This is Why I am Charlie …..

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— By: Alexandra Kinias —

I stand in solidarity with the victims of Charlie Hebdo and the officer who lost his life defending them, not particularly because I agree with the contents of the magazine, but because I stand for the freedom of expression. I never read the magazine and I haven’t seen its cartoons prior or post the heinous massacre that took the life of its staff.

The terrorists shouted Islamic slogans as they shot their victims in cold blood, and witnesses heard them saying that they have avenged for the Prophet who was the subject of the magazine’s satirical cartoons a while ago.

And as always, and because Islamic terrorists know the psychologies of Muslims and what strings to pull, Muslims’ sentiments flared when the name of the Prophet was mentioned as the reason behind the attack, ignoring that these same terrorists are the ones whose news of committing crimes in the name of Islam have become the world’s headlines’ news.

Some debated that the freedom of expression ends when Islam is ridiculed, forgetting that some Muslims who have no objections in insulting and criticizing the religious beliefs of the others may go as far as committing atrocious crimes to make their voice heard. And while such actions by some Muslims are done in broad daylight, the world rarely witnesses actions by Christians or Jews who go out and slaughter others for the sole purpose of avenging their faith.

People may disagree, but the truth of the matter is that Islamic terrorists choose to silence the voices of those who criticize them with bullets. For them, violence is the only way to defend their misinterpretation of Islam from those who dare to criticize their misguidance and misrepresentation of the faith.

Charlie is not just the 12 French victims. Charlie is Malala Yousefzadi who was shot by the Taliban for defending the right of girls to go to school in Afghanistan. Charlie is also the Egyptian Nobel prize laureate Nagib Mafouz who was stabbed by an illiterate radical who was told that the author insulted God and his Prophet in one of his novels. It is the Egyptian professor and columnist Farag Foda who was assassinated in 1992 by the hands of the Islamic Jihad group after he wrote a series of articles condemning the growth of radical Islam. And last but not least, Charlie is the Dutch film director Theo Van Gogh who was stabbed to death in broad daylight for producing and directing the short movie Submission which criticized the way women were treated in Islam.

Je suis Charlie was created as a symbol to denounce not merely the terrorist attack by Islamists on the staff of the magazine, but specifically the attack on the freedom of expression. And after the dust settled, Charlie became nothing more than yet another brick in the tall wall that separates the East and West.

And while French people and other countries in the west are standing in unity to protect their freedom of speech, the atrocities and crimes that were committed in the name of Islam and the Prophet were again minimized by many Muslims whose faith have been globally insulted in more severe ways, by the hands of Islamists who hijacked their faith, than by stupid cartoons.

It is quite shameful that while many Muslims understand the core reasons that justify the acts of Islamic terrorists, they are still blaming the west for its creation. And the adoption of such attitude merely feeds the division and cultural clash that widens the gap between the East and the West.

Although I have received several death threats and I am still receiving hate mail for what I write, I will not remain silent against attacks targeting freedom of expression.

“Je suis Charlie.”

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Egyptian IDs : A Tribute to my Father

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By: Alexandra Kinias —

I once asked my father, why it is that religion is written on IDs. We were driving back from school along the Alexandria shore, as we did every day for many years. Out of the window I would see the blue Mediterranean extending to the horizon. On warm days its crisp air carried the light scent of iodine that is distinctive of Mediterranean cities.

Without hesitation, my father responded that it was the government’s way to know whether to bury the homeless and those who died in accidents with no families to claim them in Muslim or Christian cemeteries. For a seven-years-old this explanation made perfect sense. My father sounded very convincing that it took me years before I questioned if and why the homeless cared to carry IDs.

My endless questions were always answered by my father. In fact the answers lived between the pages of his books that were piled up around the house. And before my twelfth birthday, we were both reading the same books.

My grandfather was a Moroccan sailor who left his oasis in the southern Moroccan Sahara to travel the world. He met the love of his life in Crete and they settled to Egypt. I met neither of them. My grandfather died at sea, I was told. My father inherited the love of the sea from his father. He also had a heart of a sailor and a soul of a gypsy. His boat was his second home, or maybe the first, depending on whom you asked. Together we sailed some rough seas. And this is not a metaphor.

Driving back from school was our bonding time. He was a great buddy; a child trapped in a man’s body. We spent hours playing with our toys and building projects together, which he genuinely enjoyed. We picked stray puppies from the streets and brought them home to my mother to feed. He taught me target shooting, bird hunting and fishing. But what I loved most about him was that he could stop the clock anytime an idea as important as showing me how to catch fish in a glass jar or flying a kite came to his mind.

I remember a summer afternoon together on the beach. He had a glass jar with a piece of bread inside it. I watched him as he covered the opening of the jar with a cloth, fastened a rubber band around it, and then cut a hole in the middle with his Swiss Knife. He immersed the jar under water between some rocks and we stood few steps away and watched as the little fish swam inside it.

My father was never punctual. But for him there was nothing more important than enjoying an intellectual conversation, experimenting with a new idea or driving for two hours to Cairo to show me the mask of King Tut, obviously because I had asked something about it, and plotting together later how to rob it from the Egyptian museum while eating ice-cream at our favorite place.

My father’s religious affiliation is not of any significance here, but what is important though is that he was born in a cosmopolitan society that was vibrant and tolerant. At the first half of the twentieth century religion was a very personal matter and people practiced their faith within the walls of their homes, mosques, churches and synagogues. My father was a manifestation of this society. Being well read, he could debate any of the religions as if he were a member of that particular faith. He could have easily passed as a Muslim, a Christian, a Jew, all of the above, or none of the above; I often wondered.

As years went by, the issue of ID cards became less intriguing. I no longer believed my father’s explanation of course, yet certain issues eventually become accepted as a way of life, even if they don’t make sense. Even Egyptians who view this issue as a form of discrimination and advocate for its removal, they proposed no plausible explanations to support their arguments for why it was written in the first place.
The discrimination against the Copts and Jews started in 641 A.D. shortly after the Islamic Conquest of Egypt. Non-Muslim subjects living in the lands that were conquered by the Muslims paid the jizya, an annual tax, in return for their protection, since they were neither allowed to carry weapons to defend themselves, nor to join the Muslim armies.

No official documents stated that, but presumably for that reason, people were then categorized according to their religion and somehow it was documented on their official papers. Egyptian Copts and Jews paid the jizya to the Muslim rulers from 641 A.D. until Mohamed Ali abolished this law in 1839. It is unclear, though, why religion still appeared on IDs, but most likely it was a decision made to avoid the wrath of the religious scholars who had strong influence over the people. In today’s society it serves nothing but creating prejudices between the various religious camps.

Over dinner at our favorite Pizza place I would have loved to disclose this revelation to my father and ask him if he knew that all along. My father lived large and enjoyed life to the extreme as he must have had a premonition that his life would be short lived. I lost him in a car accident shortly after I graduated from college. He died at a young age before I had time to ask him more questions about matters that I heard over the years, but never made sense to me. I always wanted to know if my disclosure had any relevance to why his family’s name was dropped from officials records after they settled in Egypt. As some lives end abruptly, their stories are left with no closure and it is left to our imagination to improvise and weave the end the way we like them to be.

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Censoring Movies in Egypt

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Written by: Alexandra Kinias

On its journey from birth to screen, Egyptian movies require triple permits before they see the light. The screenplay must first be approved before a shooting permit is issued. Before the movie is shot, the censorship bureau can demand the removal of scenes, tamper with the story or even change the title as happened with Cairo Exit which its initial title was Egypt Exit. Unless producers comply with such requirements, movies will forever remain on paper. Once a movie is shot, a screening permission must be granted. And as a final reminder of who has the upper hand, the bureau reserves the right to revoke the screening permit at any time and for any reason.

Refusing to comply with the requirements to change the faith of the female character, the screenplay Cairo Exit was not approved. In lieu of shooting permits, the movie was shot underground since carrying a film camera on the street of Cairo without a permit is a felony. In spite of the games of hide and seek played between the movie crew and policemen, in civilian clothes roaming the streets, the shooting was completed.

The first censorship law in Egypt was drafted on November 26, 1881 as a reaction to Ahmed Orabi’s revolution against the British occupation. To curb the freedom of press after nationalistic newspapers in support of the revolution flooded the market, control over the media was born. An amendment to the law was made in 1904 that included censorship over movies and theatrical performances. Prior to that date, movies that were screened in Egypt, since 1896, and theatrical performances were under the direct control and discretion of the police chief.

Against the belief of the masses, the censorship bureau was not essentially created to protect family values, but its objective was primary political to safeguard the government and its leaders. Unfortunately, nothing has changed since then. However, with the religious surge in Egypt, those who proclaimed themselves as custodians of morality rode the wave to benefit from the censorship that has assisted them in spreading their ideologies.

To silence the voices and switch off the brains of the people, censorship becomes essential for the existence of totalitarian regimes. With adding a tint of religious and family values to its objectives, no one dares to dispute its motives. It comes as no surprise that movie censorship thrived under the reign of Mubarak’s corrupt regime.

To safeguard moral and family values, countries worldwide have instituted the rating system whose purpose is to alert viewing audiences of the contents which maybe objectionable to some. However, banning movies, to stop people from watching them is a common practice of totalitarian control. It is an insult to assume that people are unable to think for themselves and thus need the guidance from decision makers to tell them what they should watch, or how they should think and behave.

As in other countries, Egypt also has its own inconvenient truths embedded in the society such as female genital mutilation, sex out of wedlock, women who turn to prostitution for a living or interfaith relationships. Banning movies that discuss such issues on the basis that they defame the society is a form of mental manipulation as denial of an existing problem is a delusional approach to solve it. On the contrary such important social issues require people’s awareness rather than wishing them away. Only when addressed, then they may be resolved.

In addition to that, the ban of movies or books resulted in restricting creativity which unfortunately doesn’t come with an operating manual with guidelines to follow. Over the years, censorship has achieved nothing but an overall decline of talents.

It is ironic to see the books that were published in Egypt in the early twentieth century are being banned in the twenty first century. No wonder that when the dispels of the cultural renaissance of the twenties and thirties in Egypt, like Abbas Mahmoud Al- Akkad and Nagub Mahfouz, two of Egypt’s notable writers, took responsibility of the censorship bureau, Egypt’s cinema witnessed its golden age. The set back of the Egyptian movie industry happened with the revolution of 1952 when the industry was nationalized and censorship escalated to protect the revolution.

Today’s censorship officials in Egypt are the sons of the era that witnessed the cultural decline. Their qualifications are not important anymore because the job description nor longer requires creativity and talent, but total submission to the regime’s doctrine.

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Black Tulips from Screenplay to Novel

Fullscreen capture 10302013 112011 PM.bmp While I was organizing my computer files, I came across this article that I had written in 2011 for the Arizona Authors Association and where I had talked about the adjustments I had made in  my writing career.

Black Tulips from  Screenplay to Novel (original article)

“The decision to adapt one of my screenplays to a novel was as unpredictable as the characters I create. Novels are usually adapted to screenplays not the other way around. I had already gone through a mid-course adjustment when I dumped my engineering career and picked up screenplay writing.

The culmination of the classes and workshops I had attended equipped me with enough knowledge to create my first project. Tens of drafts later, my first screenplay ‘Lonely Hearts’, which I wrote clandestinely while still working to spare the engineer inside me the embarrassment of getting caught, was ready. It was sold to a production company in Egypt, but due to financial difficulties, it was never produced. My second screenplay ‘Cairo Exist’–which I co-wrote–did see the light and received international recognition, but was banned in Egypt because of its controversial story. A woman getting pregnant out of wedlock after having an affair with an out of faith boyfriend is not an issue that receives nods from the censorship bureau. ‘Leila’s World’, one of my favorite screenplays, was short-listed in Rawi Screenwriter’s Lab in 2010. The Jordanian screen writing development workshop is modeled around the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab and differs only in that it focuses solely on Arab screenplay writers. ‘Leila’s World’ discusses religious tolerance, yet another subject not well received in that part of the world.

More than a handful other screenplays were written between ‘Lonely Hearts’ and ‘Leila’s World’. The files in my computer looked impressive, I have to admit. Unfortunately, I knew that if no action was taken, they would be forever buried there along with hundreds of characters and plots.

Growing up in Egypt had influenced me to write ‘Black Tulips,’ a screenplay about women. It tells the story of four women from various social standards but who share the same hardships of living in a male dominant society. Another controversial story that was doomed to the same fate as the others. After several uneventful attempts to convince producers, it became obvious that my characters would spend the rest of their lives in my hard disk. Screenplay writing was indeed a labor of passion that I had invested a lot of time and money into it, but another readjustment to my career, even as it sounded insane, was necessary. And since I perpetually surprise myself, my curiosity to witness the outcome overshadowed any hesitation born out of reason.

Black Tulips, the movie, was vivid in my mind. I realized that getting a movie produced is like chasing rainbows, yet publishing a book can be less complicated. The women in Egypt deserved to have their stories told. That was the decisive factor to adapt the screenplay to a novel, but I needed to know how to put it down on paper for people to read. Intimidated by the task, I needed the assistance of a writing coach to properly present it to the world. My quest to save the characters from the inevitable fate that awaited them inside my hard drive led me to the doorstep of the writing coach, Pamella’s Goodfellow’s.

Writing a novel required different skills than writing a screenplay and the process to rewire my brain was challenging and grinding. After years of writing scenes in four lines, it wasn’t easy to expand them into one thousand words. The worst challenge was that some characters were not cooperative. They needed time and space, they said.

While still negotiating with the characters, I created my blog, silenced voices, wasted lives, which reflected the challenges that my female characters encountered in their daily lives. Black Tulips is fiction, but the stories in the blog are real. Because gender is their adversary, Egyptian women from all walks of life are subjected to the same abuse and challenges. No one is spared because of her status or wealth.

Moreover, injecting emotions into the scenes of Black Tulips didn’t come as easy as I had anticipated. Most characters were just comfortable the way they were and resisted the emotional exposure. After begging, warning, threatening, encouraging and often bribing them with chocolate cakes, ice creams and free movies tickets, they finally opened up and allowed me to probe deeper into their souls.”

Writing my first novel has been among the most interesting experiences in my life, indeed a journey to remember.

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He killed his Wife for Being Pregnant with a Baby Girl, and the Birth of the Crown Price

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By: Alexandra Kinias

A Palestinian man in the West Bank was arrested on May 13, 2010 for killing his 27 years old pregnant wife. [1] He choked her to death. The wife’s crime was that her ultrasound’s results showed that she was pregnant with a baby girl. Even though the couple had already three boys and a girl, the husband, who evidently was ignorant that the man’s sperm decided the gender of the fetus, admitted that he was jealous of his brother who had nine sons.

“According to police, abrasions were found on the man’s body, indicating that the wife struggled as he was choking her to death.” [2]
As explained to the police, the husband committed this heinous crime to terminate his wife’s pregnancy because she didn’t comply with his demands, of giving birth to another son. It was as if she cooked hummus for him instead of shish kebabs.

This horrific news was another illustration of the cruel reality of how women are still viewed and treated in many parts of the world. In cultures where Stone Age mentalities dominate, females are believed to be inferior to males. It is believed that daughters bring shame to their families. Not to mention that they are viewed as financial burdens and that in the process of growing up, girls deplete their families’ resources that could be spent on rising up their male siblings. They are considered bad investments since they eventually leave the family when they get married and serve their grooms’ families. Girls in some of these cultures are as beneficial as their value when sold at a young age into marriages.

The first thing that came to mind when I read about the slain of this woman was her surviving children. How would the daughter who had witnessed the killing of her mother, for being pregnant with a baby girl, feel about her gender? What about the message that was given to the three boys?

The woman, according to news reports, had been previously attacked and abused by her husband. But growing up in a culture where violence against women is the norm and is encouraged by religious scholars, she accepted her fate and became submissive to her abuser. Even her family knew about it, but no one stood up in her defense. The social illnesses in such cultures are overwhelming that it becomes hard to point fingers at who is to blame. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the women in her family are as abused as she was, and most likely her male relatives behaved no different than her husband.

What is more horrific than the crimes committed against these women is how the law deals with such crimes. The authorities in these cultures, represented in law makers and police officers, view and accept the abusive behaviors against women as a family dispute that not only ddoesn’trequire their intervention, but that it may be misinterpreted by the society as a breach of the families’ private affairs.

And while this crime was committed in a land where the culture is stigmatized as misogynist, let us not forget that women in other cultures have suffered throughout history the consequences of their gender; and they still are. In China, female infanticide was a common practice in ancient times. It dates back to 2000 years ago. The early missionaries that arrived to China in the sixth centuries recorded that they had witnessed female infants dumped into the garbage and others thrown into the rivers and left to drown. [3] And until the 19th century this horrific crime was widely practiced in China. The two main reasons for that were poverty and the dowry system. Poor families either couldn’t afford the dowries or preferred not to lose the money to a stranger. [4] And the solution was to simply murder the female infant. The dowry system was also the reason that females’ infanticides were spread in India.

In the seventh century in pre-Islamic Arabia female infanticide was also widely practiced by the fathers who did not value their daughters as much as they valued their sons. In the years of famine, born girls were to be buried alive in fear of poverty. To poor families, girls were a burden and killing them was a way of survival. Young boys may have also been killed if there were no girls born to the family. Eventually the killing of daughters ceased once the fathers discovered that selling the daughter was more profitable than just burying her, and hence the marriage by purchasing the wives was introduced into these societies. After the rise of Islam, female infanticide was banned and hence it ceased, yet, in a culture that leans towards misogyny, females’ worth were and will always be negligible in comparison to males’.

In modern times, though, the preference of having a son over a daughter is incomprehensible. No other reason sounds plausible other than it demonstrates that the remnants of the medieval culture that has been embedded in the minds since it was practiced in ancient times are still alive. In cultures like India and China, the detection of the child’s gender before birth resulted in the soaring rate of abortion of female unborn children. And in China, where the one-child policy often collides with the traditional preference for a son in the family, the use of ultrasound to determine the gender of a fetus is banned, except for medical reasons. As a result, of course, underground illegal ultrasound services were created. [5] And when abortion fails, female babies are dumped at birth in orphanages where the lucky ones are given away for adoption. [6]

The Birth of the crown price

In Alexandria, Egypt, where I grew up, I knew of a family of nine girls and a boy. Of course the boy was the youngest of the herd. In their parental journey for having a son, two sets of twins were born. The family lived close to where I lived, but never once during the twenty years that I lived there had I ever saw the mother. With her hands full of ten children, she had no time to ever be spotted outside. At the time I was growing up, it was not uncommon that families would have a large number of kids, but this was the largest by far, especially to city dwellers. Also, most big families had an assortment of genders. With this particular family, it was obvious that they kept breeding to have a son.

And while the mother had no time for life, the nine girls were visible running errands for her. I remember the father vividly. We never exchanged words, but often greeted each other when we crossed path. He was a high school teacher who was always dressed in a brown suit and a tie. He was skinny, wore dark prescription glasses at all times and gave private lessons to supplement his income, and never gave up on having a son. In Egypt men conceal their misogynist mentalities with the rationalization that a son would carry the family name.

The journey traveled until the son was conceived and born was long and financially painful. But it wasn’t  just the financial dilemma that intrigued me, but the emotional one as well. The father was an educated man, yet his university degree was meaningless. It was baffling to see how the medieval culture was deeply engraved in the subconscious of an educated man and it left me wondering what others with less fortunate fates would do. Reading the news about the Palestinian husband who killed his wife was an eye opener to how some men dealt with the issue.

The teacher’s wife in Alexandria was nothing but a reproductive machine. As the house got crammed with girls, their share of care and food was obviously diminishing with every addition to the family. And eventually their existence was overshadowed by the birth of one son. The older siblings cared for the younger ones and they all cared for the crown prince.

The high school teacher might have been either reasonable enough to understand that it was not his wife’s fault to keep breeding girls or he had no means to marry another woman. With his meager resources, it didn’t matter to the father that the girls were deprived from basic needs. What mattered was that he felt accomplished after the birth of the son. Finally, and in spite of the high expense that was paid along the way, the proud father succeeded in keeping the family’s name alive.

In many similar cases, men would simply take another wife if the first wife failed to give birth to a son. It is quite disgraceful that a man’s accomplishment in life is measured by having a son to succeed him. And it doesn’t matter if the son turns out to be a spoiled loser, which exactly what happened to the teacher’s son, since the boy was treated like a crown prince. Just imagine ten women looking after one child.

Under that roof, the message that was engraved in the minds of these girls was that their worth value was negligible in comparison to the boy. And vice versa, the boy was fed from birth that he was the most important member of this household. And most likely, these beliefs will be passed over to their children.
Quite saddening that in this time and age a person’s worth is judged according to their gender…

References:
1- Suspicion: Palestinian killed wife because she was carrying girl, by: Ali Waked, Israel New, May 13, 2010, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3889131,00.html
2- Killed for being pregnant with a baby girl, by: Phyllis Chesler, May 13, 2010, Fox News, http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2010/05/13/phyllis-chesler-palestinian-husband-wife-ultrasound-girl-honor-killing/
3- Mungello, D.E. (2008). Drowning Girls in China: Female Infanticide in China since 1650. Rowman & Littlefield.
4- Mungello, D.E. (2009). The Great Encounter of China and the West, 1500-1800 (3rd edition) Rowman & Littlefield.
5- Murky fetal clinics in illegal ultrasound service, Shanghai Daily, June 4, 2012, China.org.cn, http://www.china.org.cn/china/2012-06/04/content_25557578.htm
6- China’s Unwanted Babies Once Mostly Girls, Now Mostly Sick, Disabled, By Li Hui and Ben Blanchard, Reuters, Tianjin, China Sun Feb 2, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/02/us-china-babies-idUSBREA110M120140202

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In Sudan women are flogged in public for wearing pants

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By: Alexandra Kinias

A disturbing video of a woman flogged in the streets of Khartoum, Sudan went viral on the Internet in December 2010, and within few days it was viewed by millions worldwide. The barbaric act committed against the Sudanese woman outraged the international community who some were caught by surprise that this medieval punishment is still in fact carried out on humans in the 21st century. The video that was shot by an amateur showed two police officers in uniform flogging an anonymous woman in a courtyard of a police station. Spectators gathered on the side and watched the painful and humiliating punishment being carried out. [1] Luckily in this time and age such crimes committed against humans can no longer be discreet, and with a click of the button they travel far enough to expose their brutality.

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Woman flogged in the streets of Khartoum

Under the Sharia law (Islamic law) that governs Sudan, public flogging is used to punish women. In fact, Sudanese women have become the primary victims of the implementation of the Sharia law since it was adopted in 1983. And its amendment in 1991, after the Islamic backed military coup of Hassan Al Bashir and his rise to power, added more limitations to women’s status and freedoms.

Flogging is justified and practiced according to Article 152 of the 1991 Sudanese Criminal Code ‘Obscene and Indecent Acts’ clause which states that:
“Whoever does in a public place an indecent act or an act contrary to public morals or wears an obscene outfit or contrary to public morals or causing an annoyance to public feelings shall be punished with flogging which may not exceed forty lashes or with fine or with both.” [2]

It is worth mentioning that wearing pants by women is considered an indecent act in Sudan. In the video you could hear the cracking of the bullwhip, the terrified woman’s agonizing screams echoing as she pleaded and moaned in pain when the long brutal whip slashed her body and face, unmercifully, and the laughter of the man in uniform, who carried out the flogging, when he noticed that he was being filmed. It was heart wrenching to watch the disgraceful reaction of a psychopath while he inflicted pain and humiliation on another human being.

No one knew at the time the video was released of the exact nature of the woman’s crime. Speculations varied between wearing pants and committing adultery. Uncovering the head and riding in a car with a male who is not an immediate relative; father, son or husband is also considered an indecent act in Sudan where women are also punished by public flogging.

The calls, efforts and pressure on the Sudanese government by Amnesty International and other women and human rights organizations to abolish this law have failed to bring an end to it. “The law is crafted in a way that makes it impossible to know what is decent or indecent,” said Tawanda Hondora, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Africa Program. “In practice, women are routinely arrested, detained, tried and then, on conviction, flogged, simply because a police officer disapproves of their clothing. The law is also discriminatory, in that it is used disproportionately against women.” [3]

The exposure of the video and the worldwide outrage it created caused an embarrassment to the Sudanese government, which announced a start of an investigation of the case. [4] That was an ironical statement merely issued to save face as the law remains and more women are suffering because of it. The shameful whipping was also criticized by Sudanese Women’s Union. Thirty of its members marched in the streets of Khartoum to protest this disgraceful act, but they were detained as they tried to hand a petition to the ministry of justice and were denied access to their lawyers. [5]

This heinous crime against women was practiced for two decades away from the eyes of the world. And the credit for attracting international attention to it goes to Sudanese reporter and UN employee Lubna Al-Hussein who was arrested in 2009 for wearing pants in public and was sentenced to 40 lashes. Hussein and 13 other women were arrested in a coffee shop in Khartoum for violation of the Islamic dress code. She refused to be flogged and decided to go on trial. Al-Hussein resigned her UN position that granted her immunity so she can challenge the law and invited other reporters to attend her trial and to write about it. Due to the controversy and international exposure that her case attracted, the verdict was reduced to a $200.00 fine, which Al-Hussein refused to pay. “This is not a case about me wearing pants. This is a case about annulling the article that addresses women’s dress code, under the title of indecent acts. This is my battle. This article is against the constitution and even against Islamic law itself,” she said after the hearing. [6]

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Loubna Al-Hussein wearing pants

The Sudanese Journalists’ Union paid the fine on her behalf the court dismissed her case. In a televised interview with an Egyptian channel, Al-Hussein told her story and expressed her dismay and concern over the future of the women in Sudan. “I am not the only woman who was subjected to this punishment. There are tens of thousands like me. In one year 43,000 women were arrested because of their clothing, not from all of Sudan, but in Khartoum only, as declared by the police general commissioner.

“This clause in the law contains both moral and physical violence. Physical violence is manifested in the punishment of lashing, which is a humiliating and degrading to the pride and dignity. The moral violence is manifested in the fact that it is called ‘indecent acts,’ and this is the reason that tens of thousands of women before me did not have the courage to complain. The courts that try such cases are not regular courts. They are special courts that were established during the presidency of Al-Bashir. In these courts the defendant has no right to defend herself. And in my case, because of the publicity and the public support I received, I took a lawyer along with me, but the judge refused to give the defense witnesses a chance to be heard.”

‘Indecent clothes’ according to the law is subjective and not defined. And when asked to explain what the definition of ‘indecent clothes’ is, Al-Hussein responded that such definition is left to the discretion of the law enforcement officers. “The law says clothes that offend public sentiment and the authorities [policemen] arbitrary interpret the law as they please. And under the same law that punishes women by 40 lashes for wearing pants, a man who rapes a boy, a girl or a woman is sent to one month in jail. And then they tell you this is the Islamic law, but in fact this is the law of Al-Bashir.” [7]

The international outcry caused Al-Hussein’s case in 2009 fell on deaf ears. And no action has yet been taken by the Sudanese government to end this crime. And following in Al-Hussein’s footsteps, civil engineer and women’s rights activist Amira Osman Hamed also defied the law when she refused to cover her hair in public. She was arrested in August 2013 in a small village outside Khartoum. To bring the law back into the spotlight, Hamed who is awaiting trial says that she is ready for any sentence – including flogging. “I take the risk to tell what is happening in our country and I hope that will be the last time a Sudanese woman is arrested by this law.” [8]

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Amira Osman Hamed is awaiting trial for uncovering her head in public

Hamed’s trial, which was initially due to take place on 19 September 2013, has repeatedly been postponed after her lawyers submitted an appeal to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice stating that Article 152 is unconstitutional. According to her defense team, the Minister of Justice is still deliberating on this appeal and no progress has been made in arranging a new trial. Amnesty International in a statement issued on June 30, 2014 vowed that they will continue to put pressure on the Sudanese government to retract Hamed’s charges altogether. In the meantime she is free on bail. [9] [10]

It is shameful that such medieval practice is still implemented in broad daylight and that women have to pay the price for the insanity of lawmakers who draft such laws to ensure women’s submission by torturing and harassing them. There is no justification for the practice of such laws, no matter what label is added to them, other than the psychopathic, sadistic and misogynist mentalities behind them. And even with the assumption that these laws have been written in ancient books, there has to be a global effort to eradicate them not to revive them. And while Al-Hussein and Hamed’s cases attracted international attention, it is saddening to learn that there are thousands of other Sudanese women who are suffering in silence because of the consequences of this law. These women either have no means to bring their cases to the light or they chose to remain silent not to be stigmatized in their community as being charged with immorality.

Reference:
1- Sudan woman whipped including in the face while police laugh–Warning Graphic images, Sky News, Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ve_JJFF5X-g

2- The Sudanese Penal Code 1991, Article 152, Obscene and Indecent Acts, page 40, European Country of Origin Network (ecoi.net) http://www.ecoi.net/ , http://www.ecoi.net/sudan, https://www.ecoi.net/file_upload/1329_1202725629_sb106-sud-criminalact1991.pdf
3- Amnesty International calls on Sudan to repeal law penalizing women for wearing trousers, September 4, 2009, Amnesty International, http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/news/amnesty-international-sudan-repeal-law-penalizing-women-wearing-trousers-20090904
4- SUDAN: Authorities investigate whipping of woman on YouTube video, December 14, 2010, Los Angeles Times, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/babylonbeyond/2010/12/sudan-authorities-investigate-whipped-woman-video.html
5- Sudan YouTube flogging video: Women arrested at march, BBC News Africa, Dec 14, 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-11991558
6- Lubna Hussein Pants Trial Adjourns until Tuesday, The Huffington Post/Associated Press, Aug 20, 2009, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/07/29/lubna-hussein-pants-trial_n_246901.html
7- Interview with Lubna Al-Hussein on Egyptian television, Lubna Al-Hussein, Sudanese Journalist Sentenced to Lashing for Wearing Pants, Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BWHu6AYshlI

8- Sudanese women risks flogging over uncovered hair, By: Ian Timberlake, September 8, 2013, for Fox News, http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/09/08/sudan-woman-risks-flogging-over-uncovered-hair/
9- Amnesty International UK, Amira Osman Hamed, http://www.amnesty.org.uk/amira-osman-hamed-sudan-woman-headscarf-flog#.U-h0_vldWO0
10- Urgent Action, June 30, 2014, Amnesty International, http://www.amnestyusa.org/sites/default/files/f2u25313.pdf

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The Egyptian Inquisition

DemianaAbdelnour

— By: Alexandra Kinias —

The hopes of 24 years old school teacher Demiana Abdel-Nour to return home from self-exile were postponed indefinitely, on June 16, 2014, when the Egyptian appeals court upheld a blasphemy conviction against her and sentenced her to six months in prison, in addition to the earlier ruling that only imposed a fine of LE 100,000. Among the many challenges taking place in Egypt, the developments in Abdel-Nour’s case were sidelined by most Egyptian media.

The young teachers’ nightmare started in May 2013, when parents of three of her pupils, accused her of insulting Islam and the Prophet Muhammad by saying that the late Pope Shenouda III performed more miracles than the Prophet. They also alleged that she placed her hand on her stomach to convey nausea when mentioning the Prophet. These accusations were entirely based on the testimony of the three students, all under the age of ten. Abdel-Nour denied all allegations, and the school administration as well as the confessions of ten other students acknowledged that there was no truth to any of those claims. Yet on filing the charges, the young teacher was immediately arrested and thrown in jail, pending investigations of the charges.

Two weeks into her arrest and after going on a hunger strike Abdel-Nour was released on LE 20,000 bail. Soon after she fled to France, in fear of the consequences, after the court refused her defense request to admit witnesses and reports demonstrating her innocence. And according to her lawyer, she was mentally preparing herself to seek asylum in France if the courts ruled against her, which is exactly what happened.

The incident of Abdel-Nour is not an isolated one, but another in the long strand of events that target the Coptic minorities and affirms that the religious intolerance is steadily increasing. It is only predictable that this phenomenon that has grown roots in the society will eventually become a trait in the absence of the supervision of civil institutions. However, what came as a disappointment was that this verdict was the first after the new constitution has promised equality and freedom of religion to all Egyptians.

Defamation of religion is a phenomenon that is practiced in societies where religious extremism is rooted. In such societies, zealots condemn, prosecute and kill those who speak out against their faith, while giving themselves the license to do and say the exact same against other religions. With the rise of conservatism, Egypt is aggressively following in the footsteps of countries that have been labeled among the worse in freedom of religion. And while it didn’t come as a surprise what the young teacher had to go through, I somehow had hoped for a miracle that would reverse the heritage of long decades of ignorance and intolerance, forgetting that magic wands are only used in fairy-tales.

Abdel-Nour’s case reminded me of the Spanish-American movie “Goya’s Ghosts” by Milos Forman that took place during the time of the Spanish inquisition where Muslims and Jews were prosecuted for practicing their faith. Ines, a young catholic woman, the character played by Natalie Portman, was accused of being a heretic because she decides not to eat a pork roast; a dish she particularly doesn’t favor, that was served to her in a tavern. And before she knew it, she was tortured by the Inquisition on the accounts that her dietary choice is dictated not by taste but by her clandestine conversion to Judaism. Ines was sent to 15 years in jail on the alleged charges, with no proof.

Abdel-Nour’s case was similar to Natalie Portman’s character in “Goya’s Ghosts”. While the fate of Ines was decided by speculations, Abdel-Nour’s was decided by the testimonies of three school kids under the age of ten.

Unfortunately, Abdel-Nour’s will not be the last case of blasphemy Egypt will witness in the near future. If the fate of a young woman was decided by the testimonials of three under age school children, we might as well bid adieu to a country that was once a safe haven to all religions. And unless the government that has promised equality and religious freedom and safety to its Coptic minority exerts tangible measures, together with social organizations, to promote civility into a society that has been injected with religious intolerance for many decades, one fears that Egypt may revert back to medieval times.

Sectarian tension won’t simply vanish overnight by just adding a clause in the constitution, but by working hard to burn out the sentiments that ignite them, from both sides. And Abdel-Nour’s case is yet another example that has left a bitter taste in the mouths of all Copts. For it is not merely about a person sentenced to jail, but of the right of citizenship that is divided equally among the partners of the land.

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Filed under Editorial, Sectarian violence