Monday, December 12, 2011

Kristine Goulding's article "Tunisia: Feminist Fall?"

In the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings, governments, activists, and scholars are negotiating the roles that women will play in the emerging political landscape. One such article considers some of the obstacles to women's effective participation in governance in the new Tunisia. In Kristine Goulding's "Tunisia: Feminist Fall?", she lists Islamism as an obvious barrier to women, but the article also proposes women's lack of qualifications as another barrier. For example, the author considers literacy to be a necessary political qualification. Gender-based parliamentary quotas, according to the author, threaten women's equality by undermining the role women might play. In other words, in order to fill gender quotas, there is a real possibility that unqualified women will win seats. However, the author does not define what is qualified and what is unqualified, other than to mention literacy and formal educational levels.

This is a sad norm among feminist writers. This particular article even concludes that if women are not represented, they are to blame for not being "ready or willing". The point is subtle, as the author craftily maintains gender-neutral grammar. However, it is certain that the author means women and not Tunisians. For example, in the paragraph that immediately precedes her statement about the readiness or willingness of the people, she is specifically speaking to women's qualifications, and especially rural women's lack of qualifications. And after she makes her point, she laments that only the Tunisian government and political elites really "get it" in terms of women's participation and equality for all. It is, sadly, a typical conclusion, but all the more frustrating coming from an otherwise excellent set of articles.

In the rest of the article, she makes some interesting and important points. It is just a shame that she falls in the same "illiterate equals obstacle" trap rampant among scholars and practitioners.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Lessons from Libya: Syria and Yemen

Written in October 2011:

According to Voice of America (VOA), some Syrians expressed feelings of empowerment as a result of the death of Moammar Gaddafi. Former White House adviser Marc Ginsberg told VOA that one lesson learned from Libya could be that there will be increased pressure on the United States “to determine how and what to do about Syria”. So far the Syrian people continue to wait for external intervention. According to Chatham House’s Sir Richard Dalton, they may be waiting indefinitely. Dalton writes that Libya is probably not a precedent for foreign involvement in other Arab states. His justification is that Libya represented an unusual alignment of popular demand from the Libyan people, international willingness (except for a few of Gaddafi's former allies in Africa), an internationally legal intervention resulting from the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), and an affordable military task with a clear exit strategy for external participants.

According to Ted Piccone, the NATO operation expanded the interpretation of the UN mandate. Consequently this expansion of power solidified opposition from Russia, China, Brazil, India, and South Africa. The direct implication for Syria is that there is no consensus to act. For Libya, the consensus and the rhetoric were present. The United Nations is unlikely to act in Syria. Libya is an exceptional case, but could possibly be a precedent for future situations to bring United Nations and NATO together, though probably not in the case of Syria.

Al Arabiya reports that the Libyan victory shows other Arab Spring protesters such as those in Syria and Yemen that victory is possible. However, “the concept of civilian protection still competes with deeply held norms of sovereignty”. In the case of Syria, the leaders are in control of the state’s territory and the security forces have the backing of influential allies, according to Foreign Affairs magazine. These factors make humanitarian intervention unfeasible, according to the article.

Friday, November 4, 2011

More pop culture hatin' on illiterates

As I dwell on [how I wish I spent more time finishing] my dissertation, I often avoid reading interesting pieces, tucking them away as treats for future reading. One such piece, “Nashville presentation focuses on homosexuality and the Islamic culture, Author Nonie Darwish will lead discussion of ‘The Rights of Women and Homosexuals Under Shariah Law’” by Blake Boldt, ended up frustrating me more than informing me. Not only does the article replicate some of the usual tropes about Sharia and Muslims, but it also contributes to the misrepresentation of illiterates as obstacles to development and democracy. How tiresome.

In this rant, I will focus on her assumptions and logically flawed claims about the Arab Spring and illiteracy.

Here is the offending passage:

“The Arab Spring (Editor's note: Arab Spring is a wave of demonstrations and protests that began in December of 2010) did not bring the freedom and democracy that many young men who protested wished for. Unfortunately they are the minority in Egypt, where the illiteracy rate is over 50%. In a recent poll, over 75% of Egyptians said they wish to live under Sharia law, which is against freedom of speech, thought, religion, sexual freedoms, and discrimination in the application of law on the basis of gender and religious affiliation, where non-Muslims live as second class citizens.”

The first MAJOR problem with this passage is that it wasn’t just ‘young men who protested’ during the Arab Spring.

The second and third problems here are with syntax and logic. In the first sentence, she says “many young men who protested wished for” freedom and democracy. In the second sentence she says, “They are the minority in Egypt”. I assume she is referring to her previous, spurious declaration: “many young men who protested” (I cannot refrain from another frustrated mention that it was not just MEN, who protested, and it CERTAINLY wasn’t just YOUNG men.) Furthermore, Nonie Darwish elides right into the sloppy assertion that these young men exist in contrast to illiterates in Egypt. Clearly, no illiterate would have or could have or did participate in the protests in Egypt. Indeed, we might even extrapolate ridiculously from Nonie Darwish that no young man in Egypt who participates in calls for freedom in democracy is illiterate. And, only illiterates “wish to live under Sharia law”. This is clearly untrue, if we take Nonie Darwish’s figures as true and accurate. If the illiteracy rate in Egypt is over 50%, but more than 75% of Egyptians wish to live under Sharia law, then CLEARLY it is not just illiterates who wish to live under Sharia law. If illiterates are obstacles to the development and evolution of democratic governance in Egypt (an assumption which I STRONGLY challenge as ridiculous and untrue), then they are not the ONLY obstacles, based on Nonie Darwish’s data. She also says that “Sharia law…is against…discrimination in the application of law on the basis of gender and religious affiliation.” This claim is discontinuous with her other claims of that which Sharia law “is against”. Sloppy.

The third major problem is the typical, unquestioned, unchallenged dismissal of illiterates as obstacles that pervades media and popular representations of illiterate people. In the interview, Nonie Darwish indirectly declares that illiterates do not support “freedom and democracy”, because only “young men” support democracy and freedom, and according to Nonie Darwish, young men are the minority. Or is it young men who support democracy and freedom are the minority? It’s impossible to tell with all of the fallacious and logically inconsistent claims she makes in the interview IN JUST THIS PARAGRAPH. What is true is that young men are in no way a minority in Egypt. What is also true is that those demonstrating in person and via social media, both men and women, young and old, across social classes, are a minority in Egypt.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Urban planning and Islam as a unifier in medieval Morocco

The following post serves to make use of some dissertation writing that won't be of much use, it turns out.

In Morocco, urban planning has a history of softening and blurring tribal lines, in part using Islam as a unifier. As cities formed, tribal groups moved in together as a unit, occupying physical spaces with clear boundaries separating them from other tribal units.[i] During the 13th and 14th centuries in Morocco [and possibly up till the 17th century], depopulation was a significant problem. The ‘rite du drap’ was adapted to unify communities within cities. When a local woman’s labor became difficult, school boys, at the behest of their teacher, would walk around the neighborhood suspending a sheet with an unbroken egg and uttering prayers bidding god to intervene on the woman’s behalf to induce birth. The practice was a unifier across communities, as the procession eventually widened beyond tribal communities, thus expanding the sense of obligation of other city-dwellers from their immediate families to the unborn of the community struggling to enter the world. It is an example of Islam acting as a unifier up against customary practice. This phenomenon is a promising example of the success of Islam in counteracting divisive customary law, especially for the well-being of women. Caveat—this bridged communities in the ancienne medina (old city), but it is not certain that it expanded into the Merenid’s ville-nouvelle established in 1276.[ii]

The practice that did bridge the ancienne medina with the new city the two was the ‘rite des pantalons.’ Abdelhaqq, founder of the Merenid dynasty, was a saint with powers of baraka or blessings.[iii] The ceremony of the pants describes the practice of bringing the pants and/or coat of the blessed Abdelhaqq to the woman experiencing a difficult labor to wear. Donning Abdelhaqq’s clothing (long after he had died) eased the woman’s difficulties and expedited the birthing process.[iv]

[i] Abdessamad Dialmy, Le Féminisme Au Maroc, 1st ed. (Casablanca: Les Editions Toubkal, 2008), 62.

[ii] Ibid., 63.

[iii] Ibid., 65.

[iv] Ibid., 67.

Monday, September 5, 2011

UPDATE: Who are Abdelhakim Belhaj, Abdel Hakim al-Hasadi, and Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq?

UPDATE: We have our answer. BBC was right and NYT was wrong. On 31 August a correction appeared here stating that
Abdelhakim Belhaj and Abdel Hakim al-Hasad are two different people.

Abdelhakim Belhaj (also known as Abdel Hakim al-Hasadi and Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq) is the former commander of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), currently called
the Islamic Movement for Change. According to NYT, Abdelhakim Belhaj is the same person as Abdel Hakim al-Hasadi. According to BBC, Abdelhakim Belhaj is the same person as Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq. Who is right?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Update to post: Misogyny catalyzes unrest... [from January 2011]

Update to post: Misogyny catalyzes unrest... [from January 2011]

The BBC published a great follow-up in June that echoes some of my thoughts in January this year.

To re-cap: The woman thought to have slapped Tarek 'Mohammed' Bouazizi spent 110 days in jail. She did not receive due process, nor has any proof of her wrong-doing ever been established.

Meanwhile, there are accusations that the family of the Bouazizi who died from self-immolation 'cashed in' on the revolution, and that the real hero is another man of the same name--alive and well--is the real hero.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Interesting mistakes in the news on Libya

Each week my work group (the Mediterranean Basin team) at the Civil Military Fusion Centre creates a newsletter on the events occurring in Libya. I read about Libya pretty much all day, and have been since 18 March 2011. Anyhow, while crafting my input this week, I re-read this article by Algerian paper Echorouk from 12 June 2011. The article is an English translation of an Arabic article from the same source.

The main point is that an NGO is preparing to take legal action to find out who is responsible for for allowing boatloads of migrants fleeing North Africa to drift at sea in the Mediterranean without providing assistance. The original article asks, is it NATO member countries, the EU, Frontex, member states of Operation Unified Protector in Libya? The interesting part is not so much the idea behind the article, but rather that the English language version, which I read first, identifies the NGO as 'GISI.'

A search for more information yielded no further information, so I went searching for the original article, always relishing any opportunity that allows me to use Arabic for work purposes. The original article, in Arabic, identified the organization as "جيستي". Ah ha! The organization is not GISI but rather GISTI, or Groupe d'Information et de Soutien des Immigrés. Their original article announcing the plan to bring charges against NATO, the EU and Frontex is here.

This find is a treasure to me for a couple of reasons. First, I got to use both Arabic and French to unravel the mystery. Second, I discovered some misinformation in the media. Though this isn't the first time (sometime in April I read a Bloomberg article about Nigerien migrants fleeing to Libya instead of from), it is thrilling each time to acquire these nuggets of truth.

UPDATE! Here where this article discusses the island of Mauritania, could the author mean Mauritius? And here the hilarity continues with discussion of the JUNGLES OF MAURITANIA.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Urgent Appeal: Sexual Violence Against Women And Girls In Libya

Source: Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights 01/06/2011

"This Urgent Appeal is sent to express our concern about allegations of mass rape in Libya and to request you, in your capacities asSpecial Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa, Chairperson of the African Commission and Chairperson of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, to take this matter to the Libyan government and call upon them to comply with their duty to investigate alleged incidents of sexual violence, to protect women and girls, and to prevent the further commission of such acts during the current conflict.

There are alarming reports of rape and other forms of sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls by all sides to the conflict, including in transit camps. As the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallström, said in a 20 April 2011 statement: “As fighting escalates in Misrata and other parts of Libya, there is an urgent need to focus on the prevention of sexual violence.”[1] On 16 May 2011, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court stated that the top priority for its continued investigations is “the allegations of rapes committed in Libya. There will be no impunity for gender crimes committed in Libya.”[2]

On 26 March 2011, the international community was dramatically alerted to allegations of rape committed by government forces when Ms. Iman al-Obeidi, a Libyan woman from Benghazi, entered the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli, Libya. She told a group of foreign journalists that she had been tortured and gang raped by fifteen members of the government forces. She alleged that other women were still detained and had also been raped by government forces.[3]
On 14 April 2011, Margot Wallström said in her briefing to the UN Security Council that: “Reports from transit camps on the Libya-Tunisia border, from surgeons, doctors and international media representatives, suggest that it is not plausible to consider her [Iman al-Obeidi’s] case an isolated incident.”[4] According to the UK NGO, Save the Children, children “have witnessed horrendous scenes. Some said they saw their fathers murdered and mothers raped.”[5] Children themselves have also allegedly become targets of sexual violence. Libyan families told Save the Children that “children as young as eight had been sexually assaulted - sometimes in front of their families.”[6]

Sexual violence against women, rape specifically, is frequently used as a weapon of war. Over the last two decades, international war crimes tribunals have repeatedly recognized various forms of sexual violence as war crimes or – when committed on a widespread or systematic basis – as crimes against humanity. Because of the grave and damaging impact on its victims, rape has been recognised as a form of torture. When it is said to have occurred, the State has a duty to investigate the allegations in compliance with its international obligations and to afford victims with a remedy and reparations, including taking the appropriate measures to end ongoing abuses and prevent recurrence. These obligations are set out in international conventions ratified by Libya including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. In order to comply with such obligations, the State must ensure that investigations are independent, thorough and effective. An effective investigation must be capable of determining whether criminal wrongdoing has occurred and, if so, identify the person(s) responsible.[7]

In the case of Ms. al-Obeidi there has been no official investigation into allegations of rape. Instead, Ms. al-Obeidi’s account at the Rixos Hotel was interrupted by security forces who took her from the hotel and detained her for three days.[8] Since her release, Ms. al-Obeidi has been prevented from seeking justice in Libyan courts: the Public Prosecutor has refused to meet with her and no effective official investigations have taken place.[9] Ms. al-Obeidi claims that the government knows where other women are being held and abused by Gaddafi militiamen, and that neighbours have confirmed the location, but no steps have been taken to find and release these women.[10] The Libyan State has also failed to investigate other alleged cases of rape.
We appeal to you, Madam the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa, Madam Chairperson of the African Commission and Madam Chairperson of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, to take this matter to the Libyan government, and call upon them to comply with their duty to investigate the alleged incidents of sexual violence against women and girls in Libya, including in transit camps, and to fight impunity for crimes of sexual violence. We also appeal to you to call upon the Libyan Government to take the necessary action to protect Libyan women and girls and to prevent sexual violence and to cooperate fully with the ongoing investigations of the International Criminal Court.

We look forward to discussing this matter with you and are ready to provide any additional information you might require.

We thank you.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Egypt.
Lawyers for Justice in Libya, France.
The Redress Trust (, UK.
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) (
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Egypt.
The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies, Uganda.
1libya, UK.
Equality Now, Kenya.
Collectif des familles de Disparus en Algérie, Algeria.
Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, Algeria.
Journalists for Human Rights, Sudan.
Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, South Africa.
Alliances for Africa, Nigeria.
Southern Africa Litigation Centre, South Africa.
Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), Kenya.

[1] Statement by Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Margot Wallström, “Concern Over Sexual Violence in Libya” (20 April 2011), [hereinafter “Wallström Statement”].
[2] Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, “Statement ICC Prosecutor Press Conference on Libya 16 May 2011” (16 May 2011),
[3] Ms. al-Obeidi has described her rape and torture in a number of media interviews. See, e.g., Nic Robertson, “Interview with Eman al-Obeidi,” CNN (7 April 2011), [hereinafter “Robertson Interview”]; Anderson Cooper, “Interview with Eman al-Obeidi,” CNN, Part 1 (5 April 2011), [hereinafter “Cooper Interview 1”]; Anderson Cooper, “Interview with Eman al-Obeidi,” CNN, Part 2 (5 April 2011),' [hereinafter “Cooper Interview 2”].
[4] United Nations Radio, “Concern over rape and sexual violence in Libya” (14 April 2011), See also, Wallström Statement.
[5] Save the Children, “Save the Children Receives Reports of Child Rape in Libya” (26 April 2011), [hereinafter “Save the Children”].
[6] Save the Children.
[7] See, e.g., African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, 245/02,Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum v. Zimbabwe, para. 146 (2006). See also article 4 of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.
[8] Cooper Interview 1; Robertson Interview.
[9] Anderson Cooper, “Tripoli is a Prison, says al-Obeidi,” CNN (6 April 2011),
[10] Cooper Interview 2."

Friday, April 29, 2011

North Africa in North America

Generally this blog concerns itself with issues pertaining to Islam, the Middle East, North Africa, and/or Arabs. This post will follow that tradition, but in a less direct way than usual. Over Easter I traveled to Canada to visit some of the first friends I made during my year in Morocco. The trip was fantastic for lots of reasons. I spoke French the entire time, spent Easter with a Quebecois family—socializing with some of the most wonderfully kind people I have ever met and sharing their delicious food (baked beans, les cretons de veau (lamb spread), tourtieres, brioches, pouding chômeur)—and caught up with some dear friends. I learned quite a few new words, which are the actual subject of this post.

1. قبقوبي singular [قباقب plural]

Souhail tells me that these are the terms used among Arabic speakers to speak about Quebeckers without them knowing. Fascinating!

2. funiculaire (funicular in English, apparently, though who has ever heard that word before?)

Quebec City has an inclined railway, similar to the Johnstown Inclined Plane.

3. succursale

Definition : établissement de commerce qui dépend d'une maison mère mais qui jouit d'une certaine autonomie

Similar to filiale (the word I’d have used before learning this gem) : entreprise dirigée ou contrôlée par une société mère

4. sans-abri / sans-abris (nouvelle orthographe)

personne/s qui n'a/ont plus de logements, plus d'endroits où aller (aussi appelée/s S.D.F. : sans domiciles fixes)

5. grammatical point : Je vais au Québec if I am going to the province, but je vais à Québec if I am going to the city !

6. queue de castor

Dessert called Beaver tail. I didn’t have one, but it looked like a pretty awesome treat.

7. gruau

Technically, this one means gruel, but it’s the word for oatmeal that’s been prepared to eat as breakfast cereal.

Quebec, Quebeckers, and Canada in general are all pretty amazing!