A Fledgling Movement: Women and the Iranian election

tajrish-5z-394a64Photo From Feminist School Website

Banner:” we vote for women’s demands”

 

 

 

 

The Mark News and Perspectives Daily

By Haideh Moghissi: Feminist theorist and author; Professor of sociology, York University.

First published May 28, 2009

Iranian voters will soon cast their

ballots for one of the four candidates who have passed the Guardianship Council’s ideological screening. Few people in Iran and even fewer outside believe that the election of a new president would bring meaningful changes to the Islamic regime’s policies. The country’s cleverly designed and forcefully safeguarded political system makes effective challenges from outside virtually impossible. The rule by intimidation and terror, the cancerous corruption of the ruling clerics and their clans, the widening gap between the rich and poor, and the horrifying signs of the profound despair of youth as reflected in growing drug addiction and prostitution, have dashed hopes for the possibility of the Islamic regime reforming itself. Why then has the pending presidential election renewed much excitement, generating debate and rejuvenating activism? While election campaigns always involve the exposure of previous misconduct, incompetency, and outright corruption within the regime, the public is of course not privy to these debates due to the absence of a free press and lack of government transparency. However, elections relieve the tension of day-to-day life in Iran by temporarily putting coercive apparatuses on (shorter) leashes. Also, the relative opening of the political space during elections energizes the opposition to show discontent and push for reforms. The remarkable mobilization of women and youth in the 1997 election of Mohamad Khatami was widely understood as a vote against the more conservative candidate, with a hope to halt Islamists’ further advances against women’s social and political rights. Eight years of Khatami’s inaction and conformist presidency, followed by four year of Ahmadinejad’s military-security-based administration, have more clearly shown the futility of hopes placed on any candidate from within the Islamic political and cultural system. This reality drove many Khatami enthusiasts into despair and admissions of defeat. Not the Iranian feminist activists though. In fact, this round of Iran’s pre-election politics is marked by the full-force entry of the Iranian women’s movement onto the political scene with a well-thought-out strategy that has mobilized many change-seeking individuals and groups within civil society. Without supporting any presidential candidate, Iranian women, under the banner of “women’s coalition movement” (jonbesh-e Hamgerai’i), have proclaimed two major demands: 1) Joining the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); 2) A constitutional amendment to eliminate discriminatory articles that deprive women of equal rights with men. This ingenious strategy has so far drawn support from over 35 women’s and social justice groups and 600 activists and intellectuals, some of whom may not actually cast their votes in favour of any candidate. The campaign has forced all four candidates to spell out their views on the plight of women in Iran and what they would do to improve it. For instance, two candidates, Karrubi and Rezaee, have committed themselves to including a woman in their cabinet. Others have articulated their opposition to restrictions on women’s legal rights and public participation. Obviously, election promises are not to be taken too seriously, as the electorate in Iran, as elsewhere, knows only too well. While the intent of women’s entry into Iranian electoral politics is more modest, it has longer-term objectives. They do not ignore or deny the legitimizing impact of women’s participation in the elections, particularly at a time when the Islamic regime is increasingly losing its legitimacy. With much confidence and political maturity, they have expanded their consciousness-raising activities, reaching out to the broadest sections of the population, distributing thousands of pamphlets outlining why they have entered into electoral politics and their immediate and long-term goals. They want to seize the relatively free political space – which will only last until the elections are over – in order to publicize women’s demands, to strengthen contact with the general population, to rebuild relations, and create solidarity between women’s groups and other social justice and human rights activists. In other words, they have entered into election politics with a clear vision of what is possible to achieve and what is not, and are determined not to let go of what is possible because of what is not. Starting with their defiance against wearing the head scarf ordered by Khomeini only three weeks after the 1979 Revolution, Iranian women have remained at the forefront of the struggle for democracy and justice, exposing and pushing back the Islamists’ offensive inch by inch. But at no time has the political influence of women and women’s issues been so profoundly visible as at present.

Palestine in Venice

 

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Palestine c/o Venice

53rd International Art Exhibition – 
La Biennale di Venezia
June 7th – Sept. 30th, 2009

Opening reception June 6th at 5 pm
Venue: 
Convento Ss. Cosma & Damiano,
Campo S. Cosmo,
Giudecca Palanca, 
30133 Venezia
Palestine c/o Venice marks the first Palestinian participation at the Venice Biennale. Rather than adopt one theme, the exhibition takes on a conceptual framework that embraces the Palestinian people questioning the disproportionate use of the media image of nameless faces and voiceless people. Two of the art projects are collaborative interventions with diverse Palestinian communities whose members will travel to Venice to participate in the art performance and/or the Symposium.

Cairo Under Siege Ahead Of Obama’s Speech

Huffington Post Op-Ed: Cairo Under Siege Ahead Of Obama’s Speech

The Huffington Post asked me to write an Op-Ed regarding Obama’s visit…

Right before he took off from DC, on what the media has been depicting as some “odyssey,” to address the Muslim World from Cairo, President Obama had described the 81-year-old Egyptian President Mubarak as a “force for stability.” This week Cairo and its twin city Giza have been a showcase of what this “stability” cost.

The capital is under occupation. Security troops are deployed in the main public squares and metro stations. Citizens were detained en masse and shops were told to close down in Bein el-Sarayat area, neighboring Cairo University, where Obama will be speaking. In Al-Azhar University, the co-host of the “historical speech,” State Security police raided and detained at least 200 foreign students, held them without charges in unknown locations. Exams were postponed in the major universities fearing demonstrations, and students were told to stay at home. And in several areas in Cairo and Giza, there will be in effect a curfew, where shops won’t be allowed to open, citizens instructed not to open their windows. Almost everyone I know will be staying home tomorrow watching Obama’s speech, not necessarily because they are keen on knowing what the freshly-elected US leader has to say to the Muslim world, but because they know it will be virtually impossible to move anywhere in the city on Thursday thanks to Obama’s force-for-stability host.

Those few dozens, who dared in this atmosphere to call for a peaceful protest against the visit on Wednesday evening, were met by hundreds of plainclothes police informers in Tahrir Square, Cairo’s biggest, together with thousands of riot police conscripts in their armored trucks. Police cracked down rounding up several figures from the opposition, and chasing the rest of the protesters in the side streets of downtown Cairo.

“Republicans screw the Arabs. Democrats screw the Arabs, but with a smile,” is a popular saying among the dissidents’ circles in Egypt. President Obama’s choice of our country as his next destination from where to address the Muslim World only validates the saying. Even before his “historical speech” is delivered, Obama’s “mini-historical speeches” have been nothing but one slap after the other on the faces of human rights campaigners in the region. After conversing with the Saudi monarch, “yes we can” changed to “I’m struck by his majesty’s wisdom.” Will the next step be praising the public beheadings in the kingdom as an example of ideal justice?

Hosni Mubarak has ruled Egypt since 1981 with an iron fist, detention facilities, and a fearful security aparatus which is engaged in systematic torture of dissidents and ordinary Egyptian citizens, as documented by local and international rights watchdogs. He has always managed to get away with good coverage in the Western press, however, that tended to focus on his “moderate” (read: obedient to US foreign policy) role as “peacemaker” in the region, besides the archeological discoverings of the I-so-wanna-be-Indiana-Jones, also known as Mr. Zahi Hawas.

Despite the repression of street politics in the 1980s and 1990s, dissidents got the courage to start mobilizing in the streets ever since the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000. From December 2006, the country has been embracing the strongest wave of labor strike action since WWII. The Egyptian workers are striking and organizing under very difficult conditions, with draconian anti-strike laws and state-dominated unions. But what started as a struggle for bread and butter issues is increasing becoming political, with an expanding layer of new strike leaders raising demands for regime change. And in an unprecedented move, thefirst free trade union in the history of Egypt was declared last December, by theproperty tax collectors who already went on a three month strike in 2007 bringing down tax collection by 90%. By the domino effect, a wave of free unions is brewing. The formation of free unions have always been in the heart of democratization like we’ve seen in Poland and South Korea for example.

The Egyptian striking workers will most probably not feature in Obama’s speech Thursday, but they together with the pro-democracy movement are seeking allies in the West. Allies that could not be found in the White House or 10 Downing Street. They are non-governmental actors like human rights NGOs, labor and trade unions, which we urge to extend their solidarity to their Egyptian brothers and sisters, and to pressure the US administration into severing all ties and funding to the Mubarak’s dictatorship, the second largest recipient of US foreign aid after Israel.

Political cartoon by Khalil Bendib

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This Week on VOMENA

 

6/03/09:   imagesProfessor Beshara Doumani will be in conversation with Fawwaz Traboulsi, History Professor, long-time political commentator , and weekly columnist for As-Safir. They will discuss the upcoming the parlimentary elections in Lebanon.

And,  Israeli born jazz artist Gilad Atzmon  talks to Khalil Bendib about his politics and music as well as his upcoming concerts in Palo Alto and Berkeley. http://www.norcalism.org/events.html

Voices of the Middle East and North Africa – Lebanon’s Parlimentary Elections; Israeli Born Jazz musician Gilad Atzmon – June 3,

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Weekly Cartoon by Khalil Bendib

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The Wounds of Gaza: A Report by Lancet

gaz47-25jan09Two Surgeons from the UK, Dr Ghassan Abu Sittah and Dr Swee Ang, managed to get into Gaza during the Israeli invasion. Here they describe their experiences, share their views, and conclude that the people of Gaza are extremely vulnerable and defenseless in the event of another attack.

The Lancet Global Health Network removed the report from its website on March 2nd

Boston Globe: Scenes from the Gaza Strip

Read the report here

Listen to VOMENA’s Malihe Razazan interview one of the authors of piece:

Voices of the Middle East and North Africa – May 27, 2009 at 7:00pm

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This Week on Voices of the Middle East and North Africa

4/29/09

Berkeley History Professor Beshara Doumani will be in conversation with Leila Farsakh, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Boston.  She is the author of Palestinian Labour Migration to Israel: Labour, Land and Occupation

The full audio of the interview will be posted on Tuesday, May 5th, 

 A conversation with young Pakistani-American playwright Wahajat Ali and his producer and Pre-eminent  literary figure, Ishmael Reed, about the play The Domestic Crusaders

 A conversation with Michel Shehade about the May 7th screening of “Salt of This Sea”, a sneak preview benefit for the 13th Annual Arab Film Festival. The screening will be at 7 PM at California Theater located at 2113 Kittredge Street in Berkeley. 

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Voices of the Middle East and North Africa – April 29, 2009 at 7:00pm

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This Week on Voices of the Middle East and North Africa

4/22/09

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 geno14Commemorating the 94th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

- Conversation with Matthew Jendian,Associate Professor of Sociology at California State University, Fresno , as well as Stephan Astourian, Executive Director of the Armenian Studies Program and Adjunct Assistant Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley. Armenian Students Association at UC Berkeley will be commemorating the Armenian Genocide by holding a series of events at on the campus during the week. 

 

- A conversation with  Benjamin Gilmour about his debut film “ Son of a Lion” that will be screened in this year’s SF Film Festival. The festival is scheduled to start on April 23.  

Voices of the Middle East and North Africa – April 22, 2009 at 7:00pm

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Resources of Interest

Armenian Genocide  week at UC Berkeley

35th Annual Teacher Outreach Conference: Russia and Her Neighbors

San Francisco Film Festival



 



 

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This week on Voices of the Middle East and North Africa

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4/15/09

Professor Mahmood Mamdani, prominent political scientist and anthropologist at Columbia University. Mahmood Mamdani’s new book is entitled “ Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics and the War on Terror

 

 

  

achaemenid-reliefDr. Renée Dreyfus, Curator in Charge of Ancient Art and Interpretation at Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco about a rare Achaemenid Persian relief that recently became part of the museum’s permanent collection. An all-day symposium celebrates this recent ancient art acquisition on Saturday, April 25, 2009.

 

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Rasha

 

 

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