Monday, March 31

Women....The Forgotten Media Moguls

As We have mentioned before, a lot of what people think is influenced by the media... what they see or hear influences their peception of the world around them, and alters their mentality and how they handle various situations. Media is obviously a very powerful tool, and to control the media is to control how people around you will think and act. If women ever regain their status in society, I am almost certain that the media will play a major role. I often wonder, when will the time come when women will be able to freely influence the media? when will their voices be heard?

The first cinema production in Egypt was a film shot in Alexandria. This was the beginning of the cinema industry, in 1907 and was a revolution of its own.The first Egyptian to act in a movie was Mohamed Karim, who only had minor roles in movies, which were mainly directed by foreigners. The first Egyptian actors to act in full length movies were the Fawzi el Gazayerli Troup.

This troup was famous for the comedic act of " elme3alem ba7ba7, and his wife om a7mad". Played by Fawzi and his daughter, indicating that since the beginning of the Egytian movie industry, it is clear that both women and men were equally represented, and participated freely. Actors and actresses do not have a major role in influencing the public, meaning they do not write the stories, and they do not produce or direct the movies, so in a sense, they are only the "image" but not the idea.

An astounding fact that I have come to learn in that the first feature film in Egypt was in fact directed by a woman.... Aziza Amir produced Egypt's first feature film, "Laila," in 1927. Numerous women directed and produced films in the 1940s through the mid-'60s, during Egypt's golden age of cinema, which ended when then President Abdel Nasser took state control of the cinema industry. Women have yet to regain their power in the industry. Aziza Amir was Born in Domiat in 1901.... so she was only 26 years old when she took that major milestone.

It is quite clear that most of the Egyptian movie pioneers were women. Examples Aziza Amir , Fatma Rushdi, and Assia.Although not all of them had enough personal funds, there were people in the community who respected and admired them, and were ready to fund their ventures into the world of movie making. Another important note is that these people did not care about each others religion, or political points of view, and they all worked together to introduce the movie industry into a country that had never seen it before, only one year after the first movie was ever made in the world. An example of this is Fatma Rushdie, whose work was funded by a Jewish man called Elie Derie.

Women were pioneers at a time when they needed to struggle and persevere to continue the project. When Aziza Amir made her film Laila in 1927, Talaat Harb told her the famous statement: “You have done what no man dared to do”, because he had been unwilling to risk a long movie, and was content with short movies. All of the hard work eventully paid off, so we can safely say that the foundation of the biggest movie industry in the Middle East was placed by women, and the golden age of that industry was accomplished by both men and women working side by side.

This brings me to the main point of this post.... Whatever happened to the Egyptian movie industry? Where have all the women gone and why are actresses getting fewer and fewer roles, why are women rarely, if ever, the main stars in movies? Why have they been sidelined? The main complaint by Egyptian actresses, that I read and see, is that writers don't write roles for women, and producers do not produce movies for women... It is quite obvious that the wahabization of Egypt has affected our movie industry, and is threatening to destroy over 100 years of work. Add to all of that the increasing number of Egyptian actresses who are obviously in great distress, and are sufferring mentally and intelectually from the wahabist push in the ultra extreme conservative oppressive direction, who suddenly quit work, wear hegab, announce o the world that they are quitting the "sin" of acting and wish God will forgive them.... some have even wore a hegab, and then took it off, then put it back on... or even a niqab! It is quite clear that the actresses of today are hesitant, unrealistic, and confused... Which doesn't help with the current image of women in the media, and which makes women less likely to be taken seriously by their male colleagues.

When it comes to directors on the other hand, it is a totally different story. There are only a few female movie directors, but these women had to fight against great odds to get into the field of directing which has been predominantly run by males since Nasser took over the film industry (as opposed to to how easy it was for men to get into the industry when it was run mainly by women... makes you wonder why men would be so insecure as to opose a woman doing the same job?!) A few examples are Hala Khalil, Sandra Nashat, and of course Egypt's most established and controversial female movie director Inas El Degheidy. All 3 women have been quoted at one point of time saying that they had to stand up to family and to the community around them in order to enter the field of movie directing.. as well as the blatant discrimination in the work field against them simply for being women. When speaking about Inas Eldegheidy in particular, it is clear to see that she has drawn the most criticism because of th nature of her movies. Most of her movies have a main theme.. that is the idea of feminism, and the injustices suffered by Egyptian women in particular due to unfair laws (for example "3afwan ayoha alqanoon", and many others). In our current society, many if not most (but definatly not all) men find this kind of woman intimidating. They fear a woman who is loud enough to be heard and influential enough will some how shake the foundation o the wahabi infiltration into the Egyptian household, thus shaking their egos and sense of self worth... so by the extreme criticism of her work, the feel that in part they are not just fighting the movie's idea, but also fighting any woman who dares complain of the chauvanistic culture that exists.

On a lighter note, I have come to learnthat An American Play I had mentioned before "The Vagina Monologues", actually has an Egyptian version!! It is called "KALAM FI SERRI" Directed by Riham Abdlrazik, who also acts in the play. It played last November in The Cairo Opera House as a part of the second female play directors festival in Cairo. The show aso travelled outside of Egypt, and played in Tunisia in December of 2007.

Even though the play showed in Egypt,it was not without repercussions....Of course, all the opressive anti-woman media moguls objected and theMuslim brotherhood interfered. Mohsen Radi, the MB representative in the Democratic party decided to sue and ban the show, since according to his ideas, the words women an sex cannot be placed together in one sentence as it is "insulting" to the communiy. He claimed that they have crossed all the lines, and have discussed things that should not be mentioned, and that this will result in immoral sexual practices in the community!!! The good thing though is that for once people were not intimidated by the MB's and the ministry of culure ( wezaret althaqafa) Criticized the attack of the MB's on the show stating that the MB's were not truthful , and lacked objectivity in their counterproductive argument, and that they are trying to "ye7agebo" the movie industry :)

The one conclusion I have is that we need freedom of speach, and the MB are doing their best to prevent women expressing themselves in the ,media.... starting by suing actresses who decide to take off the hegab, to plays they dont approve of, to accusing women of attacking religion in movies and plays, thus inflaming society against them, to deciding that certain shows should not discuss problems in society that pretain to certain women, as thay have done to Hala Sar7an when she discussed prostitution in Egypt, and as they are doing with Kalam fi Serri.

Overall , the way I see things is that women have revolutionized a country... and not just one country, but an entire region of the world. Since Egyptian media was the only media for a very long time, and it was only over the past 10 years that other Arabic speaking countries have begun to have a media that is beginning to be somewhat influential. I have yet to see a movie in Arabic that gets as much attention, or publicity, or influence as any Egyptian movie. If women at that time were opressed, this revolution would not have happened. The opression of women is the opression of society. It is the loss of great minds and great ideas. It is the loss of advancement in different fields, and the loss of potential benefits to our country. Wahabists know this , so their main attack is always an attack on women and their freedom and their rights. They do this to weaken us, so they can be the dominant power in the region. Their power and influence comes from oil, which we lack.. However, we have something far better than oil. We have manpower, a bigger population that is more educated than any of the wahabi countries. By sidelining half of this population, they are cutting Egypt's main source of strength and progress in half. They are sending us back in time. We all need to stand up for women and stop the blatant attacks on all their efforts and hard work. When we stand up for women we are standing up for society. When we stand up for society we are standing up for a better future and a better Egypt. Lets all unite and fight for a better Egypt. We need our voices to be heard. We want women to be given their rightful place in the media. The one they have worked so hard to get, yet was stolen right before their very eyes in the name of extremism and mysogyny.

Sunday, March 23

Women Rights in Egypt: When the Wheel Has to Be Reinvented

I've said before that the huge steps taken by Egyptian women on their road to liberation in a previous era have now been reduced to a few centimeters. We're heading back to square one, thanks to the deterioration that Egypt is witnessing in the cultural, educational and social fields. And today I am saying it once more. Sorry to break the news.. but unfortunately there seems no hope in improving women conditions in Egypt unless we reinvent the wheel.
Why so?

1- Egyptians are revisiting the old libraries of the gulf, digging up the history of a different culture and trying to apply it to their present lives. In the process, they totally forgot their own identity and neglected their own history and culture. Books of Muhammed Abdu, Qassim Amin and Huda Shaarawy are now fit for the Egyptian museum. Nobody knows the titles of those books.. and that is in the most optimistic scenario.. as there is another scenario in which people do not know that such books exist in first place. Therefore, displaying them at the museum may do them good.. at least young people would know that we once had a women's liberation movement.

2- Everything that women struggled for in the past, until they were finally successful in attaining some of their rights is being threatened. We are nowadays arguing basic human rights issues related to women.. like women's work! Even sexual harrassment has got its supporters based on the idea that women should not leave their homes!

3- Whatever rights women seem to be enjoying in Egypt have lost their essence to become a mere image and a fake appearance of equal opportunities between males and females. Take education as an example.. How many girls get their college degrees and then never join the workforce? How many female students apply for graduate studies? How many females are interested in research? Education for females is still looked upon as an extra.. a luxury.. a means to have a better chance in marriage. I'm sorry to say that a lot of money is being wasted on educating females in Egypt.

4- Currently, women themselves are the biggest obstacle in our way to development. A large percentage of them is not only a burden on Egypt's economy, but also a major hindering factor that prevents society from moving forward. We must face it.. Those women have moved from being merely self-destructive into becoming weapons of mass destruction. Therefore, helping them to improve their conditions is no more a humanitarian mission.. Forget the big talk about humanity and values and all this charity.. We need to help them in order to stop our country from going downhill. We're talking about protecting our existence and saving generations to come.

5- Women's health in Egypt is a major issue. As EFC has pointed earlier, women are the ones responsible for the wellbeing of their families.. So, these self-hating women who refuse to look after themselves are also risking the wellbeing of their families. Billions are being wasted on medical care for women who are only being careless about their health and general hygiene. Obesity is a growing epidemic threatening the human resources of this country. Women suffer from many diseases because of their ignorance and their dissatisfaction with their lives. They suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure, heart diseases, malnutrition, bacterial and fungal infections, late discovery of cancers (esp. breast cancer and endometrial cancer), bone and joint disorders, ...etc. Psychological illnesses are very common among women.. from depression to serious conditions like hysteria and schizophrenia. Of course poverty contributes a lot to this problem.. but the self-destructive element can not be overlooked.

6-If you talk to an average Egyptian girl for 10 mins, you will discover that she thinks of herself as an excess.. an intruder into a man's world. She views herself as a second class citizen and she defends the patriarchal excuses given to justify this humiliating existence and absence of equality.. What a disgrace! Girls actually think that they are doing humanity a "huge favor" by accepting this kind of reality. Yeah.. and they believe that is their gate to heaven too! Acceptance and submissiveness is our women's number one virtue nowadays. Hurray!

If we continue to deceive ourselves by saying that our job is simply to continue what our ancestors have started decades ago then there is no hope. The situation is dangerous, and the writing is on the wall.. All we gotta do is read it, no matter how shocking it is. We gotta start a women's liberation movement from scratch. We gotta convince girls that they are not inferiors, that they are full humans, that they have a role to play on the social scene... bla bla bla. I know it sounds like ABC.. But, do we have a choice?

Saturday, March 8

V-day.... stop the violence (part 2)

The interesting thing about our society is that it mixes between emotional and physical abuse. As if all the emotional abuse was not enough! Men are encouraged to beat their wives. Religious authorities tell men it is okay to beat their wives, just not on the face. Then they say "hit her with a toothpick"!.. which makes no sense at all. What does poking someone with a toothpick do?? And if it doesn't do anything, why is it encouraged? So a punch in the stomach is okay? A kick to the leg? A punch in the shoulders? Hitting with a big wooden stick on her back is fine??

These won't leave visible bruises, so technically they are allowed..... But why do religious figures keep repeating that men need to hit women?? Why not look at religion a little differently? Even if beating is in religion, and religious figures translate it into very mild hitting with a toothpick, "sewak," why encourage it?? It was never a religious order. If a man does not hit his wife, he will not go to hell. Why not say that its purpose is just to let the wife know you are angry and you cannot take it anymore... so dont hit your wife or abuse her, just communicate your unhappiness, no need to be violent.

They all see how society currently thinks... so maybe it isnt a good idea now to tell men, go hit your wives... because the result is injury, humiliation, abuse, and breaking a relationship which can never be fixed. Maybe in this day and age, religious authorities need to come out and say no to violence all together... dont allow just a little violence... ban it completely. Is it okay to hit a colleague who disagrees with you at work?? If it isnt, then can you communicate your displeasure without using physical force?? If you can do it at work, I guarantee you can do it at home!! Now we all know that God is fair, and he would in no way mandate abusing human beings, so it would be reasonable if religious figures, seeing the kind of abuse happening today, actually forbid men from using force with women they share a life with.

The problem with physical abuse is that it not only encompasses beating women, but it also involves other forms of abuse, such as female genital mutilation (FGM) , otherwise called female circumcision.

As you can see , the incidence of FGM in Egypt is one of the highest in the world. Female circumcision is in no way related to religion. It is an ancient African tradition, designed to subdue women and deprive them of sexual pleasure, so women will not be tempted to cheat. In short it is the easy way out for males who do not care how much they damage a woman physically and emotionally, as long as their pride in front of other men is intact, to be comfortable knowing they can rest easy at night, and abuse their wives, without worrying that their wives will look for other men to provide them with the love and compassion they are lacking in their lives.. This kind of primitive culture involves a life threatening procedure by which parents cause damage to their own daughters' self esteem. so be it!.. infections septicemia, urinary tract infections and ultimate death are a mear smidgen in comparison to their super inflated ego. Add to all of that the psychological trauma and humiliation the poor girls suffer in full view of their families and friends... They are even taught that this is the norm, and that when they are older they need to enforce the same form of savagry onto younger girls without batting an eye lash since this is the way things are, and no one can ever change them.

It amazes me how this ideology exists in Egypt to this very day. The fact that it was adapted at one point of time is incomprehensible, since Egypt had a well known civilization that should not have been influenced by lesser civilizations. The fact that it still exists does not make any sense.. and the most astounding fact is that they actually attribute this abuse to God, stating it is mandated by him. It is just unacceptable how every time there is a way to oppress women that men would like to use, they just blame it on God and state that it is God's order, thus preventing women from fighting back. The statistics for FGM are frightening. 97% of Egyptian women have undergone the procedure. Mainly in Rural areas, but the practice is a little less common in larger cities. Demographic and health surveys have been conducted by USAID , and their results showed that there is no doctrinal basis for this practice in either Islam or Christianity. Although high officials in both the Muslim and Christian religious establishments have voiced opposition to the practice, it is still supported by some local religious authorities. Moreover, many Egyptians believe that this is an important part of maintaining female chastity, which is part of the religious tradition.

The historical roots of the practice date back thousands of years. According to the 1995 DHS findings, the most commonly given reason (58 percent) for supporting the practice was the belief that this was a "good tradition." Almost three-quarters of Egyptian women felt that husbands would prefer their wives to undergo the procedure. More than one-third cited cleanliness as a reason, while a smaller number saw it as a way to prevent promiscuity before marriage and unfaithfulness within the marriage.
The 2000 DHS also found that the majority of women think this practice should continue, though there was some decline in support for the practice (75 percent of women surveyed in 2000 versus 82 percent in 1995). There is spreading recognition of the many potential adverse health consequences of the practice, which has resulted in increasing resort to doctors rather than traditional birth attendants (TBAs) to perform the procedure.
One of the main factors behind the persistence of the practice is its social significance for females. In communities where it is practiced, a woman achieves recognition mainly through marriage and child bearing and many families refuse to accept as a marriage partner, a woman who has not undergone the procedure.

So you can see that women who promote this practice do so because they believe it will please men, and they are more likely to get married, which to them holds more significance than any trauma a young girl may suffer. On the positive side, In 2007 after many many deaths of young innocent girls, the Egyptian government finally stepped up and banned FGM for good....banning it unless it was medically necessary was the most absurd law in the world... it is like saying we ban cutting a girls arm, unless the doctor feels that it is medically necessary, then parents would get their girls to see the doctor, so we can decide if we should cut off all of her arm or half of it... but with the new law, I finally see some light at the end of the tunnel. There is even a very nice ad campaign to go along with it.

On a lighter note, fighting violence against women is a world wide phenomenon. A show called "The Vagina Monologues" celebrated it's 10th anniversary this February 14th.... V-Day!! It promotes women identifying with themselves and their bodies, and being comfortable with who they are, the way God made them. It promotes healthy sexuality, and women not fearing men, and not mutilating their bodies to please men. This show has been translated into many languages, including arabic.An arabic version played for some time in Lebanon, of course with some modifications to suit Arabic culture. I especially like the following segment, because it opposes everything patriarchal cultures resemble... In our culture they try to shame women about their periods... they tell them they are not clean, they cannot perform certain jobs, they accuse them of being crazy or irrational, so unable to function in life... in short they make women feel bad for something that is natural and healthy and in no way shameful. This segment is the complete opposite!! Enjoy!

Celebrating International Women's Day

It is 8 March.. which means that today we celebrate the International Women's Day. We'd like to wish all women all the best, and we invite men to celebrate this day with women in their families.

"When I dare to be powerful - to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid" - Audre Lorde