January 14, 2013

Dialogue Over Stereotypes - Sultan Al-Qassemi

[Dialogue Over Stereotypes is an ongoing series intended to highlight the realities and issues faced by women in the Maghreb and the Gulf. The series seeks to break down stereotypes shaped by misperceptions of women from these two regions by engaging locals. For comments or suggestions, email bil3afya@gmail.com]

Bil3afya: There are the common stereotypes and perceptions of Maghrebi women, specifically Moroccan women, in the region. In what ways are these views present in the UAE?

Sultan Al-Qassemi: Unfortunately the perception of Moroccan women in the Gulf veers towards the negative. This is largely to stereotyping and ignorance on the part of the Gulf Arabs who have fell into the same racism trap they accuse others of having.

Some in Morocco perpetuate this negative perception as well. Last year the actress Bouchra Ijork caused a firestorm when she stated that Moroccan women in the Gulf are ambassadors of “humiliation and debasement” and that “there aren’t any doctors and engineers amongst them”. Immediately scores of successful expatriate Moroccan women living in the Gulf issued a joint statement denouncing her comments.  

Many UAE ruling family members are said to have taken Moroccan wives, but I am not sure if that has perpetuated the stereotype or soothed it.

Bil3afya: Can you discuss the use of these perceptions as tools in the general political discourse, especially with regard to Islamist party members?

Sultan Al-Qassemi: There are no official Islamist parties in the Gulf save for Islamist blocs in Bahrain and Kuwait.

Bil3afya: What were your initial reactions and thoughts to the prospects of Morocco joining the GCC?

Sultan Al-Qassemi: I did not see the logic behind bringing Morocco in to the GCC other than it being a monarchy. I discuss the issue in greater detail in this post written a few hours after the announcement. Morocco may have scored points with the Gulf States that are heavily skeptical of Iran after it broke ties with the Islamic Republic in 2009.

Bil3afya: You’ve written about the growing ties between the Arab monarchies. It’s understood that Morocco can economically benefit from these ties with the Gulf monarchies, but how do you see the Gulf monarchies benefiting from closer relations with Morocco?

Sultan Al-Qassem: Now that Egypt has gone the route of an Islamist government it is no longer the ally that some Gulf States considered it to be during the Mubarak era. Perhaps some in the Gulf may want to replace the military alliance that existed with Egypt with one that includes Morocco and perhaps Jordan as well.

Bil3afya: With your interest in art, do you see any common or recurring themes in Maghrebi and Gulf art, especially with the depiction of women?

Sultan Al-Qassemi: In both Morocco and the Gulf states women produce some of the bravest and best contemporary art. Yto Barrada and Lalla Essaydi are great examples from Morrocco and Manal Al Dowayan, Lamya Gargash are examples of the many artists from Saudi and the UAE respectively. The common themes vary from the perception of women, their roles in society to non-female centric themes of economic development, our relationship with nature and poverty.

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