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Middle East Press On Gal Gadot to Play Cleopatra, Iranian Women and Azerbaijan: New Age Islam's Selection, 14 October 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Bureau

14 October 2020

• Moviegoers Split As Gal Gadot to Play Cleopatra

By Rina Bassist

• Cleric Reopens Scars of Acid Attacks after Threatening Iranian Women

A Correspondent In Tehran

• Israel’s President Warns of Growing Social Schism, Loss of Moral Compass

By Ben Caspit

• Taliban No Easy Pushovers On The Negotiation Table

By Sajjad Ashraf

• For Azerbaijan, Diplomatic Solution with Pashinian Seems Impossible

By Talha Kose


Moviegoers Split As Gal Gadot To Play Cleopatra

By Rina Bassist

Oct 13, 2020


Gal Gadot attends the 2018 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on March 4, 2018, in Beverly Hills, California.  Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images.


Israeli actress Gal Gadot made an exiting announcement Oct. 11. "As you might have heard I teamed up with Patty Jenks and Laeta Kalogridis to bring the story of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, to the big screen in a way she’s never been seen before. To tell her story for the first time through women’s eyes, both behind and in front of the camera," she tweeted. In another tweet, the "Wonder Woman" actress wrote, "Cleopatra is a story I wanted to tell for a very long time."

Media outlets worldwide were quick to pick up the story, hailing another Jenks-Gadot project after "Wonder Woman" and the upcoming "Wonder Woman 1984." Paramount Pictures is reportedly set to distribute the film, with Laeta Kalogridis writing the screenplay. Of course, all the coverage mentions the most famous Cleopatra — Elizabeth Taylor, whose 1936 film "Cleopatra" won four Oscars, including Best Picture.

But not everyone has congratulated Gadot. Several commenters slammed Paramount for casting Gadot for the role. Criticism came from all over. Some people were angry about a white actress being cast in the role of the Egyptian queen; others lambasted Paramount for casting an Israeli instead of an Arab actress.

"Which Hollywood dumbass thought it would be a good idea to cast an Israeli actress as Cleopatra (a very bland looking one) instead of a stunning Arab actress like Nadine Njeim? And shame on you, Gal Gadot. Your country steals Arab land & you’re stealing their movie roles," tweeted Sameera Khan. User Abdul El-Sayed tweeted, "So … there were no Egyptian women to play, um, an *Egyptian* queen?"

Other tweets suggested that the role should have gone to an African woman, like Yahoo! Entertainment's headline, "Gal Gadot starring in new 'Cleopatra' draws backlash: 'Can't they find an African actress?'" Twitter user Tony Laface wrote, "Another attempt to white wash a historical figure!"

The Twitter argument went on for many hours, with hundreds of statements and reactions over the choice of Gadot, her nationality and the true history of Cleopatra. One user wrote, "Get Educated !!! your hate of Israel make you look ridiculous. FYI Cleopatra wasn't Egyptian or Arab, she was Greek! Stop being ignorant. Gal Gadot is the perfect choice."

The team behind the film weighed in with tact. “Incredibly excited to get the chance to tell the story of Cleopatra, my favourite Ptolemaic Pharoah and arguably the most famous Macedonian Greek woman in history," tweeted screenplay author Kalogridis, pointedly referring to Cleopatra’s origins. Several news sites noted that the idea for the film apparently came from Gadot herself, who had long dreamed of telling the story of the powerful queen.

The virtual bashing was not the first time Gadot has received insults over her Israeli heritage. In 2017, Lebanon banned "Wonder Woman" from the country’s movie theatres because of Gadot’s Israeli nationality. One might wonder what will happen when Gadot’s new film reaches Egyptian theatres. One thing is sure; Gadot’s many fans across the world are already eagerly awaiting its release.


Cleric Reopens Scars Of Acid Attacks After Threatening Iranian Women

A Correspondent In Tehran

Oct 13, 2020


A woman looks at art work made by Iranian victims of acid attacks at the Ashianeh Gallery in Tehran on Feb. 28, 2018.  Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images.


“We must make the social environment unsafe for these people. … We can’t let them simply break the norms in streets and parks,” said Ayatollah Yousef Tabatabai-Nejad in reference to Iranian women who violate the Islamic Republic’s mandatory dress code known as hijab. Tabatabai-Nejad is the Friday prayer imam of the central city of Esfahan and a de facto local governor, as is the case with all Friday prayer leaders across Iran. He and his colleagues hold their mandates from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“We should have no fear in facing those norm breakers,” the cleric added, prompting widespread fears about a fresh wave of public violent attacks against women with loose headscarves. Back in 2014, the city of Esfahan was rocked with coordinated chain assaults by religious fundamentalists on motorbikes. The attackers splashed acid on the faces of their female victims, who were mostly caught off guard behind wheels. Of the 12 cases reported, only four ended up in formal lawsuits. And despite pressing demands from a shaken public for speedy trials, the Iranian judiciary declared the file closed four years later, bringing none of the perpetrators to justice.

The 2014 acid attacks came only after the same Friday prayer imam openly called for force against hijab violators. In a provocative speech, Tabatabai-Nejad said verbal advice would no longer work and time had come to “raise the sticks.”

Six years on, the cleric’s new threats appeared to have reinjected fresh fears among Iranian women. More strikingly, it reopened wounds that remain unhealed on the faces of the acid attack victims who shared traumatic accounts of their ordeals and their frustration over the justice that was never served.

“Back then, the city was shattered with horror. … The same story is happening again. I don’t feel well these days,” wrote Marzieh Ebrahimi, one of the acid attack survivors, still reeling from the tragic encounter and coping with the permanent scars. “It’s our right to be able to go out with no anxiety. … We are not detainees, we are citizens,” she added.

Renowned women's rights activist Azar Mansouri also strongly questioned the Friday prayer imam’s comments, saying such a stance “only further widens the gap between the public and the state.” She advised the ultraconservative ayatollah to “abandon this discourse before it’s too late.” In another reaction, Minister of Communication and Information Technology Amir Nazemi urged the cleric to clear the air and specify what he meant by creating an “unsafe environment” for those women.

While it’s not typical of Iran’s powerful figures to bow to pressure and publicly retract their remarks, the building backlash ultimately forced the hard-line cleric to come out with some sugar-coated correction, if not an apology, saying his words had been misinterpreted and that he did not endorse physical attacks.

The cleric’s original inflammatory remarks, however, are no novelty in the Islamic Republic’s propaganda about controversial social issues. The ruling establishment has been developing over the past four decades its own version of “Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice,” which has served as a free pass for religious fanatics to justify their violence under the guise of a sacred fight, which more often than not has been found by advocates as a breach of civil rights. Videos make rounds every now and then across Iranian social media showing frustrated women in arguments or even brawls with religious extremists who have an institutionalized “duty” in the theocratic system to warn random female strangers about their hijabs.

An even stronger green light came from Khamenei in 2017 when he introduced the notion of “atash-beh-ekhtiar,” the Persian equivalent for “fire at will.” Under the umbrella concept, Khamenei advised “revolutionary youth” not to wait for orders but rather to act independently on cultural and social problems. The instruction has been interpreted as another boost to the bike-riding, plain-cloth regime loyalists in their campaign to “guide” Iranian women in the streets while enjoying the privilege of immunity from prosecution as witnessed in the case of the Esfahan acid assaults.


Israel’s President Warns of Growing Social Schism, Loss Of Moral Compass

By Ben Caspit

Oct 13, 2020

President Reuven Rivlin could no longer contain himself. Rivlin, perhaps the last of a generation of dignified elder statesmen, took the podium on Oct. 12 to deliver the opening address of the Knesset’s winter session. The speech was meant to douse the flames licking at the edges of Israeli society. “It is unthinkable that every night, demonstrators are beating demonstrators. Police are beating demonstrators. Demonstrators are throwing stones at the police,” Rivlin thundered. “Israel’s tribalism is breaking out through the cracks, and accusatory fingers are pointed from one part of society to the other, one tribe to the other. Stop! Please stop! This is not the way. Pain must have its place. … It seems to me as if we have lost the moral compass that was with us from the state’s independence until today. The compass of fundamental principles and values that we are committed to uphold.”

The unprecedented speech, alternately warning and beseeching, did not resonate as expected. The public climate in Israel these days is the most explosive ever. Israel has experienced the assassination of a prime minister (Yitzhak Rabin in 1995), but it has never been this close to civil war.

This is not the president’s first reference to the tribal fault lines in Israeli society. In a defining 2015 address to the annual Herzliya Conference, Rivlin described the four tribes emerging from the country’s socio-economic shifts — secular, national/religious, ultra-orthodox and Arab — and warned of the lack of unity and cohesion among them. In the years since, the chasms among them have deepened. The police investigations of corruption by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the subsequent decision by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to indict him on three criminal charges appeared to pour a huge barrel of fuel on the simmering tribal fires.

“The situation on the streets is highly flammable,” a senior police source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. The official, who is involved in attempts to control the disruptions to public order resulting from a nationwide wave of protests against Netanyahu, added that he had not encountered such a situation throughout his career. “Such hatred of Israelis against each other, such alienation between the camps. Sometimes it really scares me,” he confessed.

Israel has known harsh political discord in its 72 years. The struggle between left and right was always heated and painful. Deep disagreements over peace agreements with Israel’s Arab neighbors and the future of the West Bank and the Jewish settlements there have divided Israeli society for decades. This is different. There are no peace agreements entailing concessions of homeland territories on the agenda. There are no disagreements over security issues. There are no particularly disruptive social-economic struggles. What we have here is a giant pool of bad blood and a bitter war between the two halves of Israeli society over one man, Benjamin Netanyahu — a war pitting the “only Netanyahu” tribe against the “anyone but Netanyahu tribe.”

These two camps have been facing off for months, teeth bared, vowing to fight to the bitter end — or victory. Those who believe that Netanyahu is the root of all evil, a clear and imminent danger to the well-being and security of the State of Israel, versus those who believe with all their hearts that Netanyahu is a modern-day Messiah, a world-class leader touched by the “hand of God.” Neither side intends to compromise, the fault line appears unprecedented and the chasms seem unbridgeable.

Given the dangerous abyss on which the Jewish State is verging, Netanyahu might have been expected to ease up, take time off to defend himself in court, and resign the way his predecessor Ehud Olmert did at the height of the police corruption inquiries against him (which ultimately sent him to jail). Netanyahu is not living up to these expectations. On the contrary, he is living up to the prophecy sounded by Rivlin several years ago when the police investigations began, to the effect that Netanyahu would never cave, and if he goes down, he would take everyone with him.

Netanyahu has had a number of opportunities to negotiate a dignified plea deal with the attorney general, which would have ended his trial even before it has properly begun and protected Israeli society from being torn apart during the court hearings scheduled to begin in January 2021. He has refused. Instead, on the first official day of the trial in May, Netanyahu arrived at Jerusalem District Court “armed” with a phalanx of Likud party lawmakers and ministers who provided a security cordon around him as he delivered a bitter diatribe against the country’s law enforcement authorities. In his efforts to avoid the arm of the law, Netanyahu has no qualms about crushing public trust in what remains of the police, state prosecution, attorney general’s office and the judiciary. He believes public support will help him overcome the system that has already sent a prime minister, president, finance minister and many other senior officials to jail over the past decade or more.

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the latest developments to a crisis of biblical proportions. If Netanyahu could count on high and stable popularity in the past, he now finds himself on the defensive, perhaps in despair. From a rate of very low unemployment, the jobless rate has soared within months to double digits with some 1 million Israelis out of work. The public, by and large, blames Netanyahu’s failed management for the crisis. His Likud has plunged in the polls from a record of 41 Knesset seats a few months ago to 26 in the latest poll on Oct. 6. Netanyahu is losing his political-public immunity.

Pro-settler Yamina leader Naftali Bennett and his party colleague Matan Kahana voted with the rest of the opposition parties in favor of a no-confidence motion in Netanyahu’s government earlier this week. Netanyahu, who was for years the unchallenged leader of their right-wing camp, was quick to accuse Bennett of treason and switching to the political left.

The writing is already on the wall. Netanyahu’s government partner Blue and White leader Benny Gantz presented him with an ultimatum last week, warning that unless the prime minister approves the state budget by the end of the year, Israel would find itself facing elections. Netanyahu is being pushed backed inexorably toward a wall as he faces a deep abyss. Anyone who knows the man knows that he never gives up. Anyone familiar with current developments in Israeli society knows that this characteristic of Netanyahu’s could drag the country into a crisis rivaled only by the destruction of the two Jewish temples in Jerusalem in ancient times.


Taliban No Easy Pushovers on The Negotiation Table

By Sajjad Ashraf

October 12, 2020

The talks in Doha between the Taliban and the Kabul regime that began seven months late on September 12 are in hiatus over disagreements on how to frame a code of conduct that will guide the broader talks. Their differences over the procedurals are wide. It is only after a framework is agreed that the two sides will come to tackle substantive issues like ceasefire, type of governance, power sharing, and a host of difficult issues that will need to be resolved.

Seeking to build support for ceasefire while the negotiations continue between the two sides, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was in Doha seeking Qatar’s offices in persuading Taliban for flexibility over ceasefire, power sharing or other knotty issues.

Earlier, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation — the body created to lead negotiations with the Taliban — visited Pakistan for similar purpose. Underscoring Pakistan’s central role in the peace process, Abdullah asked Pakistan’s powerful military to use its influence to press the Taliban to reduce violence.

Dr. Abdullah, a member of erstwhile Northern Alliance which led the 2002 putsch against the Taliban, a former foreign minister and three-time presidential candidate, retains a significant following especially among the non-Pashtuns in Afghanistan. As Northern Alliance drew its support from powers antithetical to Pakistan, Dr. Abdullah’s public pronouncements reflected those interests. Recognising Pakistan’s centrality in the peacemaking process he is now ‘encouraged’ by the tone of his conversations in Pakistan.

Intra-Afghan Dialogue

The Taliban, who have fought their way from a rag tag group of resistance fighters to a formidable force have crafted clear positions and did not concede much ground on their fundamental objective of getting the US out of Afghanistan. They only reluctantly acquiesced to an intra-Afghan dialogue, representing ‘Afghan Groups.’

Now, when they have entered into negotiations, their focus remains on the nature of the state they want established, on power sharing, on how the government is to be sustained. Issues, which the western groups or the Kabul regime consider important like status of women, fundamental rights come secondary for them. Ceasefire, which is important for Kabul is the least important for them because they do not want to give away their battlefield advantage.

For Taliban, faith guides the state ideology and Sharia will be the ‘operative framework’ to run the affairs of the state. For Kabul, the country already has a constitution that holds Sharia above others thus making the character of the state sufficiently Islamic allowing for protecting women’s rights, freedom of expression and electoral democracy.

The Taliban understand that puritan application of Islamic injunctions during their previous regime during the late 1990s alienated them from virtually all countries. Influenced perhaps, by the public opinion their actions have indicated that they may be ready for compromises in certain areas. In break from their previous government policies they allow girls schools in areas under their control. This time the Taliban seem more inclined to let the systems evolve rather than impose it through a state diktat. Based on their objectives, Taliban seeks to draw their support from the communities they represent.

Ideologically Hard-line

Whether the interlocutors agree to an interim arrangement before a new dispensation, power sharing is the most intractable issue. And here lies the dilemma for the Taliban political leadership. Having engaged the most powerful military for two decades, and compelling them to seek exit, Taliban interlocutors are looking at a lion’s share of power. The rank and file who gave away their lives and limbs for the principle of getting the ‘occupation forces’ out will be loath to leaving authority in the hands of others. Hoping for a ceasefire is therefore, a pipe dream. They are captives of their battle hardened psychological make up that anything less than total victory is surrender, which endangers the movement’s unity.

The alignment of political positions that either side holds is likely to be slow. There will be stalemates or even walk outs in frustration. Pushing the interlocutors to hasten the process will produce results that either side may not be fully committed to hold. The outside powers should let Afghan interlocutors to move at the pace they are comfortable with, to arrive at a durable peace. After all Vietnam’s formal peace negotiations dragged through 1968 to January 1973 when the peace agreement was signed.

The western concept of democracy is America’s deadliest export. There are several failed and costly experiments like Vietnam, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan and many more — countries where people belong to a different culture. It is time Western powers realise that ‘their democracy’ is not the best governance system for people with totally different history and ethos. Peaceful transition in Afghanistan will only hold if it is supported by the conservative elements who hold a sway over the Afghan society.


Sajjad Ashraf served as an adjunct professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore from 2009 to 2017. He was a member of Pakistan Foreign Service from 1973 to 2008 and served as Pakistan’s consul general in Dubai during mid 1990s.


For Azerbaijan, Diplomatic Solution with Pashinian Seems Impossible

By Talha Kose

October 14, 2020

The ongoing military confrontation between Armenia and Azerbaijan continues to escalate despite the recent calls for a cease-fire.

From the first day of a recently declared truce, the Armenian side violated the uneasy peace by shelling civilian areas in Azerbaijan's cities.

Even Russian mediation was insufficient to deter the Yerevan side from attacking civilian areas. Moscow does not have a well-planned policy to reach a permanent cease-fire among the fighting parties.

The Russian authorities are less than sympathetic to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, but they do not want the Armenian military to be depleted quickly. Russian efforts serve the purpose of freezing the conflict for another couple of decades, rather than finding a permanent solution.

Pashinian's call for international support for his country's aggression did not find a significant response from Moscow. Meanwhile, Brussels and other European capitals were reluctant to back Armenian violations – with the exception of France.

Across the U.S. and Europe, the Armenian diaspora tried to mobilize their politicians, but Yerevan's inhumane war crimes could not find strong backing.

Pashinian's plans to mobilize the international community have backfired for the moment, as he tries to harness the region with "Christian solidarity," but this narrative has attracted very few.

One of the key reasons behind the current escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh is the aggressive motives and incompetent efforts of the prime minister, given the balance of power has changed in favour of Azerbaijan over the last two decades.

Azerbaijan was preparing to liberate her territories from Armenian occupation via a military build-up, diplomatic efforts and economic development, with Azerbaijani leadership making remarkable progress in developing the country.

Strengthening ties with Turkey and Israel and improving Azerbaijan-European Union ties in the realm of energy have been cornerstones of Azerbaijan's recent diplomatic achievements. Baku, in the meantime, took care not to antagonize Moscow. Despite Moscow's bias in favor of Yerevan, Azerbaijan has tried to improve its relations with Russia.

Pashinian came to power after street protests in 2018, when the Armenian people grew fed up with the former corrupt regime and the rule of oligarchs. Armenians sought to get rid of a rotten political system that was led by Mafiosi networks.

Despite the Armenian diaspora's support, the country's economic system has been in decline for an extended period. Young Armenians have sought opportunities outside of their country, while those who have relatives outside of the country struggled to emigrate.

The Armenian diaspora in the U.S. and Europe did not wish to invest further in a system where the corrupt oligarchs controlled the entire economy. It was almost impossible to criticize the security establishment, which legitimized itself within the illegal occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding regions. Russian security support was crucial for the Armenian security apparatus against Azerbaijan's rising military power.

Pashinian, a former journalist, mobilized the Armenian people and led street protests to topple the government, to Moscow's displeasure as Russia considers such moves contagious. This is why Moscow wants to keep Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in power despite the widespread popular protests all over Belarus.

Pashinian formed a government of anti-establishment figures with no experience in politics. This was promising in the early periods as an opportunity for a constructive change. However, when the country started to face harsh realities, Pashinian abandoned progressive aims and switched to dangerous populist discourses.

Even Pashinian's wife, Anna Hakobyan, tried to stimulate Armenian militarization by wearing military uniforms and encouraging the forming of militias. Pashinian's increasingly ultranationalist discourse and aggressive military moves targeting Azerbaijani territories – first at Tovuz and around the line of contact – was a sign of desperation rather than part of a broader plan.

Pashinian bet on Moscow and other international actors saving Armenia in the most recent escalation, by which he planned to generate solidarity among the Armenian people against Azerbaijan. However, he has lost credibility as a result, needing to declare a state of emergency and restrict media coverage of the ongoing war.

After such aggressive moves and incompetent foreign policy, Pashinian has made himself an obstacle to a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. His attacks against Azerbaijan have shaken up the status quo in the long-frozen conflict, but not in favor of Armenia.

Moscow and other international actors also do not trust Pashinian because of his war crimes targeting Azerbaijani civilians.

With the harsh realities of military defeat, he will eventually lose popular support among the Armenian population. He is now a significant obstacle to diplomatic efforts to reach peace. Sooner or later, the Armenian people will punish him, if not the international courts.

Making a diplomatic deal with Pashinian and his representatives will not help Baku. It will only legitimize Armenian aggression. While there is an urgent need for the current conflict's diplomatic solution, unfortunately, the conditions are not ripe for reaching a permanent solution.




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