First Female Prosecutors Sworn-In in Kuwait

In Kuwait women were given the right to vote and participate in elections as late as 2005, so when the news broke a few years back that the country would allow female prosecutors for the first time, this was to many a step forward. Kuwait is not as oppressive to women as some of their neighbouring countries – there’s no mandatory dress code for women, women are not banned from driving and there are fewer restrictions on work places for women than in Saudi Arabia. But it’s still behind many of the other Middle Eastern countries.

The other day the first batch of women prosecutors were sworn in, more precisely 22 of them, creating more headlines. It hadn’t been an easy path – Islamist MPs who opposed the women had delayed the process by several months, claiming that under Islamic Sharia law women cannot be judges, which they as prosecutors now have the possibility to be. In the end the new justice minister Yacoub Al-Sane (also a man) signed a decision to appoint the prosecutors, putting an end to the delay. After the women had been sworn in, MP Humoud Al-Hamdan held a press conference where he critiziced the decision and said that he and other Islamist MPs were to submit a draft law to ban the appointment of women judges, as this is against Islamic law.

Many others celebrated the event though and the group photo of smiling young women was shared widely online among Gulf people and women’s rights supporters, generating positive feedback but also comments from men such as “I can’t wait to be prosecuted in Kuwait!” and “They don’t look Kuwaiti, they must be Lebanese” (the ultimate insult for a Gulf girl).

I asked one of my male Kuwaiti friends what he thought of the women prosecutors and he gladly shared his views – on the condition that he could remain anonymous. My friend is not an activist, but he says he like to keep an eye on politics. His answer surprised me as I myself was very positive about the women prosecutors.

“I am not so excited” he says. “In 2005, I was super excited for women to get the ‘right’ of voting. But having a look into history will show something hidden. Before 2005, There was a lot of failed attempts for female activists for the right of voting. What was changed in 2005? It is external pressure. The government in Kuwait wanted to release this pressure by directing the members to vote for the right of the woman. Therefore, women were used to polish the authorities’ image to the West, and gaining this right was not because of local female activists.

The trick is using women to polish the image of the governments from the Western perspective, without allowing a real impact within the inside of the society. In all cases, what did women added in Kuwait after 10 years of gaining the right? We still see discrimination against women, less rights in the society etc.

The government today has a bad image because of funding the extremist groups all over the world, and it need to polish the image again. Therefore, women are the best tool to be used. I don’t feel that the society is pushing for more women rights. To see real impact, the change should come from the society, the average people. In fact I could say that using women this way is another way of abusing women in a completely patriarchal society. And we will never see any real impact to change the basic systematic violation of women rights.”

Let’s hope the appointment of these 22 women will be a step in the direction of real implementation of women’s rights and that this trickles down to the average people that my friend is talking about. So that the feedback for the next batch of prosecutors will generate more positive comments than sexist ones. At least they have male supporters. That’s something to cherish.

Photo credit: www.facebook.com/sultan.alqassemi

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“You as a Woman are Guilty Until You Prove the Opposite” – The Execution of Reyhaneh Jabbari

taz.de

Reyhaneh Jabbari

As Reyhaneh Jabbari was hanged yesterday, the 26-year old Iranian woman convicted of stabbing a man who tried to rape her, international media filled up with stories about the unfair trial and the torture Reyhaneh supposedly was exposed to before being sentenced.

Reyhaneh claimed that she met Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi in a coffee shop and after he asked her to come to his office to discuss a business deal, he tried to rape her, why she in selfdefence stabbed him with her pocket knife before fleeing. Her lawyer reportedly published on his blog about the unfair trial against Reyhaneh as a plea for help, there were media campaigns against Reyhaneh’s execution, but the media attention didn’t help. After 7 years in prison, for which under some time she was prevented from contact with her family and from having a lawyer, she was hanged in Gohardasht prison in Teheran on the morning of Saturday October 25.

I asked an Iranian man that I know who’s living outside of Iran how he felt about the hanging, and he had many things to say. These are his words:

“Reyaneh has basically been considered guilty to one thing, and that is that she has defended herself as a woman. In many ways you as a woman are considered to be guilty until you in some way prove the opposite. ‘Evidence’ is here quite an irrelevant word.”

He talks about how the police in Iran are not conducting proper forensic investigations, and that facts is not important in the judicial system.

“If the judge thinks she is guilty for whatever reason,  she is guilty no matter what the circumstances are. It’s also ridiculously humiliating that Reyhaneh’s family have to ask the man’s family for mercy so that they shall spare her life. In this way the system is positioning one family against another. It’s not about proportion, facts or the right to defend yourself, but simply about a system that wants to prove that you as a woman shall not defend yourself and that you don’t have the right to a fair trial. But these kind of cases are not uncommon in Iran, there are worse… In the bigger picture this is not surprising. In Isfahan women have had acid thrown on their faces. This is just one case of many.”

Photo credit: taz.de

I Dream to See My Country Iraq Again, Receiving People from All Over the World

“I am now officially a doctor. Can you write about my doctorate?” Nawar Al Saadi wrote to me the other day, sending over a link from his graduation ceremony.

Nawar is in charge of the popular Tourism in Iraq Facebookpage that I have written about previously. His enthusiasm and love for his country touched many: the blog post has been shared over 300 times on Facebook and other Iraqis got in touch with me after reading the post.

When I first spoke with Nawar he was still a PhD student in Bucharest, Romania, specializing in tourism, hoping to be a part of the future tourism industry in Iraq. He wanted to return to Iraq despite having family living in Sweden – he had a burning desire to show the world another country than what usually features in Western media, and to be a part of it’s future. And he seems to do well, the Facebookpage has over 31.000 followers and is regularly updating with positive news from Iraq and conciliatory messages for a united country. During the ISIS first attacks on Mosul and the mass escape, Nawar published photos of Iraqis in other cities handing out food and water to the newly arrived refugees on the streets.

Six months later Nawar has now received his doctorate degree and is officially a doctor from Faculty of Geography, University of Bucharest, with his doctoral thesis called “The role of international relations in the development of the tourism sector – case study of Iraq“. In the graduation ceremony one of his teachers praises Nawar and points out that their best students are always coming from outside of Romania.

But other things have changed too – ISIS has taken over large strategic parts of Northern Iraq and has at times also threatened Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital Erbil. In the video from his doctoral ceremony Nawar is thanked by his professors and applauded when receiving his diploma. Dressed up and handsome in a suit and smart glasses, he holds a speech and makes a point of addressing exile Iraqis.

“For all Iraqi people living outside Iraq: we need really to work and we need really to study more. We have to make much effort because we have to change the image which is put by media about Iraq. We are not bad people, we are not terrorists as all the world thought. And I hope to see my country…”

Suddenly his voice breaks. It takes him a few moment before he can finish.

“…and I dream to see my country again to receive people from all over the world.”

When his speech ends, he rubs the tears out of his eyes as people in the room comes up to hug him.

Will his wishes about Iraq come through? Will he be able to return and pursue his dream? I don’t know, but I wish the best for Nawar whatever will happen. I haven’t met him in person yet, but I know Iraq needs him.
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UPDATE 17/10/2014

The ambassador for Iraq’s embassy in Bucharest was so impressed by Nawar after reading this and the previous article about Tourism in Iraq on Sweden and the Middle East Views, that he invited Nawar over the the embassy to give him an award for his achievements for his Iraq on October 15, 2014:

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Photo and video copyright: Nawar Al Saadi

Sahab – Swedish-Iraqi Counselor with a Different Approach

When Sahab Saheb started her therapy service Authentic Dialogues she had decided that she wanted to offer counseling in three languages: Swedish, Arabic and English. At 32 years old with a master’s degree in social work and sexology, she wanted to offer her counseling services to such a wide range of clients as possible.

“There’s a challenge in working in different languages,” she says. “But I wanted to use my full potential.”

I wanted to write about Sahab not only because of her interesting character as a Swedish-Iraqi woman, but also since her approach to counseling seemed different. According to her, psychological counseling should be accessible and of low cost. Based in Malmö, Sweden, she also offers counseling via Skype, and on her website, under description of fees, it states: “Fee reductions are available for people on low incomes and this can be negotiated on an individual basis”.

The aspect of wanting to reach out to the many Arabic speaking people in Sweden is not a coincidence. In her master thesis Sahab researched an integration project for Arab immigrants, where she examined factors that determined the effectiveness of the program. The thesis published this year and is titled “Transformation of newcomers, responsibilities and consequences. An evaluation of the project ‘Newcomers, Shortest path’” (Malmö University, Faculty of Health and Society, Department of Social Work). The research gave her new insights in the world of social work and psychological assistance. Through the research she met many immigrants who tried to integrate themselves in Sweden and learned about the challenges they faced.

“The most important aspect is the gap between the experience from the home country and Sweden. The main difference between the two countries is the role that the state plays. People from the Middle East, Syria for example, come from a society where the state has a very negative reputation. People associate the state with fear and betrayal, and it’s not responsible for the individual’s welfare and personal development. Here in Sweden, the state is in charge of everything and a lot of mistrust is going on (from the newly arrived immigrants, my comment) that the Swedish authorities have no clue about.”

In contrast with some other Western countries, where immigrants that have received asylum are left on their own to find housing and work, sometimes with help from voluntary organizations, Swedish authorities offer a roof-over-the-head-guarantee and financial assistance until the person is able to provide for him. However, the choices of where to live or what to do (financial assistance requires the person to take part of mandatory Swedish classes or work programs in return) become reduced to a minimum when being dependent on the system, which many are until they have learned enough Swedish to manage on their own.

Having seen the clash between the Swedish society and the newly arrived immigrants and how the society sometimes fails to help people who suffer from traumas and psychological illnesses, Sahab wanted to create her own service instead of being part of the system.

“The professionalism of the Swedish bureaucracy has a distanced approach to people, and this approach is by many immigrants perceived as something personal against them, it becomes the only thing that the immigrant experience during the first years in Sweden. Even if we have to carry out the integration aspect through the institutions, since this is the way it works in Sweden, we have to implement more of a personal reception since these persons come from a society where there are stronger bonds between people. We shouldn’t dehumanize people the way the system sometimes does now.”

Still, the failures of the system served as an incentive for her to contribute with what she believed would be the best way to help people with psychological problems from experiences of war and terror.

“Instead of being bitter over the fact that I can’t implement what I think is right, I wanted to start my own thing to help people in a way that I believe in”, she says. “If we learn how to be more empathetic we’ll have better dialogues and a stronger society.”

The therapy Sahab offers is based on the existential humanistic psychology, which she says pays respect to people’s own inner potential and responsibility for their actions.

“I wanted to work with counselling that derives from an equal dialogue between the therapist and the patient. I believe that an illness in the society is that we don’t communicate between each other. I believe that this therapy is very helpful since you can carry it with you the whole life and apply it to new relationships. In the therapy you help people to have more confidence in themselves so that they can take more initiative and thereby enhance their own self-esteem.”

She emphasizes that it’s still important not to see people as solely traumatized and damaged individuals, since people have a lot to offer that you can encourage and build on.

“You also have to be very careful in how you create a dialogue with people who come from traumatized societies,” she says. “This therapy is non-directive, there is no right or wrong, it’s up to the client how he or she thinks. I believe this is very important in a multi-cultural society where people have different values. This will create less guilt and insecurity.”

I ask her how she deals with people that might have twisted or reversed values as they come from countries where war or a repressive state have been prevailing for so long that it affects the persons and their personal values. What does she say to them if they have internalized what they have seen and for example believe that violence is justified?

“Even if I tell this person that this and that is wrong it won’t help him if he doesn’t realize this himself.  We need to understand why the person has chosen to believe in this, because it’s a defense mechanism. And the less we use our defense mechanisms, the more we get out of life.”

She adds:

“I believe in this small effect. If we help one person, we will also help many others that will exist down that person’s road.”

So what is her dream with her service, which she recently started earlier this year? She laughs when I ask the question.

“I don’t believe that much in dreams, I believe in being present in the moment and enjoy that. I try not to be too much in the future, my challenge right now is to be able to assist people in need of help. And well… maybe sometime in the future I’ll be able to work together with other people, who want to work in the same way I do.”

Photo copyright: Sahab Saber

To get in touch with Sahab please visit her website: authenticdialogues.com

Ay hawar! Hawar! Hawar! (HELP US! HELP US! HELP US!)

A number of my Kurdish, Iraqi and Syrian friends in the countries and abroad are horrifyed of the ISIS terror, and at times are unable to talk about anything else. A number of websites and social media pages are dedicated to launch news about the terrorists so as to create awareness and ask the world for help. Today I stumbled upon a heartbreaking message from a Facebookpage that is updating with news from Kobane in Northern Syria that is under immense threat of being abducted by ISIS. I thought I should share their message and let it speak for itself.

From: Kurdish Resistance & Liberation community 

Our hearts are breaking at the moment. Kobane is under serious siege at the moment and our brave YPG/PKK forces are left to fight with outdated and limited weapons on the streets of Kobane. Kobane has a strategic, symbolic and psychological significance for the Kurds, but the lack of help from the west and lack of arms to the Kurds is allowing ISIS to succeed! An imminent genocide of the Kurdish forces as well as civilians is on the horizon all because they do not have the appropriate military supplies. The Kurdish forces have been fighting non stop for the past 48 hours. SHAME on the West for your inaction while these brave men and women die defending humanity, defending civilians, women and children and defend the West from ISIS. Shame!

Friends PLEASE share so that the Western community realizes that if Kobane falls it was not for lack of trying on behalf of the brave YPG/YPJ/PKK forces. It was because of Western cowardice and THEIR betrayal of humanity!

Ay hawar! hawar! hawar! (HELP US! HELP US! HELP US!)

kurdish resistance 2

Kurdish resistance 1

Photo credit: Kurdish Resistance & Liberation Facebook page, source and location unknown

Beautiful Iraq – There is Light in the End of the Tunnel

Saif Alani

After my article “Tourism in Iraq Another Country is Possible” (that has been shared over 300 times on Facebook) I was by another Iraqi that, inspired my article, wanted to tell me about his project.

Consisting on nine people in London who works to keep up the website and the Facebook page with the aim to register as a company, Beautiful Iraq has big plans for the future.

“It was always one of my dreams to establish something in my beautiful and welcoming country for the whole world to enjoy,” says Saif Alani, the enthusiastic 23-year-old CEO.

The main idea with the project is to become a tour operator that can provide package holidays to Iraq, but also to provide a general source of information of Iraq. So far Beautiful Iraq describes themselves as a media outlet that provides people information about Iraq.

The page already contains travel recommendation on where to and not to travel in Iraq (basically most of the country except Kurdistan; “If you are leaving Kurdistan then make sure you hire a professional security team to escort you!”) and visitors can sign up to receive newsletters. The online shop sells backpacks, t-shirts and even umbrellas with labels such as “I love Iraq” – free delivery when you buy two or more items at the same time.

“We want to be a company for travelling and holiday travel”, Saif says. “And also to deliver the news of Iraq in a way for people to get a better understanding.”

As the name of his project suggests, Saif wants the world to know the beautiful sides of his home country that he himself left together with his family 10 years ago.

“I would like people to know that Iraq is a country as any other, all countries have beauties, the bad things are only temporary. We can share this knowledge through our customers’ successful insight of Iraq’s beauties, with our hospitality and unique way.”

Saif himself has a diploma in event management and two certificates in travel and tourism, so the tourism industry is not new to him. He maintains another job in a hotel reception and dedicates his free time to his business. When I ask him what a tour in Iraq could look like he is full of ideas and things that he wants to share.

“There are magical pictures that people haven’t thought about! A tour could start in the cathedral of Erbil and go on to explore the historical and natural beauties in Iraq, the churches, to the theme park Basra Land in the south… We have religious tourism such as Babylon, which is mentioned in the Bible, historical tourism such as the ancient sites of Iraq and adventurous such as the theme parks and roller coasters. You can explore the nightlife in Baghdad; there are shopping malls and cafes – this is a side of Iraq people haven’t seen yet.”

Saif has not been back since he left but maintains contact with family members that are still living in Baghdad. He is very keen on his goal of establishing a positive common Iraqi identity. Throughout our interview he talks about how welcoming and hospitable his home country is.

“Through this, we believe we can change something negative into something positive,” he says.

We talk about the world’s perception of Iraq and Saif brings up religion, the current ISIS crisis and how it’s perceived from the outside.

“People would think that the religious aspects of Iraq could be negative aspects when it’s not, religion is very much a private matter in Iraq. It’s done in the places of worship, that’s where it’s done.”

“We do not class them (ISIS, author’s comment) as Iraqis, we class them as bad person. A bad person could be of any nationality. The acts of (these) persons have unfortunately caused a certain picture of the country that is not true… Many would think it would make Iraq weaker which are true, people are somehow deflated about Iraq, but our concept has now been stronger in preparing for the future, and politicians are involved in the combat.”

The plans of starting tours are very current – Saif is planning on hiring tour guides who are keen on working in the hopeful environment that the concept of Beautiful Iraq is. I have to ask him when he thinks it’s realistic that Beautiful Iraq will be able to offer their first tours to Iraq and he says the aim is to start in March 2015.

“It all depends on the security situation and when that is improved.”

Despite the latest humanitarian tragedy that northern Iraq is experiencing in the hands of ISIS, Saif stays optimistic, just like the founder of Tourism in Iraq.

“We replace negativity with positivity through our program,” he says, determined, with his never-fading smile. “There is a light in the end of the tunnel.”

Basraland, Iraq

Photo copyrights: Beautiful Iraq

How Do You Become an ISIS Terrorist?

ISIS or ISIL or IS – they are so creative in their name changings, I have to give them that – has startled the whole world it seems with their ambitious brutality. The Iraqi military just gave up their weapons and ran, despite the years and years of trainings from American experts, trying to compensate their invasion. The Kurdish Peshmerga tried to hold the fort but failed. But should we really have been so surprised?

I won’t discuss what a failure it is for Iraqi intelligence not to recognize the threat of ISIS, nor will I discuss the exclusion of minorities from the Iraqi government and the consequences it has had. This blog post will go back in time, and ask how these young men became ISIS terrorists in the first place.

How can a normal human being become attracted to such a merciless, murderous organization with no respect for humans what so ever, not even for their own kind? ISIS is not Al Qaida who will spare Muslims, they’re not the “good Talibans” of Pakistan, they’re a group of young men who supposedly sell women as sex slaves and twitter about it; who make children die of dehydration on a mountain. They don’t seem afraid of dying themselves. It is as if they had no attachments of their own, nothing to relate to but the darkness inside of them.

Let me start my trail of thoughts by telling you what I know of Iraq before the invasion. I’m not Iraqi, I have just lived there, and I’m not claiming to take an Iraqi’s place. I will just give you my impressions.

Iraq did not have a solid welfare state, well how many countries do?, and many rural areas were neglected under the long era of the Saddam regime. But there was an educational system, universities free of tuition fees and complimentary dorms for male and female students, making it possible also for women to gain an education away from home. In the cities there were governmental orphanages. Women were able to work and access public life. Religious freedom and coexistence was something to take for granted (no, I’m not bringing in Kurdistan in this discussion, because it’s not affected by the civil war that followed the invasion). In southern and central Iraq there was peace.

After 2004 not only bombs tore the country apart. Neighbors turned on each other, people started disappearing; regular civilians with no political connections. Corpses were dumped by the roads. Internally displaced people crowded the streets. Child-headed households became a new phenomenon. Child prostitution sky rocketed. A women’s rights NGO I worked with once received a teenage girl asking for help, who had been a prostitute since she was a child. She didn’t know who her mother was or why she had been left at the brothel so young. But it could have been anything – in a collapsed society you don’t always find a reason. The girl didn’t know how old she was, and at the brothel they called her different names.

“What is her real name?” I asked when hearing about the case.

Also this she didn’t know. She had no name.

Now imagine you’re a boy growing up with these reversed values around you. Where there once had been moral guidelines and a public condemnation if you did something considered wrong, fear and hatred has now taken its place. If you’re unlucky these reversed values seeps in to your family, creates enemies between family members because of religion, or closes the door to their own family in need of help. An Iraqi boy I once knew had his parents murdered by the Al Sadr militia and as a response his uncles made him sleep on the street.

“If you come here, they’ll come after us too,” his uncle said to the teenage boy who was left on his own.

But if you’re worse off you’ll have no family at all and you won’t know why, like the child prostitute without a name.

Time passes and you’re a frightened boy growing in to a young, angry man. And you might turn whatever madness that was around you to your defense. You have no education, no background, no family, no attachments. What was once wrong becomes right.

Are my ideas clear, did my message come through? If it was hard to grasp, here’s the short version:

ISIS shouldn’t have taken us by such surprise. We have created this monster ourselves.

Photocredit: Sweden and the Middle East Views Blog