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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 19 Jan 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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‘Unwed Bride’ Roams Cairo in Her White Dress

New Age Islam News Bureau

19 Jan 2015

Samah Hamdi's viral video project aims to dump social taboos about unmarried women in the country. The sign reads: "Would you like anything else?!" (Courtesy: Hamdi/Facebook)


 ‘Unwed Bride’ Roams Cairo in Her White Dress

 Saudis Alarmed Over Number of Unmarried Women

 Lebanon Religious Laws Violate Women’s Rights

 The Female Pioneers behind the Golden Age of Egyptian Cinema

Muslim Women Org. Condemns Islamophobic Attacks in Europe

 Isis: Jihadi Janes in Syria Incite UK Muslim Women to Violence Says ICSR Study

 Haia Objects to Children’s Dance

 Saudi Implores Authorities Not To Deport Expat Wife

 Woman Admits To Taking Part in Dh2.8m Heist

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau




‘Unwed Bride’ Roams Cairo in Her White Dress

19 January 2015

An unwed woman is roaming the streets of Cairo in a wedding dress to dump social taboos about unmarried women in the country.

In a viral, award-winning video, Samah Hamdi, 27, is seen riding the subway, walking about, and eating at a restaurant – all while donning her bridal attire.

According to Egyptian news site Ahram Online, an unmarried Hamdi was “tired of being put in a pigeonhole by her family.” She was reportedly inspired by family squabbles over the fact that she is "late" for marriage.

"I just want to appear in the way my family and mother, a microcosm of society, have always pushed to see me in," Hamdi, an interior designer who is pursuing a Master's degree in performance arts, was quoted as saying by the site.

"No matter how accomplished you are, that won't count if you aren't married or haven't undertaken the mission you were purportedly created for: getting married and establishing a family," Hamdi added.

The five-minute video art project produced 56 photographs of Hamdi going about her usual daily routine in the dress. It was shot over the course of almost a year. “The project only came to light when it was shown in the Cairo Opera House's 25th Salon of Young Artists in November 2014. There was a screening of the video, with the photos displayed on an adjoining wall coupled with twin-texts representing Hamdi's replies to the negative conventional image of unmarried women. The project won the Ahmed Basiouny prize for video installation,” Ahram Online reported.

According to official figures in 2011, almost nine million Egyptians reach 33 without tying the knot, nearly half of them women.

"[Society] believes that any other women's plans or aspirations should serve that end: you become a doctor or pursue Master's so you can land on a doctor or a better prospective groom; you dress this way so you appeal to and attract men, etc."

But Hamdi still faces conflicting ideas within her own family about the project.

“Hamdi's mother … thinks her daughter, whom she views as a ‘spinster,’ played in the stunt a role she has ‘failed to accomplish in real life’ — getting married,” Ahram Online reported. — Al Arabiya News



Saudis Alarmed Over Number Of Unmarried Women

January 19, 2015

Manama: Saudis have called for radical solutions to help address the growing phenomenon of unmarried women in the country.

The latest alarm was sounded this week by Mohammad Al Abdul Qadir, the head of Wiam Family Care Society, who said that around 1.5 million Saudi women above 30 were not married.

The figure represents 33.4 per cent of the number of women in the kingdom, he said, local daily Makkah reported.

“We need to work on a new vision for Saudi families for the next ten years,” he said. “We need solutions that are based on the consolidation of the values of family solidarity and cohesion in order to confront several phenomena, particularly spinsterhood,” he said.

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Some Saudi female activists said that the figure of unmarried women in the kingdom was around two million.

“This is a huge and scary figure that indicates an ominous social catastrophe could happen if no radical solutions are found for this phenomenon,” the activists said.

However, several Saudi women have refused to categorise spinsterhood as a dangerous phenomenon, explaining that many women preferred to remain unmarried by choice.

“There are those who have refused to get married for one reason or the other and there are those who have opted to succeed in their lives over getting into marriage,” they said.

According to the daily, many of the men who did not get married said that they did not have a steady source of income to allow them to start a family.

Social experts said the issue and causes of spinsterhood differed from one country to the other.

“In Saudi Arabia, the main problem is that some families ask for high dowries,” they said. “There is also the problem of the onerous costs of the marriage ceremonies. Such problems often push young men to seek to take foreign wives,” they said.

Even though Saudi and other Gulf men overwhelmingly prefer to marry their countrywomen, thousands of them take foreign wives.

The inability to pay large sums of money for dowry, exorbitant marriage ceremonies and high living costs have often been cited as the major reasons for Gulf men to marry non-Gulf women.

The phenomenon has pushed the Gulf countries to look for ways to address it.

One option was to encourage the concept of mass marriages in a bid to help needy grooms and brides with the high costs of ceremonies.

In 2010, Kuwait set up a committee to limit marriages between Kuwaiti men and foreign women.

In 2007, a Bahraini lawmaker caused a storm by urging his male peers to take four wives, three Bahraini women and one foreigner, in order to help address the issue of the high number of spinsters in the country.

Jasem Al Saidi, an independent who served in the lower house from 2002 until 2014, said that Bahraini men should not hesitate to wed more than one wife for the sake of the nation.

“We do not want to have spinsters in the country and we do not want a rise in the divorce rate, either,” he said. “Taking more than one wife is the solution, and I advise that the members of the Council of Representatives should set the example.”

His suggestion was promptly turned down by the other MPs.



Lebanon Religious Laws Violate Women’s Rights

January 19, 2015

Beirut: Lebanese laws and courts governing marriage and child custody “discriminate against women” from all religious groups, often trapping them in abusive unions, a Human Rights Watch report published Monday said.

The small Arab country has a fragile mosaic of Christian and Muslim communities of multiple denominations whose right to oversee their own religious courts is enshrined in the constitution.

“Lebanon has 15 separate personal status laws for its recognised religions but no civil code covering issues such as divorce, property rights or care of children,” the New York-based group said.

“These laws are administered by autonomous religious courts with little or no government oversight, and often issue rulings that violate women’s human rights.”

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The 114-page report, titled “Unequal and Unprotected: Women’s Rights Under Lebanon’s Religious Personal Status Laws,” interviews women from across Lebanon’s sectarian spectrum and analyses hundreds of legal judgements.

It says Sunni and Shiite women have limited access to divorce, while “men... have a unilateral, unlimited right to pronounce a divorce, with or without cause”.

Neither Christian men nor women are allowed to divorce, but “there are instances that allow men more grounds” for divorce or annulment.

Druze women also have limited access to divorce, “while Druze men can obtain a divorce, with or without cause”, said the report.

All Lebanese women suffer from a lack of protection from domestic violence, as well as financial vulnerability if they do divorce an abusive husband, the group said.

In 2014, Lebanon’s parliament passed a landmark law on domestic violence.

While it marked a significant step forward for women, it defined domestic violence “narrowly, thus failing to provide adequate protection”, said HRW.

In the event of conflict between the new domestic violence law and pre-existing personal status laws, the latter take precedence, the report added.

And women who decide to divorce still face serious financial consequences, as “Lebanese law does not recognise the legal concept of marital property”.

After a marriage ends, “property reverts to the spouse in whose name it is registered (typically the husband), regardless of who has made contributions to it”.

The issue of child custody is just as problematic, according to the report, violating the standards set by the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“Human Rights Watch interviewed women who stayed in abusive marriages, gave up their monetary rights, and did not remarry to maintain primary care of their children in cases where judges did not consider the best interests of the child,” the report said.

One Christian woman, Mireille, was quoted by HRW as saying: “I forced myself to bear beyond what a human being can take, all the injustices and violence. My daughters, who are my soul and my life, were the main reason... I couldn’t even bear the idea of losing them.”

The watchdog called for fundamental changes to ensure equal rights for all Lebanese, regardless of gender or religion.



The Female Pioneers behind the Golden Age of Egyptian Cinema

Jan. 19, 2015

Faten Hamama, the greatest of Egypt’s film actresses, died at the age of 83 last Saturday. Hamama, who was known as “the Lady of the Arabic Screen,” acted in about 100 films from the 1940s until 2000.

She was born in 1931, in the village of Sanblawin, and began acting in films in the Egyptian realist genre during the 1950s – the golden age of Egyptian cinema.

In these films, Hamama played women fighting for their place in Egypt’s patriarchal society – sometimes as a young woman from a rural community who flouts convention and leaves; sometimes as an urban woman who fights against the laws that discriminated against women.

Hamama appears in 18 of the 150 films chosen as classics of Egyptian cinema by the Cairo International Festival in the late 1990s, including “Struggle in the Valley,” where she met her second husband, the actor Omar Sharif.

Hamama was awarded many international prizes for her roles, including an honorary doctorate from the American University in Cairo. About a year ago, when Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi was addressing various artists and noticed Hamama in the audience, he stopped his speech, stepped from the stage and went to welcome her, as a sign of respect for her unique status as the first lady of Egyptian cinema.

Positions of power

Hamama’s passing provides an opportunity to become acquainted with the women pioneers of Egyptian cinema who preceded her – women who were active during the first half of the 20th century and held positions of power in Egypt’s film industry.

Although women in high-level positions have become something of a rarity in Egypt’s film industry in recent decades, it was not always so. Beginning in the 1920s, women were the ones who held powerful positions in Egyptian cinema – not only as actresses, but also as producers, directors, editors, soundtrack composers and distributors. And, for a brief time, they were even stronger than men within the industry.

There were six particularly prominent female pioneers: Aziza Amir (1901-1952); Assia Dagher (1908-1986); Behidja Hafez (1908-1983); Fatma Rouchdi (1908-1996); Amina Mohamed (1908-1985); and Mary Queeny (1916–2003).

Each came from a different economic and geographic background. Some were Christian, others Muslim. But they all had one thing in common: There was no man in their lives – neither father, brother nor husband – who could impose restrictions on them, keep them from working, or steal the money they earned.

In addition, a significant element that helped their professional success was that most of them were born and grew up during a time that was a turning point in the lives of women in the world in general, and also in Egypt: World War I, when the men in many countries were drafted to fight, and women went out to work.

The idea of women’s liberation had reached Egypt even before then, during the second half of the 19th century, with the influence of European culture and, even more, of the British occupation of Egypt in 1882.

Egyptian travellers who visited Europe called in their letters for the emancipation of Egyptian women, and the national struggle that peaked with the 1919 uprising led to the rapid freeing of women from the shackles of tradition and their going out to demonstrations alongside men.

A feminist movement was active in Egypt during the 1920s.

Women such as Huda Sha’arawi – the leader of the movement to free women from the obligation to wear the veil – and the Palestinian poet May Ziade, who lived in Cairo, worked hard for women’s liberation and advancement in society.

Jewish actresses paved the way

With perfect timing, the Egyptian film industry began to thrive and became one of the areas of employment where women could integrate. But it was not easy. Since theatre professions were off-limits to Muslim women, young men played women’s roles in early Egyptian theater. Later, thanks to the Jewish journalist and playwright Yaqub Sanu (also known as James Sanua) – the founder of Egyptian theatre – Christian and Jewish women who spoke Arabic began appearing on the stage. Jewish actresses paved the way for Muslim women, who began to appear on the stage around the time of World War I. But they were mostly actresses, not directors or producers.

What sets these six women apart from other actresses of the time is that they did not remain actresses.

They took professional risks and embarked on financial adventures that they often had a hard time maintaining, but they stayed on their independent path.

Some of them continued to be active during the 1950s and ’60s, but their power lessened as the years went by, and most of them died penniless.

Also, although women producers and directors existed in Egypt later on – such as Magda (born, 1931), the producer and actress (her birth name was Affaf Kamel Elsabahy), or the feminist director Inas El-Degheidy (born 1953) – they were subjected to limitations as time went on and Egypt’s film industry became more and more controlled by men.

Fading glory

There are various reasons why this happened. Unfortunately, the national independence that is often won at the end of a struggle contains men’s independence on the one hand and the restriction of women by patriarchal tradition on the other.

It is possible that the fading glory of Egyptian cinema – which dipped in the late 1960s and dived to its lowest point in the 1980s and ’90s – brought with it a reduction in the status of the women who worked in the industry.

It is also likely that the return to religion and tradition kept women from continuing to work in the cinema over the years.

Either way, it is obvious that women no longer occupy the honored place that they held in the first half of the 20th century.

The issue of women’s underrepresentation in Egypt’s film industry is one of the major issues that Egyptian director Marianne Khoury dealt with in her acclaimed documentaries “Women Who Loved Cinema” (2002, 2003).

Each of the young women interviewed recounts the difficulties she encountered in the field, and her fear of working with a production company that might dismiss her or expropriate her work.

But much has happened in Egypt since the film reached the big screen.

The founding, in 2005, of the Rotana Cinema satellite channel – the first open channel to broadcast Arab films – heralded the entry of a great deal of capital into the local film industry, which led to the renewed blossoming of the industry and an increase in the number of films produced per year.

Also, Egypt embarked on a new national struggle, which, while not calling for liberation from colonialism, definitely sought to free the country from the yoke of the previous regime, from tyranny and the ongoing exploitation of most of the population.

The Rotana Cinema channel marked its 10th anniversary on New Year’s Eve with a day of special broadcasts, which included interviews that Hala Sarhan conducted with Egypt’s best actors and actresses, past and present.

Among those interviewed was actress Ilham Chahine, who began acting in Egyptian films in the 1980s and quickly became a star. Chahine, a successful film producer, now symbolizes an important trend in the industry.

“I want to restore Egyptian cinema to what it used to be: the lighthouse of Egyptian culture,” she said in the interview.

The existence of other women producers in the industry, such as actress Mona Zaki and Sarhan herself, could be good news for Egyptian cinema, and perhaps for Egypt as a whole.



Muslim Women Org. Condemns Islamophobic Attacks in Europe


(MENAFN - Kuwait News Agency (KUNA)) The European Forum of Muslim Women has condemned the rise in Islamophobic attacks and abuse in Europe following the tragic event in Paris last week.

Mosques and veiled women were violently targeted, said the Brussels-based Forum in a press release. "In this hate-fighting climate, we must adopt a responsible attitude refusing the stigmatisation of any community. Together, we must stand united against terrorism. This is because terrorism strikes indiscriminately without distinguishing between ethnicity, gender or religion," it noted.

The Forum also strongly condemned the shooting at the headquarters of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris and called on French and European citizens to unite against violence and stand together for peace. The European Forum of Muslim Women was formed in 2006 to work within the EU to support the involvement of the Muslim woman in the society as a citizen and to defend her interests in Europe.



Isis: Jihadi Janes in Syria Incite UK Muslim Women to Violence Says ICSR Study

Mark Piggott By Mark Piggott

January 18, 2015

The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at King's College, London has monitored social media communications by some of the 50 or so British women who have gone to Syria to join Isis – many of them marrying jihadists.

It had been thought that these so-called "Jihadi Janes" played a passive role, cooking and cleaning for their men and bearing their children. However it now appears they are playing an active role both in repressing women in Syria and inciting female fanatics in the UK to commit atrocities.

Some of those now in Syria have praised the Charlie Hebdo killers and encouraged the killing of Westerners, including beheadings.

"British women tend to incite [attacks]," ICSR research fellow Melanie Smith told The Observer. "They say to people that can't move to the Islamic State: 'Why not carry out something at home?' That's a common message: if you can't leave your family behind or afford to move to Syria then carry out something."

Smith administers the first database of British female jihadists overseas, and warns that women who return from the Middle East may pose a threat to the UK.

"I don't think anyone talks about women returning as a risk," said Smith. "While they might not have the same military training, you can see women online being frustrated about the fact they can't fight and they suggest to each other that they could do something else. Women historically have been used in suicide bombings and singular operations."

British women who have gone to Syria include Chorlton twins Salma and Zahra Halane, 16, who have married Isis fighters, and Glasgow public schoolgirl Aqsa Mahmood, 20, who leads the al-Khanssaa brigade which runs brothels of sex-slaves, many believed to be from the Yazidi tribe.

Last year Mahmood tweeted: "Follow the examples of your brothers from Woolwich, Texas and Boston. If you cannot make it to the battlefield, then bring the battlefield to yourself."



Haia Objects to Children’s Dance

19 January 2015

The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, or Haia, in the Qasim region has taken exception to a video clip circulating on social networking sites featuring 8-year-old girls dancing during the ongoing Buraidah Spring Festival in Qasim.

The Haia threatened to punish those responsible for the dance video, despite the fact that members of the Haia committee were present when the dance item was included in the festival, and did not object.

Abdullah Mansour, spokesman for the Haia, denounced the video and said in a press statement that those responsible for organizing the event will be held accountable.

Mansour said that the executive director of the festival affirmed to Haia members that this mistake will not be repeated and that the responsible persons will be punished.

Although the video seemed acceptable and innocent at first, later several social networking sites featured the clip and were met with widespread criticism. Some Twitter users expressed their indignation over the clip and described the little girls as "naked women."

Conservatives exchanged angry words on Twitter with those who supported the dance. The supporters said the video is far from being immoral and showed children dancing.

Many commercial centres in Buraidah and Unaiza witness from time to time such festivals and activities where little girls present songs and poems, including the latest held last weekend, but such events in the past never aroused such media clamour.



Saudi implores authorities not to deport expat wife

18 January 2015

MAKKAH — A Saudi citizen has called on the authorities to issue a residency permit for his pregnant Indonesian wife instead of deporting her, Al-Madinah newspaper reported.

Amro Muhammad Kurdi, 26, married the Indonesian woman, who did not have a residency permit, eight years ago. The couple had a daughter and is expecting their second child as she is seven months pregnant.

“I’m extremely worried about the future of my little daughter and future baby. I know I made a mistake when I married her without obtaining proper approval from the authorities. But my hard financial situation made me do it,” Kurdi said.

Kurdi is unemployed and lives with his wife in a small two-room house, the rent of which is paid by a philanthropist in Makkah. He said high dowries and his poor financial situation made it difficult for him to get married to a Saudi woman.

So, when he started searching for an expatriate to marry, he was told about an orphaned Indonesian woman who was living with a Saudi family. The woman had never seen her homeland and was born and raised in the Kingdom. The couple got married shortly afterwards.

“I’ve tried so many times to apply for a residency permit for my wife but all my attempts were unsuccessful. I spent so much time running back and forth between government agencies trying to issue her the permit,” he said.

He approached the Makkah Police and explained his situation to them and how he wanted to get a residency permit for his wife. But officers told him that his wife was violating residency regulations and would be deported.

He has urged the concerned authorities to help him regularize the status of his wife so the couple can raise their children together.

Lawyer Abdulkarim Al-Qadi said the Interior Ministry is the only authority that can solve the case. He recommended that Kurdi approach the National Society for Human Rights and explain his situation.



Woman Admits To Taking Part In Dh2.8m Heist

January 19, 2015

Dubai: Two men have been accused of beating up a company owner in public and stealing Dh2.8 million that he was carrying in a laptop bag.

The Russian duo, 43-year-old M.M. and 35-year-old A.S., were said to have shadowed the Chinese man after he withdrew money from an exchange house and then a bank in Naif before they mugged him in September.

Prosecutors accused the two Russians, who remain at large, of beating the company owner, T.B., in the street and stealing his cash.

A 39-year-old Tajik woman, Z.A., was accused of aiding and abetting the fugitives.

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M.M. and A.S. did not show up before the Dubai Court of First Instance where they are being tried in absentia.

Meanwhile, Z.A., who is in custody, pleaded guilty and confessed before presiding judge Ezzat Abdul Lat that she kept part of the money.

“I took part of the money from them, but later I gave it to the police. Two weeks prior to the heist, I accompanied the duo to the man’s place… then they mugged him,” she said in courtroom three on Monday.

T.B. testified to prosecutors that he withdrew Dh2 million from the exchange house and Dh800,000 from the bank before he was mugged.

“I own a company that trades in clothes and shoes. I left my home around 2pm and withdrew the cash and put it in the laptop bag. I was walking in front of a hotel while heading back home. Two men [the runaway suspects] took me by surprise and attacked me. They beat me and kicked me… then they snatched the bag and ran away. I did not realise that they had been tailing me since I left my place. They beat me really hard and caused me several bruises that prevented me from chasing them,” the Chinese claimed to prosecutors.

A police lieutenant testified to prosecutors that the Russian duo was caught on surveillance cameras mugging the company owner.

“Primary interrogations also revealed the involvement of Z.A. and a fourth suspect [who used to drive the Chinese man to the bank] in the heist. In October, Z.A. and the fourth man were detained at Al Buraimi checkpoint trying to leave the country. The Tajik and the fourth suspect were not seen on surveillance cameras… however witnesses alleged that they were seated in a car waiting for the duo while they mugged T.B. Police recovered around Dh2 million in Z.A.’s flat in Al Buraimi. The fourth suspect was said to have rented the flat. During questioning, Z.A. admitted that she informed the runaway suspects that the Chinese man was a company owner and constantly received money transfers from abroad. That was when they decided to rob him. Meanwhile, the fourth suspect claimed that he was not aware of the heist,” claimed the lieutenant.

Records said Z.A. had been sentenced to three years in jail followed by deportation for her involvement in a similar case in which she was accused of aiding and abetting in a Dh2 million heist.

The Tajik was said to have participated in the Dh2.8 million heist while she was on bail in the case of Dh2 million heist.

A ruling will be heard on February 26.