Closing the week 23 – Middle East Trials and Tribulations

Most popular on Closer this week:

  1. Buitengewoon gevangen in de ‘war against terror’ – De casus Saddek Sbaa
  2. “V for Vendetta”: The Other Face of Egypt’s Youth Movementby Linda Herrera
  3. Making sense of the emotional field
  4. Discriminatie, activisme en het alledaagse

Previous updates:

Tunisia Uprising ITunisia Uprising IITunisia / Egypt Uprising Essential Reading IThe Egypt RevolutionA Need to Read ListWomen & Middle East UprisingsThe Syrian UprisingWomen2Drive. See also the section Society and Politics in the Middle East (Dutch and English guest contributions).

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YouTube – Middle East – Trials and Tribulations


‘A Gay Girl in Damascus’ called into question — real or not? – BlogPost – The Washington Post

Addressing the doubts Wednesday, Carvin wrote on Twitter: “Again, people should operate under the assumption that there is a real blogger under detention in Syria. Who they are is another matter.”

After Report of Disappearance, Questions About Syrian-American Blogger –

Although it remains possible that the blog’s author was indeed detained, and has been writing a factual, not fictional, account of recent events in Syria, readers should be aware that the one person who has identified herself — to The Times, the BBC and Al Jazeera — as a personal friend of the blogger, Sandra Bagaria, has now clarified that she has never actually met the author of the Gay Girl in Damascus blog. Ms. Bagaria told The Lede that she had also never conversed with Ms. Arraf face to face via Skype, but had conducted an online relationship with her since January entirely through Internet communications in writing, including more than 500 e-mails.

A Gay Girl in Damascus: Apology to readers

I never expected this level of attention. While the narrative vo?ce may have been fictional, the facts on th?s blog are true and not m?sleading as to the situation on the ground. I do not believe that I have harmed anyone — I feel that I have created an important voice for issues that I feel strongly about.

I only hope that people pay as much attention to the people of the Middle East and their struggles in th?s year of revolutions. The events there are be?ng shaped by the people living them on a daily basis. I have only tried to illuminate them for a western audience.

This experience has sadly only confirmed my feelings regarding the often superficial coverage of the Middle East and the pervasiveness of new forms of liberal Orientalism.

However, I have been deeply touched by the reactions of readers.

Tom MacMaster,
Istanbul, Turkey
July 12, 2011

The sole author of all posts on this blog

The Two Homs—By Esther Adorno (Harper’s Magazine)

I ask Qassem who the Shabbiha (“shadow”) are. “Shabbiha is how we used to call the gangs making money during the Syrian occupation in Lebanon,” Qassem says, lighting a cigarette. “They used to travel in ghost cars without plates; that’s how they got the name Shabbiha. They would smuggle cars from Lebanon to Syria. The police turned a blind eye, and in return Shabbiha would act as a shadow militia in case of need. . . . Now that soldiers are being killed for refusing to shoot civilians, or for refusing to shoot those running across the Lebanese border as refugees, Shabbiha is definitely more reliable than the army.” But as more people are stuffed in jail, and more protests are organized by relatives who want these prisoners released and returned home, more men are needed to suppress the opposition—and that’s why recruiters here come knocking at the door of young men like Qassem. He won’t even tell me what sect he belongs to.

The Syrian uprising: The balance of power is shifting | The Economist

A MONTH ago seasoned watchers of Syria reckoned that the regime’s ferocious crackdown would keep the lid on dissent, albeit with President Bashar Assad’s legitimacy badly impaired. Now the prevailing wisdom is changing. Rather than subside, the protests are spreading and intensifying. Having started in the south and spread to coastal cities such as Banias, they moved to Homs, Syria’s third-biggest city, and the surrounding central districts. More recently they have gripped Hama, the country’s fourth city, famed for its uprising in 1982, when 20,000 people may have been killed by the then president, Hafez Assad, the present incumbent’s father. After starting in the rural areas, the unrest has hit cities all over the country. And the death toll, well past 1,200, has begun to rise more sharply. On June 3rd, at least 70 people are reported to have been killed in Hama alone.

Syria Comment » Archives » Idlib and Aleppo

Idlib province, which is only 45 minutes from Aleppo is the eye of the hurricane. The government is poring troops into the region to make sure it remains under firm control. Syria cannot afford to lose territory where an insurgency or rebel army might emerge. Damascus will do everything it can to preclude the formation of a Benghazi, which would allow foreign intelligence agencies and governments to begin arming and training a rebel army, as happened in Libya.

Egyptian Chronicles: The association of Syria street

The logo of the association
at one of the shops there “Facebook”
Syria street is known to be a busy vital street in Mohendessin area. It is not only busy but also crowded thanks to its shops making it a hell for parking at the evening. Lately people have noticed something in the street then new shops , they noticed a sign with the name “The Youth of Syria street association”. Now who are those youth and what is this association !?

Syria intensifies assault on anti-Assad protesters | Reuters

(Reuters) – Syrian security forces intensified their assault on protesters calling for President Bashar al-Assad to quit, killing at least 34 demonstrators in the latest crackdown in the city of Hama, activists said.

Syria: Crimes Against Humanity in Daraa | Human Rights Watch

(New York) – Systematic killings and torture by Syrian security forces in the city of Daraa since protests began there on March 18, 2011, strongly suggest that these qualify as crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The Rubicon is in Egypt: an interview with Azza Karam « The Immanent Frame

Azza Karam is the Senior Culture Advisor at the United Nations Population Fund, where she has pioneered efforts to make human development work more attentive to religion. Karam was born in Egypt and grew up, as the daughter of an Egyptian diplomat, in countries around the world, eventually earning a doctorate in international relations from the University of Amsterdam. Her several books include Transnational Political Islam (2004) and Islamisms, Women and the State (1998). Prior to joining UNFPA, she worked for the World Conference of Religions for Peace, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, and the United Nations Development Program, among other organizations.

This interview was conducted in conjunction with the SSRC project on Religion and International Affairs. Karam here speaks only for herself, not for any institution, organization, or board.—ed.

NS: Before we get to your work at the United Nations, let’s start with recent events in Egypt, your home country. How, in your view, is the Egyptian revolution of a few months ago proceeding? Has it been betrayed yet?

In Egypt, Islamist Salafist movement vies for political power in wake of revolution – The Washington Post

For years, the rugged Mediterranean shoreline here has been a favorite necking place for young Egyptian couples. But now menacing new messages have been spray-painted on the rocks.

“Would you find it all right for your sister?” one message says, addressing the men who bring girlfriends to the rocky area where waves break. “God sees you.” Other messages decry alcohol. One says simply, “Enough sins.”

The fresh scrawls are the work of Islamists who are emerging from the fringes of Egyptian society with zeal and swagger. Their graffiti and billboards calling for a more conservative Egypt have become pervasive here in recent months, part of a rapidly growing debate about what should emerge from a revolution that toppled an autocratic leader and unleashed long-subdued social and political forces.

Egyptian religious minorities fear rise of Islamists | Al-Masry Al-Youm: Today’s News from Egypt

Amid sectarian clashes and uncertainty about their future, religious minority leaders are expressing concern about the possibility of certain Islamic groups rising to power and writing a new constitution that does not protect minority rights.

Was there a Yemeni Revolution? | Informed Comment

Aljazeera Arabic is reporting that later in the day Sunday, clashes between armed groups of pro-Saleh and anti-Saleh gunmen broke out in the capital, where the situation is “unstable,” after Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh flew to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment late Saturday.

On the National Democratic Party – Blog – The Arabist

In mid-January, I found myself at a seminar in Rome presenting a paper on Egypt’s National Democratic Party. Others spoke about the economic situation, the Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian foreign policy. We all shared a gloomy view of situation in Egypt at the twilight of the Mubarak era and predicted trouble in the year ahead as Gamal Mubarak would make his bid to succeed his father. A couple of days later, I went to Tunisia to cover the revolution there, and then cut that trip short to make it back to Cairo by January 28, the day protestors defeated the police and security services across the country.

My paper on the NDP saw the party as the battleground of elite politics over the last decade, a place where different elements of the regime fought out their parcel of privilege and influence.

What next for Bahrain? by Kristian Coates Ulrichsen | The Middle East Channel

The lifting of the emergency law in Bahrain on June 1 seemed to pay immediate dividends two days later when the FIA reinstated the Bahrain Grand Prix in October. This decision signified a degree of international approval for the government’s efforts to contain the instability that broke out in February. Yet “normality” rests on a repressive maintenance of public order and a sustained closure of political and oppositional space, and is underpinned by foreign security personnel and Peninsula Shield Forces. These insulate the ruling Al-Khalifa family from opposition pressures and reduce the likelihood of any significant reform process in the Kingdom. In light of recent developments, what does the future hold for Bahrain, and for Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) involvement?

Saudi Arabia
Could Women’s Rights Finally Improve in Saudi Arabia? – Max Fisher – International – The Atlantic

Six months in, it’s still unclear whether the still-ongoing demonstrations and battles of the Arab Spring will produce a net positive or negative change for the region. They have yielded revolution in Tunisia, potential revolution in Egypt, civil war in Libya, potential civil war in Yemen, and violent crackdowns in Bahrain and Syria. Thousands of civilians have died, and though some regimes have changed for the better, some have only entrenched their worst behavior. It may be months of years before the uprisings recede and we can understand their impact. But there is one area where the Spring could finally produce one of the region’s most-needed, most-overdue reforms: women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.

A Conversation With Saudi Women’s Rights Campaigner Wajeha al-Huwaider | The Nation

Wajeha al-Huwaider is perhaps the best-known Saudi campaigner for women’s rights, human rights and democracy. She has protested energetically against the kingdom’s lack of formal laws (the Koran is it) and basic freedoms and in particular against the guardianship system, under which every female, from birth to death, needs the permission of a male relative to make decisions in all important areas of life—education, travel, marriage, employment, finances, even surgery. In 2008 a video of her driving a car, which is forbidden for women in Saudi Arabia, created a sensation when it was posted on YouTube. Al-Huwaider is a strong supporter of the June 17 Movement, which calls on Saudi women to start driving on that date, and made the celebrated YouTube video of its co-founder, Manal al-Sherif, jailed for nine days in May for driving. While this interview was in preparation, she was briefly detained by the police when she tried to visit Nathalie Morin, a French-Canadian woman held captive with her children by her Saudi husband.

NATO drops bombs on Gaddafi tweets | Herald Sun

NATO has scrambled warplanes against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces after Libyans tweeted troop movements on the micro-blogging website, alliance officials say.

Popular Protest in North Africa and the Middle East (V): Making Sense of Libya – International Crisis Group

The present conflict clearly represents the death agony of the Jamahiriya. Whether what comes after it fulfils Libyans’ hopes for freedom and legitimate government very much depends on how and when Qaddafi goes. This in turn depends on how – and how soon – the armed conflict gives way to political negotiation allowing Libya’s political actors, including Libyan public opinion as a whole, to address the crucial questions involved in defining the constitutive principles of a post-Jamahiriya state and agreeing on the modalities and interim institutions of the transition phase. The international community’s responsibility for the course events will take is very great. Instead of stubbornly maintaining the present policy and running the risk that its consequence will be dangerous chaos, it should act now to facilitate a negotiated end to the civil war and a new beginning for Libya’s political life.

A few links on Morocco – Blog – The Arabist

The February 20 movement continues to challenge the monarchy in Morocco, on the eve of the unveiling of a royal commission’s proposal for constitutional reform. Adl wal Ihsan, the country’s largest Islamist movement and a key supporter of the reform movement, has called for a civil state (rather than a religious one) as the regime launches a campaign to tar February 20 has having been taken over by Islamist and leftist radicals. Rachid Nini, Morocco’s most influential journalist, is sentenced to a year in prison, while the police begins to crack down on protestors, killing one last week. This and more in the links below, and analysis of Morocco will come at some later point. Do check out of the first link, which is an interactive website to debate, article by article, the constitution — it’s a great model to follow and someone in Egypt should do the same.

The Middle East Uprising general
Why social scientists failed to “predict” the Egyptian Revolution

We’ve heard it many times: The Egyptian revolution was unexpected. Especially in Western countries, it is often called “Facebook Revolution”. That is not only wrong but insulting as it renders invisible the previous demonstrations, strikes and other political activities, going back 10 years or even longer, said prominent blogger and activist Hossam El-Hamalawy who blogs at 3arabawy.

This political activism has gone unnoticed by many researchers and political analysts, especially in the West. Why?

Rising Literacy and a Shrinking Birth Rate: A Look at the Root Causes of the Arab Revolution – SPIEGEL ONLINE – News – International

In a SPIEGEL interview, French social scientist Emmanuel Todd discusses the demographic roots of the Arab revolution, which he argues was spurred by rising literacy and rapidly shrinking birth rates. He also muses on the ghost of Osama bin Laden, arguing “al-Qaida was already dead,” and on why he believes Germany is not a part of the “core West.”

Three Powerfully Wrong–and Wrongly Powerful–American Narratives about the Arab Spring

The “Arab Spring” that actually began in the dead of winter has spread from Tunisia to Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria…and the year only half over. As the media, policymakers, and global audiences struggle to make sense of changes that have inspired hundreds of millions to “just say no” to decades of dictatorship, a number of narratives have taken hold in the US—evident in remarks on cable news talk shows, at academic and policy symposia, and on Twitter—about precisely what is happening and what these massive crowds want. While elements of these narratives have some foundation in truth, they also present such a simplified view as to obscure crucial dimensions of the power struggles across the region. Below we unpack three of the most common narratives whose “truth” has become almost conventional wisdom, tossed out at cocktail parties and across coffee shops and metros. We aim to highlight what kinds of politics are made possible (and what kinds of challenges to power are foreclosed) as these narratives become part of the “common sense” that shapes our understanding of these extraordinary events.

Middle East misc.

THE VIEW FROM FEZ: Don’t miss the Aissawa Sufis tonight @Fes Festival

A number of teams of Aissawi musicians work in each city in Morocco, but the sound especially permeates Fez and Meknes. Each group is led by a muqaddam, literally a presenter or leader. Abdullah is one such muqaddam, one that is known throughout the country. His father and grandfather were both Aissawa muqaddams, it runs in his family. He lamented that he has no son to continue the family business and, although he has two daughters who are well steeped in the style, he is concerned about the future. He and another prominent figure from Fez’s Sufi community, Abd ar-Rahim Amrani, will be joined onstage by maqaddams from Rabat, Fez, and Meknes, giving tonight’s performance an all-star cast. Amrani, an orchestrater of this week’s events, will bring elements of his own Hamadcha Brotherhood to the stage, insha’allah (God willing). These two are revered outside of Morocco as well – they just returned from a short stay in California where they performed and gave workshops to students at UCLA.

Al-Qaida Video: Zawahiri Vows to Continue Bin Laden’s Work – SPIEGEL ONLINE – News – International

First he praised Osama bin Laden, and then he issued threats to Pakistan and the United States. One month after the al-Qaida leader was shot dead in Abbottabad, his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri has promised that the group will stay the course. But he remained silent about the group’s new leadership.

Iran, FIFA Clash Over Hijab – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty © 2011

Iran is challenging FIFA’s decision to ban its women footballers from playing an Olympic qualifier match because of their Islamic dress.

Reformist Islam –

Philosopher Jawdat Said, little known in the West, has been propagating a vision of Islam free of violence for the past 40 years. His books have been widely read and discussed by Islamic activists in the Arab world. A profile by Bashar Humeid

Beyond denial « The Immanent Frame

For a brief moment in 2007, news of a hit Iranian television series, whose Farsi title was translated variously as Zero Degree Turn or Zero Point Orbit, proliferated across the print and digital mediascapes of the Anglophone world. The series, created by Iranian director Hassan Fathi at great expense and broadcast in a thirty-episode season on the flagship state television station IRIB1, revolves around a Romeo and Juliet plot of illicit romance, with a distinctive twist: while the proverbial Romeo is one Habib Parsa (played by Iranian hearthrob Shahab Hosseini), a Muslim Iranian pursuing his studies in France, his Juliet is none other than a Jewish classmate, Sarah Astrok (played by the French actress Nathalie Matti), with whom he falls in love.

Think You Can Handle Over 150 Facebook Friends? Not!

Got ego? Trying to garner Facebook friends infinitum? Well you can’t!

According to Robin Dunbar, professor of evolutionary anthropology at Oxford University, the Facebook yardstick that your brain can only handle is 150 friends.

Research Focuses on Muslim Women Under Khmer Rouge | News | Khmer-English

Cambodia’s women Muslims are increasingly embracing their own identities, as the minority group as a whole struggles with the impacts of the Khmer Rouge, according to new research.

Express highlights its own inaccuracies on Muslim burkha ban challenge | Full Fact

The Express had two of its perennial bugbears – immigration and Europe – in its sights this morning when it reported that a Muslim couple that had settled in Britain were to use taxpayers’ cash to fight France’s burkha ban in the European Court of Human Rights.

It’s headline boldly declared that: “French Muslims to use our cash to fight burkha ban.”

San Francisco’s proposed circumcision ban galvanizes religious opposition – CNN Belief Blog – Blogs

The nation’s largest evangelical Christian umbrella group has come out against San Francisco’s proposed circumcision ban, evidence that the voter initiative is beginning to galvanize national religious opposition.

Counter-terrorism and multiculturalism: Better than cure—but difficult | The Economist

Good riddance, say critics who think that officialdom, in its efforts to combat terrorism, has gone too far in co-operating with Muslim figures who are themselves far from liberal democrats. They argue that Mr Baker’s ideological roots as a Salafi—one who takes very literally the precepts of Muhammad and his companions—makes him an unsuitable recipient of state funds. Mr Baker was also chairman from 1994 to 2009 of the Brixton mosque, where Richard Reid, later known as the “shoe bomber”, rolled out his prayer rug for a while. (Mr Baker says he warned the police repeatedly about militant recruiting there.) The critics felt vindicated when STREET’s website recently carried advice on clothing and music from clerics who in other contexts excoriate gays and Jews.

Britain’s wrestling match with ‘extremists’ is self-defeating – The National

All over Europe, amid increasingly harsh political debate, governments are having to address the issue of how to integrate Muslims communities. In some cases the response has been populist: Belgium is expected next month to follow the lead of France in banning the veiling of women’s faces in public.

In countries as diverse as Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Austria and Italy, political parties are on the rise that focus the generalised discontent of voters on to Muslim communities. Views which only a few years ago would have been dismissed as fascist are now part of mainstream debate.

Muslims call for action against hate crimes – Crime, UK – The Independent

Britain’s largest mainstream Muslim organisation will today call for “robust action” to combat Islamophobic attacks amid fears of growing violence and under-reporting of hate crimes.

Bulgaria Election | Nationalists | Religion Violence | Muslims

Every Friday at noon, Muslims gather at the only mosque in Bulgaria’s capital, waiting for the daily prayer to start. Since their gathering turned bloody three weeks ago, police officers and television cameras have joined them.

Muslim women’s group launches ‘jihad against violence’ | UK news | The Guardian

A British Muslim women’s group has launched a “jihad against violence”, in a bid to reclaim the term jihad from extremists.

Algeria’s Impact on French Philosophy: Between Poststructuralist Theory and Colonial Practice

In the past few years, there appears to have been a falling out between Middle Eastern studies and post-structuralist theory. Edward Said’s Orientalism remains necessary reading for most graduate students, but the surrounding debates in post-colonial and post-structuralist theory have fallen decisively out of fashion. It would seem that the so-called “cultural turn” (often – mistakenly – taken to be synonymous with post-structuralism or postmodernism) was actually a dead-end. While there is a robust debate in critical theory as to the political implications of post-structuralism, in Middle Eastern studies the current refrain sometimes begins with: “just say No to Discourse.”

A more sustained engagement with both critical theory, on the one hand, and Middle Eastern history, on the other, might offer a productive way out of this impasse.

New Statesman – We will continue to spy on Muslims, says Theresa May

“I don’t see anything wrong with identifying people who are vulnerable to being taken down a certain route.” » Cruising above the Empty Quarter

There is a spectacular photographic website devoted to a book by George Steinmetz, who took photographs across the fabled Empty Quarter of Arabia.

Kabinet zet zich niet meer in voor etnische minderheden – Nieuws – VK

Het kabinet-Rutte zet zich niet in voor de emancipatie van etnische minderheden. Dat is een breuk met het verleden: het vorige kabinet plaatste de emancipatie van minderheden nog hoog op de agenda.

Secularisme, scheiding van kerk en staat en islam

In Nederland en veel andere Europese landen wordt steeds vaker een beroep gedaan op een strikte scheiding van kerk en staat in beleidsvorming ten aanzien van de Islam. Regelmatig worden ook de geschiedenis van het secularisme en de Verlichting aangeroepen als antwoord op de crisis van het multiculturalisme. Dit sterker wordende secularistische discours is herkenbaar uit de Franse context waarin het al jaren gangbaar is. In het Frankrijk van na 1989 was de laïcité lange tijd een gematigd en liberaal antwoord op de racistische strategieën van Le Pen. Ook in andere Europese landen lijkt secularisme het fatsoenlijke alternatief voor populistische anti-Islam discoursen. Voor linkse politiek lijkt het een goede, zelfs veelbelovende optie voor de omgang met de Islam, want hoewel secularisme niet per se de zichtbaarheid van de Islam in Europa bevordert, gaat het hier niet, zo is de gedachte, om de uitsluiting van de Islam, of eventueel zelfs om racisme ten aanzien van moslims. Secularisme wordt juist opgevat als de neutraliteit van de staat ten aanzien van alle religies. Religies dienen vrijgelaten te worden door de staat, mits ze de gewetensvrijheid van anderen maar respecteren en hun waarden en praktijken niet indruisen tegen de grondrechten van ieder individu in de liberale rechtsstaat. Het grote verschil met het multiculturalisme is dan, in de ogen van de secularisten, dat een seculiere orde het paternalistische optreden van de overheid, waarbij conservatieve religieuze elites vaak als vertegenwoordigers van hele groepen of zelfs ‘culturen’ werden gezien, overboord zet.

Eindhovense moskee zet zich in voor bloeddonatie

De komende twee weken zal Stichting Waqf van de Eindhovense moskee zich inzetten voor bloeddonatie en het belang hiervan benadrukken door de moslims bewust te maken van dit maatschappelijke onderwerp. Hiermee willen ze dat moslims zich maatschappelijk inzetten. Aldus de woordvoerders van de stichting: “Het tonen van betrokkenheid en het zich inzetten voor de maatschappij is een vereiste voor alle burgers.”

Sjaria op de Krim blijkt broodje aap – Sargasso

Moslimmeisje van 19 gestenigd na schoonheidswedstrijd’, kopte de krant. Drie jongemannen zouden een dorpsgenote met stenen om het leven hebben gebracht omdat haar deelname aan een regionale miss-verkiezing “niet in overeenstemming” zou zijn geweest “met de sjaria”. Andere persbureaus en media, waaronder ANP, Algemeen Dagblad, De Pers, Elsevier, Reformatorisch Dagblad, Nederlands Dagblad en tal van regionale dagbladen, volgden slaafs.

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