This week's window on the Middle East - July 9, 2012

Arab Awakening's columnists offer their weekly perspective on what is happening on the ground in the Middle East. Leading the week: Rita from Syria tells a harrowing tale of narrowly escaping death and the lesson she learned in the process.

Arab Awakening
8 July 2012
  • "No sects please: we're Syrian"
  • Jordan adapting
  • Is Qatar becoming the new Dubai?
  • Tunisia rethinking its Arab Muslim identity
  • Victims of military rule: an interminable nightmare
  • Egypt’s history repeating itself fallacy
  • Bahrain bids its economic reform farewell
  • Salafi accusations in Tunis
  • No wonder Egyptians are confused
  • "No sects please: we're Syrian"

    By Rita from Syria

    It was the day of the funeral for a martyr in Midan, the epicentre of anti-regime protest in Damascus. My friends and I were running away from the shabiha (paid thugs in the service of the regime) who had come to attack the funeral procession after it had turned into an impromptu protest.

    They started shooting and firing tear-gas canisters at the mass of protesters. We quickly made our escape through the narrow alleys off the main thoroughfare. Unfamiliar with the neighbourhood, we found ourselves trapped down a blind alley. As if by miracle, two young women in their early twenties dressed in the traditional white jubba worn by conservative Sunni women during prayer waved to us from a balcony overlooking the alley, signalling for us to enter their house. In a blink of an eye, all nine of us protesters found ourselves being ushered into the sanctuary of this family we did not know.

    The regime goons had invaded the neighbourhood: all we could hear was the sound of gun fire cracking the air. The family welcomed all of us, guys and girls without hesitation or question. The lads from our group moved with the father and the son to a separate room, while us girls remained in the living room. The two daughters were frequent protesters, and told us that at each protest or funeral, a member of the family keeps an eye on the alley where protesters like us come fleeing from the shabiha and get trapped. It turned out that we weren't the only activists that had sought refuge with them.

    Despite our varied backgrounds, we spent the afternoon talking like old mates while drinking juice and coffee. No-one made mention of which sect they belonged to and the question was never asked of us - directly or otherwise. Within a short while, neighbours and relatives in the same building had got wind of what had happened and came to see us. An elderly woman told us about her son who had been detained for two months by security intelligence forces. After three hours, the young men of the apartments building drove us out of Midan - making sure the way was clear of regime goons – until we arrived at a safe spot to hail a taxi.

    The taxi was hurtling down the street, dancing to the tempo of the deafening synthesized beats of dabkeh popular music beloved by all Syrian taxi drivers. As is the way of taxi-drivers the world over, he started to make conversation. The adrenaline which had coursed through my veins earlier in the afternoon drained out of me. I was frightened. I thought to myself he might figure out I was at the funeral/protest - a crime in itself in the eyes of the Syrian regime. I tried giving some evasive answers, but then he cornered me; “where are you from?" he asked. On the face of it, a seemingly innocuous question, but under the regime of the al-Assad's the mundane morphs into the menacing. “Where are you from?” is an indirect question to find out which sect somebody belongs to in Syria, as some towns and regions are strongly affiliated with one minority or another. For instance, the Druze in Sweida, the Ismailis in Selemiye, the Allawis along the coast, and Christians in the straight-forwardly named wādi al-Naṣāra [the valley of the Christians].

    When I told him, he visibly relaxed, thinking that we were from the same sect. He started to tell me how much he missed his village in the mountains, but because he moonlights for the security forces (taxi drivers are notorious for this), he was forced to leave his family and come to Damascus to fight as he put it “the terrorists and the salafists who had invaded the country.” He spoke about his participation in suppressing demonstrations, calling the demonstrators "ara'ir" in reference to the firebrand Salafist, Shaykh Adnan Ar'our, whose sermons broadcast over the internet and satellite television have been the bane of the regime's existence. Ar'our was also the first cleric to come out against the regime.

    The taxi-driver's words were of a man who had complete conviction he was defending his country against a foreign conspiracy. I remember thinking to myself “he could have been the one who shot at me and my friends. He could be the one who killed the martyr whose mother was unable to cry, not believing what had happened to her son.

    I started asking myself: does protesting make me a terrorist? The family that rescued us was a conservative Sunni family, but I felt closer to them than the young driver who belongs to the same sect as I do. Why? Because the new Syrian society is – yes – divided, but it is split between the sectarian regime which changes the way it deals with people on the basis of their sectarian or regional affiliation on the one hand, and the Syrian people on the other hand, who at each daily protest are raising the famous slogan "wahid, wahid,wahid: al-sha'b al-Sūry wahid" which means the Syrian people are united. More than just saying it, they are living this fact in their day-to-day lives.

    Jordan adapting

    By Tareq Baconi

    Jordan is perhaps less violently exposed to the regional changes taking place around it than say Lebanon. But make no mistake; regional events are already shaping Jordan’s internal affairs in a profound way.

    The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s successful election campaign and its ability to clinch Egypt’s presidency is an inspirational story for Islamic parties in the region. This includes, of course, Jordan’s own Islamic Action Front (IAF).

    Immediately after Mohammed Morsi’s victory, members of the IAF expressed hope for a ‘Morsi contagion’ to spread to the rest of the Arab world. They also called for a delegation of 100 Muslim Brothers to go to Egypt to congratulate the new president.

    Even more than a success story, the IAF undoubtedly feels that it has been given the possibility of a strong regional alliance. Much speculation exists around the Egyptian president’s foreign policy, but there is reason for the IAF to hope that Morsi’s election can translate into political clout at home.

    This regional alliance might quickly turn into a liability however, depending on how the international community receives Morsi’s presidency. Nonetheless, for the interim, the Jordanian government might be less rash in dismissing the IAF’s political demands. Rather, recent signs are showing that the Jordanian government is rightly seeking some form of rapprochement with the Muslim Brothers.

    The less tangible and more speculative of these signs is Jordan’s recent contact with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. This has fuelled much debate about what role, if any, Jordan is looking to play in Syria. Considering the increase in the number of refugees fleeing the violence into Jordan, there is an urgent need for the Kingdom to formulate a coherent policy towards Syria. 

    The more obvious sign however has been the undeniable shift in Jordan’s policy towards Hamas. Khaled Meshal’s warm recent reception in Amman seems to have completely reversed past bitterness between Hamas and Jordan. This is not entirely unusual considering their tumultuous relationship. Yet the recent warmth is also an indication of the potential for symbiosis which regional changes have given rise to between the Hashemite regime and the Islamic movement.   

    Hamas’ external leadership is increasingly attempting to align itself with the Arab people against authoritarian regimes. The movement is looking to define its role in the region after having left Damascus, and is seeking to avoid marginalisation. Jordan could presumably provide Hamas with the stability it needs to ride out this period of transformation.

    In return, Hamas could be just the interlocutor the monarch needs to reach an agreement with the IAF. Jordan’s government is aware that such an agreement is particularly important following the announcement of its election law, which the IAF opposes. The government will work hard to ensure IAF participation in the elections, as that will extend much needed legitimacy to the new cabinet.

    At a time of significant turmoil, the Jordanian government is right to build networks of open communication with the Muslim Brothers regionally. They are, after all, an integral part of this transformation.

    Is Qatar becoming the new Dubai?

    By Michael Stephens

    Recently much has been made of the increased tensions in Dubai surrounding expatriates and their dressing habits, and the offence this has caused to local Emiratis. The UAE is not alone in having this problem, similar issues have been rearing their head in Qatar in recent months, and on a number of occasions (mostly) young western women have found themselves being confronted by (mostly) older Qatari women seeking to admonish them for not respecting the cultural guidelines.

    I travel frequently to Dubai and observe closely the differences that exist between it and Doha. 850m tall buildings aside, the differences are readily and immediately apparent.

    Firstly Qataris are far more assertive in their identity than Dubai locals; although facing similar problems with being swamped by expatriate culture there is still no doubt that Qatar is an Arab country, and that Qataris play a highly visible part in creating this sense of Arabness. Particularly in the evenings most restaurants and malls are filled with men in white gutras and thobes speaking Arabic. It is a visual and linguistic assertion of space.

    Secondly, despite its outward appearances Qatar remains a conservative society. This is not to say that Emiratis are not conservative, many certainly are; merely that they have allowed a deeper encroachment of liberalism into daily life which has been matched by an associated retreat by Emiratis from the main areas of the city and into the majlis. Although something similar has happened in Doha, it is clear that Qataris have still maintained for the public space a modicum of traditionalism that in Dubai has long since lost.

    On the religious front, the mosques in Doha are palpably louder than in Dubai, and Friday prayers can be heard all over the city. The Friday messages in particular are interesting, clerics emphasising the rejection of bidah (literally ‘novelty’, read  ‘western ideas’) is a theme that frequently pervades the public space in Qatar in a loud and assertive fashion that leaves no doubt as to where sympathies in this country lie.

    Two weeks ago I sat down for dinner with a Qatari man who espoused salafist beliefs, a deeply ascetic and puritanical form of Sunni Islam. The choice of hotel was interesting; the Movenpick. It is one of the few hotels in Doha that do not serve alcohol, indeed it was the only hotel in which he would spend his money because he was boycotting those venues he felt brought alien practices into the country. The conversation was wide-ranging and thoughtful, but clear in the message was the sense that all westerners should pack up and leave, and take their culture with them.

    This was an extreme example of a more widespread phenomenon in Qatar, which is a deep sense of unease as to what modernisation means for the country. Qataris tend to define modernisation as western influences that they accept. Westernisation on the other hand is a negative synonym for western influences that are incompatible with Qatari culture. Specifically in this regard is the idea that Westerners eating pork, drinking or wearing a bikini is not just a religious offence, but an assertion of cultural space that actively blocks locals from entering. It is a representation of domination without listening, a black and white discourse in which only the west is right.

    So when a Qatari says: ‘We are not Dubai and we will not become Dubai’ it is not simply that they don’t want women in bikinis walking around shopping malls, it is a reflection of something far deeper. It is to be free of the control of ‘the West’, and to not be told what to do and how to do it.

    Dubai’s failure to maintain its culture is not something most Qataris wish to repeat; the key is balancing modernisation with westernisation, taking the good and filtering out the bad. Some like my Salafi friend will never be happy, while others are more willing to accept some change if it improves their lives without fundamentally threatening their heritage.

    Tunisia rethinking its Arab Muslim identity

    By Ahmed Medien

    Recent government proposals to open Tunisia’s borders for North Africans (except Egyptians) created a furor amongst the Tunisian public. President Moncef Marzouki’s timid welcome for these new decisions “pushing for more Arab and Maghreb unity” only drew more of a public outcry.

    The decision didn’t strike me as it struck others. After all, free capital and labour will be soon a major plank that could help North African economies which have been depending on a troubled Europe for a very long time now. But Tunisians don’t seem to agree with me. The majority of the Tunisian people were against these decisions, each societal grouping for their own reasons. Many fear that new immigrants will take the jobs they don’t even want. Others fear bearded Algerian terrorists who might cross our borders just as the army is reinforcing its troops there. And, others just don’t want alien immigrants living next door or even voting in the next elections. Overall, most Tunisians are against any massive Arab immigration into the country if it’s not for work or investment-purposes.

    So I find myself reconsidering what it means to be Arab in Tunisia and how much of this do we actually need?

    The Ennahda Islamist party was the winner of the elections. They promised big and they won big. They campaigned everywhere and discussed many matters. They captured the camera lenses of international media crews and had the biggest share of media coverage. Another type of politician failed to make it into people’s hearts. They often looked lighter-skinned than your average Tunisian, driving fancy cars, constantly talking about money and numbers, racing from one big conference to another, and wrapping it all in an abstruse language barely understood by the populace.

    Their Islamist counterparts knew far better what to do. They were certainly better geographically skewed. They knew the Tunisian geographic map better than anyone. Some of them didn’t have cars. Their French was often broken and they liked to inaugurate their speeches with “bismillah” or “in the name of God”.

    They knew how to get to people. They simply KISS’ed it; they kept it simple and stupid. Free healthcare for the poor, more jobs in this region, social justice as God wishes, more religiosity and conservatism because this country is not French and because we’re Arabs for heaven’s sake!


    Tunisians protest University of Manouba raising the Salafists flag

    Tunisians loved that. Just in the middle of a political crisis, when some people including some rich teenagers were calling for a French-type secularism – the Tunisian working class felt as if it had to choose Arab Muslimness over any foreign identity, western mostly, that has screwed them over so royally for decades, backing up their dictator. Hence the outcome.

    In fact, Arab Muslim identity has never been key to Tunisian politics or foregrounded by any government. An honorary title that allows some petro-dollars (or millions of dollars) into the country to build more roads, hospitals, and schools only trains up more young Tunisians who reject fundamentalism and reject the Gulf bloc in favour of Tunisian secularism. Probably the only time Tunisia has had to adopt an ‘Arab Muslim stance’ was at independence, when we claimed the right to self-determination back from France, basing it on our ethnic and cultural distinctiveness. Soon after independence, Pan-Arabists became target number one of the regime. We didn’t hesitate to break off relations with our Arab neighbours, distancing ourselves from their ‘immature politics’.

     “Arabs agreed not to agree.” I grew up making people smile with this phrase at a time when Arab leaders were calling for extraordinary plenary sessions in vain during the war in/on Iraq. Indeed, Arabs only seemed to reunite in times of war. The rest of the time they had conflicting interests. Some of them loathe each other. They have many differences, yet they shared one major common trait: dictatorship.

    Tunisians, and perhaps North Africans, distance themselves from this. The average Tunisian joe knows anything about the Arab world or the Middle East, except maybe its major cities or capitals. Some might not even be able to point to Kuwait on a map or to tell the difference between Qatar and Bahrain.

    So there seems to be nothing that could reunite us. As much as I would like to see a more effective economic integration between North African and Middle Eastern countries, this isn’t happening. Therefore, I think our relations should be confined for now to commercial bilateral agreements. People know who they are and they don’t need to be reminded of that in every political speech. The Arab Muslim identity should not be invoked as an excuse by some politicians to limit the freedoms of the Tunisian people that they have coveted for so long. We Tunisians don’t need to bow down before any religion or any ethnicity to be accepted by other people who are nothing like us. We are a great nation and we shall be the masters of our own politics.

    Victims of military rule: an interminable nightmare

    By Soha Farouk

    Mohannad Samir, a teenage undergraduate student unaffiliated with any political movement, one of the few who went down to Tahrir Square on January 25 against Mubarak’s regime, and participated actively in all the major sit-ins against the SCAF, has been behind bars for almost six months.

    During the violent army's crackdown on the peaceful sit-in outside the cabinet building on December 2011, he was shot in the leg while attempting to save one of his friends who was killed by a bullet in his chest from the military police.

    While being treated in hospital, he was asked to testify about his friend's death as he had clearly seen the faces of the security forces that killed him. However, when, before being finally released from hospital he made an effort to go to the Cairo security directorate, to help in the suspect identification from an array of photos, he found himself arrested on trumped up charges of attempting to destroy public property, "thuggery" and incitement to violence. Afterwards, he was put in a basement cell for a few days then transferred to the appalling conditions and worse medical care of Tora prison hospital. His ‘trial’ was postponed three times, prolonging his unjust imprisonment and endangering his health.

    Mohannad's story, as told by his mother, was one of nearly 12000 accounts of civilians who were detained and brought before military courts in unfair trials since the deployment of the Egyptian army to the streets on January 28, 2011 up till now, even after Morsi's inauguration. According to Al-Nadeem center report narrating their painful experiences, they don't only include rebels but a diverse spectrum of ordinary people of different ages, social classes and professions; males, females and even children, politically affiliated and unaffiliated.

    Many were freed, while the number of people who are still in prison is unknown. Very regrettably they have usually been depicted in the official government-led media as "thugs" who threatened the country's security, hindering any potential large public support of their cause. All the twitter campaigns, YouTube videos, marches, sit-ins and lately the hunger strike have attracted waning attention over time, and are now limited only to human rights defenders and the parents of the detainees.

    Any official response?             

    Almost all the political parties and active movements have denounced the military trials of civilians, violating the basic right of every human to "a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law”. In theory, military tribunals cannot be used unless the civilian courts can't open their doors or when war is lawfully declared, as is not the case in post-revolution Egypt.

    However, once elected, the issue was not on the top of the Islamist- dominated, ex-parliament's agenda. Even worse, a few months later, the MP’s decision was very disappointing to the civil liberties groups, slightly amending the military justice code to strip the president the right to refer civilians to military tribunals, limiting it to the workings of military justice only. They failed to adopt one of the members' proposals which would have given civilians the right to appeal against sentences issued by military courts before civilian tribunals.

    Although the new president is associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, human rights groups pinned high hopes on him. As a matter of fact, this issue represents a bottleneck for Morsi's presidency to enhance his credibility as a revolutionary leader with full powers, eager to defend the civil rights of his discontented people against any oppression. The tens of protestors gathered outside the presidential palace for many days have forced him to form an investigative committee encompassing the military judiciary, the interior ministry, the public prosecution and civil society members. According to the "No military trials for civilians" movement, highly skeptical of this measure, a plausible solution should comprise a) an official apology and appropriate compensation to all the detainees, b) stopping military tribunals for civilians, issuing presidential pardons to those in military prisons and retrying them in civilian courts, c) prosecution of all the military officials involved in torture and illegal detention practices.

    Can the silver-tongued Morsi staunchly oppose the army's consistently defended practices or will he eat his promises and retain his acquiescent rhetoric? For the revolutionaries, the revolution's success is inextricably linked to the fate of those civilians. Those who would "sacrifice their liberties in order to save their freedoms deserve neither".

    Egypt’s history repeating itself fallacy

    By Amro Ali

    In the nascent days of World War II, French Premier Paul Reynaud remarked to General Philippe Pétain: “You take Hitler for another Wilhelm I, the old man who seized Alsace-Lorraine from us and that was all. But Hitler is Genghis Khan.” Reynaud’s subtext was clear: if you wish to use the ‘history repeating itself’ line, use the right history.

    Using history as a guide, no matter how well intentioned, is often fraught with high risks: outcomes can vastly diverge from the history lesson sought initially. For example, the lesson of Munich (1938) ‘not to appease dictators’ set the tone for the 1956 Anglo-French confrontation with Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser in the Suez War. It turned out disastrous for the protagonists and left the young Egyptian leader with all the claims he might need to a political and moral victory.

    Egypt today has a semi-emasculated Islamist president, a reinstated but uncertain parliament, the strong presence of the Muslim Brotherhood, an overbearing military council, a restless public, all mixed up with an economic crisis. Questions are being asked, is Egypt going to become like 1979 Iran, 1991 Algeria, Old model Turkey, 1999 Pakistan, or even 1954 Egypt?

    Isn’t it possible that 2012 Egypt may be just that, 2012 Egypt - with all its idiosyncrasies, rotation of actors, socio-economic uncertainties, Pan-Arabism from below, digital youth; in an era of globalisation and changing geo-strategic realities, all the while taking into consideration the unique historical forces that shape these factors?

    It is one thing to discern trends in history and attempt to learn from the past in order not to repeat similar mistakes. Yet another is to carpet-bomb Egypt with the ghosts of “history repeats itself” templates.

    The theocratic Iran analogy is far-fetched despite the rise of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and the Morsi presidency. Egypt’s military establishment were old enough to remember the Shah’s military playing a minimal role in the 1979 uprising as various Iranian factions battled each other out for control of the revolution. For all its faults and counter-revolutionary streak, the Egyptian military has been the backbone of the transition and acts as a check on the rise of a singular radical force.

    Economic considerations will drive political imperatives. There are vast differences between Iran’s oil exporting economy and Egypt’s service-driven economy. Iran does not require the goodwill of the international community as customers are in plenty supply who will buy Iranian oil. This does not work for Egypt as self-sufficiency is in rare supply and not an option the new Egyptian government can fall back on. Hence Egypt’s strengths in tourism requires a positive image and the shunning of ultra-conservative laws if tourists are to even set foot in Egypt. Moreover, the dependency on tourism, Suez Canal revenue, cotton exports, investments, aid, Egyptian expatriate remittances and so forth, places Egypt as a crucial node in the globe’s economic and social inter-connectedness.

    Algeria is the favoured analogy as of late, the country that was plunged into a bloody civil war in the 1990s following cancelled elections by the military to prevent an Islamist victory. This is despite countless differences between the two countries: Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front, military establishments, sources of legitimacy, socio-economic realities, international stakeholders and very different contexts. Interestingly, it seems difficult for the doomsday commentators to contemplate the optimistic version of the ‘history repeating itself’ line. Egypt, for all its past repressive authoritarian regimes, has not experienced civil wars and one would be hard pressed to find, let alone hear of, a mass grave. Yet Algeria’s tragic loss of over 100,000 lives is supposedly the outcome awaiting Egypt.

    Nor is it 1954 Egypt, when the military torpedoed any prospects of democracy, and clamped down on the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition forces. Ahmad Shokr provides a compelling refutation in Jadaliyya of this comparison that preoccupies many people in Egypt. Shokr notes that unlike 1954 Egypt and the Free Officers, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) is not as politicised (although desperate to preserve their privileges), does not see itself as a force for change, lacks mass public support, all in a post-colonial context where attitudes towards representative democracy are favoured and political mobilisation is broader.

    Finally, the problem of the history repeating itself fallacy is that it is the silent nightrider of fear that feeds into a vicious cycle that rattles stock markets, bulges emigration queues, foments societal suspicions, reinforces orientalist perceptions, and sustains the Arab world’s ‘healthy’ conspiracy industry – often before any reason for fear presents itself.

    What the past year and a half illustrates is that in the absence of a decisive success by a singular force that could author a hegemonic order, Egypt will continue to see the persistence of street battles, protests, sit-ins, and compromises between SCAF, the Morsi presidency, former regime remnants, emerging political players and the popular masses who continue to rival the establishment in setting the pace of the transition and widen the parameters of the debate. This seems to be the script of the extended revolution. If so, Mark Twain’s words might be more applicable here: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”

    Bahrain bids its economic reform farewell

    By Hasan Tariq AlHasan

    The Bahraini government may have finally driven the last nail into the coffin of the economic and labour market reforms that the Crown Prince initiated in 2006. These reforms, whose goal was to discourage local businesses from hiring cheap expatriate labour and instead encourage them to employ Bahrainis, were unpopular with businesses from the onset. Since the declaration of a State of National Safety (i.e. State of Emergency) on March 15, 2011, the government has made it clear that it intended to backpedal on the reforms in an attempt to secure political support from the business community.

    Over the past two weeks, under pressure from the merchant class the government made two important announcements: an extension of the suspension of fees levied on business owners for every foreign worker they hire and a reduction in the minimal quota for hiring local workers imposed on firms. Ironically, it also emerged through statements made by the Labour Market Regulatory Authority’s (LMRA) new head Mr. Osama Al-Absi that the LMRA – a body set up in 2006 tasked with actually implementing the said reforms – is to be at the forefront of this government-led, business-backed campaign.

    These announcements come against the backdrop of a fierce political battle between the government and the opposition that is currently being waged on the level of the opposition-controlled labour unions. Incidentally, labour unions and the opposition – exemplified by the Shiite Islamist Al-Wefaq bloc – provided political support for the Crown Prince’s reforms in 2006 both in and out of parliament, allowing them to go through despite resistance from the merchant class and more loyalist political societies.[i]

    Since the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU) organized a series of strikes mid-March of 2011 that affected the sensitive oil, gas and aluminium sectors, the government has worked tirelessly at breaking the opposition’s firm grip over labour groups. These efforts whose aim is to fragment the labour movement, materialized with the introduction of a law allowing for the creation of more than one labour union per firm. The battle has been spearheaded in large part by Mr. Ali Binali, the head of Aluminum Bahrain’s (Alba) labour union, who has been advocating breaking away from the opposition-leaning GFBTU and creating a rival organization. However, critics of Mr. Binali have cited his baffling shift in position between when strikes broke out during March last year and today, pointing to footage of him in GCC (Pearl) Roundabout pledging to take part in the strikes and calling upon the Al-Khalifa royal family to ‘leave’.

    Moreover, over the past year and a half since the government regained control of the country in March 2011, yet another blow has been dealt to the economic and labour market reforms as, one by one, the former heads of the institutions created to implement them were reassigned. These include the late Mr. Ali Radhi former CEO of LMRA who was grilled on state television and accused of laxity with dissenting employees, Mr. Abdulelah Al-Qassimi former CEO of Tamkeen and Mr. Talal Al-Zain former CEO of Mumtalakat, Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund. It is believed that they have been replaced by successors more sympathetic to the government rather than to the Crown Prince’s reformist agenda.

    While halting the economic and labour market reforms package, weakening the opposition’s hold on labour unions and side-lining reformists at the head of economic, labour market and financial institutions may constitute a huge political victory for conservatives in government, these measures are bound to impede any effort to tackle the country’s chronic economic problems including, first and foremost, soaring youth unemployment and the social and security consequences they are likely to bring with them.

    [i] AlHasan, Hasan (forthcoming) “Labor Market Politics in Bahrain” in Hertog, S., forthcoming, Market, Unemployment and Migration in the GCC, Berlin: Gerlach Press

    Salafi accusations in Tunis

    By Kacem Jlidi

    The faculty of arts, letters and humanities at the University of Manouba, just outside Tunis, the capital, has been for almost a year now one of the flashpoints of the role of religion in public life in ‘post-revolutionary’ Tunisia.    

    There was a crackdown on religious expression and practice under the Ben Ali regime, where female students and staff women were forbidden to wear the hijab inside university campuses. As for the guys, no long beards were allowed.

    The Faculty has provided the backdrop for numerous bouts of an ongoing dispute between secularists and ultra-conservative students, also referred to as Salafis.  

    Having a prayer room and allowing female students to sit for exams wearing the niqab are some of the Salafis students’ demands that weren’t welcomed by the administrative body of the Faculty led by Dean Habib Kazdaghli.

    On various occasions the Dean has appeared on state TV and radio concerning the dispute. He justifies his opposition to allowing religious observation to enter the University on the grounds that it impedes the communication process essential for education. 

    Yesterday, July 5 Mr. Kazdaghli appeared before a court for allegedly slapping a female student wearing a niqab.

    The young female Salafi student filed a lawsuit against the Dean claiming he had assaulted her in his office. Mr. Kazdaghli denies this, maintaining that he was only defending himself against an uninvited agitated student who burst into his office.

    The Dean said that the student who lodged a complaint against him was expelled from his faculty for six months because she had refused to take off her niqab. 

    Kazdaghli is being charged with “violence perpetrated by a civil servant in the course of his duties,” a crime that carries a penalty of sixteen days to three years in prison and a fine of between $37 and $300.

    Kazdaghli has the support of university staff and trade unionists who have spoken out against putting him on trial.  A committee that defends university values and academic freedoms has issued a statement saying Kazdaghli “is not the guilty party, he is the victim of aggression”.

    Yesterday’s brief session of the trial was adjourned until October 25 at the request of the defence.

    No wonder Egyptians are confused

    By Karim Adel

    Since Morsi has been in office for only a few days ago, I have tried to feel upbeat despite my opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood members being in office and my fears that they will do all in their power to stay in office even after Morsi's allotted time… Morsi read his presidential oath in Tahrir Square in front of a huge happy  crowd. However, Morsi is a president without a lot of major presidential powers, so for example he cannot declare war or take any decisions regarding security in Egypt. The SCAF will still be in control over the court system, the Ministry of Interior and obviously the military… Many political forces, including pro and anti-Brotherhood, have accused SCAF of wrecking the so-called handover of power to civilian government which they have been promising Egyptians since Mubarak stood down on Feb 11, 2011.

    However, some still argue that this is not such a bad idea, since this will keep the Brotherhood from overpowering other Egyptian constituencies in forming the government under Morsi or in changing anything in the constitution that would oppress Egyptians or give more power to the Brotherhood over future elections. This latter point rather contradicts the rumour that Morsi will offer Dr Mohamed El Baradei the position of prime minister and ask him to form the incoming Egyptian government… Dr Baradei himself it seems, is still waiting for the authorities to settle their problem with SCAF before he accepts, as many suspect that this whole election and civil presidency thing is a trick move from SCAF rather like the one they have recently pulled off by declaring the Parliament unconstitutional. The much-feared “you want some power? here it is! now you failed and we will take it away from you again and restart!” game that has allowed SCAF and the military more time to maintain their rule over Egypt, is a scenario that could easily be repeated. Dr Baradei doesn’t want to be a part of a crippled government that Mubarak’s fallen but still functioning regime can use as a coat hanger for media scapegoating when they start spreading chaos again, just as they did with Essam Sharaf. Sharaf was chosen by the revolutionaries of Tahrir Square and made an oath to serve them, but was then    mercilessly singled out by SCAF and the media, and blamed for spreading mayhem all over Egypt…

    What fuels those fears is that the media has already started spreading many rumours against the Islamist sect in Egypt while former National Security members have been spotted dressing as Islamists, with long beards, walking through the streets and threatening women who have not covered their heads that they will all be forced to wear the hijab soon. It seems that these people are going to great lengths to make it seem like the Islamists are going to oppress the Egyptian people, forcing them into their way of understanding Islam…Such is the news at any rate that has been spreading all over twitter and Facebook in the past week or so as a warning given by the Brotherhood to warn us that some forces will try their best to ruin relations between we Egyptians, the new president and the Islamists.

    Then came the Suez incident, three Islamist Salafis saw a young engineer school student standing alone in the street with his fiancé outside a cinema, and they stopped and began quizzing him (which they are not entitled to do) about how come he could be alone with her without a member of her family accompanying them. They began to argue - him saying it was none of their business, voices got loud and soon a fight broke out. One of the three salafis pulled out a knife and in the cafuffle the student had a few vital arteries in his leg severed … an injury that proved fatal.

    So here we go again. The three salafis have been arrested. Any rumours suggesting that they are ex National Security agents are dead in the water. Fears are still growing and the battle is still going on between the authorities and Morsi, criticised by Egypt’s political and revolutionary forces on one side and the SCAF on the other

    And the average Egyptian is still caught in confusion in the middle…

    To stay up to date with our columnists, bookmark our You Tell Us page and follow the columnists on twitter.

    Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


    We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
    Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData