Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Why Saudi Women Still Can't Vote

Saudi Women gather at a voter registration center in Jeddah

The Saudi women who went to the polls to vote and were denied should be commended for their courage and determination. The only sad thing is that there weren't enough of these women. The challenges facing a Saudi women's desire to be treated as an equal are damn near insurmountable. For Saudi women, the phrase "there's strength in numbers" applies now more than ever.

The fear barrier that held back millions of Arab men and women is breaking down, as in country after country people are putting their lives on the line for freedom. This fear barrier is thicker for Saudi women, yet it can be broken down if women unite. In the recent attempts to vote, Saudi women showed up at polls by the dozens. If Saudi women showed up at polls to vote in the hundreds, better yet in the thousands, I think men would be a bit more hesitant in denying them their rights.

Besides the fear barrier is the issue of male guardianship, many Saudi men are opposed to granting women the right to vote and would definitely not allow or escort their wives, sisters or daughters to go vote. This is why Saudi women must violate the male guardianship law. This is much easier said than done, some women may be beaten or threatened if they try to leave alone and in most cases women face public shame.

In Arabian culture (especially Arabian Gulf), women are the source of shame for the family. If any sort of 'scandal' should happen involving a woman, she will be seen as bringing shame upon her family, I know this from personal experience. When we Kuwaiti women decided to protest for the right to vote, we were met by a substantial amount of opposition and eventually burned bridges with friends and relatives by protesting. What we lost can't even compare to what we gained; freedom, equality and a say in what happens in our country.

Saudi women can't remain hostage to their culture's notions of shame. They must focus on what they can do, and not what they can't. What Saudi women can do is find their strength in numbers, they have already found ways to communicate on a large scale through social media. Saudi women must then congregate in large numbers to be able to mobilize in an organized and effective way.  Once Saudi women find a way to show how strong they really are, nothing will be able to stop them.

I salute the women of Saudi Arabia and stand with them in solidarity as their Kuwaiti sister, may the day come when the women of Saudi Arabia reach their true potential.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Gulf Monarchies' Supporters Harass Activists on Twitter

“The institution of Royalty in any form is an insult to the human race.” - Mark  Twain

The monarchies are the last remnants of colonialism in the Arabian Gulf. The royal families of the Gulf are: the Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia, Al-Sabah of Kuwait, Al-Khalifa of Bahrain, Al-Thani of Qatar, Al-Said of Oman, Al-Maktoum of Dubai and Al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi and several other sheikhdoms that make up the rest of the U.A.E.

These monarchies allied with the British against the Ottoman Empire. The result of this alliance was an agreement between the sheikhdoms and the British, in which the British would recognize the monarchs as the rulers and protect them militarily and in return the Gulf states would sign a treaty stating that they would not enter into any agreement with another power without consent from Britain. This sort of agreement virtually puts all of the control of foreign policy into the hands of Britain, not much has really changed in that area since the time of colonialism. Gulf monarchies, most recently Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, are placing their own interests before the interests of their people.

Culturally, anyone who criticizes the royal families in the Gulf is usually met with a strong backlash of fiercely loyal supporters, who benefit somehow from the monarchies in power. Gulf monarchs are accustomed to being met with adulation from their citizens and this is now changing. Bahraini activists on Twitter are constantly harassed by people on Twitter who create profiles simply to verbally attack and threaten them. Bahraini tweeters, such as the daughter of a detained human rights activist @angryarabiya, have been subject to this harassment.

Certain users such as @ozmukhtar tweeted this about @angryarabiya after she ended her hunger strike,@BahrainiBullet tweeted this when a tweeter he/she had been harassing deleted their account, and @Bahrainia4ever tweeted this to human rights activist Nabeel Rajab. These are just a few tweets since most users who harass others usually delete the tweet or their accounts right after.

If people are facing this much resistance when trying to speak out against the monarchs on Twitter, imagine the backlash when people take to the streets! Oh wait, we don't have to, we've already seen how far Bahrain and the GCC will go to keep themselves in power.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Women Should Lead the MidEast Peace Process

Recently, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that women have helped and can further assist in the Middle East peace process. 

Clinton pointed to the conflict in Northern Ireland where women from both sides called for peace. She claimed that if women could see each other suffering in the same way, there would be less of a divide between them. I've always thought this myself, not to say that women never disagree, I just find that generally women can communicate in a disagreement without resorting to violence more often than men can. 

Whether or not your agree with my last statement doesn't take away from the fact that more women need to be leading Middle East peace process. There have been several initiatives to involve women in the peace process but most women are taking a grassroots approach to change. This can be very effective, yet it must be coupled with influence from the leadership of both parties. Women must be integrated from top to bottom, meaning there should be more women leading in diplomatic negotiations, legislature as well as grassroots movements.

Below is a great video of an initiative taken by Israeli and Arab women to create peace.

In 2000, the United Nations passed UN Resolution 1325, which called for the inclusion of women in leadership positions in peace-making. A great organization called No Women No Peace then mobilized to pressure governments to be accountable if they prevent women from participating in peace-making.

Visit No Women No Peace to take part in their initiative or create you own. The world would be a better place.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

1,001 Nights of Revolution?

Egyptian protesters face the Egyptian Army

The world was stunned and inspired by how fast countries like Egypt and Tunisia were able to oust dictators who have been in power for decades. Egypt was able to remove Hosni Mubarak from 40 years of power in 18 days, and yet the revolution is not over.

Removing Hosni Mubarak from power was only the first step of the revolution, as many remnants of regime still hold power. The Egyptian Army and the protesters have a turbulent relationship, with many ups and downs. From chants of unity stating, "the army and people on one hand" in Tahrir Square days and hours before Mubarak fell, to the Army's violent crackdown on protesters on Friday April 8, 2011.
Below is a picture of the bloodshed that resulted from the Army's brutality.

Picture taken by Egyptian protester of blood of protesters attacked by the Egyptian army. (from @salmasaid)

The Arab revolutions are showing no signs of slowing down, but neither are the tyrants. Gaddafi still refuses to step down even with a bombing campaign against him and the total loss of his legitimacy. Yemeni dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh is also refusing to accept the loss of his legitimacy among his people. The Gulf monarchs are taking extreme preventative measures to pacify their people, such as mass murders and unjust arrests as in Bahrain, or mass bribery as in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

This leads me to wonder if the Arab revolutions, that some thought would swiftly take hold of the region, will end up being as long as Shahrezade's stories in the Arabian tale of 1,001 Nights.

One thing that gives me hope is the dedication of the Arab youth who will refuse to allow their government to fall back onto old habits of violent oppression and corruption. To be honest, I was always skeptical of the Egyptian army and always thought that one day they will turn on the protesters, and yesterday they did just that.

Arab youth need to realize that no one will give them their rights, they must take them. We cannot count on anyone but ourselves, do not trust the people who stood with the tyrants and then abandoned ship when they saw the power of the youth, for they sway where the wind takes them and we stand firm and strong in our place, demanding our rights.

Freedom and Peace in the Middle East!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Arab Women Divided on Child Marriages

Yemeni women protest child marriages in Sana'a
Yemeni women for child-brides, sign says "Yes for Sharia rights for Muslim women"

Child marriages are prominent in places such as India, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and some rural areas in upper Egypt. Of the Arab countries, Yemen is making the most headlines with its high rate of child brides. According to a report by Yemen's Ministry of Social Affairs, a quarter of Yemeni women marry before they turn 15!

Poverty and tribal customs are mostly to blame for Yemen's alarmingly high rate of child brides. Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world and many poor families in rural areas find hundred dollar dowries for their young daughters too hard to pass up. Tribal customs come into play with the belief that child brides will be more obedient and fertile.

In 2007, the topic of child brides in Yemen was brought to the forefront when a brave 8 year old Yemeni girl went to the courtroom and demanded that the judge grant her a divorce from her 30 year old husband. Her divorce was eventually granted and Yemenis began to push for a ban on child marriages.

In 2010, a prominent Yemeni cleric issued a fatwa (religious decree) stating that supporters of the ban on child marriages are renouncing and abandoning their religion. The ban would make it illegal for people under the age of 17 to marry.

In that same year, a 12 year old Yemeni girl died after struggling for three days in labor to give birth and a 13 year old girl bled to death from the damage inflicted on her sexual organs by her 23 year old husband. Three days after her wedding she was tied down and forced to have sex by her husband, resulting in the devastating internal injuries that led to her painful death.

Following these tragic events Yemeni women began and are still continuing their protests against the delay on the ban of child marriage. A counter-protest emerged where Yemeni women who seem to have been swayed by the fatwa, said that placing a minimum age on marriage is in conflict with Sharia law.

In rural Egypt, the subject of child marriages divides women as well. Below is an interview with an Egyptian mother who was a child bride and married off all of her daughters at the ages of 11-16.

Here is a video featuring the young Yemeni girls I mention before, it is a televised interview with the child brides and their family.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Bombs for Billions - Arab Governments' Weapon Spending

Arms expo visitors at IDEX in Abu Dhabi

The world spends $1,000 Billion (or $1 Trillion) annually on the military. Of all the things governments spend their money on, weapons account for most of the spending by far.

After seeing images (like the one below) from the Middle East, of peaceful protesters being attacked by their governments with U.S. weapons, I decided to do a little research on Arab governments and their arms purchases.

This is some of what I found:

During Feb 20-24, 2011, amidst the bloodbath of the Arab revolutions, the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) held its 10th International Defense Exhibition, where it sold weapons much like the ones being used by Arab tyrants against their people. It produced $5 Billion dollars in contracts from neighboring nations. These weapons will most likely end up being used on innocent civilians again. If you want to help prevent that from happening, sign this petition by Amnesty International to tell the US to stop weapons transfers to Bahrain, where civilians are being killed by such weapons.
Interested buyer at IDEX

According to the US Government Accountability Office, the United States sold $37 Billion in arms to Gulf states (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and U.A.E.) from 2005 to 2009. On top of their previous spending, Gulf states have ordered $123 Billion (!!!) worth of U.S. weapons to be purchased over the next few years.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the Middle East accounts for 17% of the world's arms imports.

In 2009, the top six countries purchasing arms from the U.S. were:

  1. U.A.E. - $7.9 Billion
  2. Afghanistan - $5.4 Billion
  3. Saudi Arabia - $3.3 Billion
  4. Taiwan - $3.2 Billion
  5. Egypt - $2.1 Billion
  6. Iraq - $1.6 Billion
Interesting how Afghanistan and Iraq made the list, I'm guessing the aid they receive from the U.S. is given on the condition that it is then spent on U.S. arms (see how things come full circle ;) ).

In 2010, the United States sealed its largest-ever overseas arms deal when Saudi Arabia purchased $60 Billion worth of arms. Saudi Arabia was also the top buyer of U.S. arms from 2005 to 2008, with its purchases totaling $11.2 Billion.

“We cannot be both the world's leading champion of peace and the world's leading supplier of the weapons of war” - Jimmy Carter

“You know we armed Iraq. I wondered about that too, you know during the Persian Gulf war those intelligence reports would come out: "Iraq: incredible weapons - incredible weapons." How do you know that? "Uh, well...we looked at the receipts."” - Bill Hicks

“Do not put your trust in rivers, men who carry weapons, beasts with claws or horns, women, and members of a royal family.” - Chanakya

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Children of the Arab Revolutions

Young boy standing guard for opposition forces in Benghazi
Libyan girl playing on burnt tank of Gaddafi forces

"Arab children, 
Corn ears of the future,
You will break our chains,
Kill the opium in our heads,
Kill the illusions.

Arab children,
Don't read about our suffocated generation,
We are a hopeless case.
We are as worthless as a water-melon rind.
Dont read about us,
Dont ape us,
Dont accept us,
Dont accept our ideas,
We are a nation of crooks and jugglers.

Arab children,
Spring rain,
Corn ears of the future,
You are the generation
That will overcome defeat. "

- Nizam Qabbani

Arab children have played a significant role in the Arab Spring, some joined in protests, led chants and even may have sparked a revolution. This may have been the case in Syria, where 15 children (all under the age of 17) in Dara'a who were inspired by the revolutions all around them decided to write the most famous famous words of the revolution on a wall: "The people want the fall of the regime". The children were subsequently arrested which outraged their community, this outrage is what led to the protests which began with demanding the children's freedom.

I found some great images (from Foreign Policy) about children in the revolution. Enjoy :)

Libyan boy being told he's too young to join rebel forces in Benghazi

Yemeni girls sits while women protesters break for prayer

Yemeni boy protesting, his chest says "leave, you liar"

Yemeni Girl, her hands say "leave, you butcher."

Arab Women and Media

Saudi Woman Journalist

Lebanese Journalist

Nowadays, Arab women are turning to media as a means for their empowerment, as a medium for education that overcomes barriers of distance and time, and as a tool to advance their progress and development in their communities. Whether in a niqab (face covering) and veil or not, conservative and moderate Arab/Muslim women have begun to turn to journalism and reporting as a career.

We have seen the extraordinary role of women reporters and journalists during the Arab revolutions (such as Mona El-Tahawy, Arwa Damon, Hala Gurani and Rula Amin to name a few). These women have proved to be as brave (an in many cases braver) than their male counterparts, and are paving the way for greater gender egalitarianism in the media.

CAWTAR (The Center of Arab Women for Training and Research) conducted a survey regarding women and the Arab media. The survey found the proportions of women in professional media dealing with political, national and international issues are 47.3% in Yemen, 36% in Jordan, 32% Tunisia and an measly 2.1% in the United Arab Emirates.

These results indicate that the majority of women in all the above mentioned Arab countries do NOT cover the more serious issues discussed in the media. That is not to say that a majority of Arab women have no interest in these issues, but rather that there are less opportunities for women to cover these issues.

Women should be equally represented in the media as they are half of the populations, and sometimes more. This is already beginning to happen, slowly but surely.

I would also like to highlight a women in media that I find is doing extraordinary work in Kuwait, a very conservative society. Dr. Fouzia Al-Durai' is a Kuwaiti women who has a call-in show on Al-Rai network that deals with love, sex and relationships. Dr. Fouzia aims to get rid of the stigma and shame surrounding those matters in a mature and open way. Dr. Fouzia is revolutionary in her public approach to such personal matters. Dr. Fouzia has a Twitter account: @Dr_Foz.

Arab women must take advantage of the media and utilize it to get their voices heard and shed light on women's issues that need awareness.

The time for Arab women is now!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

What if Arab women had a "Gulabi Gang"?

The Gulabi (Pink) Gang is a vigilante group of Indian women led by Sampat Pal Devi, a brave woman and one of The Guardian's Top 100 Women. Sampat was married at the age of 11(!!!!!!) and has 5 children.

The members of the Gulabi Gang provide justice for women abused by their husbands, fathers or in-laws. Abused women come to Sampat Pal Devi to tell their horrific stories, and Sampat and her Gulabi Gang take justice into their own hands. Armed with long wooden sticks, the Gulabi Gang find the offenders and try to verbally solve the issue between the woman and the abusers first. If the woman who was abused returns to the Gulabi Gang claiming further abuse, the Gulabi Gang find the abusers and beat them as they beat the women. Now, I know my blog is called Peace is the New Black and I'm not saying I endorse this behavior, I'm simply asking what if Arab women did the same thing?

Imagine a massive amount of Arab women marching to find abusive men and giving them a taste of their own medicine! (LOOOOL) I must admit, the thought of such a sight brings a huge smile to my face. I wonder what color our gang would be? I sure as hell hope its not black! Been there, done that, not into it. Maybe red?

What do you think? Should there be an Arab 'Gulabi' Gang? What would happen if there was?

Here are some more pictures of the Gulabi Gang I couldn't resist posting, and also a longer more in-depth video on the Gulabi Gang if you are interested.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Its Time for a Sexual Revolution in the Middle East!

With the recent political revolutions in the Middle East, its now time for a sexual revolution also.

We need to strike while the iron is hot!!

Although some Middle Eastern countries may give their citizens freedoms in regard to their sexuality, I would be in denial if I didn't say that Middle Eastern/Arab countries as a whole need to have major reforms in the areas of personal sexuality. 

The revolutions must not only take place in Arab institutions but also within the Arab culture, and this is a challenge to say the least. As challenging as this may be, it is not impossible. Need I remind you how many  people said the current revolutions were impossible? What is possible is defined by what our minds allow us to believe is possible.

The Arab Sexual Revolution must take place in homes, workplaces, streets and especially IN THE MIND.

Women in the region must begin to non-violently disobey all the rules and restrictions, placed on them by their governments or families, to have a chance at a dignified life.

The Arab governments have proven that our rights will never be given to us, they must be TAKEN. 

There are many areas in which reforms must be made, but I will mention some of the most essential ones:

  1. Women must become masters of their own destiny; ITS ALL ABOUT CHOICES, NO COMPULSION. This is in regards to all issues affecting women's personal lives. Women must be able to choose whether or not to wear the hijab (veil), who to marry and where and with whom to live and work.
  2. Women and Men must begin to tear down the wall of stigma when it comes to being raped or sexually assaulted. Currently, most women in the Middle East do not report cases of rape because of fears of being blamed for the assault, being labeled as "damaged goods", being convicted of prostitution and bringing shame upon their families. This must stop. Eman Al-Obeidi is currently tearing down these walls.
  3. Women must NOT be subjected to any form of genital mutilation, such as female circumcision and "virginity tests".
  4. Sexual harassment of women has become a cultural norm. Women who are groped or harrased in public are usually blamed for it because they are not veiled. This must stop! Men must take responsibility for controlling their "temptations". 
  5. Homosexuality must become a private personal matter and not a criminal offense punishable by law. The mentality towards homosexuality must be changed first with legislature and then through culture. I know for a fact that homosexuality exists in the Arab world just as much as it does in the Western world, it is just swept under the rug. Homosexuals are citizens too and should be given the same rights as heterosexuals. To follow a brave Arab homosexual on Twitter, its @TheHomoEdition. This tweep is a brave man from Egypt who found his voice during the revolutions.
  6. Another issue is the ability for single Arab women to live alone. I remember telling my mother that if I was still single by the age of 30, I would definitely move out of our home and get an apartment or something. She was shocked at the idea and said, "This is Kuwait not America, women don't do that here. And if you do, you will remain single until you die". She meant it as a threat, yet I saw it as being liberating to be single until I died. This issue is more cultural that legal, as in many Arab nations women can own land. The issue lies in women's fears of becoming stigmatized as "whores" or "loose women" just because they are independent. 
  7. Women must have access to birth control even if they are not married. The stigma surrounding premarital sex must be done away with.

My final point is that all of these advances cannot be made with a political separation of "Mosque and State". A secular government must be established to ensure that religion does not impede on personal rights.