Posts Tagged ‘ Egypt ’

Israel keeps pounding Gaza by air, says it intercepted missile fired by Hamas at Tel Aviv

By Karin Brulliard and Abigail Hauslohner for The Washington Post

Israel’s four-day-old air offensive in the Gaza Strip expanded to target Hamas government buildings on Saturday and Palestinian militants continued firing a torrent of rockets at civilian areas in southern Israel as both sides stepped up diplomatic efforts to win support.

Israeli airstrikes over Gaza accelerated to nearly 200 early in the day, including one hit that reduced the offices of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to a smoldering concrete heap. That strike, along with others on a police headquarters and smuggling tunnels along the strip’s southern border with Egypt, raised questions about whether Israel had broadened its mission to including toppling the Hamas government that rules the coastal strip.

Just before sundown, Hamas said it had fired an Iranian-made Fajr-5 rocket at Tel Aviv, and air raid sirens sounded in that city for the third day in a row. The Israeli military said its newly deployed missile defense battery intercepted the rocket before it landed in the populous coastal city.

Even as airstrikes pounded the area Saturday morning, the foreign minister of Tunisia’s Islamist-led government, Rafik Abdessalem, arrived in Gaza with a delegation, underscoring Hamas’s newfound credibility in a region dramatically altered by the Arab Spring. Abdessalem expressed outrage at what he called Israeli “aggression” and pledged to unite with other Arab countries to end the conflict.

In Cairo, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, whose prime minister visited Gaza on Friday, held meetings with Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani — both Hamas supporters — to discuss what Morsi and other regional leaders have promised will be a more robust response to Israel’s actions than during past conflicts. By Saturday night, rumors of Morsi, Erdogan and Hamas chairman Khaled Meshal hashing out a cease-fire plan were swirling but unconfirmed.

Also in Cairo, the Arab League held an emergency meeting of foreign ministers to discuss a response to the conflict. Many participants called for Arab assistance to the Palestinians and a “reconsideration” of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. But it was unclear if the usually ineffectual league would deliver decisive action by the end of its summit.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, took his country’s case to European leaders. In conversations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the prime ministers of Italy, Greece and the Czech Republic, Netanyahu argued that “no country in the world would agree to a situation in which its population lives under a constant missile threat,” according to an Israeli government statement. The government announced that it was launching a special operations center for public diplomacy, centered on “the unified message that Israel is under fire.”

The White House reiterated its support for the Israeli operation, which the military says is intended to stop rocket fire that has escalated in the four years since Israel last invaded Gaza to stunt attacks by Hamas, an Islamist movement that Israel and the United States consider a terrorist group.

“Israelis have endured far too much of a threat from these rockets for far too long,” Ben Rhodes, a deputy U.S. national security adviser, told reporters traveling with President Obama to Asia. Rhodes declined to comment on the Israelis’ choice of targets, but he said White House officials “always underscore the importance of avoiding civilian casualties.”

The death toll in Gaza rose to 45 by Saturday evening, Health Ministry officials said. Three Israelis have been killed by rocket fire from Gaza since the operation began. An Israeli military spokesman said about 130 rockets were fired from Gaza at Israel on Saturday, 30 of which were intercepted by a missile defense system known as Iron Dome.

Israel made preparations this week for a possible ground invasion, but there were no further signs of one coming on Saturday.

Israel: No shift in mission

The Israeli airstrikes, which continued to target rocket-launching sites and weapons depots, slowed throughout the day, even as Israel appeared to be channeling new efforts toward Hamas civilian institutions. Capt. Eytan Buchman, an Israeli military spokesman, said the strikes were “part of our overarching goal of toppling Hamas’s command and control capabilities” and did not mark a shift in mission.

Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister, was apparently not at his office when it was hit.

According to the newspaper Haaretz, Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai said the “goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages.”

That is how it felt to Hossam and Sanaa al-Dadah, two teachers who had the misfortune of living next door to a house the Israeli military said belonged to a Hamas commander.

At 6 a.m., the family’s windows shattered and their walls burst open. The adjacent house, in the Jabaliya refugee camp, had been demolished in an airstrike, and suddenly theirs was ruined, too.

In the terrifying moments that followed, Hossam al-Dadah, 50, frantically dug his five children out of the rubble, and a few hours later, they had been taken away to their grandparents’ home. But a dust-caked Sanaa, 40, rushed from room to room, crying and gathering her children’s clothing, school bags and dolls and placing them on a sheet.

Israel says Hamas operates in populated areas to use civilians as human shields, and it has dropped thousands of leaflets over Gaza warning civilians to stay away from Hamas operatives. Sanaa said she never got the message.

“Where are we going to go?” she said again and again. “The Israelis are responsible. They are the enemy of God. What did we do? Did we carry any missiles? Did we launch any rockets?”

Outside the house, children played insouciantly in rubble and scorched cars. Rami Mukayed, a 12-year-old in gray trousers, said he reserved his fear for darkness.

“At night, come see me, I’m panicked,” he said. “I play in the morning. I hide in the evening.”

Effect on peace process

In a speech in Cairo, Erdogan said the Gaza conflict called for a new era of Egyptian-Turkish cooperation.

“If Turkey and Egypt unite, everybody will be singing of peace in the region,” he said. “And if we stick together, the region will no longer be dominated by crying and weeping.”

Speakers at the Arab League meeting made the same argument.

“We can no longer accept empty meetings and meaningless resolutions,” said Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby, addressing the assembly at the start of the meeting. He urged Arab states to adopt a “strict stance” on the conflict.

Issandr El Amrani, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations who heads a blog called the Arabist, said the Gaza standoff has presented the new Arab Spring governments and other regional heavyweights an opportunity to reconsider their position on Israel and the peace process in a series of talks that could have long-term regional implications.

For years, the Arab League has floated a proposal for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal that Israel never took seriously, Amrani said. Arab states might now choose to drop that proposal and adopt more aggressive approaches — Egypt could revise the terms of its peace treaty with Israel; Arab states might consider providing covert aid to Hamas; and others will amplify the pressure on Israel through diplomatic corridors, he said.

By Saturday night, despite mounting rhetorical and symbolic support to Gaza’s Hamas leadership, the Arab ministers’ meeting had announced plans to send a delegation to Gaza but had stopped short of pledging immediate material support to Hamas.

“I’ve seen a lot of talk about doing something and how there’s a collective Arab responsibility to act,” Amrani said, “but no one has suggested anything concrete.”

How to Piss Off a Muslim

By Mona Shaikh for Glitter Snipe


Making fun of any religious figure is a touchy topic but as a Muslim I can tell you my people get mightily pissed off when you speak ill of the Prophet Muhammad.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula or as he likes to call himself “Sam Bacile” is a fifty-six-year-old jackass who recently decided to test the tenuous limits of Islamic tolerance.

The Muslim world, which has already become a constant reactionary culture, is now reaching a fever pitch. And yet, most of the protesters have not even seen this atrocious trailer.

I watched it, and I think my IQ dropped by twenty points within the first ten seconds. Forget for a moment the movie’s incendiary subject matter — the writing, directing, and technical aspects are so impoverished as to make the Razzie Awards scream, “We’re too damn good for you!” And the voice dubbing alone is so pitiful I’m confident I’ve seen better match-ups in a Meow Mix commercial.

The Innocence of Islam’s clear intent was to spark uproar and infuriate Muslims; well, congratulations Mr. Nakoula: Mission accomplished.

And in that sweeping furor, some of my fellow Muslim brothers and sisters have taken their outrage to an extreme and murdered U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other U.S. Consulate employees in Libya and are currently launching attacks on the U.S. embassies in Egypt and Yemen. In Sudan they even attacked the German Embassy. Someone needs to ask them what the Germans did to deserve this. Dieter will not be happy, and surely Teutonic tube socks worn with Birkenstocks are not yet a criminal offense. (But hope springs eternal.)

I’m always amazed at the alarmist actions my Muslim brethren take when it comes to defending the Prophet Muhammad — including destroying things in their own cities, getting themselves killed by clashing with police forces, and making themselves look like packs of intolerant Neanderthals. As an American Muslim, these actions make as much as sense to me as Kim Kardashian getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame — or even having a career for that matter.

The Middle East needs to take a serious chill pill. Indeed the Prophet Muhammad is important to our lives but in moments like these the Prophet forgave his enemies and extended the hand of friendship, but you don’t hear about that because it’s not as fascinating as the spurious story about him marrying a five-year-old.

I am not religious by any means but I was raised with the belief system that you respect all faiths, and a true believer is one who loves all. And again, a handfuls of assholes in the Muslim world have managed to steal the spotlight and make us all look like a bunch of backward buffoons.

Now, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi is demanding that the United States punish Nakoula. How about you give back the $1.6 billion dollars in foreign aid that we give your country annually, and we’ll just call it even? And while Morsi may administer whatever form of justice he wishes in his own country, in my country we have this wonderful thing, which by the way is also mentioned in the Quran repeatedly, called freedom. You may not like this filmmaker’s piss-poor shock-flick but we don’t punish people here for crap — no matter how offensive. The best way this so-called filmmaker should be punished is simply never to be allowed near a camera again because he’s a talent-free FilmFocker.

But the real question is this: Why are these fame hogs so obsessed with making films defaming the Prophet Muhammad? Have you ever seen any Muslim films or cartoons that disrespect Moses or Jesus? No, you haven’t. And that is precisely because in Islam, Moses and Jesus are prophets whom we also love and respect.

Nakoula is a Coptic Christian who tried to pass himself off as an Israeli Jew, which of course lights another powder keg, and now the Israeli flag is being torched alongside Old Glory throughout the Muslim world as we speak. The thing about Muslims is that whether it’s Nakoula or Salman Rushdie criticizing the Prophet Muhammad, the shit gets very real, very fast — for all of us.

The question I want to ask my Muslim brethren is, strictly on a human and Islamic level, how is it all right to kill and get killed in the name of God and/or the Prophet Muhammad. That is not what Islam is about.

Why aren’t we seeing this level of outrage among all Muslims while Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is butchering his own people — our Muslim brothers and sisters? I truly believe Islam has slid into its own version of the Dark Ages; in the same way Judaism and Christianity went through theirs, Islam is going through its darkest, most troubling time.

We started off with the Arab Spring and have ended with a summer bummer, and now the violence has spread to eleven Muslim countries, including my birthplace, Pakistan (surprise!).

The Muslim world must stop reacting to every idiot whose sole intention is to provoke outrage in our communities. The Muslims who are violently protesting in public squares and burning embassies need to arm themselves with the facts and stop reacting to everyone else’s reactions.

Each time Muslims jump the gun with their knee-jerk reactions, they give further ammunition to ridiculous hate-mongering fools who provoke us with their cameras, pens, and paintbrushes.

As for Nakoula, he has now not only pissed off Muslims worldwide, but the entire United States as well, and based on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent diatribe regarding this little movie, she looked like she was going to be fitted for a dominatrix costume and whip his Egyptian film-making ass into shape. This probably won’t happen but I’m allowed to dream. Folks on both sides need to grab a non-alcoholic beverage, hug it out, and take up a damn hobby.

Peace! Shalom! Salam! Sit down!

Mona Shaikh is a comedienne and the founder of MuslimsDoItBetter.com

Rand Paul Filibuster on Pakistan Aid Could Force Senate Into Overtime

By Lauren Fox for US News and World Report

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul could push the Senate’s session into the weekend if he doesn’t back off of a promise to filibuster all legislation as long as Senate leadership keeps a bill to stop sending aid to Pakistan off of the floor.

The obstruction is a replay of last week’s Senate session when Paul stood in the way of a veterans’ jobs bill in an effort to see his anti-Pakistani funding bill on the floor.

In a letter to his colleagues, Paul requested that his fellow lawmakers join his cause to stop backing Pakistan as long as the country keeps playing “both sides of some of the most important issues while openly thwarting our objectives in the region” and continues holding Shakil Afridi, the man who assisted the U.S. with its efforts to locate and kill Osama bin Laden.

“Dr. Afridi remains under arrest for his role in finding bin Laden, and no country that arrests a man for helping to find bin Laden is an ally of the United States,” Paul wrote in his letter. “If Pakistan wants to be our ally–and receive foreign aid for being one–then they should act like it, and they must start by releasing Dr. Afridi.”

This week, however, Paul has expanded his efforts.

After rebels seized the U.S. embassy in Egypt and Libyan rebels murdered four Americans including Libyan Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Paul is calling for a bill to halt funding to those nations as well.

“I urge you to take immediate action to pass a much-needed bill demanding cooperation and accountability from the countries involved in the recent violence directed at our embassies and consulates,” Paul wrote. “The bill should send a strong clear message to these entities: You do not get foreign aid unless you are an unwavering ally of the United States.”

Meanwhile, the White House has other plans to handle the attacks on the embassies in Egypt and Libya. Because the attackers were not affiliated with the government, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will look to Congress to authorize more funding to support Egypt in its quest for democracy.

“Particularly in the light of this kind of extremist and spoiler activity…we think it is absolutely essential that we support those forces in Egypt who want to build a peaceful, stable, democratic country with prosperity restored, jobs for people,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday during a briefing. “And that’s what the assistance that the president has pledged and that we are working with the Hill on is for.”

Paul’s protest won’t endanger the Senate’s ability to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government funded for another six months, but it could significantly affect the Senate’s ability to stay on schedule.

The House passed the stopgap measure 329 to 91, but Paul’s floor protest could push the Senate into a weekend session.

It’s Too Early to Consider Al-Qaeda a Dwindling Force

By Paul Koring for The Globe and Mail


Amid an uneasy anniversary of the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a daring U.S. special forces raid, there’s a temptation to consider the war won.

Al-Qaeda’s infamous leader is dead; the cunning mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, suicide hijackings, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, goes on trial this week in Guantanamo; while missile-firing Predator drones have grimly decimated al-Qaeda’s commanders in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia

More than a decade later, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, $1.2-trillion in spent bullion, 6,000-plus lost American lives – and perhaps 50 times that many other lives – the “war on terror” is, at least, a defunct term, banned by President Barack Obama’s administration as it shifted rhetorical focus in the struggle against violent, extremist Islam.

But the broader conflict remains unresolved and may have become far more complicated.

No significant terrorist strike has hit an American target since 2001. The Madrid and London bombings of 2004 and 2005 were the last major attacks on Western cities. Al-Qaeda has been battered and decapitated. Yet the threat still looms.

“It’s wishful thinking to say al-Qaeda is on the brink of defeat,” warns Rand analyst Seth Jones. Yet even in the Muslim world, support for al-Qaeda is way down. Only in Egypt does its approval rating top 20 per cent, according to a recent Pew Research poll. In Pakistan, where bin Laden was killed in a violation of Pakistani sovereignty and anti-U.S. fervor runs high, barely 13 per cent hold a positive view of al-Qaeda, and in much of the Arab world support is mired in single digits.

The violent fringes of radical Islam seem to have lost traction among even disenfranchised and repressed Muslims. At the same time, political Islam is emerging as a key force in the change sweeping aside repressive regimes in the Middle East.

As the terror threat and fear of another spectacular attack like the catastrophic destruction of New York’s twin towers diminishes, the nature of the struggle against radical, repressive Islam remains unfinished and the West’s role is increasingly unclear.

The U.S.-led war in Afghanistan is winding down. The coalition of Western nations that sent combat troops – including Canada – is falling apart as nations head for the exits. The dream of transforming Afghanistan from a haven for terrorists run by Taliban brutes into a modern democracy where girls go to school in an oasis of central Asian stability has been eclipsed by harsher realities.

The war’s aims have been reduced to propping up the Karzai regime, talking to the Taliban and hoping Afghanistan doesn’t slide back into a narco-state run by warlords or return to a Taliban fiefdom.

Neighbouring Pakistan, once the supposedly key ally in former president George W. Bush “war on terror” may pose an even greater threat than Afghanistan should it collapse.

Meanwhile, as popular uprisings topple repressive regime across the Arab world, the inherent contradictions in Western policy are being exposed. Backing dictators and monarchs as long as they repressed radical Islamists, kept cold peace with Israel and the oil flowing, was the pragmatic, successful, strategic policy for decades.

In its place is a rapidly evolving effort to stay on the right side of history. So Washington jettisoned longtime loyal ally, Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak and then sent warplanes to back the Libyan rebels who ousted and killed Col. Moammar Gadhafi. Still backing pro-democracy forces isn’t a one-size-fits-all shift in policy. Mr. Obama’s support for the Saudi royal family remains unflinching while the unfolding violence in Syria seems to have hamstrung the West.

Al-Qaeda’s new leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, continues to issue calls to arms, urging jihadists to seize the moment. That rallying cry seems, so far, to have had little resonance among the tens of millions of Muslims seeking – and in some nations tasting – freedom across the Arab world. But there has been a spate of suicide bombings – hallmarks of extremist jihadists – in Syria.

If moderate, democratic, freely-elected governments – likely including Islamists – fail to deliver in Egypt and elsewhere, the unfulfilled expectations of tens of millions may provide new recruiting grounds for the extremists.

“Al-Qaeda franchises are still a major factor,” former White House counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke told ABC. “Groups calling themselves al-Qaeda or claiming affiliation … have large, armed formations in Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Nigeria, and in the Magreb and the Sahel regions of Africa. They are conducting military-styled attacks in some countries and waves of bombings in others. They are participating in the ‘Arab Spring’ fighting in Libya and Syria.”

Why Do They Hate Us?

By Mona Eltahawy for Foreign Policy

In “Distant View of a Minaret,” the late and much-neglected Egyptian writer Alifa Rifaat begins her short story with a woman so unmoved by sex with her husband that as he focuses solely on his pleasure, she notices a spider web she must sweep off the ceiling and has time to ruminate on her husband’s repeated refusal to prolong intercourse until she too climaxes, “as though purposely to deprive her.” Just as her husband denies her an orgasm, the call to prayer interrupts his, and the man leaves. After washing up, she loses herself in prayer — so much more satisfying that she can’t wait until the next prayer — and looks out onto the street from her balcony. She interrupts her reverie to make coffee dutifully for her husband to drink after his nap. Taking it to their bedroom to pour it in front of him as he prefers, she notices he is dead. She instructs their son to go and get a doctor. “She returned to the living room and poured out the coffee for herself. She was surprised at how calm she was,” Rifaat writes.

But let’s put aside what the United States does or doesn’t do to women. Name me an Arab country, and I’ll recite a litany of abuses fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend. When more than 90 percent of ever-married women in Egypt — including my mother and all but one of her six sisters — have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty, then surely we must all blaspheme. When Egyptian women are subjected to humiliating “virginity tests” merely for speaking out, it’s no time for silence. When an article in the Egyptian criminal code says that if a woman has been beaten by her husband “with good intentions” no punitive damages can be obtained, then to hell with political correctness. And what, pray tell, are “good intentions”? They are legally deemed to include any beating that is “not severe” or “directed at the face.” What all this means is that when it comes to the status of women in the Middle East, it’s not better than you think. It’s much, much worse. Even after these “revolutions,” all is more or less considered well with the world as long as women are covered up, anchored to the home, denied the simple mobility of getting into their own cars, forced to get permission from men to travel, and unable to marry without a male guardian’s blessing — or divorce either.

Not a single Arab country ranks in the top 100 in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, putting the region as a whole solidly at the planet’s rock bottom. Poor or rich, we all hate our women. Neighbors Saudi Arabia and Yemen, for instance, might be eons apart when it comes to GDP, but only four places separate them on the index, with the kingdom at 131 and Yemen coming in at 135 out of 135 countries. Morocco, often touted for its “progressive” family law (a 2005 report by Western “experts” called it “an example for Muslim countries aiming to integrate into modern society”), ranks 129; according to Morocco’s Ministry of Justice, 41,098 girls under age 18 were married there in 2010.

It’s easy to see why the lowest-ranked country is Yemen, where 55 percent of women are illiterate, 79 percent do not participate in the labor force, and just one woman serves in the 301-person parliament. Horrific news reports about 12-year-old girls dying in childbirth do little to stem the tide of child marriage there. Instead, demonstrations in support of child marriage outstrip those against it, fueled by clerical declarations that opponents of state-sanctioned pedophilia are apostates because the Prophet Mohammed, according to them, married his second wife, Aisha, when she was a child.

In a crisp three-and-a-half pages, Rifaat lays out a trifecta of sex, death, and religion, a bulldozer that crushes denial and defensiveness to get at the pulsating heart of misogyny in the Middle East. There is no sugarcoating it. They don’t hate us because of our freedoms, as the tired, post-9/11 American cliché had it. We have no freedoms because they hate us, as this Arab woman so powerfully says.

Yes: They hate us. It must be said.

Some may ask why I’m bringing this up now, at a time when the region has risen up, fueled not by the usual hatred of America and Israel but by a common demand for freedom. After all, shouldn’t everyone get basic rights first, before women demand special treatment? And what does gender, or for that matter, sex, have to do with the Arab Spring? But I’m not talking about sex hidden away in dark corners and closed bedrooms. An entire political and economic system — one that treats half of humanity like animals — must be destroyed along with the other more obvious tyrannies choking off the region from its future. Until the rage shifts from the oppressors in our presidential palaces to the oppressors on our streets and in our homes, our revolution has not even begun.

But at least Yemeni women can drive. It surely hasn’t ended their litany of problems, but it symbolizes freedom — and nowhere does such symbolism resonate more than in Saudi Arabia, where child marriage is also practiced and women are perpetually minors regardless of their age or education. Saudi women far outnumber their male counterparts on university campuses but are reduced to watching men far less qualified control every aspect of their lives.

Yes, Saudi Arabia, the country where a gang-rape survivor was sentenced to jail for agreeing to get into a car with an unrelated male and needed a royal pardon; Saudi Arabia, where a woman who broke the ban on driving was sentenced to 10 lashes and again needed a royal pardon; Saudi Arabia, where women still can’t vote or run in elections, yet it’s considered “progress” that a royal decree promised to enfranchise them for almost completely symbolic local elections in — wait for it — 2015. So bad is it for women in Saudi Arabia that those tiny paternalistic pats on their backs are greeted with delight as the monarch behind them, King Abdullah, is hailed as a “reformer” — even by those who ought to know better, such as Newsweek, which in 2010 named the king one of the top 11 most respected world leaders. You want to know how bad it is? The “reformer’s” answer to the revolutions popping up across the region was to numb his people with still more government handouts — especially for the Salafi zealots from whom the Saudi royal family inhales legitimacy. King Abdullah is 87. Just wait until you see the next in line, Prince Nayef, a man straight out of the Middle Ages. His misogyny and zealotry make King Abdullah look like Susan B. Anthony.

So: Yes, women all over the world have problems; yes, the United States has yet to elect a female president; and yes, women continue to be objectified in many “Western” countries (I live in one of them). That’s where the conversation usually ends when you try to discuss why Arab societies hate women.

“Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said recently. “But they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They want to control women.” (And yet Clinton represents an administration that openly supports many of those misogynistic despots.) Attempts to control by such regimes often stem from the suspicion that without it, a woman is just a few degrees short of sexual insatiability. Observe Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the popular cleric and longtime conservative TV host on Al Jazeera who developed a stunning penchant for the Arab Spring revolutions — once they were under way, that is — undoubtedly understanding that they would eliminate the tyrants who long tormented and oppressed both him and the Muslim Brotherhood movement from which he springs.

I could find you a host of crackpots sounding off on Woman the Insatiable Temptress, but I’m staying mainstream with Qaradawi, who commands a huge audience on and off the satellite channels. Although he says female genital mutilation (which he calls “circumcision,” a common euphemism that tries to put the practice on a par with male circumcision) is not “obligatory,” you will also find this priceless observation in one of his books: “I personally support this under the current circumstances in the modern world. Anyone who thinks that circumcision is the best way to protect his daughters should do it,” he wrote, adding, “The moderate opinion is in favor of practicing circumcision to reduce temptation.” So even among “moderates,” girls’ genitals are cut to ensure their desire is nipped in the bud — pun fully intended. Qaradawi has since issued a fatwa against female genital mutilation, but it comes as no surprise that when Egypt banned the practice in 2008, some Muslim Brotherhood legislators opposed the law. And some still do — including a prominent female parliamentarian, Azza al-Garf.

Yet it’s the men who can’t control themselves on the streets, where from Morocco to Yemen, sexual harassment is endemic and it’s for the men’s sake that so many women are encouraged to cover up. Cairo has a women-only subway car to protect us from wandering hands and worse; countless Saudi malls are for families only, barring single men from entry unless they produce a requisite female to accompany them.

We often hear how the Middle East’s failing economies have left many men unable to marry, and some even use that to explain rising levels of sexual harassment on the streets. In a 2008 survey by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, more than 80 percent of Egyptian women said they’d experienced sexual harassment and more than 60 percent of men admitted to harassing women. Yet we never hear how a later marriage age affects women. Do women have sex drives or not? Apparently, the Arab jury is still out on the basics of human biology.

Enter that call to prayer and the sublimation through religion that Rifaat so brilliantly introduces in her story. Just as regime-appointed clerics lull the poor across the region with promises of justice — and nubile virgins — in the next world rather than a reckoning with the corruption and nepotism of the dictator in this life, so women are silenced by a deadly combination of men who hate them while also claiming to have God firmly on their side.

I turn again to Saudi Arabia, and not just because when I encountered the country at age 15 I was traumatized into feminism — there’s no other way to describe it — but because the kingdom is unabashed in its worship of a misogynistic God and never suffers any consequences for it, thanks to its double-whammy advantage of having oil and being home to Islam’s two holiest places, Mecca and Medina.

Then — the 1980s and 1990s — as now, clerics on Saudi TV were obsessed with women and their orifices, especially what came out of them. I’ll never forget hearing that if a baby boy urinated on you, you could go ahead and pray in the same clothes, yet if a baby girl peed on you, you had to change. What on Earth in the girl’s urine made you impure? I wondered.

Hatred of women.

How much does Saudi Arabia hate women? So much so that 15 girls died in a school fire in Mecca in 2002, after “morality police” barred them from fleeing the burning building — and kept firefighters from rescuing them — because the girls were not wearing headscarves and cloaks required in public. And nothing happened. No one was put on trial. Parents were silenced. The only concession to the horror was that girls’ education was quietly taken away by then-Crown Prince Abdullah from the Salafi zealots, who have nonetheless managed to retain their vise-like grip on the kingdom’s education system writ large.

This, however, is no mere Saudi phenomenon, no hateful curiosity in the rich, isolated desert. The Islamist hatred of women burns brightly across the region — now more than ever.

In Kuwait, where for years Islamists fought women’s enfranchisement, they hounded the four women who finally made it into parliament, demanding that the two who didn’t cover their hair wear hijabs. When the Kuwaiti parliament was dissolved this past December, an Islamist parliamentarian demanded the new house — devoid of a single female legislator — discuss his proposed “decent attire” law.

In Tunisia, long considered the closest thing to a beacon of tolerance in the region, women took a deep breath last fall after the Islamist Ennahda party won the largest share of votes in the country’s Constituent Assembly. Party leaders vowed to respect Tunisia’s 1956 Personal Status Code, which declared “the principle of equality between men and women” as citizens and banned polygamy. But female university professors and students have complained since then of assaults and intimidation by Islamists for not wearing hijabs, while many women’s rights activists wonder how talk of Islamic law will affect the actual law they will live under in post-revolution Tunisia.

In Libya, the first thing the head of the interim government, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, promised to do was to lift the late Libyan tyrant’s restrictions on polygamy. Lest you think of Muammar al-Qaddafi as a feminist of any kind, remember that under his rule girls and women who survived sexual assaults or were suspected of “moral crimes” were dumped into “social rehabilitation centers,” effective prisons from which they could not leave unless a man agreed to marry them or their families took them back.

Then there’s Egypt, where less than a month after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, the military junta that replaced him, ostensibly to “protect the revolution,” inadvertently reminded us of the two revolutions we women need. After it cleared Tahrir Square of protesters, the military detained dozens of male and female activists. Tyrants oppress, beat, and torture all. We know. But these officers reserved “virginity tests” for female activists: rape disguised as a medical doctor inserting his fingers into their vaginal opening in search of hymens. (The doctor was sued and eventually acquitted in March.)

What hope can there be for women in the new Egyptian parliament, dominated as it is by men stuck in the seventh century? A quarter of those parliamentary seats are now held by Salafis, who believe that mimicking the original ways of the Prophet Mohammed is an appropriate prescription for modern life. Last fall, when fielding female candidates, Egypt’s Salafi Nour Party ran a flower in place of each woman’s face. Women are not to be seen or heard — even their voices are a temptation — so there they are in the Egyptian parliament, covered from head to toe in black and never uttering a word.

And we’re in the middle of a revolution in Egypt! It’s a revolution in which women have died, been beaten, shot at, and sexually assaulted fighting alongside men to rid our country of that uppercase Patriarch — Mubarak — yet so many lowercase patriarchs still oppress us. The Muslim Brotherhood, with almost half the total seats in our new revolutionary parliament, does not believe women (or Christians for that matter) can be president. The woman who heads the “women’s committee” of the Brotherhood’s political party said recently that women should not march or protest because it’s more “dignified” to let their husbands and brothers demonstrate for them.

The hatred of women goes deep in Egyptian society. Those of us who have marched and protested have had to navigate a minefield of sexual assaults by both the regime and its lackeys, and, sadly, at times by our fellow revolutionaries. On the November day I was sexually assaulted on Mohamed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir Square, by at least four Egyptian riot police, I was first groped by a man in the square itself. While we are eager to expose assaults by the regime, when we’re violated by our fellow civilians we immediately assume they’re agents of the regime or thugs because we don’t want to taint the revolution.

SO WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

First we stop pretending. Call out the hate for what it is. Resist cultural relativism and know that even in countries undergoing revolutions and uprisings, women will remain the cheapest bargaining chips. You — the outside world — will be told that it’s our “culture” and “religion” to do X, Y, or Z to women. Understand that whoever deemed it as such was never a woman. The Arab uprisings may have been sparked by an Arab man — Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in desperation — but they will be finished by Arab women.

Amina Filali — the 16-year-old Moroccan girl who drank poison after she was forced to marry, and beaten by, her rapist — is our Bouazizi. Salwa el-Husseini, the first Egyptian woman to speak out against the “virginity tests”; Samira Ibrahim, the first one to sue; and Rasha Abdel Rahman, who testified alongside her — they are our Bouazizis. We must not wait for them to die to become so. Manal al-Sharif, who spent nine days in jail for breaking her country’s ban on women driving, is Saudi Arabia’s Bouazizi. She is a one-woman revolutionary force who pushes against an ocean of misogyny.

Our political revolutions will not succeed unless they are accompanied by revolutions of thought — social, sexual, and cultural revolutions that topple the Mubaraks in our minds as well as our bedrooms.

“Do you know why they subjected us to virginity tests?” Ibrahim asked me soon after we’d spent hours marching together to mark International Women’s Day in Cairo on March 8. “They want to silence us; they want to chase women back home. But we’re not going anywhere.”

We are more than our headscarves and our hymens. Listen to those of us fighting. Amplify the voices of the region and poke the hatred in its eye. There was a time when being an Islamist was the most vulnerable political position in Egypt and Tunisia. Understand that now it very well might be Woman. As it always has been.

Mona Eltahawy is an Egyptian-American columnist. In November 2011, Egyptian police beat her, breaking her left arm and right hand, and sexually assaulted her. She was detained by the Interior Ministry and military intelligence for 12 hours.

Sold Into Slavery As a Girl, Shyima Hall Becomes a U.S. Citizen

By Phil Willon, Los Angeles Times

A decade ago, Shyima Hall was smuggled into the United States as a 10-year-old slave, forced to cook and clean inside the home of a wealthy Irvine family and, at night, sleep on a squalid mattress in a windowless garage.

On Thursday, the Egyptian-born 22-year-old stood before a federal judge in Montebello with nearly 900 others and was sworn in as naturalized U.S. citizen. The ceremony capped a hard-scrabble journey that began with Hall’s rescue, wound through the foster care system and ended with her living on her own, working, and with ambitions to become a federal agent.

“I went through something terrible, but right now I’m in a great place,” Hall said after Thursday’s citizenship ceremony at the Quiet Cannon Country Club. “I can’t imagine anything greater than having my own life.”

Hall’s Egyptian parents sold her into slavery when she was 8 for $30 a month, according to authorities. The Cairo couple who bought her moved to Irvine two years later, smuggling Hall into the U.S. where she toiled for them and their five children until she was 13.

Hall said she worked 16 hour days, scrubbing floors, cooking meals and cleaning house, and was rarely allowed outside the spacious home. She was forced to wash her own clothes in a bucket and was forbidden from going to school. She never visited a doctor or dentist and didn’t speak a word of English.

Her captors, Abdel Nasser Eid Youssef Ibrahim and his former wife, Amal Ahmed Ewis-abd Motelib, berated her and occasionally slapped her around, authorities said.

“I didn’t know anything about what America was about. My only hope was to go back home and live a normal life with my family, my brothers and sisters,” she said. “That’s all I wanted.”

In 2002, acting on a tip from a concerned neighbor, child welfare authorities rescued her from the house. Her case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, leading to the prosecution, federal imprisonment and, later, deportation of Ibrahim and Motelib.

Hall formed a tight bond with one of the lead federal agents, Mark Abend of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations, who has served as a friend and mentor. He was at Hall’s citizenship ceremony Thursday.

“I’m really proud of her. Think of everything she’s been through. Being sold into slavery at an early age. Coming over here. Not having a family,” Abend said. “The resiliency she has is just amazing. The fortitude. Not falling apart. Not being a destroyed soul.”

Abend remembers interviewing Hall, then 13, with the help of an Arabic interpreter for the first time when she was being cared for at the Orangewood Children’s Home in Orange. Her captors told her to never speak to police, that officers would beat her. She stayed tight-lipped until she was allowed to call her parents in Egypt, and her father ordered her to go back with her captors.

“That’s when I saw a spark,” Abend said. “She stood up to her dad. She said, ‘No! This is not right. What they did to me was not right. You sold me into slavery.'”

At 13, Hall decided that she wanted to stay in the U.S. She hasn’t returned to Egypt or seen her family.

In recent years, Hall has spoken to groups across the country about combating human trafficking. She’s briefed ICE agents about the emotional and physical trauma victims face.

In 2010-11, federal immigration officials launched 651 investigations into human trafficking, arresting 300 people. According to the U.S. State Department, there are more than 12 million people entrapped in some form of slavery worldwide.

Hall said her dream now is to become a federal agent for ICE to help crack down on human trafficking and free the enslaved.

“That’s my top goal,” Hall said. “I’ve been through it. I know I can help.”

Los Angeles immigration attorney Angelo Paparelli, who represented Hall pro bono, said that her citizenship application was filed under a special provision for juvenile immigrants and that county officials from the outset supported her decision to stay in the U.S.

“She has literally gone through a living hell, and now she wants to give back,” said Paparelli, of the national law firm Seyfarth Shaw. “She’s there to give other people courage.”

For now, Hall is living in Beaumont in Riverside County and working at the Cabazon outlets as a store supervisor. She’s deciding whether to go back to college to finish a degree or to apply for the local police force.

“I’m very excited. I can start my career now,” she said. “I can start my life.”

The Arab Spring Will Only Flourish if The Young Are Given Cause to Hope

By Henry Porter for The Guardian

Osama bin Laden and Muammar Gaddafi dead; Hosni Mubarak and family behind bars with millions of dollars of assets frozen; President Ben Ali of Tunisia sentenced to 35 years in absentia; the Bosnian war criminal Ratko Mladic awaiting trial in the Hague. We can take a moment to recognise that sometimes things go astonishingly well – the removal of these five characters from the picture is a blessing.

Whatever doubts we have about Gaddafi’s death and the absence of due process (if you can’t even decide where to bury a man, it is a good rule not to kill him), his death is a bracing lesson for the likes of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who is torturing young demonstrators to death, and President Saleh of Yemen and King Hamad of Bahrain, both of whom are drenched in the blood of their countrymen.

The knowledge that just 12 months ago Ben Ali, Mubarak and Gaddafi all looked untouchable must cause the goofy-looking butcher of Damascus and his fragrant missus to clutch at each other in the wee small hours.

The Nato intervention was right and I would say that now, even if it had not gone so well for the rebels in the last three months. At the time the decision was taken, I was in Tunisia, in the stunned aftermath of Ben Ali’s departure, looking up the timeline of the Srebrenica massacre in July 1995, when General Mladic separated the men from the women and young children and went on to murder 8,000 people. Benghazi, the eastern city where Gaddafi did his military training, was as vulnerable as the Bosniak enclave. His mercenaries would have created a bloodbath if they had not been driven from the outskirts as the first air strikes began.

I wasn’t optimistic – Libya seemed too vast, Gaddafi too cunning and the rebel forces hopelessly amateur. And there were doubts whether air power alone could achieve the result that it did. But after 26,000 air sorties and 9,600 strike missions, and a lot of blood spilled, the regime is no more and David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy can quietly take a bow. Both are nimble politicians, yet it is not unduly naive to believe they were influenced by the memory of what happened in Bosnia.

There is always a basic moral requirement to intervene, but any decision to act must gauge risk and the likelihood of achieving success. The seemingly pragmatic considerations also contain a moral element, because the interventionist obviously has an obligation not to inflame local opinion or create a situation worse than the one he is seeking to alleviate. These conditions were met in Libya, yet there was the additional incentive of the country’s “sweet, light” crude and the reserves of 46.4bn barrels, which have nothing to do with morality or Srebrenica.

Stage two of the Arab Spring begins today with elections in Tunisia for the Constituent Assembly, in which the Islamist party An-Nahda, led by Rachid Ghannouchi, is likely to do well. This is the first big test for the west because we have to allow the people who risked everything on the streets to develop their own politics and democratic processes.

Nor should we allow ourselves to be spooked by what happens in the Egyptian elections on 28 November, when the Muslim Brotherhood’s well-organised political wing, the Freedom and Justice party, is expected to trounce nascent secular parties. Admittedly, this will not be the greatest outcome. Quite apart from the Islamists’ failure to reconcile their declared support for rights and civil liberties with the deeper convictions of religious authoritarianism, the generation of devout men likely to take power is hardly equipped to address, or properly understand, the problems of the young people who took to the streets Tunis and Cairo.

The thing that so few have really absorbed about the revolutions is that they were generational – the young rising against the tyranny and corruption but also the incompetence of their parents’ generation. The first demonstrations in the Arab Spring occurred in the Tunisian provincial city of Sidi Bouzid, where a young man set himself on fire because officials confiscated the fruit and vegetables he was selling without a permit. Like so many of his contemporaries, Mohamed Bouazizi, 26, could not find proper work.

Youth unemployment and the grinding lack of hope are the source of the most serious social and political problems across the Arab world. The unemployment rate among Tunisians under 25 is about 26%. Half of the 60,000 graduates released on to the jobs market every year will not find work. These are the well-educated and highly organised single young people who had nothing to lose during the uprising and have gained very little in material terms since.

To grasp what happened in Tahrir Square, you must know that 54 million of Egypt’s population of 82 million are under 30 years old and this age group makes up 90% of the country’s unemployed. The very highest rates of joblessness are among the well educated.

The UK’s median age is 40. Across the Arab world, it hovers in the mid-20s. In Egypt, it is 24.3, Libya 24.5, Tunisia 30 and Syria 21.9. Factor in regular unemployment rates in the Middle East of 25% among the young – even in the rich Gulf states – and you know that we are only at the beginning of this particular story.

The sophistication of this new generation of Arabs should not be underestimated. They require far more than sermons about prayer and clean living from middle-aged chaps to make lives for themselves in the 21st century. They will need freedom, empathy and technocratic as well as political leadership to create the jobs that will ensure stability and peace. When you talk to these educated young adults, as I did earlier this year in Tunis and Cairo, it is striking how well they appreciate that democratic change depends on job creation. Yes, they declare their faith, but it’s a given – not something they want to go on about.

If the west wants permanent change in North Africa, we have to recognise the potential of this new generation and find ways of providing stimulus and investment, even as we struggle to create jobs for our own young people. That is the only intervention open to us now and in some ways it is much more demanding.

In Libya, the guns need to be put away, a national army and police force set up and proper courts founded. The first test of the new civil society must be to give a scrupulously honest account of how the former dictator met his end. The new republic will not be served by a cover-up and by spokesmen for the National Transitional Council lying through their boots. As the graffiti that appeared in Tripoli this weekend reads: “Clean it up and keep it clean”.

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