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Posts Tagged ‘islam’

Saudi Arabia’s gender hegemony in the new Arab world

February 16, 2012 1 comment

For a nation that measures success in black gold, Saudi Arabia hopes sending one female athlete to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London will pacify gender equality activists. But meeting the International Olympic Committee’s bare minimum requirement for female participation is hardly a bold stance.

Taken in context, this is still Salafist-dominated Saudi Arabia, the hallmark of gender inequality in the Arab world. Putting it in another context, however, spells bad news for the clean Arab Spring slate regarding human rights.

From The Jerusalem Post:

Saudi Arabia, which follows a male-dominated puritan form of Islam that bars women from driving or travelling aboard alone follows strict gender segregation, is the last to buckle under to IOC demands. Since it is seeking athletes who live abroad, Saudi Arabia’s most likely Olympic female athlete is reportedly Dalma Rushdi Malhas, an 18-year-old equestrienne who won a bronze medal in the 2010 Singapore Youth Olympics. At that time, Malhas did not officially represent the kingdom.

From Tunisia to Egypt, women hoped bringing down dictators would usher in respect for women’s rights. Unfortunately, the hodgepodge revolutionaries’ power was far too scattered to mount a cohesive political front or voice. Yes, women’s rights, they said. But how? The question remains largely unanswered as political realities threaten to minimize liberal groups’ impact in nascent democracies.

The Kingdom of Saud is the counterbalance to the revolutionary hoopla. An overwhelmingly Sunni nation — much like the rest of the Arab world — asserting social values across the Persian Gulf with recently empowered fundamentalist political parties will likely slow the women’s rights agenda.

The Muslim Brotherhood and conservative groups like Ennahda were poised to jump into the political arena because, though marginalized under former reigns, were still organized political groups. This much is known, is history.

The future will reveal them to be more moderate than fearmongers predicted one year ago. Playing in the political system does these things, and those groups didn’t wait decades on the backburner within their respective nations to throw it all away on unpopular, autocratic initiatives.

But to each Muslim Brotherhood and Ennahda there are even more fundamentalist groups. Their strength — and, to the same extent, liberal parties’ weaknesses — will determine whether groups like the Muslim Brotherhood invite them into coalitions. The Muslim Brotherhood, in Egypt especially, recognized doing so would blatantly dismiss the work of the revolutionaries whose views are not reflected in ultra-conservative parties.

Viewed through this Olympic snafu, the Arab Spring hardly has had a liberalizing effect on Saudi Arabia. While expected, the ramifications of this resistance should not be understated. Undoubtedly, fundamentalist groups in new Arab democracies will follow Saudi Arabia’s lead, which is as hegemonic a force for fundamental political Islam as anywhere in the world.

If strong liberal parties in other Arab nations fail to emerge, Saudi Arabian influence may continue to grow as Egypt’s prominence declines. That will make it ever harder for women’s rights to gain traction.

 

 

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Egypt, Jordan reproductive health changes — the new youth revolution

Jordan and Egypt made positive strides in reproductive health through the past several years but still have many challenges and opportunities to address, according to World Bank reports publicized yesterday.

Some of the key findings showed stark improvement in some areas: Egypt halved its infant mortality rate and malnutrition in children under five years old in the past two decades; 89 percent of Jordanian 15-year-old girls are literate; fewer than 2 percent of Jordanians live on less than $1.25 per day; overall fertility is declining, which is a positive for the overpopulated and youth-heavy nations; and use of modern contraceptives in both nations is increasing.

However, those pluses must be met with the sobering realities in each country. Contraceptive use among married women is just 60 percent in Egypt and 59 percent in Jordan. In Egypt, just 58 percent of women aged 15 and older are literate. Just 25 percent of Egyptian adult females work, mostly in agriculture. Fertility remains high among the poorest in each nation, creating large social problems. The poor are more at risk of early childbearing in each nation. HIV awareness is low in Egypt.

With 33 percent of Egypt and 35 percent of Jordan younger than 15 years old, tremendous opportunities exist to improve those statistics, the World Bank said. And if the revolutions in Egypt and Jordan (to a much lesser extent, of course) has proven anything, it’s that Arab youth are tired of being denied the standard of living so many other nations have. That means a path for grassroots reproductive health education has been paved, as raising the standard of living starts with healthy pregnancies.

Healthy pregnancies is an all-encompassing term. It doesn’t just mean birthing a functioning child — it means having a child at the proper age, having the right amount of children, being economically self-sufficient and having two parents. None of that will happen, however, without proper education and societal change that empowers women and promotes safe sex.

Both of those aims — empowering women and promoting safe sex — are complicated in the current Egyptian and Jordanian context. Still ruled and influenced by older religious men, women — especially in Egypt — are subordinate to men in every way. Additionally, contraception is frowned upon in Muslim society despite no explicit mention of banning birth control in the Qur’an.

These customs will be difficult to overturn in a top-down fashion. But, then again, the same would be said for changing governance — which is exactly why revolutions in Egypt and Jordan have been youth-led, grassroots efforts. The opportunity to change society and not only politics can be exploited in the same way. By directing the female empowerment and contraception message at the enormous youth populations in Jordan and Egypt, change will slowly occur. And this is change that does not require an election — it can happen everyday, with any person, whenever they choose.

Jordan report

Egypt report

Interesting essay on the Qur’an and beating women

August 1, 2011 2 comments

I don’t pretend to know the Qur’an, so I’ll refer you all to an informative analysis of Qur’anic verse and hadiths that discuss whether Muslim men may beat their wives. As I’ve argued before, some Muslim groups and nations oppress women more out of customary rather than textual Qur’anic interpretation. This essay at altmuslimah.com addresses that issue, but in much better detail than I ever could. It also discusses Qur’anic text juxtaposed with historical events and analysis that could justify Muslims beating their wives. Here’s an excerpt, but I encourage you to read the whole thing:

There are very mixed messages about “beating” in the hadith literature. Several reports seem to forbid it entirely; Abu Dawud quotes the Prophet as saying,: “Do not beat [women].” [9] In other narrations, the Prophet commands,: “Do not beat Muslims,” and warns that “anyone who gives a beating” will answer for it on the Day of Judgment. [10] Still other hadiths assume that a moderate level of beating is permissible in some situations, and admonish against beating a slave “more than he deserves.” [11]

Although the traditional view of 4:34 does affirm “beating,” Muslim scholars have narrowed its scope to the point where the term is almost meaningless. Based on a variety of hadiths, and the broader principles of Islam, they have ruled that any “beating” must avoid the face and must not cause injury. The Prophet allegedly used the Arabic words ghayr mubarrih to describe how it should be carried out. [12]When asked to explain this phrase, which can be rendered as “not violently,” a respected companion of the Prophet named Ibn Abbas suggested that the husband should strike his wife with a twig. [13] Classical scholars certainly agree that verse 4:34 does not condone domestic violence as we define it today, but they insist that the text does say “beat them.”

Ramadan could put Syria sectarian struggle in motion as attacks, protests increase (w/ video)

Ramadan began Monday, which could spark a fresh spate of protests and ensuing violence in Syria — some of which may lend itself to sectarian undertones. During Islam’s holy month, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. Muslims congregate at mosques following sunset. The majority-Sunni Syrian population will therefore have a means to meet up and discuss the atrocities being committed by its government, which is largely controlled by the minority (about 12 percent of the population) Alawite sect of Islam.

The attacks also will do nothing to silence the murmurs of sectarian strife in Syria. The Muslim Brotherhood accused Bashar al-Assad’s government Sunday of igniting sectarian conflict:

“Syria is witnessing a war of sectarian cleansing. The regime has linked its open annihilation with the crescent of Ramadan. It is a war on the identity and beliefs of the Syrian nation … on Arab Muslim Syria.”

The Brotherhood’s timing is significant. Many people have suggested Syria would devolve into sectarian crisis, and Ramadan could best amplify that sentiment. Alawites view fasting during Ramadan as merely symbolic, whereas it is one of the five pillars of Islam that Sunni Muslims observe without question.

Hama, a central Syrian Sunni stronghold, suffered 80 deaths at the hands of government-backed security forces Monday. Such violence will only magnify the growing divide between ruling forces and people at large.

What is getting less attention than the actual violence itself is the opportunity Ramadan will give Sunnis to organize. Under the cover of the mosque, Syrians can organize face-to-face and discuss strategy with less fear of backlash. Meeting in a mosque is inherently safer than a coffee shop, and physical communication removes the risks of internet and telecommunications contact. It could also help bring protest outsiders into the revolution as they see the passion with which protesters carry themselves.

But at the same time, various Muslim sects meeting daily for prayer during Islam’s holiest month as violence continues may foment discriminatory, sectarian views. To this point, many Syrians believe President Bashar al-Assad has manipulated violence to make it appear more sectarian. By doing so, al-Assad can claim his rule is important for restoring order so the nation does not devolve into sectarian war. However, as violence and protests ramp up this month, it will be increasingly plausible to Syrians that a sectarian struggle is on the horizon.

Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, established a sophisticated patronage network by installing the formerly disregarded Alawite minority into top business, police and military positions. That network has provided Bashar al-Assad unflagging loyalty, as if the regime falls, so do those top Alawites who benefited from al-Assad corruption and thuggery.

As attacks continue during Ramadan, Sunnis will grow more enraged with the regime. Alawites do not share the same view as Sunnis when it comes to the holy month. The differences between sects will never be more pronounced than during the next 40 days.

 

Turkey’s influence could emphasize women in new Arab democracies

Women now comprise 14 percent of Turkey’s parliament and could grow to 25 percent by 2015, which could have some effect on possible Middle East democracies and their inclusion of women.

Turkey appears to view itself as a progressive, modern Islamic nation and a leader for the region. It is very likely that Turkey will assist emerging Middle East democracies in establishing institutions. And Middle East nations may look to Turkey for advice before it invites United States meddling.

If Turkey lends a hand in designing Middle East democratic institutions, its female parliament presence could show nations like Egypt and Tunisia that women need a voice in the legislature. Turkey is a model Egypt and Tunisia wish to emulate, and including women in parliament is one way to appear more progressive, at least at a surface level.

Of course, Turkey didn’t become this way overnight. From the Washington Institute on Near East Policy:

This was a slow process, with the ratio rising from 0.88-1.34 percent in the 1980s, to 2-4 percent in the 1990s.

Since the late 1990s, however, women’s demands have accelerated the rate: In each election, the ration of women legislators has nearly doubled, reaching 14 percent on June 12. If this current trend holds, at least a quarter of all deputies in the 2014-15 legislature will be women.

Turkey, still lukewarm on its European Union aspirations, has moved toward a more Islamic-oriented nation under Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. Previously, it harbored strong ties with Syria, although those are now waning.

The Arab Spring is about human rights and democracy. Women are part of that mix. Having Turkey as a guiding hand will help show more conservative Muslims who support democracy that women have a place in making important political decisions.

Saudi women earn inheritance rights

The Saudi Justice Ministry says people who deprive women of inheritance may face imprisonment, an important shift that conflicts with the religiously rigid, patriarchal majority Salafi society.

According to ArabNews.com, denying women inheritance was more common among tribes. But in the Wahhabi-influence nation, the more fundamentalist customary rather than textual implementation of Islam prevails. Therefore, there is reason to believe this dynamic is more widespread than what ArabNews is letting on, even if it occurs discreetly.

The measure in part addresses a 2008 United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women report, which suggested codifying into law equal gender rights for inheritance and a host of other issues.

From the report:

concept of male guardianship over women (mehrem), although it may not be legally prescribed, seems to be widely accepted; it severely limits women’s exercise of their rights under the Convention, in particular with regard to their legal capacity and in relation to issues of personal status, including marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance, property ownership and decision-making in the family, and the choice of residency, education and employment.

In the section of the Qur’an that discusses mahram, there is no mention of male supremacy over women. This is the crux of the fundamentalist interpretation of Islam — much of it is founded on customs that existed during the time of Mohammed. For comparison, and as I have said before, the United States would be considered a backwards place if this majority Christian nation based civil society on the customs at the time Jesus walked the earth.

In fact, the Qur’an precedes a section on mahram for women with equally moralistic instruction for men in their dealings with the opposite sex.

Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. (24:30)

And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain Bliss. (24:31)

Clearly, the verse regarding women is more restrictive — such was society at the time. But nowhere does it mention that men have supremacy over women. So where does this interpretation come from? Fundamentalism, whether it’s Christian or Islamic, is rooted not in text but in an idea that the people interpreting that text today know what the prophets wanted better than anyone else does. And because of their immovable devotion to the faith, they are willing to be loud and use whatever force or tactics necessary to impress their views.

There is a sense of male supremacy in the Qur’an, that is for sure. But that’s only because it was written during a time when women were largely considered temptresses and second-class citizens. Those times need to change — 1,400 years is too long.

A Syria city rallies in support of Assad as ‘fresh’ violence breaks out

This rally in Sweida, a city south of Damascus, at first seems vaguely reminiscent of North Korea allegedly paying Chinese actors to pose as fans during last summer’s World Cup. It seems counterintuitive to have such massive support for Bashar al Assad considering all the government-led violence against civilians.

Sweida is not representative of  a majority of Syria. It is heavily populated by Druze, a minority population that had been violently persecuted in the middle of the 20th century by the Syrian military when the country was under French control. When Hafez al Assad took power in the 1960s, he elevated Druze and Alawites to prominent military positions, seeking to institutionalize loyalty for the minority Alawite leader in a predominantly Sunni nation. Sunnis comprise 74 percent of Syria’s population and have been relegated to the political sidelines because of the patronage system Hafez al Assad started. Alawites represent 12 percent of Syria, while Druze is at 3 percent.

Syrian rights group estimated more than 1,400 civilians have died since protests began. Assad said Monday he would announce reforms, which are largely expected to have little substance or effect. Some of the largest anti-government protests (the first video below) occurred today in response to the Assad-declared “National Unity Day” in support of the government.

The Sweida rally video is below this video from an anti-Assad protest today, which is a more accurate representation of Syria:

 

Here’s the Sweida video:

 

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