Monthly Archives: August 2010

To Veil Or Not To Veil

Caption:   The first Egyptian women’s study mission, departing for England in 1926

By: Alexandra Kinias

The deplorable situation of women in Egypt at the turn of the twentieth century was accepted as the status quo for most people, but not for women’s rights advocate Qassim Amin who exhausted tremendous efforts for their emancipation. In his two books: Liberation of Women and and The Free Woman he addressed the practices that kept women subservient. The books sparked fierce controversy and came under attack, but his endeavors not only fell on deaf ears, but were also resisted by decision makers and religious scholars. Meanwhile, the women whom Amin fought for remained silent. For those who could read and may have had a chance to react remained in seclusion, while the majority who were uneducated remained uninformed. It was not until 1921 that the first government secondary school for girls was opened. Unfortunately, Amin never lived to see his dreams come true.

When women finally came out of their seclusion, they began their battle to remove the veil. They fought very hard with the limited means they acquired then, but didn’t succeed until the courageous Hoda Sha’arawi and her colleague Ciza Nabrawi removed it in a spectacle in 1923 upon their return from a feminist meeting in Rome. Later that year Sha’arawi formed the Egyptian Feminist Union and headed it until her death in 1947.

After centuries of intellectual deprivation, women for the first time quenched their thirst for knowledge and education. In 1926, a group of female students were sent to England for their advanced studies and three years later universities opened their doors to women.

When the requests of the women’s political party that was formed in 1948 were not met, three years after its formation, its members stormed the parliament and demanded representation for women. By then, the snowball had started rolling and the feminist movements didn’t rest until women were granted the right to vote in 1956. A year later women were elected in the parliament and in 1962, the first Egyptian woman became a minister. Women had come a long way and were enjoying the fruits of their efforts. By the end of the sixties, and with their eyes on progress and advancement, the veil became a part of their history and almost disappeared from the heads of the Egyptian women.

However, in the seventies, the winds of changes blew in Egypt. With the new developments that happened in the society after the 67 war, ascend of Sadat to power, signing a pact with the Muslim brotherhood and releasing their leaders from jails, and with the return of thousands Egyptian workers from Arabia after being exposed to the Wahabism ideologies, veil surfaced again on the heads of women.

Four decades after the revival of the veil that had started as a practice of choice by few women, it became the norm of the society and was given the label of the Islamic dress code.

This Islamic dress code when worn by several state television presenters resulted in taking them off the air. These presenters took their cases to court and filed a case against the former Information Minister Safwat Al-Sherif. They claimed that Al-Sherif was the reason for their ban from appearing on television because they wore the veil. Although the minister never made the ban decision official, the court ruled that it was proven that the three presenters were dropped from their programs after wearing the veil, and the court rejected the ban on that basis. The court’s decision, however, did not mean the three presenters were able to resume their on-screen programs. The government’s defense team challenged the court decision by appealing to the Higher Administrative Court. When the final decision was made, the presenters were allowed to continue working at administrative jobs but not appear on screen.

It is quite interesting to note how the role had reversed in less than a century after the veil was removed. While the government is fighting to control this surging controversial phenomenon, some women are fighting to have it back on.

Today, the director and the employees of the Egyptian Feminist Union that was formed by the first women who removed the veil Hoda Sha’rawi, are all veiled. The name of the EFU was also changed to Hoda Sha’rawi’s Association. And cause that it had once fought for is abandoned. The director of the association explained in an interview to the Al-Ahram newspaper that there is no longer need for a women’s movement in Egypt as women have attained all their rights. Based upon that, the building that had witnessed the heated debates and meetings of the Egyptian suffrage movement became a dormitory service for young university women from out of Cairo. The garden of the huge villa became a day care center for pre-school children.

Had Hoda Sha’rawi been alive today, I wonder what she would have said to that.

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Filed under Veil, Women Rights in Egypt

What it means to be a man.


By: Alexandra Kinias

Based on my personal observations — that were neither supported by scientific research nor surveys’ labs, for which I guarantee that no animal testing has been performed in the process — I have noticed that an extra shot of testosterone is pumped into the brains of the male species in the Middle East whenever the issue of women rights is discussed. Magically, this testosteronal shot that flows on invisible waves transmitted by telepathy from one brain to the other results into an incomprehensible unity of thought with a purpose of discrediting the subject. Yesterday’s foes forget their disputes as they sharpen their teeth in anticipation of any statement that challenges their manhood.

My observation of this unified force brought to my attention that its tactics go through several stages.  First, men disagree over whatever the issue is, and thus build an offense to squeeze women into a defensive corner. Opposition, rejection and resistance by women infuriate them, escalate their offense and lead to a wider spectrum of juvenile behaviors that range from refutation, accusations and eventually culminate with a phase of sarcasm.

Even though this obscure sarcasm is found to be offensive and deplorable  it is the first sign of losing the battle. They reshuffle the cards to regain balance in their thought process, believing this would enable them to launch the final attack.

Against all predictions, this final attack is non violent, but rather laden with charm. When men lose battles because of intellectual incompetence to women, they end the discussion with flirtatious comments. This probably happens because the pump that had previously siphoned the testosterone to their brain had over worked and malfunctioned. The excess hormone fogs their brains and leads to incoherent rationalization that all sins are striked out with a smile or a compliment; yet demonstrating another way of women’s degradation.

It is hard to comprehend this perpetual attitude that exhausts so much effort simply to discredit a fact that only the blind don’t see. The denial of a problem that persists to exist is a sheer ego soothing to cope with the reality that women’s abuse is solely inflicted by man. Such  beliefs stir insecurities within the male species that at the exact moment that they will ease their controlling grip, women will fly away from their cages. There are no other justifications for sustaining such control over women.

The only plausible reason for their behavior may be that they were never born women in a male dominant society and were never subjected to the harassment and abuse their gender inflicts on women. There might have been an empathy from their side if they were groped in their sensitive parts in broad day light while policemen idly watched, exposed to profanity shot at them on their way to work, offered money in exchange for sexual favors as they walked by, hissed at like stray animals, denied the right to report sexual harassment to the police and accused for being responsible for their rape, subjected to images of men masturbating on the sidewalks, denied a job because of their gender, suffered from gentile mutilation, forced or pressured into marriages, ridiculed by the society for passing the marriage age, threatened with the idea that their spouse will remarry, battled for divorce and the same law that granted them one denied them of any compensation, or have their rights of traveling revoked by their spouse after a family dispute.

It is worth noting here that women dress and behavior have nothing to do with the fact that they are exposed to harassment. I have lived in multi cultural societies and the only places where I feel the least secure and regularly harassed are those where women are most covered.

Men’s pretense that women are living in paradise under their protection should no longer be accepted. It is very unlikely that men will ever admit that women are denied their rights. If they do they will be obliged to issue laws to punish the criminals instead of the victims who pay the price everyday for the sole crime of being born in the wrong place.

Women need to be reminded not to expect men to fight their battles because a right granted to women is one taken away from men. Women, never believe that men will support you. They are too insecure to do that. A peaceful co-existence will only prevail when men stop consuming their testosterone  levels  in a destructive way fighting women and truly view them as their equal peers.

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Filed under Uncategorized, Women's Rights

Taliban executes a pregnant woman accused of adultry

Sanam Gul, also known as Sanam Bibi was executed by the Taliban in a western province of Afghanistan. The 47 years old pregnant woman who was accused of adultery was killed on Saturday, August 7,2010  by three bullets to the head and chest after she was flogged 200 times. A Taliban commander carried out the execution based on the orders of the district governor and  judge. Her body was later dumped in an area under their control. News reported that the man who was involved with her was not punished as he managed to flee from the village before he got caught.

The tragic execution of Sanam Bibi brings back to memory the gruesome rulings of the Taliban justice. It is another reminder of the fate of the Afghani women if this brutal regime comes back to power.

CNN edition

Caption is not related to incident  — Shared from website of RAWA Organization: Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan.

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Return of the Harem

By: Alexandra Kinias

Walking down the hallways of the opulent Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul was an intriguing experience. The lavish interior of the Ottoman Sultan’s residence was immensely admired by the visitors who listened to the tour guide’s explanation about the lack of historical references to prove the claims about the Sultan’s Harem. According to him they were legends woven by the fertile imagination of writers and poets. He went on with his defense as far as redefining concubines as women of services to the court rather than the Sultan’s mistresses, as the world came to believe. As a believer that history can be distorted but never rewritten, embellishing the reputation of their ancestors, regarding this sensitive issue, had a haunting poignancy. Needles to say that any historian will refute and discredit this claim within moments.  It is well known that the royal palaces were filled with hundreds of women who were hand picked and selected with scrutiny from all the lands of the empire. Their qualifications were beauty, charm and seductiveness because in the Sultan’s bedchambers nothing else mattered.

Growing up in Egypt, it was common to watch historical movies that depicted this era. However, it was a daunting experience to actually walk down the dark hallways and corridors of the Topkapi Palace, which became to be known to historians as The Golden Cage, where for centuries hundreds of perfumed and pampered women were kept in perpetual captivity. Their sole purpose was to entertain and satisfy the pleasures of the Sultan who possessed the wealth and power to own as many women as he desired. For that, hundreds of women were kept at his disposal. They competed for his love, affection and bliss, for which they were generously rewarded with jewelry, money and a comfortable life.

The existence of slave concubines was deeply embedded in the fabric of the Ottoman culture and history. The purpose of having them was to produce male heirs to the Sultanate. Slave concubines, unlike wives, had no recognized lineage and thus were not feared that their loyalties would be to their families rather than to their husbands.

The confinement of the women inside the Harem weaved an aura of mystery and glamor that engulfed the legends born out of their seclusion. Their only encounter with the world outside the gates of the palaces was through the eunuchs, or watching from the terraces the view of the Bosporus, which had also witnessed the sacking and drowning of a number of them.

Over centuries, young girls and women were kidnapped from the various lands of the empire, bought from slave markets, or sold by their parents with a promise of a luxury and glamorous life. Beautiful girls who had the chance to be presented to the Sultan were taught music, poetry, singing, dancing, and erotic arts of seduction. Living in captivity among conspiracies, competition, rumors and gossip, without a chance of leaving alive, and viewed as nothing more than sex objects and reproduction machines, their survival instincts taught them submission and servitude; a classic case of human trafficking.

From a young age, women of the empire were brainwashed that beauty, and not intellect, was the key that opened the door to a better life, and that submission and slavery should be every woman’s ultimate goal. As a result, living in secluded extravaganza became a dream of many women. These abhorrent misconceptions chiseled women’s status for many centuries. The years after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire saw an emergence of women rights groups that exerted tremendous efforts — paralleled with obscure resistance, by decision makers — to emancipate the women. Their efforts resulted in substantial improvements in women’s status.

A century later, the Egyptian society is witnessing a reversal of attitude by young women whose interests are no longer to have a career, but rather to secure a husband who can support them while they play the classic role of housewives. The lost desire to achieve progress in the workforce by young women has not reached an alarming level. Yet, with the encouragement of the voices that are calling for the return of women back to their homes, one can not disregard that the snowball has started rolling.

It is saddening to see that while women  have been physically set free from the golden cages, they are still mentally jailed. Both the women and the voices of those who are calling for their return to the confinement of their homes should not be surprised to see their societies regress.  Unfortunately when that happens, women will be the first to suffer.

The subjects of the Ottoman Empire woke up after its collapse to the realization that they belonged at the tail of the world. Its fragile and rotten state proved again that no society ever prospered when half of its population was idle. They didn’t have to look too far to see the difference. The status of the women in the neighboring states said it all.

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Filed under History of Veil, Women's Rights

British couple gunned down in Pakistan in suspected honor killing after calling off marriage.

Original article on Daily Mail

A British couple who flew to Pakistan to settle a row over their daughter’s arranged marriage have been shot dead in a suspected ‘honour killing’.

The spurned groom is thought to have gunned down Gul Wazir and wife Bagum alongside their son who had also travelled to the remote Nowshera province, one of the areas devastated by the flooding in the country.

The son survived the attack and is in a stable condition in hospital. It was reported the gunman was a nephew of the couple, and was named locally as Rehman Wazir.

He had been due to marry his cousin until her parents decided against the arrangement. Local police said the Wazirs had travelled from their home in Alum Rock, Birmingham, to the village of Saleh Khan to explain their reasons to the groom.

The aborted marriage was discussed in a grand jirga, or assembly of the village, which ended with an order for the Wazirs to pay the equivalent of £18,800 to their nephew in compensation.

But although both parties agreed with the decision, two days later, Rehman Wazir allegedly shot his uncle and aunt at the house they were staying at. Police were last night searching for him.

A family friend said: ‘Gul and his wife went to Pakistan to try to sort it out. It is a tragedy. They were honest, decent people.’

‘The husband and wife had already promised their daughter to a man. When that arrangement ended he was not happy,’ the friend said.

The killings happened on Monday, but details only emerged last night as the country is still in chaos after being hit by deadly floods.

Another of Mr and Mrs Wazir’s son’s, Umar, was organising a memorial for them at an Islamic centre in Bordesley Green, Birmingham yesterday.

He said it was too early for his family to speak about the tragedy.

A spokeswoman for West Midlands Police confirmed the deaths. She said: ‘We have been informed of the murder of two people from Birmingham in Pakistan.

‘The murder inquiry is being carried out by the authorities in Pakistan and we will support their investigation as and when required.’

The family friend described Mr Wazir as a peaceful man, who loved his family.

‘Gul was quiet, a humble, good man,’ his friend said. ‘He got on with his work, loved his children and was a regular at weddings and funerals and all community events. We all respected him, he will be sadly missed.’

The north western province of Pakistan where the couple were murdered is less than 100 miles from the Afghan border.

Honour killings have become a regular feature in the region, where a strict Islamic code is enforced.

‘This is not a one-off incident,’ the taxi driver’s friend revealed. ‘Less than 18 months ago, a man from Bordesley Green was murdered in the same village for very similar reasons. His daughter did not want to marry a man who believed he was entitled to her.

‘It’s a very sad situation, it is hard to accept that this sort of killing still goes on. The parents often don’t have a say in Birmingham.

‘If the daughter has been raised here and she doesn’t want to marry a man, she won’t be forced to do it.

‘Back in Pakistan they still blame the parents if this happens. They don’t understand that the culture is different.’

Muslim Birmingham MP Khalid Mahmood said he was appalled at the double murder.

‘This is shocking news,’ he said. ‘If it is discovered that this couple were killed as a result of a feud over an arranged marriage then it’s truly disgraceful.

‘This sort of thing should not be happening in this day and age.

‘The area in question is in the north western province, where honour killings tend to happen quite regularly. These killings need to be clamped down on.’

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it could not reveal any further details.

‘We would not get involved unless the family concerned had approached us for consular assistance,’ a spokesman said.

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