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Babylon & Beyond

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

Category: Women in the Middle East

IRAN: Woman sentenced to death lashes out at activist, lawyers in TV 'confession'

IRAN-articleInlineNew developments in the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year-old Iranian woman and mother of two who faces the death penalty for adultery and murder.

On Monday, Iranian state TV aired what it says was a statement from Ashtiani in which she called herself a sinner and said she had been "deceived" by lawyers.

On Tuesday an Iranian court official revealed that two German journalists who allegedly tried to interview her son and her lawyer were facing espionage charges 

"These two German citizens had come to Iran claiming to be tourists but their actions in Iran and in Tabriz, providing information and staging propaganda, indicates that they had come for spying," the head of East Azarbaijan provincial court, Malek Azhdar-Sharifi, was quoted as saying by Iran's semi-official Fars News Agency.

Taken together, the two developments suggest the extreme extent to which Tehran is willing to go over the Ashtiani case, which is proving to be a humiliating blemish on the Islamic Republic's already battered international image. 

Like in previous broadcasts of her alleged confessions, Ashtiani's face was blurred in the footage. She made accusations that fit squarely with Iranian hardliners' constant refrain that Iran has a fine human-rights record, and that international concern over Ashtiani's fate is all part of some Western conspiracy to defame Iran.

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EGYPT: Women breaking culture barriers in upcoming parliamentary elections

20-09-05-86178981An unprecedented number of female candidates is running for parliamentary elections later this month following the passage of a new law that guarantees a certain percentage of seats to women. 

Sponsored by the ruling National Democratic Party and approved by parliament in June 2009, the quota bill designates 32 new seats in parliament for women. Though the official number of female candidates won't be announced until next week, the Higher Elections Commission stated that 379 women applied to run for the new seats.

These figures do not include hundreds of other women running against men in many districts across the country.  

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EGYPT: Activists plan online map to track sexual harassment

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Egypt has earned notoriety for being one of the worst countries in the Middle East when it comes to sexual harassment, and women's rights groups have previously described the harassment on the street as Egypt's "cancer."

What to do? A group of activists has decided to fight the leering and groping with a new private venture that, beginning in the near future, will use open-source mapping technology to identify harassment hot spots in Cairo and allow women to instantly report incidents of sexual abuse through text messaging and on social media sites.

It's called HarassMap and will reportedly run off the open-source software platform Ushahidi, which was first used to report violence in Kenya in 2008. 

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MIDDLE EAST: Iran and Saudi Arabia in controversial bid for seats on United Nations women's board

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Is it a scandal, or just business as usual?

Reports surfaced last week that Iran and Saudi Arabia are seeking seats on the board of the United Nations' highly anticipated new agency, U.N. Women, unleashing a flurry of reactions from politicians, pundits and advocacy groups.

On the one hand, Iran and Saudi Arabia have demonstrably worse track records on women's rights than many other countries. On the other, some of the outrage carries the whiff of politics.

For example, U.S. officials appear to be pushing for Iran's removal from the nomination list, but have noticeably abstained from criticism of Saudi Arabia, with which it recently concluded a $60-billion arms deal.

"If [U.N. Women] is similar to previous U.N. initiatives where countries were allowed to add conditions and still be considered as signatories, then it is an empty gesture and even an insult considering in Saudi there is no minimum age for marriage, and gender apartheid is systematically practiced everywhere," prominent Saudi blogger and women's rights activist Eman Al Nafjan wrote in an e-mail to Babylon & Beyond.

"However," she added, "if the U.N. women's rights body's aim is that Saudi and Iran join so that it may gain access to these countries through which it can educate women, raise awareness and document cases, then I'm all for it."

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LEBANON: Islamic hijab not welcome in Beirut offices, says frustrated job-seeker

-1Landing a job interview in Beirut has proved a daunting task for 21-year old Lebanese university student Lubna Mohamad.

Not because there are no jobs, but because she is veiled, she claims.

Mohamad, who sports a casual conservative look consisting of jeans, long-sleeved shirts, nail polish and an Islamic headscarf, claims she has been turned down from no less than three recent job interviews -- over the phone -- simply because she admits that she observes Islamic dress code.

When she applied for a secretarial position at a small firm in predominantly Christian East Beirut, she says the phone conversation she  had with the office manager quickly drew to an end when she asked him whether the office would have a problem with her being veiled.

"Yes, we do," was purportedly his answer.

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PAKISTAN: Fatima Bhutto on her memoir, 'Songs of Blood and Sword'

Fatima and her father

We recently interviewed Fatima Bhutto about her new memoir, “Songs of Blood and Sword.”

In the book, Bhutto traces her late father’s life and the history of her political family in Pakistan.

In two podcasts, we talked with her about the book, her research, her late aunt Benazir -- the  first female prime minister of Pakistan -- Muslim women in politics, and the massive flooding that Pakistan faces now.

Check out the full interview here: Fatima Bhutto's love-hate affair with her native Pakistan.

Pacific Time podcastListen to the podcasts here:

Podcast: Fatima Bhutto on "Songs of Blood and Sword"

Podcast: Fatima Bhutto on Pakistan's floods

-- Lori Kozlowski

 Photo (left): Author Fatima Bhutto. Credit: Benjamin Loyseau. Photo (right): Fatima writes, “Papa and I in Geneva.  He had broken his arm and I insisted on being fitted with a cast too, which I wore until his came off.” Credit: Fatima Bhutto.

IRAN: Germany steps up efforts to get detained journalists released

_46454538_-55Germany is becoming increasingly concerned over two of its journalists who were detained in the Islamic Republic last week after allegedly interviewing the son and lawyer of a woman sentenced to stoning, but without having proper credentials.

German officials have begun stepping up efforts to get the two reporters released in a case that could lead to a diplomatic row between the two countries.

During a one-hour long meeting Friday in Brussels, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle pleaded to his Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki for Iran to show "mercy" to the detainees and for the foreign minister to personally intervene in the case, both Iranian state media and German media reported.

The Iranian foreign minister offered a simple response to the plea.

"The issue of the two German nationals would be pursued in framework of law and judicial system," he was quoted as saying by the semi-official Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA).

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EGYPT: Women, children benefit from program to promote identity cards, birth certificates

Moushira-khattabAmaal Hassan Kamel has not existed officially for most of her life. The 49-year-old housewife didn't receive a birth certificate or identity card until two months ago. Like millions of Egyptian women and children, she lived in the bureaucratic shadows, unable to apply for a decent job or to request travel documents.

"My parents were very poor, and they never cared about educating or registering me," she told The Times. The mother of 8-year-old triplets said she couldn't enroll them in school "because I did not have the documents needed for applying."

Kamel now has her documents and her children started  school in September. She was one of about 3 million unregistered women and children in Egypt who were aided in a project run by the nation's Ministry of Family and Population and its National Council for Childhood and Motherhood. The program aims to raise awareness among undocumented citizens as a way to fight the country's persistent poverty.

Kamel wasn't spurred to act until "people from the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood came to us and talked to me about how essential it was to get my own birth certificate in order to secure my kids' education."

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TURKEY: Pimps, underage prostitutes seized in raid on alleged vice boat

Savarona A sex scandal has gripped Turkey after media reports emerged of how the historic luxury yacht formerly belonging to the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was turned into an floating vice den involving underage prostitutes and rich businessmen.

Turkish prosecutors are moving to take legal action against the Savarona, one the world's largest yachts, according to Turkish media reports.

Turkish law enforcement officers stormed the pompous 400-foot vessel earlier this week as it was sailing near the Turkish Mediterranean town of Gocek. They detained 14 people on board, including foreign businessmen and underage girls brought to Turkey from Russia and Ukraine for high-cost prostitution through foreign modeling agencies, reported Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper.

The young women were allegedly traded among customers for $3,000 to $10,000. 

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LEBANON: Employers hurt foreign maids with impunity, rights group says


Justice Lebanese-style: A Lebanese employer in 1999 beat and burned two maids with a hot iron. 

The employer received a fine of $333. 

In a new report presented at a news conference in Beirut on Thursday, the New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch offered some troubling statistics on the Lebanese justice system's track record for protecting the rights of migrant workers in Lebanon. 

The 54-page study, titled "Without Protection," concluded that the Lebanese judiciary generally failed to protect the rights of foreign maids who accuse their employers of mistreating them and that employers accused of abuse frequently go unpunished or only receive light sentences. 

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TURKEY: Cheerleaders go for modesty at Iran-U.S. basketball game


The United States, including Lakers star Lamar Odom, blew out Iran score-wise in the basketball game between the two teams in the FIBA World Championship in Istanbul on Wednesday with an 88-51 victory over the Islamic Republic.

But Iran may have won a smaller victory. It may have prompted the otherwise lightly clad Ukrainian cheerleaders to dress a little more conservatively for the game.

Patrick Baumann, secretary-general of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), said "special arrangements" had been made prior to the game on Wednesday regarding the dancers' outfits to respect cultural sensitivities, reported Reuters.

"It is a balance between respecting the culture and making sure basketball delivers all the pace, excitement and entertainment that goes with the World Championship," the news agency quoted him as saying at a news conference.

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IRAN: Courts confirm two more stoning sentences on adultery charges

ALeqM5hacclKFLRVKFfLATS3AyxYdzAVaA Amid the controversy and international outcry sparked by the stoning sentence handed down to a 43-year-old Iranian mother of two, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, Iran's supreme court reportedly has sentenced two more people to stoning on charges of adultery.

The court's decision came just days after the Iranian judiciary revealed fresh details about Ashtiani's case. 

According to Iran's Human Rights Activists News Agency, the court approved on Aug. 28 a verdict of stoning to death for Vali Janfeshani and Sariyeh Ebadi, convicted of having an extramarital affair.

Janfeshani and Ebadi have been held in the central prison of Orumiyeh in Iran's West Azarbaijan governorate since 2008, according to HRANA. The group said the sentences came out of a "vague and ambiguous judicial process" and that Janfeshani and Ebadi were not granted the right to choose their own defense lawyers. 

The decree of death by stoning for Ashtiani, a sentence that Iran appears uncertain about carrying out, has sparked international anger and drawn widespread criticism of the Islamic Republic. Over the past weeks, human-rights activists have staged demonstrations in dozens of international cities against the sentencing. 

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