and Hamas

The claim that violence against women in Palestine has increased this last year is true. The claim that religious extremism is spreading in Palestine (just like it has spread through many other Arab countries specially those going through armed conflicts) is true. The claim that the future of women's rights in Palestine looks grim is also true. What is not true, though, is blaming it all on Hamas.
Some women's activists in the Gaza Strip are nervously reopening centers for women and girls following civil war clashes. Others have stayed off the streets fearing a crackdown against them and their work by militant Hamas forces now in control. JERUSALEM (WOMENSENEWS)--Amid rising lawlessness, violence and radicalization in the Gaza Strip--and a deterioration of general human rights--women's rights activists are bracing for an escalation of street and other potential harassment. Gaza-based civil rights and women's activist Lama Hourani, who is not veiled, said last week that she did not want to leave the house until she sees what happens in the streets now that armed Hamas forces have taken control of the Gaza Strip and its nearly 1.5 million people. Since Hamas members tried to violently force women to wear the veil in Gaza during the first Intifada that started in 1987, she is waiting to see whether they will try to do the same thing now. "Most critical is that we have the rule of Hamas now," she said. "We don't know what rules apply here; not only as women, as Palestinians." Hourani said Friday in a telephone interview that violations of women's rights, due to a number of political, economic and social factors, have been rising since the Palestinian Islamist organization won its stunning electoral victory in March 2006. Gunfire sounded in the background as she spoke. "Uncovered women were harassed in the street because they were not covered--more than before." After several months of clashes, Hamas launched a full-scale attack against Palestinian National Authority security installations last week and Fatah militants stormed the Hamas-led parliament this week in the West Bank. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dissolved the three-month old Palestinian unity government and declared an emergency government in an attempt to assert his authority over the West Bank. Since then the narrow coastal strip of Gaza between Egypt and Israel, and the West Bank, a landlocked territory on the West Bank of the Jordan River, are now controlled by rival political forces. "What is going on in the Gaza Strip is a severe civil war," says Amal Khreisheh, director of the Palestinian Women Working Society for Development in Ramallah. "All efforts are to be enlisted to stop this madness." On Wednesday, Israeli forces killed several militants in Gaza and launched air raids in response to rockets launched against Israel. At least 160 have been reported killed in Gaza in factional fighting between June 10 and 17, including 45 civilians, according to the Gaza-based Al Mezan Center for Human Rights. Eleven of the slain civilians were women. More than 400 people have been killed in Gaza clashes since Jan. 1, 2007, including 29 women. ...some women's activists in Gaza fear they or their centers could be next now that the Strip is effectively controlled by Hamas forces. "They are against women's agenda and women's rules and women's rights," said Rima Alrakhawi, public relations officer of the Women's Affairs Center in Gaza, a research and training center. On Sunday, she said the center had reopened for the first time after a week of intensive fighting. "Opening the center at this time is really dangerous," she said.
I have always enjoyed reading Women's eNews, they frequently have balanced, insightful articles, however, this one sounds like it has been written by either Fatah, Haartz or Fox News!
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More Female Judges

As most of you have heard, Egypt has just announced the appointment of 31 female judges. I have been following the news in different local newspapers and the responses varied between those who applauded the move as one step further in the process of empowering women in Egypt and others who have cried foul. Why? According to documents printed in Sawt Al Umma, all the appointed women are related to judges holding important positions. Who saw that coming?! Anyway, Whether the appointment of more female judges will have an impact on our judiciary system or not is too early to discuss. Let's wait and see.
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Nawal Al Sadawy, an ex-Member of the MB!

As most of you must have heard, late in February Al Azhar decided to report Nawal Al Saadawi, Egypt's most outspoken feminist, to the police because of a play that she wrote back in the time of President Anwar Al Sadat and which she just published by the end of 2006. The play, "God Resigns in the Summit Meeting," would have passed unnoticed if not for one thing, the role of Sadat is symbolically played by God.

"So what?" you'd think, "this is just fiction, it is not to be taken literally; besides, religion shouldn't interfere with creativity." Well, try explaining that to the honorable Azhar "scholars" who (after reporting the atheist writings of their student, Abdel Karim Soliman, to the police last year) seem to be successfully working towards the resurrection of the medieval inquisition.

Anyway, now Nawal Al Saadawi is being sued for insulting "The Divine Entity" and for blasphemy and all thanks to Sayed Tantawi and his Islamic Research Council who came up with the decision that her play is an insult to the Muslim creed after three hours of heated discussions!

Fortunately when that happened Nawal Al Saadawi was in Belgium and is now in the US as visiting professor, so I don't think we will see her serving any jail time soon.

As I mentioned earlier, this happened a while ago and I should have written something about the topic back then but I got very busy. So what is new?

Well, after news of her "blasphemous" play circulated around what I like to call the "Islamist blogosphere", an interesting rumor followed. According to this rumor, Al Sadawy was a Muslim Brotherhood member, and not just that, but she used to wear the veil (back in the 40s!!) and lead women in prayer and helped get many into the brotherhood!

The source of the rumor is a book, Wa Areftou Al Ikhwan (And So I Came to Know the Brotherhood), about the history of the Muslim Brotherhood written by a Mahmoud Game', an ex-MB member, in which he claims that Al Saadawi was his classmate and that they helped organize MB events together.

What is even worse than the rumor is the way it has been used by these Islamists. According to this website, Nawal Al Sadawy is living proof that pious people are liable to lose their faith if they are not careful and avoid deviating from the right path.

So how do the pious deviate from the right path? The blogger enumerates several reasons the most outstanding being: "by hanging around "perverts" a lot who will drag the pious slowly and inconspicuously away from doing good deeds and remaining with the good people; and by reading "skeptical" books that would make them lose hold of the "useful" knowledge that helped them remain pious."

The writer then enlightens us by revealing that the first symptom of losing your piety is "rebelling" because rebellion leads to questioning God's words and the words of the prophet and the scholars which will ultimately lead to the pious becoming atheists.

Well, and I thought it was my duty as a good Muslim to question everything!

Anyway, in the following interview Nawal Al Sadawy said that she never knew this Mahmoud Game' and strongly denied ever being a member of the MB and ever wearing the veil which she has always believed is not part of Islam.

Hmm, too bad for the "how the pious turn evil" theory!

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MPs have dignity!!

According to this short review of yesterday's parliamentary session in which the American aid to Egypt was being discussed one of our MPs, Nagi Al Shehabi, head of Al Geel party, voiced his dislike of the word "aid" and described it as despicable On the other hand, Safwat Al Sharif insisted that the US aid to Egypt is not "charity". "Egypt holds a lot of responsibilities in the region, the major one being fighting terrorism, so the aid is Egypt's right." Al Sharif said.
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