Retrospections on the Arab Spring, Part 2December 9, 2012
A few Google searches this weekend reminded me again how tightly controlled the information flow in Western societies is and how vigorously the officially sanctioned narrative is enforced. The searches accidentally brought me to a few forums where the Arab Spring was discussed and as expected the majority of statements could be boiled down to the following general assumptions:
1. The Arab Spring was a popular uprising of oppressed populations against dictatorial regimes, but Arabs are not mature enough for the imposition of Western style democracy so most of the uprisings descended into chaos.
2. By accepting Western advice and guidance (“The White Man’s Burden”), by electing reasonable (Western educated) leaders, and by opening to international (Western) companies the Arab nations in turmoil could overcome the current crisis and over time reach the same level of prosperity and wellbeing as it is enjoyed in the USA, Japan, and Europe.
The second assumptions is not undisputed because a significant fraction of the internet public believes that Arabs in general are lazy, irrational, emotional unstable, and simply too stupid for modern life. This opinion leads to the following widely shared assumption/recommendation:
3. Western nations should stay away and not get stuck in the quagmire of the Middle East (or Greater Middle East respectively). Weapons shipments to rebels and a few drones here and there are okay, boots on the ground are not.
The oil supply of course has to be secured!
4. Muammar Gaddafi was a barbaric, bloodthirsty dictator who more than deserved his cruel, painful death and the NATO bombing campaign in support of the brave rebel fighters was a noble humanitarian effort indeed worthy of the Peace Nobel Price (which the EU subsequently got on behalf of NATO).
5. Bashar al-Assad in Syria is as bad or even worse than Gaddafi and hence deserves the same fate. If the FSA rebels are not able to get rid of him, a (humanitarian) intervention will be inevitable to prevent Assad from butchering his own people.
Assumption number five is enforced by slandering and defaming Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma in every possible way; the concerted demonization efforts often result in grotesque claims, here a few examples:
Reporters Without Borders:
“Bashar Al-Assad and his government have imposed a total information blackout while promoting their own propaganda. The Syrian predator and his cronies are waging an information war, using disinformation as a weapon.”
Syrian journalists, bloggers and activists are regularly followed, arrested and tortured. Many are unaccounted for. Ordinary citizens who have had contact with foreign news organizations are also targeted. More than 30 professional and amateur media workers are behind bars.”
A detailed report about journalism in Syria can be found in Get the word out, if you can
Rania Khalek, Common Dreams:
“There’s no doubt that Assad, whose family has passed down authoritarian rule of Syria like an heirloom, appears to have committed war crimes for which there is no excuse.”
Contrary to this statement there are many doubts, but they obviously have not reached Ms Khalek. This is a broad and very unspecific claim not backed up by any solid evidence. Why Is UNSMIS Houla Report Missing
Robert Fisk, The Independent:
“Now the usual caveat — which will be forgotten by those who wish to accuse the writer of being a member of the Syrian intelligence service: Bashar al-Assad is a despot, his regime is awful, its policemen torture on a scale that would stun the RUC thugs who beat up their Catholic prisoners in Castlereagh, and Syrian militias fill mass graves.”
Where is the evidence of torture and where are the mass graves?
“Aleppo’s Dar al-Shifa Hospital was bombed and destroyed by the Syrian Army.”
An alternative view: The Dar al-Shifa hospital is a private clinic owned by a businessman loyal to President Assad. The FSA rebels drove him out and converted his property into a makeshift field hospital to provide medical care for wounded fighters. The airstrike targeted the command center of the rebels in the adjacent building, resulting in at least 11 killed fighters. The makeshift field hospital sustained only minor damage.
Many pages could filled which similar claims and counterclaims, but this is not the intent of the blog post. Dissenting opinions about Syria can be found at:
I discussed in earlier posts how public perceptions are formed by constant propaganda (indoctrination, brainwashing, psyops), by repeating again and again the officially sanctioned narrative. This narrative is not disputable, there is no rational discussion or fact checking or weighing facts allowed. If one simply asks: “Who said that?” The answer will be (with raised eyebrows): “Everybody says it.”
That is the proof! Everybody heard it, everybody says it, who dares to object, who dares to step aside and not follow the herd? The internet public is not divided on the issues surrounding the Arab Spring and dissenters are shouted down, are called names, have to face a barrage of trenchant and vitriolic attacks.
I envy the people who are so absolutely sure about their opinion. It is time consuming and often exhausting to research, to look at different sources, to compare the differing accounts and try to make out the flaws, paradoxes, contradictions, inconsistencies.
It would be so much easier just to run with the crowd. It would be convenient to join the outrage against the officially introduced villain, it would be refreshing and satisfying to direct all aggressions against this common enemy. It would be a confirmation of ones own virtue, of ones own decency, honesty, righteousness.
It is always nice to have a public enemy, a scapegoat, a doormat.
I nearly forgone one important general assumption about the Arab Spring:
6. Women played a substantive role in the overthrow of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Gaddafi and they will greatly benefit from the newly won freedoms.
The alternative view
Tunisian women were not significantly involved in the protests against the Ben Ali government. In Tunisia women had achieved a higher level of equality than in most other Arab nations. The constitution of 1956 (passed under Habib Bourguiba) stated that women and men were equal, banned polygamy, and introduced civil divorce and marriage.
Blogger and human rights activist Aya Chebbi writes about the uprising: “One of the first outcomes was the kidnapping and raping of girls.”
“This behavior became so normalized that men and boys even joked about it on Facebook. They said: “If a girl today isn’t kidnapped, it means that she is not beautiful.”
“Since then, the police has been taking advantage of the chaos. They took every opportunity to sexually harass women — from looking, to staring, to touching, to raping, beating, and insulting. I can’t call these attitudes anything but animalistic. Some policemen acted in gangs to inflict violence on women.”
In the wake of the uprising the Salafist movement in Tunisia has gained momentum and groups of young men increasingly attack women on the streets who are deemed to be indecently dressed. Salafis also attacked Sidi Abdallah Guech, a dead end street which is Tunis’ red-light district. Brothels in Sousse, Médenine, Sfax and Kairouan were set on fire, the women who worked there were hunted down and severely beaten.
Tunis once was a city where women didn’t have to be brave to show their hair. Veiled women are still a minority but all women, veiled or unveiled, have to be careful now not to go out alone or enter quiet unpopulated streets.
A young female journalist reported, that she found her photograph on the Facebook page of a Salafist group together with her address. Above her picture were a skull and the word “traitor.” This isn’t uncommon, she wrote. “You have to expect that 30 Salafis will be outside your door the next morning, shouting that the devil lives there.”
Tunisian universities are another battleground with violently pursued demands of permitting women to wear the niqab (veil), of establishing prayer rooms, and of keeping men and women separate. The university deans are on their own and helpless because the interior minister spoke publicly of “the Salafis legitimate demands.”
The ruling Ennahda Party sees no need to distance itself from the radicals. Ennahda founder Rachid Ghannouchi even encouraged “our young Salafis” to patiently embark on a long march. “Why the hurry?” he said in a video of a meeting with Salafis. “The Islamists must fill the country with their organizations, establish Koran schools everywhere and invite religious imams.”
The Ennahda party also wants to change the role of women and has unveiled a draft constitution which refers to women as “complementary to men” (article 28).
How married couples perform “complementarity” within the family is open to interpretation, especially in a society where local custom and religious norms are part of the social template. This is one reason why opponents of this type of wording, in particular the reference to how husbands and wives go about “complementing” each other’s roles inside the private realm, view this as a form of subverting the existing legal paradigm, Bourguiba’s Personal Status Code, which is clear about equality.
In August thousands of Tunisian women protested in the capital Tunis against the Islamist-led government and in September there were again demonstrations when a woman was accused of “indecency” after she had been raped by policemen in a car park.
Since the Islamists’ rise to power in the 2011 revolution, feminist groups have accused police of regularly harassing women by challenging them over their clothing or detaining them if they go out at night unaccompanied by family members.
Sexual harassment was already endemic in Egyptian society before the rise of the Islamists. According to a 2008 survey by the Egyptian Center of Women’s Rights 83 percent of Egyptian women have experienced sexual harassment, 62 percent of Egyptian men are admitting that they sexually harass women.
Harassment is experienced by the vast majority of women, veiled or not, and the majority of men blame the victims for bringing on the attack. Egypt has no law against sexual harassment and despite evidence that this is a widespread phenomenon, authorities prefer to ignore it. The situation appears to be growing even worse in the post-Mubarak era.
In June, a group of women demanding an end to sexual harassment were attacked by a mob in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
Also in June Natasha Smith, a British journalist was brutally sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square as thousands of Egyptians gathered to celebrate the nation’s presidential election results. She found herself being dragged aside, groped all over with increasing force and aggression, and then stripped naked.
A friend eventually reached her and managed to guide her to a medical tent. Local women helped protect her as she put on a burka and clothes. When the male crowd attempted to attack the tent, those inside began making a barricade out of chairs. Natasha Smith finally could escape by posing as the wife of one medic and walking out hand-in-hand with him.
Smith is not the first Western woman to be assaulted while working in Egypt. CBS News correspondent Lara Logan was attacked in February 2011 at a demonstrations in Tahrir Square (discussed in the blog post GANG-RAPED). She finally disclosed that men in the crowd had raped her with their hands.
Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy was assaulted by Egyptian security forces in November last year.
Women gained fewer seats in the now dissolved parliament after the November 2011 elections than they had in the 2010 elections under Mubarak (from 12 percent down to 2 percent), and only seven women were chosen to take part in the 100 member strong constitutional assembly drafting the country’s new constitution.
The latest draft of the constitution declares Sharia law as “the fundamental rules of jurisprudence,” which could see women lose the right to sue for divorce, a freedom championed by the deposed first lady, Suzanne Mubarak. Mrs Mubarak also had successfully pushed for a political quota system favoring female candidates, but after her husband’s ouster and the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood that provision was abolished.
Lately Egyptian parliamentarians have announced that they want to lower the age of marriage and eliminate a law that bans FGM (female genital mutilation).
Dina Wahba, an activist and coordinator of the Women’s Committee in the newly established Egyptian Democratic Social Party, describes recent changes in Egypt as “alarming,” and she considers a constitution drafted by a men dominated body as a danger for women’s rights and social justice. “It feels like two years have gone by with all these sacrifices for nothing,” is her heartfelt complain.
In Libya, like in Tunisia, women didn’t join the NATO led militias in any significant numbers, though the few who did were paraded on every Western news channel to create the illusion that this was indeed a popular uprising and not an insurrection by criminal gangs.
One can only speculate what could have motivated the few women who joined the rebellion. Was the motive personal grievances against the authorities, the hope for personal gains after a successful revolt, was it unrealistic expectations, delusions, or simply stupidity?
Women in Libya had enjoyed a reasonably high status. They had been able to vote since 1963 and the empowerment of women was a central goal in the revolution of 1969. Since 1973 Libyan women had equal rights in obtaining a divorce.
Libya had signed the “UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women” (Cedaw). In 2004 Libya was the first Arab country to adopt an optional protocol allowing women to petition a UN committee about violations of their rights.
As part of Gaddafi’s bid to alter society he promoted a greater role for women, specifically calling on them to join the workforce. In the past decade, girls enrollment increased by 12 percent in all levels of education. In secondary and tertiary education, girls outnumbered boys by 10 percent. Half of all university graduates are women.
25 year old Magdulien Abaida, who was involved in organizing aid for the militias, has just been given asylum by the UK government. Sunderland, a town on the edge of the North Sea, has become her new home.
“It’s very bad that you put yourself in danger to work hard for this revolution,” she says. “And then in the end you have to leave because it’s not a safe place for you anymore.”
This summer on a visit to Benghazi, the starting point of last year’s uprising, Ms Abaida was detained twice by members of an independent militia. The women’s conference which Ms Abaida was attending — financed in part by British aid money — was interrupted by armed men. Later, militia members seized her from her hotel room. She was released, but abducted again the next day and held prisoner in a room at the militia base.
“Someone came in and started kicking me,” she tells. “Then he started hitting me with his gun. He was telling me: ‘I will kill you and bury you here and nobody will know’. He was calling me an Israeli spy, a whore and bitch. He kept telling me ‘I can kill you right here and nobody will know about you’ and I thought that I would be killed in that place.”
Eventually, she was released — badly bruised by the whipping. Fearing she might be murdered if she was abducted again, Ms Abaida decided in September to flee to Britain.
Dr Fatima Hamroush, an eye doctor and short time minister of health in the interim government tells that she feared for her life doing her job. She became a marked women after attempting to deal with a massive fraud on the Libyan state by bogus fighters who claimed to have been wounded in the fight against Gaddafi.
At one stage she was stopped by four armed men on the way to a television station and was only saved because her driver knew the kidnappers. She was later physically attacked in her office and on another occasion she barred intruders from her office. “At that stage I thought I should resign.”
At the end of her tenure she was accompanied by eight armed guards carrying AK-47 and she had to live inside an army compound. She says it felt like house arrest. Dr Fatima Hamroush is now back in Ireland and not sure if she ever will go to Libya again.
A year after the slaying of Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan revolution is turning sour for women, who are being shut out of the political process — including, most recently, the drafting of the new constitution. Frustration is mounting and activism has decreased, with some women saying they see little point now in agitating for gender equality.
It started already in October 2011, when Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the internationally-known face of the revolution and head of the National Transitional Council till August 2012, used his first public speech after the death of Gaddafi to propose making it easier for men to have more than one wife.
Since then, every incident, from a woman presenter who, hosting a ceremony in August before the new parliament, was forced off the podium because her head wasn’t covered, to militia men in Benghazi harassing a women’s conference — prompted more women to return to private life.
Activists, who insisted that at least 20 members of a still-to-be-formed constitutional committee should be women, were told by the vice president of the new parliament, Dr. Jumma Attiger (a man who has been supportive of women’s issues) that there won’t be any women appointed to the 60 member strong panel.
For most women, life in the new Libya until now only has brought domestic drudgery, subordination, insecurity, and the outlook is grim. Women will have not more than a token role in the political process, they will be eliminated from the workforce to make place for the many unemployed young men, and their future lives will be revolving around a home ruled by their husbands, occasionally punctuated by child births.
Spousal rape is not a crime in the new Libya.
Fair skinned women still have it better than black Libyans, who are besieged by racist rebel fighters. Women in one internal refugee camp told that they are regularly dragged off at night and raped by militiamen. “They come in firing their guns and taking people,” a black woman told Western reporters. “They don’t use condoms…”
Black women still have it better than the many prominent women who disappeared in the prisons of the militias, probably gang-raped and tortured to death. One militia man boasted in a YouTube video about gang-raping a few woman, cutting off their breasts and letting them bleed to death while the group of men was sitting outside, eating and drinking and singing “Alluha Akbar, Alluha Akbar” (“god is great, god is great”).
Zohra Al-Buaishi, one of Muammar Gaddafi’s personal bodyguards (the “Revolutionary Nuns”), managed it to flee to Egypt, where she was organizing demonstrations against the new Libyan authorities, denouncing gross human rights violations against the over 10,000 political prisoners, the ethnic cleansing of black Libyans, and the siege and destruction of Bani Walid.
Zohra Al-Buaishi was found stabbed to death in her Cairo apartment on November 9.
How do the Wester media channels spin all these development? The National Post writes:
“Libyan rebels are saving women from social death by marrying those who were raped and discarded by their families as a disgrace.”
Right on, there is nothing bad about this and it is also clearly an established Islamic tradition which was already demonstrated by Prophet Muhammad, who at the age of 57 took his 17 year old Jewish wife Safiyah after her father Huyeiy was beheaded along with 900 men of the Banu Nadir tribe and after her husband Kinana was tortured to death when the town Khaibar was raided and all men there were killed. The younger and prettier widows of the killed jews were given to Muhammad’s followers.
If the woman is pretty enough, she has a chance even in the new Libya.
The role of Sharia (Islamic) law is among the most controversial issues in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, because the weight to be accorded to Sharia in the new constitutions of these countries is a serious threat not only to the rights of women but also to freedom of expression and freedom of religion.
Islamic scholars often try to sugarcoat Islamic law for their non-Muslim audiences by referring to modern reinterpretations of Quran and Sunnah and presenting a sanitized version of Sharia. They purposely forget to mention that the more disagreeable and disputed interpretations are usually the ones, that are in actual use.
There are harrowing examples of brutal and inhuman judgements and punishments under Sharia, it would be worth another blog post to investigate this particular issue.
A central aspect of Sharia law is the implicit superiority of men and the submission of women under male rule. This aspect is also the stunningly simple and plausible explanation for the continuing appeal of radical Islam to young Arab men.
Islamic scholars insist that according to the Quran men and women are equal in the eyes of god. They may be equal but they have different roles, and the role of a woman is to obey her husband and to be a good mother.
Sharia insists that women must have guardians and some Islamic countries view them legally as perpetual minors, who never can become adults and normal citizens. Some jurists in Sharia law do not identify women as human beings and others consider them to be similar to livestock.
Under classical Sharia law men have the right of unilateral divorce. A Sunni Muslim divorce is effective when the man tells his wife that he is divorcing her, a Shia divorce in addition to that requires four witnesses. Women are allowed to initiate divorce, but only under certain conditions. A man can divorce his wife by repudiation, whereas a woman must give justifications, some of which are difficult to prove.
Under Sharia’s civil code, a woman’s testimony is worth half of a man’s. Child custody reverts to the father at a preset age; women who remarry lose custody of their children; sons inherit twice the share of daughters.
The crimes of adultery (which includes adultery, fornication, incest/paedophilia, rape, pimping) and sodomy/lesbianism are “claims against God” and carry sever punishments, including death.
Under Sharia many rape cases are settled out of court, with the rapist paying monetary compensation (jirah) to the victim.
The criticism of Sharia in the last chapter may appear as one sided, as islamophobic, as racist. I lightheartedly concede, that the question is unsettled, which one of the big monotheistic religions benefitted women (and humans in general) more, which one reduced or prevented suffering more, which one is more likely to ensure peace.
Islamic scholars insist, that Islam is a religion of peace.
Christian theologians insist, that Christianity brings peace to the world.
Hindu teachers portray Hinduism as the religion which shows the way to peace.
Talmudic scholars and rabbis point out, that Judaism is peaceful (arguing for instance that “an eye for an eye” only means monetary compensation).
Where is the practical proof for these claims?
Where is peace?