Islam for Donald Trump and the politically incorrect

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Mr Trump, if you really want to know “what the hell is going on” with Islam, I invite you and all the other bigots out there to join me on a mind-expanding journey through Islam(s), passing through the main thoroughfares and back alleys of history, society, culture, politics, theology and, above all, people.

Image: ©Gilgamesh

Friday 15 December 2017

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Dear Donald Trump,

Dear bigots of the world,

You are a world authority on Christianity. I know because you said so yourself… and, what with the deluge of fake news and biased media, we must trust only you and your flood of tweets. I wonder what Pope Francis made of your claim that “nobody reads the Bible more than me” when you met him at the Vatican? The pontiff has not pontificated on the subject, so we are likely never to know.

At the time, those haters at Catholic Online mocked you. Calling you a “presidential hopeless”, they pilloried your religious claims, including your slip of the tongue referencing Two Corinthians, rather than Second Corinthians. Second, two, they are all the same number, right? Catholic Online predicted: “Americans will wake up and understand that Donald Trump is not the man he claims to be and cannot be trusted to follow through with any of his promises.”

Not all Christians are so sceptical. Some even believe you to be the “Trump of God” foretold in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and the “last trump” prophesied in 1 Corinthians 15:52 (that is First Corinthians, not One, but who’s counting), both of which are sure signs of the second coming. Some spoil sport experts on the Apocalypse claim that this only works in English, and the King James Bible to be specific, and that the original Greek refers to “trumpet”. Trump, trumpet – what’s the difference, right?

As a sign of your humility – a trait you have always done your utmost to hide – you have admitted that your pontifical knowledge of Christianity does not extend to Islam. “Donald J Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” you said during your presidential campaign, referring to yourself humbly in the third person, “until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”

The reason for this ignorance is simple and so obvious that Donald Trump has identified it without any prior knowledge of Islam or Muslims and has said it so many times that it barely merits repeating. The great enemy of the American people is political correctness. “We must stop being politically correct and get down to the business of security for our people,” you said after a terrorist attack carried out by Muslim extremists. “If we don’t get smart it will only get worse.”

And to ensure that it does not get worse, Donald Trump has been getting smart. Despite your early blanket condemnation of Islam and all Muslims, you have decided that some Muslims are actually fine, like the Saudis. “This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilisations,” you said, sounding remarkably like Obama, during your visit to Saudi Arabia, the first foreign country you visited as president. “This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it.” During your entire speech, you did not mention “radical Islamic terrorism” once, even though you chided Hillary Clinton for allegedly refusing to use the term, an accurate alternative fact which those pesky fact checkers contest.

Why didn’t you use it? Because you have discovered the truth. Crooked Clinton was lying, again. When she said that radical Islamic terrorism were not “magic words”, she was obfuscating and dissimulating. Those words are possessed of a black magic so potent that he or she who utters them can unleash forces so potent that they would make America quake again. Not being patriots, Obama and Clinton did not want you to know this secret. Luckily, you found out in the nick of time and averted an apocalypse.

But allow me to break the truth to you and shatter the post-truth, Mr President. You are being led astray, or are wandering off, as is your wont, in the wrong direction. Neither your former position regarding Islam nor your current position regarding Arab despots and dictators are right.

I know you will likely dismiss me as part of the politically correct, tree-hugging, climate change-believing, moral-relativist brigade. But rest assured, I abhor political correctness. I say what I mean and mean what I say. I describe what I see and see what I describe, without airbrushing out inconvenient truths or pasting in half-truths. I am not a partisan and owe no allegiance to anyone or anything, except my conscience. I find bigots who claim they are “politically incorrect” are more incorrect than anything else.

I am politically incorrect in the purest sense of the word. I don’t mince my words to curry favour with any political current or in-group, or to scapegoat anyone, and I call out bullshit where and when I encounter it. I find the worldviews of bigots of all stripes, whether non-Muslim or Muslim, objectionable, dubious and dangerous.

So, Mr Trump, if you really want to know “what the hell is going on,” I invite you and all the other bigots out there to join me on a mind-expanding journey through Islam(s), an odyssey through time and space, passing through the main thoroughfares and back alleys of history, society, culture, politics, theology and, above all, people. Islam is not just scripture. It is far more than Muhammad and the Quran. It is the lived and diverse experiences of hundreds of millions of people, past, present and future. Allow me to introduce you to this human kaleidoscope.

‘Islam for the Politically Incorrect is divided into easy-to-navigate thematic chapters. This means that the book can be read from cover to cover, or you can jump straight to the theme that interests you, bouncing around from chapter to chapter. Here is a quick rundown of the content.

Chapter 1 – A world of Islams

When people ask, ‘What is Islam?’, the only honest answer is: “It’s complicated.” There is no one thing you can point to and say clearly, “This is Islam.” Islam varies dramatically from place to place, country to country, group to group, person to person, and even from one era to another. This chapter introduces this complexity, but does so without being complicated.

Chapter 2 – Muslim women: Femininity, feminism and fantasy

One thing Muslim and western conservatives have in common is their expressed desire to ‘liberate’ women. In reality, each in their own way, they objectify Muslim women, use them as political footballs or weaponise them for their culture wars. For all the attention Muslim women receive, there is precious little mainstream understanding of their situation. This chapter presents Muslim women in their dizzying diversity on their own terms.

Chapter 3 – Muslim men: Emancipating the average Mo

Muslim men are ‘reel bad’. In Western pop culture, they are predominantly portrayed as two-dimensional villains. In conservative Muslim circles, open-minded, modern men are either ignored or pilloried. The upshot of this is that liberal and progressive Muslim men are systematically airbrushed out of the picture. This not only ignores an important component of reality, it also robs other Muslim men seeking to break out of traditional gender roles of role models and support. This chapter sheds light on an underappreciated side of Muslim men and, in so doing, seeks to empower the average Mo to embrace gender equality.

Chapter 4 – Sexy Islam

Sex, it is said, sells. But when it comes to the contemporary image of Islam, sex repels. To say that Islam lacks sex appeal would be an understatement of massive proportions. In this chapter, we take a peak behind the shroud of taboo and piety to explore the sexual reality and identity of Muslims in all its rich variety. Along the way, we expose remarkable similarities and a long, if submerged, history of sexual openness and eroticism.

Chapter 5 – Alcohol and Islam: Fermenting rebellion?

Both Muslims and non-Muslims alike view Islam as a teetotalling religion. In the popular mind, Muslims who drink either do not exist, are not ‘real’ Muslims or are intoxicated by western lifestyles or ‘vices’. However, despite Islam’s apparent theological prohibition, a significant minority of Muslims have always drunk and Islam possesses a number of distinct drinking cultures. In fact, alcohol has a long history in Islamic societies, literature, art and even science. This chapter toasts this ancient tradition.

Chapter 6 – Jesus v Muhammad: Of prophets and messiahs

Given the rivalry between Islam and Christianity, controversy and debate surround their two founders. This chapter explores not just the differences but also the surprising similarities between Muhammad and Jesus. It also examines how Muslims view Jesus and how Christians view Muhammad, the difference between being a messiah and a prophet, and what makes a ‘false’ or ‘true’ prophet.

Chapter 7 – Clash, mash or crash of civilisations?

In these troubled times, too many people believe that we are in the throes of a monumental clash of civilisations. But is this actually the case? Philosophy, science, culture, realpolitik and even fashion and coffee reveal that there is a massively underappreciated mash of civilisations, not to mention an under-reported clash within civilisations.

Chapter 8 – Rationalising Islam: Muslim sceptics, heretics, apostates and atheists

With the fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie and Saudi Arabia’s classification of atheists as ‘terrorists’, contemporary Islam projects an image of piety and unbelief. The reality is a significant minority of ‘Muslims’ (at least) are sceptics, agnostics or outright atheists. In the most conservative Muslim societies, this can put their freedom, livelihoods or lives at risk. In others, rejection of Islam is quietly tolerated, while in some, it is accepted as a valid right. This chapter explores sceptics and atheists in the Islamic context, from the dawn of Islam to the present day.

Chapter 9 – Memo to a jihadist

This open letter is addressed to those drawn by the jihadist calling. It highlights the myths, untruths and half-truths upon which jihadists build their appeal, and the ugly truth of modern so-called jihadism.

Chapter 10 – Memo to the alt-right

This open letter tackles the dangerous myths and conspiracy theories popular in alt-right circles, and presents a more realistic and nuanced picture.

Chapter 11 – Reforming Islam or reforming Muslims?

There is currently a lot of debate about the need for an Islamic Reformation. This chapter analyses whether Islam needs reform, what kind of reform it requires, whether it has already been reformed, what would happen if it does reform, and whether theological or socioeconomic reform should come first?

The ABC of Islam

This handy glossary explains some confusing or controversial terms related to Islam. Among other things, it explains why ‘Allah’ is the wrong word to use, how ‘Allahu Akbar’ means a lot more than many people know, and how the caliphate ain’t what you think it is.

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The mirage of the meek Muslim woman

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By Khaled Diab

Incurable misogynist Donald Trump has Muslim women all wrong. They are not silent and submissive.

Ghazala Khan

Ghazala Khan

Wednesday 10 August 2016

George Washington once opined that “offensive operations, often times, is the surest, if not the only… means of defence”.

In his campaign to become president of the United States, Donald Trump seems to have been inspired by Washington’s idea – common in modern warfare – but, with his questionable command of the English language, has misinterpreted the word “offensive”.

Ever since he began his bid for the presidency, the Republican nominee has managed to offend an untold number of individuals, not to mentions groups as diverse as women, Muslims and Mexicans – and yet, somehow, stay ahead.

The latest victims of his outrageously offensive campaign are Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the bereaved parents of Captain Humayun Khan, who was killed while serving in Iraq.

In response to Khizr Khan’s criticism of Trump’s politics of hatred and division at the Democratic National Convention, all the Republican candidate could rouse himself to say was “I’d like to hear his wife say something.

“If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say,” he elaborated in a later interview. “She probably, maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say.”

Unsurprisingly, such a callous attack against a grieving “gold star” mother, in a country where the military is regarded as sacrosanct, sparked outrage, even amongst conservatives.

In a moving article, Ghazala Khan explained that her silence was not because she was some kind of downtrodden Muslim woman but was down to grief. “It has been 12 years, but you know hearts of pain can never heal as long as we live,” she wrote. “The place that emptied will always be empty.”

Offensive and insensitive as Donald Trump’s comments were, he was bringing nothing new to the table. Tapping into what seems to be his family’s penchant for “borrowing”, Trump was recycling one of the most common stereotypes about Islam in Western Islamophobic circles: the notion that Muslim women are silent, submissive, subservient creatures living under the thumb of their menfolk.

Earlier in the campaign, Republican hopeful Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon who was out to prove, but failed, that running for president wasn’t brain surgery, made a similar point:  “[Muslim] women must be subservient,” he insisted.

I wondered if Carson would have the guts to tell Hend Wagih, Egypt’s first female bodyguard, that she is subservient to men to her face – I should warn him that she is a champion martial artist and a bodybuilder.

While Islam, like all major world religions, is patriarchal, Muslim women – who come in all shades of conformity and rebelliousness – are far from silent and submissive.

Were my maternal grandmother around today, she would have shown Trump and Carson just how coy and obedient Muslim women are with a few deft, well-targeted lashes of her tongue.

Although my grandmother was raised in a traditional Egyptian milieu, she was a formidable character who was queen of her castle, and woe betide anyone who trespassed on her turf.

My gran raised birds on her rooftop. One time, a burglar had the audacity – and misfortune – to land on my grandmother’s roof. Sensing that her precious birds were in mortal danger, my grandmother grabbed a knife from the kitchen and a stick. Looking out of the window, she ordered the burglar to stay where he was because she was coming to teach him a lesson. The terrified man leapt to a neighbouring rooftop and ran as if his life depended on it.

Her daughter, my late mother, perhaps partly inspired by this role model of strong womanhood at home, and how it belied the idea that men were superior, grew up to become a firm believer in gender equality.

A promising young writer and activist, my mother, in the 1960s, was inspired by the leftist, pan-Arabist dream of female emancipation. My mother’s was the first generation of Egyptian women to gain equal access to higher education, employment, the right to vote, meaningless as that was in Nasser’s Egypt, and the right to run for public office.

Slain blogger Qandeel Baloch. Source: Her Facebook page

Slain blogger Qandeel Baloch.
Source: Her Facebook page

While many Western critics of Islam are convinced that Muslim women must either choose Islam or feminism, for my mother, this was a false choice. Although I believe that all religions are intrinsically sexist, mum was convinced that the essence of Islam was one of egalitarianism and equality between men and women.

She attributed the gender inequalities in Islam to centuries of male scholars being the main interpreters of the faith. “Why do they ignore the stories of the prophet Muhammad darning his own clothes and helping out with the housework?” mum was fond of asking.

The high hopes of full women’s liberation entertained by my mother’s generation hit the rocks of a conservative backlash and an Islamist cultural counterrevolution. Nevertheless, women have been fighting hard, in recent years, to regain the momentum and press for complete equality – in every walk of life and profession, even if it occasionally costs them their lives, as it did the Pakistani blogger and activist Qandeel Baloch.

Donald Trump’s snarky, ignorant, bigoted remarks are an insult not just to Ghazala Khan but also to the millions of Muslim women around the world bravely fighting for their rights every day.


Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This is the extended version of an article which first appeared on Al Jazeera on 2 August 2016.

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Nawal El Saadawi: “I am against stability. We need revolution.”

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By Nikolaj Nielsen

Renowned author and feminist Nawal El Saadawi believes that her fellow Egyptians “must pay the price for freedom”.

Thursday 11 July 2013


Imprisoned by former president Anwar Sadat, exiled by Hosni Mubarak, and hated by the Muslim Brotherhood leadership, 81-year old dissident and feminist Nawal El Saadawi still sees hope for an Egypt free from the clutches of religious and military rule.

“We will never allow a military government rule or a religious Islamic rule, never,” she told me in Brussels on Wednesday (10 July).

Nawal El Saadawi in Brussels. Photo: ©Nikolaj Nielsen

An avid campaigner for women’s rights in a society deeply ingrained with patriarchal values, Saadawi was a director in the ministry of health in the 1960s working to stop female circumcision.

Her campaign for women’s rights continued, despite her being jailed in 1981 over her publications.

Released two months after the assassination of then-president Anwar Sadat, she fled Egypt in 1988 following numerous threats against her life.

“Democracy means economic equality, social equality – you cannot have democracy under a patriarchy when women are oppressed,” she said.

The liberation of women from religious and patriarchal doctrines is a common theme in her numerous novels, plays, short stories and non-fiction books, some translated into 30 different languages.

Upon her return to Egypt in 2009 after a three-year exile for a play she wrote, Saadawi moved to set up the Egyptian Women’s Union, which she formed at Tahrir square in January 2011.

“I was trying all my life to organise women and so, two years ago, we started the Egyptian Women’s Union. Fifty percent of our members are young men who are progressive and non-patriarchal,” she noted.

Both the United States and Europe can keep their aid, she says, noting that their conditions have condemned Egypt to poverty, submission, and misery.

“The free market is not free, it is only free for the powerful to exploit the weak,” she noted.

Saadawi describes governments in the US and in Europe as capitalist, patriarchal and theocratic systems that promote class oppression.

The EU, for its part, handed over approximately €1 billion in aid to Egypt from 2007 onwards.

But a report published by the European Court of Auditors in June said corruption and lack of accountability squandered funds paid directly to the Egyptian authorities.

The court said women’s and minorities’ rights were not given sufficient attention despite the critical need for urgent action to counter the tide of growing intolerance.

“The whole philosophy of the world, capitalism, patriarchy, and religions – we are still living in the post-modern slave system,” she said.

As for the Americans, Saadawi says they buy influence over the Egyptian military elite, which is complicit in forging a false sense of stability for Israel’s benefit.

“Revolution came out in the streets because we are fed up with poverty. We are forced into poverty by US aid. US aid increased poverty in Egypt,” she noted.

On Thursday (11 July), the US approved the shipment of four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt despite the political unrest in the country.

The planes are set for delivery in the next few weeks.

Not a military coup

Despite her criticism of US-Egyptian-military scheming, Saadawi describes the downfall of the Muslim Brotherhood, their arrests, and forced isolation by the army as part of an ongoing revolution to establish a civil secular society based on social justice.

The deposition of Egypt’s fifth president Mohamed Morsi is not a military coup, she insists.

She said the army was initially reluctant to intervene, but armed Muslim brothers forced their hand in a revolution that has yet to see its final outcome.

“I heard women and children screaming because of the bullets and blood oozing on Tahrir square and people were saying where is the army?” she said.

With Morsi out, Saadawi says there is now a greater chance to put in place a secular constitution where everyone is equal, regardless of religion, gender or class.

“We must write this constitution before any election,” she said.

But the task ahead is fraught with difficulties.

On Wednesday, an arrest warrant was issued for the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Badie, for inciting violence in a speech that saw thousands take to the streets.

Nine other warrants on the leadership were also issued.

Critics say the arrests risk usurping the interim government’s plan for national unity.

Saadawi, for her part, dismisses the warning.

National unity, she says, will come from a fiercely independent and free-thinking younger generation.

“I am against stability. We need revolution. We need to move ahead and pay the price for freedom,” she said.


Follow Nikolaj Nielsen on Twitter.

This article first appeared on EUobserver.comIt is published here with the author’s consent.

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Tahrir Square: For the sake of the forsaken

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By Osama Diab

For ordinary Egyptians, Tahrir is now a terrifying black hole, but for its marginalised occupiers, it is a liberator from political and social tyranny.

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Tahrir has become a black hole for ordinary Egyptians but a space of liberty for the marginalised. photo: ©Khaled Diab

Tahrir has become a black hole for ordinary Egyptians but a space of liberty for the marginalised. photo: ©Khaled Diab

“Do you like what’s happening in Tahrir?” taxi drivers ask me everyday on my way back from work, which is near the world-famous square. Fed up with this discussion and my inability to make any “acceptable” argument prompted me to consider moving somewhere that was within walking distance from my office.

For someone who has supported the revolution from the very beginning and throughout its different stages, and against the various counterrevolutionary forces – the remnants of the Mubarak regime, the military and the Muslim Brotherhood – this period has been the most difficult  when it comes to trying to sell and promote the revolution.

Any frequent visitor to Tahrir will notice a change in its demographic composition. The face of this highly symbolic square and its surrounding area has changed beyond recognition over the past two years. Before the revolution erupted, Tahrir was a symbol of state might and prestige, with high-ranking police officers aggressively managing the traffic flow of cars and pedestrians through and around the capital’s most strategic spot.

Within a kilometre of Tahrir in every direction is the highest concentration of state institutions in the country. The monolithic symbol of state bureaucracy, the Mugama’a, the parliament with its two houses, a large number of ministries (including the monstrous Ministry of Interior) are all located on the different ends of the Tahrir square area. The neighbourhood is also home to some of Egypt’s oldest and most luxurious five-star hotels overlooking the Nile, not to mention the famous Egyptian museum, the Arab league building and the former ruling National Democratic Party’s headquarters.

How did this area of potent political power and tight state control descend into a state of lawlessness is beyond most people’s comprehension. Many Egyptians now choose to avoid the area altogether while others are curious about who occupies and controls it. The motivation behind the recent clashes with the police during the revolution’s second anniversary were unclear even to the most competent of political analysts and to opposition forces. It is a defining characteristic of a revolution for events to move faster than the ability of most people to grasp them.

Many of those who occupy and control Egypt’s most institution-laden area are the country’s forsaken: street vendors, homeless teenagers and street children. They have replaced the generals, the police informants and government politicians who used to be in control just two years ago.

Tahrir moved from being the establishment’s headquarters to an area that is becoming rife with anti-establishment behaviour. It attracts the homeless, including children, rebel female activists, homosexuals, street vendors, substance abusers, etc. The groups who were the most marginalised for different reasons have found a refuge in an area completely liberated from oppressive state and societal authority. The occupation of Egypt most strategic square kilometre is a reminder of a triumph of the oppressed over the oppressor. For the outsider, Tahrir might have turned into a frightening, dark, and dirty black hole but for its occupiers it’s a breeze of freedom manifested in the absence of unjust authority.

The changing demographic make-up of Tahrir Square has turned it into a different world. No longer does it relate to the outer world where the state is gradually reemerging and playing its typical role of trying to control and dominate the public sphere. While the revolution outside of Tahrir is mostly defined as its first 18 days, in Tahrir, it has no clear start or end. It’s an ongoing feud with the authorities, society and the state. It is the fight of the marginalised to claim, even to grab, their share of the public sphere.

The revolution is no longer a well-packaged commodity produced by the so-called “Facebook generation”. It’s no longer a unified movement of educated and politically aware young voices who are able to organise, brand, rebrand and promote the revolution as a “civilised”, acceptable and legitimate movement in a near-Utopian setting.

Some people’s dislike of the current Tahrir occupation, and their disquiet towards its occupants, is partly classist and partly practical, because of the inconvenience to the flow of traffic they cause for commuters on their way to work. However, for the marginalised of Tahrir, this negativity is a proof of life, an affirmation of the viability and effectiveness of their actions. Unlike the Facebook revolutionaries, Tahrir’s occupiers have no desire to please society or cater to its norms. Their struggle, in a way, is against the social order, and so upsetting polite society is something for them to aspire to.

The dominant and privileged classes of society have acknowledged these groups’ wretched existence for the first time. Finally,  they are beginning to ask, Who are these people?. We denounce and disapprove of violence but did we listen to them when they were peaceful? Were they given any other option to be heard other than through the sound of their stones? Is this in a way not our violence echoed and thrown back at us?

For the “Facebook generation”, the revolution and the occupation of Tahrir was a means to an end that involved a vision for a freer society. An integral part of their strategy was to engage the wider community and convince it of the revolution and cater to its socially acceptable norms, which is why the social impact of the 18-day revolution was rather limited, despite its remarkable political impact.

On the other hand, for the marginalised of today’s Tahrir, who operate outside the societal framework, the revolution is the end, not a means. They for the most part lack the skills and the social acceptability to engage with and persuade the larger community of the rightness of their struggle. For that reason, they don’t aim for a better world, but just a tiny square of the world where they exercise a degree of control and enjoy a sense of ownership, even if it’s over a space that is frightening, dark and dirty to others.

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Egypt’s women of mass destruction

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By Khaled Diab

Does a gaff about rural women’s breasts belie the belief among Egypt’s new Islamist leadership that women are the source of all society’s ills?

Wednesday 13 February 2013


When it comes to confessionals, Egypt’s unpopular prime minister Hisham Qandil has redefined the term “making a clean breast of things”. With the country in the grips of a new wave of protests and street clashes and the economy in tatters, the premier decided to get a vital matter off his chest during an open meeting with the media: rural women’s breast.

“There are villages in Egypt in the 21st century where children get diarrhoea [because] the mother nurses them and out of ignorance does not undertake personal hygiene of her breasts,” he said, to the visible discomfort of his audience, especially the women in it.

Qandil’s remarks have been met with widespread derision and mockery in Egypt’s famously sarcastic social and independent media, with many requesting advice from the PM on other health and domestic issues. “A question to his eminence the prime minister,” one twitter user wrote, “can I wash my boy’s clothes with his father’s white galabiya or will the colours bleed?”

“Mum says she wants the recipe for Balah el-Sham in your next press conference,” another requested.

“Soon, they’ll be broadcasting Qandil’s press conferences on Fatafeat (a cookery channel),” one wit predicted.

There are other unexpected causes of the runs, one commenter revealed: “I’m the one who got diarrhoea when I realised you were Egypt’s prime minister.” And this observer is not alone: millions of Egyptians view this former irrigation minister as Egypt’s new secretary of state for irritation.

Although stage fright – or performance anxiety – caused by speaking before the tame cameras of Egypt’s state television may have caused Qandil to confuse women’s nipples with the teats of baby bottles, there is the possibility, however faint, that the prime minister is privy to some groundbreaking research which the rest of us humble mortals are unaware of.

After all, unlike the “ignorant peasants” he lambasts, Qandil has a master’s degree and a PhD in agricultural engineering from two different US universities, though one is located in Utah, where his views of science may have been coloured by the local culture. If “creationist” pseudoscience can posit that the universe was created less than 10,000 years ago and advocate what I call the “Fred Flintstone” theory of the Jurassic age, why can’t Qandil find a causal link between dirty boobs and the runs?

However, a cursory perusal of the scientific literature on breastfeeding uncovers no connection between the cleanliness of a mother’s breasts and diarrhoea in her infant. In fact, mother’s milk is described by doctors as “liquid gold” and is a good preventer of and antidote against diarrhoea.

Qandil’s remarks confirm previous theories that denial truly is a river running through the minds of Egyptian officials.

But wouldn’t life be so much easier for the new PM if his theory were correct? Then, instead of being forced to grapple with the problems his government has inherited from the former regime – poverty, pollution, unhygienic water supplies, poor nutrition, high illiteracy – he could solve the daunting challenge of high infant mortality in the countryside by simply going online and ordering millions of packets of antibacterial wipes or, more ambitiously yet, install a power shower in each rural mud-brick home.

The cynic in me suspects that this could be what is behind Qandil’s gaff: the desire to divert attention from his government’s failure to do anything constructive about, and find simplistic, quick fixes for the country’s nagging socio-economic problems.

This interpretation would actually be a relief in comparison with the prospect that Qandil, a supposedly highly educated man, actually believes what he said. But I fear that the prime minister may well have been deadly serious.

His outburst is reflective of the new Islamist leadership’s – and the conservative constituency they represent – obsession with women and the female body, and their apparent conviction that all society’s ills can be traced back to a woman’s breasts and vagina, and a family’s and society’s honour hangs on that flimsy thread known as the hymen.

This reality about Egypt’s body politic was on full display during the recent controversy surrounding the nude Egyptian protester, Aliaa ElMahdy, whose naked body was transformed by conservatives into some kind of biological WMD – a dirty bomb – amid suggestions that she could singlehandedly obliterate Egypt’s social fabric.

Interestingly, from a psychological perspective, is how religious conservatives appear to be obsessed by what they find most reprehensible, and fantasise, like the “Desert Fathers” did of Satan tempting them away from their solitude with sexual dreams, about the female body.

An extreme, and extremely warped, example of this was the infamous and widely condemned fatwa by a cleric of al-Azhar who creatively resolved the conservative conundrum over mixed workplaces by suggesting women breastfeed their male colleagues, thereby becoming their “mothers”.

Rather than the “penis envy” Freud developed, it would appear that Egypt, and patriarchal society in general, is obsessed with breast and vagina envy. Echoing the “War on Women” across the Atlantic, Islamists, particularly ultra-conservative Salafists, have launched a far more vicious offensive against Egyptian women, which has played itself out on the streets, in the form of violence, including the rape, of female protesters and then blaming the victim for the crime she endured.

But Egyptian women and their allies have not taken this passively, and have been out in force demanding their rights – and granting them full equality will be good both for women and society as a whole, despite the anxieties of the patriarchy.

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post on 7 February 2013.

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The naked truth about Egypt’s body politic

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By Khaled Diab

One young woman’s daring nude protests are unlikely to emancipate Egyptian women, but will they actually hurt the cause of freedom and equality?

Monday 7 January 2013


Photo: FEMEN

“Sharia is not a constitution” is a sentence that many Egyptian secularists and progressives would, under normal circumstances, wholeheartedly agree with. However, when these words are scrawled in lipstick red on the totally naked body – except for glasses and a headband of flowers – of a young Egyptian activist, then the medium suddenly eclipses the message, especially in a society as conservative as Egypt’s.

Aliaa ElMahdy, 21, was protesting, with European feminists in Stockholm, Egypt’s controversial draft constitution ahead of a referendum which appears to have approved it, despite incredibly low voter turnout. But this wasn’t the first time that ElMahdy had used her naked body to try to expose the hypocrisy of Egypt’s body politic. She had already gained notoriety and stirred up controversy in 2011 when she posted naked images of herself on her blog to express her opposition to the growing influence of Islamists and to demand her full freedom of expression.

An old joke claims that the best way for a woman to please a man on a date is simply to turn up naked. In contrast, it would seem that the best way to outrage the patriarchal male order is to protest in the nude – judging by the insults, threatened legal action and even some death threats which the nude activist received.

Personally, I have long been bewildered and sometimes outraged by the amount of outrage the human body, especially the female form of it, and sex can provoke. For instance, a US president can be impeached for lying about his sexual relations but not apparently for lying to start a war. Likewise, at a time of massive revolutionary ferment, how society can find the time or interest to obsess over an amateur black-and-white photo of a solitary nude woman on her personal blog is beyond me?

Of course, if even in some liberal societies, nudity can still offend many, I can understand that in a society where the vast majority of women now cover their heads in one way or another, that nakedness can cause distress. But there is more to it than that. After all, nudity is a mouse click away for millions of Egyptians and, as one observer pointed out, there is reportedly a popular niche in pornography involving women in hijab and even niqab (the full face veil). Moreover, semi-nudity and sexually suggestive imagery is on billboards, television screens and cinemas everywhere you turn in Egypt.

The trouble with Aliaa is that her photos were too subversive: they were naked but not sexy, and they were saying “fuck off” and not “fuck me”. Her nude protest against the constitution was similarly seditious: she was using a tool many would regard as immoral to deliver a highly moral and principled message.

So, though many Egyptians may agree with her message, few approve of her means. In fact, revolutionaries and secularists have been tripping over themselves to give ElMahdy a full dressing down.

This is partly out of genuine disapproval. Egyptians are generally conditioned to see nudity as a sign of licentiousness and debauchery, and so when a young activist strips in protest, they reach the “inescapable” conclusion that she is either bad or mad, or possibly both.

Many leftists regard ElMahdy as self-absorbed and selfish and that she, through her reckless actions, has potentially set the cause of female emancipation back years. And they have a point – up to a point.

ElMahdy’s actions are unlikely to sway many, if any, ordinary Egyptians to the cause of greater freedom in Egypt, and may even strengthen the dictatorship of, and through, the masses.

Religious and social conservatives and bigots have used her political striptease as proof made flesh of the “corrupting” influence of secularism – which has become something of a dirty word in Egypt since Islamists successfully and inaccurately equated it with atheism – and that the only way to combat this is by curtailing personal and political freedoms.

In addition, the fact that ElMahdy’s most vocal defenders have mainly, but not exclusively, been expatriate Egyptians and Europeans has played up to the paranoid idea promoted by the former and current regime that the revolution is an anti-Egyptian foreign conspiracy designed to shred the country’s social fabric and destroy it by stripping it of its moral rectitude.

And since a family’s, and by extension, a society’s honour and strength, lies, for some bizarre reason, between the legs of women, ElMahdy has been transformed by the patriarchy into a biological WMD – a dirty bomb, you could say – and has helped them cement the traditional view of women as highly volatile sex bombs who will spontaneously explode upon contact with greater freedom.

Activists fear that this will hurt the aspirations of Egyptian women seeking equality with men and fighting against discrimination. But is this enough to abandon ElMahdy?

On this issue, Egyptian democracy activists are caught between a rock and a hard place. Defend ElMahdy’s right to do what she did and this will be equated with agreeing with her actions. Criticise her or stay silent and be guilty of curtailing freedom of expression yourself.

In 2011, ElMahdy confessed that she was shocked by how the April 6 Youth Movement, which was one of the main secular, youth-led dynamos behind the revolution, had issued a statement not only clarifying that she was not part of their organisation, which is correct, but also that they do not accept “atheism.”

“Where is the democracy and liberalism they preach to the world? They only feed what the public wants to hear for their political ambitions,” she complained at the time.

That said, it is unfair to single out ElMahdy, who does not possess any political affiliation nor does she claim to speak for anyone beside herself. Just as she is not single-handedly destroying Egypt’s traditional social fabric, as conservatives claim, the blame for the apparent setback secularism and feminism are facing in Egypt cannot be placed solely on her shoulders.

Had Aliaa not stripped, it would have made very little difference to the outcome of the draft constitution – it is still incredibly unpopular and uninspiring, as reflected in the low voter turnout and the huge demonstrations. Had Aliaa kept her clothes on, it would not have deterred Islamists from their project to roll back whatever hard-earned freedoms Egyptian women have gained – they would simply have ignored her.

What this episode reflects is how, despite opposing the revolution and not taking part in it, Islamists have become more emboldened and, at least, apparently powerful. It also highlights how in spite of the fact that secular and oft-young revolutionaries have instigated a process of radical change, many still remain apologetic for their convictions and allow themselves to be browbeating and intimidated by religious conservatives.

The attitude seems to be one of, “if you can’t beat them, join them”, and so secularists have increasingly appropriated some of the rhetoric of the Islamists. But what some have failed to notice is that the Islamists, in order to survive, have also had to appropriate the secular discourse of democracy and freedom.

Another problem with this approach is that as Islamists gain confidence they are becoming more militant once more, and progressives may soon discover that the only option left will be to “beat” them. And the Islamists, who have been rapidly planting the seeds for their own downfall, are unwittingly providing pluralist secularists with plenty of opportunities to steer Egypt towards a more tolerant and inclusive future.

As the polarisation between conservative and progressive forces in society grows, persuasion and bridge-building will become increasingly necessary, but so will confrontation, especially on issues of principle and fundamental freedoms.


Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared in Haaretz on 2 January 2013.

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International Women’s Day: Male feminist pigs?

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By Khaled Diab

Some regard possession of a vagina as crucial for membership in the feminist movement. But can’t a man be a feminist too?

Thursday 8 March 2012

‘Female’ is a biological distinction. ‘Femininity’ is that group of personality traits women are traditionally expected to exhibit. ‘Feminism’ is a movement which challenges these gender stereotypes and combats discrimination against women.

If you’re a male, obviously you cannot be a female – at least not without major, and quite painful, surgical intervention. As a man, you can be feminine, or, like most people, exhibit a mix of feminine and masculine characteristics. Likewise, progressive men should be allowed to regard themselves as feminists. Despite my aversion to the limiting effects of labels, I would certainly define my views on gender issues as being ‘feminist’, at least the form of feminism which strives for gender equality and not reverse gender inequality.

However, defining men as feminists is controversial within gender relations circles. Some claim that men cannot be regarded as feminists which seems paradoxical to me, since feminism strives to end sexism, yet this exclusion strikes me as sexist.

The main rationale for this view seems to revolve around the notion that only women can truly understand the female plight and truly know what it is like to face gender discrimination. But humans are equipped with a remarkable imagination and sense of empathy, if they choose to exercise it. History is replete with examples of ‘outsiders’ who become the iconic embodiment of certain struggles, such as the privileged young doctor turned poor man’s revolutionary.

After all, you don’t need to be working class to be a socialist, nor a member of a minority to appreciate the suffering caused by racism. People didn’t need to be black to struggle against Apartheid nor Spanish to fight Franco’s totalitarianism.

Besides, if the lack of direct experience disqualifies one from being a full member of the cause, should we bar Western feminists from showing solidarity with their ‘sisters’ in less enlightened societies because they have not experienced the same magnitude of discrimination in their relatively egalitarian corner of the world?

Moreover, men do have direct experience of sexism and a major stake in combating it. First of all, there are the women in their lives. If your wife, girlfriend, mother or sister experience gender discrimination, it also has an impact on you, because it makes you angry and frustrated on their behalf. Moreover, men who discriminate against women are not acting in the name of the rest of their gender and the best way to express that would be to describe ourselves as ‘feminists’.

In addition, the macho culture which sidelines women can also belittle and ridicule the men who fight it – and so fighting shoulder to shoulder for the cause of gender equality is as much a progressive man’s prerogative as it is a woman’s under the banner of ‘feminism’.

Moreover, some of the loudest advocates of the patriarchal order, both in the past and today, have been women. And this highlights perfectly the fact that just because you have a vagina does not automatically make you more sympathetic to the cause.

There seems to be a fear that men would try to dominate the movement. As one feminist put it: “I really don’t need men telling me how to be a better feminist, or that my kind of feminism is wrong.” I find such a description of, let’s call it, ‘male, feminist pigs’ rather unflattering. Relating obnoxiousness and bossiness to gender in this way is quite frankly rather sexist. After all, men do not have a monopoly on being domineering.

To be successful, the battle for gender equality needs to involve like-minded women and men fully, not have them fighting in opposing trenches of the battle of the sexes.

More articles on gender issues can be found here and here.

This piece is based on an article which appeared in The Guardian’s Comment is Free on 29 April 2008. Read the related discussion.

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Sarah Palin v Queer Theory

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By Osama Diab

Which is more empowering or threatening for the gay community: the idea that sexuality is a lifestyle choice (unnatural) or an innate trait (natural)?

Wednesday 1 February 2012

Sarah Palin believes that homosexuality is a "lifestyle choice". Photo: Sarah Palin on Facebook

Homosexuality has featured high on the Republican primaries’ campaign trail, with candidates generally opposing gay marriage and homosexuals openly serving in the military, with candidates like Rick Santorum claiming that gay sex was not “equal” to straight sex and was not “healthy” for society.  Central to the entire debate is the question of nature versus nurture, i.e. whether a person’s sexuality is a “lifestyle choice”, as many conservatives believe, or whether it is biologically predetermined.

Newt Gingrich has opined that it is both. But other prominent Republicans disagree. In an interview with ABC News prior to her 2008 run on John McCain’s ticket, Sarah Palin controversially implied that homosexuality is a choice that her friend had mad, while she herself had reused to.

Her comments stirred controversy and caused an uproar among gay rights supporters in the United States, where multiple scientific studies have supported the idea that homosexuality is not a choice, but as natural as the colour of your eyes and skin tone. What is more, Sarah Palin’s church, the Wasilla Bible Church, promised to transform those “impacted by homosexuality” into heterosexuals.

An article published in The Independent in 1992 declared that “science may, it seems, be about to furnish proof that homosexuality has a biological basis – that it is part of the spectrum of normal human behaviour, as common or garden as being extrovert or left-handed”.. This proof brought hope that new laws would be passed outlawing discrimination against homosexuals.

It seems fair enough that gay rights activists should try to bring to the forefront any study which “proves” that sexual orientation is not something we can control or “choose”. A study carried out by the Pew Research Center reveals a link between an unfavourable opinion of homosexuals and those who think sexual orientation can be changed.
The study found that better-educated people are more likely to see homosexuality as innate and unchangeable rather than a lifestyle choice. And politically, twice as many liberals as conservatives say people are born homosexual.

In terms of religion, the gap is even bigger, more than half of highly committed white Evangelicals and 60% of black Protestants say that homosexuality is just a way that some people prefer to live, and just 14% say it is something that people are born with. Similarly, 73% of committed white Evangelicals think homosexuals can change their sexual orientation, and 61% of black Protestants agree.

The same study also suggests that “belief that homosexuality is immutable is strongly associated with positive opinions about gays and lesbians even more strongly than education, personal acquaintance with a homosexual, or general ideological beliefs”. This is the reason why the immutability of homosexuality has been central to gay rights narrative and campaigning. Studies like Pew’s are the reason why Palin’s comment were regarded as counter-productive.

The point of trying to prove that homosexuality is inborn, and make an analogy between sexual orientation and race is an attempt to reduce hostility and social stigma towards those who have sexual desires outside the widely-accepted definition of what is appropriate, and treat non-heterosexual individuals like people from different racial groups. It should be dealt with the same way it is widely-accepted among all sensible people that no one should be discriminated against based on their skin colour.

However, the notion that homosexuality, and more broadly sexuality, is a choice is not only an idea embraced by conservatives or those who oppose homosexuality. It’s a view also shared by some of our most radical contemporary postmodern thinkers.

Judith Butler, in her book Gender Trouble: feminism and the subversion of identity, which is considered a foundation stone for the critical field later known as Queer Theory, argues that identities are free and floating and describes gender as a social constructed performance rather than a biological trait. Queer theory suggests that nothing in your identity is fixed because it’s shaped by a pile of experiences reinforced through repetition and, therefore, people can change. Butler goes as far as calling for the challenging of traditional views of sexuality by causing “gender trouble”.

Queer Theory is widely considered in academic and intellectual circles as a highly progressive view on sexuality and gender. Judith Butler, seen as one of the developers of this field, is considered a prominent radical thinker. If anything, she is the antithesis of Sarah Palin on every single level. However, if we look close enough, they both share the same view that sexuality is a social construct and can possibly be changed.

Of course, the underlying message and the intent from Palin and Butler’s arguments are very different and belong to the opposite ends of the political and social spectra. When Palin says homosexuality is a choice, she means that if you’re homosexual you can return to heterosexuality (in her opinion a normative). Whereas Butler’s stance on fluid and changeable identity calls for a demolition of standards of behaviour and a gender shuffle where there is no longer clear boundaries between sexes, genders, and sexual orientations. Palin uses the “choice” argument to try and influence people’s sexuality, whereas Butler is trying to encourage people to freely chose their sexual identity in disregard of what has been predetermined for us by society using more or less the same argument: that things can change and that we can do things differently.

Change is often more possible than not, and is often very related to the notion of what is a choice and what isn’t. Sexual orientation is usually compared to race by black Republicans who normally vote against gay rights. Some might wonder how some African-Americans, who were once subject to institutionalised discrimination, could promote that sort of discrimination against another marginalised group. Their response is very central to the biological (nature) versus cultural (nurture) debate. One black man was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying, “I was born black. I can’t change that. They weren’t born gay; they chose it.”

But nowadays people can change or at least alter their skin colour to make it lighter or darker, using creams, make-up, natural or artificial tanning and sometimes surgery. Some people are mixed race, so it can be argued that racial divisions are not clear cut , which is what Butler hopes to see happen with gender roles.

Gay rights activism has been fighting to prove that homosexuality is an inborn trait rather than a “disease” that could be “cured” or changed, and when science came close to providing evidence that people’s sexual orientations are decided before they are born, Butler intervenes to say that nothing is fixed and people can change everything including the most ingrained of traits.

So despite Butler’s radically progressive views, her call to shuffle gender roles in the cause of stirring up “gender trouble” could actually backfire and cause the kind of trouble she did not intend for homosexuals.

As studies have shown, those who think homosexuality is innate tend to be more supportive of gay rights and marriage equality. So what seems to be Butler’s contribution to the field of gender studies, other than causing utter confusion with her idiosyncratic writing style, is proposing an unrealistic campaign to demolish the longstanding binary divisions, at least in the Western mind, between men and women, gay and straight, which obviously is a very slow process of social change that cannot happen overnight, while giving conservatives an excuse to carry on with their “project” to try and transform gays into “normal” people.

Whether nature or nurture forms our identities and to what extent will always be the subject of scientific and philosophical debate. It will also always be highly politicised, with every group and camp selecting bits and pieces of scientific evidence and social theory to back up their political position. But what is for sure is that Butler’s work on gender and sexuality offered very little to help the gay rights movement in the United States and elsewhere on a political level.

However, the lack of political impact and the failure to influence policy making does not at all mean Butler’s theories are a failure. After all, even if academic work does sometimes influence public policy, this should not be a measure of its success or failure. Academics are different from political activists even though in many cases they do overlap, but they still remain separate roles with different goals.

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التغلب على الخوف، الخطوة الاولى لنساء مصر

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بقلم جيهان ابوزيد

قبل الثورة لم يكن سهلا ان نتخيل نساءا تتحدى سلطة الاب او الزوج وتخرج للتظاهر لكننا وجدنا نساءا واجهن الموت والخوف ,وتلك هى الخطوة الاولى لمواجهة اى غبن  

الأربعاء ٢٥ يناير ٢٠١٢      

 لم يمر أسبوعا واحدا منذ إندلاع الثورة المصرية فى الخامس والعشرين من يناير إلا وأتلقى سؤالا أو أكثر حول موقع نساء مصر بعد الثورة دورهن فى قيادة المرحلة القادمة بعدما ساهمن فى إندلاع الثورة وفى حمايتها ,وبعدما دفعن الثمن دماءا وانتهاكا.مازالت عشرات النشيطات يعالجن فى المستشفيات,واضعافهن يتلقين العلاج فى المنازل ,ومازالت أسر الشهيدات تبكى . نعم مازال الواقع يتذكر أن النساء شاركن مناصفة فى تلك اللحظة التاريخية ,لكن ذلك الاعتراف لا يعنى تقديم الحقوق المتساوية على طبق من فضة هدية للنساء و إعترافا بدورهن. فالمراة المصرية كانت على مدى التاريخ فاعلة سياسيا ,ومشاركة فى كافة اشكال المقاومة وأكثرها عنفا, ففى عام 1957 شاركت الفتيات فى لجان المقاومة الشعبية فى مدن القناة ضد القوات الانجليزية و الفرنسية و الاسرائيلية. لكن ذلك لم يؤدى الى تغيير جذرى فى موقع النساء فى المجتمع.

الامر يشبه ما يحدث مع السيدة ” ليلى” وملايين مثلها ,فهى تعمل لأكثر من إثنى عشرة ساعة يوميا فى تنظيف المنازل لتعول اسرتها بعدما اصيب زوجها فى احدى قدميه و توقف عن العمل. تعود “ليلى” للمنزل يوميا فى حوالى العاشرة مساءا لترعى شئون منزلها و ابنائها,لكن حين تقدم لخطبة ابنتها شاب جيد رفض الزوج ,فهو فى نهاية الامر الرجل و متخذ القرار. ان تحمل ليلى المسئولية الاقتصادية منفرده واعالتها لاسرة مكونة من خمسة افراد لم يغير من موقعها السياسى داخل الاسرة ,وظل زوجها الذى يدخن من مالها صاحب الكلمة العليا. هناك نسخ متنوعة من ليلى,وكذلك من زوجها,فالنساء الائى خرجن للمشاركة فى الثورة المصرية ودفعن الثمن كما الرجال عدن الى موقعهن الاول,واستمر الرجال فى موقعهم ايضا .

ان مشاركة النساء فى الثورة المصرية اذن لن يغير تلقائيا من موقعهن السياسى, فتغيير موقع النساء سياسيا اواى فئة مهدرة الحقوق له شروط مختلفة . الشرط الاول: ان ترغب النساء فى تغيير موقعها و تجتهد للتحرك الرأسى,لكن الواقع يشير الى ان صوت المجموعات المنادية بحقوق النساء خافت مقارنة بالدعوات الاسلامية التى تدعو النساء للعودة للمنزل وترك ساحة العمل للرجال . الشرط الاخر هو: امتلاك بناء تنظيمى يعمل على حماية مصالح النساء. لقد حصلت المصريات على بناء تنظيمى له صلاحيات واسعة لكنه كان ابن شرعى للسيدة الاولى يعمل وفق رؤية النظام  و بما يخدم مصالحه,ولم تكن مصالح النساء ابدا ضمن اولويات النظام السابق ,لكنها كانت اداه لتجميل وجهه اذا تطلب الامر.وبالتالى فقد هذا الكيان التنظيمى شرعيته لدى جموع النساء بل صار مصدرا للسخط على المنظمات النسائية و عبئا عليها بعدما ارتبطت  حقوق النساء لدى المواطن البسيط بالسيدة الاولى ,او بالاحرى بالنظام .

الشرط الثالث ,هو وجود قنوات مشاركة تسمح للنساء ببناء قدراتها وبالتواصل مع المجتمع .لكن النظام السابق كان قد اغتال  كافة قنوات المشاركة ,فالاحزاب هرمت و غطى التراب اروقتها,والنقابات و الاتحادات الطلابية صارت فى اغلبها حكرا على جماعة الاخوان المسلمين.

من ناحية اخرى تمددت التيارات الدينية فى المجتمع و توغلت فى القرى و فى المدن,فضلا عن نجاحها فى تحقيق حضور مؤثر بين شرائح الطبقة الوسطى, اولى نتائج هذا التمدد الدينى تحصدها النساء بعدما بات عليهن البقاء فى المنزل و الانسحاب من منافسة الرجال فى سوق العمل,كما ان عليهن الالتزام بالزى الاسلامى حصدا لمكافأة الاخرة وحماية للرجال من الفتن ,فضلا عن الالتزام بطاعة الرجل لضمان تماسك الاسرة المصرية.

على انه يجدر الاشارة الى ان التيارات الدينية ليست هى المسئولة الوحيدة عن عزل النساء عن ساحة العمل العام ,فثقافة المجتمع ليست مرحبة بخروج النساء بصفة عامة,ومازالت اثار الاحتلال العثمانى باقية مستيقظة فى وعى المصرى ,ومازالت قصص الجاريات فى قصور الحاكم المملوكى تجد صداها فى الحس الشعبى ,ومازالت هوية الانثى معتمدة على الضعف و على الاغراء. كما ان ثقافة القبيلة مازالت حاضرة فى المجتمع المصرى,وهى الحاكمة لسكان صعيد مصرالذين يمثلون حوالى  40% من شعبه , لقد توغلت ثقافة القبيلة مع هجرة القبائل العربية من الجزيرة العربية و استقرارها فى شمال مصر,وقد حافظت القبائل العربية على تماسكها و هويتها,وبرغم احترام القبيلة للنساء ,الا ان الاحترام مرهون بتنازل النساء عن كافة اشكال السلطة وتقديم فروض الطاعة للرجال و لقوانين القبيلة.

ويبقى الشرط الرابع وهو تمكين النساء. هذا وتقع مسئولية تمكين النساء و كافة المواطنين على الدولة ,فهى المتحكمة فى العملية التعليمية بما تتضمنه من معارف و قيم ,واسلوب تعليم, كما انها المسئولة عن حرية التعبير و اتاحة مناخ نقد صحى يساهم فى البناء الفكرى للمواطنين ,والدولة هى المسئولة عن توفير كافة مصادر المعرفة واتاحتها للمواطنين بكافة شرائحهم, كما ان الدولة هى الصانعة لمنظومة القوانين التى من شأنها تعزيز علاقات منصفة بين المواطنين. وبنظرة سريعة على القوانين المصرية و خاصة قانون الاسرة, نجد ان النساء ضحية قوانين مصاغة لمصلحة الرجال بعيدة عن توفير حقوق عادلة للجنسين. الامر الذى يصبغ حياة النساء وكل النساء بالخوف. هذا و لايختلف الاعلام المصرى كثيرا عن الاعلام الدولى,فمازال الاعلام يكرس للمراة المفعول بها ,ويهتم باجساد النساء عوضا عن الاهتمام بحقوقهن , وكذلك التعليم –الحكومى- يكرس لعلاقة هرمية بين الرجال و النساء ,فضلا عن انه لا يمد المتعلمين بالمنهج الذى يمكنهم من نقد الواقع لتطويره .

تلك الشروط الاربع  لم تكن سرا خافيا يوما ما, لكنها لم تجد البيئة المواتية لتغير واقع النساء, و اندلاع ثورة يناير لا يعنى تحقق تلك الشروط تلقائيا ,انما يعنى قرع الجرس لوضع خطط تمكننا من تحقيق تلك الشروط , وبعد مرور عام على يناير 2011فقد صعدت تحديات جديدة امام النساء و امام كافة المدافعين عن حقوق متساوية بين الجنسين, لكن وكما صعدت تحديات فهناك ايضا مكاسب تحققت,فمشاركة النساء فى المظاهرات و فى كل الفعاليات لم تعد محل نقاش على الاقل بين التيارات الليبرالية,لقد صارت واقعا, كما خرجت و للمرة الاولى نساء المحافظات هؤلات المقيدات بثقافة تعدد انفاسهن, جبن شوارع المحافظات وخططن لمظاهرات اخرى ومازلن يبحثن عن دور فى مجتمعاتهن . قبل يناير 2011 لم يكن سهلا ان نتخيل نساءا تتحدى سلطة الاب او الزوج وتخرج للتظاهر والمبيت فى الميدان ,لكننا وجدنا نساءا واجهن هراوات العسكر وسلاحه , ووجدنا نساءا واجهن الموت , وكلهن جميعا واجهن الخوف ,وتلك هى الخطوة الاولى لمواجهة اى غبن.

This article is part of a series of special Chronikler articles to mark the first anniversary of the Egyptian revolution 

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Where ‘no’ means jail time

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 Ray O’Reilly

Though Dubai may be the Middle East’s self-styled party capital,in the UAE, women who say they have been raped can find themselves behind bars for adultery.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

A Brisbane woman, Alicia Gali, is suing Australian embassy staff for failing to warn the 29-year-old that a complaint of rape in the United Arab Emirates could mean she ended up in jail for adultery of all things.

And that is exactly what happened. She was hauled off by police, held and eventually sentenced to 12 months in prison. She served eight months of that before being “pardoned” and released. Gali returned to Australia in March 2009 and, according to reports, has been trying to pick up the pieces of her life.

When informed of the incident in June 2008, the Australian embassy staff reportedly advised Gali to simply “reconsider her need to be in the country” and it was also suggested she not contact the media once it became apparent that making the complaint would land her in as much trouble as the rapists.

Gali has since criticised her employer, Le Meridien, for not being more clear that, without coroborating statements from four adult male witnesses to the crime, she could be charged with adultery and face prison if she filed a complaint.

“These countries don’t have the same laws as us,” Gali told following her ordeal. She warned women against going to the UAE. “I was the victim. I’d had something wrong done to me and I was being punished,” she lamented.

The UAE was set up in 1971 as a federation of seven emirates – Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaima, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain. It occupies the area previously known as the Trucial Coast. UAE has a federal judicial system as well, but Dubai and Ras Al Khaima chose to maintain their own.

The UAE follows a form of civil law jurisdiction which is heavily influenced by French, Roman, Egyptian and Islamic (or Sharia) law. Islamic courts work alongside civil and criminal courts primarily concerning civil matters between Muslims. Sharia courts hear family matters, such as divorce, child custody, child abuse cases and inheritance disputes, and the principles of Sharia are applied when the UAE’s codified law doesn’t cover the situation at hand.

“The Sharia court may, at the federal level only (which … excludes Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah), also hear appeals of certain criminal cases including rape, robbery, driving under the influence of alcohol and related crimes, which were originally tried in lower criminal courts,” according to the US Consulate website for Dubai/UAE.

It should be noted that more secular Arab countries recognise and prosecute rape as a punishable crime for the perpetrator, although the social taboo attached to it leads many victims to remain silent. For instance, in Egypt, men found guilty of rape (though marital rape is not illegal) face sentences ranging between three years and life, though it is estimated that only 10% of rapes are ever reported. Tunisia, where marital rape was made illegal in 2008, probably has the most supportive legal system for rape victims in the Arab world

Punishing the victim

Gali, a salon manager at Le Meridien Al Aqah Beach Resort in Fujairah, said the last thing she remembered about the incident was having a drink at the staff bar when another employee put ice in her drink. Later that night, hotel security staff were alerted that screaming could be heard from Gali’s room. Investigating the noise, they found the woman naked and unconscious with several men in the room.

Gali says she woke up the next day confused and in pain. She took herself to hospital and was informed by medical staff that she had been sexually assaulted. When she was discharged from hospital she was asked to go to a police station to make a statement.

That’s when it started going all wrong.

“I realised when I was put in a police car that I was being taken to jail,” she is reported to have said. “I didn’t even know what the charges were until five months into my sentence!”

Fast-forward a couple of years and today Gali is looking to understand what happened and is keen to get answers from the Australian government and her employer as to why she didn’t have more information and warnings about the treatment of women in rape cases in the UAE.

If not ill-advised Gali was certainly ill-informed about the world that she was entering. A world where men make and (apparently) break the rules. The UAE, and especially Dubai, appears to be suffering from a split personality. Considered by many of its neighbours as the ‘liberal and tolerant’ emirate (interpret that as you wish), Dubai seems to have a love-hate relationship with the West. Love the women, Dunkin’ Donuts, Palm Island parties … hate the women, Dunkin’ Donuts, parties!  

According to a blogger on Escape-Artist, Dubai is setting itself up as the tourism and party town of the Middle East, but with the party comes the party people and inevitably the sleeze: “It’s already the prostitution capital of the Middle East. Brazen Russians in short skirts and halter-tops frequently solicit right on the street. There are thousands of girls who have come from the former Soviet republics and Eastern Europe to ‘work’. Then there are the fun-loving girls who fly out from Europe (and the States) to hook up with affluent guys,” the blogger comments in a post entitled ‘Sex in the city’.

“What’s interesting – and a little irritating – is that a lot of local guys have no problem with being married and having girlfriends on the side (not an attitude restricted only to local guys). Local women, on the other hand, are not even allowed to chat on the telephone with a man outside the family,” the writer continues.

On the Australian embassy’s UAE site, under ‘Services for Australians’ emergency contact information is provided and a statement that: “One of the main functions of the Australian embassy is to provide a range of services (within limits) to Australian citizens.”

The ‘within limits’ is linked to a page on its website which spells out what the limits are: “Consular staff cannot use their position to influence unduly or bypass local laws or processes, even when these would appear by Australian standards to be unfair or unnecessarily arduous. While consular staff can sometimes use their knowledge and understanding of the local environment to facilitate support, they must work within the legal and administrative constraints applying in their host country.”

The UAE embassy site has assorted information about passports, travel information, some tax and repatriation information and a section called ‘Living in UAE or Qatar’. No obvious or apparent mention of how to deal with UAE customs and laws or warnings to young female travellers about the risk of sexual abuse.

However, if you follow the link to the ‘Latest travel advisories and other traveller hints’, then the ‘Travel advice’ page, then scan down to the ‘United Arab Emirates’ and on that page under the ‘Local laws’ section it states: “When you are in the UAE be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we can’t get you out of trouble or out of jail. Custodial sentences would be served in local jails.”

It continues: “The UAE is a Muslim country and its local laws reflect the fact that Islamic practices and beliefs are closely applied. Legal and administrative processes may be substantially different from those in Australia. If you are arrested, you may face a significant period of detention before your case comes to trial. You should familiarise yourself with local laws before you travel. […] Common law relationships, homosexual acts and prostitution are illegal and subject to severe punishment. Adultery is also a crime.”

It also states: “It is illegal to harass women. Harassment includes unwanted conversation, prolonged stares, touching any part of the body, glaring, shouting, stalking or any comments that may offend.”

In the ‘Travel tips’ section of, under the ‘Sexual assault overseas’, the Australian governments offers a number of tips to avoid becoming a victim of sexual assault. And the site states: “Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. Try not to blame yourself. The perpetrator is the only one responsible for the assault. No one deserves to be raped or assaulted.”

(That’s one for the books, then!)

And after some further research and surfing, your reporter could not find an express mention that filing a complaint for rape without four male witnesses to back up your story may well land the victim in jail for adultery.  

Gali’s story highlights something of a disconnect in this part of the world between materialism and Westernism. It is a poignant reminder that the swish hotels and (fake) beaches can lull a visitor into thinking they are in a Western land. But this can be illusionary, and travellers and guest workers may quickly fall foul of UAE laws. Dubai’s party and glitz blitz can never mask what lurks beneath.

Note: This article was updated to clarify the location of the incident.
This article is published here with the author’s consent. ©Ray O’Reilly. All rights reserved.
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