October 29, 2013

The Politics of Kissing

[Image that landed the teenagers from Nador in jail.]
During the beginning of this month, two teenagers from the northern city of Nador were arrested for uploading an image of them kissing one another. The two teenagers and a male friend, presumably the one who took the picture, face charges of “public indecency.” After they were held in a juvenile detention center, the teenagers’ trial was postponed on 12 October 2013 until 22 November. The defense attorney cited the pursuit of “an inquiry into the social circumstances of the teenagers” as the reason for the trial’s delay. In reaction to the arrest of these teenagers, a solidarity campaign entitled #FreeBoussa was launched on social media. The campaign included images of couples kissing one another and calls for a sit-in, which ended up taking place in Rabat on 12 October 2013.

Multiple layers embedded in this case and the reaction that followed merits a deeper reading. Firstly, the arrest of these teenagers was, first and foremost, a grave violation of their right of expression. With the public prosecution citing laws relating to “public indecency,” it demonstrates the role of the state in policing social norms and defining morals along conservative lines. Secondly, the state’s role as the “social” police is bolstered by its socioeconomic policies that have marginalized the Rif region, where the arrest of these teenagers took place (specifically the city of Nador). The relationship between the state and the inhabitants of the Rif region, more so than the rest of Morocco, has been rife with a history of violence, oppression, and deprivation—policies that emerged from under the reign of Mohammed V, were strengthened under Hassan II, and solidified under Mohammed VI. Thirdly, the solidarity campaign that grew in response to the arrest of these teenagers has succeeded in gaining wider media attention and drawing more scrutiny to the case. To the extent that it has it has acted as a societal disruption, such as the public kiss-in that took place in Rabat, aspects of the campaign uncritically embrace liberal views on individual freedoms. Such an approach, which fails to address the fact that the arrest of these teenagers is beyond the simple act of kissing, opens the window for more state oppression.

July 8, 2013

The Question of State-Feminism in the Gulf

The question of how the Arab uprisings have and will affect the lives and rights of women in the region is particularly significant in the Arab Gulf states.
Women in this part of the region find themselves faced with two challenges: the efficiency of state-driven feminism on one side, and their struggle to push for their rights in the public arena on the other. Both the state and social forces often fail to prioritise women's rights with the result that women are compelled to negotiate their rights within these two spheres.
In Kuwait, educated women of the upper and middle classes have fought for decades for their rights to vote and to run in parliamentary elections. In 2005, they were granted those political rights despite opposition from Islamists. Throughout their struggle, those activists recognised the state as their supporter.
Elitist rights activists in Kuwait continue to reproduce a stereotypical image of feminism as a struggle for the rights of certain women. Female politicians and activists, until the Arab uprisings, had not campaigned for the rights of Kuwaiti women married to foreign men. They failed to highlight issues of women who are not educated, do not have jobs or come from marginalised and underprivileged groups. They continue to view gender equality in terms of having more official posts and power sharing. They do not ask how society can support these women while being dependent on the state.

July 4, 2013

Nabilla Benattia, the "French Kim Kardashian": Power Behind Popularity

It was a simple expression:

“Euh, allô! non, mais allô, quoi. T'es une fille et t'as pas de shampooing? Allô. Allô! Je ne sais pas, vous me recevez? T'es une fille, t'as pas de shampooing? C'est comme si je dis: t'es une fille, t'as pas de cheveux.”

"Um, hello! No, seriously, hello. You’re a girl and you don’t have shampoo? Hello. Hello! Can you hear me? You’re a girl and you don’t have shampoo? It’s as if I say: you’re a girl and you don’t have hair.”

Never mind her problematic assumption that the amount of hair a person has determines their gender, or the now renowned phrase that is splashed over French billboards and advertisements. Nabilla Benattia, a popular French reality star, has even gone so far as to trademark the whole phrase over its popularity. The perception of her character, which may or not be scripted, along with her physical appearance, gender, and ethnicity formulate a package that merit a critique of the nature of her popularity. Were she not "exotic" looking (she is often referred to as the "French Kim Kardashian"), with a name from the "bled," the conditions of her popularity may have been different. Being a daughter of an Algerian father, by default, she is subject to a set of imposed norms that are framed by questions such as "What does an Algerian woman look like?," "What does an Algerian woman act like?," "What does an Algerian woman believe?," and other rigid notions whose scopes are limited to old binaries. These questions shape dominate perceptions, as is evident through the highest searched terms in reference to Nabilla.

June 17, 2013

The Gulf-Maghreb: Marginalizing Egypt and Empowering Militarism

This is the illustration made by Gulf News for Sultan's column;
notice out how Western-looking the Algerian dude is. yeah.
A week ago, UAE's commentator Sultan al-Qassemi wrote a column for Gulf News about the continuous cooperation between his country and Algeria. He illustrated several points in his article: 
1) UAE is more invested in Algeria now for being in complete conflict with the Brotherhood ruling of Egypt
2) Algeria's economy continues to grow 
3) Algeria has the largest military budget in Africa 
4) Algeria kicked the Islamists' asses. 
5) Algeria will be better soon if a [young man] gets elected democratically
As some of you might have noticed, the column is bombarded with a problematic set of ideas, however, they tell us much about the Gulf's standing towards the Maghreb region. Following the Arab uprisings and the rapid changes the Arab world is going through (especially when it comes to the political power of Ikhwan, interior dissent, and foreign policies), Gulf regimes looked for the Maghreb region as their alternative answer considering the long history of the Western-backed military dictatorships of the Maghreb.

May 29, 2013

Raids on Gulf Migrants

In the past few weeks, 200,000 undocumented immigrants were deported from Saudi. Arrested in raids, left to sleep in the open air, piled in front of migration offices, and shown every kind of discrimination and abuse, those immigrants continue to be deported by the country that is home to King Abdullah’s Interfaith Dialogue Center.
Simultaneously, Kuwait follows its “big sister,” deporting hundreds in the past few weeks. Pictures of those migrants are taken without their permission, while policemen pose proudly as they fulfill their national duties. Racism is a living legacy in the Gulf, softened by Western powers and overlooked by media that would prefer to cover the story of a handsome man being deported from Saudi rather than those of the tens of thousands deported.
Below are pictures collected from the few reports available.
Mohammed is an undocumented Yemeni in Saudi Arabia showing his severe workplace injury. Source: Yemen Times.