Sexual harassment and the medina

 
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By Mette Høyer Eriksen

In Egypt, sexual harassment is a largely urban phenomenon fuelled by a sense of male powerlessness, insecurity and unrealistic gender ideals.

Original image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/elhamalawy/293034937/in/photolist-rTT5v-rTXPY-rTTH3-rTUnw-rTWZS-rTU1w-rTVaV-rTSMB-rTVTc-rTWfw-9h3ZJT-dSKi5p-rU2xx-rU2fd-rU6Tw-rU6aF-rU5Qt-rU4w1-rU2TK-rU1WY-rU3dB-rU4bB-rU1AD-rU4Ph-rU6xB-rU5wT-rU3y5-rU3TJ-dSKeVz-soCuu-soCJV-soCoA-soCXt-soCjX-soCM9-soCzM-soCTF-soCwr-soCy6-soCVY-soCmM-soD1R-soCYL-soCPn-soD7W-soCDp-rUaj8-rU7Aw-nHR3jp-c9nYt7

Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy

Wednesday 5 November 2014

In Cairo, the problem of sexual harassment is so widespread that anti-harassment NGOs are now classifying the situation as an out-and-out epidemic. So serious is the issue that in June the Egyptian government stepped in and introduced a law criminalising sexual harassment – a law that to date has only had limited effect. Critics claim the new legislation does little more than treat the symptoms of a social problem – a problem which is unlikely to be solved through condemnation or by criminalisation alone.

“There’s an acute need for state intervention that tackles the challenges head on and that addresses the cultural and social dimensions of the issue. If the Egyptian state is serious about combatting harassment, it needs to acknowledge the full scale of the problem. Legislation by itself is not enough,” wrote Yasmin El-Rifae from the organisation Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment on the Middle East Institute portal.

An urban phenomenon

Whereas research has shown that women who are exposed to harassment feel less secure about walking about on their own and, to some extent actually choose to avoid public spaces, there have been few studies into the factors that motivate men to harass women.

“We know very little about the perpetrators. After all, no-one is going to put his hand up and admit that he’s done such things, let alone tell us why he did it,” explains Marwa Shalaby, a the director of the Women and Human Rights in the Middle East programme at Rice University’s Baker  Institute for Public Policy.

She adds that when it comes to determining why men commit acts of harassment neither age nor religion nor profession seem to be factors. However, evidence does show that harassment is more prevalent in the towns and cites than in rural areas.

But just what is it that drives men to accost and harass women? One person who has been trying to find an answer to this question is Shereen El Feki, who researched and wrote the book Sex and the Citadel – a factual novel about sex in the Arab world today.

An expression of impotence

Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy

Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy

When the so-called Arab Spring reached Egypt at the beginning of 2011, the fact that women and men could stand side by side demonstrating for the same rights was one thing that was highlighted as exceptional. During the protests, many women became the victims of violent assaults. However, during the first days of the uprising, Egypt witnessed a rare and unique coming together of the women and men who jointly took over Tahrir Square. Together, they were fighting for the same thing. In her book, El Feki argues that this sense of struggling for something meant that the men taking part in the protests felt less need to elevate themselves above the women. On the basis of her own experiences, she writes: “These events have clearly shown that when men have a sense of motivation and purpose they change the way they behave towards women.”

Shereen El Feki’s argument is backed up by Samira Aghacy, equality researcher at the Lebanese American University in Beirut. One of her areas of study has been masculinity, and she argues that the patriarchical social order prevalent in many places across the region also serves to oppress men – and this oppression is then reflected in the men’s behaviour towards women.

“Many men feel impotent, marginalised and incapable of doing something positive or contributing to the reconstruction of their country or the way it’s being run. It leaves them feeling very frustrated, and they often take their frustrations out on women,” explains Aghacy.

Patriarchy, performance and power

One of Samira Aghacy’s major studies in this area examined how Arabic literature has been portraying men since 1967. Here, she points out, it is clear that masculinity and manliness are associated with having power. Yet only a few Arab men have actually held power over the past decades, so men have also been victims of the patriarchical society. Men are oppressed in a similar way to women, but they have a different conflict because they have been brought up to be in control. They feel castrated and inadequate because they are unable to perform in the way they feel men are expected to perform.

“It all comes down to the way that we’re brought up. That’s the way power relations play out across large parts of the region. Men are brought up to hold the power, so if they don’t have any power, don’t earn enough, and don’t feel that they have anything to say, then they have to demonstrate power in another way,” explains Aghacy.

In other words, there is incongruence between what is expected of men and what men actually can live up to. According to Egyptian journalist and blogger Khaled Diab, the problem of sexual harassment is also linked to the polarisation that has been taking place in many Arab societies over the past years – particularly in Egypt.

“The Egyptian revolution has meant that the underlying polarisation between progressives and conservatives has transformed from cold war to active conflict. On top of this, huge differences in income, wealth and education have also played a role,” Diab observes. “When anger and resentment begin to flourish within a society, it’s often the most vulnerable who end up paying the highest price –whether they be women, children or minorities.”

Torn between tradition and modernity

When a woman student at Cairo University’s Faculty of Law was sexually harassed by a group of men in March, the university’s rector suggested afterwards that it was her own fault because she was dressed in such ‘unusual’ clothing: tight jeans and a pink hooded top. Khaled Diab reacted by posting a photo on Twitter taken around the 1950s or 1960s at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University. In the picture, a group of young women who are not wearing headscarves are being taught by an Islamic scholar. “Women used to study at Al-Azhar without covering their heads, and now Cairo University is blaming this woman’s clothing for her attack,” wrote Diab on Twitter.

“Since the end of the 1970s, conservative forces have been steadily gaining ground. But over the past year, women and progressive men have begun refusing to be intimidated, and they’ve become more self-aware and more radical. This has provoked a violent backlash from alarmed and displeased elements within the conservative camp,” explains Diab.

“Right now, Egypt finds itself in a state of limbo, torn between tradition and modernity. This means that women have lost the protection of their bodies that a patriarchical honour system affords, but they have yet to win the protection that modern equality offers,” he adds.

For Mette Toft Nielsen, MA in culture, communication and globalisation, the reason men act the way that they do is the million-dollar question. In connection with a research project for Aalborg University, Denmark, she is currently spending two years living in Cairo studying the conditions of women in Egypt. As part of her studies, she has also been looking into the issue of sexual harassment.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that providing a clear answer as to what caused sexual harassment it’s simply too ambitious. There are thousands of hypotheses and assumptions out there, but most of them are just too difficult to prove or disprove,” she explains.

Conservative gender roles

According to Mette Toft Nielsen, sexual harassment should not be seen as an expression of how men regard women. “It’s interesting because that’s how we typically look at it – that the way men regard women is grotesque. That men are misogynistic pigs and women have a real tough time of things. But I personally don’t believe that that’s actually what’s going on,” she explains.

She continues that while it is clearly women who suffer most from male dominance, the responsibility for changing things does not necessarily lie with men alone. According to Nielsen, men’s attitudes towards women stem from the fact that the men are products of a culture that is governed by very strong gender-role expectations. There are traditions and expectations – and the women are also complicit in upholding these.

“In the West, we often have a subject/object approach to things: the subject – the person who acts and takes action – is the man; the object – the person who is affected by the action and who is seen – is the woman. In this way of thinking, the man can also be seen as the one who can change the situation he finds himself in. And this is something I disagree with strongly. I believe that there are a lot of men out there who really do want to change these things,” notes Nielsen.

One widely touted explanation for sexual harassment is that the heckling and accosting are a result of the men’s sexual frustrations from living in a culture where sex is only permitted within marriage, and is therefore something many young people cannot indulge in.  But Mette Toft Nielsen does not buy this theory.

“Fist of all, many of the men in Cairo who sexually harass women certainly don’t lack sexual experience. Secondly, I’m not at all convinced that sexual harassment has anything to do with sex in the first place,” she asserts.

“I see this harassment first and foremost as an issue of power. Not power as in control – but power as in preserving something that there once was,” she explains, and points out that this is purely based on her own experience and observations and not something based on scientifically proven facts.

“Perhaps this explains why sexual harassment is much more prevalent in the towns and cities than in rural areas. In urban areas, people are witnessing change – particularly economic change. Men are witnessing many women entering the labour market, taking on well-paid jobs and being professionally accomplished,” Nielsen describes. “Many students at the universities are women, and from a career perspective they pose a real threat to the men. So I could imagine that it’s a question of changing positions and changing power relations. After all, if the man loses his role of looking after the woman what is there left for him to do?”

____

This article first appeared in WomenDialogue on 21 October 2014. Republished here with the author and publisher’s consent.

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Political baggage and state insecurity at Ben Gurion airport

 
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By Khaled Diab

Ethnic profiling at Israel’s airport is not about state security but the insecurity of the state, and is an infringement of fundamental rights.

Six has been my unlucky number ever since the first time I visited Israel in 2007.

Six has been my unlucky number ever since the first time I visited Israel in 2007.

Tuesday 4 November 2014

Although I like to travel light, when it comes to Israel, I always seem to be weighed down by generations of excess political baggage. And being a frequent flyer does not seem to provide me with any extra allowances or concessions.

This was driven home to me, yet again, when I recently went on a short, work-related trip to London from Jerusalem, where I currently live. Though I found myself surrounded by a large tourist group entering Ben-Gurion airport, the hawk-eyed security guard outside the terminal caught sight of my complexion and asked to see my passport.

His suspicions were confirmed when he read my Arab name, even though it was cunningly disguised inside the pages of a European passport. When I asked him in feigned innocence, as I sometimes do, why he had stopped me and no-one else, he gave me the standard response: “I’m just doing my job.”

After his boss deigned to allow me into the terminal, the security interviewers who act as the check-in’s gatekeeper also did their jobs and gave me a number six security label – the highest – which [currently] means that all my hand baggage is searched with a fine-tooth comb and high-tech gadgetry, I must stand in a body scanner, and get a complimentary security massage.

For those who are not convinced that this is a part of ethnic or racial profiling, consider the fact that when I travel to or from Israel with my European wife and/or blond son, I am not exposed to this level of scrutiny.

But in terms of intrusiveness, my return from London several days later was possibly the worst since I first started living in Jerusalem in 2011, though the wait was far longer on my first visit in 2007. After tapping at her computer and whispering into her phone, the passport control officer told me I had to wait.

Though I have become familiar with this drill, and I usually bear through it in silence, I informed her politely that the visa in my passport had already come with a security clearance. She too told me that she was just doing her job.

As I dawdled a little outside the designated area – for those familiar with the procedure, by the drinks vending machines in a darker corner of the arrivals hall – a heavily built plain-clothed officer full of rage and hostility approached me and yelled: “Stand inside. Now!”

Taken aback by this uncustomary aggression – usually, my interlocutors are polite but distant, even cold but sometimes friendly – I asked him politely to speak to me with respect. He repeated his order and I repeated my request, whereupon he threatened to deport me if I did not take the two steps back into the designated area within 10 seconds. I acquiesced while noting that I did not appreciate his tone.

A little while later, he returned in a calmer mood and led me into a non-descript office. “Do you know where you are?” he asked cryptically.

“An interrogation room,” I offered.

“And do you know why you’re here?” he continued mysteriously.

“Because I asked you to be respectful outside,” I suggested.

“You were rude to me but that’s not the reason,” my questioner said. He then proceeded to interrogate me about my work and about my wife’s work.

“And what makes you a journalist?” he asked, his voice dripping cynicism and derision.

I responded simply that I’d been working as one for over 15 years. The officer then did something which I have personally never witnessed in the many times I have entered and exited Israel, though I have heard of others who have. He turned to his computer and presumably Googled my name, quoting from one of my articles doubtfully.

“Do you believe this?”

“I did when I wrote it, but I am not here to discuss my journalism or opinions,” I countered.

Changing track, he asked me about who I knew and who my friends were, adding his trademark, “Do you know why I’m asking?”

Miffed and offended by his question, I sidestepped answering it by admitting I hadn’t a clue. “If you’re trying to work out whether I have Israeli as well as Palestinian friends, well I have both and from many different walks of life,” I volunteered.

After asking me to write down my Israeli and European phone numbers and my e-mail address (another intrusion to which I objected but acquiesced), he told me I was free to go. By way of a farewell, he informed me that they reserved the right to stop me and my wife for questioning at any point on entry and exit in the future.

I don’t know if this greater scrutiny has anything to do with the recent Israel-Gaza war or whether I had been flagged personally, or whether it was purely random based on my ethnicity.

Whatever the case, it is a violation of my fundamental rights (such as equality before the law and freedom of expression) and an encroachment of my privacy, as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Israel is a signatory.

I fully understand Israel’s need to protect the security of its citizens, especially on something as potentially vulnerable as airlines. But its gruelling and exacting airport security, unmatched anywhere in the world, is more than up to that task.

An Israeli friend pointed out that she and her family underwent similar interrogations in America. To my mind, that is equally unacceptable. Governments have no right to intrude into our private lives – and when they do, it usually ends badly.

There is no justification for racial, ethnic or other forms of profiling, nor for intrusive questioning. Granting the state and its officials with arbitrary powers often means they will be exercised or abused arbitrarily. Ultimately, this is not about state security – but the state’s insecurity.

____

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared in Haaretz on 30 October 2014.

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Israel and Egypt’s insane alliance against Gaza

 
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By Khaled Diab

Despite Egypt’s mediating role, it is no impartial broker on Gaza. It shares Israel’s view that Hamas can be crushed and suffocated into submission.

Photo: UNRWA

Photo: UNRWA

Sunday 10 August 2014

Egypt-Israel-Gaza is possibly one of the most bizarre and perhaps twisted love-hate triangles of recent times. Washington’s credentials as an honest broker have rightly been questioned over the years, and Egypt was traditionally seen as a welcome counterbalance to US bias, but can Cairo today be seen as a pro-Palestinian or even impartial broker?

Not really. For the past year or so, ever since Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi became the de facto leader and then president of Egypt, his regime has been an enthusiastic accomplice in the Israeli-led blockade against Gaza, completely sealing off the Rafah crossing and destroying hundreds of tunnels into the Sinai which provided the Gazan economy with some respite from the siege.

Taking a page out of Israel’s handbook, Egyptian officials leaked plans to Reuters earlier this year that Egypt intends to topple Hamas by, among other things, fomenting dissent in Gaza and backing Fatah.

On top of that, military-aligned television presenters and hosts have been ratcheting up the rhetoric and disinformation against Hamas in Gaza. Despite the continued presence of critical voices, including normally pro-regime anchors, this anti-Hamas propaganda reached fever pitch when hostilities began in early July.

Tawfik Okasha, the military junta’s leading TV cheerleader, praised Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and mocked Gazans on his show. “Gazans are not men,” he taunted live on air. “If they were men, they would revolt against Hamas.”

“Bless you, Netanyahu, and may God give us more like you who will rid us of Hamas, the root of corruption, treason and collaboration with the Brotherhood,” tweeted Azza Sami, a journalist with the semi-official Al Ahram newspaper.

Egypt’s stance has, unsurprisingly, met with much praise in Israel. However, this Egyptian-Israeli love affair has set alarm bells ringing even among normally staunch supporters of Israel. For instance, the conservative, generally pro-Israel Wall Street Journal ran a long feature on this “unlikely alliance” which laid much of the blame for the escalation to open warfare on the excessive “squeezing” of Hamas.

For their part, Palestinians have generally reacted with bewilderment and anger that a country they regarded as an ally has left Gaza to burn, regardless of what they think about Hamas. Many Palestinian I encounter ask me, with a tone of severe disappointment and betrayal in their voices, what Egypt’s game is and why it is allowing fellow Arabs to die in this way.

Some Palestinians and Arab sympathisers have gone so far as to see the hidden hand of conspiracy theories at work, and are convinced that al-Sisi and his regime are US and Zionist agents.

Despite the fact that the al-Sisi regime, under worldwide attack for its lack of democratic legitimacy and widespread human rights abuses, wants Washington on side, this is certainly not the case.

Egypt’s punitive approach towards Hamas is actually not all that new, though it has become far more severe. The Mubarak regime also distrusted and disliked Hamas and played its part in maintaining the Israeli blockade. Even Morsi, the Muslim Brother, did little to alleviate Gaza’s suffering, though he eased the blockade slightly.

The Egyptian president’s strident hostility towards Hamas actually stems from al-Sisi’s hatred of the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement he has persecuted since toppling his Brotherhood predecessor, Mohamed Morsi, following massive protests. The Egyptian regime has falsely alleged that Hamas was guilty of stealing Egyptian resources during Morsi’s 12-month term in office and is behind an insurgency in the Sinai.

This may partly be out of genuine conviction but is also certainly a political ruse to keep popular anti-Brotherhood sentiment and hostility high to justify al-Sisi’s self-declared “war on terrorism”, to manufacture consent, like in Israel, by creating a frightening common enemy, and to crush opposition.

Where once Arab leaders sometimes used Israel as an excuse to silence dissent and delay reform, al-Sisi has come up with a troublingly innovative new formula: blame the Palestinians. And a surprisingly large, if dwindling, number of Egyptians are swallowing the rhetoric.

With all this hostility in the air, Egypt has decided effectively to fight a proxy war against Hamas, by sitting on the sidelines and letting Israel bloody its hands in Gaza, with the trapped civilian population paying a deadly and heavy price, in the hope that its Islamist adversary will collapse.

However, Israeli-Egyptian calculations that Hamas can be brought down or tamed through violence are enormous miscalculations. Although Hamas’s resorting to rocket attacks after some two years of respecting a ceasefire were disastrous and stupid, and walked straight into the trap set by extremist forces in Israel, the Israeli-Egyptian pincer movement over the past year had so cornered the movement that it is now fighting an existential battle in which it has nothing left to lose and, as it sees it, everything to gain.

In addition, even if Hamas falls, there is no guarantee that Fatah will take over, and even if it did, many Gazans will view it as a traitor and collaborator. There is also a strong chance that more radical groups will take over control of the Strip.

With Egypt as mediator and Israel as protagonist on the same misguided line regarding the need to contain, and preferably, topple Hamas, I am sceptical that the current talks in Cairo will lead to a lasting and durable solution, since for that to happen, requires the lifting of the blockade and the reconnecting of Gaza to the West Bank.

The sad, ironic tragedy is that Hamas could have been “contained” without a single shot being fired now, or in 2012, 2008/9 and 2006. Yes, I find Hamas’s extremist ideology and its past of suicide bombings abhorrent, and, like Israel’s militarism, its swift recourse to violence despite its proven futility has been extremely costly. However, ever since coming to power, Hamas, burdened with the responsibility of governing under siege, has displayed far more pragmatism than Israel.

Hamas not only dropped its calls for the destruction of Israel from its election manifesto, the party has consistently indicated its willingness to accept a two-state solution along the pre-1967 borders. Before the latest conflict, Hamas even went so far as to cede political control to the PA and a government of technocrats in the desperate hope that this would lead to the lifting of the siege.

Despite all these clear overtures, Israel’s extremist, jingoistic government, desperate not to give up the territory in the West Bank conquered in 1967 and blinded by ideological hatred towards Hamas (which Israel once misguidedly supported as a counterbalance against the PLO), has refused to play ball and find a way to coexist.

If Israel and Egypt fail to find a way to live non-violently with Hamas, history will continue to repeat itself, each time more tragically than the preceding time. And Gaza will become not only the graveyard of innocent civilians but also the burial ground for the prospects for peace for generations to come.

____

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared in Haaretz on 8 August 2014.

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Egypt’s accidental democracy?

 
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By Khaled Diab

Bad as things are now, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, despite his dictatorial tendencies, may unwittingly preside over Egypt’s transition to democracy.

Image: al-Sisi's official Facebook page.

In the past, Egypt’s dictators had rubber-stamp parliaments. What I call “democra-Sisi” takes this to the next level by mobilising the electorate to rubber stamp the president’s will and provide him with a sheen of popular legitimacy. Image: al-Sisi’s official Facebook page.

Thursday 26 June 2014

Egypt is witnessing a new dawn of freedom – at least it is, according to Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi. “Our two glorious revolutions have paved the way to an era devoted to strength, not hostility… which defends the rule of law, enhancing the judiciary and security, while maintaining rights and freedoms,” al-Sisi told the jubilant audience at his inaugural address.

So “iconic” is this moment that al-Sisi called on Egyptian artists to create masterpieces that would “travel the world and commemorate all the martyrs”.

So what is this unique model that will honour the sacrifices of all those who suffered, and those who paid the ultimate price, over the past three years to build a better, fairer and freer Egypt?

Having analysed his speech and his behaviour to date, the only singular element in al-Sisi’s vision of liberty is that it has our new president at its heart.

In a speech which lasted close to an hour, I only noticed one mention of “democracy”. “You proved that your ability does not stop at toppling tyrannical and failed regimes but you also translated it into a democratic will through the ballot box,” he said.

This, I feel, encapsulates al-Sisi’s attitude towards democracy: the will of the people is welcome as long as it limits itself to giving him a licence to act as he sees fit. In the past, Egypt’s dictators had rubber-stamp parliaments. What I call “democra-Sisi” takes this to the next level by mobilising the electorate to rubber stamp the president’s will and provide him with a sheen of popular legitimacy.

This was reflected in his populist calls last summer for the public to take to the streets and give him a mandate to fight what he called “terrorism and violence”. He echoed the same sentiment when he rather aloofly told Egyptians before the elections that he expected an 80% turnout – as if he could order citizens to do his bidding, as if they were subordinate soldiers in the military.

Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has often been compared to Nasser. I have joked that he does share something in common with the legendary Egyptian president: they are the only two Egyptian presidents not named Muhammad.

But in reality there are some likenesses between the two men. In addition to their respective wars on the Muslim Brotherhood and deep suspicion of the Islamist movement, al-Sisi seems to pursue a Nasserist-light conception of freedom.

In rhetoric at least, he focuses a lot on national, social and cultural freedom to the detriment of political and personal freedom. “Egypt must be open in its international relations,” al-Sisi emphasised. “But the era of subordination is over.” To the rest of the region, the president promised that Egypt would regain her status “as an older sister”.

Unlike his Islamist predecessor, al-Sisi praised the role of Egyptian women, albeit to a predominantly middle-aged male audience. “I will do all I can to ensure that [Egyptian women] are represented fairly in the representative councils and in executive positions,” he promised.

But so far this has only been rhetorical, as reflected by his appointment of just four women to his early-worm first government, unchanged from the previous cabinet, drawing criticism from the National Council of Women.

The president also pledged more for the country’s marginalised youth who “lit the fuse of revolution” and for the downtrodden poor who “have endured so much and seen their suffering multiply”.

How al-Sisi intends to square this with his previous statements calling on the poor to tighten their belts further, not to mention his pro-business agenda and his efforts to rehabilitate Egypt’s “patriotic and honourable” businessmen was unclear, especially since he presented no electoral programme during the elections.

Nevertheless, he promised all Egyptians that they would “reap the fruits during this presidential term and we will accomplish the unprecedented”. How? Through vague pledges to invest in industry, tourism and agriculture, as well as renewable energy. Though I think that his pledge to install energy-saving bulbs in every home is unambitious – he should work to place solar boilers on every roof.

Perhaps through mass philanthropy? Hoping to lead by example, the president pledge to give away half his salary and half his wealth to Egypt and called on others to follow his example. Whether many will take up his call remains to be seen. But a more effective mechanism would be to pursue, rather than rehabilitate, all those corrupt tycoons, and put in place a fair and effective tax system.

His recent pormises go contrary to his previous efforts to lower expectations of what can be achieved to avoid the pitfall into which his predecessor, Mohamed Morsi, fell by promising change within 100 days.

And it is likely to prove an equally poisonous chalice, especially when Egyptians discover no meaningful alteration to their well-being, coupled with the expected return of the disgraced Mubarak business elite.

But al-Sisi has an ace up his sleeve: the national security card. “There will be no co-operation with and no appeasement of those who wish to undermine the state’s prestige,” he vowed. “And the near future will witness the Egyptian state regaining its prestige.”

And this week’s multiple attacks on the metro, which killed one, is not only a worrying portent but can provide the regime with the opportunity to crack down even more heavily.

“I will not permit the emergence of a parallel leadership to rival the state. There will not be a second leadership. There will be only one leadership,” he warned ominously later in the speech, for good measure.

Ostensibly, al-Sisi possesses the tools to make this no idle threat, as already demonstrated when he ran Egypt from the background as its uncrowned king. The new president exercises apparent control over both the military and civilian arms of the state, and has tamed much of the mainstream media to his will – and so it would be natural to expect him to consolidate his grip to such an extent that he could become an elected dictator for life.

But counterintuitive as it may sound, al-Sisi may, despite his dictatorial tendencies, unwittingly and inadvertently preside over Egypt’s transition to democracy.

Although a snap public holiday and a third day of voting were announced to mobilise the vote, not to mention the hysteria in the visual media urging citizens to exercise their democratic duty, the turnout remained relatively low.

This has given the new president a much lower mandate than he had hoped for. More importantly, the decision of millions of voters to stay home and not join in the love fest has punctured his image as the popular saviour the Egyptian masses were awaiting.

This weak support base – which is bound to get weaker when his well-oiled propaganda machine is no longer able to counter the reality of his probable failure to resolve Egypt’s myriad problems and the vested interests his regime is likely to serve – is likely embolden his critics, activists and even the currently docile mainstream media.

This week’s ludicurous verdict in the Al Jazeera trial, based on non-existent evidence, is extremely troubling. But if it’s intention was to cow the media and critics of the regime, the effectiveness of this kind of extremely punitive exercise seems to have succumbed to the law of diminishing marginal returns.

While the pro-Sisi fan club in the visual media cheered on, the print and alternative media, as well as Egypt’s courageous human rights activists, refused to be intimidated and took a more critical position, with some journalists lamenting the degeneration of the country’s once-respected judiciary, while veteran human rights activist Negad Borai condemned the judiciary for losing its sense of “justice, consicence and humanity“.

Rather than be cowed, social media has been swept by a tidal wave of contempt and satire, with every action, remark made and idea fielded by al-Sisi mocked mercilessly. If al-Sisi hoped to restore the state’s “prestige” and “aura” through his person, then he is far from declaring mission accomplished.

This refusal by growing numbers to tow the party line leaves al-Sisi with some stark choices. One option would be to muster what is left of the might of a state massively weakened by more than three years of revolutionary upheaval and decades of mismanagement to brutally repress dissent. But with the state already in top gear when it comes to repression and brutality, this is an unsustainable path, and could push the country off the cliff into a millions-strong uprising or, worst, open warfare.

The other choice is to be pragmatic and to learn the art of political compromise and consensus politics. The state is showing some early, tentative signs of pursuing this path. If al-Sisi chooses this path – which I hope, for the sake of Egypt, he will – he may still, whether or not he intends it, find himself going down in history as the harbinger of Egyptian democracy.

____

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This is the updated version of an article which first appeared in Daily News Egypton 21 June 2014.

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Send Qatar off and bring on Tunisia for 2022 World Cup

 
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By Khaled Diab

If Qatar gets a red card for the 2022 World Cup, Arabs should enter a joint bid to host it in Tunisia, regional role model for revolution and reform.

Jubliant Qataris celebrate news of 2022 win. Image: Qatar 2022 official site

Jubliant Qataris celebrate news of 2022 win. Image: Qatar 2022 official site

Thursday 12 June 2014

Like many people of conscience around the world, I am alarmed that Qatar is set to host the 2022 World Cup.

Qatar’s successful bid to organise football’s greatest tournament has trained the international spotlight on the inhumane and dangerous treatment of South Asian migrant workers in the tiny emirate and the wider Gulf region.

Many Qataris and some other Arabs see hypocrisy in the controversy. “Over 20 countries have organised the tournament and they only make this fuss about Qatar,” one Twitter user complained.

Some went even further: “We have to stand assertively against this kind of racist behaviour,” said Kuwaiti politician Ahmad al-Fahad al-Ahmed al-Sabah, who is also the president of the Olympic Council of Asia.

Though I don’t think racism comes into it, at a certain level there do appear to be double standards.  After all, there is a long history of the World Cup being abused as a political football by unscrupulous regimes: from fascist Italy in 1934 to junta-ruled Argentina in 1978. Inmates at the notorious Esma detention centre could hear the ecstatic crowds cheer Argentina to victory against the Netherlands in the final.

Even the 2014 Brazil world cup has not been without controversy, with protests over the costs and the treatment of indigenous tribes.

But it looks likely that allegations of bribery, which Qatar denies, rather than human rights abuses, may drive the final nail in the coffin of the Qatari tournament.

Both Qatar’s initial awarding of the 2022 World Cup and the possibility that it may lose it have stirred mixed emotions in the wider Arab world. It sparked enthusiasm in Qatar and some quarters that an Arab country had finally joined the major league of organising football.

“Congratulations to Qatar and to us for the football victory,” wrote Jihan al-Khazen in the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat back in 2010. “Winning the right to host the championship is an honour to all Arabs.”

Even if they were perplexed as to why minute Qatar with little footballing tradition to speak of had gained this “honour”, many Arabs echoed al-Khazen’s sentiments. For example, both Egyptian fans and the Egyptian Football Association sent Qatar congratulatory messages at the time.

However, the recent strain in Egyptian-Qatari relations over allegations that Qatar bankrolled and supported the despised Muslim Brotherhood have curbed the enthusiasm of some Egyptians.

This prompted Kamal Amer of pro-government Rose al-Youssef to urge his readers last year to overlook what he described as temporary differences and to focus on the “Arab, Middle Eastern and Islamic dream” of hosting the World Cup. He even suggested that Qatar could benefit from Egyptian expertise in the run-up to the event.

So far, the latest round of allegations has elicited little reaction in Egypt, which is preoccupied with meatier matters, such as the recent presidential elections and the anointing of its probable latest dictator, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.  Nevertheless, the FIFA corruption allegations have received a civil handling. For example, the outspoken, pro-regime TV presenter Amr Adeeb, rather than gloat at Qatar’s predicament, focused on the ethics of the matter.

“It’s not a question of whether Qatar should host the World Cup, it’s a question of morality,” he said on his popular talk show Cairo Today. “We were happy that Qatar was the first Arab country that would embrace the World Cup,” Adeeb noted.

However, if Qatar gets the red card for the 2022 championship, which I think it should still stay in the region. The World Cup has left its traditional venues of Europe and Latin America, to visit Asia, the United States and Africa, so the Arab world should get a shot too.

Although I prefer the idea of a fixed venue  classified as international territory, I believe holding the World Cup in the Middle East can be an opportunity to honour all those who sacrificed for the dream of the Arab Spring, provide relief to a troubled region and promote some inter-Arab co-operation amid the strained relations afflicting the region. This can be done through a joint Arab bid from several countries.

Given how it spearheaded the Arab revolutionary wave and has been a relative trailblazer in democratic reform, I would argue that the honour should go to Tunisia to be the actual host. Moreover, the Eagles of Carthage have significant footballing pedigree. Tunisia has qualified for four World Cups and was the first African side to win a match at the championship, back in 1978.

However, given the country’s modest means, a regional fund should be established, bankrolled by the rich Gulf states, including even Qatar, to finance preparations for the tournament. Other regional footballing heavyweights – like Egypt, Algeria and Morocco – can provide their technical expertise.

In addition, to avoid the waste associated with the tournament (which can only truly be curbed with a fixed venue), a blueprint should be drawn up that creates the maximum number of jobs ethically and every piece of infrastructure must be recyclable.

This would not only help to raise Tunisia’s prestige and stimulate investment in the country, creating much-needed jobs, it would also promote a deeper sense of shared identity across the region.

____

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared in The Guardian on 5 June 2014.

 

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مواجهة الفساد والعدالة الانتقالية

 
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بقلم اسامة دياب ومحمد الشيوي

يجب تطوير تصور العدالة الاانتقالية ليشمل الجرائم الاقتصادية لان فساد نظام مبارك لا ينفصل عن ممارسات أخرى كانتهاكات حقوق الإنسان وتزوير إرادة الناخبين.

الجمعة 11 ابريل 2014

كثُر الحديث في الآونة الأخيرة عن التصالح مع رموز النظام السابق، ويستند مؤيدو التصالح مع رموز نظام مبارك إلى أن هذه هي أسرع الطرق للحصول على بعض من الأموال المنهوبة بدلا من اللجوء إلى عملية قضائية مرهقة وطويلة خصيصا في ظل الأزمة المالية التي تمر بها مصر وتتجلى في الانخفاض الشديد في احتياطي النقد الأجنبي، وزيادة العجز في الميزانية بالإضافة إلى بطء معدلات النمو.

اتفقت الحكومات المتعاقبة منذ ثورة الخامس والعشرين من يناير على أهمية التصالح كمخرج لأزمتنا الاقتصادية، وكان قد شدد حسن مالك رجل الأعمال الإخواني ورئيس مجلس إدارة الجمعية المصرية لتنمية الأعمال “ابدأ” في حديث لصحيفة الأهرام بتاريخ ٢٠١٣/٥/١٣ على أهمية التصالح مع رموز النظام السابق  للدفع بعجلة الاقتصاد وإعادة الأموال المهربة، وطرح مبادرته للتصالح كعلاج لأزماتنا الاقتصادية والاجتماعية.

وعبر أيضا تحالف ما بعد ٣٠ يونيو المعادي للإخوان على أهمية التصالح كضرورة اقتصادية واجتماعية ودليل على إن مصر مفتوحة “للجميع”، بعدما أكد هاني صلاح، المتحدث الرسمي باسم مجلس الوزراء في حكومة حازم الببلاوي على أن أي فرد يطرح مبادرة شريفة، لا يسعهم إلا أن يستمعوا إليه “من أجل بلادنا الحبيبة” وأن مصر بعد ٣٠ يونيو مفتوحة على الخارج والقضاء نزيه وشامخ والحكومة تتقبل أي مبادرات مصالحة.

ولكن هل هي حقا كذلك، وهل فعلا يحمل التصالح في طياته العلاج السحري لأزماتنا السياسية والاجتماعية والاقتصادية الطاحنة؟

تكمن المشكلة في أنه بالرغم من دور الجرائم الاقتصادية كتربة خصبة تنمو وتترعرع في ظلها فلسفة الانتهاكات البدنية، مع ثبوت وجود علاقة طردية بين انتهاكات حقوق الإنسان وجرائم الفساد المالي، عادة ما يولي الخطاب الحقوقي (سواء الأهلي أو الحكومي) أهمية خاصة للحقوق المدنية والسياسية على حساب الحقوق الاقتصادية، ولذا يجب تطوير تصور وخطاب أشمل وأعم للعدالة انتقالية يشمل الجرائم الاقتصادية وليس فقط الانتهاكات الجسدية المباشرة، وهو ما لم يحدث في مصر حيث صنف النظام جرائم الفساد المالي كجريمة أقل وأيسر من قتل المتظاهرين -على سبيل المثال- يسمح فيها بالتصالح مقابل دفع مبلغ مالي تحدده السلطات دون ضابط أو مراقبة. من المهم التركيز على أن هذا التفاوت في حالة مصر يحدث على المستوى الخطابي فقط، حيث لم يُعاقب في أغلب الحالات مرتكبي انتهاكات حقوق الإنسان بمختلف أشكالها.

وفي سياق قضايا الفساد المالي، تقضي أغلب أحكام الإدانة في قضايا الفساد والمال العام بدفع قيمة الضرر أو رد الشئ، بالإضافة إلى تغريم الشخصية السياسية المدانة بالفساد، بالإضافة إلى قدرة الدولة على مصادرة أموال المتهمين بالفساد داخليا ووجود قرارات بتجميد أموالهم في الكثير من، إن لم يكن أغلب، الولايات القضائية التي توجد بها أموال رجال عصر مبارك، هذا بالإضافة إلى الكلفة الاجتماعية لإفلات الفاسدين من العقاب، خاصة بعد أن انتفض ضدهم الملايين في ثورة يناير، وتنم أيضا عن ضعف قدرة الدولة في مواجهة الفساد مما يشجع على استمرار إفقاره لملايين المصريين على حساب قلة قليلة من المنتفعين.

ويؤثر التصالح كذلك على فرصة مصر في استعادة أموالها المنهوبة من الخارج، ففي تونس على سبيل المثال تم الإفراج عن الأموال المجمدة لبعض الأفراد بناء على طلب السلطات التونسية برغم اعتقاد السلطات السويسرية بأحقية بقاء هؤلاء الأفراد على قائمة الحظر، وهو الأمر الذي قد يحدث في مصر حال استمرار صفقات التصالح مع رموز النظام السابق، فمن الممكن أن تطلب السلطات المصرية رفع الحظر عن بعض الأسماء التي تم التصالح معها، وهو بالفعل ما يتوقع حدوثه وأن يكون من ضمن شروط صفقات التصالح.

وعادة لا تمتلك الدولة النامية، ضحية الفساد، الخبرات التقنية اللازمة للتعامل مع ملفات الفساد واستعادة الأموال بعد سقوط نظامها السياسي، وعادة ما يستميت النظام المخلوع للحيلولة دون تجميد ورد هذه الأموال بكل السبل المشروعة والغير المشروعة، فضلا عن عدم مقدرة تلك الدول على دفع تكاليف التقاضي الدولي العالي التكلفة، وعادة ما يكون قدرة النظام المخلوع المادية نتيجة نهب المال العام أفضل من قدرة الدولة المنهكة اقتصاديا في أمور التقاضي وتوكيل المحامين.

ومن هنا تنبع الأهمية في مصر وكل الدول التي تعاني من الفساد من إيجاد حل بديل للتعامل مع ملفات الفساد واسع النطاق خاصة بعد سقوط الأنظمة، فلا التصالح سيعيد الأموال المنهوبة ولا هو يبعث برسالة فحواها أن عصر الفساد ونهب الشعوب انتهى بعقاب الآثمين، بل في الواقع هو يضيع على مصر فرصة استعادة الأموال المنهوبة إلا ما تنعم علينا به رجال مبارك من أرض هنا وبعض الملايين القليلة هناك، مثل التصالح في قضية رشيد والذي حدد بـ ٢ مليون دولار، والتصالح في قضية أكرم عضاضة والمغربي، والتي قضت المحكمة برد الأرض محل الفساد إلى الدولة.

البديل؟

ونرى إنه يجب أن يكون هناك  مسار بديل للعدالة في ظل توتر وإنهاك المؤسسات الذي قد يجعل خيار التصالح خيارا مريحا، في ظل قدرة ضعيفة لمؤسسات العدالة في مصر على إدانة نظام مبارك عن سنوات الفساد المالي والسياسي، بسبب ضعفها وفسادها وخضوعها لصراع سياسي وسيطرة شبكة مصالح مبارك على جزء كبير من مفاصل الدولة.

لا نؤيد بالضرورة الحبس أو تغليظ العقوبة في الجرائم المالية لكن فساد نظام مبارك لا ينفصل عن ممارسات أخرى كانتهاكات حقوق الإنسان وتزوير إرادة الناخبين، فلذا ندعو لنظرة أكثر شمولية لجرائم النظام السابق، فالتصالح مع رموز نظام مبارك لن يكون في جرائم المال العام فقط بل عن تزوير إرادة الناخبين في كافة الانتخابات الرئاسية والبرلمانية والمجلية وانتهاكات حقوق الإنسان والفساد السياسي، فمن المثبت وهو ما سنناقشه بالتفصيل العلاقة الطردية بين الفساد الاقتصادي والقمع السياسي وانتهاكات حقوق الإنسان.

فحتى في حالات التي تكون فيها الدولة بمنظومة عدالتها مستقرة، يكون القضاء العادي عادة معني بالقضايا الفردية، أما الجرائم الممنهجة من تزوير انتخابات وتعذيب وفساد واسع النطاق عادة ما يحتاج إلى مسار بديل للعدالة بعد سقوط الأنظمة الديكتاتورية (بافتراض سقوطها في الحالة المصرية) ونظرة أكثر شمولية للجرائم السياسية والاجتماعية والجنائية والاقتصادية الممنهجة ونقط الالتقاط بينهم وربطهم ببعض، ولذا وجد مفهوم العدالة الانتقالية الذي بمقدرته أن ينظر في انتهاكات حقبة زمنية طويلة سابقة والانتهاكات والجرائم الممنهجة التي يصعب على القضاء العادي التعامل معها، ولكم من أجل تحقيق ذلك يجب علاج قصور هام في تجارب العدالة الانتقالية السابقة، وهو عدم إدراجها للجرائم الاقتصادية ضمن نطاق عملها.

فيبدو أن الحكومة الحالية تقع في فخ قديم وهو فصل الجرائم الاقتصادية عن بقية انتهاكات حقوق الإنسان “التقليدية” مثل القتل والتعذيب، فيسمح مثلا “قانون التصالح” بالتسوية مع المستثمر في جرائم الفساد ولكن شددت الحكومة في أكثر من مناسبة أنه لن يتم التصالح مع من قتل المتظاهرين خلال ثورة يناير، وذلك لدواعي احتياج الدولة لاستثمارات من رجال أعمال ولإعادة الثقة في الاقتصاد المصري، وانطلاقا من هذا، قد تم بدء عملية التصالح مع رجال أعمال ووزراء سابقين يتم من خلالها دفع مبلغ مادي في مقابل إسقاط التهم الموجهة له من فساد أو استغلال لسلطته السياسية لجني منفعة خاصة، المشكلة في هذا المفهوم تكمن في إغفالها الارتباط القوي بين الجرائم الاقتصادية وانتهاكات حقوق الإنسان بشكل عام.

الانتهاكات الجسدية لحقوق الإنسان هي نتيجة حتمية للجرائم الاقتصادية أو جرائم الفساد واسع النطاق من قبل أشخاص الذين يشغلون وظيفة عامة ومرتبطة ارتباط وثيق بها، ولأجل ترسيخ وتقوية نظام سياسي مبني علي الاستغلال الاقتصادي، تتجه الحكومات إلي استخدام القمع والعنف من النظم الأمنية ضد المواطنين. الجرائم الاقتصادية إذن هي وسيلة لتعزيز منظومة حكم معينة، علاوة علي ذلك فهذه السياسات يأتي معها انتهاكات اقتصادية أخري مثل العمل القسري وانتهاك الحق في أجر عادل.

الملفت للنظر هنا هو أن العدالة الانتقالية، نتيجة لكونها جزء من حركة حقوق الإنسان، تعمل بنفس منطق الحكومة المصرية الحالية. فالعدالة الانتقالية عادة ما تركز اهتمامها علي محاكمة وتقصي الانتهاكات المتعلقة بالجسد كالقتل والتعذيب (المعروفة بالحقوق المدنية والسياسية) ولا تركز علي الإطار الاقتصادي والمجتمعي الذي يحتضن تلك الانتهاكات في مقدمتها جرائم الفساد في الحالة المصرية. نتائج هذا الانفصام عادة ما تكون سلبية من ناحية محاولة تحقيق العدالة لجرائم الماضي، فهي تعتبر حل سطحي لمشاكل معقدة.

عدم إدراج الجرائم الاقتصادية الممنهجة (بمعني أنه تم “تطبعيها” كسياسة اقتصادية شرعية) يؤدي إلي عدم إمكانية النظر والتحقيق في كافة السياسات والشبكات والأشخاص الذين ساهموا في ظهور الفساد وانتشاره واستفادوا منه. بالرغم من ذلك، توجد حركة من خبراء ونشطاء في هذا المجال يطالبوا بأهمية أحذ نظرة أكثر شمولية للعدالة الانتقالية بمنطق أن أي مكاسب من عملية انتقالية سوف تتلاشي إذ لم يتم القضاء علي الأسباب الجذرية التي أدت إلي القمع والعنف.

يتم الاستشهاد في مصر بتجربة جنوب أفريقيا، في إشارة إلي عمليات العفو مقابل الحقيقة التي مرت بها البلد بعد سقوط نظام الفصل العنصري (الأبارتيد) هناك. تجربة جنوب أفريقيا حاضرة بقوّة في النقاشات حول العدالة الانتقالية والمصالحة، لكن سياسة العفو في الحقيقة فشلت في إحقاق العدالة لضحايا الفصل العنصري، وفقا لهوارد فارني القاضي الذي عمل في لجنة الحقيقة والمصالحة في جنوب أفريقيا. بناء عليه، فأن سياسات التصالح المتبناة من قبل الحكومة لدواعي اقتصادية مضرة لمسار العدالة في مصر، فهي تعتبر ضياع لفرصة ثمينة لمعرفة كيف كانت تعمل سياسات نظام مبارك الاقتصادية في إطار واحد مع القمع الجسدي ضد المصريين وأيضا تبعث الرسالة أن العدالة تستطيع أن تباع وتشتري بالثمن المناسب. سيكون من الضروري لتحقيق العدل تبني منظومة أكثر شمولية لمفهوم العدالة الانتقالية يتم إدراج فيها الجرائم الاقتصادية، وهكذا، تستطيع آليات العدالة الانتقالية كلجان الحقيقة ولجان الغربلة العمل كمسار بديل لسياسات التصالح الغير عادلة من ناحية، ومن ناحية أخري كبديل المحاكم العادية الغير قادرة علي العمل علي هذا الملف نظرا لتسييسها وعملها في إطار غير مستقر.

أطروحة التصالح من أجل النهوض بالاقتصاد التي تبنتها حكومات ما بعد الثورة تدلل على نظرة ضيقة لإدارة الملف الاقتصادي والخطاب المسيطر الذي يختصر النجاح الاقتصادي في جذب الاستثمارات الأجنبية، ونذكر جميعا النجاح الهائل الذي حققته الحكومات السابقة على الثورة -خاصة حكومة أحمد نظيف- والمؤشرات القياسية في جذب الاستثمارات الأجنبية، وتزامن هذا النمو المطرد في قدوم الاستثمارات الأجنبية إلى مصر مع زيادة حالة الاحتقان الاجتماعي والاعتصامات والإضرابات حتى توجت بثورة ٢٥ يناير، التي قامت ضد النظام ذاته الذي دخلت كل هذه الاستثمارات في عهده، مما يدل بما لا يدع مجالا للشك أن قدوم الاستثمارات الأجنبية ليس هو الحل السحري والفوري لأزماتنا الكثيرة والمتنوعة.

ففي الأعوام السابقة على الثورة، شهدت مصر معدلات نمو في الناتج المحلي الإجمالي تصل إلى الـ ٧٪ لمدة ثلاث سنوات متتالية، وتدفقات من الاستثمارات الأجنبية وضعتها على قمة الدول الأفريقية من حيث جذب الاستثمارات الأجنبية، ففي عام ٢٠٠٧ على سبيل المثال، دخل مصر ما يزيد على ١٠ مليار دولار مما يمثل نحو ثلث إجمالي التدفقات الرأسمالية إلى أفريقيا، ولكن لم تؤد هذه الأموال إلى حدوث رخاء وسلم اجتماعي بدليل ما شهده عامان ٢٠٠٨ و٢٠٠٩ من أعداد قياسية من الإضرابات الاعتصامات العمالية، ولعلنا نذكر منها ما حدث في ٦ إبريل ٢٠٠٨ والعشرات من الاعتصامات العمالية أمام مجلس الشعب التي استمرت لشهور طويلة في ٢٠٠٩.

فهل ستعود التصالحات بالنفع الاقتصادي على مصر وبث جو من الثقة في مناخها الاستثماري مما يؤدي إلى تدفق الأموال والخيرات على مصر وتحقيق الاستقرار المنشود؟

إذا كانت هناك نية للنهوض الاقتصادي وارتفاع مستوى المعيشة للمواطن الفقير والمعدم، يجب ألا يكون التركيز على توفير مناخ استثماري مبني على العمالة الرخيصة والدعم الحكومي للمصانع كثيفة الطاقة وانحياز أعمى لصالح المستثمر فلنا في السنوات السابقة للثورة عبرة، فهذه الفلسفة الاستثمارية لا تبني اقتصاديات قوية أو تنتشل المعدمين من الفقر، بل يكاد يكون من أهم أهدافها الحفاظ على الفقر ورخص العمالة كعنصر من عناصر الإنتاج، وتؤدي هذه الفلسفة الاستثمارية التي تتفرد بها الدول النامية إلى تركيز الثروة الجديدة في أيدي قلة قليلة مما يؤدي إلى توسيع الفجوة الاقتصادية بين الطبقات الاجتماعية والاقتصادية المختلفة، وتؤدي أيضا إلى تضخم وزيادة في الأسعار تزود من صعوبات وضغوطات الحياة بالنسبة للفقراء والمعدمين مما يؤدي بطبيعة الحال إلى زيادة الاحتقان وتهديد السلم العام.

____

This article first appeared on Mada Masr on 31 March 2014. Republished here with the authors’ consent.

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Gaza’s forsaken and forgotten people

 
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Gaza’s humanitarian disaster and the rising tensions there are forgotten by the world. Principle and pragmatism demand an end to the blockade.

Image courtesy of UNRWA

Image courtesy of UNRWA

Wednesday 9 April 2014

Tensions between Gaza and Israel are mounting once again. There have been Israeli airstrikes and Islamic Jihad rockets. Israel recently claimed that it had intercepted a Gaza-bound arms shipment, though the claim seemed rather implausible.

It has also uncovered what it described as the “most advanced” tunnel into Israel from Gaza which says could’ve been used to mount attacks. On the other side of Gaza’s hermetically sealed boundaries Egypt claimed to have destroyed a mind-boggling 1,370 smuggling tunnels.

This has sealed off what little economic breathing space Gaza had to withstand the naval and land blockade of the Strip. And the figures speak for themselves.

Although Gaza has been overshadowed by the catastrophes related to the Syrian civil war and other regional events, the forsaken and forgotten territory is enduring a humanitarian crisis of monumental proportions.

Official unemployment runs at nearly 40%, with the actual figure probably significantly higher, and some 80% of the population receives aid, according to UNRWA, the UN relief agency. Gaza also endures severe fuel shortages, endless blackouts, while raw sewage and seawater contaminate the water supply.

Even though things are relatively quiet for now and Hamas is sticking to the ceasefire negotiated in 2012, the situation, driven by desperation, could spiral out of control at any moment. “It is only a matter of time until a flare-up with Israel escalates into a major conflagration,” warned the International Crisis Group, the conflict-prevention think tank, last week.

To prevent this destructive eventuality, the ICG calls on Israel to ease its blockade of Gaza in return for continued guarantees that rockets will not be fired into Israel.

Personally, I think that the ICG’s blueprint may delay a confrontation for a time, at best, but it will not prevent it.

The only way to do that is for both Israel and Egypt to end their siege of Gaza and for Hamas and all the militant groups to provide iron-cast assurances that they will not carry out attacks on either of their neighbours, who will also refrain from launching military operations on Gaza.

Hawks in both Israel and Egypt will immediately object, and claim that the blockade is the only way to contain Hamas. In fact, officials in both countries have indicated their desire to go beyond containment and to bring down the de facto sole ruler of Gaza.

Echoing Israel’s foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz has warned that, if rocket fire resumes, Israel may invade Gaza to topple Hamas.

But Steinitz’s proposal betrays a severe absence of intelligence. After all, previous efforts to dislodge the Islamist movement – including major military operations since Hamas came to power, in 2006, 2008/9 and 2012 – have only strengthened its grip on power.

Besides, even if Hamas is faltering or on the brink of collapse, there is the troubling question, asked by many in Gaza, of who will come after.

Israel once supported Hamas and its precursors as a supposed counterbalance to the PLO, and, in the process, contributed to creating something far more radical. Many fear that Islamic Jihad, not the Palestinian Authority, would dominate such a post-Hamas Gaza.

Israel has imposed severe restrictions on Gazans since at least 1991, when it began its permanent closure policy in the Strip, with little noticeable effect on Israel’s security or on prospects for peace.

In fact, sealing Gaza off from the outside world has turned what used to be a relatively open and liberal society dependent on shoppers and tourists into an insular prison colony controlled by religious fundamentalists.

This proven inefficacy, as well as the humanitarian crisis, may be what prompted outgoing UNRWA chief Filippo Grandi to speak out strongly. While acknowledging the legitimacy of Israel and Egypt’s security he concerns, he said: “I think the world should not forget about the security of the people of Gaza.”

Grandi added that the blockade was “illegal and must be lifted”. “I also want to make a strong appeal for export to resume because the lack of export is the main reason for the poverty of Gaza,” he added.

And it is not just Grandi who is fed up with the blockade; others in the international community are too. Even the European Union is losing patience. In a recent report, the EU’s heads of mission called for a “strategy for a political endgame resulting in Gaza’s return to normality”, naming Israel as “the primary duty bearer” due to its role as the occupying power, while urging Hamas to instate a “categorical renunciation of violence”.

If the  status quo stays in place, the ever worsening situation in Gaza will only succeed in radicalising a new generation. After all, some, having lost everything, may decide they’ve got nothing left to lose.

Ending the Gaza blockade is both the principled and pragmatic thing to do.

___

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This feature first appeared in The National on 2 April 2014.

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الرجل العربي الجديد

 
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بقلم خالد دياب

   لوحظ في الأونة الأخيرة تزايد الرجال المناصرة لحقوق المرأة عربياً، مقدمين مثالاُ رائعاً في تحدي المعنى التقليدي للرجولة الشرقية.

Sexual harass protest

Photo: Maged Tawfiles

Read in English

الأربعاء 2 ابريل 2014

قد بلغ التحرش الجنسي في مصر مستويات وبائية حتى وصل الى الحرم الجامعي لأقدم الجامعات العلمانية في البلاد بصورةٍ فجة. وراء هذا الوباء نماذج غير واقعية ومضرة للرجل المثالي والمرأة المثالية.

في السنوات الأخيرة، وخاصةً منذ اندلاع الثورة المصرية في عام 2011، بدأت النساء تتمرد ضد التيارات المتشددة التي اجتاحت مختلف أنـحاء البلاد منذ أواخر السبعينيات من القرن الماضي.

وقد أثار هذا رد فعل ضخم من التيارات المتشددة، مما جعل التحرش الجنسي يزداد عنفًا وإذلالاٍ كأحد ظواهر هذا رد الفعل. غير أن بعض الرجال قرروا أن يسبحوا ضد التيار، ليسوا فقط منادين يحقوق المرأة، ولكن أيضاً متحديين المفاهيم التقليدية للذكورة.

وهذه الصحوة من بعض الرجال لم تتركز فقط على النُخب الفكرية والاقتصادية، لكنها أيضًا قد صنعت فروقاً في جميع أنـحاء البلاد وكل طبقات المجتمع.

(ديفيد عصام)، شاب نشأ في أسرة تقليدية في المنيا في صعيد مصر، وهي من أكثر المحافظات المتحافظة في مصر.

في بداية الأمر يعترف (عصام) قائلاً: “في البداية، لم أكن أعتقد أن المرأة لديها حقوق. كنت فقط أراها كمُكمل لحياة الرجل”.

ولكن تضافرت عدد من العوامل التي صنعت تحولاً كبيراً في أفكار ومواقف (عصام). أهم تلك العوامل هو أخته الوحيدة، وعلى وجه التحديد حين رفضت القيود المفروضة عليها من قبل الأم، والتي بطبيعة الحال في الصعيد كانت تقيد حريتها في الكثير من الأمور.

وثمة عامل آخر وهو انخراطه في القراءة خاصة لبعض الكُتاب النسويين وعلى رأسهم الكاتبة (نوال السعداوي)؛ ولكن ربما كان العامل الأكثر أهمية في تغير أفكار (عصام) هو بعض الصداقات التي اكتسبها من بعد قيام الثورة المصرية، والتي تسببت في زلزال في وعي وضمير (عصام).

يضيف (عصام) “توجهات بعض الشباب والشابات المهتمين بقضايا المرأة جعلني أكثر وعيًا، وقادراً على تحدي الظروف المحيطة”، مشيراً إلى أنه الآن يتطوع دائماً في  فعاليات تعزيز الحقوق الاجتماعية والقانونية للنساء، وفعاليات مكافحة التحرش الجنسي.

على الرغم من أن الثورة قد صنعت جيل جديد أكثر وعياً، إلا أن ثقافة الرجل العربي الجديد ليست جديدة على الاطلاق، حقيقةً أول الأفكار النسوية في العالم العربي كانت، وليس مفاجأ في مجتمع يسيطر عليه الرجال في ذلك الوقت، حيث أن أول من نادى بتلك الأفكار كان رجلاً.

“على مر الأجيال كانت المرأة تابعة لحكم القوى الذكورية، ومُسيطر عليها من قبل طغيان قوة الرجال،” هكذا كتب قاسم أمين في تحرير المرأة في عام 1899م؛ مضيفاً “إن موقف الإسلام المُقلل من شأن المرأة هو أكبر العقبات التي تمنعنا من التقدم نـحو ما هو مُفيد بالنسبة لنا”.

كثير من الرجال ممن لهم أفكار علمانية والذين ظهروا قبل انتشار التيار الإسلامي المتشدد تعتبر المساواة بين الجنسين أمرًا مفروغًا منه، على الأقل من حيث المبدأ. وهناك أيضاً من ينفذه فعليا.

“لدي طفلان، صبي وفتاة، اعمالهما بأقصى درجات المساواة، من حيث النشأة، مصروف الجيب، والمسؤوليات، والواجبات، والتعليم، وتعليمهما احترام الذات”، هكذا بدء سعيد السعيد كلامه، وهو موظف فلسطيني في القطاع الخاص متقاعد وقد سافر إلى سويسرا منذ أكثر من 35 عامًا. ويضيف أيضًا “لقد تحدثت إلى كل منهما عن المسؤولية الجنسية، وقدمت كل علبة من الواقي الذكري عندما شعرت أن الوقت قد حان”.

قد ينسب البعض مواقف (السعيد) إلى مكوثه طويلاً في أوروبا، وهو يستبعد هذا الرأي تماما، قائلا “بفضل والديا، وتحديدا والدي، لم أكن أتقبل ابدا كيف تُعامل النساء في الشرق الأوسط”.

هذا هو حال الكثيرين من أبناء جيله، خاصةً من نشأوا في أسر يسارية، فلديهم ذكريات مماثلة؛ تحكي (سعاد العامري) وهي مهندسة وكاتبة فلسطينية بارزة، كيفية تعامل والدها معها ومساواته بينها وبين جميع أشقائها على حدٍ سواء بصورة تخالف الأعراف المتوارثة حينها.

تقول (العامري): “أنه يطلق على نفسه اسم (أبو أروى)، حتى أن بعض الناس لم يكن يعرفوا أن لدي ابن اسمه (أيمن)”، وأضاف “انه أطلق على نفسه هذا الأسم نسبةً لأبنته البكر (أروى)” منافياً التقاليد المتعارف عليها في التسمية باسم الولد وليس البنت.

بالطبع بلاد الشام، وخاصة لبنان، لديها موقف مستنير نسبيًا تجاه قضايا المرأة. ولكن حتى في أكثر المجتماعات تحفظا في العالم العربي تمر أيضا بصحوتها الخاصة، ولكن من نقطة بداية اقل.

في ضوء القيود الشديدة المفروضة على المرأة السعودية، المتمثلة في نظام الوصاية القمعي، انه ربما من المتوقع أن يكون من أبرظ الداعين بحقوق المرأة هناك رجلاً.

في ما يُعتبر نقطة فاصلة في قضية حقوق المرأة في المملكة العربية السعودية، استطاع المحامي والناشط الحقوقي (وليد أبو الخير) أن يحصل على حكم بالافراج عن (سمر بدوي) والتي كانت قد سُجنت بتهمة عصيان والدها رغم أنه كان يسيء لها.

خلافا للرأي السائد والصورة الإصلاحية التي تحاول العائلة المالكة السعودية أن تُظهرها للعالم الخارجي؛ فإن (أبو الخير) يُحمل النظام مسؤلية الأوضاع المزرية للنساء في السعودية.

“الملوم في هذه القيود جميعها هي السلطة السياسية بالتأكيد، والتي بدورها تلقي باللوم على المجتمع وتصفه بأنه عصي على الإصلاح،” يقول (أبو الخير). “بينما الحقيقة وعبر تجربة على الأرض أن السلطة تريد من المجتمع أن يبقى محافظاً وأن يظل الرجل مسيطر على المرأة لأنها بذلك تعطل نصف المجتمع ليبقى النصف الآخر يسهل قياده”. لهذا السبب، يرى (أبو الخير) أن الصراع على حقوق المرأة ذا صلة وثيقة وجزء لا يتجزء من الصراع على حقوق الأنسان كافة. “الجميع هنا مقموع ولا نريد أن نساوي مقموعاً بمن هو أخف قمعاً منه،” يصف الناشط السعودي. “والمرأة ليست مشكلتها كما أعتقد مع الرجل في السعودية وإنما مشكلتها مع السلطة أولاً وأخيرا”.

يعتقد (أبو الخير) أنه إذا اتخذت المؤسسات الوهابية موقفًا محايدًا تجاه الحقوق الشخصية وتركوا للناس الحق ليقرروا بأنفسهم، فإن هذا سيساعد على صنع نقلة كبيرة وإنجازاً في قضية حقوق المرأة في المملكة العربية السعودية، وخاصةً في الغرب؛ ويضيف (أبو الخير) ” وفي مجتمعي حيث أعيش، أي في الحجاز، الأغلبية يؤمنون فعلا باحترام المرأة وحفظ حقوقها وكان هذا الإيمان واضحاً أكثر قبل تغلغل الوهابية في مجتمعنا بفعل السلطة “.

كان من الطبيعي أن يثير نشاط (أبو الخير) عدم رضاء التيار المتشدد عنه، وبالتالي الدخول في مصادمات حادة مع السلطات السعودية؛ ورغم جميع المعارك القانونية والتي تسببت في اعتقاله العديد من المرات ومنعه من السفر وتحديد أقامته، إلا أنه وجد من تشاركه في حروبه وآلامه، (سمر بدوي) اختارت أن تشارك (أبو الخير) في قضاياه وحياته كزوجةٍ له. بعد أن كان (أبو الخير) هو محامي (سمر البدوي)، أصبحت هي ناشطة بارزة في مجال حقوق المرأة في بلدها، فهي من قدمت أول دعوى قضائية في المملكة لمنح المرأة حق التصويت، كما شاركت في الحملات المطالبة بحق المرأة في قيادة السيارة.

على الرغم من كل التحديات والصعوبات التي تواجه قضايا المرأة في المجتمع العربي، إلا أن (أبو الخير) متفائل بشأن المستقبل؛ ويوضح قائلاً ” والمعطيات الحالية تؤكد أن المرأة في طريقها لكسب حقوقها، نظراً للتحولات الكبيرة التي يشهدها المجتمع”.

في البلدان العربية التي اكتسابت فيها المرأة حصة كبيرة من حقوقها، يخاف البعض من التراجع النسبي.

“بشكل عام، فإن وضع (المرأة الفلسطينية واللبنانية) قد تراجع، مع صعود التيارات المتشددة دينياً؛” يعتقد (سعيد السعيد)، حيث يلوم على الأمهات نظراً لتبنيهم ثقافة”(الصبي الأمير على حساب أخوته البنات”.

وتعكس تجربة (ديفيد عصام) الخاصة في هذا المجال التحدي الذي يتماثل في التعامل مع دور المرأة بوصفها هي الداعم للنظام الأبوي في بعض الأحيان؛ ويصرح قائلاً “والدتي سعيدة من شكل علاقتي بأختي لما فيها من حب ورعاية واهتمام؛ لكنها تعترض على مساندتي لها في التفكير للسفر والعمل، وتكوين صداقات في الجامعة”.

وهناك آخرون ممن خالفوا التقاليد الاجتماعية تمامًا، متجاوزً المساواة البسيطة وصولاً لمرحلة الانعكاس التام؛ وهذا هو حال (عمر وهبة)؛ بعد فترة من الانفصال القسري من زوجته التي كان تعمل في جنيف، قرر أن يرمي بجميع التقاليد المتوارثة عرض الحائط، وترك عمله في القاهرة ليتفرغ لتربية طفله، على الرغم من اعتراض عائلته  التي تؤمن بأن دور الرجل انه يقود والمرأة دورها ان تتبع زوجها.

“كانت أول مرة لي ان اكون رب المنزل”، كما يعترف “لقد استمتعت بجوانب عديدة منها كتعلم طهي الطعام، والقراءة أكثر، التأمل في حياتي، التفكير في اقامة عمل خاص، والبقاء مع طفلي أوقات أطول”.

على الرغم من أن (عمر وهبة) أستطاع الحصول على وظيفة في جنيف، إلا أنه الوقت الذي قضاه في الاهتمام بالشئون المنزلية غرس فيه المزيد من التقدير والاحترام للادوار التقليدية المسندة للمرأة، ويقول أنه لا يزال يُسهم في الاعمال المنزلية وتربية الاطفال.

على الرغم من الاضطرابات التي تمر بها مصر ووسط تصاعد حدة التيارات المتشددة منذ قيام الثورة، إلا أن (وهبة) متفائل ويأمل في وضع أفضل للمساواة بين الجنسين في المستقبل.

“أنا متفائل بشأن الجيل الصاعد من الشباب، فهم أكثر مرونة وقابلية للتغيير” ويكمل قائلاً “أعتقد أن الكثيرين أصبحوا لا يؤمنون بالأدوار التقليدية للرجل والمرأة، وأنهم يدركون أن الأفضل هو أن يعملا سوياً لتحسين مجتمعهم وتحريكه للامام”.

نشكر ديفيد عصام لهذه الترجمة.

___

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This feature first appeared in Your Middle East on 30 March 2014.

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The new Arab man: The Middle East’s male awakening

 
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By Khaled Diab

In the first of a Chronikler series on the new Arab man, we meet men who champion women’s rights and challenge traditional ideals of masculinity.

Sexual harass protest

Egyptian men protest sexual harassment in solidarity with women. Photo: Maged Tawfiles https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151910105340644&set=a.10151910085410644.883325.538750643&type=3&theater

Tuesday 1 April 2014

Sexual harassment in Egypt has reached such epidemic proportions that it has eveninfiltrated the campus of the country’s oldest secular university. At the heart of this plague, I have argued, are toxic, unrealistic and demeaning gender ideals and stereotypes.

In recent years, and especially since the eruption of the Egyptian revolution in 2011, women have been rebelling against the conservative current that has swept across the country starting from the late 1970s.

This has provoked a massive conservative backlash, of which increasingly violent sexual harassment and humiliation are one manifestation. But what is lost, even drowned out, by this tidal wave of misogyny are the men who have chosen to swim against the current, and not only champion women’s rights but also to challenge traditional concepts of masculinity.

And this male awakening is not just focused among the intellectual and economic elite but has made in-roads across the country and in every strata of society.

Take David Esam, who was raised in a traditional household in al-Minya, which lies in Middle Egypt, the entry point to ultra-conservative Upper Egypt.

“At first, I didn’t think that women had rights. I just viewed them as complements to a man’s life,” he confessed to me.

A number of factors combined to set in motion a major shift in Esam’s attitudes. One was his sister, and specifically a quarrel they had over the restrictions his mother imposed on his sister’s freedom.

Another factor was the books he started reading, including the writings of Egypt’s foremost living feminist Nawal al-Saadawi. But perhaps the most critical factor has been the friendships he has made since the Egyptian revolution, which triggered an earthquake in Esam’s consciousness and conscience.

“Encountering young women and men interested in the women’s cause made me more self-aware and critical of my surroundings,” observes Esam, noting that he is now active in promoting social and legal rights for women and volunteers in the movement combatting sexual harassment.

Although the revolution has awoken the consciousness of a new generation of men, this new Arab man is actually not new at all. In fact, possibly the Arab world’s first feminist, which was unsurprising in the male-dominated society at the time, was a man.

“Throughout the generations our women have continued to be subordinate to the rule of the strong and are overcome by the powerful tyranny of men,” Qasim Amin wrote in The Liberation of Women in 1899. “The inferior position of Muslim women is the greatest obstacle that prevents us from advancing toward what is beneficial for us.”

Many secular men raised before the spread of Islamist conservatism actually take gender equality for granted, at least in principle. And there are some who implement it almost religiously.

“I have two children, a boy and a girl, whom I treated equally, in terms of upbringing, pocket money, responsibilities, duties, schooling and self-respect,” says Said El-Said, a retired Palestinian professional who has been based in Switzerland for more than 35 years. “I talked to both of them about sexual responsibility and gave each a box of condoms when I felt the time was right.”

Some are bound to attribute El-Said’s attitudes to his long sojourn in Europe, but he insists that nothing could be further from the truth. “Thanks to my parents, specifically my father… I never accepted how women were treated in the Middle East,” he explains.

And others of his generation, especially those raised in leftist households, have similar recollections. Suad Amiry, the prominent Palestinian architect-turned-author, recalled how her father treated all her siblings equally to the extent that he bucked even the most deep-rooted conventions.

“He called himself Abu Arwa, so many people didn’t think we had a brother called Ayman,” Amiry remembers. “He named himself after his eldest daughter and not after the boy.”

Of course, the Levant, especially Lebanon, has a relatively enlightened attitude to women. But even in the most conservative quarters of the Arab world are experiencing their own version of a male awakening, albeit from a lower starting point.

It is perhaps unsurprising in light of the severe restrictions on Saudi women, such as the repressive guardianship system, that one of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent advocates of women’s rights is actually a man.

In what was a watershed case for women’s rights in the kingdom, the lawyer and human rights activist Waleed Abulkhair successfully secured the release of Samar Badawi, who had been imprisoned for disobeying her abusive father.

Contrary to popular opinion and the “reformist” image the Saudi royal family attempts to project abroad, Abulkhair holds the regime responsible for the poor status of women.

“The political establishment is to blame for all these restrictions, but it blames society which it describes as ‘unreformable’,” he says. “But in reality, the establishment wants society to remain conservative and for men to continue to dominate women, thereby neutralising half of society, while making the other half easier to control.”

For this reason, Abulkhair sees women’s rights as intimately, and holistically, connected to the wider struggle for human rights.

“Everyone here is repressed and we don’t want an equality of repression,” he claims. “In my view, the Saudi woman’s problem is not with men but with the system.”

Abulkhair is convinced that if the Wahhabi establishment would take a neutral stance towards personal rights and leave people to decide for themselves, then women’s rights would take a giant leap forward in Saudi Arabia, especially in the west of the country. “Where I live, in Hijaz, the majority believes in respecting women and upholding their rights, and this was more apparent before the spread of Wahhabism at the hands of the authorities.”

Unsurprisingly, Abulkhair’s activism has not endeared him to conservatives and has got him into hot water with the authorities. Throughout all his legal battles, detentions and the travel ban still in force, he has found a willing accomplice, defender and champion in the form of his wife, Samar Badawi. Since Abulkhair represented her, Badawi has become a prominent activist in her own right, filing the kingdom’s first lawsuit for women’s suffrage and involved in the women’s driving campaign.

Despite all the challenges and difficulties, Abulkhair is upbeat about the future. “The current situation indicates that (Saudi) women are on their way to gaining their rights due to the enormous changes society is undergoing,” he concludes.

Some fear that the reverse may be true in Arab countries where women have already wrested significant rights.

“In general, the status (of Palestinian and Lebanese women) is regressing, with the rise of religious fervour,” believes Said El-Said. “I blame mothers for perpetuating the tradition of the ‘boy prince’ at the expense of their daughters.”

And David Esam’s own experience reflects the challenge of dealing with the role of women as gatekeepers of the patriarchy.

“My mother is happy with the love, care and attention in my relationship with my sister,” he explains. “But she does not approve of some of my positions encouraging my sister to pursue her interests in work, travel and friendships at university.”

There are others who, bucking social convention altogether, have moved beyond simple equality to engage in role reversal. Omar Weheba is a case in point.

After a period of forced separation from his wife who was working in Geneva, he decided to throw tradition to the wind and quit his job in Cairo to become a trailing spouse, despite his family’s conviction that “it was important that the man take the lead”.

“Being a stay-at-home dad was a first for me,” he admits. “I enjoyed aspects of it like learning how to cook, reading more, reflecting more on life, thinking of doing my own business, staying with my kid more.”

Although Weheba has now found a job in Geneva, his time as a home-carer has instilled in him a greater appreciation and respect for the traditional role ascribed to women, and he still shares in the child-rearing and housework.

Despite the turbulence Egypt is going through and the conservative and religious backlash unleashed since the revolution, Weheba is hopeful about the future of gender equality.

“I am optimistic about the younger generation… They are more flexible and malleable to change,” he argues. “I believe many realise that there is no clear-cut traditional role anymore for a man or a woman. What they know is that it’s best to work together… to better their society and move it forward.”

___

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This feature first appeared in Your Middle East on 30 March 2014.

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Sexual harassment: Undressing naked prejudice

 
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By Nadine Marroushi

To those who believe the way a woman dresses invites harassment, hear this: she is not to blame – her harassers are.

Saturday 22 March 2014

I’m struggling to know where to begin writing about a female student who was sexually harassed by a mob of male students on campus this week at Cairo University.

“This, again?” I’m asking myself with a very heavy heart.

The young woman was followed by a group of male students from the Faculty of Law, and verbally and physically harassed, according to a statement by 12 rights organisations condemning the incident. She was able to escape, before they stripped her of her clothing, “a scene that has become familiar in Egypt in recent years,” the statement added.

I find it ironic that the students were from the Faculty of Law. Or perhaps they knew all too well that there is no law against the  epidemic of sexual harassment in Egypt and the default response for society-at-large is still to blame the victim, not the perpetrators.

The President of Cairo University, Dr Gaber Nassar, provoked outrage when he told a television show, in a phone-in interview, that the woman was partly to blame because of her clothing, a pink, long-sleeved top and black trousers, instead of the more conservative cloak, or abaya. He also suggested that the female student might be punished, if she is found guilty. He later  retracted the comments.

Television presenter Tamer Amin said her clothes were those of a “belly dancer”, as an indication of how inappropriate he found her clothing to have been.

A pink top and black trousers. Really?

As the head of Egypt’s leading state university, has Dr Nassar not read the well-known 2008 study on sexual harassment called Cloud’s in Egypt’s Sky, published by the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights, the European Commission and the United Nations Population Fund?

The widely cited report finds that there is no inverse correlation between women dressing more conservatively and reported incidents of sexual harassment. The majority of women, 31.9%, who experienced sexual harassment wore a blouse, long skirt and veil, the study revealed. A fifth of women wore a long blouse, trousers and a veil, and another fifth dressed in a cloak and veil, the document reported.

And, the leading occupation of harassers were drivers, followed by schoolchildren and university students, the report surmised.

In a comical illustration of this, a television show on sexual harassment called Awel el-Khayt, which aired last May, showed a male actor, Walid, dressed up as a woman and walking through downtown Cairo.

Walid wore a long white skirt, long white top, and went bare-haired in a wig of medium length. Men followed “her” and catcalled her. In the second experiment, he/she walked in similar clothing, but wearing a veil and got the same response, as well as a man propositioning her for sex.

In an interview at the end of the show, Walid confessed: “When I walk in the street, I don’t give a thought to all that … But as a woman walking in the street, when I dressed as a woman with makeup and all, with or without the veil, just walking along requires effort. Mental and physical effort. It’s like women are besieged all the time. There are eyes everywhere.”

It’s exhausting.

As a woman, who has been living in Egypt since 2011, I’ve had to give up my love of jogging outdoors, because the first time I tried to do so a man stopped beside me to masturbate. He actually stopped his car and got out to do that. I still look on with envy at the men who continue to jog, carefree, along the corniche.

An Egyptian friend of mine was also grabbed by a man in a car, while she was jogging alone.

That’s not to mention the near daily incidents of verbal harassment, sexually suggestive comments, even from police officers, that brush past your ear like the buzz of an annoying mosquito. If only there was “anti-harassment” bug spray to keep them all away. And those stares, men just looking at you, as if you’ve done something wrong by being you, as you walk past. I rarely make eye contact. Or the men who slow down their car, as you walk past, just to see if you’ll get in.

And harassment is not only an Egypt phenomenon, as the international SlutWalk protests have made known. They began in 2011 after a Canadian police officer suggested that to remain safe “women should avoid dressing like sluts.” Women took that crude outburst and re-appropriated it to emphasise that their clothing should not be an excuse for harassment and, at the far end of the scale, sexual assault.

Verbal harassment is one end of a spectrum that by going unpunished leads at the end to rape. In 2013, Egypt witnessed hundreds of incidents of mass sexual assault and rape in the vicinity of Tahrir Square that were  documented by human rights groups.

The history of violence against women in Egypt goes back a number of years, too long to recount in one blog post, suffice it to say that as long as the perpetrators of these crimes go unpunished, women will continue to fall victim to these cruel acts. The notion that women are to blame for this, because of what they wear is ridiculous, as studies and actual experiences prove.

All I can say at this stage, which doesn’t seem like much really, but needs saying again and again:

She is not to blame. She is not to blame. She is not to blame.

More articles on sexual harassment are available in this Chronikler special report.

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