What happened recently in the Tunisian parliament is shocking. A deputy named Sahbi Samara suddenly leaped out of his seat, strode confidently toward his colleague and head of the Free Constitutional Party, Abeer Moussa, and slapped her. Another deputy named Seif El-Din Makhlouf, who apparently did not like Samara’s “tolerance,” completed the task by kicking Moussa in the knee. There was a bit of pandemonium, but Parliament did not halt its proceeding. After all, this is normal!
The provocation is compounded by two factors, first: it is Tunisia, the only country where the revolution was relatively successful. One of the fruits of that success was the ratification, in 2017, of Law No. 58 to combat violence against women and strive to achieve gender equality. Second: It is the parliament, i.e. the place that is supposed to reflect equal citizenship before exercising its main functions of legislation and monitoring of the executive authority. Samara and Makhlouf wanted to turn this parliament into another home where obedience is imposed, a larger and more powerful extension of the family home.
Today, this trampling of women’s rights takes many forms elsewhere in our region.
Take Turkey, for example: a few months ago, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan decided to take his country out of the Istanbul Agreement, which aims to protect women from violence. Now it has officially withdrawn.
The arguments put forward by those in favor of this withdrawal are bizarre: they claim that the agreement supports homosexuality and is destroying family and society!
Turkey, which has witnessed in recent years a noticeable increase in violence against women, will certainly witness a greater increase after the removal of this restriction. It’s also normal. The important thing is that foreigners do not interfere in our affairs; we know better about our women. Are we not independent and sovereign?
News stories of discrimination and oppression of women abound, at all different levels. Recently in the Iranian presidential elections, all forty out of forty women candidates were rejected. Every last one of them was rejected, without exception. It may be said that men did not fare much better, as evidenced by the fact that about 590 of them were also rejected. Nevertheless, seven men were allowed to run for office, and one of them, Ibrahim Raisi, won the presidency.
The Syrians who have long struggled with suffering, exile, and the loss of loved ones, only lacked aggression against the symbols of their sacrifices, especially their female icons. Lawyer Haitham al-Maleh, who is called “the sheikh of Syrian jurists,” explained the kidnapping of Zahran Alloush, the activist Razan Zaitouneh, as “her failure to observe the conservative environment of modesty,” and he did not hide his dissatisfaction with her “refusal to obey his orders” while working in a law firm he ran. Those who defended him could not find better than to quote his saying that Zaytouneh is his “daughter”, and that a father, of course, wants to make sure his daughter is modest and that she returns home before sunset!
Yes, women are an easy target, against whom the weapons of values, morals, religion, patriotism, and heritage can be leveraged. All this, and more, is happening before Afghanistan’s “liberation” as a result of the US withdrawal, and before the Taliban regain authority, according to a prevalent opinion. With regard to women, the Taliban that is liberating Afghanistan today exceeds Khomeini, who liberated Iran in the past, and who, in turn, outdid the revolution that liberated Algeria before that.
The destination is upward, thankfully. The methods and degrees are different, but the goal is the same.
It is most likely that cases of women’s oppression are on the rise today for reasons related to the situation in the region: its decline, its inability to both maintain what it has and improve its circumstance, the poverty, misery and unemployment, and the collapse of economic, health and educational systems... Women pay a higher price for all this than men. They are the Number One victims.
However, the response to these factors with more violence and discrimination draws from two other sources: The examples of women’s liberation we have seen, from Kemal Ataturk to Habib Bourguiba, have had negative repercussions equal to their gains. Equality was linked to the state and not to freedom, and the separation of religion from the state became much more important than the separation of the state from religion. Thus, it became easy for the Islamists and their supporters to use anything related to progress, including the liberties of women, against the people and their freedom. The second source is the flood of political hostility towards the West, which has become a cultural hostility to modernity. Decolonization, in this case, has become closer to decivilization, as Yassin al-Hafiz used to say and warn against. This is how the equation in force became: More national liberation equals more backwardness and more authoritarianism.
In light of such limitations, we continue to look for answers from the worst of our “national” or “authentic” traditions and heritage, which only open their mouths to curse women.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, pan-Arab daily outlet Asharq al-Awsat.
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