Al-Monitor highlights diversity of Islamic feminism – Series on women in the Middle East published in five languages


29 March 2015 – Al-Monitor’s monthlong series on women in the Middle East has highlighted the many and diverse roles that women are playing in shaping the future of the region. A recurring theme in our coverage has been the long-standing and ongoing struggle to reconcile the constraints of religious orthodoxy with the struggle for women’s rights. Women across the region are using whatever resources available to them to work within the system to strengthen their rights and achieve equality.  Leila Alikarami wrote earlier this month that some Iranian women have sought alternative interpretations of Islamic law from Reformist scholars on the right to inherit property and seek a divorce, which have historically favored men. Turkish theologian and self-described Islamist feminist Hidayet Tuksal told Al-Monitor’s Sibel Hurtas that she “began to see that religious doctrine had developed largely on the basis of human interpretations.” Tuksal found that interpreting religious doctrine for herself meant embracing her own freedoms. Madawi Al-Rasheed explained how Islamic feminists across the Middle East are shaping the region, including within Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Ennahda and even Hamas.

In Israel, Ben Caspit introduced us to one young ultra-Orthodox woman who took on not just the electorate but also the rabbinical establishment in her quest for a seat in the Knesset. The stories told by our authors, as well as the profiles of Al-Monitor’s own female journalists, show that there is no single image of a Middle Eastern woman, a sentiment echoed by Jordan’s permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador Dina Kawar. The region’s women share a common goal to make their voices heard in the manner that works best for them. 

At the end of this series we will have published 75 articles, with every single piece appearing in our five main languages, Arabic, English, Hebrew, Persian and Turkish. While the series ends March 31, Al-Monitor’s coverage of women in the Middle East is ongoing and can be accessed via

Lebanon’s foreign minister calls for political will” to protect minorities in the region

Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil appealed to the UN Security Council on March 27 to protect Christians and other minorities persecuted by the Islamic State (IS) and to reverse the exodus of these populations from the region:

In an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor, Bassil said, “We want a resolution from the Security Council for the protection of minorities, in all ways, geographically, security and morally. … For now, the real political will is not well demonstrated. So let’s demonstrate it through three things that we asked for: One: a Security Council resolution; two: to bring back the descendants of the region to their roots; three: to have a fund whereby we can rehabilitate populations, reconstruct what was demolished by the terrorists — and if there is a political will these are three things that can be easily achieved.”

In the interview, Bassil  discussed the role of the Lebanese army in confronting terrorists and the prospects for foreign military intervention to protect populations under siege by IS.

“The major operations that are going on in the region should continue but they should be more fierce. Legitimate armies in the region should take up the fight and be supportive like our Lebanese army. More support, more arms. Only when we are well supported and fail to do the mission, then you can think of foreign military intervention,” Bassil said.

Turkey’s radicalization

Five key members of the US House of Representatives, including the chairman and ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Reps. Ed Royce, R-Calif., and Eliot Engel, D-N.Y, and the ranking member on the Armed Services Committee, Adam Smith, D-Wash, have asked US Secretary of State John Kerry “to launch a ‘formal dialogue’ with Turkey aimed at strengthening political freedoms,” Julian Pecquet reports.

Kadri Gursel writes this week that the anti-democratic trend in Turkey is linked to the increasingly radical rhetoric of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.  

“The impact of Erdogan’s anti-Western and hard-line nationalist rhetoric should not be seen as confined to the electoral context. … Turkey’s political culture is changing in line with his radical ideological tone … [and] is escalating further and contributing to the radicalization of Turkish Islamists.”

Metin Gurcan reports that the radicalization trend extends to Turkish Islamists and could have consequences for the reach and influence of the Islamic State within Turkey: “Turkish politicians have been noticeably quiet on the issue of Turks joining IS. As a result, the security apparatus is not concerned with IS recruitment centers and Turks who may be joining IS. Al-Monitor spoke to security officials in Ankara who say that Turkey doesn’t have a strategic vision for combating IS. Joining IS is not considered a crime, and the bookshops and associations that operate as IS recruitment fronts, although known by security forces, are not shut down.”

Fehim Tastekin, who has previously broken stories for Al-Monitor on allegations of the possible links between the National Intelligence Organization and shipments of weapons to armed groups in Syria, writes this week that Turkey has still not made a firm commitment to guarding its borders: “The activities in this vein are illegal but not discordant with Ankara’s declared policy. Al-Monitor has learned that a military buildup has been underway recently in the rebel-controlled area east of the ethnically Armenian town of Kassab, which faces the Yayladagi crossing in Hatay. … In sum, along with reports of ongoing passages through the IS-held Tel Abyad and Jarablus crossings, activity continues at border crossings controlled by other Islamist groups and via the clandestine routes mentioned above. Thus, Turkey has a long way to go in terms of enforcing honest measures.”

In an interview with Amberin Zaman, Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani expressed his government’s “disappointment” with Turkey’s response to the IS threat to Erbil in August 2014.

Barzani told Zaman, “Our expectations from Turkey were quite high. We wanted Turkish jets to immediately bomb Daesh [IS]. Turkey has a military presence here already. They have tanks. They have troops inside our borders in Barmarne [near the Turkish border]. We felt they could have engaged immediately.”

Barzani said, “I personally made the first phone calls to [then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan and to [then-Foreign Minister Ahmet] Davutoglu. He was on the phone with me until 3 a.m. in the morning. In fact, Turkish officials acknowledged to us that they had moved slowly. But it doesn’t mean they didn’t do anything. Just to give you an example. In the first few days of the attack they sent us several truckloads of ammunition.”

Aleppo’s fault lines

Edward Dark reports this week that residents of Old Siryan, a Christian area of Aleppo under regime control who are subject to shelling from rebel-held areas nearby, had come to one conclusion: “It was clear enough, though, that people here genuinely felt the incumbent regime was their last hope.” Dark adds, “Regardless, hints of dissent and disillusion were always present in the conversation, from the sarcastic ridiculing of the ineptitude and corruption of the city’s officials to the vitriol about shortages and corruption in distributing rations and skyrocketing prices. Not surprisingly, this anger was seldom, if ever, directed at the top of Syria’s ruling hierarchy. Interestingly, very little was spoken about the menacing presence of the many nonlocal armed men and their armed trucks that now dot the area.”

In eastern, rebel-controlled Aleppo, Mohammed al-Khatieb spoke to a journalist who though disillusioned had not abandoned the opposition:

“’The regime in Syria is one of the worst regimes in terms of rights and freedoms, and it lacks the minimum levels of legitimacy while it derives its mere legitimacy from its strength. We started the revolution thinking that the world was going to support us in achieving our clear objectives, namely freedom, justice and equality for all. They let us down,’ Akil [Hussein] told Al-Monitor.”

Palestinians seek initiative after Israeli elections

Daoud Kuttab writes that some Palestinians may seize on Netanyahu’s campaign promise to oppose a two-state solution as an opportunity for a new activism:

“Palestinians who have lost hope in a negotiated settlement and are opposed to any violent resistance activities find in the victory of Netanyahu and his renunciation of the two-state solution a perfect opportunity to push forward worldwide nonviolent actions aimed at putting serious economic pressure on Israel and isolating it politically. Movements such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) are gearing up for a major escalation campaign. … While the bulk of the international community is pressing the Israeli leader to recant his opposition to the two-state solution, an increasing number of Palestinian voices, inside and outside the occupied territories, are calling for the scrapping of this idea and for seeking a single state for Palestinians and Israelis.”

Netanyahu’s victory in the Israeli elections has given greater urgency to reconciliation efforts between Fatah and Hamas. Al-Monitor has covered the deepening rift between the Palestinian leadership in Gaza and Ramallah. Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah’s visit to Gaza on March 25, however, was the first by a Ramallah-based official since October 2014, and may suggest hopeful thinking.

Daoud Kuttab reports, “There is no doubt that the absence of Palestinian unity hampers the efforts of finding a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Whether the process is taking the route of resistance — violent or nonviolent — or the route of negotiations and international boycotts and legal instruments, Palestinian unity is paramount to the success of the Palestinian people. Both sides have been accusing each other of being the obstacle to reconciliation and elections.”

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s journey

Ali Hashem, through on-the-ground reporting in Iraq, provides the most complete picture yet of IS leader and self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, based on interviews with those who have known him since he was Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai, or Sheikh Ibrahim, of Samarra. Read more: