New Age Islam Edit Bureau
15 January 2018
Waiting for the Dawn of a New Day for Women’s Rights
By Asma I. Abdulmalik
Saudi Government Largesse Sends Economists Back To The Drawing Board
By Frank Kane
Back To Fighting In Syria
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
All Saudi Citizens Are Equal
By Hassan Al Mustafa
The Bankrupt Politics of Not Teaching English in Iran’s Schools
By Hazem Saghieh
A Film About Morsi, Sisi And Egypt - Is It Too Early?
By Mashari Althaydi
Why Are Tunisians Protesting?
By Youssef Cherif
Compilede By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
14 January 2018
It took Hollywood to finally bring abuse against women to everyone’s attention. Last week, many stars took a stance by wearing all black at the Golden Globes in a striking and symbolic show of solidarity with victims of sexual harassment. The demonstration, which was part of the “Time’s Up” movement, was described as a “unified call for change from women in entertainment for women everywhere.”
The latest uprising comes in the wake of the sexual abuse allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein, which inspired many women from across the world to share their own accounts of harassment and abuse with the hashtag #MeToo. Overnight, the movement reverberated throughout the world, threatening abusers of power, discriminatory traditions and unjust institutional practices.
That being said, there is a widely injudicious misconception that abuse against women means only physical or verbal attacks. That is dangerously incorrect. Abuse against women takes many shapes, including physical, verbal, emotional, social and legislative. We may be slightly more aware of the verbal and emotional injustices that women endure on a daily basis, but seldom do we examine where other forms of exploitation and discrimination may occur.
Abuse, simply put, is to hurt. It is the misuse of power to assault, violate, subjugate, control and repress.
Abuse against women can occur in any society and at any income level. It happens in all races and religions. It is experienced directly and consequentially. From the rape and murder of the eight-year-old Zainab Ansari in Pakistan, to the rampant sexual harassment professional women face in Los Angeles.
One form of abuse against women is child marriage and the laws that still allow it. In India for example, the marriageable age for a girl is 18, but in rural communities the law is routinely disregarded. In other countries a minimum age is not specified.
Not long ago, many countries had long-established laws that allowed rapists to escape punishment if they married their victims. Only recently, civil society and increasing public awareness have challenged the norm in countries like Tunisia, Morocco and Jordan, resulting in these laws being repealed. However, they still exist in places like Iraq, Kuwait and Libya.
Another form of sexual abuse is harassment in the cyber world. According to UN Women, “one in 10 women in the European Union report having experienced cyber-harassment since the age of 15.” This includes receiving unwanted, offensive and sexually explicit emails or SMS messages, or offensive, inappropriate advances on social networking sites.
Meanwhile, millions of girls experience violence in school every year. Although both girls and boys face abuse and violence in school, the experience differs and girls are at far greater risk of sexual abuse, harassment and exploitation. Older students in universities also experience inappropriate sexual misconduct from peers or superiors. Victims constantly face the fear of retribution or retaliation by those in powerful positions.
We may only think of it as being unjust, but wage disparity is an institutional form of abuse, hurting women for decades. In the EU, for example, women earn the equivalent of 84c for every dollar earned by men. In the US, that figure is 80.5c, according to the Census Bureau. The gap is even higher for American women of color. However, change is possible. On Jan. 1, 2018, Iceland became the first country in the world to make it illegal to pay men more than women for doing the same job.
Generational preconceptions of a woman’s role as a housewife only, whose sole purpose is to bear children, cook and clean, are a manifestation of abuse. We are, of course, not referring to the stay-at-home mothers and wives who choose to dedicate their lives to loving and nurturing their families, rather the women who have been deprived of basic opportunities and who have been denied any liberties. We are referring to the women who have no say in choosing the men they marry, or those that endure verbal and physical abuse from a male figure in their family. We are challenging the beliefs of family honor and honor killings, of sexual purity and virginity, the ideologies of male entitlement, be it social or sexual, and the weak legal sanctions that perpetuate these practices.
Just as abuse is multifaceted, so are the methods of combating it. Empowering women and guaranteeing equal rights requires continued effort — this includes confronting the deeply rooted gender-based discrimination that results from social practices and patriarchal attitudes. It also includes challenging long-standing legal frameworks that have stood against women.
Indeed, as Oprah Winfrey said at the Golden Globes, “a new day is on the horizon… And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women” and, I believe, a lot of great men standing by their side.
Saudi Government Largesse Sends Economists Back To the Drawing Board
THE armies of economists who produced reams of analysis of the Saudi Arabia budget for 2018 back in December need not have bothered.
Within weeks, their calculations have been turned upside down by a series of measures from the government that radically reshaped the economic outlook for this year, with some positive consequences, but others not so welcome.
The good news comes for two important constituencies: Saudi households and Saudi businesses. Both will benefit from the government’s largesse in offsetting big price rises via value added tax and the reduction of subsidies on fuel and power, even though they will have to deal with the prospect of higher inflation.
And both will also gain from the direct stimulus to the economy that results from the latest handouts, which could lift gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the Kingdom by almost a full percentage point to as much as 3.5 percent.
The less benign effects will be felt largely by policymakers who have pinned their ambitions on reaching a balanced budget by 2023, and by the strategists who want to reduce the Kingdom’s dependence on the public sector and the oil economy. The recent measures will provide a boost for public sector workers, and only indirectly affect the non-oil economy.
They will also raise the theoretical break-even price of oil to as much as $90 per barrel, more than $20 higher than it is trading today.
There is a consensus that the recent measures will provide a further stimulus to economic growth. “The handouts are likely to support more decisively economic activity,” said Jean-Michel Saliba, Middle East economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
“The Saudi government looks set to loosen fiscal policy this year which should support a pick-up in economic growth,” agreed Jason Tuvey of London consultancy Capital Economics.
They are pencilling in non-oil GDP growth of around 2.5 percent this year, higher than previously estimated but still lower than the official forecast of 3.5 percent made in the budget statement last month.
The cost of living allowances announced for government and military employees will boost earnings by around 10 percent, roughly compensating for the price increases due to VAT, fuel and power, according to Saliba’s estimates.
That is a direct and positive stimulus to the spending power of public sector employees, but the overall effect on the economy — increasingly driven by consumer spending — will not be as great as it would have been without the recent price hikes.
“While the government is loosening fiscal policy this year, the overall impact of households is likely to be neutral. As a result, we expect household spending to remain sluggish in 2018 and a weak spot in the broader economic recovery,” said Tuvey.
One other significant effect of the increases will be felt by expatriate workers in the Kingdom. Not only will they not receive the benefit earmarked for Saudi citizens, but they will also have to pay VAT and higher fuel prices, while also contending with the increased expat levy this year, totaling SR400 ($106.6) per month. What effect this will have on foreign direct investment remains to be seen. “Expatriate households look set to be the main losers,” said Tuvey.
On a macro-economic level, the main effect will be to increase the public spend in the current year. The December budget statement was already regarded as expansionary, after three years of oil-price driven austerity, but subsequent additions to expenditure — by the Public Investment Fund and other government agencies not included in budget figures, even before the recent measures — guarantee a year of fiscally-led growth.
The deficit required to fund that could increase to $20 billion, according to Saliba, or 3 percent of GDP. The commitment to balance the budget in five years’ time, confirmed in the December budget statement, looks even more ambitious.
The variable, of course, is the price of oil, which has been moving steadily upwards in recent weeks. “The recent jump in oil prices no doubt reassured the authorities that they could afford to react to signs of public discontent (regarding price increases),” said Tuvey.
“The loosening in fiscal discipline exposes the budget to the volatility in oil prices. The Royal Order (granting the allowances) pushes the 2018 fiscal breakeven oil price up by about $5-7 per barrel, toward $85 to $90,” said Saliba. Not even the most bullish analysts of crude have suggested it could go anywhere near that, barring major geo-political shocks.
But weaker fiscal control does not appear to have affected how international finance sees the Kingdom’s economy, at least for the time being.
Standard & Poor’s, the credit ratings agency, continues to assess the Kingdom’s creditworthiness as “stable” with grades of A- and A2. “We think the risks emanating from recent shifts in Saudi Arabia’s political power structures and societal norms, alongside various regional stresses, are balanced by the possibility that these structural reforms could empower Saudi citizens and make Saudi Arabia more attractive to investors over the medium term,” said S&P analyst Trevor Cullinan.
By Abdulrahman al-Rashed
The war in Syria did not stop but the fighting decreased as arrangements are underway to end it. Promises to achieve a “peaceful” settlement have spread optimism to the point that several governments sent back their ambassadors to Damascus and the opposition was declared dead. “Victorious” parties, i.e. Assad’s government, Iran and Syria, began to act arrogantly by ignoring the Geneva conference as they think the Sochi negotiations are the only means to finalize Syria’s fate as per their wishes. Iran increased its military presence and its armament of Hezbollah. It seems this is all an attempt to finalize the last days in its favor and to impose its presence after the war.
Indulging in this behavior made warring parties return to war. The fighting is raging in Idlib, the South Aleppo Front, Damascus’ suburbs and East of the Euphrates in Deir az-Zour. There are also the mysterious attacks which destructively targeted Russian troops in the Khmeimim base in Latakia.
David Satterfield, the acting assistant secretary at the American Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the American government is against Iran’s presence in Syria, adding that this was a strategic matter. This frank statement is significant and dangerous, and it explains a lot about recent developments, including the Sochi conference’s inability to achieve any progress, the resumption of the fighting, the UN delegate’s retreat on backing the political solution and the Israeli attack on Iranian military posts near Damascus.
Overturning The Formula
If Washington really rejects Iran’s and Hezbollah’s presence in Syria and believes this principle is a pillar of its policy towards Syria, then it’s capable of overturning the formula and thwarting everything which the Syrian regime achieved with the help of its allies.
Since Turkey is no longer in harmony with Washington, some may think that the Americans lost the most important front surrounding Syria and which is no longer part of the war. This is partially true. However, the Americans have enough allies to impose their conditions to get the Iranians out of Syria or to destroy their project of militarily settling in the country. There are also Israel and the Syrian Democratic Forces which some Free Syrian Army battalions joined in East Euphrates. There is also the opposition in the South, near the Jordanian borders. As long as the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and its foreign militias are stationing in Syria, we will witness a new round of the Syrian war. It will be like quicksand that’s centred against Iranian forces.
As for the Russians, Satterfield think they will reconsider their presence when they realize that the war does not serve their interests on the long run and that the alliance between them and the Iranians will not last for long.
The relapse in negotiations to end the Syrian war is no surprise as they’ve actually failed to recognize the most important factor resulting in tensions and which is the presence of Iranian forces and their militias. For the Syrian people, their presence there is a recognition of occupation that’s being legitimized at the expense of Damascus’ weak regime. For the region’s countries, it marks a dangerous change in the balance of regional powers. The Iranian-Syrian-Russian tripartite wanted to quickly plan a peace deal in Sochi while benefitting from regional and American leniency and military progress. They could have done so but it’s very difficult to ignore and overlook the Iranian factor which Washington thinks confronting it is part of its strategy that did not exit few months ago.
The first week of January witnessed the reception of King Salman bin Abdul Aziz to the family of the judge of the Department of Endowments and Heritage in Qatif, Sheikh Mohammed al-Jirani, to present his condolences to the family of the deceased, who died after being kidnapped by a group of terrorists who killed him.
The broadcasting of some pictures of the reception by the Saudi media and the official news agency has its own significance. It is a reception for the family of a Saudi-Shiite judge, who has been subjected to violence and terror from people of his own city and who share the same Islamic doctrine he embraced. Nevertheless, that did not prevent them from killing him in an act that violates the law and human rights.
This royal reception of the Jirani family sends a message that there is a strong will in the face of extremism and violence, whatever its source, and whatever its doctrine, without any distinction or discrimination between a Sunni rifle or a Shiite rifle, as long as they pose a threat to the safety of citizens and the state.
The second message highlights that all citizens are equal; there is no difference between the inhabitant of one city and another, and between one sect and another. Saudis are partners in this country, within a civil entity that is the “state”, which governs them according to the principle of the “rule of law”.
These messages come in harmony with previous statements of King Salman bin Abdul Aziz, when he pointed out that “there is no difference between one citizen and another and one sect and another. The sons of the homeland are equal in rights and duties.” He also underlined that: “the systems of the state are integrated in the maintenance of rights, justice, and to address the reasons for division and discrimination.”
Shift to Institutional System
This statement, which goes back to 2015, is gaining ground, while the Saudi society, with its governmental and civil institutions, is becoming more civil, modern and efficient. Saudi society is experiencing a shift to an institutional system, the principle of equal opportunity, and the reference to “law”, away from fundamentalist, sectarian, regional and nepotistic influences.
Hence, the importance of establishing the principle of “rule of law” is paramount, as it is the main code for citizens to take their rights or to settle their disputes. This is one of the important guarantees of the permanence and stability of the modern state, according to Baruch Spinoza, who believes that “the state that survives is necessarily the one whose laws remain, when they are placed tightly, punishing every transgression,” stressing that “laws are the spirit of the state. If the law is immortal then the state is inevitably immortal.”
In the same context, Spinoza explains that the survival of these laws can only be done “under the tutelage of both common reason and human emotions.” In other words, the state is not governed by the internal desires and tendencies but rather by impartial logical laws with a strong intense will to protect these laws, and guard them from aggressions, violations and abuses that occur between now and then!
In the new Saudi Arabia, violating the citizenship of the individual or degrading him will not be accepted, as provided by the regulations, and protected by the royal will.
Decades ago, there was a story that spread in Lebanon and Syria about a ‘heroic’ student, who got zero in the French language during the French mandate, which made him a hero, as he hated and boycotted the language of the colonist.
The irony, which was made as a cliché by some, is that it expressed a certain temperament in patriotism: a primitive and extremely crude one.
Nasserism and the Left introduced later richer meanings for ‘patriotism’: development, dependency and independence from the capital market.
The main issue is the economy, not the language. But the policies of nationalizing of education and foreign trade, and rejecting foreign mediation, have revived that joke or cliché.
Countries like Egypt, Iraq and Syria, which were the most developed countries in the Arab world, became incapable to speak the foreign languages and in the competencies associated with it. Globalization, which made English the world’s first language, and gave knowledge, free imagination and innovation an unprecedented role in the economy, revealed the flaws of nationalization systems.
Their weak presence in production, productivity and competition was revealed.
Meanwhile, in his novel ‘Learning English’ the Lebanese novelist Rashid Al-Daif learned English as a necessity so as not to fall into revenge and murder. This, of course, did not negate the theories left to us by the American universities, saying in their own way that he who gets ‘zero’ in foreign languages is a ‘hero’.
Ali Khamenei’s Order
Days ago, these headlines were all brought back to life, when Ali Khamenei said no to teaching English Language for primary school students in Iran. That’s how he believes he repulses the “cultural invasion” and strengthens the Persian language.
At the same time, Khamenei was disrupting the social media. Thus the secondary school and university students (many of whom were recently arrested) should not know much as well. What we have is more than enough.
There are some delusions that does not hide the void of nationalism: If the recent protests were of an economic nature, the response was of a cultural nature, or rather an educational one. Bets on the gains of lifting sanctions did not work. The requirements for extensive bribery were not collected. Economic and financial gains from the West were not achieved. The Iranians protested angrily in the streets. Their government prevented teaching English Language for primary stage students and disrupted social media for the older ones.
It is a rough and clear interpretation of the theory which combines the desire to have a real benefit from the economic ‘dependence’, and the ‘cultural’ outcry against it and its ‘prevalence’.
The regime, which had previously launched a miserable ‘cultural revolution’, is raising the Iranians badly and preparing them to be losers in this world. Thus, it declares the corruption of its supreme paternity over the Iranians. It establishes other rituals for growing up, painful and punitive, and by this decision the regime declares that staying in power means that children must stay children, but rather stupid ones.
Most probably, the anger of a child who knows that he is doomed to remain a child, creates miracles.
13 January 2018
Without much publicity, we have now come to know that an Egyptian film will be released in May, dealing with the details of the relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian army, the two major events that shook the country of Canaan, and all the cataclysmic milestones experienced by Egypt from January 2011 until June 2013.
The film was titled “Days of Rage and Revolution”, and then changed to “Very Confidential”. The cast is spectacular to say the least, from the professional scriptwriter Wahid Hamid, the man behind Al-Gama'a series in its two parts, and a tremendous record of filmmaking. Then we have a series of stars such as Mahmoud Hamida, Ahmed Saqqa, Mohammed Ramadan, Khaled Al-Sawi, Nabil Al-Halafawi, Ahmed Rizk and Abdel-Aziz Makhion. The movie is produced by businessman and media figure Ahmed Abou Hashima with Kamel Abu Zekri.
The characters of the current president, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi and the man behind the Brotherhood, Khairat al-Shater, will be characterized in the film, as well as the head of the military council, Marshal Hussein Tantawi, and of course the isolated president Mohamed Morsi, the western wall for the Muslim Brotherhood.
Is it too early to produce a film without much perspective, especially since the events tackled in this picture are still playing out in the current state of affairs? Can the audience really watch this movie without being blindsided?
Or are we always supposed to wait years before reading a novel or watching a film about historic events?
Lack Of Perspective
It is common that the literature tackling major events turn out to be biased for a lack of perspective. Then these sentiments cool off, allowing for a more scrutiny and enduring study.
As such, the far away we move back in history, the more we become objective. Nevertheless, this is not a static law, nor a moral one. We are faced with a constant flow of emotional writings today about the era of Nasser, both in favor and against him, despite his passing half a century ago. The same thing is true when dealing with influential figures such as The Leader Abdul Karim Qasim and Nuri al Said in Iraq.
Egyptian creativity and art is overwhelmingly rich with the political, social and artistic history of Egypt. There are dozens of works of art about the great personalities, not only in politics but in art and public affairs, such as Taha Hussein and Jamal al-Din al-Afghani.
The rest of the world, especially in the Arabian Peninsula, don’t have any theatrical or dramatic work except for a few, such as the work of the Kuwaiti novelist Ismail Fahad Ismail about the famous poet Muhammad ibn Laboun.
But Egypt on the other hand has always been a leader in this field.
Today marks the seventh anniversary of the fall of Tunisia's dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. But instead of celebrating, Tunisians are out in the streets again. What went wrong?
The dictatorship established in the 1950s, which morphed into a police state in the later decades, banned politics and pushed citizens away from their country's public affairs. The Tunisian revolution swept away that closure and created the Tunisian homo-politicus. Since January 2011, Tunisians have become incredibly politicised and the political system has been opened to all. Yet what the Revolution did not do was create a Tunisian homo-economicus. The Tunisian economy remained mismanaged.
Anger boiled over when the political opening reached its limits and that mismanagement was no longer tolerable.
In fact, the economic situation has worsened since 2011. The country's public debt jumped from 39.2 percent of the GDP in 2010 to 60.6 percent in 2016. The Tunisian dinar, the local currency, lost around 40 percent of its value to the US dollar. Unemployment persisted, especially among youth (around 35 percent now).
The prices of basic goods have been continually rising. Tunisians of all walks of life complain that their living conditions are deteriorating and that they are unable to make ends meet each month.
This is the main trigger of today's protests. And in a way, it was also the trigger of most of the demonstrations the country has witnessed for the past seven years. What sparked this wave of protests is the finance law which came into effect on January 1. The parliament passed the law last year and although it was discussed in the media, it did not catch the public's eye. It was only when prices went up that people paid attention.
A group of mostly young activists launched a protest campaign against the law called "Fech Nestanaou" (What are we waiting for?). They were a few dozens whose means were limited to tags on walls and distributing tracts. The police, unreformed and still working with the Ben Ali-era methods, harassed, brutalised and arrested (briefly) many of them. A smear campaign against the movement followed.
But because of the latent anger, many people went out demonstrating, independently from "Fech Nestanaou". Leftist political groups, some of them with anarchist tendencies, joined the movement as well. Protests spread in the streets of Tunis, Sfax, Jebeniana, Sousse, and other cities across the country. Criminal elements managed to take advantage of the situation and there were incidents of looting in some areas.
A Political Elite Without A People
This latest crisis comes amid a larger one which has gripped the country since the fall of Ben Ali's regime.
The elections of 2014 elevated two winners: centrist party Nidaa Tounes and the Islamist Ennahdha. Nidaa Tounes, whose political campaign was built on countering Ennahdha, accepted to form an alliance with the latter.
This led to a general disappointment among the party grassroots and a wave of resignations ensued. Then, when the party leader Beji Caid Essebsi left the party to become president of Tunisia, a succession crisis erupted and the party felt apart.
The alliance was, therefore, from the beginning, a weak one and based on mistrust. The "consensus", which was mainly the result of agreements between Caid Essebsi and Ennahdha leader Rached Ghannouchi, could not go deep into the constituencies of the two parties. It remained purely nominal. Ministers and members of parliament were disconnected from their bases and many laws and measures they passed reflected their self-interest and had limited reach.
But while weakened as a political party, Nidaa Tounes remained symbolically strong. For many "secular" Tunisians, it is the secular alternative to Ennahdha. For members of the Tunisian bureaucracy, it is the old state-party. For the international community, it is the "modernist" facade of Tunisia. As for Ennahdha's leadership, fearing the local and global hostility towards Islamism, Nidaa Tounes was a good smokescreen in which to hide. The "consensus", as dysfunctional as it is, remains the best alternative for two exhausted enemies.
Therefore, when the Parliament examined the finance law drafted by the government and largely inspired by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), there was very little opposition among the "consensus" MPs. They voted for the law, but they did not defend it in public and could not present it to their constituencies.
Additionally, due to disagreements between Prime Minister Youssef Chahed and the leadership of the political parties within his coalition government, communication about the finance law and its implementation was limited. His relationship with the president is also said to be rather dysfunctional, which adds another level to the existing deep-rooted crisis.
Empty Political Promises
The finance law was, furthermore, a blow to many Nidaa Tounes voters' expectations. During the 2014 electoral campaign, Nidaa Tounes rallied its supporters with the promise not only to counter the Islamist Ennahdha, but also to strengthen the state. Its followers saw in this promise the comeback of the strong state as it was under Tunisia's nationalist leader Habib Bourguiba (in power 1956-1987). They imagined an idealised past, where the state would provide jobs, subsidies, social security and so on, coming back.
Likewise, expectations were high among those who voted for Ennahdha; many were expecting better distribution of wealth, social welfare and more social projects. In reality, however, the Nidaa-Tounes-Ennahda government gradually applied austerity measures, decreased subsidies and limited public-sector employment.
This situation has been repeating since 2011. Economic problems lead to popular anger. Popular anger leads to popular revolt. Political parties exploit that anger to gain power by means of false promises, and then fail to alleviate the economic problems. It is a vicious circle.
Solving the current crisis will not be easy. The angry citizens will hardly accept another series of promises. Suspending the finance law may help calm the streets, but it will slow down the economy even more. The government might be sacked and Caid Essebsi and Ghannouchi might agree on appointing another prime minister, but that would mean perpetuating the vicious cycle.
Moreover, this dead-end may bring back the old practices from the dictatorship era and trigger the rebuilding of the police state. The UN OHCHR and Amnesty International have recently warned the Tunisian governments against such attempts.
There is, therefore, an urgency to find a solution, perhaps by forming a government of technocrats similar to the one that led the country to its 2014 elections in order to organise the May 2018 local elections and the late 2019 legislative and presidential elections.
The country's hope is that these elections will bring in fresh blood and different, more representative and able politicians.