Monthly Archives: March 2010

Not Eating Shrimps Is A Pro-Choice Too.

By: Alexandra Kinias

I hate everything about seafood: its texture, smell, and taste. The idea of swallowing any creature, raw or cooked that had once lived under the surface of water is creepy. I live in nightmarish dreams that one day I would wake up to find that the government had passed a law that forces people to eat seafood twice a week,  without consideration for people like myself. If you think I am paranoid to believe that, then explain to me the reason that qualifies food to be  a personal choice, but not abortion.

The Pro-choice battle is not just fought in America, but coincidentally there is another war of the same magnitude being fought in Egypt. It is a meaningless war that should not have been taking place if the concept of freedom of choice was fully adopted.

Muslims regard abortion as wrong, but many accept that it may be permitted in certain cases. Abortions were always performed in Egypt and it was left to the discretion of the doctors to decide on performing it or not. However, It doesn’t seem that that would last for long.   On March 22, 2010, Religious scholars rejected a draft law that, if adopted, would authorize abortion and the sterilization of women for financial and health reasons, labeling it anti-Islamic.

The war  to regain back women’s control over their own bodies has a long way to go because those who are responsible for this loss  are standing under the banner of religion; let it be Christianity or Islam. They are always advising women on what to do as if women could not decide for themselves. But what is most unfortunate is that there are women who also want to decide for other women,  forgetting that it is a personal choice. I am not pro or anti abortion. I am pro – respecting and accepting other’s decisions even if they were different from mine.  I believe that a woman should have the right to choose,  have control over her body and make her own decisions. For pro-choice never meant pro-abortion.

It is juvenile and irresponsible that at this time and age women are still looked at as weak and irrational creatures incapable of thinking or making decisions for themselves. A quick review of the last fifty years would prove this wrong. Margaret Thatchar  served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for eleven years and will always be remembered that she ruled with an iron fist. In April 1982, after Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, Thatcher sent a naval task force to recapture them back. Argentina surrendered on 14 June and the operation was hailed a great success. She was the Commander in Chief.

Thatcher is not an exception. Women have been movers and shakers all over the world. Angela Merkel was elected the first female Chancellor of Germany. Hillary Clinton’s profile needs no introduction. Ireland, Finland, the Philippines, Chile, Germany, Argentina, Mozambique, Liberia, Haiti, Bangladesh, Lithuania, Croatia, Gabon and Iceland all have or had females as presidents or prime ministers. And one should never forget Indira Ghandi who ruled over one billion people, for fifteen years, Benazir Bhoto who was elected the first female Prime Minister of an Islamic country, and  Golda Mair who was known as the iron lady of  Israeli politics.

In 2009, Forbes magazine announced that the 20 richest women on the planet have a combined net worth of $160 billion derived from a diverse string of industries including manufacturing, finance, real estate and commodities.  Isn’t it pathetic that these women who have control over countries and financial institutions should have no control over their bodies?

The argument of the pro-life advocates is that the right to life is the most basic of all rights, and applies also to the embryo in a mother’s womb. That’s a great argument, no doubt about it, but are societies being blinded to the right of life of those who are already outside the womb? Women outside the womb are real and still suffering. Let us put the energy and passion in protecting the right of life of an unborn fetus into empowering the life of the women who are already suffering. Let us unite our efforts to punish rapists. The fight for girl’s rights to be educated is not over yet.  Let us protect girls who as young as twelve years old are being forced into marriages and often die in childbirth. Let us eradicate violence and abuse against women, and stop FGM and sexual exploitation.

A woman’s right to education is no different than her right to choose what to do with her body or her right not to eat shrimps, lobsters or crabs. It is all about choice.

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Women of Ancient Egypt

By: Alexandra Kinias

For thousands of years, the warm golden rays of the sun shined over the glorious Egyptian civilization that flourished on the banks of the river Nile. The Egyptians excelled in medicine, astronomy, architecture, agriculture and sciences, but what made their civilization phenomenal was that women were respected and cherished. Ancient Egyptian women enjoyed more rights and better status than their peers in the neighboring lands, and as insane as it sounds, they enjoyed more rights than their contemporary daughters. Indeed the society had its flows, but there was never gender discrimination, but rather a social class one. It might not be a coincidence that the ancient Egyptian civilization thrived because of its women’s status; after all no society had sustained prosperity without giving its women their rights and freedom.

It was not uncommon for sailors who glided down the crystal blue waters of the Nile with their boats to see the Egyptian women working in the fields, washing clothes, bathing or just strolling with their friends at sunsets after a long working day, adorned with their accessories and enjoying the summer breeze. Women had no restrictions on their freedoms. But it was not only the social aspect of their lives that women enjoyed. Whatever existed between  heavens and earth was equally distributed and enjoyed by both men and women of ancient Egypt.

The ancient Egyptians left enough evidence in the form of court documents and legal correspondence to show that men and women within each social class stood as equals in the eyes of the law. Women could own and sell property and slaves, borrow money, sign contracts, initiate divorce, appear in court as a witness, serve on juries, testify in trials, inherit equal shares from their deceased parents as their male siblings, and disinherit their ungrateful children.

Egyptians cherished their women and their families. That was a source of their happiness. However, women were free from the dominance of their fathers and brothers before marriage and their husbands’ after. They were not forced into a marriage.  Once married, women maintained their independence.  The husband’s role was never to become her legal guardian as women kept their financial independence. The husband had the authority to manage his wife’s assets, if she agreed, but it was known that it belonged to her. If the marriage failed, a woman had the freedom to divorce and terminate the marriage at her will. When the divorce was finalized, her property returned back to her and she collected her share of the community property, or what is known today as a divorce settlement. Once divorced, a woman had the freedom to return to her father’s house or to live by herself if she chose to.  Being divorced was not a stigma and it was not uncommon for a divorced woman to remarry. Premarital sex was accepted, but once married, couples were expected to be faithful to each other. And other than the kings who had several wives, polygamy was not allowed.

Ancient Egyptian women were active and held prominent roles and important jobs. Lady Nebet was appointed as Vizier – the right hand ‘man’ of the pharaoh.  Throughout Egyptian history,  Queen Merytneith, Nitocris, Sobeknofru, Hatchepsut, Twosret ruled as Pharaohs. The circumstances of their ruling were uncommon, but none-the-less, no documents ever emerged that these queens were opposed by their subjects because of their gender. Queen Nefirtiti who never ruled was  an influential wife and supporter of her husband King Akhenaton. It was not unusual for a wife to represent her husband if he was away and take charge of his business until he returned. Women of high social standard with no jobs were encouraged to take religious positions in the temples as priestess for certain god or goddess.

Like most ancient societies, illiteracy rate was high in ancient Egypt, but there was evidence that those who had a chance learned how to read and write and that included women. After all the ancient Egyptians had the goddess Seshat as the ‘female scribe’ and was not the only goddess. Out of the major thirty deities the ancient Egyptians worshiped, twelve were goddesses.

Seven thousand years later,  women in Egypt are facing a lot of challenges.  Today  they are still struggling with  issues that were granted to their ancient mothers . The skies above are very gloomy and cluttered with clouds. The minds are becoming very foggy with confusion,  but I have no doubt that the sun would shine again on the women of Egypt. They just have to work hard for it.

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Wings May be the Solution.

By: Alexandra Kinias

Jane Doe is a very powerful Egyptian businesswoman who came from a world of wealth and privilege.  Not only was she married to Egyptian parliament member and tycoon John Doe,  the Harvard graduate also manages a multi-billion dollar financial empire she inherited from her late father. Her outstanding performance and success landed her an elite spot on Forbes list of the most rich and powerful women in the Middle East.

Now imagine this; a limousine pulls up in front of the VIP entrance of Cairo Airport. The Egyptian Jane Doe steps out with her briefcase. Her private jet is waiting to fly her to Paris and her dream of purchasing a telecom business would soon become true. Nothing was standing between her and her new company anymore —— except the passport control officer. After a quick look at her passport followed by punching few keys on the keyboard, the officer apologized to her that she can’t proceed with her travel plans. Her husband had issued a ban on her travel. Earlier that week, Jane Doe had a little dispute with her husband who used one of the powers granted to him by society to punish her.

It saddens me  that even though the story above was fictitious,  the scenario is real. It happens often to women in Egypt who are still not allowed to have a passport or leave the country without their husbands’ permission.

This issue is addressed in my novel where it has caused an immense amount of tension to one of  the characters. In October 2009, I read in the news that the Supreme Court finally allowed women to have passports without their husbands’ permission.  As a consequence they would be free to travel as they pleased.  I was ecstatic to learn that this battle was won even though it would have caused me more work to reset the chronology of the novel so that the events take place prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling.

In real life, a woman who was denied the right to have a passport without her husband’s approval filed a case against the Minister of Interior on the basis that it was unconstitutional.  She won the civil case on October 2009 and received the passport.

On Feb 2010, Al Azhar officials overruled the court decision because it was against Sharia (Religious law). The reason they gave was that such action [of allowing women to travel without husband’s permission] would create a conflict between members of the Muslim family and thus destroy the love and affection that constitutes the marriage institution. Seriously destroy it? Is holding women hostages  would build the marriage institution?

In Sharia a woman is cursed by the angels if she left her husband’s house without his permission even if he was doing her injustice. She would never be forgiven until she returns back, to her abuser. Good, devout and faithful women wouldn’t even consider being disobedient to their masters. Excuse my flip, I meant their husbands. For a while I forgot that slavery was abolished. Or was it?

In the age of Noetics science, virtual realities, Twitter, net-pads, i-phones and space stations, women in Egypt are still controlled by laws drafted in the desert more than 1400 years ago. Those custodians of  women’s virtues are constantly circling like sharks and systematically fighting, debating and searching for religious explanations to revoke any civil law that might remotely grant women their rights, independence or control over their issues.

What I find amusing is when these custodians of the virtues come out in the open and publicly announce that the superiority of man over woman is an honor to her. Instead of all this nonsense, did they ever consider honoring women with their silence? Because it seems that every time they open their mouths they prove nothing other than that women are merely sex objects.

Fighting for their rights to travel is a long  battle for women that has to be fought. And until they win the this  battle,  they  will have to grow wings to  fly away.

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Day of Judgment

By: Alexandra Kinias

Another black day befell upon the women in Egypt; just few days after the country received a recommendation from the United Nations Human Right Council in Geneva to end discrimination against women.

The painful smack to their dignity was received on Feb 15, 2010, when members of the State Council, the highest legal body in the country, voted with an overwhelming majority (334 out of 380 judges) against the appointment of women judges to the council. The barring to hire women was not only a classic case of gender based discrimination, but it was also unconstitutional.

Since the issue became a social controversy, Muslim conservatives announced that religion does not doubt women’s ability to become judges, thus washing their hands off the blame for such a decision and shifting it to the society to deal with the judges. Apparently Muslim conservatives had forgotten the controversy they stirred few years back when they openly denounced the concept, and approval and blessing of the Sheikh al Azhar, Mohamed Sayed Tantawy, to hire a woman judge in the Supreme Council, and accused him of being a puppet of the regime. This war ended in 2003 when the first female judge in the history of modern Egypt, Tahani al Guibali, was appointed by a presidential decree.

Women and minorities are becoming victims of the social injustice that thrives in theocratic societies; a classic symptom of a society that is rotting from within. Egypt is not a theocratic state, well not yet, but the methodical winds of change are blowing in that direction. Invisible forces are pumping unlimited resources to bring that change. Egypt is going through a phase of transition, but unfortunately it points to regression. The flashing signs are evident everywhere, but meticulously ignored by an ailing regime.

Women in Egypt are caught between a rock and a hard place.  The ridiculous reasons behind the overwhelmingly vote against hiring women judges in the State Council were both shocking and humiliating. They varied between questioning their abilities to rule, doubting their capabilities and integrity. My favorite excuse came from a member of the council who said that he feels shy among the company of female colleagues, given the long hours they spend on the job.

The differences between a society that flourishes and one that perishes in how each treats its women. Who will be held accountable one day when young girls are denied the privilege to dream of becoming future leaders — what rationalization are we going to give them other that the men were shy?

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