New Initiatives: “The Muslim Element”

September 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Aqeela Naqvi, TMO

BLACK_AND_WHITE_Aqeela_NaqviAs the times progress and technology develops, different and new ways are being found to accomplish age-old goals. From teaching children their A-B-C’s, to distance education, to social interaction—the amount of new and innovative means to accomplish these ends are innumerable. Everyone is looking for less traditional, and more creative ways to cater to society’s interests, in particular, those of the youth.

A group of youth from New Jersey has identified with and understood this phenomenon, and has undertaken the task of using newer, more creative technology to develop a positive sense of brotherhood between Muslim youth, as well as youth of other religious and cultural backgrounds. “The Muslim Element” (The Mu for short), as they call themselves, is an initiative founded in 2010 to provide products that express their religious as well as universal humanitarian beliefs. They are currently focused on providing clothing that embodies various messages, the goal being to positively affect the lives of youth by allowing them to connect to their religion through the use of a more creative and modern medium. The Mu garners no profit from their sales: every penny generated by the organization is used either for the creation of new products and t-shirts, or is given back to the community in the form of charitable donations or sponsorship of events at local Islamic centers.

Muslim_ElementThe Muslim Element has developed three products thus far, one of which being a “Freedom” t-shirt, sold in early 2011, when revolutions were sparking across the Islamic world. This shirt helped to get youth involved in promoting the idea of freedom and justice in a more innovative and creative manner than before. Even if they could not physically attend rallies to demand freedom for those innocents being oppressed in countries across the world, they could display their support of justice and truth to everyone they met through the clothing they wore.

Initiatives such as these are necessary for reaching out to new generations of youth. The Muslim Element supports the enlightenment of Muslims—especially the younger generation living in the West—and aims to show them through messages embodied in clothing that they should take pride in who they are and the beautiful messages of truth and justice, propagated by the religion they believe in. In this way, says their mission statement, they hope to help the youth to “remain vigilant in understanding their faith and their humanity, develop an awareness of relatable and current topics in the world, and actively propagate truths and dispel misconceptions about the beautiful religion of Islam.”

More information about this initiative, as well as vending information for your local center, can be found online at: www.facebook.com/TheMuslimElement

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Young Muslims and Hope—Symphony of Brotherhood

September 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Some in Egypt See Threat After Mubarak

June 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Shaimaa Fayed and Abdel Rahman Youssef

CAIRO/ALEXANDRIA (Reuters) – Down the narrow alleyways of Cairo’s Sayidda Zeinab neighborhood, 100 men sway their heads and clap in rhythm as they invoke God’s name.

“O how you have spread benevolence,” chant the men, some dressed in ankle-length galabeya robes, to celebrate the birth of Fatima al-Zahraa, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad (s).
The men are followers of the centuries-old Azaimiya Sufi order who seek to come closer to God through mystical rites.

Some say their traditions are now threatened by Islamists elbowing for influence after the overthrow of Egypt’s veteran leader Hosni Mubarak.

Tensions have long rumbled between the country’s estimated 15 million Sufis, attached to some 80 different orders, and ultra-conservative Salafists who see Sufi practices such as the veneration of shrines as heresy.

The ousting of Mubarak in February has loosened state control over Islamist groups that he suppressed using an emergency law in place since 1980.

As Sufis seek to defend traditions dating back centuries, what began as a loose religious identity could be gelling, gradually, into a political movement.

“If the Sufis stood side by side, they could be an important voting bloc … but their political and organizational power is less than their numerical power,” said political analyst Nabil Abdel Fattah.

Alaa Abul Azaim, sheikh of the Azaimiya Sufi order, says moves by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi groups to enter formal politics endanger religious tolerance and oblige Sufis to do the same.

“If the Salafists or Muslim Brotherhood rise to power, they could well cancel the Sufi sheikhdom, so there has to be a party for Sufis,” Abul Azaim said.

Sledgehammers

Shrines dedicated to saints are central to Sufi practice and can be found in towns and villages across Egypt, but they are frowned upon by Salafists.

Many are built inside mosques and contain the tombs of saints. They are often highly decorated, using wood and mother-of-pearl.

Some religious conservatives also dislike Sufi moulids — festivals celebrating the birthdays of saints that have become carnival-like events popular even among non-Sufis in Egypt.
Moulid music has found its way into pop culture, such as the well-known puppet operetta “El Leila El Kebira” (The Big Night).

Fears for the future of Sufi traditions were underlined in April, when two dozen Islamists wielding crowbars and sledgehammers tried to smash a shrine used by Sufis in the town of Qalyoub north of Cairo. Their plan failed when residents rallied to defend the site revered for generations.

Salafist leaders denied their followers were behind the shrine attack and condemned it, while making it clear that they oppose the shrines.

“The Salafi call does not reject Sufism,” said Sheikh Abdel Moneim el-Shahat, official spokesperson for the Salafi movement in Alexandria. “We reject (the practice of) receiving blessings from tombs and shrines because it is against Sharia law.”

He said Salafis believe religious blessings can only be sought from the Black Stone of the Kaaba in the Saudi city of Mecca. Millions of Muslims circle the stone during the Hajj pilgrimage.

No Sufi Party Yet

Egypt’s constitution forbids political parties formed on overtly religious lines. That has not stopped Salafist groups such as al-Gama’a al-Islamiya and the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood moving to create parties to compete in September elections.

No overtly Sufi party has emerged — adepts of Sufism, with their emphasis on personal development and inner purification, have till now seen little sense in forming a political movement.
But one nascent party, al-Tahrir (Liberation), has pledged to defend their interests and, by doing so, has built most of its membership from among the Sufi community.
“There is no doubt that the (Islamist) flood that’s coming … scares them,” said the party’s founder Ibrahim Zahran.

Affirmative political action would mark a departure for Egypt’s Sufis, who have tended to submit to the will of Egypt’s political leaders since the 12th century.
“From Sultan Saladin al-Ayubi until Mubarak, Sufism was used by the state to reinforce its legitimacy,” said sociologist Ammar Aly Hassan.

In a sign they are more ready to challenge authority, sheikhs of 13 Sufi orders have staged a sit-in since May 1 calling for the removal of Sheikh Abdel Hadi el-Qasabi, the head of the Sufi Sheikhdom who was appointed by Mubarak in 2009.

They say Qasabi broke a tradition of ordaining the eldest sheikh to the position and they refuse to have him as their leader as he was a member of Mubarak’s disbanded National Democratic Party.
Many Sufis oppose the idea of an Islamic state promoted by Islamists who take the Iran’s theocracy or the Wahhabi ideology of staunchly conservative Saudi Arabia as a model.
Sufi Sheikh Gaber Kassem of Alexandria criticized the political ambitions of the Muslim Brotherhood and its slogan ‘Islam is the Solution’.

“This is a devotional matter, a religious call … so how are they entering politics? Is this hypocrisy?” he said.

(Writing by Shaimaa Fayed; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer and Jon Hemming)

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Workers and Women Fight for Their Share of Egypt’s Revolution

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Some 100,000 protesters gathered in Tahrir Square on May 27 to demand civilian, not military, rule.

By Reese Erlich

EGYPT/

A boy jumps from a pedestrian bridge into a small branch of the river Nile, to cool off on a hot day in Cairo June 3, 2011.

REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih

CAIRO—As Dr. Mohammad Shafik stands in the chaotic emergency room of the Cairo hospital where he works, his biggest worry as patients are wheeled in is not about issues of medical care. What concerns him is the lack of police protection against the fights and even murders that occur all too often in the city’s hospitals. A dispute between two people might result in one coming to the hospital with a gunshot wound, and then the relatives of those involved “come in and fight here,” he says. “All the police disappear with the hint of danger.”

Egyptian police, once a key component in the repressive apparatus of Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship, now often refuse to carry out their jobs, according to Shafik and other doctors. That’s just one sign of the upheaval roiling Egypt since the revolution that forced Mubarak’s resignation in February.

The health care system has become an important battle ground. Shafik says, “Of course we haven’t totally changed the regime as we had hoped. They are trying to reinvent the regime with new faces. That’s what makes the health care struggle key in Egypt. Every percentage point for increasing health care will come from the budget of the Ministry of Interior and other parts of the oppressive machine.”

The government allocates 3.6 percent of the national budget for health care, while the repressive Ministry of Interior funds an armed force of 1.4 million police.

Immediately after the revolution, doctors and other hospital staff members in various parts of Egypt formed independent unions. At Shafik’s hospital, Manshiet el Bakry, freshly organized workers threw out the old, pro-Mubarak hospital administrator and elected a new one.

Similar independent unions have sprung up spontaneously in textile, aluminum and other factories. Even the workers who issue marriage licenses have unionized and threatened to strike for higher pay.

Union members are asking for a minimum wage of $200 per month, among other demands. A hospital resident such as Shafik currently earns a base pay of only $50 per month.

Ellis J. Goldberg, a political science professor at the University of Washington and now visiting professor at American University in Cairo, says the current military government in Egypt is unwilling to meet such demands.

“They don’t want to make those hard decisions,” he says. “They might if there was some major political upheaval by the workers.”

Goldberg notes that hundreds of workplaces around the country have experienced strikes and demonstrations since February. A plethora of independent unions, worker federations and worker parties arose. To date, some have won local demands for wage increases or replacement of workplace administrators. But the government has resisted more thoroughgoing changes.

Goldberg says Mubarak cronies still control much of the economy through corruption and political patronage.

Some 40 “people formed the leadership of the ruling party and had significant economic interest in sectors of the economy benefiting from state contracts,” he says. “They used political power to maintain monopolies.”

Twenty years ago, the Mubarak regime began selling off state-owned enterprises to favored cronies, resulting in the layoff of tens of thousands of workers. Today, many workers want to re-nationalize some of the factories.

Fatma Ramadan, a researcher with the Union of Workers and Working Forces, says, “I favor re-nationalization. But workers should be part of the new management.”

Many organizations are competing for worker support. Conservative Islamist groups, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, have considerable backing among rural farmers, workers and the urban poor.
The Muslim Brotherhood has generally opposed strikes and demonstrations against the military government. It hopes to gain a substantial number of seats in the September parliamentary elections, and Brotherhood leaders are cooperating with the military in the meantime.

Brotherhood officials stress that strikes and demonstrations are too disruptive, a view that is shared by many ordinary Egyptians.

Interviewed after Friday prayers at a mosque, truck driver Ahmad Fathi says, “We should give the government some time. We shouldn’t have sit-ins and demonstrations every day. We need time for things to get back to normal.”

But union leaders and Tahrir Square activists don’t want things to go back to normal. Women workers are demanding an end to discrimination in hiring and promotions, and want government-funded child care. Fatma Ramadan says, “A woman is supposed to feed the kids and take them to school—along with working. There’s a lot of pressure on women workers.”

Women played an important role in the occupation of Tahrir Square and in the subsequent demonstrations and strikes. Women in Egypt are more prominent in professions and society in general than those in many other Arab countries.

For example, says Dr. Nadia el Ebissy, about 60 percent of the 400 doctors at Manshiet el Bakry Hospital are women. That’s partly because of opportunities for women in medical education and partly because many male doctors leave the country to earn higher salaries.

On March 8, International Women’s Day, some 1,000 women and their male supporters rallied in Cairo to demand, among other things, that women be allowed to run for president and become judges. The rally was viciously attacked, some say by thugs of the former regime.

Salma Shukrallah, a journalist with Ahram Online, says the Women’s Day attack didn’t permanently set back the efforts for women’s equality. She says major politicians must now at least pay lip service to the idea that a woman could be president. “Women’s demands are very much central,” she says. “But the widespread social values are still very sexist.”

Back at Manshiet el Bakry Hospital, newly elected administrator Dr. Milad Ismail has found interim funding through outside donations. “We now depend on donations from civil society, NGOs, from doctors at the hospital,” he says. “We also rely on the spirit of the workers.” Some hospital profits will now be used to hire private security guards to protect the doctors and staff. Dr. Ismail says the battle continues to get adequate funding from the Ministry of Health.

Dr. Shafik says the Tahrir Square occupation changed medical workers’ lives forever. “Doctors had revolutionary experiences,” he says. “Protesters died in our hands. That experience which has been transferred to us cannot be taken away.”

Veteran foreign correspondent Reese Erlich has covered the Middle East for 25 years. His reports from Egypt are funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Follow his blogs and read his other stories at the Pulitzer center’s website.

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INTERVIEW-Brotherhood Says Won’t Force Islamic Law on Egypt

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Yasmine Saleh

CAIRO, May 29 (Reuters) – The Muslim Brotherhood wants a diverse parliament after elections in September and is not seeking to impose Islamic law on Egypt, the head of the group’s newly formed political party said in an interview.

The Brotherhood, which has emerged as a powerful force after years of repression under ousted President Hosni Mubarak, has said it does not want a parliamentary majority, although rivals see it as well placed for a dominant position.

With secular politicians struggling to mount a challenge, Western investors are concerned about what a shift to an Islamic-leaning government would mean for Egypt, which relies on receipts from Western and other tourists and where tension between Muslims and the Christian minority have flared.

“We only use Islam as the basis of our party … which means that our general framework is Islamic sharia … We don’t issue religious rules in individual cases,” said Mohamed Mursi, head of the Brotherhood’s newly formed Justice and Freedom Party, which will contest the vote.

Liberal Egyptians in particular worry that the group could use for its own ends the second article of Egypt’s constitution, which makes sharia, Islamic law, a main source of legislation.
Egypt’s military rulers suspended the old constitution and introduced an interim one, but that article was unchanged.

Mursi, speaking in the group’s new five-storey headquarters in Mokattem on the outskirts of Cairo, dismissed such worries.

“We want to engage in a dialogue not a monologue,” he said. “The Brotherhood does not seek to control the parliament … We want a strong parliament … with different political forces.”
But he said Islamic law could have a place in a civil state in Egypt, where about 10 percent of the 80 million population are Christians. “Islamic sharia guarantees the rights of all people, Muslims and non-Muslims,” he said.

Mursi said he would stick by the Brotherhood’s pledge not to field a presidential candidate or support any Brotherhood member running, as one has already said he will do.

“The group said it will not field a candidate for the presidency or support one if decides to do so independently,” he said.

No Economic Platform Yet

The Brotherhood’s new offices are emblazoned with its emblem of crossed swords, a scene unimaginable in the Mubarak era when its members were rounded up in regular sweeps and it worked from two cramped apartments in Cairo.

Mursi, head of the engineering department in Egypt’s Zaqaziq University, led the Brotherhood’s parliament bloc in the 2000-2005 parliamentary session. The Brotherhood used to field its candidates as independents to skirt a ban on its activities.

The Brotherhood, which has spread deep roots in Egypt’s conservative Muslim society partly through a broad social programme, held 20 percent of seats in the 2005-2010 parliament.

It boycotted last year’s vote because of accusations of rigging, which rights groups said had been a feature of all votes under Mubarak.

Mursi said an economic platform had not yet been drawn up as the party, formed in April, was still organising itself.

But some secular politicians and other Egyptians are concerned that women and Christians could be sidelined and that alcohol could be banned, which analysts say is a concern as many tourists to Egypt are non-Muslims wanting a beach holiday and who might be deterred if alcohol is not served.

One in eight Egyptian jobs depend on tourism.

On Christians, he said: “We want everyone to be reassured … that we want to see our Christian brothers elected in parliament … We don’t want one group to control the parliament, neither the Brotherhood nor anyone else.”

Of the party’s 9,000 registered members, he said 100 were Christian and 1,000 were women, adding that the party’s deputy head, Rafik Habib, was a Christian.

When asked if the party could propose a law to prohibit alcohol, Mursi said such changes would be up to parliament to decide, not a single group, such as the Brotherhood.

“The Egyptian constitution is not the constitution of the Brotherhood but … of the Egyptian people,” said Mursi, adding that the constitution “says Egypt’s legislation is based on the principles of sharia, and not its details”.

(Editing by Edmund Blair and Elizabeth Piper)

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Dissent and Defiance in Damascus

April 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ali Khan

13 April 2011–Young people in Syria are talking about their future. While Bashar al-Assad makes concessions that fail to convince, what is clear is the growing divide between government and people – however anxiously the world looks on.

JORDAN/

A Syrian girl in Jordan in a protest in front of the Syrian embassy in Amman 4/24/11.

REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

Dictatorships are built on myths. When people begin to see the lies for what they are, the psychosis of fear melts away. Living in Damascus, one could not help but notice the intricate tapestries of illusions that the government had so carefully woven. The ever-present posters of various potentates across the Arab world are not just the machinations of arrogant and egotistical men but rather serve as daily reminders of the fact that everyone is under constant surveillance. I remember sitting in a coffee shop in Damascus with some friends when the owner came and sat with us because we had begun to discuss Arab politics. The café was empty and we were sitting at the back. The owner asked us if we had switched off our mobiles and taken the battery out. I, being the only foreigner, asked why, to which he replied that the Syrian government could listen into the conversation even if the phone is not making a call.

Obviously not all Syrians believe in these kind of stories but it is helpful in illustrating how the ostensibly mysterious and the brutal nature of regimes compels people to take part in creating these myths, thereby strengthening the hold of the regime over people. Another more popular ‘fact,’ which many foreign visitors write about, is how a large percentage of taxi drivers work for the mukhabarat or the intelligence service. Of course, there will always be people who are willing to provide information to the government that they deem to be important. Much of it in reality is inconsequential, but again it helps perpetuate the mystery of tyranny. Although the Syrian intelligence services have a fearsome reputation, largely because of their reliance on a massive network of human and not electronic intelligence, the recent events in Syria have started to show fissures and cracks forming in the regime.

Revolutions are unpredictable and hundreds of people can be killed before a small act ignites everyone into taking to the streets. As we saw in Egypt, the ‘uprisings’ built up momentum for many weeks before finally exploding, although it remains to be seen if the revolution is over yet. There seems to be a similar momentum building up in Syria. There has been much speculation about the role of electronic media, facebook and twitter in catalysing the various movements across the Arab world. Although there can be no denying the fact that facebook and twitter allow for instant dissemination of news and important information, I have also seen them being manipulated by some people. One friend posted a video of a ‘protest’ at a mosque in Syria with a short clip of people shouting “Allahu Akbar – God is great”. However, when another friend found a longer version of the same clip, it turned out to be a group of people who were chanting the takbir (Allahu Akbar) after the Friday sermon of one of the state-vetted clerics.

Over the last few weeks I have watched with great interest a debate take place amongst my friends in Syria about their future. Some people made their profile pictures black as a sign of protest, others have used a Syrian flag and yet others have put up a picture of Bashar al-Assad. When I was living in Damascus, opposition to the government was not as widespread as one might have expected and indeed Syrians might be slower than others about coming out to protest.

Indeed, there was even an implicit understanding about what was perceived to be a trade-off between rights and security. However, high corruption and the brutal crackdowns are fast depleting any goodwill that Bashar al-Assad has.

Fadi as-Saeed, a chemistry student at the University of Damascus, was beaten to death on Monday and it seems the administration is now pointing their guns at students, often the most vocal demographic in protests.

Heading for civil war?

Syria is wracked with internal divisions, which have often been exacerbated by the heavy-handedness of the government. The largely secular ruling Ba’ath party has been at odds with the Muslim Brotherhood since the 1940s. After a particularly violent few years of assassination attempts and car bombs, in 1982 Hafez al-Assad’s brother Rifaat, who now lives in exile in London, surrounded and bombed Hama. The town was known for being a base of the Muslim Brotherhood and the bombing killed thousands of people. Subsequently, the Brotherhood and indeed all other opposition have effectively been stifled while the Alawi minority has strengthened its position.

The Alawis are the spiritual progeny of a movement started in the 9th century when Ibn Nusayr announced himself as the bab or the hidden gateway to truth (God). Very close in terms of practice to Christians, Alawis or as they also known Nusayris believe in a kind of holy trinity comprised of Mohammad, Ali and Salman al-Farisi, one of the first Persian converts to Islam. The reason they are viewed as non-Muslims is because of their belief in the divinity of Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, who was the fourth Caliph and the first Imam for Shi’as. In a bid to consolidate their power the Alawis managed to secure recognition from the Shi’a leader, Musa as-Sadr, in 1972, declaring them to be Muslims. As early as 1936 they procured a decree from the Sunni Chief Mufti of Palestine, al-Haj Amin al-Husaini, recognizing them as Muslims.

However, many Sunnis and some Shi’a ulama, or scholars, continue to view the Alawis as non-Muslims, or even sometimes as apostates.

Apart from the Alawis, the Christians are a sizeable minority and form about 10% of the population and the Druze constitute about 3%. The Sunnis form the majority of the population. Syria also has a large Palestinian refugee population of 500,000 and more than a 1,000,000 Iraqi refugees.

The problems in Syria today are therefore exacerbated by the fact that Syria could be heading for a civil war, due to these old ethnic and sectarian tensions, and might follow the Libyan scenario rather than the Egyptian or Tunisian model. One factor however, that might hold back an all-out war is that there are a multitude of links between the regime and society through army, government and non-official ties. Bashar al-Assad, although seen by some to be a moderate and a reformer is still presiding over institutions that were created during his father’s time. This means that often the ‘old guard’ is the biggest obstacle to implementing reform. However, there have been some token gestures of reform from the President.

Among the small number of concessions that the regime has made are a few that were pushed for by a group of imams, headed by Ramadan al-Buti, perhaps Syria’s most famous cleric. A casino has been shut down and a ban on wearing the niqab, a veil that covers the face as well as the body, in educational institutions is being reversed just as France is implementing its own ban. In other ‘concessions’ the infamous 1963 Emergency Law is now finally to be lifted, but an ‘Anti-terrorism’ law is to be passed instead. About 200,000 Kurds who have hitherto not been granted any rights have been given citizenship. But a majority of the Kurds who form 11-14% of Syria’s population still suffer from various institutional biases. The Kurds have responded by protesting in Qimishli, in the north-east of Syria, under the interesting slogan, ‘we want freedom not citizenship.’

Foreign stakeholders and high stakes

The stakes that many foreign actors have in Syria are also crucial in determining the next steps in the Syrian uprisings. Iran and Hezbollah will fear the loss of an important regional ally and the possible rise of a predominantly Sunni government. Apart from this, even Shi’as who are not ideologically aligned with Iran will be afraid of the loss of the comfort in which the community lives. In particular, the network of religious schools around Sayyid Zainab’s shrine in Damascus are already fearful of what may happen if the Alawis lose power. Israel must worry because at the moment it has an enemy that it ‘knows’ whereas it will be harder to predict whether the new government shall be even more anti-Zionist.

As it is, there is already an air of uncertainty in Israel about what might happen on its western borders, in Egypt. Unlike in Egypt where the Muslim Brotherhood were social activists and not involved in politics (until now perhaps), the Brotherhood in Syria has been in exile for nearly thirty years – which means that they have little support on the ground and will need time to carve out a political space. Confessions on Syrian state TV from alleged Brotherhood members stirring up trouble seem manufactured so that the crackdown on protesters can be blamed on ‘outsiders.’ The Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia have had a deep interest in promoting Sunni interests and in the case of Saudi Arabia, their brand of Wahhabism. The growth of this school of thought in Syria has been aided by the fact that a large number of Syrian migrants live and work in the Arabian Peninsula. In the last few years, America has reached out to Damascus and sent various envoys and feelers in order to improve relations, but often with limited success. It is evident then, that current events and any change in Syria will have a far larger geo-political impact on the Middle East than Libya, though of course Libya might be more important to Europe financially.

History, repetition and farce

Following the killings and crackdown on various protests from the Southern town of Deraa to the coastal cities of Tartous and Lattakia, Bashar al-Assad has attempted a reshuffle of his government by firing various provincial governors and appointing new people to his cabinet. However, it seems that superficial changes coupled with a completely disproportionate clampdown on protesters will only exacerbate the situation. Although regarded as more sensible than his father, it seems that like all other dictators, Bashar is also out of touch with ordinary Syrians.

Vogue magazine, which seems to make a business out of glamorizing the lives of the wives of various Arab potentates, writes in a recent interview of the president and his wife that, “the household is run on wildly democratic principles.” It goes on to explain how Asma al-Assad – ‘we all vote on what we want, and where’ – and her husband are often ‘out-voted’ by their three children. This in turn explains the chandelier made of comics that hangs above the dinner table. To talk of democracy in their household while a large percentage of people are often detained without any recourse to the law is nothing more than an insult to all Syrians. It is precisely this kind of insensitive, indeed farcical, attitude that might catalyse the current uprisings into a revolution.

About the author: Ali Khan is a PhD student in history at the University of Cambridge whose areas of interest are South Asia and the greater Middle East.

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