Luba el-Helw is one of six female lion tamers
currently working in Egypt. Credit...Heba Khamis for The New York Times
• Egypt’s Female Lion Tamers Show the Men How to Do It
• The First Saudi Female Filmmaker Talks About 'Going Her Own Way'
• A Female Saudi Doctor Tries to Heal Divisions in The Perfect
• Iran’s Women’s Football Team 70th In FIFA Rankings
• Turkey Neutralizes Top Woman Terrorist Of PKK/KCK
• Racist Coughed in Muslim Woman’s Face and Told Her He Had
Covid-19 In UK
• Pakistan Government Urged to Do More for Female Drug Addicts
• AWS Webinar Brings Together Regional Women Leaders
• Sex Offenders May Walk As Lawmakers Mull Releasing One In Three
Compiled By New Age Islam
Female Lion Tamers Show the Men How to Do It
Egypt — At her apartment in a seaside town, Luba el-Helw, a working Egyptian
mother, faced multiple demands. She juggled business calls, prepared a chicken
dish and parried the demands of her three sons, aged 4 to 8, who were stretched
out before the TV.
her own admission, she can be pushy. That was a factor in her divorce, when her
second husband complained that she treated him “like a circus lion.” He meant
later, Ms. el-Helw strode into a circus ring wearing a leopard skin body suit
and black boots. Music boomed. Children cheered. Lions and tigers trooped out
el-Helw (pronounced hell-OU) strolled up to a perched tiger and nonchalantly
stroked its face, drawing a roar. She made a theatrical grimace.
struggle for women’s equality is lagging badly in Egypt, where only 25 percent
of women are in the labor force. Egypt ranks 134 out of 153 in the Global
Gender Gap, an index published by the World Economic Forum. But in one field,
Egyptian women are dominant.
el-Helw is one of six working female lion tamers in Egypt, mostly from the same
extended family, whose old-fashioned shows draw, and delight, legions of
Egyptians every year. Wearing spangled outfits, and using stage names like “The
Queen of Lions,” they coax big cats through rings of fire or allow them to
stroll over their bodies.
feed them myself,” said Ms. el-Helw, between shows, as she dropped a side of
donkey meat into a small cage occupied by Hairem, a 6-year-old lion. “And they
look on me as their mother.”
have always been symbols of prestige and power in Egypt. In ancient times, Pharaohs
hunted the big cats along the Nile. The Great Sphinx guarding the pyramids at
Giza, which features a human head on a lion’s body, is one of Egypt’s enduring
Ms. el-Helw, though, lions are a family business. Her grandmother Mahassen was
the Arab world’s first female lion tamer, and her father, Ibrahim, was a star
of Egypt’s state-run National Circus during its heyday in the 1980s.
father, who married three times, had seven daughters but, try as he might, no
sons. So he passed his skills, and his passion, to his daughters.
once-proud National Circus, founded in 1966, has fallen on hard times. Based at
a shabby tent by the Nile in Cairo, it sells tickets for $1.80 to $3.50, and
draws mostly school groups and working-class families.
act — clowns, jugglers, snake charmers — has a tired feel, and performers
complain about a lack of investment. Wealthier Egyptians prefer more
innovative, expensive shows like Cirque du Soleil.
much else, Egypt’s circuses have closed as part of efforts to stem the spread
of the coronavirus. Last summer, though, a giant image of Ms. el-Helw adorned
the entrance to a traveling edition of the National Circus, which had come to
Gamasa, a working-class resort on Egypt’s north coast where women lounge on the
beach in all-covering cloaks.
are not used to seeing a woman in charge. According to the World Economic
Forum, women occupy just 7 percent of managerial roles in Egypt.
in her performances, Ms. el-Helw leaves no doubt about who’s the boss. She
projects a macho persona, speaking in a booming voice and wielding batons or
whips. “People expect to see a man with a potbelly and high boots,” she said.
swaggering stage presence is mostly for show, not to intimidate the animals. In
fact, she said, she induces the lions to obey her with affection and morsels of
meat. When she has to scold them, it’s with a soft whack of her flip-flop, as
an Egyptian mother might an errant son.
the dangers are real. Ms. el-Helw produced a photo of her grandfather, Mohammed
el-Helw, who was mauled to death at the end of a show in 1972. The photo showed
a man in a gleaming suit, sitting proudly astride Sultan, the lion who killed
lore has it that Sultan so regretted the attack he refused to eat and died two
weeks later. But at least seven more attacks by other lions followed, wounding
family members and lion-taming colleagues.
2015, Ms. el-Helw’s aunt, Faten, suffered a vicious mauling that left her with
a broken pelvis. A year later, a male lion tamer at a park in Alexandria was
between shows at Gamasa, her lions and tigers were confined to small cages, and
doused with water to cool them during hot weather. After one nightly
performance, Ms. el-Helw leaned over a 6-month-old white lion cub with a
painful-looking heat rash on its chest, gingerly daubing it with a cream.
Ms. el-Helw, who was raised alongside lion cubs at their family home, insisted
that she loved her charges “like my children,” and said she could not even bear
to watch animals attack one another in wildlife documentaries. “I look away,”
family’s circus story started in the Mediterranean port of Damietta, Egypt,
over a century ago, she said. Her great-great-grandfather was so enthralled by
the Italian acrobats that performed for passengers on passing ships that he
learned their tricks and passed them to his sons.
as the speakers blared the theme from “Jaws,” Ms. el-Helw balanced a skewer
with meat between her teeth, and presented it to a lion who snacked on it,
licked his lips and strolled away.
el-Helw’s younger sister, Ousa, who performed at a circus in Suez this winter,
had a narrow scrape recently; a tiger clawed her neck during a performance. She
didn’t take it personally.
the coronavirus closed in on Egypt in recent weeks, Ousa el-Helw transported
her eight lions and two tigers to a desert compound outside Cairo, where they
will wait for the show to resume.
bigger blow, both sisters said, was the death this year of their father,
Ibrahim, 74. He taught them how to love lions, how to punish them, and the
importance of treating them with respect.
first Saudi female filmmaker talks about 'going her own way'
this month’s ‘Go Your Own Way’ issue, the Saudi filmmaker talks life, work and
started to make short films, just as a hobby or as a kind of therapy, to deal
with the frustrations I faced as a woman in Saudi Arabia. Making films for me
was a place to find freedom, to liberate myself from the constraints of my
conservative culture and connect with the bigger world. And I have loved film
since I was little. As a working woman in Saudi Arabia I felt invisible, like I
had no voice. I was sick of being
ignored but then I found a voice in film.
was just a hobby for a long time, more than anything else, but it gave me such
satisfaction in the art of creation. And
I started submitting my work to all the regional film festivals and I was
shocked that one actually invited me.
They were the ones that said: “Did you know you are the first female
filmmaker from Saudi Arabia?” That was
really something to hear, and such a motivator for me to keep going in the
were quite a few people who opposed my work at the beginning. Unlike a lot of Saudi girls, I was very lucky
to have the support of my parents.
Instead of trying to control me, my father told me to believe in myself
and never let anyone limit my belief of what I can achieve. He never listened
to anyone or compromised when it came to his daughters’ freedom.
used to get letters from our extended family, his friends, his colleagues and
the Imam of the mosque in front of our house asking him to get me under control
and put a stop to my career as a filmmaker. But he was so proud and never
cared. I feel really blessed that my father was not only liberal and encouraged
me to follow my dreams, but that my mother was such a strong person and didn’t
care about what other people thought. Most Saudis have this real, legitimate
fear of being labelled as “different” or outside of the system, but my mother
and father didn’t care.
my culture as an integral part of my work and could never separate myself from
it. Of course it was incredibly difficult to make a film in 2011, and people
were still very hesitant to embrace any public form of artistic expression, but
the culture is really the heart of the story. For me, telling stories from the
unique place that I am from is very rewarding.
course now a lot of the restrictions on art have been relaxed and everything is
different, and we have cinemas going up all across the Kingdom, but the larger
issue of a lack of infrastructure in the film industry remains. We have a lot of work to do in building up
the tools and resources necessary to make quality films. We don’t have many people with experience in
the field yet so putting together a crew and getting the right equipment is
very difficult. Getting the proper training and education necessary to help
craft and shape our stories is another key area that we need to develop.
developing an animated film called Miss Camel, about a camel that wants to
compete in the Miss Camel beauty pageant. It is a fun story that examines the
perceptions women have of themselves in the Kingdom and the ways they form
their aspirations. I hope to continue
making as many movies as I can in Saudi Arabia.
It is such a ripe environment for drama, and there are so many untold
stories yet to be told. The interplay
between tradition and modernity creates just the right amount of tension for
female Saudi doctor tries to heal divisions in The Perfect Candidate
Maryam is going to change the world. A young Saudi doctor in a small-town
clinic and heroine of the charming new film The Perfect Candidate, she is
intelligent, articulate — and fearless. The story built around her (as played
by Mila Al Zahrani) finds her running for office in municipal elections, facing
down the oil state patriarchy. Naturally, the result will be filled with
stirring rhetoric, enough to get us up on our chairs cheering the forward march
of progress. Won’t it?
and, as it turns out, no. The most subversive aspect of Haifaa al-Mansour’s
film may be the kind of change it puts in front of us: inching not sprinting,
some way from perfect. Turn the clock back and the film could be an Ealing
comedy, satire served wry. The tone is set from our first meeting, Maryam in
white coat and black niqab so that only her eyes are visible, an old man
arriving as a banged-up emergency. Elsewhere, there might be a life-or-death
race to the operating theatre. Here, treatment is held up as the patient
refuses at length to be treated by a woman, a stream of moaning chauvinism
issued from the gurney. Such, we assume, is an average day at work for Maryam,
at the end of the dirt road that leads to the hospital, churned into quagmire
by an unfixed burst pipe.
campaign for the local council arrives by accident, after pinballing through a
Saudi bureaucracy that treats unmarried women as children. Her signature
policy? Simply getting that road to the clinic repaired. But of course, the
election will feel seismic in a society where the divide between the sexes
plays out in a thousand formal decrees and tiny condescensions. The senior
doctor who overhears the furore at the start of the film bustles out from his office
not to berate the old man — but to instruct Maryam to find him a male nurse.
Later, a local TV host praises her for giving voice to the real concerns of
Saudi women — such as gardens. If only other women were reliable supporters.
“Showing off for the men,” sneers one, even after the candidate veils her whole
face in her campaign video.
the heat of political battle, Maryam’s silhouette makes a potent image, the
kind another film might have found sweeping the nation. Al-Mansour is too
honest for that. Throughout, the film nods to the stutter of Saudi modernity,
competing with the nag of religious conservatism. (Like Maryam, the director is
change personified — her 2012 film Wadjda was the first ever made by a Saudi
woman.) Maryam’s big speech arrives eventually — duly interrupted by loud and
hostile men, elbowing the moment into another near-farce. She keeps talking
anyway. Sometimes, the film suggests, that much can be enough.
women’s football team 70th in FIFA rankings
remain Asia’s top-ranked women’s national team after a successful Olympic
qualifying campaign, while three successive losses saw Japan drop out of the
global top 10 in the latest FIFA World Ranking update.
two-time defending world champion Americans, who won the recent SheBelieves
Cup, accrued 2,181 points. Second-ranked Germany was next at 2,090, with France
(2,036), the Netherlands (2,032) and Sweden (2,007) rounding out the top five.
neutralizes top woman terrorist of PKK/KCK
neutralized a terrorist said to be a top-ranking woman member in the PKK/KCK in
northern Iraq, according to security sources.
intelligence and army-led operation successfully targeted Nazife Bilen –
codenamed as Hacer Guyi or Hacer Hilal – in the Qandil region, the sources
said, making it the most sensitive operation ever targeting a woman operative
of the terror group.
National Intelligence Organization (MİT) started gathering instant information
about the target through the local network elements it established in the
region months ago, the sources said.
also carried out detailed works to prevent civilians from being affected by the
operation and to destroy the target with a single shot.
was among the founders of the PKK’s women branch after receiving political and
military training from Abdullah Öcalan, now the jailed leader of the PKK terror
group, in Syria and Lebanon.
is responsible for the murder of over 40,000 innocent people and has a lengthy
criminal record in drug and human trafficking, money laundering, child
abduction, and other organized crimes.
believe the absence of Bilen will affect the morale and motivation of the
PKK/KCK’s women group at the first stage, adding that such a high level of loss
for the first time in Iraq will have short and mid-term effects on the terror
coughed in Muslim woman’s face and told her he had Covid-19
racist man coughed in the face of a Muslim woman and told her he had the
coronavirus (Covid-19) before calling her a ‘raghead’ after she challenged him.
described how she did her best to avoid him when walking in the high street,
but the man turned towards her and got in her face.
the assault, she informed him, that after already experiencing Covid-19 and
that she could not catch it again, he swore at her and used the racial slur
‘raghead’ before leaving.
assault demonstrates how the racialisation of Muslims and their religious
clothing, harms all Muslims, irrespective of their ethnicity.
gendered nature of this abuse and violence demonstrates the intersecting
influence of misogyny, given the gendered stereotypes of Muslim women who wear
the hijab (or other forms of religious clothing) as being ‘meek and
submissive’, are themes explored in various Tell MAMA annual reports.
assault has left the woman feeling anxious and fearful of a similar attack,
though the lockdown has created a sense of safety.
government urged to do more for female drug addicts
Today, Haseena Bibi, 43, is clean from substance abuse. But says she cannot
recall any significant events in her life since 2014 — when she first became
addicted to drugs.
time came when, without heroin, my entire body would feel paralyzed, and I
would remain in bed for days because of the unbearable pain,” Bibi, a mother of
two, told Arab News from her residence in Peshawar’s Pishtakhara Payan village.
to a report published by the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC)
and Pakistan’s Ministry of Narcotics Control in 2013, 6.7 million people in
Pakistan had taken drugs at some point in their lives, while 4.4 million were
addicted and needed immediate attention. That report is the latest official
information available on drug abuse in Pakistan.
report added that women accounted for 22 percent of the total number of drug
addicts, with the highest prevalence in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province,
of which Peshawar is the capital.
KP province shares a long and porous border with Afghanistan. A sophisticated
network of smugglers use illegal routes to smuggle drugs into the country,”
Mian Iftikhar Husain, a psychiatrist who runs a psychiatry and rehabilitation
clinic in Peshawar, told Arab News.
availability of cheap drugs attracts young girls and women, as it helps them
escape the worries and monotony of their lives,” Husain said.
agrees. She says she was living a healthy life before her husband became
addicted to hashish. He was unemployed, meaning financial responsibility fell on
her husband ran away from their family home in 2013, Bibi says had to take on
menial work to support herself and her two children. One day, in between jobs
as a domestic helper at various houses, she was introduced to heroin with the
promise that “one sniff will make you forget all your worries.”
the time, I didn’t know it was heroin. Slowly, I became addicted,” Bibi said,
adding that she finally decided to seek help after realizing that she had been
trapped by heroin smugglers who initially did not charge her for the drugs, but
had made her “so dependable that I couldn’t function normally without taking
two to three doses a day,” at which point, the dealers began to demand payment.
came in the form of a local doctor who referred Bibi to Peshawar’s Dost Welfare
Foundation (DWF) where she met Dr. Parveen Azam Khan.
was one of our most critical and chronic cases with a long history of heroin
addiction. Her story touched a chord, and since she was from an impoverished
background with no one to visit her, except her son, our team would give her
special attention,” the 81-year-old doctor — and recipient of the Tamgha
Imtiaz, the country’s highest civilian award, in 2004 — told Arab News. What
followed was 15 days of rigorous treatment, with constant monitoring and
support extended by DWF, which treated Bibi free of cost.
also provided aftercare and follow-up services for almost 18 months after the
completion of treatment. The patients attend relapse prevention sessions at the
center and are contacted by our staff at least twice a month,” Khan said.
being established in 1992 as KP’s first drug rehabilitation center, DWF has
treated around 2,000 people every year. However, only about 25-30 of those are
women, according to Khan.
is very unfortunate that despite 22 pecent of drug addicts being women, only 1
percent (of those women) opt for rehabilitation. This is due to social taboos
and the fear of being ostracized by society,” she said.
believes that the government should step in and devise a strategy to limit the
spread of this social evil. She suggests supporting and allocating funds to
Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) working for a reduction in demand for drugs
as a priority.
make individuals powerless. In this part of the world, women are already
vulnerable, and drug-related issues are a social stigma, so people avoid
talking about it,” she said, adding that it is essential to support and
rehabilitate female drug addicts “as the foundation of an entire family depends
years, I kept my addiction a secret, hiding it from my family for fear that it
might destroy the lives of my children,” she said.
the time since her treatment, Bibi’s daughter has gotten married, and her son
took a job at a factory to support the family.
hope I never go back to using drugs. Today, I’m finally free,” she said. “It
seems as if a nightmare has ended.”
webinar brings together regional women leaders
Awal Women Society (AWS) celebrated its 50th anniversary by hosting a webinar —
or virtual forum — bringing together women leaders from across the local and
regional spectrum. Representatives of international civil society institutions,
women’s groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) also participated in
the online event, which was sponsored by Finmark Communications and EMIC
by the global COVID-19 pandemic, while the AWS virtual forum falls in line with
efforts mandated by the government of Bahrain to combat the spread of the
coronavirus, it also highlights the leading role played by AWS in focusing on
empowering women in the IT sector and using technology to further the cause of
keynote speakers at the AWS virtual forum included: Nasser Al-Qahtani,
executive director at the Arab Gulf Program for Development (AGFUND); Jihan
Almurbati, UNDP representative; Abeer Daham, head of Women Support Center at
the Supreme Council of Women; Yasmeen Al-Sharaf, head of fintech and innovation
unit at the Central Bank of Bahrain; Nusrat Alnajjar, AWS chairperson; Abdul
Rahman Sindi, general manager, IT, Transworld; Ahmed Alhujairi, CEO, Gulf
Future Business; Dr. Naeema Al-Gasseer, WHO representative in Sudan; and Zahraa
Taher, managing director, Finmark Communications.
chairperson Alnajjar said: “Our 50th anniversary virtual forum focuses on
empowering women in a high-tech environment, which is the barometer for success
in any society nowadays.”
executive director of AGFUND, added: “This unprecedented virtual forum
showcased the role played by AWS over the past five decades and its great
contributions in building sustainable partnerships that are paving the way for
achieving the sustainable development goals outlined in Bahrain’s Economic
Vision 2030 program.”
was one of the leading donors that recognized the significant role played by
civil society entities such as AWS in Bahrain to empower women and serve our
societies with the best developmental practices. Our long partnership with AWS consists
of many projects that helped many Bahraini women to become successful
offenders may walk as lawmakers mull releasing one in three Turkish prisoners
Cupolo March 25, 2020
— As the coronavirus pandemic continues worldwide, Turkish authorities are
drafting measures to reduce the nation’s prison population in an effort to stop
the disease from spreading among inmates.
Tuesday, lawmakers with Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party and the
allied Nationalist Movement Party submitted a law proposal to opposition party
members that would release about 100,000 of the nation’s 300,000 inmates,
switching select convicts’ jail sentences to extended probation periods to
relieve overcrowded penitentiaries.
measure has drawn sharp criticism from women’s rights groups, who note the
draft law would reduce punishments for sex offenders and convicts of
gender-based violence, potentially endangering women, children and victims of
domestic abuse across Turkey.
Kav, a spokesperson for the Istanbul-based We Will Stop Femicide Platform
(Cinayetleri Durduracağız Platformu), said reports of domestic violence have
increased in recent weeks as women are stuck indoors with abusive family
members amid the coronavirus pandemic, and that releasing offenders would only
worsen Turkey's circumstances.
we’re trying to take precautions to reduce violence against women in this
pandemic, this draft law is doing the complete opposite and we find it
absolutely unacceptable,” Kav told Al-Monitor.
copy of the draft law obtained by Al-Monitor includes protocols that would
conditionally release nonviolent offenders who have completed half of their
sentences, though such measures were not extended to political prisoners or
those convicted of terrorism and murder.
proposal would release prisoners convicted of sexual assault, gender-based
violence and drug trafficking who have completed two-thirds of their sentences,
a shift from current laws that bar the release of such convicts before they
complete at least three-fourths of their sentences. Those released would
complete their sentences outside prison walls through an extended probation
reduction is legitimizing these actions by men and this draft law will increase
violence against women,” Tuba Torun, a lawyer focusing on women’s rights issues
in Turkey, told Al-Monitor.
added, “I received many messages from women who say they are terrified because
the fathers, brothers and partners that used violence against them will be
released and they could come back and continue that violence.”
cases have surged in Turkey. As of Wednesday, 1,872 confirmed cases and 44
virus-linked deaths were recorded in the country, which has seen a steep rise
in infections since the first case was announced two weeks ago. On Tuesday,
Turkey's first inmate with the coronavirus was diagnosed in Ankara’s Sincan
prison and has since been transferred to intensive care.
health concerns, human rights groups and 14 Turkish bar associations have
called for the release of political prisoners, such as former Peoples’
Democratic Party co-chairs Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, journalist
Ahmet Altan and human rights defender Osman Kavala. The Turkish authorities
have yet to respond.
draft law will apply to certain crime groups. For example, mafia leaders like
Alaattin Cakici will be released,” Eren Keskin, a prominent lawyer and co-chair
of Turkey’s Human Rights Association, told Al-Monitor. “Whereas Demirtas, who
is in prison for his opinions, will remain.”
has suffered a rise in femicides in recent years, punctuated by the murders of
Sule Cet, Emine Bulut and Ceren Ozdemir. The spate of killings drew women’s
rights defenders to condemn a judicial system they felt was negligent in
prosecuting perpetrators of sexual assault and gender-based violence.
response, Ankara has set in motion various judicial reform packages that seek
to address various legal shortcomings. While some reforms improve protections
for minor victims of crime, Kav said the draft laws introduced as part of the
coronavirus response would undermine recent progress in the judicial system.
January and February, we started to see the possibility of a decrease in
femicides and violence against women, and we were hoping to see an improvement
in laws protecting women,” Kav told Al-Monitor. “But in all extraordinary times
such as war, natural disasters or economic crises, women always pay the price,
because violence increases in periods like this.”
said there is no data regarding the impact of self-isolation measures on
gender-based violence in Turkey, but figures from China showed domestic abuse
rose threefold when families spent extended quarantine periods in their
added that victims can report incidents to local support groups and encouraged
women who feel threatened in Turkey to use digital applications such as KADES
to report domestic violence.
Cupolo is a freelance journalist and photographer based in Istanbul, Turkey.
His work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Financial Times, Foreign Policy and
The New Statesman, among other publications. On Twitter: @diegocupolo
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