[This is a monthly roundup of news articles and other materials circulating on Resistance and Subversion in the Arab world and reflects a wide variety of opinions. It does not reflect the views of the DARS Page Editors or of Jadaliyya. You may send your own recommendations for inclusion in each monthly roundup to DARS@jadaliyya.com.]
News & Commentary
Why Are Tyrants Afraid of Laughter? by Hamid Dabashi
In this article, Hamid Dabashi explores the “threat” posed to tyrants by humor, by looking at various examples of cartoonists that have been suppressed or even murdered because of their work.
Powerful Nonviolent Resistance to Armed Conflict in Yemen, by Stephen Zunes and Noor Al-Haidary
While media coverage of Yemen has focused on armed clashes, there has also been widespread nonviolent civil resistance. The most significant setbacks to the Houthi militia in their march across the country have come not from the remnants of the Yemeni army or Saudi air strikes, but from massive resistance by unarmed civilians. These efforts have pressed the Houthis to withdraw forces from previously-held areas including universities, residential neighborhoods, and military bases. The most effective means of ensuring stability and resisting the Houthis, al-Qa’ida, or other extremists comes not from backing strongmen, but from allowing civil society to take the lead.
From Hebron, Palestinian Scarf Resists Chinese Competition, by Ma’an News Agency
In the face of strong competition from China, the traditional, locally produced Palestinian headscarf has put up a show of resistance, successfully pulling itself back from the brink of extinction. Thanks to the business sense of two brothers from the southern West Bank city of Hebron, the traditional black-and-white keffiyeh headscarf has discovered a new lease of life.
Thousands Protest Arab Housing Crisis in Tel Aviv Rally, by Jack Khoury
Several thousand people, mostly Arab citizens, gathered in Tel Aviv’s Rabin square on Tuesday 28 April to protest housing shortages and the policy of house demolitions in Arab communities across the country, from “the triangle” in central Israel to the Negev, the Galilee, and in mixed cities. The protest was held under the slogan “Fighting for our homes.”
Israel Must Free Palestinian MP Khalida Jarrar, by Haaretz
For a month now, Palestinian parliament member Khalida Jarrar has been held in an Israeli prison after being arrested. Israel initially ordered that she be held for six months without trial, in administrative detention, on the grounds of violating a military order to remain in Jericho for six months. When the arbitrary arrest attracted protest from overseas, the Military Advocate General’s office decided to press charges against her. Jarrar’s parliamentary activities have focused on obtaining the release of Palestinian prisoners and the Palestinian application to join the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Israeli Forces Target Journalists in West Bank, by Mel Frykberg
The trend of Israeli security forces using live ammunition against Palestinian protesters has expanded to include journalists. It is increasingly risky to cover clashes and protests between Israeli forces and Palestinian protesters in the West Bank as the number of journalists injured, in what appears to be deliberate targeting by Israeli forces, continues to rise. The assaults have included shooting rubber-coated metal bullets directly at journalists on a regular basis. Tear gas canisters have also been shot directly at journalists from close range even when the journalists were out of the line of fire.
The Right to Resist in Occupied Palestine: Denial and Suppression, by Poorna Mishra
Israel’s reaction to Palestinians exercising the right to resist, a right enshrined in both the customs and treaties of international law, is brutal. The past few weeks have seen an array of incidences highlighting the perversity of the Israeli forces’ suppression of peaceful protest: arbitrary arrests and detentions, tear-gassing of demonstrators and—in the tragic but sadly not unusual case of a teenager allegedly throwing stones—a fatal shooting. By criminalizing non-violent resistance activities, effectively attempting to stifle the Palestinian psyche, Israel advances what Jeff Halper has aptly labelled its “matrix of control”—a complex web of legal, architectural and systemic devices designed to fragment and isolate Palestinian society.
Nonviolent Movements Are Best Chance for Democracy. And They Must Be Helped, by Maciej Bartkowski
As the bombing campaign of Houthi positions in Yemen continued and Saudi Arabia and Egypt threatened ground invasion, the men and women of Taizz, Yemen`s third largest city, came out in thousands last week to protest the Houthi`s take-over of their city. The Taizz residents used the most effective weapon they had, but which the international community often ignores: collective, mostly peaceful, resistance. Four years after the 2011 uprisings, skepticism about the power of the people is widespread. The international community has yet to recognize fully the contributions of nonviolent movements to democratization. Doing so requires a paradigmatic shift in the way it views conflict and political transition.
Rebellious Politics and Civil Society, by Michael Welton
It is not easy to imagine how “public space” can be carved out of totalitarian rock. Civil society is an “arena of deliberative exchange in which rational-critical arguments rather than mere inherited ideas… could determine agreements and actions." Jacek Kuron of Solidarity wrote of the “self-limiting revolution” whose goal was the “constitution from below of a highly articulated, organized, autonomous, and mobilizable civil society.” These days the Left is jaundiced about the Velvet Revolution and the buoyant air has been squeezed out of the Arab Spring. But when the ice melts from history’s window, we do see something of what is possible when we stop being afraid.
Egypt’s Revolution in Reverse, by David A. Graham
After a popular uprising brought down Hosni Mubarak, Mohammed Morsi served as the first democratically elected president of Egypt. But today a former general leads the government, and a court has sentenced Morsi to twenty years in prison. The Muslim Brotherhood`s political party is again banned, and for Mubarak, charges against him have been dismissed and his sons have been let out of jail. The revolution has taken a 360-degree turn back to where it started. It is hard to know whether the Morsi verdict represents the ratifying of a return to the old system. For the time being, it shows that nothing is final in Egyptian politics.
Nadeem Mansour: Fighting for Bread and Social Justice, by Mai Shams El-Din
In this interview, Nadeem Mansour, director of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, speaks to Mada Masr about the challenges facing the labor movement in Egypt and the battle for bread and social justice.
Reexamining Human Rights Change in Egypt, by Heba Morayef
Throughout the 2000s, the human rights community played an enabling role in political activism and protest. Then it moved from a parochial role chipping away at the Mubarak regime’s legitimacy to media stardom in 2011, and from fielding a presidential candidate in 2012 to facing closure and the risk of prosecution two years later. The lack of attention to its role is surprising, given the ubiquitous presence of human rights defenders in the media after Mubarak fell. But while there is a level of comfort in the resilience of these organizations, to exist as a human rights community means also to confront the regime by documenting and condemning the most serious abuses.
The Struggle for a Democratic Bahrain, by Voice of Bahrain
The complicated and relatively bloody conflict between Bahrain’s Sunni rulers and Shi’ite opposition has entered its fourth year with little indication that tensions will ease in the near-term. Since the uprising began, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights has documented ninety-seven deaths as of November 2014. Yet much of the world has overlooked events in this island kingdom, due to its small size, relative global insignificance, and Bahrain’s lack of an easily-digested narrative. However, Bahrain does serve as an important case study for its fellow Gulf Cooperation Council monarchies, which are paranoid about indigenous pro-democracy movements within their own borders.
Amnesty Warns Human Rights Abuses “Unabated” Before Bahrain Grand Prix, by Owen Gibson
A major report from Amnesty International released to coincide with this weekend’s Formula One grand prix has warned that human rights abuses in Bahrain continue “unabated” despite repeated assurances from the authorities that the situation is improving. The Bahrain Grand Prix has become a prism through which human rights groups have sought to focus attention on the situation in the country after protests in the capital by pro-democracy campaigners in 2011 caused the race to be cancelled. The Amnesty report details dozens of cases of detainees being beaten, deprived of sleep and adequate food, burned with cigarettes, sexually assaulted, subjected to electric shocks and burned with an iron.
“Significant Ramping” of Political Repression in the Gulf, Activists Warn, by Jenifer Fenton
Cracking down on dissent is common for Gulf States. Freedom of expression has long been heavily restricted and human rights activists frequently targeted for government reprisal. Over the past four years, Gulf monarchs have dealt with the political ferment sweeping the region by issuing laws to criminalize and punish dissent. Activists and dissidents have been imprisoned or stripped of citizenship. Though it has been clear for more than twenty years that the Gulf countries need to address political representation and freedom of expression, according to Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, an Emirati political scientist, the “forces of status quo are stronger than the forces of change.”
Wealthy and Stable UAE Keeps the Lid on Dissent, by BBC
The United Arab Emirates is considered one of the most stable countries in the Middle East, with an international reputation as a business centre and tourist destination. But behind the glitz and glamour it tolerates no dissent, Gulf expert Christopher Davidson writes. In February three Emirati sisters, Asma, Mariam, and Al-Yazzyah al-Suweidi, were called to a police station in Abu Dhabi and have not been seen since. They had been tweeting in support of their brother, who—along with many others—is currently serving a lengthy prison sentence for his purported role in a "coup plot." One of the sisters made an online plea for his release.
Seven Ways Saudi Arabia Is Silencing People Online, by Ben Beaumont
Raif Badawi is serving a ten-year prison sentence in Saudi Arabia, mainly for setting up a website. Ben Beaumont interviewed another Saudi blogger about different tactics the authorities use to silence people online. “The authorities are fragile. They seek to gag and stifle dissent using various means, including the shameful Terrorism Law that has become a sword waved in the faces of people with opinions. Courts issue prison sentences of ten years or more as a result of a single tweet. Atheists and people who contact human rights organizations are attacked as ‘terrorists’," the blogger said. “Censorship is at its maximum."
2015 Havel Prize Awarded to Girifina, Sakdiyah Ma’ruf, and El Sexto, by Human Rights Foundation
The Human Rights Foundation announces the recipients of the 2015 Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent. The 2015 laureates are the Sudanese nonviolent resistance movement Girifna, Indonesian stand-up comedian Sakdiyah Ma’ruf, and Cuban graffiti artist and activist El Sexto. Girifna, Arabic for “we are fed up,” is a nonviolent resistance movement founded in 2010 by pro-democracy youth activists. Thousands of Girifna members work together to monitor state crackdowns on protests and defend dissidents. Girifna members are a constant target of Omar al-Bashir’s decades-long dictatorship, and continue to play an important role in Sudan.
Iran’s Incremental Revolution, by Abbas Milani
Iran is developing a new kind of politics, located not at the barricades but in culture and ordinary life. The aim is not so much to challenge the central apparatus of authority, but to negotiate new ways of living and thinking. When a country’s rulers try to dictate everything from sartorial style to sexual ethics—as Iran’s Islamic conservatives have consistently done—then every one of those details of daily life becomes a potential flashpoint of resistance. The people of Iran have cleverly, and daringly, learned to turn these restrictions into tools for social and political resistance and change.
Iran Will Allow Women in Sports Stadiums, Reversing a Much-Criticized Rule, by Thomas Erdbrink
In a major shift, Iran announced that women would be allowed to attend big sporting events, reversing a rule that had barred them from entering stadiums to watch matches attended by men. The decision followed criticism from international sport federations and protests by Iranian women and women’s rights activists, and the news cheered activists working for change.
What Changes to Morocco’s Laws Could Mean for Opposition Groups, by Merouan Mekouar
Four years after the start of the first pro-democracy protests, the drafting of a more restrictive penal code is a clear message sent by the government to the opposition: Either accept the status-quo or risk experiencing the full force of the penal apparatus. A surprising sense of revolt is spreading across Moroccan social media after the Ministry of Justice unveiled a new proposed penal code on 1 April. Dubbed the “the law of the underwear” by some pro-democracy activists for its socially restrictive provisions, the proposed penal code is the continuation of a strategy the regime has used since independence: the adoption of a broad range of socially restrictive laws that are largely impossible to uphold, but that can be used to crack down on members of the opposition when the opportunity arises.
Rural Women in Tunisia: “We Have Been Silent For Too Long,” by Nay Elrahi
Tunisia’s rural women, with support from local and international organizations, are trying to bring their ideas to the country’s decision-makers. Many women in rural Tunisia face long trips to access essential services, which are usually located in urban centres. But it is not just better roads and health systems these women want. They want to improve women’s rights at the national level and bring female leaders into politics. Tired of grievances going unnoticed, women work on the Amal programme, which aims to increase rural women’s and girls’ awareness of their rights.
Algeria: Sahrawi Women “Committed” to Continuing Their Struggle for Self-Determination, by Algeria Press Service
The Sahrawi women reaffirmed their commitment to continuing their struggle for the self-determination and independence of their country. Speaking at a conference for the National Union of Sahrawi Women, the participants in this meeting underlined their "commitment" to the Sahrawi people`s right to self-determination, while reiterating their willingness to "always remain in the vanguard of the fight." The members of the association of solidarity with the Sahrawi people "Grenada" are taking part in this event for the tenth time. A photo-exhibition, illustrating the violence perpetrated by the Moroccan occupation on the Sahrawi women, was also organized.
Social Media Helps Dictators, Not Just Protesters, by Seva Gunitsky
Initially welcomed as a democratic panacea, social media has increasingly come to be seen as a mixed blessing—a potentially useful tool that can nevertheless be blocked and sidelined by clever tyrants. The most recent research suggests that in some cases, social media may actually help dictators, so long as they put up sufficient barriers to contrary views. Research into the co-option of social media by governments in Russia, China, and the Middle East, found four different ways in which they have begun to use social media to prolong their rule. These methods go beyond simple censorship in which rulers block or suppress the flow of information. Instead, social media is increasingly being used to actually boost regime stability and strength, transforming it from an obstacle to government rule into another potential tool of regime resilience.
Social Media Responses to this Winter’s Terror Attacks, by Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert
The new form of “hashtag activism” has enormous power because it spreads so quickly, is easy for anyone to adopt, and accordingly is highly visible for journalists and politicians. At the same time, it is equally easy for anyone (including politicians) to lose interest after entering the hashtag, feeling they have “done their bit." Mobilization on social media has enormous potential, precisely because of the opportunities it offers for the rapid proliferation of messages and creating new trends. But this is also where the main challenge lies: every new social-media campaign risks becoming just another one-day wonder. This phenomenon also makes it easier for politicians, who are often the targets of such campaigns, to let the whole thing pass by without comment.
Victory for Palestinian-led Boycott Campaign as Veolia Sells Israel Assets, by Middle East Monitor
Palestinian campaigners have welcomed the news that French multinational corporation Veolia has completed the sale of its water, waste, and energy activities in Israel, following a global campaign against the company`s role in illegal Israeli settlements. The deal reduces Veolia`s debt by $237 million, a divestment described by the company as "a significant activity." Responding to the news, Mahmoud Nawajaa, the general coordinator of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions National Committee, said that "the BDS movement is showing that there is a price to pay for participating in Israel`s colonisation of Palestinian land."
These Saudi Women Are Turning Feminism Into Art, by Mallika Rao
Fundamental problems persist for Saudi women, from guardianship to self-censorship. But art offers a special liberation. For decades, Saudi women have thwarted restrictions by asserting artistic freedom. Cities are finally bottling this energy. In the capital city of Riyadh and the coastal town of Jeddah, a crop of new galleries focus exclusively on women. At Hafez Gallery, the recently closed show, "Anonymous: Was a Woman," looked at depictions of women by female artists. Saudi women tend not to go down in the history books. The works in "Anonymous" built a portrait of female life based on oral histories passed down for generations.
Events & Conferences
The Arab Revolutions: Five Years On, 21-23 January 2016, Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, Doha, Qatar. Call for Papers deadline: 15 June 2015.
ICCG2015: Precarious Radicalism on Shifting Grounds: Towards a Politics of Possibility, 26-30 July 2015, Ramallah, Palestine.