Egyptian Aak 2016 -Week 33 (Aug 15-21)

Top headlines

  • Egyptian judo athlete reprimanded, sent home after refusing to shake Israeli opponent’s hand
  • Sisi’s approval rating drops to 9 percentage points in two months since June  
  • Moody’s credit rating agency ranks Egypt as stable
  • Gunmen in Egypt kill informer, soldier at checkpoint north of Cairo
  • Two policemen killed in attack on checkpoint in Egypt’s Menoufiya

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The Right Not To Wear A Burkini

TUNISIA-ISLAM-LEISURE

Tunisian women, one (R) wearing a “burkini”, a full-body swimsuit designed for Muslim women. Photo credit should read FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images)

The ban on the Islamic burkini, or full-body swimsuit, on the beaches of the French Riviera has triggered heated debates and controversies. For some, it is a ban on freedom of choice; for others, the ban is a symbol of Islamist extremism. For me, however, it triggers painful memories of another struggle by women in the Muslim world who were stripped of the right to make their own choice on the matter.

“Maybe it is not a good idea to swim on a public beach,” one of my mother’s friends once told me with a stern look on his face. He then added, “You would be harassed in such a conservative culture as ours.” I was only 11 at the time and was struggling to swim. To be honest, I was just trying to enjoy the sea and the water. Still, many Egyptians believe swimming is an activity that could trigger unwanted attention, even at that tender age.

In a country like Egypt, swimming is a luxury, especially for girls; only those who can afford to pay the membership fees of posh sports clubs have access to swimming pools. Yes, Egypt is blessed with many public beaches, but like all public spaces, they have become havens for men harassing women by gazing, staring, and even groping them. Consequently, despite the fact that Egypt has some well-known female swimmers such as Farida Osman, many girls miss the opportunity to engage in the wonderful sport of swimming during childhood. I was one of those unfortunate girls. My mother could not afford the sport club’s fee. I missed out on swimming until I eventually took swimming classes as an adult in England. I had to put up with disdainful looks as I clumsily tried to float in the water among children aged four and five, until I eventually learned to swim.

The evolution of swimming costumes in Muslim societies has been linked to two main factors: the rise of political Islam and the urbanization of Muslim societies. Up until the Seventies in Egypt, female swimming costumes were widely accepted on public beaches without any harassment. That was due mainly to the predominance of the relatively liberal, middle-class elite in urban areas.

That changed during the Eighties. Reverse engineering of cultural attitudes started with the rise of Islamism and the emergence of a neo-middle class, mostly conservative Muslims, many of whom were expats working in ultra-conservative Gulf States. This new culture embodied a strict new doctrine, which held that a woman’s body was a source of Islamist identity. As this new doctrine gained in popularity, social pressure mounted, forcing women to cover their bodies to maintain their “honor.” Any uncovered woman was deemed loose, decadent, and attention seeking. Such religious bullying forced many Muslim women to avoid swimming altogether, unless they had the means to join wealthy sport clubs or own a villa in exclusive compounds at posh sea resorts. As a result, the ghettoization of the Egyptian social scene became the new norm.

Gradually, the Islamic dress code permeated the entire Arab and Muslim world, including Muslim communities in many Western countries. The introduction of the burkini in the early 2000s by a Muslim woman in Australia was a creative move to adapt to beach-style life in Australia. Subsequently, the popularity of the burkini gained ground among many neo-middle class conservative Muslims who wanted to reconcile their religious beliefs with their posh life style.

So what is wrong with the burkini?

As a liberal woman, I have no problem with the burkini because I believe in freedom of choice, but as a Muslim woman, I find the burkini problematic for two reasons.

First, it symbolizes a perception that women who cover up within the Muslim world are superior to those who do not: When concealing flesh is considered to be the morally correct interpretation of God’s order, it automatically places the covered woman in a higher moral league. Less covered women have no option but to put up with a lower-league status or cover their bodies. Even non-hijabi women are expected to refrain from showing more flesh by wearing a swimming costume that conforms with commonly accepted customs. God forbid if a Muslim woman opted to wear a bikini. That alone would label her simply as a whore.

Second, many Islamists advocate total segregation, and are not content with the burkini. One might presume that once Muslim women agree to cover up fully, the pro-regressionists will finally leave them alone. But the opposite is true. The more women give in and cover up, the more the advocates of regression will raise the stakes higher. Many scholars advocate a dress code that does not stick to the body or reveal a silhouette of its shape. For them, the burkini is problematic, as they prefer total segregation between men and women on beaches. Completely segregated Islamist beach resorts are common in Iran, and have started to appear in Turkey and other Muslim countries.

It may surprise many, but the harassment of women on public beaches, which is prevalent in Muslim countries, is almost negligible in Western countries, despite the revealing swimming costumes many women wear. Even in Egypt, the harassment of non-burkini wearing women is much less in upmarket beach resorts. This phenomenon destroys the main pillar of the Islamist argument that covering up protects women. In fact, the obsession with covering the flesh only triggers more misogyny and paranoia. In a strict, regressive environment, when the flesh is covered, desperate men will focus on a women’s looks, the way she moves, and her body language.

The debate on the ban of the burkini in France is yet another example that the troubles of the Middle East do not remain in the Middle East. Yes, the design of the burkini originated in Australia, but the ideology behind it is purely Middle Eastern. The burkini sums up some Muslim women’s struggle to please themselves, their societies, and their perceptions of Islam.

Burkini-wearing women and their supporters, however, cannot confront Islamophobia without addressing the hypocrisy in their native countries. If the advocates of the burkini are really genuine in their call for freedom of choice, they should confront the emotional bullying that links women’s bodies with honor. All people, including non-burkini Muslim women, should have freedom of choice. Muslim women who opt to wear ordinary swimming costumes only want to enjoy the simple pleasure of feeling the sea waves caressing their skin and touching their hair, without external judgment of their morals or religious beliefs. Once the concept of equality and diversity is accepted in Muslim countries, it will empower Muslims to defend the burkini in Western countries. Let’s be frank: prejudice in this context originated within the Muslim communities, and will never be solved until Muslims truly embrace freedom for all, and not just for burkini-wearing women.

Posted in Best Read, Egypt, Islam | Tagged , , , , , , | 46 Comments

Egyptian Aak 2016, Week 32 ( Aug 8-14)

Top Headlines

  • Egypt-IMF reach staff-level agreement on a Three-year US$12 Bln  fund facility 
  • After IMF deal, Egypt’s Sisi says will not hesitate on tough reforms
  • Egypt inflation rate at 14.8% in July
  • Egypt sets jail as punishment for black market forex trading

Main Headlines

Monday

Tuesday

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Good Reports

  • Egypt needs $5-6 billion in bilateral financing to seal IMF deal: Mission chief Lin Noueihed
  • ISIS is digging up Nazi land mines in Egypt. Peter Schwartzstein
  • The complete guide to Egypt’s 20 most promising Hend ElBehary
  • The Rabea sit-in dispersal: Whom the state is blaming three years on. Mai Shams El-Din
  • The stories behind Egypt’s Olympic Champions. Mai Shams El-Din
  • Nationalism and generosity fuel the defense of Tiran and Sanafir. Beesan Kassab
  • Why do sectarian tensions run high in Minya? Heba Afify
  • Clash: An awkward movie that suits an awkward situation. Andeel

Good Read

  • ISIS brings Egypt and Israel even closer. Yossi Mekelberg
  • Fractured lands: How the Arab world came apart.  Scott Anderson

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Finally, here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

 

 

 

 

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Egyptian Aak 2016- Week 31 (Aug 1-7)

Top Headlines

  • Egypt kills head of Islamic State’s Sinai branch
  • Former grand mufti Ali Gomaa survives assassination attempt
  • Largest Egyptian delegation to date in Rio Olympics
  • Egyptian Nobel Laureate Ahmed Zewail dies at 70

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Film Review: Clash

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Egyptian Aak 2016- Week 30 ( July 25-31)

Top Headlines

  • IMF mission arrives in Cairo to discuss Egypt’s loan request
  • Al-Azhar rejects Egypt government decision to standardize Friday sermons
  • Egypt has not received political asylum request from Turkish cleric Gulen
  • Central Bank of Egypt decided to leave its benchmark interest rates unchanged
  • Egypt appeal court upholds 1-year sentence for TV host Behery in contempt of religion case
  • Israel’s Netanyahu celebrates Egypt National Day

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Re-blog: The Dangerous Stipulation of Islamic Exceptionalism

I re-blog, with permission, this important analysis by the  Middle East Institute scholar Hassan Mneimneh on Shadi Hamid’s recent book “Islamic Exceptionalism.”  I completely agree with Mneimneh: Shadi’s work ” is likely to bolster the rhetoric of and be welcome by the two quarters already sharing his views: Islamophobes and radical Islamists.”

 

 

Is the religion of Islam “exceptional” in how it relates to politics? The argument at the center of Shadi Hamid’s new book is that it is. This is not a novel argument, but one likely to be misused.

Detractors of Islam in American popular culture have argued vocally since the 9/11 attacks that the incompatibility between Islam and U.S. democracy is irrevocable, since Islam governs both religious and political behavior. The right-wing call for the exclusion of Muslims from immigration to the United States is grounded in such convictions. Proponents of Islamic radicalism—both violent and non-violent—have energetically concurred with the notion that Islam is exceptional in being a total system in which religion and politics are inseparable, thus reaching the same conclusions as Islam’s American detractors, albeit with a tint of praise for the resulting mandated segregation.

Islamic exceptionalism is also common currency in academia. The original Western academic conception of Islam, based on almost two centuries of philology, confirmed the uniqueness of Islam as a total proposition of religion, politics and beyond. But since the late 1970s, this conception has been accused of essentialism and its dominance has been challenged. Efforts at articulating a critical rebuttal continue, with variable robustness and success. While they have not yet amounted to an integrated counter-vision, these efforts have exposed demonstrable flaws in the philologically-based conception—notably its reliance on the scholastic institution as a privileged, at times exclusive, source of knowledge on Islam, at the detriment of the often unrecoverable lived expressions of the faith and culture. But the partial demise of the essentialist conception in academia did not extend to the policy community. Much of the discourse and formulations in U.S. policy circles continue to be influenced by it. A meaningful side effect has been that the careful attention paid by Islamist militants to U.S. policy briefs and studies has created a feedback loop of mutual validation. The effects of this loop on Islamism’s own internal evolution cannot be neglected.

In fact, Islamism, which solemnly shares the view of Islam as a fusion of religion and politics, has been engaged in a long-term endeavor to promulgate its conviction as normative truth, and has indeed made meaningful inroads in that regard. Islamism cannot claim a total victory in that respect; in an on-going feud, multiple manifestations of resistance to its homogenizing and regimenting vision continue to hamper its efforts.

It is in this complex background of a multi-lateral intellectual debate that Hamid’s contribution ought to be placed. But Hamid largely sidelines this background. His detachment from these intense discussions should not be equated with objectivity. Even as he absolves himself of essentialism, Hamid espouses it in stipulating an incontestable historical (and ideological) core to Islam. Hamid derives this stipulation from an alleged consensus about it in Islamic thought. But his definition of the interlocutors of Islamic thought is limited to Islamist thinkers, of various shades, at the exclusion of others. Islamist voices may be dominant today, and may thus at least partially justify Hamid’s choice for the early 21st century, but much of the 20th century was dominated by liberal, nationalist, and leftist propositions that shaped and influenced how Islamism came to be formulated. Whether pious but outside the scholastic-Islamist tradition, non-religious, or atheist, they are absent from Hamid’s historical analysis. By excluding these voices, Hamid presents the intra-Muslim discussion as an intra-Islamist one, hence validating the Islamist claim of custodianship over Muslim thought.

Hamid diligently avoids any value judgment in formulating his argument. He certainly would not want to bolster the rhetoric of Islam’s detractors. But he is also not sympathetic to the overboard defense of Islam offered by apologists absolving Islam from the horrors of the “Islamic State.” At face value, his field research seems to have ushered him toward the uneasy conviction of an Islamic exceptionalism. On further scrutiny, however, his characterization of “exceptionalism” seems almost tautological, discarding elements shared between Islam and other religions, and restricting itself to aspects in which Islam can be claimed exceptional. While Islam and Judaism may share a highly developed jurisprudence, the claim to Islamic exceptionalism is safeguarded by noting that Judaism has not ruled an empire. In fact, when the Khazar empire is taken into account, this would prove not totally accurate, but even then exceptionalism may be protected by preponderance versus singularity. Ultimately, Hamid’s argument of Islamic exceptionalism is a stipulation, not a demonstration, of Islamic exceptionalism.

His proposition of exceptionalism, however, is not a mere theoretical offering. Hamid’s work can be understood as an invitation to sober the discussion about Islam and politics on two connected fronts: 1) disabusing some Western circles of the reductionist and patronizing notion that Muslim societies will eventually follow the Western template toward liberal democracy, and 2) calling for an acceptance of the depth of the cultural and conceptual differences between Muslim and Western societies. Hamid’s exposition and analysis of elements for such arguments in Egypt, Turkey, and Tunisia, provide a valuable addition to the subject. In summing up his analysis, however, Hamid seems to accept the Islamist notion of the uncontested primacy of a totalitarizing religion, and that “universal” values are basically a Western import.

Hamid’s erudite style is rich in nuances; the take-away from his work is however summed up by its title and extravagant second title, neither of which is demonstrated in the book. Instead, much of the power of the proposition stems from the cultural and professional identity of its proponent: a renowned analyst and well-informed researcher who apparently has reached his conclusions based on the weight of the evidence, not ideological pre-conceptions. His work is, thus, likely to bolster the rhetoric of and be welcome by the two quarters already sharing his views: Islamophobes and radical Islamists.

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Reblog: Amnesty calls for independent monitors as allegations of torture mount — Human Rights in Turkey

In the aftermath of a failed coup attempt, Amnesty has seen mounting evidence of human rights abuses, including a further clamp down on freedom of expression and mass arrests. The detention of human rights lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz and the raid on the satirical magazine LeMan highlight the absurdly broad net authorities have cast. Amnesty’s press release […]

via Amnesty calls for independent monitors as allegations of torture mount — Human Rights in Turkey

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Egyptian Aak 2016-Week 29 (July 18- 24)

Top Headlines 

  • Sectarian violence in Minya in Upper Egypt
  • Egyptian court annuls Ahmed Mortada Mansour’s membership in the parliament
  • Egypt’s central bank governor said that time was not right to float the Egyptian pound
  • More debris from crashed Egypt Air flight washes up on Israeli beach

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Egyptian Aak 2016- Week 28 (July 11- 17)

Top Headlines

  • Word “fire” is heard on voice recorder of doomed Egypt Air
  • Egypt orders Muslim preachers to deliver identical weekly sermons
  • Sisi will participate in Beijing G20 summit in September
  • Egypt’s Sisi extends state of emergency in parts of North Sinai
  • Foreign Ministry denies Egypt blocked UN Security Council statement on Turkey

 Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

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Thursday

Friday

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 Sunday

  • Foreign Ministry denies Egypt blocked UN Security Council statement on Turkey
  • As relations warm, a new Israeli ambassador arrives in Cairo
  • Doctors Syndicate refers 4 doctors to disciplinary committee for propagating device to cure AIDS, Hep C
  • Senior policeman shot dead in Fayoum
  • A Cairo criminal court extends journalist and researcher Ismail Alexandrani’s pretrial detention for another 45 days

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Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

 

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Suheir Atassi’s swimsuit and our moral bankruptcy

Suheir Atassi Image

Syria’s Suheir Atassi

Millions of women around the world do this daily without attracting much attention, but recently, Suhair Atassi, a prominent, secular Syrian opposition figure was spotted wearing a swimsuit at a Turkish resort. When photos of her appeared in social media, a vicious campaign, mainly in Arabic, was unleashed.

It was shocking and painful to read the comments on Twitter by many, both men and women, pro and anti-Syrian regime, pro and anti Islamic State, openly insulting Atassi and describing her with disgusting descriptions. It was as if Atassi’s body became a unifying figure for most Syrians, regardless of political stances. They indulged in demonizing and demeaning her, with varying arrays of excuses.

In a brutal civil war, as in Syria, it is perhaps expected that Atassi’s opponents, the Assad regime’s supporters, would brutally attack her politically as part of their campaign to discredit their opponents. What is stunningly sick, however, is to see anti-Assad supporters join in the dirty campaign against Atassi, under the context that she was wearing a revealing swimsuit.

The hemorrhagic fever that infects people against women in swimsuits is an insidious disease in the Arab world, not just in Syria. I personally experience it in many Arab countries, when men stare at women wearing swim attire in an ugly rude invasive way. The same patriarchal mindsets that justify sexual harassment detest women who dare to wear swimsuits. For that mentally ill bunch, which is unfortunately not a minority, women are the ones to blame for bringing such behavior by wearing revealing clothes.

The Atassi’s story also has another disturbing side____ the infringement of privacy. In Islamic teaching, it is not permissible to infringe on a woman’s privacy, and this must certainly include taking photos of her without her consent. Islam respects the privacy of women to a degree that Sharia places an impossible condition regarding the need to have four witnesses to press charges of adultery. This tenet is conveniently ignored by conservative Islamists who are now blatantly infringing upon Atassi’s privacy. That is alone is shocking.

Some have tried to justify the photos because they were taken in a public place (a hotel), as if that is a valid excuse. The fact that Atassi was at a hotel does not entitle any one to take a photo of her without her permission. More disturbingly, the photo was taking in Turkey, the patron of Syrian opposition. This indicates the high probability that whoever took the photo was possibly an opposition supporter. More recently, some opposition figures have expressed support for Atassi, albeit late.

It is worth noting that the Islamic factions within the Syrian opposition have very conservative agendas. The first thing that opposition groups have done in their controlled areas was to enforce conservative dress codes on women, an act that only highlights their shallow definition of freedom and democracy. Atassi has also been criticized for her performance, and she was forced to resign as head of the Syrian National Coalition’s Assistance Coordination Unit in 2013.

Nonetheless, in wartime, people tend to unite against their enemies and leave their differences aside, at least until they prevail and win the war. This hurtful attack, using the flesh of one of their woman as weapon reflects some deep necrosis. A divided opposition cannot prevail against its enemy.

A third opposition group attacks Attasi under the premise of her living a life of luxury in comparison to the suffering of the Syrian people. Yet this bunch ignores the many male wealthy Syrians enjoying their lives in Lebanon and other countries while ignoring their fellow Syrians. Needless to say, for a politician who spends most of her time in meetings, usually in hotels, using the facilities is hardly a luxury.

Meanwhile, most liberal and intellectual Arabs and Muslims have opted to remain silent on the Atassi case, while yelling and criticizing Western countries like Switzerland for banning face veils. Their passionate defense of freedom to cover-up was only matched by their deafening silence for the right of Atassi to dress as she pleases.

The story of Atassi and her swimming attire highlights how our societies have reached an alarming level of moral bankruptcy. Atassi may not be Syria’s best politician, but she should not be judged for wearing a swimsuit. We Muslims have betrayed our basic values as humans and practitioners of this faith. We are now willing to join in a frenzied scrum via the very non-Islamic act of infringing upon a woman’s privacy, solely for political reasons. We have by every definition, reached a new low.

 

Post script

I will not publish Atassi’s swimsuit photos in this blog because they were taken without her permission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Islam, Short Comments, Syria, women rights | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments