Archive | April, 2012

Jadaliyya Editor Slams Sherifa Zuhur for Defending Mona ElTahawy & for Daring to Criticize their Article

30 Apr

ear Sherifa,

On behalf of Jadaliyya Editors, I would like to say the following.

First, we/authors do not wish to engage your comments below because of the lack of substance (i.e., serious engagement) there, beyond leveling unfounded accusations. Jadaliyya’s content, and particularly this piece by Sherene Seikaly and Maya Mikdashi, is in no need of defense as the blogosphere, lay readers, and various academics and academic circles noted its significance as a preliminary response to Foreign Policy’s stunt (and time will tell). And serious critique of it is welcome.

Second, I personally regret your references to Maya’s writing, which apparently you reduced to one piece and cast in a bad light. Maya’s work on sex and citizenship in particular, and in particular on jadaliyya, not only circulated widely and globally, but has been repeatedly assigned in classrooms around the United States and beyond by a large number of educators, including junior and established faculty. As a graduate student completing a stellar dissertation, Maya has produced comparatively remarkable material that continues to educate and inspire within and beyond academia (again, time will tell this better than I can. Just hang around).

None of us needs to like the arguments of others, but our claims should conform to a minimum of civility and accountability (e.g., your erroneous references to what maya wrote in the past). Maya has written more than 50 pieces on jadaliyya that were extremely well-received and celebrated as both courageous and sophisticated, and certainly not as “disingenuous” (in either title or substance). I invite you to take a look.

50+ Authored PIeces

Co-Authored Pieces

Finally, I would like to reiterate that we/authors do not wish to debate your other claims because they were bereft of any detail or evidence. In fact, we are happy to have you advance your own critique of the response. I personally, as well as my colleagues at Jadaliyya, think a serious, even if tough, discussion is indeed most needed when it comes to sensitive issues–but without (unintended?) hierarchy and unsubstantiated claims.



Bassam Haddad
Director, Middle East Studies Program
Assistant Professor, Department of Public and International Affairs
George Mason University

Women on the Ground vs. Women in the (Ivory) Towers

27 Apr

Women on the Ground vs. Women in the (Ivory) Tower

Mona El Tahawy, an Egyptian journalist and supporter of the Arab revolutions wrote an important call to action for women of Egypt and the Arab world yesterday. I don’t know if she or the editors came up with the article’s title, or if critiques of accompanying illustrations are all that important for American readers must certainly be accustomed to the de rigeur picture of a veiled woman, bearded man, or kaffiyah-wearing stone thrower. El Tahawy emphasized the blistering misogyny that underlies the many practices, rules and trends impacting women in Arab Muslim states. Of course, this is not what we teach in Middle East History or Politics 101 where we are concerned with imparting information in narrower doses and combatting Western stereotypes of the Arab world. And the terminology was misinterpreted. Misogyny does not mean personal hatred for an individual but an institutionalized set of practices and attitudes while allow men (and women) to passively watch and ignore, or engage in acts of oppression.

Those who are competent to discuss women’s lives in the region should be engaged in a deeper inquiry and discussion about the tenure of the outrages mentioned — circumcision in Egypt, the levels of family violence impacting women, the sexual violence and harassment against women moving in the public sphere, the discriminatory laws and practices, and the governments’ failures to deal with such problems or support the interests of 51% of their populations.

The main point of El Tahawy’s addressing the spectacular suffering of women in a variety of country contexts and issues a variety of issues interconnected by internalized misogyny, or an unequal according of power at this historical moment is that the region has just undergone four earth-shaking political revolutions, and at least one more in process. How shameful it would be if all of this upheaval and the deaths of those struggling for freedom did not result in the implementation of true democracies in which women must claim equal citizenship and equal rights!

As academics we were taught utter nonsense about the capacity of Egyptians, Tunisians, Yemenis, Libyans and Syrians to challenge the existing political and social orders. We were told that those socialized under patrimonial cultures would never act, or never act as individuals. Academic voices prattled on about the resilience of authoritarianism, and academics, like other professionals aligned themselves with particular regimes. And then, the entire world was shocked and energized by the sight of these revolutions.

Just as Egyptians refused to accept the stereotypes of their own passivity and inability to mobilize, now women are concerned about a present-tense where they are forced to the bottom of party lists, and must keep silent about the outrages perpetrated on women during the revolution or those which continue full sway in other places, such as Saudi Arabia. When Mona writes of hatred of women, we must understand her socialization as a teen living in the Kingdom with its young and annoying mutawa`in, women’s inability to vote or drive or go to restaurants and remember that once upon a time in Iraq, women also drove freely and ran businesses without fear of attacks, and that women have been attacked in the festivals and public gatherings in Egypt for years now. Let us remember little girls sold at eight and nine years old into marriage who only get a break if the King intervenes! Let s ask who is speaking for babies who are circumcised in Yemen and six-year olds circumcised in Egypt despite the passing of an amendment to the Child Protection Act. We must think of the very real slurs and insults – psychological abuse that many women endure along with slaps, kicks, and beatings. Of the lengths that women must go to obtain divorces, or to keep from being divorced, or to obtain custody if they are divorced. And remember that women activists have worked together to try to inhibit honor crimes.

For her advocacy of the Egyptian revolution, which included having both of her arms broken and being sexually attacked while covering a demonstration, and for her articulate cri de coeur for women, El Tahawy received a lot of criticism, much of it revealing of the critics. The cowardice of academia was on full display yesterday as academic feminists tumbled over one another to put her down for being a pawn of neoconservatives, who wrote about too many issues at once, reintroduced “binaries,” or – and this from one of her former idols – who supposedly reviles religion. El Tahawy is a Muslim and chooses not to wear hijab. And the hijab would not have saved her from sexual assault for we might remember that Samira Ibrahim who unsuccessfully sued the military authorities for violating her by subjecting women demonstrators to virginity tests, is covered. And her suit failed.

One might think these critics had never been exposed to feminist analysis or that women’s studies of the region is now decidedly out of vogue. Academics who incessantly rehash the last thirty years of scholarship on Islamic feminism or structuralist approaches to social issues must be terrified that a door is being opened onto a new phase where they will have no relevance. While the Islamophobia types have overemphasized the threat of Islamism, we cannot ignore political implications in its expansion for women, or minorities, or democracy. We dare not admit that discussions of gender are inconvenient.

While Mona was called a “feminazi” and Leila Ahmed, who commented on her article, a “promoter of spiritual hijab” by two men I argued with last night, Monica Marks in Huffington Post declares her own research on Islamism to be far more significant than the misguided testimony of a “native informant” like Mona El Tahawy. Many academics shared links with each other declaring that they would never present the issues as she did, when in fact, these same individuals frequently offer public lectures addressing the inequities women face in the region. In fact, a striking level of denial blatant arrogance, hypocrisy and competition inhibits a very productive use of scholarship on women.

Because quotas for women politicians have not been adopted, and newly-instituted gender parity laws were easy to subvert in the list system, there are now 42 an-Nahda women representatives (and 7 non-Islamist women) in the new Tunisian parliament out of 217. One immediately spoke out against unmarried mothers in her first post-election statement. In the new Egyptian parliament, currently considering such important matters as allowing polygamous men to have extra energy subsidies, and the rights of nurses to wear niqab, we see only 11 women out of 508 representatives. Yemen and Libya have even poorer records of promoting female leadership – the public must be convinced to accept women in such new roles and that means overcoming the underlying misogyny that El Tahawi highlighted. With few politicians eager to uphold reforms or enact new ones to deal with the violence and discrimination that plagues women’s lives, it appears that civil society, that is, NGOs serving women will resume their pre-revolutionary role of working on women’s issues, and fiercely denying any connection to “foreign agendas”

It is a serious matter that the moderate Islamist parties who now dominate these countries lack an agenda to reform women’s issues. Let us hope they develop such agendas and that women in the region can begin to acknowledge themselves as the huge interest group that they could be. Thank you, Mona for your call to action!

Sherifa Zuhur
Institute of Middle Eastern, lslamic and Strategic Studies

Why Do They Hate Us? A Continuing Conversation

26 Apr

. Z. (post was to Leila Ahmed’s response to Mona Eltahawy, but the link actually went to Sondos Assem – all in Foreign Policy – here’s the response I liked,3

And the one I didn’t like –,0

and Leila’s response,5

and the original article “Why Do They Hate Us?” (a play on George W. Bush’s nonsense)

So I am debating with the “friends” of Mohammed Fadel here on Facebook:

Sherifa Zuhur: The response that shows up is by Sondos Assem (who represents the Freedom and Justice Party) It shows us just what we have to look forward to — a rehashed 1950s argument that women’s plight will be fine once society is “developed” and other ills “fixed” – gender issues are not important and no need to talk about misogyny (or racism, or hatred of minorities or any of those items now being denied)

Ata Abdulbari Leila Ahmed dropped bombs … her proof of spiritual liberation through Hijab is compelling and I think squelches the feminazi crap of Eltahawy that women are unaware of their being “oppressed” by Hijab. One simply must compare Tawwakol Karman to Eltahawy to see what religiously – and spiritually concerned/inspired women can produce 🙂

Sherifa Zuhur excuse me, but Tawwakul Karman has done and said nothing to promote women. She agreed with her own party’s policy of not permitting women to run for office, and moved up its ranks. She was recognized as an activist and sadly, her own compatriot who really worked on behalf of women – Raufa Hasan, a true reformer is forgotten. To promote the Islah Party is fine in the name of “democracy” is fine, if your own party then triumphs. To be a journalist and activist on human rights and a profound supporter of the Egyptian revolution as Mona has been and to call for a revolution in the way that women are being treated is not “feminazism” Leila Ahmed by the way does not wear hijab, does not “promote” hijab and the hijab does not prevent misogyny, sadly.

عمر عبدالله (this name appears backwards so it’s Amr Abdullah from King’s College!) Does the writer really know the young women she is promoting Mahfouz and Karman? Or she is just riding the wave with these names? If the American Media is what made Tahaway then who made Karman? Now we know a but more about Mahfouz from the few temper tantrums she had after the elections and the failure to create a revolutionary council for herself and her friends from Facebook to rule Egypt from.

Ata Abdulbari Your not excused Sherifa … produce the clear unadulterated words of Karman saying that women should not work within politics and I will agree – her deeds as well as the thousands in Yemen speak for themselves. I know Dr. Ahmed does not wear hijab but you missed the point I made which was that Muslim women do see spiritual liberation through hijab – does not matter to them how you or ElTahawy see it either – and yes Feminazism is the call of ElTahawy and her kind who seek to force women to remove the application of their religious right – true liberty as they see it – in wearing Hijab and/or Niqaab, as each woman sees personally fit to do. What Leila Ahmed clearly pointed out is that the Hijab for many Muslim women is not a male-instrument of misogyny but one of spiritual awakening and liberation, such experiences are well documented and can be witnessed in the many women who refute the hell out of Mona and her rabid atheism … ElTahawy is a miserable failure and Muslim women in the real battlefields know that she is a feminazi out to subdue their faith and therefore her illegitimate pleas of servitude to ego/whim/and anti-religious rhetoric will be unheeded by those women who know well their supreme worth!
Does the writer really know the young women she is promoting Mahfouz and Karman? Or she is just riding the wave with these names? If the American Media is what made Tahaway then who made Karman? Now we know a but more about Mahfouz from the few temper tantrums she had after the elections and the failure to create a revolutionary council for herself and her friends from Facebook to rule Egypt from.

Sherifa Zuhur As I wrote, Karman followed the ORDERS of her party – she didn’t have any of her own words and it is her own party, islah, which felt that its electoral successes are more important than legitimizing women as political candidates. She rose within the party, not outside of it, and NOT by being a reformer for women’s rights. What are her “deeds” on behalf of women. Nothing directly. I am not saying she is against women – but she is for Islah, not women. Go read a bit. To `Amr, yes, I know Mona, and I know her well. And I know Leila and I know her well. Leila is an academic operating in the academic mileu, and Mona is a journalist operating in that mileu. Oh — really must I explain all this because after all, I’m just a stupid woman, I couldn’t possible know what I’m talking about!

Sherifa Zuhur And I couldn’t possibly know anything about the hijab or why women wear it either, right?

عمر عبدالله How about Miss Mahfouz? Sherifa can tell us.

Sherifa Zuhur oh no, I cannot tell you great men anything because you have no respect for me, my work on women, my knowledge of the issues – you would prefer to tell me and Mona what to think. And what to wear. and don’t laugh too hard and don’t raise your voice and don’t complain about anything. Oh, no, Mona shouldn’t complain about being sexually assaulted or having her arms broken. Nubians need their rights, the poor need their rights, the bedouin need their rights, the left, liberals, Freedom & justice and the Noor party need their rights, but oh NO, let’s not talk about women needing their rights.

عمر عبدالله Half of the Nubians, Beduians are women and they will benefit all of them. And most of the poor, liberals, Freedom and Justice, Salafis and other outfits are women too. So women get lots of rights.

عمر عبدالله What I enjoy most most when ideological women start tearing each other to bits and pieces. What did Karman do to you to say she is not a person of her own rights?

Sherifa Zuhur as for Mahfouz … no, I don’t know her personally. What matters is that she courageously demonstrated when others were not & she called for people to come out and demonstrate so that the deaths of those young men who set themselves alight would not be in vain. That matters. And no, sir, women do not benefit automatically when men do. They need to be equal members in society as a whole and in their own communities first in order to obtain those benefits. Read my work, I don’t plan to waste another minute writing to you.

Ata Abdulbari You’re right Sherifa, I have respect for women who respect women and their right to be free enough to make the religious decisions they so desire – without others forcing them to do what they want, including men. Such respect therefore does not include the spiritual-rapist ElTahawy and those who support her in her blatant feminazism! Simply because one is part of Islah does not mean that you support all of their stances. I am a democrat – does that mean that I support all the democrats seek in the way of abortion? Gay Marriage etc? No … and I could easily move up the democratic party’s ladder just as well if I desired. So the challenge stands for you to bring forth Karman’s words that are anti-women – or is that you you assume what she stands for by her party affiliation? Or is it that it scares you that women are given a voice in a party you detest for your own bias reasons?

Sherifa Zuhur Ata, read what I wrote – I did not say Karman is “anti-woman” . .. I wrote that she is not a woman’s right’s reformer, she doesn’t work on women’s issues, she was working for democracy in Yemen so Islah could compete, and Islah did not allow women to run for political office in the past, like Erdogan’s party in Turkey – women could campaign for the men, but not run.

عمر عبدالله What is wrong with women campaigning for men? Is not this the case in the US where most members of all elected bodies are men and they have most campaigners for them women? Why American candidates care so much about their looks on TV? Is not this to dazzle women? Why not Tahawy and you take a stab at this in one of her rants in FP? or better write something saucy about Arab women for an audience so keen on our sauce?

Sherifa Zuhur now read what you wrote – that “party you detest for your own bias reasons?” Why do you claim I am biased? Why do you claim I detest Islah. I am stating a fact which is universally known, that the party did not allow women to run for office. If there were no electoral law, Nur would not let women run for office and it didn’t permit their faces to be shown. But the law stated women had to be on the ballot. This not about “like” and “dislike” -these parties want to win voters and they don’t care about promoting women or changing the way the public thinks about women leaders, they just want to win seats. But without women in these seats and also men who support women, laws can be changed that will hurt women, and new laws that are needed, will not be introduced. Incidentally, Mona is not an aetheist, she is a Muslim. And I do not dislike Karman, I hope her example brings more women into leadership. Now, sorry, back to work.

Sherifa Zuhur There are millions of things wrong with the U.S. To run for office one has to be a millionaire. One party is severely anti-woman, guess which one. But that is a tangent to divert attention from the important subject of the fantastic Arab world which effected several revolutions and got rid of dictators – was all that done and all those martyrs created so society could stay the same – with the same old brutality and lack of respect and hastiness to judge others?

‫رغم وجود ملايين الامور الغلط في امريكا لكنكم تسوقوه كجنه الله في الأرض لأن اعلامها يمنحكم الفرصه للعن المجتمعات العربيه وتحقير المرأة العربيه. 30 سنه من سطوه سوزان عليكم.‬
(sorry, thanks to Word, this won’t print coherently – use Arabic tool & you’ll see it)

عمر عبدالله Any party has the right to field any candidate whome the party believes will win. Forcing women on a party tu run only weakens the party. The party can show its real stand on women issue through the legislative process and through its econmic and social programs. No to the quota system and no to the stupid idea in some countries having a ministry for women, we need women for the ministries.

Sherifa Zuhur women definitely need a quota as long as men like you think it is OK to castigate women who dare try to communicate with you!

عمر عبدالله I love women when they talk with me. Why would I castigate them?

عمر عبدالله Running a political party is not like running a social club — quotas are part of the history.

Sherifa Zuhur thank you, and the 315 friends of M. Fadel who had no comment … Quotas are badly needed because of men like you who think women would treat a political party like a social club. Quotas can address the historic damage done by exclusion from the public sphere and discrimination. Never mind, you men in the UK still have your men’s clubs.