Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, July 07, 2006

A Veil of Uncertainty

Shahnaz Taplin Chinoy of Salon News online reports that women living in Muslim states are more involved in politics than most Westerners would assume. Furthermore, many of the women involved in politics support the Islamist movements within their countries.

Such is the case of a group of women in Egypt who have a history of supporting the Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood. Although a large population of Egyptian women are weary of supporting them for fear of extremism under Sharia law, other women are drawn to the Muslim
Brotherhood because the group has included a women’s agenda in its “five-year-plan,” asserting that men and women are equals in Islam. Another reason women support the Brotherhood is its commitment to social services in the form of health care, education, welfare, and emergency services; Mubarak's secular regime currently in power has neglected such vital social services.

According to the article,

“[E]ven as political opportunities open up for women in Islamist parties, they can be impeded by the actions of existing regimes -- or even by women's own fears of reform. Consider what occurred in Egypt's elections last year.

“Makarem El Deiry was the only female candidate from the Muslim Brotherhood who ran for a legislative seat. When she won, her victory was quashed by a judge, who ruled in her opponent's favor apparently on the instructions of the regime. But that is only half the story. Professor Fadl told me the other half, which has been overlooked by the media. ‘The Brotherhood pushed 25 women to run for office, and they pushed us hard. All except one refused to run because we did not want to take the chance of being imprisoned and sexually harassed as all opposition candidates risk . . . Which Muslim woman will expose herself to that kind of humiliation?’

“The rights of Arab women, the future of nonviolence and the demand for democratic openings in the region are knotted together in the debate over the participation of Hamas and other Islamist parties in Arab governments. Women will play a major role in unraveling this snarl -- but it's far from clear today how their perspectives will be reflected in the new politics of the Arab world.”

To read this article in full, click here

Egyptians Sue New Church Leader

In Cairo, Heba Saleh of BBC News reported that a group of Coptic Christians in Egypt plan to sue Father Maximus I in order to stop his plans to set up an alternative Orthodox Church in Egypt.

These Copts are supporters of the current Coptic Egyptian leader, Pope Shenouda III and consider Father Maximus an impostor. The opponents view Father Maximus I and his “movement” as something that will only further divide the traditional Coptic Orthodox Church and its members.

According to the article,

“Pope Shenouda expelled Father Maximus from the Ecclesiastical School in the 1970s as a result of his writings. Father Maximus then went to the United States where he was appointed bishop in one of the orthodox churches there.

“Now back in Egypt, he is accusing Pope Shenouda's leadership of being the worst in the church's history, saying that his actions have deepened sectarian tensions with the Muslim majority. Father Maximus is also critical of the Egyptian Church's near-total ban on divorce.

“[E]xperts say Egyptian Copts are deeply conservative and it will be extremely difficult to convince them to leave their ancient mother church,” even though Father Maximus speaks with confidence about the bright future of his new church.”

To read this article in full, click here.

Mubarak “solves girl’s exam problem”

Magdi Abdelhadi, Arab affairs analyst for BBC News, reports that President Mubarak appears to have intervened in the highly publicized story of a 15-year-old girl failing her secondary schools exams due to anti-government comments she wrote in one of her exam essays.

The student, Alaa Farag Megahed, was summoned for questioning by authorities after word spread about her exam essay in which she blamed Washington for the corrupt leadership throughout Egypt.

However, it appears that Al-Ahram, the state-owned daily newspaper, has downplayed the significance of this young girl’s observation of political injustices within her home country.
According to Abdelhadi's article,

“[T]he state-owned daily, al-Ahram wants to reassure its readers that Egypt, despite all appearances, is a democracy.

“Under the headline ‘A personal gesture from Mubarak’, the newspaper reported that the president himself had spoken to the young student on the phone and reassured her that she was free to say what she liked.

“But the newspaper did not report what the student had written in her essay.

“Instead, it quoted the young girl saying how grateful she was to Mr Mubarak and that she had asked him to visit her town in the Nile Delta.

“The newspaper report ends with the unattributed phrase 'Long Live Mubarak.'

“The news of Mr. Mubarak's intervention comes only days after a prominent newspaper editor, along with one of his reporters, were sentenced to one year in jail for insulting the president.”

To read this article in full, click here

Students Struggle with More than Just Final Exams

Joshua Partlow of the Washington Post reports that students at Baghdad University have more to fear than looming final exams. “Black-clad gunmen have stormed a dormitory to snatch students from their rooms,” Partlow reports, and “administrators curtailed graduation ceremonies to avoid convening large groups of people into an obvious bombing target.”

Thaer Abdul Naba, a student at the University, says that before he took his last exam in accounting for oil engineers, “a gunfight erupted outside his off-campus dorm.” He says that “for much of the day, he huddled with a group of students in a common room, away from widows and the unknown assailants.”

Partlow reports that “300 staff members have requested one-year leaves of absence to flee the violence, and about half of all professors will spend the summer out of the country or in Iraq’s more peaceful northern region.” Students are also looking to leave at the end of final exams. “We are suffering from this dangerous situation: the kidnappings, the gangs that are moving freely,” architecture student Tamara Muhanned said. Muhanned and her family are also going to be leaving the country for the summer.

Baghdad University, “within the concrete blast walls and barbed wire,” is “relatively calm compared with more overtly violent areas of Baghdad,” Partlow reports. Besides the violence, Baghdad University has gone through many other changes. “Under former president Saddam Hussein, university officials required that students study the political ideology and martial history of the ruling Baath Party. After the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, those classes disappeared, replaced on the curriculum with courses about democracy and human rights.”

To read this article in full click here.

‘Life in Afghanistan’: As Blogged in the NY Times

Sarah Chayes, author of the forthcoming “The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban” has been in Kandahar, Afghanistan for almost five years. She is blogging for the NY Times on her experiences and daily life in Afghanistan.

“It’s 3:30, maybe quarter of four in the morning. Sleep is exploded by the slicing blades of a helicopter swinging low—like a pile driver in the next room. Surely the thing will set down right here in our compound. Mercifully, the noise fades, but not quite out. The chopper completes its loop and swoops back overheard, bearing in.

“I am lying on my back on a velvet-covered mattress on the floor. The electricity is out because more fighting in Helmand Province cut the high voltage lines. It is so hot I can hardly breathe. I dab cool water from an earthenware jar onto my chest, and bury my head between two pillows for refuge against the clattering chopper.

“This is Kandahar, Afghanistan. The antipode, the Other Ground Zero, the place where events that changed all our lives were planned five years ago.

“I will be telling you that Kandaharis—denizens of that heart of darkness, the Taliban stronghold—are among the least ideologically motivated people I have ever met. I will be telling you that the insurgency you may have been reading about as of late is not so much an indigenous uprising against the Western presence or the Afghan central government as it is something like a low-grade invasion.”

The full article is available by subscription.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Egypt: Journalists to Strike over Press Restrictions

As reported by adnki.com, twelve Egyptian newspapers announced today that they are going on strike. The editors-in-chief of the twelve newspapers—which include independent and opposition dailies and magazines—met at the journalists’ union headquarters in Cairo on Tuesday to discuss what they could do in reaction to the upcoming parliamentary vote on the new press freedom bill; if passed, the bill will legalize imprisonment and possibly a fine as punishment for journalists convicted of libel.

The announcement of the strike came two days after a group of journalists met with the speaker of the lower house to try to resolve the conflict.

Adnki.com reports,

“On Monday, a delegation of journalists, headed by the union's chairman Galal Aref, met the speaker of the lower house, Fathi Surur, to try find a solution to the crisis. The meeting's main topic was article 308 of the controversial draft law, which states that journalists who criticise or discuss the private property of public figures can be jailed. Aref has sent a letter to Mubarak asking him to intervene to solve the crisis.”

To read more about the pending newspaper strike, click here
To read more about the controversial new press freedom bill, click here

UN Agency to Defend Women’s Rights

As reported by the Toronto Star’s Olivia Ward, the United Nations (UN) special envoy for HIV/AIDS, Stephen Lewis, is determined to create a UN agency that specializes in defending women’s rights, health and security. “I am completely consumed by this,” Lewis says. Ward reports that Lewis plans to take the proposal to Geneva next week, where a UN high-level panel is “studying ways to make the world body’s development, humanitarian assistance and environment sectors more coherent.”

Lewis says his “experience with AIDS accentuated the need for an agency completely devoted to women.” He continues: “In the midst of this carnage of women—who are losing their lives in such heartbreaking numbers—there has to be something in the world that has a voice for them, and an operational force on the ground that can resound.”

According to Ward’s article, if the plan passes, “the new women’s agency would be on the agenda for 191 member countries when the UN General Assembly opens in September.” According to the reports, the women’s agency would cost about $1 billion a year and will employ several thousand staff. Lewis has already approached leaders of many European, Latin American and African countries to support the proposal.

Graca Machel, a prominent children’s advocate and wife of Nelson Mandela, also supports the proposal. Ward reports that Machel “traveled to Britain to convince finance minister Gordon Brown to join the campaign.”

Continuing to get the program off the ground, however, is not going to be easy. Ward reports that “many of the world’s countries are dominated by conservative men who oppose women’s autonomy, although they pay lip service to women’s rights.”

To read this article in full click here.

Rabbi Dismayed by Message of Wafa Sultan, ‘Islam’s Ann Coulter’

In an opinion article for the LA Times, Stephen Julius Stein, a rabbi and director of inter-religious programming at Wilshire Boulevard Temple gives his impressions of Wafa Sultan, a Syrian-American psychologist who immigrated to southern California in 1989 and was voted one of Time Magazine’s 100 “pioneers and heroes.”

Stein begins by telling the reader that Sultan gave a “legendary” interview on Al Jazeera television, where she claims that “the Muslims are the ones who began the clash of civilizations,” and “[she doesn’t] believe you can reform Islam.”

His next statements describe how Sultan began her speech at a fundraiser for a Jewish organization. “‘I have 1.3 billion patients,’ she quipped…referring to the global Muslim population. Sultan went on to condemn inhuman acts committed in God’s name, to denounce Islamic martyrdom and to decry terror as a tool to subjugate communities.” To Stein, these statements made prefect sense.

Then, he says, “this provocative voice said something odd. [Sultan claims that] ‘only Arab Muslims can read the Koran properly because you have to speak Arabic to know what it means—you cannot translate it.’” Stein finds this statement hard to believe. He says that “any translation by definition, is interpretation, and Arabic is no more difficult to read than Hebrew. So, are Christians and Jews who cannot read it [the Bible] ill-equipped to live by its meanings?”

Sultan then claims that “all Muslim women—even American ones, though they won’t admit it—are living in a state of domination.” Stein has problems with this thought too, citing many of his own friends as examples. “There is no subjugation in the homes of American Muslim women I know. They are equal, fully contributing members of their families.”

The more Sultan talked, the more “evident it became that progress in the Muslim world was not her interest,” Stein says. “Even more troubling,” he says, “it was not what the Jewish audience wanted to hear about. Applause, even cheers, interrupted her calumnies.” Stein says that his “disappointment in and disagreement with Sultan turned into dismay.” According to Stein, “she never alluded to any healthy, peaceful Islamic alternatives.”

Stein says that in the midst of Sultan’s statements this thought occurred to him: “What if down the street there was a roomful of Muslims listening to a self-loathing Jew, cheering her on as she spoke of the evils inherent in the Torah—and this imagined Jew completely ignored all of what Judaism teaches afterward?”

To read this opinion article in full, click here.