Egypt continues to target Al Jazeera journalists

By Shahira Amin / 2 January, 2014

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Original post

In a new sign of a regression in press freedom in Egypt, authorities have ordered three journalists working for the Al Jazeera English (AJE) channel held in custody for fifteen days.
The journalists –AJE Cairo Bureau Chief Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, award-winning former BBC Correspondent Peter Greste and producer Baher Mohamed–were arrested in a police raid on Sunday on a makeshift studio at a luxury Cairo hotel. They were charged with “belonging to a terrorist group and broadcasting false news that harms national security .”
Cameras and other broadcasting equipment were seized during the raid on the work room where the AJE TV crew had reportedly conducted interviews with activists and Muslim Brotherhood members on the political crisis in Egypt. A fourth member of the AJE team–Cameraman Mohamed Fawzy–was also arrested but was released hours later without charge.
The latest detentions raise the number of journalists affiliated with Al Jazeera and who are now jailed in Cairo , to five. Al Jazeera Arabic correspondent Abdullah Al Shami was arrested on 14 August while covering the brutal security crackdown on supporters of toppled President Mohamed Morsi at Rab’aa–the larger of two encampments where pro-Morsi protesters had been demonstrating against his forced removal and demanding his reinstatement. Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr Cameraman Mohamed Badr was meanwhile, arrested on 15 July while covering clashes between security forces and pro-Morsi protesters in Ramses Square.
Al Jazeera has denounced the arrests of its staff members as an act designed to “stifle and repress the freedom of reporting by the network’s journalists.” The Egyptian government’s hostility towards journalists affiliated with the Qatari-based network has been prompted by what many Egyptians perceive as “a pro-Muslim Brotherhood bias in the network’s coverage of the events unfolding in Egypt”. Since the military takeover of the country in July 2013, at least 22 staff members have resigned from AJ Jazeera Mubasher Misr, the Egyptian arm of the network , over the alleged “bias in favour of the Islamist group”. Al Jazeera has however, denied the allegation.
The latest detentions are perceived by analysts as  part of the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood–the Islamist group from which the deposed President hails. Last week, the group was officially classified as a “terrorist organization” by the Egyptian authorities, in a move criminalizing the group’s activities, financing and membership .
The arrests of the AJE journalists have also raised fears among rights activists and organizations that the government crackdown was “widening to silence all voices of dissent”. Human Rights Lawyer Ragia Omran told the New York Times on Monday  the charges are “part of a pattern of aggressive prosecutions–including conviction of protesters— that were rarely pursued even under Hosni Mubarak.” The New York-based Committee For the Protection of Journalists , CPJ, has also condemned the arrests, calling on the Egyptian government to release the journalists immediately . In a statement released by CPJ, Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa coordinator , said “ the Egyptian government was equating legitimate journalistic work with acts of terrorism in an effort to censor critical news coverage.” In its annual census conducted last month, the CPJ ranked Egypt among the top ten jailers of journalists in the world with at least five journalists languishing in Egyptian prisons. It has also listed Egypt among the three most dangerous countries for journalists in the Middle East after Syria and Iraq . Six journalists have been killed in the country over the course of the past year, three of them while covering the bloody crackdown on Morsi’s supporters at Rab’aa.
Members of Mohamed Fahmy’s family meanwhile used his Twitter account to send a message on Tuesday reminding the government that “journalists are not terrorists.” His supporters meanwhile started a hashtag on Twitter calling for his release. Many of them expressed disappointment at what they described as “the government’s latest act of repression” warning that it would harm the government’s image much more than any amount of critical reporting would.

This article was posted on 2 Jan 2013 at indexoncensorship.org

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For Cleves – Exposition Elena Boccoli

The exposition Für Cleves began on Thursday November 7, 2013 . Sigrun Heinzel en Elena BoccoliOver 80 invited guests were present at Heicks und Teutenberg at the Fischmarkt in Cleves, Germany. The artist Elena Boccoli  is showing 13 of her works to the public. The hostess, Sigrun Heinzel praised Elena for her great work. A wide range of different style paintings  are to see until January 15, 2014. 

Elena Boccoli, born in Maasbracht, The Netherlands, daughter of an Italian father and a Dutch mother. She is raised in Italy. First in Posada Sardinia and at the age of 22 she went to Piemonte. In 2000 she came back to the North and moved to Kranenburg Germany. In 2004 she moved to  Cleves. Here she lives since then and it was in this little town she developed her artistic activities.

Hundertwasser, an Austrian painter inspired Elena Boccoli.  It all started by copying a few of his works. Great patterns of colours and many characters and figures is typical  for his works and this appears in the paintings of Elena as well. She developed her own style and took a distance from her inspirer. From  abstract to surrealistic images in acrylic or oil paint. Many Cleves Sights and attractions are eternalized by her on canvas.

Cleves (German: Kleve) is a small town, about 30 kilometres from the Dutch city Nijmegen. Through time, Cleves is closely connected with The Netherlands. The duke Johan Maurits came back from Brasil to Europe and accepted the post of governor of  Cleves  in the 17th century. He gave this town wealth through a huge city park and attracted many dutch nobles and other important people to the city centre. In the 19th century the famous landscape painter Barend Cornelis Koekkoek came over from the Netherlands and established, downtown, his school of painting. In 1843 he constructed Belvedere and two years later his city palace. These are only a few examples of many famous people who came to Cleve.

When you enter the town via the Tiergartenstrasse, you will see on your left the Forstgarten, which is the second most impressive city parc of Germany. On the right side Kurhaus, a spa house from the 18th century which is a museum now. Further up many villas appear on both sides of the road. Most of the houses designed by Dutch architects for the rich from the Netherlands. Until the 19th century, most of the Cleveners lived in the upper town.

Elena Boccoli painted several architectural highlights. The Schwanenburg, Stiftskirche, Haus Koekkoek or the Schutzenhaus. Unfortunately this last building doesn’t exist anymore. Elena Boccoli brings back the house on canvas in a colorful pallet. Or paintings like the Elsabrunne from Karl-Henning Seemann, the Schüsterken from Jupp Brüx are all an ode to Cleves.

Schützenhaus

The paintings about Cleves are a real eye catcher as soon as you enter Heicks und Teutenberg. But as she has a wide orientation, the visitor is surprised by the pop-art stylish paintings in the back of the room. Definitely worth to pay attention to these paintings as well.

Vernissage

The Vernissage started at 7:30 pm. Half an hour before, several guests were standing in the doorway already. Shortly before the official opening the crowd entered the room at Heicks und Teutenberg. Young and old people. Business people, artists, families,pensioners etc. The hostess Sigrun Heinzel started the exposition by a speech. The guests were informed by a short impression of the artist Elena Boccoli. The second speaker was the artist herself. She thanked all the guest who came tonight in large numbers. Mannfred Hendricks composed piano music to lead the people from the first to the last painting. The catering was well taken care of by Heicks und Teutenberg. For everyone was enough food and drinks.
At 10 pm, unfortunately the evening came to an end. Everybody spoke out their compliments for the wonderful evening and a few potential buyers informed about the possibility to own one of Elena’s paintings.

The last day of the exposition is the 15th of  January 2014 and can be viewed 7 days a week from 7:00 am till 6:00 pm.

Für Cleve

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Bassem Youssef under investigation for “insulting the military”

Anger at the new series of “Egyptian Jon Stewart’s” TV show reflects the country’s deepening divisions. Shahira Amin reports.

By Shahira Amin

Original article http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2013/10/egypt-satire-bassem-youssef/

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After months away from the small screen, TV satirist Bassem Youssef is back on the air but it is uncertain how long he’ll stay. After a four month absence (Youssef’s disappearance coincided with the overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically-elected President by a military coup) he returned to the airwaves last Friday with a new episode of his weekly TV show Al Bernameg (The Programme). The episode sparked a new wave of controversy, reflecting the deepening divisions in Egyptian society.Just 48 hours after the show was broadcast, the Public Prosecutor ordered an investigation into a legal complaint against Youssef, one of several filed by citizens angered by his mockery of the military chief. Others were upset by jibes he made at the former ruling Islamists. Youssef has been accused of “inciting chaos, insulting the military and being a threat to national security.”Youssef is no stranger to controversy. He caused a stir when he mocked the now deposed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi on his show, broadcast on the independent channel CBC. At the time, several lawsuits were filed against him by conservative Islamist lawyers who accused him of “insulting Islam and the President” and Youssef consequently faced a probe by the Public Prosecutor. The charges against him were dropped several months later however. President Morsi was careful to distance himself from the legal complaints filed against Youssef, insisting that he “recognised the right to freedom of speech.” While the lawsuits did little to harm Youssef (in fact, they actually contributed to boosting his popularity and improving the ratings of the show), they did damage the image of the ousted President, who was harshly criticised for “intimidating and muzzling the press.” A couple of months before his removal from office, Morsi was accused by critics of “following in the footsteps of authoritarian Hosni Mubarak and of using repressive tactics to silence dissent.”Now, under the new military-backed interim government, Youssef finds himself in hot water again. This time the TV comedian, known as Egypt’s Jon Stewart, is in trouble for poking fun at leaked comments by the Defence Minister, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, suggesting that the General would “find partners in the local media willing to collaborate to polish the image of the military.” In recent months, Youssef has maintained an objective and neutral position vis a vis the events unfolding in Egypt. In his articles published in the privately-owned Al Shorouk daily, he has expressed concern over the brutal security crackdown to disperse two pro-Morsi sit ins in Cairo on August 14, in which hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters died. But he has also been careful to criticise the attacks on churches (often blamed on Islamists) following the coup.Friday’s episode, which marked the start of a new season for the show, focused in part on the blind idolisation of al-Sisi by many Egyptians since the coup. The word coup was never once mentioned on the programme. In one scene, Youssef is seen putting his hand over the mouth of one of his assistants in an attempt to silence him as he utters the now-taboo word. In recent weeks, calls have grown louder for the General to run in the country’s next presidential election and a group of adoring fans has even begun collecting signatures for his candidacy.The fact that Youssef is being prosecuted again after what many Egyptians consider was a “second revolution” signals that the June 30 revolt that ousted the Islamist President has failed to usher in a new era of greater press freedom .The lawsuits serve as a chilling reminder of the dangerous polarisation in the country, which some analysts warn may push it into civil war and chaos. While Youssef did take part in the June 30 protests that toppled Morsi, he has clearly decided not to take sides in this hostile environment. In an article published days before the show, he noted that many Egyptians advocate for free speech and democracy “as long as it is in their favor” but turn against you the minute your opinions differ from theirs. Aware that his episode had ruffled feathers, he sought to ease tensions with a message on Twitter that reminded his viewers, fans and critics alike, that at the end of the day, this is just “another episode in a TV show.”

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Tamarod movement to oust Morsi gains ground in Egypt

05 Jun 2013

By Shahira Amin (see original post)

A campaign called ‘Tamarod’ has already gathered millions of signatures calling for the ousting of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi. Shahira Amin reports on the growing discontent with the country’s first post-revolution president

Demotix |Ahmed Ateyya

Woman signs petition to withdraw confidence from President Morsi in Giza

A campaign titled ‘Tamarod’ (the Arabic word for rebellion), calling for the fall of President Mohamed Morsi, is quickly gaining momentum in Egypt. The brainchild of the country’s ‘Kefaya’ (which means enough in Arabic) movement — the petition calling for Morsi’s ouster has had more than 7.5 million signatures to date. The campaign’s organisers say they hope to gather 15 million signatures by 30 June, the first anniversary of Morsi’s inauguration. They have also called for a mass protest in front of the Ittihadeya Presidential Palace the same day, in efforts to pressure Morsi into stepping down from the presidency and call for early presidential elections.

Scores of youth volunteers have been standing on busy street corners in Cairo’s affluent Zamalek and Mohandesseen neighbourhoods, urging commuters to sign the petition highlighting Morsi’s failure to deliver on his campaign promises of improving the economy, narrowing the country’s economic divide, and restoring security on the streets. Curious drivers and pedestrians stop to read the leaflets, bringing traffic to a standstill as supporters of the campaign chant anti-government slogans, and flash victory signs.

“The response to the campaign has been overwhelming . Egyptians are growing increasingly frustrated with the faltering economy , soaring prices of basic commodities, the fragile security situation and persistent power cuts, ” said Naglaa Bakr, a Mohandesseen resident and housewife, who had just signed the petition. “Morsi has to go”, she added.

The popular movement has now begun to draw support different factions in Egypt’s fractured opposition. As the campaign picks up steam, members of the Egyptian Federation of Trade Unions, the Dostour (Arabic for constitution) Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Free Egyptians, the 6 April youth movement, and the Journalists’ Syndicate have lent their support.

Morsi, meanwhile, appears to be unthreatened by the initiative, saying that he “welcomes free expression as long as it is within a legal framework.” Prominent Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Al Betaguy dismissed the campaign as an “opinion poll”, and cast doubt on whether or not the organisers could turn the petition into mobilisation. The Salafi Al Nour party has also slammed the initiative, calling it “illegal and unconstitutional.”

In response to Tamarod, Morsi’s Islamist supporters have launched their own campaign called ‘Tagarod’ — the Arabic word for impartiality. Tagarod’s leaders say that theirs is “an initiative to support legitimacy”, accusing Tamarod of aiming to destabilise the country and spread chaos. Tagarod’s founder, Assem Abdel Maged, is confident that his campaign would garner more signatures than those of Tamarod. Abdel Maged, who is also a member of the Jama’a Islamiya group, aims to use his own petition to prove that there are more Egyptians rallying behind the Islamist President than his opponents. The Tagarod campaign has also vowed to organise a million-man march to show solidarity with Morsi.

“The campaigns accentuate the secular-Islamist divide in the deeply polarised country. Tensions are building up ahead of protests planned for 30 June”, said Hadia Abdul Fattah, a Tamarod campaign member, who has been gathering signatures in the northeastern city of Damietta.

In recent weeks, several members of the Tamarod campaign have faced detention for distributing the petition on or near university campuses in Cairo, Sohag, and Zagazig. The targeted campaigners were forced to sign documents stating that they would no longer distribute Tamarod petitions, or take part in political activities on campus. In March, the Supreme Council of Universities banned political activities on campuses, under the pretence of ending violence between different political groups.

Some have warned that a crackdown on the movement could spark the kind of civil unrest that Morsi has been trying to avoid. Opposition activists say they will no longer tolerate any kind of repression, and vow to continue to protest until their demands are met.

Even if the campaign fails to reach its 15 million signature goal, activist and human rights lawyer Tarek Moawad told Index that the initiative highlights the crisis of legitimacy facing Morsi, and sends a clear message that Egyptians will not be silent about injustice. Morsi’s usage of Mubarak-era tactics to silence critics — whether it’s targeting journalists or the green light given to Islamist supporters attacking opposition activists — is a sign of the government’s weakness and vulnerability, he added.

Some analysts have also suggested that Egypt’s liberal opposition could use Tamarod to their advantage, by galvanising support for the liberal opposition in the upcoming parliamentary elections in October.

“If the political opposition can close ranks and adopt a unified stance, Tamarod may have the potential to boost gains for the secularist opposition which has so far failed to organise,” said Dr. Mostafa Kamel El Sayed, Professor of Political Science at Cairo University.

 

 

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Egyptian teacher faces jail for allegedly insulting Muhammad

28 May 2013 by Shahira Amin (see original post)

Teacher Dimyana Abdel Nour faces blasphemy charges
Dimyana Abdel Nour, a 24 year-old social studies teacher at Naga El Sheikh Sultan primary school in the small village of Tud near Luxor faces trial for insulting Islam, and risks a harsh prison sentence. Her case is the latest in a growing number of blasphemy cases against Egypt’s Coptic Christian community under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Abdel Nour was imprisoned for a week before being released on bail of nearly $3,000. She has now gone into hiding.

Three of the teacher’s students in filed a criminal complaint against her with the Public Prosecutor’s Office last month, claiming she had said that the late Pope Shenouda, former Head of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church was better than Islam’s Prophet Mohammed. Mostafa Mekki, the school principal, has defended Abdel Nour, saying her other students had said the accusation was false.

“The parents of the three students who filed the complaint are extremists and have on several occasions incited hatred and violence towards Christians,” Mekki told Index On Censorship.

Mekki has been forced to cancel Abdel Nour’s temporary contract with the school in a bid to ease tensions but insists she has done nothing wrong. He has since been removed from his post as principal and was transferred to an administrative job for siding with Abdel Nour in the case. Local Christians say Mekki had received threats because of his stance.

Archbishop Sarabamon El Shayeb, Head of the All Saints Monastery in Tud described Abdel Nour’s prosecution as part of “organised repression of Egypt’s Copts”.

“The Islamists are giving out the accusations of blasphemy generously and openly, mostly against Christians,” he told Christian Science Monitor last week.

While Abdel Nour is in hiding and was absent from the trial, her lawyers and rights activists who attended the trial described the case as “unjust” saying that only the three students who had filed the complaint had been summoned as witnesses and not the other students who had denied the accusations. Abdel Nour’s lawyers also cited concerns that the rise of Islamists to power had “fueled the injustice against Coptic Christians” amid simmering sectarian tensions in the last two years.

Last year, a Coptic teacher in the upper Egyptian city of Sohag was sentenced to six years in prison for insulting Islam and the president. In September 2012, Egyptian blogger Alber Saber was also arrested and detained on allegations of having shared the YouTube trailer for the anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims” on a Facebook page he administers. Saber, a computer science student from a Christian family was sentenced to three years in a Cairo prison. He appealed the case and was released after paying $167 bail. His mother said that Saber has fled the country to avert being convicted a second time. Saber’s mother was forced to leave the family home and has been in hiding since after suffering harassment at the hands of Muslim extremists in her neighborhood who said her son deserved to be killed for being a self-declared atheist.

More recently, popular TV satirist Bassem Youssef was interrogated by the Public Prosecutor after several lawsuits were filed against him by ultra-conservative Salafi lawyers accusing him of “insulting Islam and the president” on his weekly show Al Bernameg CBC. The case triggered a public outcry and drew fierce criticism from Washington and rights campaigners, prompting the president’s office to release a statement saying that “the presidency is not involved in the investigation” and that it “recognises the importance of freedom of expression.”

Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression award winner Ibrahim Eissa has also been accused by an Islamist lawyer of defaming Islam after he mockingly said on his TV programme that “pickpockets would have their hand cut off according to Sharia, but those who steal billions from banks are allowed to get away with it.”

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Watch: IDF detains Palestinian children and foreign citizen in Hebron

By:  Published May 2, 2013. See original post.

On Sunday, three Palestinian boys were detained by the IDF in Hebron, along with a Swedish activist who seems to have tried to calmly prevent their arrests. (Footage of the arrest is below, and highly disturbing to watch). According to the International Solidarity Movement, who put out a report on Sunday and has since been updating, the children were released a few hours later, but the Swede is still being held and attempts are being made to deport him.

According to sources from Youth Against Settlements and B’Tselem with whom I spoke, the children were detained because settlers from the extremist Beit Hadassah settlement inside Hebron complained to the IDF that they had thrown stones. One of the children is only 10, the others 11 and 12 (the age of criminal responsibility is 12).

Issa Amro, a Palestinian activist with Youth Against Settlements who has been arrested countless times for organizing and engaging in peaceful protests in Hebron’s Tul Rumeida area where he lives, told me that the arrest of children by the IDF has become a regular “phenomenon” in Hebron. He says the IDF is “pro-settler,” often arresting Palestinian residents, whether children or adults, simply because settlers tell them to – regardless of whether there is any evidence against them. He also points out that settlers are almost never detained after they throw stones, even when the soldiers are standing right there. Issa added: “These arrests do not stop violence, on the contrary, they feed violence more and more in the long term.”

According to Ynet, the Swedish activist was arrested because he tried to steal a soldier’s weapon and resisted arrest – however the first video below makes both those accusations appear false, although he clearly made an effort to stop the soldiers from taking the children. (It is also well known that the IDF tries to deport foreign citizens living and documenting life in the West Bank). I contacted the IDF Spokesperson several times in recent days to hear its side of the story, but have yet to receive a response.

According to B’Tselem, the children were investigated at the Kiryat Arba police station with an adult present, and released 3-4 hours later. The Swedish activist is reportedly still in Israeli custody and trying to avoid deportation.

The first video below, published by Youth Against Settlement, shows one of the children and the Swede being arrested. Below that is a video filmed by an member of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) showing the arrest of one of the other children at the same time. Needless to say they are very disturbing, and no one in Israeli media is giving it any attention.

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Syria’s second revolution?

Source: JoinRevolution Miswiyati-v

Women stand to be emancipated in more ways than one.

A story relayed to me by the editor of this fine publication has it that an elderly woman in Homs used to leave her house each morning and, on her way to the local bakery, encountered Syrian Army soldiers standing by their tanks. She knew very well who these men were but without fail would greet them with a polite “Shalom.” This went on for several days. Finally, one of the nonplussed soldiers was given to inquire: “Grandmother, why do you pass by us every day and say ‘Shalom’?” The elderly woman replied: “Oh, you speak Arabic? You’re Syrians? I thought you were Israelis,” before continuing on her way to her daily bread.

It’s a shame that the term chutzpah is not more commonly associated with Arab feminism. In a week that has seen the passing of one Iron Lady, and the decidedly softer agitprop of Ukrainian mammaries, it’s worth remarking on one of the least addressed yet perhaps most significant aspects of the Syrian revolution; namely, how important women have been to it and how important it has been for them.

Typically characterized in the Western press as grieving widows and childless mothers – bit players in an overlong masculine tragedy – Syria’s women have been prime movers in the two-year-long struggle for emancipation, which carries a double meaning in this context. Women have led the earliest demonstrations against the regime, they’ve chronicled the uprising and its repression in vivid detail, they’ve coordinated humanitarian relief efforts, and they’ve taken up arms. Judging from what I’ve witnessed of the extensive reconstruction planning being undertaken by the Syrian diaspora, women have also been the best organized and most willing to bypass the pettiness and factionalism that have stunted their male counterparts. (Martin Amis’ notion of a “gynocracy” is especially intriguing in light of the Muslim Brotherhood.)

Any reckoning with a post-Assad society will necessarily be a reckoning with the status conferred on half the population. Two worthwhile projects that are trying to redefine that status merit discussion. The first is called Syrian Women at Work, which is sponsored by the Syrian-American Alliance and does exactly what its name suggests. Women refugees in Antakya, Turkey are given jobs in the handcrafting of fabric bric-a-brac for sale in the United States. (This charity was started by my friend Mahmoud Elzour, of whom I’ve written extensively over the past year; it was he who first suggested to the young male activists of liberated al-Bab that they needed to include women in all spheres of emerging municipal governance.) In much the same vein, Syria’s Future Lies in the Hands of Its Women is the nicely titled initiative being underwritten by the new NGO Watan Syria. This organization is teaching 200 refugees in Reyhani, Turkey basic computer skills, nursing, social advocacy, and foreign languages. It’s also putting them to work making garments and accessories for sale abroad. The idea, as relayed to me by Mouna Hashem, one of Watan’s volunteers, is simple: professional autonomy is the only way to stop the horrors of auctioned-off child-brides and coerced prostitution that have added misery upon misery for the ever-growing number of female refugees. “Syrian women are so resilient and strong,” Hashem told me. “They want representation in every aspect of the political and economic sectors in Syria.”

By representation, Hashem means something other than the sham sexual equality peddled by the Assad crime dynasty, founded as that has been on the presence of women in elite positions in the regime. Bashar’s mother Anissa is to this day thought of a combination between Lady MacBeth and Connie Corleone, and I suppose there still must be people out there who believe that Bouthaina Shaaban testifies to social progress under Ba’athism more so than Leni Riefenstahl did under Nazism. By contrast, the extremities of war have allowed for, if not demanded, a dramatic reconsideration of traditional gender roles.

Razan Zeitouneh, the de facto leader of the Local Coordination Committees and the recent recipient of a prize named for Anna Politkovskaya, told Al-Arabiya: “At the beginning of the revolution, I heard young men shouting ‘Al-Bayt lil neswan’ (Women should stay home), and now I hear them say ‘Hayyou ‘alaeneswan’ (Cheer for women).”

“This revolution also freed us from the tyranny of our homes,” Amina Ahmed Abid told Newsweek in describing her leadership of inaugural protests in Latakia.

Abid’s husband had sought to keep his own head well below the parapet but didn’t dare restrain his spouse from risking hers. Farah Nasif, a liberal Damascene explained that the feminine garb of the pious had now become a useful prop in the underground: “We’ll wear a hijab to look like the local women if we’re heading to a conservative area. I hide medicine, sometimes money, in my pockets and in my clothes, and I don’t really get any questions.” As for the men who remained confined to their homes, Nasif was mordant: “I am happy for this. Keep men in the home and kitchen.”

Can it be a coincidence that the most prominent Alawites who have given the lie to the notion that opposing the regime is an inherently ‘sectarian’ action have also tended away from the y-chromosome? Feminist novelist Samar Yazbek chronicled the protest movement only to discover she had become a part of it.

She fled Syria in 2011 after being given a guided tour of one of the regime’s torture dungeons and warned that what she saw there awaited her if she didn’t shut up. (Her PEN-winning memoir of the first months of the uprising, “A Woman in the Crossfire,” came out last year.) Despite being called a ‘whore’ and a ‘black stain’ on her sect, Yazbek has gone back to tour the liberated areas, putting her life at further risk. Joining her is Loubna Mrie, a 21 year-old Alawite whose father, Abu Muntazer, is – or was – a shabiha assassin. After participating in protests in Latakia, Loubna appeared in an online video, her face thinly disguised by the Syrian Independence flag she used as a bandana. She compared the ruthlessness of her own sect to that of the Salafists, who have been cast as the drivers of anti-Assad sentiment. As she later recounted on Facebook, her father “went to his brothers, cheered them up, and told them that he washed the shame that his daughter brought to Jebel al-Akrud” by murdering his own wife. Honor killings, it seems, are also the purview of ‘secular’ dictatorships.

Indeed, the regime’s well-documented sexual violence is clearly more than the psychotic outcroppings of totalitarianism. The horrifying industry of rape in Syria may target both men and women but it’s the latter’s case to not only shame and traumatize the individual but to “break the family,” as Lauren Wolfe of Women Under Siege phrased it in a haunting piece for The Atlantic. Husbands and sons are meant to turn against their ‘tainted’ wives and mothers such that society simply cannot be reconstituted. This is an actual war on women with nihilism as the intended endgame. Little wonder that some have chosen to fight back.

Em Joseph is a nom de guerre taken from a popular Syrian television mini-series that belongs to a 40 year-old rebel profiled by Time’s Rania Abouzeid as a Levantine Maid of Saragossa. She’s not afraid to tell the men to leave the real dirty work to the deadlier of the species:

Here, she’s one of the boys, and she’s as tough — or tougher — than most of them. She is a respected member of the unit, somebody the men say they are proud to fight alongside. “She’s a sister of men,” one of her comrades says, using a common Arabic phrase for a strong, independent woman. “She raises our morale,” says another, Walid. “When we see her in front of us, we push forward. May God keep her,” he says before offering her a hearty slap on the shoulder, the kind of slap a man might give another man, but not one a man would give a woman in a community where many women will not shake hands with a man they are not related to. Em Joseph was married only briefly and has no children; her parents are alive and live nearby. When asked what they thought of her fighting, she responds, “God willing, I have raised their heads high.”

It’s worth noting that Em Joseph fights for Suqoor al-Sham, a popular Islamist brigade in Idlib that is party both to the Syrian Liberation Front – a loose consortium of rebel formations that, although lacking a coherent ideological platform, espouse a vaguely defined Salafist-nationalism – as well as to the U.S.-backed Supreme Military Command. I have no idea of what Em Joseph’s own politics are, but let us assume that once the war is over some of her bolder comrades-in-arms will eschew the hearty back-slapping and hosannas only to turn their attention to that brief marriage and that conspicuous lack of offspring. Will a Kalashnikov- and grenade-wielding veteran of air base raids find it necessary to submit to the misogyny of the blowhard clerics and politicians her bravery helped bring to power, or will she be emboldened to defy them as she did the Assadists?

The case should not be overstated that a violent conflict, particularly one set in the Middle East, is the cask in which the equality of the sexes can fully mature. Hamas has long managed to define female militancy in its Qassam Brigades as just another expression of a woman’s duty-bound domesticity. But there is at least now an opportunity, even if it has been forged in hell, for a second revolution in Syria to follow from the first. That is no small thing.

(NOW)

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