Friday, August 3, 2012

A New War on Women?

Bushra Al-Maqtari 

"The Arab Awakening protest movement encouraged religious tolerance among its participants, while in some instances, the resulting political crisis provided a context that stoked existing religious tensions" - Yemen's Religious Freedom Report

Is it possible that the Arab Awakening opened doors for a new war on women? is there a new form of sexism that is declared in the name of religion?
Women all over the Middle East have been demanding political equality and while we await their democratic freedoms to expand, newspapers are reporting rapes from Libya, sexual assaults in Egypt and deaths in Syria. Sexism is not the least bit a phenomenon in the Middle East; however, the utilization of religion as a tool of war against women is becoming a trend.  Religion, which was once implemented with care and knowledge, is now used in most political conflicts. 

In Yemen, the political war between the Houthis and the government has become about religious ideology. Underneath the religious facade, it is mostly about power to rule. This war even invited unwanted political involvement from Iran and Saudi, threatening the security of the nation with a proxy war; all in the name of religious authenticity. This July, the United States Department of State released the International Religious Freedom Report for Yemen and declared that religious freedom in Yemen is not ideal yet not too problematic. The report focused on religious pluralism and sectarian violence, but it failed to recognize Yemeni women as victims of religious partiality. 

Should Yemeni women be fearful? Perhaps, if they are to choose to have a voice and challenge Yemeni culture. Case in point, Bushra Al-Maqtari, a 31 year-old divorcee from Taizz. Bushra, a journalist, wrote an article about the revolution. In this article, she expressed her thoughts about the bloody battle of Khidar (Dec. 2011) between the demonstrators and pro-Saleh forces. She shared her feelings by saying that she questioned whether God was witnessing everything. While some may agree and many may disagree, religious extremists in the country declared Bushra an infidel who questioned the existence of God. In response, Bushra clarified that she is believing Muslim and that she did not question the existence of God but rather his presence in all situations. Regardless, what Bushra wrote may be a reason for many people to dislike her, but what happened after that made this about all women. 

On January 29, 2011, a public fatwa was issued against Bushra declaring her an "unbeliever", a charge punishable by death. Over night, more than 70 Imams supported this fatwa without solid proof. It is not surprising that many individuals are following these fatwas blindly as the total literacy rate is a mere 45.3%. More recently, Bushra has been threatened more seriously and her reputation was tarnished on facebook and newspapers. Is Bushra going to be safe? lets hope her friends and family can protect her and that Yemenis have more sense than to hurt someone for their opinions.

This is what happens in the absence of a central government. Chaos takes over and at the moment women are in danger. Hurting women by questioning their honor and integrity is not a new political tactic. In fact, it is used globally. Adding radical religion to the equation is what makes this tactic threatening, not only to Yemeni women, but to men who hope to see Yemen prosper. 


  1. Well done Sama'a :)

    I might not agree with what Bushra wrote, (God is present in every situation, he is all around us.. she is a Yemeni Muslim who knows better than to question God`s presence, publicly at least).. But i certainly think that there's a war against women in Yemen, and like you said, religion is the tool.. The situation could have been handled differently..


  2. Thank you Jumana for sharing your opinion. For the sake of argument, I am going to disagree. I think that we should be okay with her critiquing anything she wants because although the culture will be shocked, it is still her right to have an opinion (freedom of speech). The truth is her opinion on God will not change your opinion on God. In her heart, she has not offended Islam because she considers herself a muslim and one of the beautiful things about religion is that it is personal and is capable of being interpreted in different ways. We also should not forget that her article was actually about political conflict, and that her comment on God could be a slip. Therefore, we need to cultivate tolerance in society. Who knows, in a few years she can change her opinion or you can change yours. Opinions are not static.

    Years ago, Islam was tolerant of all religions and ideas, so was Yemen (we had a large Jewish population, bahai'is, ismaelis, zaydis and shafiis). Today there is tension between zaydism and shafi'ism although they are very similar in practice. The problem is that we are making what is political religious; which creates profound divisons in society. Religion and politics were entangled prior to the creation of the modern state system. Today, politics should not use religion against anyone. If we begin to punish people for their beliefs, we are not allowing them a chance for repentance (Allahu rahman raheem).

    Besides religion, let us talk about women. I am very interested to hear your opinion on the war against women, and what it entails. Also, look forward to my next post which includes an opinion by a writer suggesting the men should retire politics and leave it up to women.