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Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

Category: Women in the Middle East

IRAN: Ahmadinejad's newspaper in fight with hardliners over hijab

Iran's ultra-hardliners have gone after a newspaper that acts as a mouthpiece for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after it published a supplement on the Islamic dress code for women in what is perceived as a battle for the loyalty of the country's middle class.

Police officers were reportedly assigned to protect the staff of the daily paper, Iran, on Sunday, a day after publication of the supplement titled Khatoun, Persian for lady.

A Tehran prosecutor was said to be drawing up charges against the paper.

The 259-page special section on the history of the dress code, or hijab, recalled practices in pre-Islamic times, cited anti-Islamic social theorists such as Bertrand Russell and Sigmund Freud and traced the headscarf's transformation throughout history.

Conservatives condemned the supplement and accused the paper of "promoting permissiveness and religious laxity" in an effort by Ahmadinejad's press advisor, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, to increase his boss' street cred among the middle classes who despise him.

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ISRAEL: Arabic radio station campaigns against killing of women


A young woman turns up dead. Her husband is held for a few days, then released. Police have no other suspects. Murmurs of "family honor" are heard -- and the news races on, reluctant to deal with a painful issue: the killing of women in Arab society.

Until now.

A few years ago, Duah Fares was within reach of a dream as a finalist in a local beauty pageant. Not everyone was proud of the groundbreaking model who changed her name to the less ethnically conspicuous "Angelina." As the swimsuit stage of the competition neared, displeasure over the break from tradition became heavy pressure and Fares withdrew from the competition when it became clear that her life was in danger.

Her younger sister, Jamila, was also an aspiring beauty pageant contestant; she too changed her name to the more cosmopolitan "Maya" before taking a safer path of marriage and a job in a shop. It wasn't safer. Maya, 21, is the last statistic in a grim tally.

Most of the 35 women murdered in Israel since the beginning of 2010 were killed by close relatives. Sixteen of them were Arab women, sadly over-represented given that their community makes up 20% of Israeli society.

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LEBANON, ISRAEL: Belly dancer and metal band rock the boat

Picture 2Seeing a gorgeous dancer on stage with a heavy-metal band is nothing unusual.

But when the dancer is Lebanese and the singer Israeli and they hold the flags of their respective countries -- which remain in a state of war -- alongside each other, you have a recipe for potential trouble.

The controversial joint appearance and performance by Lebanese belly dancer Johanna Fakhry (reportedly based in France) and the Israeli heavy-metal band Orphaned Land last month at the Hellfest music festival in Clisson, France only recently emerged in the news and is now stirring the pot.

Amateur video footage purportedly showing the performance depicts a member of Orphaned Land singing in what appears to be Hebrew while Fakhry dances around him wearing traditional belly dancer's grab and holding a Lebanese flag.

She then approaches the singer and helps him hold a large Israeli flag before taking her own Lebanese flag and brandishing it alongside the Israeli before the audience.

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LIBYA/QATAR: Alleged rape victim Eman Obeidy reportedly beaten, deported back to Libya

Picture 4Alleged Libyan rape victim Eman Obeidy grabbed the world's attention and became a symbol of the uprising against embattled Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi when she stormed into a Tripoli hotel in late March, telling a group of journalists having breakfast how she had been gang-raped and beaten by a band of Kadafi militiamen who held her prisoner for two days.

Now she has been beaten again, this time not by Kadafi's security forces but allegedly by a number of Qatari officials whom she claimed handcuffed and hit her before putting her and members of her family onto a military plane going back to Libya, CNN reports.

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SAUDI ARABIA: Woman accuses driver of rape amid growing campaign against women's driving ban

3200701517Over the last weeks there has been a growing campaign to allow women to drive for themselves in ultraconservative Saudi Arabia -- the only country in the world which prohibits women from driving and where women are forced to hire male drivers or taxis to move around.

Saudi authorities have responded to the call by clamping down on those allegedly behind the campaign and blocking a Facebook page that promoted allowing women to drive in Saudi Arabia.

The campaign for lifting the women's driving ban in Saudi Arabia is likely to intensify after a Saudi businesswoman accused her driver of raping her at gunpoint.

According to an article published in the Saudi daily Okaz on Wednesday, her driver pulled over the vehicle in an industrial area of the holy city of Medina in western Saudi Arabia and raped her while pointing a gun at her. The woman, whose name was not disclosed in the report, reported the attack and the driver has been arrested.

The news comes as activists have called on women who have international driving licenses to get behind the wheel and drive their cars on June 17 in protest of Saudi Arabia's ban. The activists insist that the driving ban is based on conservative traditions and call for a change in the law so Saudi women can obtain licenses and drive themselves instead of having to rely on male drivers.

The campaign quickly gained momentum after its launch, attracting thousands of supporters on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter last month. Several Saudi women came out driving their own cars, including a woman who drove her car around for several days in the Red Sea port city of Jidda.

Then came the case of 32-year-old Manal Sharif, who posted a video of herself driving her car in the eastern city of Khobar. In the clip, posted below, she talks about the issues and complications that result from banning female drivers and presents her arguments for why women should be able to drive.


A day after Sharif posted the clip to YouTube, she was arrested by Saudi authorities on May 22 on the accusation of inciting women to defy the driving ban. She was detained for 10 days and was released earlier this week.

Sharif's lawyer told Agence France-Presse that his client had called upon Saudi King Abdullah to release her and said he hoped her case would be closed.

Thousands of people joined Facebook groups set up in support of Sharif.

--Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Photo: A Saudi woman gets out of a car after having been given a ride by her driver in the Saudi capital Riyadh in May. Credit: Agence- France Presse.  Video credit: YouTube

SAUDI ARABIA: Security forces clamp down on those allegedly behind campaign to defy ban on women drivers

Picture 2Saudi Arabian authorities have clamped down on women's rights activists after a bold call by a group of women in the ultra-conservative kingdom on social media sites on the Internet to break a ban on women driving.

Saudi police arrested at least two people linked to the campaign and shut down a Facebook page meant to promote civil disobedience, according to the Abu Dhabi-based English-language newspaper the National.

Saudi security forces loyal to King Abdullah, whose family has ruled the kingdom for 80 years, arrested Manal Sharif, a 32-year-old computer security consultant, and her brother, the National reported.

On Facebook and Twitter, activists had launched a campaign calling on women in Saudi Arabia who hold international drivers' licenses to get behind the wheel on Friday, June 17, and drive their cars to protest the country's ban on women driving.

Their call is a daring initiative. Women who have defied the ban in the past have lost their jobs, been banned from travel and denounced by members of the country's powerful extremist religious establishment.

The women say their planned move is not a protest nor an attempt to break the law, but rather a bid to claim basic rights as human beings.

"We women in Saudi Arabia, from all nationalities, will start driving our cars by ourselves," read a statement posted on the group's Facebook site, I will Drive Starting June 17, before Saudi censors took it down. "We are not here to break the law or demonstrate or challenge the authorities. We are here to claim one of our simplest rights. We have driver's licenses and we will abide by traffic laws."

Their Facebook group had garnered more than 11,000 supporters and around 3,000 people follow the group's account on Twitter.

Critics say Saudi, a staunch U.S. ally and largest exporter of oil in the world, has a horrific record on human rights and women's liberties. In addition, it's said to be pumping cash into global Islamic organizations that promote extremist Islamic thinking across the Islamic world, including the nascent democracies in Egypt and Tunisia.  

But some Saudis themselves are trying to challenge the conservativism of their own country.

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MIDDLE EAST: Reactions to Obama's speech


Reaction in the Middle East to President Obama’s speech on U.S. policy toward the region ran the gamut from surprise to support to disappointment. Following are selected, edited comments from observers in some of the region's nations:

“It was not expected that Obama would criticize any of the U.S. allies, but he did so when he talked about Bahrain and called for a dialogue with the opposition while calling for the release of prisoners. Obama set a new approach toward the Middle East … opening a new chapter with the Arab world.”

                        — Hassan Sahili, student at the Lebanese University in Beirut

“Emotionally, President Obama’s rhetoric and eloquence appealed to the ears of his audience across the world. But Obama fell short of my expectations when he referred to Syrian and Bahrain authorities.

I expected him to be more serious and harsher in his criticisms of President Bashar Assad [of Syria] and Al Khalifah in Bahrain. Both these countries are run despotically and heavy handedly. Bahrain … is the U.S.A.’s ally, and Syria is not an ally of the U.S.

Both governments are fiercely and brutally suppressing their own people. I expected President Obama to … clearly put pressure on both governments to cave in to the demands of their own people.…

The U.S. in particular and the West in general are treating the regional countries with double standards, as the violation of human rights in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are ignored or neglected while the human rights breaches in Iran are highlighted.

Anyway, President Obama has got a historic, golden and unprecedented opportunity to seize  his place in history … if he addresses the democracy in all countries in the region” equally.

                    — Sadegh Zibakalam, professor of political science at Tehran University 

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IRAN: Court postpones eye-for-an-eye punishment for man who threw acid on woman

Iranacid1 Iranian courts have delaying the punishment of a man who was sentenced to blinding by acid for his attack on a woman seven years ago.

Majid Movahedi, then 21, poured more than a gallon of sulfuric acid on Ameneh Bahrami in 2004 after she rejected his offer of marriage. 

Bahrami, who was a successful and ambitious engineer in Tehran, now lives in Spain where she has been undergoing a series of surgeries.

Movahedi, after Bahrami's relentless efforts to seek justice, went on trial in 2008 and was given the rare sentence of blinding. He was to have been placed under anesthesia and blinded at the Tehran prison where he is being held.

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SYRIA: Amateur video said to show government agents crushing protest


Fresh amateur video footage posted to the Internet claims to show pro-government agents in civilian clothes breaking up a peaceful sit-in in the Syrian capital on Monday, hauling demonstrators into a van.

The dramatic clip, claimed to have been filmed in Damascus' Arnoos Square, shows crowds of men and women sitting in a street, chanting and clapping their hands. Activists say 250 people turned out for the sit-in during which rally-goers chanted, "The Syrian people are not divided by sectarian issues," "Stop the gunfire" and "Stop the siege on our cities."

At one point, the crowd gets up and starts marching down a street as curious passersby look on, prompting what are said to be plainclothes security officers to show up at the scene and take action.

Timeline: Uprising in Syria

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LIBYA: Alleged gang-rape victim Eman Obeidy flees to Tunisia

6a00d8341c630a53ef014e875462d1970d-320wi Eman Obeidy, the Libyan woman who entered the international spotlight after claiming Moammar Kadafi's militiamen gang raped her in March, apparently fled to Tunisia this week.

Obeidy told CNN that she crossed the border from Tripoli Thursday with the help of a defecting military officer in a military car.

The car was stopped several times at checkpoints, Obeidy said, but when the officer showed his permit, they were allowed to pass. She entered Tunisia through the Dahibah border crossing using a refugee document, she said.

Obeidy rose to fame after bursting into Tripoli's Rixos Hotel on March 26 to tell international reporters that she had been held for two days, beaten and raped by 15 men after being seized at a checkpoint east of Tripoli.

She was dragged away from the hotel, and previously told CNN that was she interrogated for three days by men who threw food and poured water on her.

Activists and Facebook pages sprang up in her defense.

She told CNN the trip this week from Tripoli was "very tiring." European diplomats drove her from the border to Tunis where they were sheltering her Sunday, diplomatic sources told CNN.

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SYRIA: As protests get underway, activist says there's no going back

0415-Syria-protests_full_380For Syrian dissident Nahed Badawie, prison itself was not the worst part of her various confinements.

Rather it was being forced to watch Syrian state television, the only news channel available in the facility where she was held until a couple of weeks ago.

In mid-March, before mass popular protests broke out in Syria, Badawie participated in the very first demonstration, a rally outside the Interior Ministry in Damascus calling for the release of political prisoners. She was arrested in scuffles between demonstrators and security forces and detained for two weeks.

"We went down in solidarity with them," she recalled in an interview with Babylon & Beyond. "I saw the invitation on the Internet. Security forces were beating the girls because they were holding up photos and they were refusing to take them down ... so I came to help them out of the hands of the security, and they took me with them."

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LIBYA: Eman al-Obeidy tells in TV interview of being raped, beaten by Kadafi men

Picture 8The horrying story of Eman al-Obeidy, a Libyan woman who says she was raped by Moammar Kadafi's militiamen, gripped the world and made the law school graduate the face of the movement against Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi.

Two weeks after Al-Obeidy burst into a Tripoli hotel to try to tell journalists that she was gang raped by Libyan leader Kadafi's militiamen, she's been speaking out about her harrowing ordeal and criticized the Libyan authorities in an interview with CNN aired on the network earlier this week.

During the interview, which was faciliated by Kadafi's son Saadi and held at his office in Tripoli, she recounted her abduction and talked about how she was brought to the house of a Kadafi soldier where drunk soldiers were roaming around. There, they beat, raped and tortured her, she says.

"I was brutally tortured to the point of them entering weapons inside me. They would also pour alcohol in my eyes," she told CNN.

At the time of the interview most of Al-Obeidy's bruises had apparently gone away but she said that she made sure to take photos with the camera on her phone to use as evidence in case people didn't believe her.

"People have blamed me for showing my body," she said. "I was depressed and there was no way to show people how I was tortured."


 She went on to lash out at the Libyan authorities, accusing them of cruelness and lawlessness -- apparently even in the presence of Saadi Kadafi.

"I wanted to defend myself because they did not even give me the right to respond," she said.

She previously told CNN that the statements from government officials and an anchor on Libyan state TV, who first dismissed her as a mentally sick person, a drunkard and a prostitute, ruined her reputation and she was determined to clear her name of such smear campaigns during this week's interview with the network.

"Everything they said about me is a lie," she said. "Just because I raised my voice and talked to the media they blamed me and questioned my sanity. Nonetheless, I want my rights, even without the media."
International human rights groups have called on Libyan authorities to stop their attempts to discredit Al-Obeidy's name and denounced news that the same security officials whom Al-Obeidy has accused of raping her have filed a civil suit against her.
"It is simply outrageous that Eman al-Obeidi is now being targeted by the very officials whom she has accused, with the apparent approval of the Libyan authorities,” Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa said in a recent news release.
“This looks to be nothing but an attempt at face-saving by the government. Instead of carrying out this smear campaign, they should release her and independently investigate her allegations," his statement continued.
When Al-Obeidy tried to tell journalists at the Rixos hotel in Tripoli two weeks ago about the alleged gang rape she was subject to, she was briskly dragged off the property by government officials and minders as she shouted her allegations of rape and abuse. She was allegedly beaten again and put in jail and had her phone taken away, she says.

She previously told CNN that was she interrogated for three consecutive days after being dragged away from the hotel and spoke about how interrogators threw food at her and poured water on her while they questioned her. She was released only after a doctor examined her and it was proven she had been subject to rape and torture.

During this week's interview, Al-Obeidy asked for three things, according to CNN-- that she be permitted to clear her name, that her abusers are brought to justice and that she can go back to the eastern city of Tobruk to be reunited with her family. 

More than half a million people have signed an online petition that calls for Al-Obeidy's safe return to her family and thousands have clicked on a page on Facebook to show support for her.

--Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Photo: Eman al-Obeidy during an interview with CNN earlier this week. Credit: CNN. Video: Amateur footage showing Al-Obeidy being dragged away from journalists at a Tripoli hotel in March. Credit: YouTube






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