Monthly Archives: November 2013

Horror in the Streets

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By: Alexandra Kinias —-

Reading about the sexual harassment incidents that women are confronting in Egypt on a daily basis evokes flashes of memories of a time where I, too, was a victim of this abhorrent crime. Sexual harassment was an epidemic that had spread across the country like uncontrollable wild forest fires. And as far back as my memory recalls, it was an endless endeavor that every woman in Egypt was subjected to on daily basis as they traveled the unsafe and unguarded streets, infested with male rabid species that are bred to attack. These male species are only comparable to stray dogs that are roaming the streets, driven by their sexual desires. Unfortunately it has even worsen in the last two decades.

Reminiscing over the past is a double edged sword. Together with the great memories and nostalgia to a life that had once been, it is also like Pandora’s Box, where it is safer to keep the lid on to store painful memories away. With all the greatness of my childhood, it wasn’t a pleasant experience to be a woman walking in the streets of Egypt. From a young age I experienced sexual harassment and assault. However, you grow up accepting that the misfortunes that one encounters are part of the culture. It was not until I lived in other cultures that I learned that there was something terribly wrong with the picture back home. I have to admit that the situation now has degenerated to worse levels than what my generation had encountered.

Mideast Egypt Sexual Harassment

(AP Photo/ Mohammed Abu Zeid)

Some provide social justifications to the repugnant behavior of the sexual harassers that are often attributed to sexual deprivation that these men are experiencing, due to the high cost of marriage and their meager financial resources. A statement easily refuted as most of these men are married and a vast number of them are in their teens. And with this justification, would one should also accept that thieves should be acquitted since their thefts were committed for financial needs.

Other justifications include their straying away from the religion and losing their spiritual connection with God, and, of course, my favorite reason is women. Women are always to blame since it has been agreed that they are the core for all evil and the reason for all sins. And in the case of the sexual harassment, it is also their fault for wearing immodest attires that tempt men and arouse their sexual desires. These absurd justifications are merely to divert attention from the real problem. Women who reported sexual harassment varied from unveiled to wearing the niqab, which is the full body veil that covers the face as well. Even this full body armor didn’t protect them from being groped and assaulted.

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Sexual harassment and assault are global diseases and not just a unique trait exclusive of the Egyptian society. Horror stories about women’s abduction, rape and assault are reported in countries around the world. No woman is immune. What is staggering though is that while it is infesting the Egyptian society, there is absolute neglect and passiveness in dealing with it. It is more plausible to admit that the streets have been unguarded by the police forces for too long which has left the country as lawless as the Wild West. Loud voices are concealing the dangerous role played by religious fundamental channels and radical Islamists. They have been injecting their venom against women into the minds of men, without any intervention or regulation from the government to curb their influence, thus, resulting in the creation of a generation of misogynists. Moreover, the moral corruption and social degeneration of these men should be considered as a major factor.

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Photo by: Tarek Alfaramawy

When a pack of young boys no older than 12 years old surround a group of girls like hyenas, pulling the veil off their heads, groping their bodies and touching their private parts, that refutes the validity of the allegations about sexual deprivation. For these boys, it is just a game, or a source of entertainment. With no appropriate punishment for their actions, there are no reasons for them to stop.

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The meager measures that are taken to defeat this crime are grossly inadequate when compared to its escalating magnitude and high frequency. Worst yet, the inaction from the by-standers who are witnessing these crimes, without speaking out or assisting the women in distress is alarming and disturbing. Their silence culminates with the passiveness of the whole society against these criminals. It is not unusual to throw the blame rather than facing the real reasons. There is no magic wand or vaccine that could cure this disease. Only when the real causes are addressed and strong and effective measures are taken to deal with it, there would be hope for safer streets for the women to walk on.

(Photographic images in this article are owned by their respective copyright owner. Where possible the appropriate accreditation is given. Due to image alterations ownership of many images can not be verified. Where ownership is known a credit is as given.)

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                                        Stop Violence Against Women

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“Speak… Even if it hurts”

25 November : International Day of the Elimination of Violence against Women

Amnesty International  facts you should keep in mind:

1. Up to 70 % of women experience violence in their lifetime
2. Up to 50% of sexual assaults are committed against girls under the age of 16
3. 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not yet considered as a crime
4. Over 60 million girls worldwide are child brides, married before the age of 18

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Qasim Amin and the Emancipation of Women

Qasim Amin

Qasim Amin

By: Alexandra Kinias —-

It is shameful that more than a century after the Egyptian lawyer Qasim Amin (1863 – 1908) published his controversial books, The Liberation of Women and The New Woman that called for the emancipation of women; Egypt is witnessing a social and cultural relapse as the disturbing voices of radical Islamists are defying women’s freedoms and rights.

The emancipation of Egyptian women began in the nineteenth century under the rule of Mohamed Ali (1766- 1849), when the first school to train women to be medical assistants was opened in 1832.  Forty years later, in 1873, the first government primary school for girls was opened to the public, as mentioned in Amin’s books.  However, the policy reform, adopted by Mohamed Ali’s descendants and that included sending several intellectuals to France to be educated in key leadership positions in the government, played a substantial role in the advancement of women’s status.

Amin was born in 1863 to a Turkish aristocratic father and an upper class Egyptian mother. After receiving a law degree at the age of 18, he was sent to France on a scholarship where he lived for four years. In France, Amin was exposed to different experiences than the ones he grew up with. These experiences influenced his life style and altered his perception about life and society, especially at how the western society treated its women. It also opened his eyes to the decaying status and living conditions in which the Egyptian women were living in. The comparison between the two societies was stimulating and it shed light on the deteriorating conditions of the Egyptian society, which he attributed to the inferior condition of its women. “When the status of a nation is low, reflecting an uncivilized condition for that nation, the status of women is also low, and when the status of a nation is elevated, reflecting the progress and civilization of that nation, the status of women in that country is also elevated.” [1] He concluded that neither Egypt nor the Islamic world would progress unless the status of women in the society was improved.

He believed that the liberation of women was the first step for the advancement of the country, after all, he argued, how a society would advance if its rulers were brought up by ignorant and uneducated women. Amin became a women’s advocate and dedicate his life to fight for their rights.

In his first book, The Liberation of Women, which he wrote in 1899, Amin openly criticized how women were treated in the Moslem societies. He advocated for equality and addressed the importance of their role in shaping the future of their country and their responsibilities toward their family and children. During the second half of the 19th century, women’s education had already been addressed as a tangible instrument for the advancement of the country. Amin took his demands a step further beyond just education to include other variables that impacted women’s lives. By using Islamic arguments he requested better social conditions for women. He advocated for better marriage and divorce laws, removal of the veil, seclusion, and the right for an education, financial and political rights and her role in the family. He criticized polygamy and the effects on women.

The controversial book created a wave of shock in the country. Amin’s shocking views regarding the veil and the seclusion of women ignited a lot of fires.  As many researchers before him, Amin acknowledged that the veil was not an Islamic custom and that Muslims adopted it from other cultures. He denounced it and viewed it as a discriminating tool used against women. Tearing off the veil was the first step to liberate women that would be followed by bringing them out of their seclusion. Unlike the masses that believed that seclusion was meant to protect women’s purity and prevent immorality in the society, Amin perceived it as a shield that separated them from the living world and deprived them from any progress.

Amin received substantial criticism from the Palace, religious leaders, politicians, journalists and writers. The resistance to his ideas was fierce and his opponents were powerful, but Amin stood by his beliefs. He considered himself a reformer and didn’t allow himself to be intimidated by his critiques. He was aware that changes were slow and the fruits of his advocacy would not happen overnight. His advocacy was merely setting the grounds for future generations to benefit fully from the seeds of reform he sowed, by his writings.

In response to these attacks Amin wrote his second book, The New Woman, in 1901, in which he openly promoted women’s emancipation. Amin’s second book caused more controversy than the first one and was very poorly received by both the intellectuals and the nationalists. It was attacked for promoting western ideas and thus, from their point of view, it encouraged immorality.  While others viewed the removal of the veil and bringing women out of their seclusion as a total destruction of the social values, Amin believed that the emancipation of women was the answer to the reform and advancement of the society. Amin fought for the women’s cause until he died in 1908.

More than a hundred years later and it seems that the women in Egypt are starting all over again. If Amin was alive today, it would all be a déjà vu for him.

Reference:
[1] The Liberation of Women, Qasim Amin, page 6

To be continued ……..

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The Evolution of the Harem

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By: Alexandra Kinias —–

During the golden age of the Abbasid Dynasty (750 AD – 1258AD), with its capital in Baghdad, the Islamic conquests reached their peak. The lands of the Islamic Empire extended from the Chinese boarders in Asia to Andalusia in Europe. The Arabs controlled the lands from Mount Sinai to the shores of the Mediterranean in North Africa and all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

The knights who fought under the banner of Islam conquered these lands for dominance, land expansion and spread Islam. These worriers were rewarded by receiving their shares from the spoils of war. Slaves were among these spoils. And the streets of Baghdad were flooded with slaves who were captured from every corner of the Islamic territories; Caucasia, Georgia, Circassia, Europe and Africa. Men were sold to be used as laborers, farmers or soldiers and women were used for domestic help or for sexual pleasures.

Slavery and concubinage were known and practiced since ancient times, thousands of years before the rise of Islam. Laws and rules were drafted to regulate and control their lives. However, with the rise of the Islam and with the vast Islamic expansion, slavery and concubinage underwent a dramatic evolution that dictated and shaped the lives of millions of women for centuries later. Their residues are still felt as the blue prints of this system are still used as guidelines to control and abuse women in modern times.

In the lands of the Islamic Empire, and even after the sack of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258, slaves were a commodity traded in the markets throughout the Islamic territories. Slave trading became a lucrative business and slaves were auctioned to the highest bidders. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that while men cost few hundred Dinars, women and girls were worth tens of thousands of Dinars. [1]

And like any business, merchants competed to market their merchandises. A new art was developed to polish these women to generate attractive prices. The value of the slaves increased if they acquired artistic talents. To increase the value of the slaves, merchants bought young girls, from markets or from slave captures. There young girls were brought up in special homes, similar to the Geisha Houses in Japan. Under the supervision of older and experienced slaves, these young girls were groomed and polished. In these homes the girls were taught to sing, dance, and play musical instruments. They were also taught to read, write, languages, grammar, science, painting, embroidery, and to recite poetry to their lovers,. Their knowledge didn’t stop at that, but they were also taught to discuss politics, science and arts. Female slaves didn’t depend simply on their beauty to attract their clients, but similar to today’s Call Girls, they were also judged by their intellect, knowledge and culture.

After receiving their training, these girls were either sold to wealthy clients or worked in Singing Houses, similar to today’s brothels. These houses were built by the merchants to entertain the wealthy customers and as a place to display their merchandises. There was fierce competition between these Singing Houses, which were built throughout the lands of the empire, to attract the customers. Caliphs, Emirs and wealthy businessmen were regular customers in these Singing Houses, to enjoy the performances or to buy more slaves.

Slaves became more intellectual than free women and moved in the inner circle of the policy decision makers and eventually became very powerful in the palaces of the Caliphs. With their soaring popularity and their influence, they became role models for the free women who looked up to them and some men demanded from their wives to follow the way these slaves talked and dressed. [2]

Amidst this moral corruption that invaded the society, the situation was reversed. And while men enjoyed their extreme sexual freedoms with their slaves, who also lived without any societal restrictions, the free women were secluded, kept in confinement in their homes and were forced to wear the veil on the rare occasions when they went out. They were segregated from all strange men and were forbidden from playing any role in the society.

It is quite staggering to see that in many societies today, history has not progressed since then. The stagnant medieval mentalities that exist in these societies are still controlling the lives and fates of women. And while men are enjoying their sexual freedoms, they are still treating their women as commodities, and are insisting to imagine that protecting their honor is achieved by veiling their women, holding them captives in their homes and depriving them from education and life.

Reference:
1.Encyclopedia History of the Arabs page 220
2.Modern Vision of veil – Ikbal Baraka page 64

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Flashes from another Life

It is imperative to understand that the rise of political Islam in Egypt is the result of methodical and continuous planning and execution that has been in the making for decades. I witnessed the birth and growth of Islamic extremism in Egypt in the eighties of the last century. It was inevitable that the snowball that had started rolling back then would acquire momentum and these extremist movements would gain enough strength to drive the country in the direction which we are witnessing today.

I recall an incident that happened to me thirty years ago, on a hot and humid summer day in Alexandria, Egypt, where I lived then. I was driving my car in a congested street with a friend next to me. The sidewalks were overflowing with pedestrians. I saw a middle aged veiled woman who was walking with a young boy, no older than 5 years old. I presume he was her son. They caught my attention as she was pulling and pushing him between the crowds in wrath. In the eighties, the veil was not very widely spread in Egypt as it is today. I was wearing a light and colorful summer dress with front slits on both sides. The stoplight turned red. I got caught in a conversation with my friend to only be alerted by a harsh voice of someone talking outside the car window. I was startled to see the veiled women standing on the side walk so close to the car. From her vantage point, standing on the curb, she could see clearly inside the car, and apparently didn’t like what she saw.

The veiled woman grabbed the young boy who looked tired and thirsty in this heat. She pointed inside the car, at me, of course, with her eyes fixated on my legs and yelled in rage, “Take a good look at her uncovered legs, for they will burn in hell.”

I was stunned, to say the least, not to mention that my privacy was invaded, and I felt insulted. However, I managed to stay calm and smiled back at her. And in a very cold voice I responded, “Hell is exactly where I want to be if it means that I would avoid seeing those of your kind.”

She babbled and walked away pulling the young boy behind her and I drove to wherever my destination was, in anger, of course. This incident though had happened almost thirty years ago, yet it is still vivid in my mind as if it was yesterday. I still remember the color and style of my dress, the person who sat next to me, and even where it had happened; the exact street and stoplight. I do remember all these minute details.

What we are witnessing today has been brewing for a long time. Governments kept a tight lid on these movements and used Band-Aids solutions to deal with them instead of eradicating them to curb their influence. But once these leaders fell in the revolutions that swept across the Middle East, in what came to be known as the Arab Spring, the boiling pots exploded and Islamic extremism spilled across the entire region. Unfortunately, there are no quick solutions to clean after the mess that was created. And what took decades in the making will not disappear in the near future. It will require united global efforts to reverse its effect or else the whole world will suffer from the consequences.

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