passerby walking through the streets will see giant teddy bears, crimson roses,
balloons and scarlet cushioned hearts. (AP)
Saudi Anchor Claims Channel Sacked Her for Being
Divorce Stigma Scares Pakistani Women to Stay In
All-Women’s Extreme Sport Rolls into Abu Dhabi
Harper Vows to Appeal Court Ruling Allowing Women to
Wear Niqab During Citizenship Oath, Calls It ‘Offensive’
Indonesian Muslim Clerics Angered by Valentine’s Day,
Issue Fatwa against the Sale of Condoms
Saudi Women Drivers Hathloul and Alamoudi Released: AFP
Former Egyptian Diplomat Cites Progress on Women's
by New Age Islam News Bureau
Baghdad red for Valentine’s Day, Najaf shuns it
14 February 2015
In Baghdad, red symbols of Valentine’s Day are
markedly evident as the passerby walking through the streets of the Iraqi
capital will see giant teddy bears, crimson roses, balloons and scarlet
“Baghdad is now red,” Hameed Qassim, director of news
at the local Al-Sumaria Channel, told Al Arabiya News.
“Preparations to celebrate the occasion started two
weeks ago with shops selling red teddy bears and flowers. Red became the
overriding color in Baghdad,” Qassim explained.
Some people on social media criticized those who are
celebrating Valentine’s Day since Iraq is a facing a ferocious battle to defeat
extremist militants seizing parts of the country. However, others decided to
enjoy the occasion.
“Iraqis, like any other people of any other nation,
they want to live, they already have suffered enough,” Qassim said.
He added: “Iraqis sent a clear message that they want
to relish life when they defied the Iraqi authorities and the curfew and stayed
till the morning to celebrate New Year in Baghdad.”
Despite persistent violence plaguing the country, Iraq
on Feb. 8 ended night curfews, which were in place since the aftermath of the
U.S.-led invasion of 2003.
In southern Basra, Iraq’s third largest metropolis,
celebration is on the way.
“Just like last year, a group of volunteers will give
the passerby at the Al-Huriya Square and Basra Corniche flowers, Iraqi flags
and will recite poetry marking the occasion,” Louay al-Khamisi, head of the
Basra-based NGO “Peace and Love Association,” told Al Arabiya News.
“People even started celebrating yesterday [Thursday]
till 11 p.m., reciting poetry at the square,” he said.
“A Basra individual is a loving person,” he described,
adding “unfortunately there is an intentional lack of media coverage for this
occasion, because people in power fight such occasions since they want to
appear more religious.”
For some conservative Muslims, Valentine’s Day is seen
as an unwanted Western influence contrary to their tradition.
“Religion is about humanity, loving each other,”
“People – despite the ill-infrastructure of the city -
will still go out visit parks, and gift reach other red teddy bears and red
roses,” he said.
But Iraq represents a a wide spectrum with some cities
like the capital Baghdad seen as the most progressive while others do not
celebrate Valentine’s Day as intensely, according to some residents.
Haidar Mohammed, who hails from Nasiriya city, 370 km
southeast of Baghdad, has been married for nine years and is ready to celebrate
Valentine’s Day and for one whole week.
However, Haidar, 35, said only the “progressive
elites” celebrate Valentine’s Day at home while “in rural areas and villages,
the hegemony of the religious clergy limits the occasion.
“The clergy denigrates celebrating the day to these
people; they try to make it shameful,” he explained.
“One can see Valentine’s Day only at the shops
[selling Valentine’s Day gifts] and homes,” he said.
Famous Iraqi singer Hussian Ni’ma, who is a proud
Nasiriya native, wanted to entertain the city’s residents with a concert two
years ago, but “he was threatened. He cancelled the concert,” Haidar claimed.
In Najaf city, the story is similar.
Najaf, which is about 160 km south of Baghdad, is home
to the Imam Ali Shrine, making it especially highly revered by Shiite Muslims
who come in their millions as pilgrims on an annual basis.
On Wednesday, Najaf’s provincial council ordered the
police to follow up with the “negative activities” expected to spring from
Valentine’s Day, dubbing the celebration as an insult to the province.
Member of the council Razaq Sharif said in a
statement: “Celebrations of Valentine’s Day include wrong practices that
violate the reputation of the holy city.”
He warned “not to repeat what happened on New Year’s
Eve when immoral practices were practiced by some individuals in Al-Rawan
Street [in Najaf].”
Ahmed Sameer, a Najaf resident, told Al Arabiya News
that the city’s youth in the past two years started becoming eager to celebrate
light-hearted events “to escape violence and destruction witnessed in the
“Young people started embracing new ideas, and shops
started selling hearts, flowers to young men and women” Sameer said.
When asked what the “immoral practices were,” Sameer
said the conservatives considered dancing and expressing phrases pertaining to
Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve publicly as “immoral.”
However, cities like Baghdad are likely to feel the
love as citizens prepare to celebrate Valentine’s Day with their loved ones.
Saudi anchor claims channel sacked her for being
14 Feb, 2015
RIYADH — The General Court in Riyadh is considering a
case filed by a Saudi woman who worked as a TV newscaster and program
The woman claims she was sacked from her job on an
Arab satellite channel because she was ugly.
Quoting a court source, the Makkah Arabic daily
reported on Wednesday that the woman was fired from her job because she was
"not presentable and her looks were not appealing".
The unidentified woman said she received an offer from
the satellite channel to work from their office in Riyadh as a news anchor and
"I signed a contract and when I arrived in my
office to take over my job, I ran into one of the managers who did not hide his
surprise over my appointment as a news caster and program presenter," she
The source said the manager rejected her appointment
and used insulting and hurtful language.
"Your appearance is not good enough for a TV
anchorwoman," he allegedly told her.
She said the manager asked her to interview for other
positions that would not require her to appear before the camera but she
"I will not work as an administrator, a
correspondent or do any other job behind the camera," she was quoted as
The woman alleged that her dismissal was unfair
because the contract she had signed did not mention a three-month probationary
Divorce stigma scares Pakistani women to stay in
Sidra Jabeen was forced to accept her husband’s second
marriage to avoid poverty and the social stigma that divorced women face in
The 28-year-old mother of two learned about her
husband’s secret marriage three years after their own wedding.
“By then it was too late for me to seek divorce,” she
said, “I had two daughters and was afraid for their future if they have to live
without a father. So compromise was the only option.”
Divorce is a personal decision, but in Muslim Pakistan
it may come with a lot of religious strings attached.
A body of clerics is recommending changes in Muslim
family laws to deny the right of divorce to women whose husbands remarry
without their consent.
“Islam allows a Muslim man to keep up to four wives at
a time and women should accept this,” the Islamabad-based Council of Islamic
The council is an official institution empowered by
the constitution to recommend legislation emanating from Islamic practice.
It comprises dozens of clerics and has often been
criticized by rights groups for its endorsement of polygamy and child
“A husband’s polygamy should no more be grounds for a
woman to seek divorce,” council chairman Maulana Mohamed Khan Sheerani said.
Existing British-era law in Pakistan allows women to
seek divorce in court if husbands remarry without their consent, said Rizwan
Khan, an Islamabad-based lawyer.
But the law is often abused in a male-dominated
conservative society biased in favour of men, Khan said.
In most cases, the state endorses polygamy, according
to women’s rights organization Aurat Foundation.
“The problem exists in its ugliest form among rural
communities where women heavily depend on men for both financial and social
security,” lawyer Khan said.
The Islamic council has also recommended changes to
laws dealing with divorce on religious grounds.
According to Islamic shariah, or Mohammedan
jurisprudence, a divorce can come into force either at once or over the period
of three months in phases.
The preferred mode of three months is to give couples
a chance to reset their relationship after they make the initial decision,
lawyer Khan said.
Sheerani said the council has recommended punishment
for those who seek immediate divorce.
Once again, the recommendations have enraged rights
“Clerics are overstepping their mandate by trying to
micromanage personal lives,” Islamabad-based activist Rakhshinda Perveen said.
“Their recommendations are always biased in favour of men.”
“Why do they discuss such issues when there are bigger
problems to deal with in Pakistan?” she said.
But another member of the council said it was
concerned about the rising trend of divorce in Pakistan.
“The divorce rate has been going up in recent years.
It was the need of the hour for the council to make the process difficult,”
Maulana Tahir Ashrafi said.
ABU DHABI // Played with full contact at high speed,
flat-track roller derby is an extreme sport that’s all set to take off in the
A mix of speed skating and ice hockey, the game
involves two teams hurtling around an oval track, battling for points in a
series of two-minute bouts, all of which can take up to an hour to fight out.
Canadian lawyer Tracie Scott, a former figure skater,
became obsessed with the sport in 2010 as a stress-buster. She has lost about
30lbs since taking up the game. “After a match, you feel like you’ve done a
full cardiovascular workout mixed with a strength and conditioning session,”
said the 37-year-old, who will help host a boot camp for the Abu Dhabi Roller
Derby league to recruit new players this month.
“The sport is fast and exciting and good for
spectators. There is always something happening. Because it is new here, we
explain to anyone watching how it is played.”
Roller derby involves two teams of five skating in the
same direction around the track. Game play consists of a series of short
matchups, in which both teams designate a scoring player, or “jammer”, who
scores points by lapping members of the opposing team.
The teams attempt to block the opposing jammer while
assisting their own, so all players are acting in both offence and defence.
Ms Scott, from Edmonton in Alberta, hasn’t been put
off by the sport’s physicality. “My job was pretty stressful so I was looking
for something to get into that would help relieve that. This is perfect,” she
said. “You can play it almost anywhere, in a parking lot or a warehouse.”
Roller derby has 1,250 amateur leagues worldwide, and
is growing in popularity here. Dubai has an established league, while Abu Dhabi
will stage tryouts. It is hoped the two sides will match up in a one-off clash
The tryouts will take place at Du Forum on February
27, from 9am until 5pm. The programme is open to the public and includes a
skills practice, a cardio workout and a full-scrimmage practice.
English teacher Milene Bizaki, 35, took up roller
derby in 2013. “We are a new team but the idea of a boot camp is to get more
players to take on the Dubai roller derby team,” said the Brazilian, who now
lives in Abu Dhabi.
“It is a new sport for the area, and we are mostly
expats from Canada, Australia and America, so a lot of us are learning every
time we go out to play.”
Knee and elbow pads, a helmet and mouth guard are compulsory,
and players use the more stable quad-skates. Although there are junior, male
and mixed roller derby leagues in other countries, ADRD has an all-female
league only at the moment.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or
visit the ADRD Facebook page.
The federal government will appeal a court ruling
allowing a Muslim woman to wear a Niqab while taking the oath of citizenship
because it is “offensive” to shield your face at the moment you are being sworn
in, the prime minister said Thursday.
Zunera Ishaq, the Toronto woman who challenged the
government’s policy forbidding the wearing of facial coverings during the
swearing-in part of citizenship ceremonies, said Thursday she was upset by the
prime minister’s remarks but vowed to continue fighting through the court
“I’m not frustrated,” she said. “I’m determined.”
Just a day earlier, Ishaq, the mother of three, had
expressed how excited she was at the prospect of becoming a citizen after a
federal judge had deemed the niqab ban — introduced by former immigration
minister Jason Kenney in 2011 — unlawful.
Judge Keith Boswell said the policy didn’t jive with
the government’s own regulations, which require citizenship judges to
administer the oath with “dignity and solemnity, allowing the greatest possible
freedom in the religious solemnization or the solemn affirmation thereof.”
But Stephen Harper told reporters Thursday that
covering one’s face during the swearing-in ceremony is “not how we do things
This is a society that is transparent, open and where
people are equal
“I believe, and I think most Canadians believe that it
is — it is offensive that someone would hide their identity at the very moment
where they are committing to join the Canadian family,” he said.
“This is a society that is transparent, open and where
people are equal, and that is just, I think we find that offensive; that is not
acceptable to Canadians and we will proceed with action on that.”
Ishaq, a Pakistani national and devout Sunni Muslim,
says her religious beliefs obligate her to wear a Niqab. She has said while she
has no problem unveiling herself in private so that an official can confirm her
identity, she draws the line at unveiling herself at a public citizenship
About 100 niqab-wearing women are affected by the
policy each year, according to evidence presented to the court.
Indonesia’s top Islamic clerical body threatened to
issue a fatwa against the sale of condoms following reports that the
contraceptives were being sold together with chocolate to mark Valentine’s Day.
Pictures of chocolate bars packaged with condoms have
been published in newspapers and circulated on social media in the world’s most
populous Muslim-majority country in recent days.
The Indonesian Council of Ulema’s chairman Ma’ruf Amin
said that the body was investigating the reports, adding that it was against
the sale of condoms as they “provide opportunities for people to engage in
“The sale of condoms has led to prostitution and free
sex,” he told AFP.
“We have long rejected the condomisation of our
He added that if the reports were true, “it is very
possible that we will issue a fatwa restricting the sale of condoms freely in
A fatwa is a legal opinion handed down by Islamic
Reports said that shops in Malang, on the main island
of Java, were selling the condom-chocolate offerings, and authorities in other
cities launched raids on stores in search of the items.
Muslim clerics across Indonesia have warned against
celebrating Valentine’s Day, which falls Saturday.
They regard it as a Western celebration that promotes
sex, alcohol and drug use.
Around 90 percent of Indonesia’s 250 million people
are Muslim, but the vast majority practice a moderate form of the religion.
Saudi women drivers Hathloul and Alamoudi released:
Two Saudi women who tried to defy a ban on female
driving, have been released after more than two months in jail, news agency AFP
“Yes, Loujain is free,” said a campaigner who spoke
with Loujain Hathloul after she left prison.
Hathloul “just said that she’s released and she’s
happy,” said the activist, who did not give a name.
Maysaa Alamoudi, detained at the same time as
Hathloul, has also been let out of jail, her family confirmed, according to the
activist who spoke with AFP.
“Peace be upon you, good people,” Hathloul tweeted
late on Thursday.
She and Alamoudi had been held since December 1, after
Hathloul tried to drive into the kingdom from the neighbouring United Arab
Alamoudi, a UAE-based Saudi journalist, arrived at the
border to support Hathloul and was also arrested.
Upon ascending to the Saudi throne on 23 January, King
Salman ordered a general amnesty to prisoners of ‘public rights.’ Since then, a
number of detained prisoners have been released including activist
Suad al-Shammary, who co-founded the Saudi Liberal Network discussion group
with blogger Raef Badawi.
Saudi Arabia is unique in its ban on women driving, a
topic which is widely debated in the Kingdom’s local media, Shura Council and
Former Egyptian diplomat cites progress on women's
It takes a certain amount of fortitude to defend the
government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Washington these days,
given the widespread criticism here of his record on human rights.
But in the area of gender equality, Egypt is making
progress, according to Moushira Khattab, a distinguished former ambassador to
South Africa and the Czech and Slovak republics who was instrumental in gaining
passage of a law against female genital mutilation in Egypt in 2008.
Speaking at the Woodrow Wilson International Center
for Scholars on Feb. 10 and in a subsequent interview with Al-Monitor, Khattab
pointed to the Jan. 26 decision by an appellate court to convict a doctor,
Raslan Halawa, of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a 13-year-old girl,
Soheir al-Batea, as a result of complications following genital cutting. While
Halawa's sentence was relatively light — two years in prison with hard labor —
the conviction “was a big victory for women,” Khattab said, in a society where
66% of women still endure this practice.
According to Khattab, women’s rights regressed under
the administration of President Mohammed Morsi, who was ousted in 2013 by the
military backed by a popular movement. Sisi, Khattab said, has signaled his
support for women by appointing one as his national security adviser, naming
three women deputy governors and visiting the female victim of a sexual assault
as his first act after taking office last June.
Sisi “spares no occasion to recognize the efforts of
women,” Khattab said. “Women are particularly supportive of Sisi … and I think
he’s determined to pay back women by restoring their rights.”
However, the woman appointed national security adviser
— Faiza Abou el-Naga — has a record of suppressing independent human rights
organizations, accusing them of being tools of foreign governments. Her
appointment was also interpreted as a slap against the United States and an
effort by Sisi to rebalance Egyptian foreign policy, as also evidenced by his
welcoming of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Cairo on Feb. 10.
Moreover, it is hard to separate women’s rights from
human rights and there, the Sisi record leaves much to be desired, said
Michelle Dunne, an Egypt expert at the Carnegie Endowment who was expelled by
Egyptian authorities when she arrived at Cairo airport to attend a conference
While Khattab expressed hope that a large number of
women would run in parliamentary elections this spring and that overall turnout
would be robust, Dunne noted that several important Islamist and secular
liberal parties — including the Dostour party, which is led by a woman — have
decided to boycott the vote.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party has
been outlawed, although Khattab said Brotherhood supporters could still run as
individuals. Under the current electoral law, 80% of the seats in parliament
will go to individuals and 20% to party lists. While there is no overall quota
for women, Khattab said that three women must be included on each party list.
She predicted that women would comprise at least 9-10% of the next parliament
and as much as 12-15%.
Major international organizations that usually monitor
elections are going to be absent, however, and it is hard to imagine “a free
media atmosphere,” Dunne told Al-Monitor, given the sycophancy lately expressed
toward Sisi by the Egyptian press. She noted the growing polarization of
Egyptian society between supporters of the government and those sympathetic to
the Brotherhood and banned leftist groups that led the January 25 Revolution
against President Hosni Mubarak.
Although Egypt recently freed an Australian working
for Al Jazeera, two of his colleagues remain jailed along with thousands of
other political prisoners. More than 2,000 people have died at the hands of
police in Egypt since 2013 and the country has been plagued by terrorist
attacks by Islamist radicals.
In one of the most shocking recent incidents, a young
female poet, Shaimaa el-Sabbagh, was shot and killed Jan. 24 while walking to
Tahrir Square to lay flowers in honor of those who died in the 2011 revolution
and subsequent protests.
Following a public outcry, Sisi offered condolences to
the young woman’s family and promised a thorough investigation. Press reports
Feb. 10 said that police have identified Sabbagh’s killer but did not say who
that person was.
“Whoever has committed this will be put on trial and
brought to justice,” Khattab told Al-Monitor.
Asked about the high level of violence that has
afflicted Egyptian society since 2011, including the increase in sexual
harassment of women, Khattab said “every Egyptian asks this question” and
conceded that the authoritarian nature of society under Mubarak may have
bottled up much hostility and frustration.
“At the end of the day, it’s good to have everything
out and deal with it rather than keep it suppressed,” she said.
Looking back over the wild swings in Egyptian politics
over the past four years, Khattab said, “Egyptians now are drained” and are
looking for a return to stability and law and order. “It’s a transitional
period and life is still not 100% normal,” she told Al-Monitor. “We’re still
living a revolution and it’s not over yet.”