Archive | March, 2012

A Few Thoughts on Torture in Syria

25 Mar

A Few Thoughts on Torture in Syria

If one follows certain Middle Eastern “experts” such as Joshua Landis, or As`ad AbuKhalil (a firm detractor of the “lousy” Syrian opposition) or even Miriam Cooke, good friend of Bouthaina Shaaban, (Shaaban whom I once wrongly thought a writer if not a “scholar”) one could be fooled. Maybe one could believe the amazing leftist propaganda that the Baathist regime Syria is the protector of Arab honor, stable and stalwart against Israel. Yet, the Syrian regime consistently acted to factionalize and weaken the Palestinian resistance.

As for torture and illegal political detentions, Syria has long earned a fearsome reputation. There is nothing new, novel or surprising here. The government’s crimes against its own people – against humanity and morality – have gone on for decades.

I want to sketch just two incidents that illustrate Assad’s “honorable” system. One was detained in September of 1993. It’s long ago, and I had been sick the previous month with “summer fever.” I was enjoying a walk in the area just below Sha`lan with my daughter and my ex-husband. Suddenly, he saw something that we did not, and pushed us down the street and into a doorway. I poked my head back out and saw several men pushing another man clad only in a towel around his waist. My ex-husband was extremely upset, but waited. Once the group had disappeared from sight, he rushed up into the building from which they’d emerged. He yelled at us to wait. The man’s mother was in their flat, crying. They had pushed her around and forced him out from the shower into the street. No-one knew where they had taken him. My ex-husband made inquiries. Others made inquiries. We thought he might be suspected of being a member of the Maoist-oriented student group, although my ex-husband said he was not. This is the first time that I ever contacted Middle East Watch. I wrote them and then, while at the Middle East Studies Association meetings, met with Joe Stork. I realized that at the time, Human Rights Watch (Middle East Watch being a sub-division) had little presence in the country, but that without documenting his disappearance, nothing could be done. He was released about six months later. He had been interrogated, of course. In the interim, we were harassed by security forces in the middle of the night several times. There was no email at the time, and I said nothing over the telephone and nothing to other researchers I met in Damascus or elsewhere in Syria. I never forgot his mother’s despair at not being able to find out anything, not a shred of information while he was “in.”

Years later, I encountered another “lucky” former prisoner. He had survived thirteen years in a hell-hole run by anti-Arafatist Palestinians under the full authority and knowledge of the Syrian governement. Torture to his face, his ears, his genitals via electrodes, he’d lost most of his teeth and had to have implants. He’d been beaten, burned, and held in the “coffin” (a horizontal holding space where one can only lie down) He’d learned to amuse himself by crafting little toys. He’d lost his youth. He watched another prisoner become incontinent while the guards mocked him for soiling himself. He’d lost his reputation in the political movement, for even with his return to his own family, some people suspected or claimed that there was some valid reason that the Syrian government allowed his abduction. He was released only because he made friends with one of his guards. When that guard went on holiday to visit his family member in Amman, he made a telephone call to the prisoner’s family member who was able to connect with the Red Cross. The Red Cross had never been allowed to see him or come into the facility, but suddenly, it was arranged. I don’t know if he gave his testimony to Middle East Watch, as I urged him to do – probably not, as he hadn’t worked through his experience as yet and did not want to disparage the Palestinian movement that he still believed in. It is possible that there are still 50 or more prisoners in that particular, special facility.

Now just imagine the thousands who are the newer recipients of torture, as this regime exerts itself to stamp out protest and opposition. Say a prayer for them. Or at least pity them.

Transcending State Feminism and Establishing Revolutionary Women’s Rights from the Arab Spring

12 Mar

“Transcending State Feminism and Establishing Revolutionary Women’s Rights from the Arab Spring”

Sherifa Zuhur, Institute of Middle Eastern, Islamic and Strategic Studies
for “Women After the Arab Spring” University of Mary Washington, March 14, 2012
(Draft Version)

It is essential now to revisit the fact that Arab women had not obtained equality in the countries visited by the Arab Spring. Decades of women’s activism had come to rely on state feminism and I will first explain some implications of that situation.

Early on in my studies, I was stung in reading Western and other feminist accounts of Arab and Turkish women’s feminisms which judged these very critically, as merely having adopted ameliorative strategies of feminism (Rowbotham, 1974, or in the theoretical model of Chafetz and Dworkin, 1986) It has took many years for me to come to terms with what seemed an arrogant description of what was a fairly practical orientation for a social movement in a region where the word “feminist” is referred to as the “f” word.

Western and MENA scholars have explained how state feminism evolved, operated and effected certain gradual changes (Kandiyotti, ed. 1991, Joseph ed. et al. 2000) without leading to equal citizenship in countries where more than 50% of women are illiterate according to the Arab Human Development Report (2010).

State feminism does not mean that Hosni Mubarak or his wife Suzanne, or the National Women’s Council that she headed were great feminists! Nor that their enemies “naturally” oppose their pro-woman legislation as some have simplistically explained in the Egyptian media. What it actually means is that nothing could be accomplished in such political systems without a wide and pervasive network of wasta – connections, and connective power – what you call in Farsi, “parti.” Women activists had to cultivate and enlighten receptive governmental power mongers and educate women and men and promote them as journalists, governmental representatives, and in international organizations. It meant that campaigns on particular women’s issues were coordinated with the government and the state media – and sometimes foreign media, as well, or foreign institutions located in Egypt but which were exempt from some restrictions on speech or writing.

At the same time, women’s movements have been among those struggling for democratic rights , and alongside the official representatives sent to Beijing and Beijing II or who responded to the CEDAW(Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women) there were shadow groups, some of whom also documented state violence.

How do women’s activists transition from such a situation to the present or the near future without losing ground and instead continuing progress for women? In feminist language of the past, people would quickly say, obtain grassroots support. Well, that is very difficult when the grassroots is still largely opposed to women’s rights if they appear to abridge men’s rights and where that grassroots is focused on survival. It is possible that the revolutions of the Arab spring may be an opening for women’s feminist activism just as the post 9/11 period was, rather paradoxically, because there was such a spotlight on the countries and their forward progress.

For that reason, I will reiterate my support (presented in an earlier paper) for

1. quotas guaranteeing women’s representation in political institutions. I am not the only one who has suggested this. Manal Omar, currently at USIP, testified to the U.S. Senate on the situation in Libya and proposed that “ The Libyan National Transitional Council should be encouraged to implement a quota to bolster the representation of women for current transitional government formation as well as for future parliamentarian elections.” (Omar, 2011, 3) I should add that Manal Omar documented the post-war situation in Iraq when international organizations tried very hard to improve women’s situation, which actually degraded in that environment.

The Libyan leadership’s response has been that there aren’t sufficient qualified women. That is untrue as there are large numbers of well-educated women professionals.

There are three women who have announced their candidacy in the Egyptian presidential race—they aren’t among the top 10 so their value is symbolic. Mona Prince, who is a feminist, has remarked that she is running to represent youth as well as women, since most of the candidates are men in their 70s.

How can women win office in the future w/o quotas? Mainly by gaining experience and exposure to the public. In the past, for legislative and judicial candidates, national and international organizations have played a strong role in conducting trainings and providing assistance in campaign design and management. Hopefully this sort of support can continue.

a. Outside of the state, there is strong need for communication, documentation and research. Considering the very strange and limited coverage of women and the Arab spring in English – we who can write about it must do so. Also studies need to be conducted on women’s needs and grievances. Some are still useful as in Egyptian NGO studies of the levels of violence against women.

b. At present, data is urgently required on the needs of women-headed households — due to the as yet, uncertain numbers of deaths in Libya and this is the case as well for Syria and Yemen.

c. Or women as part of national reconciliation – which is going to be a complicated economic as well as a political effort in Libya where people seek the restoration of their properties which were taken away from them under Qadhdhafi’s law prohibiting rents.

According to some scholars, we who write about those gender issues in their specific regional and country forms are Orientalist and essentialist in looking at problems like family violence which affects more than 30% of women given current data, and honor crimes. Name-calling aside, these are still very important problems to be dealt with, certainly as important as needed measures such as the right of women to pass on citizenship to their children in Libya, Yemen, and Egypt, where recently a measure passed allowing for citizenship to be granted if the father was Palestinian, but not if he was a Saudi Arabian, or any other non-Egyptian.

So this leads to me to consider some of the systemic gender issues that face women and to recommend work across party, ideological or religious lines on these issues.

In a research collective that I headed about 12 years ago, we studied the evolution of education in the region. Education was supposed to be the silver bullet that would cure violence against women, prepare them for employment and grant them more power and governments put a lot of resources into education. For at least two decades, women in the Arab countries have been outperforming men in schools, and in universities, yet, their graduating certificates became little more than new requisites for better marriages – they weren’t necessarily able to start their careers upon completing their degrees since their families expect them to marry at that point. This process was and is being interrupted in Libya and Syria due to the violence, but we can expect it to resume.

At the same time, marriage had become so expensive that couples who are not part of the elite or upper middle class were waiting for years to marry, on average, more than 10 years. (Singerman, 1999, 2001) The pressure to marry prevented some women from obtaining PhDs or traveling abroad for these degrees. And, employment has still not opened up in certain areas for these women to the degree that it does for men, particularly in the Gulf countries.

In Yemen, there is still an education gap for girls and marriage often interrupts women’s lives much earlier – when they are children or in their teen years– and there is an dire need for legislation on this issue (in Saudi Arabia as well). This is a reflection of the economic crisis in the country, young girls and children are essentially sold, as their families benefit from the mahr.

Proposals that have been internationally popular to meet the needs of poor women, creating micro-financing for small businesses is not a way of addressing the above systemic gender problems.

On the other hand, since that time we compared and shared our research on gender (Zuhur, 2003) I can say that I was part of educating a generation in Egypt who actually can envision themselves as “gender specialists”– a viable career due to the thousands of NGOs operating in the region. Now, the NGOs created their own problems; the heavy focus on victim’s issues – which do need to be dealt with, there are still far too few shelters or programs that meet the needs of women who are victims of violence. Unfortunately, the NGOs operate on a grant cycle and thus the results are less important than securing a constant influx of funding. And finally, some are targeted as being foreign to local interests. Unfortunately, this goes beyond the NGOS – for was the fate of the master’s gender and development program in Yemen that was directed by the late Raufa Hassan.

The most pressing issue of the post-revolutionary period is a security vacuum and actual dislocations and economic need. NGOs can help with these issues so long as levels of violence do not rise. For example, Libya is still very unstable and Egypt, and even Tunisia have been plagued by robberies and attacks and kidnappings. Thousands of Syrians – men and women, are currently refugees in Jordan, Lebanon or Turkey. It’s unclear what will happen over the coming year, but this situation could worsen, thus NGOS who are prepared to help women in such circumstances will have the best vantage point to assess women’s needs.

Once order is re-established, it will be important for feminists to study the changes affecting women in a systemic and qualitative fashion as well as on an issue-by-issue basis and to look very carefully at where the gaps are and why.

Mahnaz Afkhami also testified to a Senate Committee on the issue of women’s status following the Arab Spring for Sisterhood is Global and her main point was that women have learned a lot over the past decades about how to utilize the international human rights community through the CEDAW process to effect change. I think this is true, but it did operate within the state feminist context described. In other words, feminists were able to shame their governments, in some cases, into responding with needed reforms after the CEDAW committee took issue with countries’ tardy responses and lack of action.

Tunisia withdrew all specific reservations to the CEDAW on August 16, 2011. Unfortunately the government says that it will not enforce anything that is contrary to Article One of the Tunisian Constitution which designates Islam as the state religion, so this just like a de facto reservation and feminist groups like AFTD (Association Tunisienne des Femmes Démocrates) are working to enact further reforms.

Where this work will need to diverge from past patterns is in its need to convince ordinary Tunisians that further reforms are necessary.

Along these lines, so much remains to be accomplished in Yemen, Libya and Syria, and also in Egypt. And that, is why the visibility and strength of women in the Arab revolutions is so exciting and vital. For as with politics, much had remained static for many years that has now been turned upside down, and inside out.


Afkhami, Mahnaz. “Women’s Rights and the Arab Spring. Middle East/North Africa Overview and Fact Sheet. Appendix. As part of testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights,
Democracy, and Global Women’s Issues and the Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Central Asian Affairs. Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace
November 2, 2011

Coleman, Isabel. “Women’s Voices on the Arab Spring.” Council on Foreign Relations. January 27, 2012,

Jamjoom, Mohammed and Almasmari, Hakeem. “Yemeni Women Burn Veils to Protest Regime.” CNN. 12 October, 2011.

Joseph, Suad, ed. Gender and Citizenship in the Middle East. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.

Kandiyoti, Deniz, ed. Women, Islam and the State. Basingstoke, Macmillan, 1991.

Nazra for Feminist Studies. “Joint Statement.” March 12, 2012 .

Omar, Manal. “Women and the Arab Spring.” Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights,
Democracy, and Global Women’s Issues and the Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Central Asian Affairs. Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace
November 2, 2011.

Singerman, Diane. “Marriage and Divorce in Egypt: Financial Costs and Political Struggles.” Les métamorphoses du mariage au Moyen-Orient. Dir. par Barbara Drieskens,
Cahiers de l’IFPO, 75-96.

Zuhur, Sherifa, ed. Women and Gender in the Islamic World Today. Berkeley: UCIAS and UC Press, 2003 (posted as a large electronic book – removed from the UCIAS site in 2004).

Islamist and Feminists and the Arab Revolutions

9 Mar

On the Occasion of International Women’s Day: Feminist and Islamist Contentions after the Arab Spring: Speaking Frankly

No, the Arab spring is not a winter for Arab women. Arab women have played a vital role in resistance to the governments of Zayn al-Abdin bin `Ali, Husni Mubarak, Mu’ammar al-Qadhdhafi, Bashar al-Assad and Ali Abdullah Saleh. But they had not achieved their rights under these governments at the time of this regime changes, basically to transitional political and military sources of power. We must better comprehend the many challenges, old and new, which confront Arab women and that meeting them during profound shifts in power may require new tools and tactics.

For years, observers warned that Islamists would come to power in Egypt, if free elections were held. The political rise in fortunes of Islamist organizations has occurred not only in Egypt but also in Tunisia, Libya and Yemen. In an Assad-free Syria, it is quite likely that the long-suppressed Sunni population will support long-standing or more recently created organizations with Islamist orientations. The popularity of the moderate Islamist groups and salafists extends even beyond the Arab Spring countries and includes Morocco and Jordan. Power-sharing between Islamist parties and others is also seen in Turkey and Iraq. Women’s condition is far from elevated in those two countries, despite a more advantageous legal status in Turkey.

Yes, we should be vigilant about exposing intolerant attitudes by extreme Islamists, and even the moderate Islamists have prevented development from within their own ranks on resolutions to gender issues. Nevertheless, utilizing a binary frame of women’s rights activists and feminists versus Islamism or insisting on secularism as a precondition of new governments, will bring about no new analytical or operational space.

I do not mean to negate the culture wars (Mehrez, 2010) raging, past or present, in which salafists have demand stricter dress codes, the right to wear niqab in Tunisian universities, protested and marched against the showing of the film “Persepolis,” and insisted on taking to court those persons who arranged that screening, debated the dress and alcohol use of tourists. And there are salafists in Egypt who would not permit their parties’ women candidates to speak in public or use photos on election materials. Some feminists are furious with the En-Nahda successes in Tunisia and the capitulation of certain Ettakatol politicians to them. Likewise, there are many tensions with salafists, more so than with Freedom and Justice representatives in Egypt. Tensions have long coalesced around the rights of artists, musicians, and writers to freedom of expression and women, and religious minorities to full citizen’s rights.

What may be forgotten is the hard work achieved when women of differing political trends came together as they sometimes did in the campaigns to rescue legal reforms in Egypt in 1985, and in the reforms known for the khul` law of 2000. In these instances women agreed on the need to raise public awareness about particular issues or obtain support for legal reforms. They created some enemies – there were those who vowed to undo these legal reforms and others such as the Child Act which made parents culpable for circumcising their daughters.

In addition to the more extreme or less-flexible stances of particular conservatives or salafists, there are some new problems:

a) the identification of feminist activism with the previous ruling parties
b) the victimization of women in public spaces during the revolutions
c) the need to confront military or transitional authorities – who want to avoid blame at all costs, as Samira Ibrahim is doing by pressing charges for her violation at the hands of authorities last year (March 9, 2011) in Cairo.
d) Suspicions about foreign linkages of NGOs – and external funding has been essential to many NGOs working on women’s issues.

Among the key sites where Islamists and women’s activists may challenge each other, is first of all, in political structures. Hence, the very low showing of women in political institutions is a very real problem. Yes, women might be elected who won’t work hard for their own gender interests, but it is certain that we need to see women political leaders who will represent women’s interests in what are sure to be legislative battles over laws impacting women.

The more conservative Islamist parties and lists are opposed to women’s leadership just as much as they oppose women appearing in public without a headcovering or the face veil known as the niqab, to women’s photographs being used in campaigns and to what they call the mixing of men and women, in schools, universities, the workplace and social and political activities. The foolishness of this stance does not come from Islamic history where women have always been leaders and spoken out. Nevertheless, one cannot forget the power of socialization and the fact that many more people under the age of 35 believe in this model of supposedly Islamic behavior.

However, in Tunisia and in Egypt, electoral rules required that all parties include women on the ballots, and a proportion of women on party lists. The intent of these rules was circumvented when parties chose their candidates, and banking on the greater popularity of men they placed women candidates in a lower position in the list system. The outcome was only 11 women (9 elected and 2 appointed ) representatives out of 508 in Egypt. 49 women out of 217 were elected in Tunisia, despite the gender parity rule. And, of those 49, 42 represent En-Nahda Party while only 7 are non-Islamist women. In Libya, only 2 women were on the National Transitional Council and one woman is now in a cabinet position as Minister of Social Affairs, Mabrouka Jibril.

Yemen represents further challenges to women’s visibility and leadership. Yemen is far behind Tunisia and Egypt in its treatment and view of women as leaders. But it is similar in that a leading political party had dominated in the past. In the 301-strong Assembly of Representatives only one woman served. Houria Mashhoor was first named speaker of the National Transitional Council and then Minister of Human Rights. Only two women were named in the National Unity government. At this point there are three women out of 35 ministers.

The recognition of Tawakol Karmon on the basis of her work on behalf of women’s rights, (when actually she is a political activist for citizens rights, [Yadav, 2011]) with the Nobel Peace prize of 2011 will doubtless enhance women’s ability to aspire to political leadership, and hopefully open up activism on gender issues within Islah. The Islah Party had refused to support women for national political office and has not pushed various gender issues. Some women, including Karma rose instead, inside the party; Karman being one of 13 women voted onto the Shura Council in 2007. This points to the need for the well-organized Islamist parties to turn their attention to gender issues, and to promote their female leaders. Without women in positions of leadership, Yemeni women will face a lot of opposition in their efforts to end child marriage and accomplish other goals.

Syria’s future leadership may well come from the ranks of its opposition which is headed by an Executive Committee which includes secret members inside of Syria. One of the 7 member external Executive Committee is a woman, Basma Kodmani, a member of the National Bloc. The organization has 301 members of these only 22 are women. (5 out of 72 representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood Alliance of Syria are women. 8 (including Kodmani) of the 69 National Bloc members are women; 4 of 16 Independents are women; 4 of 28 Grassroots are women; 1 of 21 Kurdish Bloc; 0 of 6 Assyrian Bloc: 0 of 2 Damascus Spring; 0 of 6 national figures; 0 of 7 Damascus Declaration)

Overall, what needs to occur so that progress is seen on gender issues to be discussed exclusively in the public political eye, is for feminists and Islamists to agree on establishing quotas for women in national assemblies and a fair representation in appointed positions. I realize this is controversial and that it has been discussed and rejected (primarily for partisan reasons)

The next important area concerns women’s and feminists’ safety, physical integrity and therefore self-esteem and dignity. Sadly, we return to women’s bodies at this point – the rapes and unjustifiable attacks on women including journalists, like Mona Eltahawy, women victims in Libya and Syria. But this violence has no exclusive province amongst Islamists. But there is one area where they are concerned — let’s consider the weapon of takfir. This must be defused by political leadership, presumably moderate Islamist parties. For example, socialist women in Yemen have been attacked by Islamists as being immoral – there was a takfir campaign against Bushra al-Maktary, the novelist and activist who lead a peace march.

Perhaps, ideological security and promotion of freedom of expression could be linked to a campaign of respecting women in public space. The tricky part of the Islamist role here is to convince the reluctant to discuss sexual matters and violations of women in informational formats. There is no reason this cannot occur, as it was already up there on the agenda of feminist activists in Egypt prior to the revolution. Harassment is one end of the scale, rape and assault at a different decibel point.

This however, collides with another Islamist preoccupation – the segregation of women, or their protection. For example, there were demands that Yemeni women not demonstrate or if they did, they must occupy their own delineated segregated space as in the area behind a blue oilcloth in Yemen in Change Square. The question was aggravated by Saleh’s attack on women protesters who burned their veils in response in October of 2011.

The perennial reduction of women to the value and physicality of their own bodes is a feature of pre-revolutionary life. It seems to be exacerbated in periods of insecurity and therefore during war and revolution. It is more difficult to address under a temporary leadership of military power – really made up of a triplicate of police, secret security and military.

Could it really be true that any female detained by the Egyptian military must be graded as a virgin or a non-virgin? Nonsense! Yet this is the current legal defense of those who punished demonstrators with virginity tests and detention in Egypt on March 9 2011. That security personnel and military persons charged with the sacred defense of their own nation would countenance this behavior – shows how ingrained the mauling of women in public has become – as was seen on International Women’s Day of 2011, and so many Eid holidays in Egypt prior to that. The violations were finally broadcast by cell-phone footage. The only effective response is punitive legislation along with public education – ideally over television. – The problem with the conservative and salafist position is that they proffer traditionalist restrictions on women as if this will protect them. Well, when the Tawargha were raping the women of Misurata, those traditional ideals were unhelpful. Political messages sent through women’s bodies have become a norm, a terrible norm of regulation. When the shabiha rape women or threaten to do so, their aim is to terrify people into compliance with the Syrian regime. At bottom, the problem of women’ vulnerability is linked, whether in the emergency or ordinary circumstance to the underlying code of honor that is upheld in society.

The next thorny point of contest between Islamists and feminists concerns the law and any legal reforms to further women’s rights, or restrict them.
In Tunisia, the personal status code – unlike that of any other Arab country – disallows polygamy, and is part of a legal system based on pre-1975 French law. Tunisians are Muslim; some areas of the country are extremely conservative. On the other hand, others, including the intellectuals may very liberated and accept a philosophical separation of religion from public regulation. The prior government’s campaign against Islamism, from Bourguiba through Ben Ali’s time, presented the state as the supporter of women’s rights particularly in contrast to that of the various unfair interpretations of shari’ah. There were many problems that were unresolved even under the previous regime, such as the harassment of women, the non-status of single mothers, rulings that prevent couples from living together if they are unmarried, and allow the police to argue on behalf of public order to invade private homes to enforce sexual modesty and “non co-habitation.” Under this regime, the wearing of the hijab was initially outlawed and later on, it was the niqab or face mask that was not allowed.

Some anticipate the En-Nahda legislators to support the shari’ah as a source of law in Tunisia. At present, it is not – however there are many ways in which Tunisian civil law is interpreted by judges in accordance with shar`i norms. Also the Tunisian scivil code is very patriarchal – giving much power to a man as a husband, rather than head of a clan. However, judges do not really admit or discuss their use of shar`i principles in their current arguments. One must be acutely familiar with their format to undertand where they are implicitly being applied.

Currently, one common reason and method of divorce, declaring a woman nushuz (nashaz) or disobedient had actually been eliminated from the law in Tunisia– and yet, it still persists in the accusations that husbands bring regarding grounds for divorce. Judges instead refer to Article 23 CSP, which ‘provides for the duty of ‘good cohabitation’’ (hasan al-mu‘ashara).

Not only could it become more difficult for women to obtain divorces, and easier for men to simply declare divorces, people fear the legal reintroduction of polygamy, and restrictions on women’s custody of their children.

Thus there is significant and justifiable anticipation and fear that the civil code could be restricted by use of the “other” source of law – the shari`ah, or that reforms could be made to family law – which is not the only area of law in which women are discriminated. Or shari`ah courts might begin to operate as they do in Iraq. Speed forward, I predict that shari`ah will be named as a source of law, but that not too much will differ in the legal norms to be applied, if feminists can appeal to Islamists in the name of justice – for social justice is supposed to be the sina qua non of the Islamist ideal world view.

With arguments that rest on istislah (a method of jurisprudence which foregrounds the public good), feminists and Islamists can agree to address other social ills such as child marriage which do not appeal to modernist Islamist leaders any more than they do to feminist spokespersons. This issue, is actually quite sticky for it touches on the definition of adulthood (at puberty, or ideally, we would hope, not until age 18 and the completion of secondary education) and the practice of permitting engagements of minors by their guardians.

There are so many other legal abuses of women to address and no space to do it here, (I would love to discuss polygamy and the various informal forms of marriage) but my point is that intelligent people of various political and religious perspectives could work together toward the goal of eliminating discrimination and the abuses of women.

Sources (more will be added)

Bakr, Dina. Dossier. “11 députées … et 40 millions de citoyennes.” Al-Ahram Hebdo. 7 – 13 Mars, 2012.

Hackman, Alice. “A Woman Leading Change in Yemen.” Common Ground News Service. March 01, 2011

Al-Mahdi, Rabab Abou “Arab Spring Fails to Allay Women’s Anxieties.” New York March 7, 2012.

Mehrez, Samia. Egypt’s Culture Wars: Politics and Practice. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2010.

Mikdashi, Maya. “The Uprisings will be Gendered.” al-Jadaliyya. Feb. 28, 2012.

Pickhard, Duncan. “How Well Did Women Really Fare in Tunisia?” Power and Policy. December 6, 2011.

Al-Sakhaf, Nadia. “Carving Out a Place for Yemen’s Women.” Yemen Times. January 10, 2012.
Yadav, Stacey Philbrick. “Tawakul Karman as Cause and Effect.” Middle East Research and Information Project. October 21, 2011.

Zuhur, Sherifa. Gender, Sexuality and the Criminal Laws in the Middle East and North Africa. Istanbul: WWHR, 2005.