Nov 30 2010

Notes for Today: The Big Story Being Missed & Trying to Ignore Wikileaks

Tag: Global CommentarySage @ 9:10 pm

From Rubin Reports.Blogspot.Com

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Notes for Today: The Big Story Being Missed & Trying to Ignore Wikileaks

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By Barry Rubin

In all the excitement over the Wikileaks story, I want to remind people that there’s another big story  being ignored. You will be reading about it in the mass media in two or three months.

The Obama Administration has messed up its attempts to get Israel-Palestinian negotiations going. The whole misplaced emphasis on a freeze of construction on settlements–something this government initiated–continues to put a freeze on talks. The presentation of the proposed three-month-long freeze to Israel was done so badly that nobody is quite sure what’s in it.

U.S. policy on the issue has lost its way. Looking back over what is now almost the first two years of the Obama Administration, one finds an unbroken record of bungling here.  I wouldn’t say that irreparable harm has been done to the region or to U.S.-Israel relations, precisely because there was no chance of great progress on the peace process any way and nothing much has actually happened despite all the rhetoric. But a huge amount of U.S. prestige, time, and resources have been squandered.

Here’s a quiz for you: What is the one factor regarding the Israel-Palestinian conflict that the Obama Administration has changed and which is disastrous? [See end of article for the answer.]

If you haven’t read it yet, you might want to look at my analysis of this issue HERE.

Speaking about the Wikileaks story, it is amusing to see how the champions of the 1980s’ conventional wisdom–that everything in the Middle East is about the Arab-Israel conflict and not about Islamism versus nationalism, and Iran-Syria versus the Arab states–are telling people to ignore that man behind the curtain.

One such person remarked that the Arab rulers didn’t say nice things about Israel in the many meetings described in the leaks. That’s true. But the point is that they didn’t say nasty things about Israel either and, generally, spoke of it as a normal regional power.

Others have pointed out one or two instances where Arab leaders, in passing, gave lip service to the notion that the best way to fight Iran and Islamism was to have an Israel-Palestinian peace. That’s true. But the point is that hardly anyone said that and when they did they passed over it briefly.

Here’s the best one-sentence summary I’ve seen, from Lee Smith, author of The Strong Horse:

“What comes through most strongly from the Wikileaks documents, however, is that U.S. Middle East policy is premised on a web of self-justifying fictions that are flatly contradicted by the assessments of American diplomats and allies in the region”.

Answer to Question: By  pressuring Israel to end the high level of sanctions on the Gaza Strip and greatly increasing its own aid, the U.S. government has in effect accepted long-term Hamas rule there, making peace even harder to achieve and strengthening the Iran-Syria axis.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

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Nov 30 2010

Esther 7:7-10; The King Incensed Against Haman; Haman Hanged upon His Own Gallows; The king retires in anger; Vexed at himself, that he should be such a fool as to doom a guiltless nation to destruction, and his queen among the rest, upon the base suggestions of a self-seeking man, without examining the truth of his allegations; Those that are most haughty, insolent, and imperious, when they are in power and prosperity, are commonly the most abject and poor-spirited when the wheel turns upon them; Cowards, they say, are most cruel, and then consciousness of their cruelty makes them the more cowardly; God resists the proud; and those whom He resists will find Him irresistible. B.C. 510

Tag: The Book of EstherSage @ 7:44 pm

The King Incensed Against Haman; Haman Hanged upon His Own Gallows.

B. C. 510.

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7 And the king arising from the banquet of wine in his wrath went into the palace garden: and Haman stood up to make request for his life to Esther the queen; for he saw that there was evil determined against him by the king.   8 Then the king returned out of the palace garden into the place of the banquet of wine; and Haman was fallen upon the bed whereon Esther was. Then said the king, Will he force the queen also before me in the house? As the word went out of the king’s mouth, they covered Haman’s face.   9 And Harbonah, one of the chamberlains, said before the king, Behold also, the gallows fifty cubits high, which Haman had made for Mordecai, who had spoken good for the king, standeth in the house of Haman. Then the king said, Hang him thereon.   10 So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then was the king’s wrath pacified.

Here, I. The king retires in anger. He rose from table in a great passion, and went into the palace garden to cool himself and to consider what was to be done, v. 7. He sent not for his seven wise counsellors who knew the times, being ashamed to consult them about the undoing of that which he had rashly done without their knowledge or advice; but he went to walk in the garden awhile, to compare in his thoughts what Esther had now informed him of with what had formerly passed between him and Haman. And we may suppose him,

1. Vexed at himself, that he should be such a fool as to doom a guiltless nation to destruction, and his own queen among the rest, upon the base suggestions of a self-seeking man, without examining the truth of his allegations. Those that do things with self-will reflect upon them afterwards with self-reproach.

2. Vexed at Haman whom he had laid in his bosom, that he should be such a villain as to abuse his interest in him to draw him to consent to so wicked a measure. When he saw himself betrayed by one he had caressed he was full of indignation at him; yet he would say nothing till he had taken time for second thoughts, to see whether they would make the matter better or worse than it first appeared, that he might proceed accordingly. When we are angry we should pause awhile before we come to any resolution, as those that have a rule over our own spirits and are governed by reason.

II. Haman becomes a humble petitioner to the queen for his life. He might easily perceived by the king’s hastily flying out of the room that there was evil determined against him. For the wrath of a king, such a king, is as the roaring of a lion and as messengers of death; and now see,

1. How mean Haman looks, when he stands up first and then falls down at Esther’s feet, to beg she would save his life and take all he had. Those that are most haughty, insolent, and imperious, when they are in power and prosperity, are commonly the most abject and poor-spirited when the wheel turns upon them. Cowards, they say, are most cruel, and then consciousness of their cruelty makes them the more cowardly.

2. How great Esther looks, who of late had been neglected and doomed to the slaughter tanquam ovis–as a sheep; now her sworn enemy owns that he lies at her mercy, a d begs his life at her hand. Thus did God regard the low estate of his handmaiden and scatter the proud in the imagination of their hearts, Luke 1:48, 51 [show/hide]ERROR: You have exceeded your quota of 5000 requests per day. Please contact the developer of this application if you have questions. (If you're the developer and have questions about this error message, please contact Crossway.)
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. Compare with this that promise made to the Philadelphian church (Rev. 3:9 [show/hide]ERROR: You have exceeded your quota of 5000 requests per day. Please contact the developer of this application if you have questions. (If you're the developer and have questions about this error message, please contact Crossway.)
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), I will make those of the synagogue of Satan to come and to worship before thy feet and to know that I have loved thee. The day is coming when those that hate and persecute God’s chosen ones would gladly be beholden to them. Give us of your oil. Father Abraham, send Lazarus. The upright shall have dominion in the morning.

III. The king returns yet more exasperated against Haman. The more he thinks of him the worse he thinks of him and of what he had done. It was but lately that every thing Haman said and did, even that which was most criminal, was taken well and construed to his advantage; now, on the contrary, what Haman did that was not only innocent, but a sign of repentance, is ill taken, and, without colour of reason, construed to his disadvantage. He lay in terror at Esther’s feet, to beg for his life. What! (says the king) will he force the queen also before me in the house? Not that he thought he had any such intention, but having been musing on Haman’s design to slay the queen, and finding him in this posture, he takes occasion from it thus to vent his passion against Haman, as a man that would not scruple at the greatest and most impudent piece of wickedness. “He designed to slay the queen, and to slay her wish me in the house; will he in like manner force her? What! ravish her first and then murder her? He that had a design upon her life may well be suspected to have a design upon her chastity.”

IV. Those about him were ready to be the instruments of his wrath. The courtiers that adored Haman when he was the rising sun set themselves as much against him now that he is a falling star, and are even glad of an occasion to run him down: so little sure can proud men be of the interest they think they have.

1. As soon as the king spoke an angry word they covered Haman’s face, as a condemned man, not worthy any more either to see the king or to be seen by him; they marked him for execution. Those that are hanged commonly have their faces covered. See how ready the servants were to take the first hint of the king’s mind in this matter. Turba Romae sequitur fortunam, et semper et odit damnatos–The Roman populace change as the aspects of fortune do, and always oppress the fallen. If Haman be going down, they all cry, “Down with him.”

2. One of those that had been lately sent to Haman’s house, to fetch him to the banquet, informed the king of the gallows which Haman had prepared for Mordecai, v. 9. Now that Mordecai is the favourite the chamberlain applauds him–he spoke good for the king; and, Haman being in disgrace, every thing is taken notice of that might make against him, incense the king against him, and fill up the measure of his iniquity.

V. The king gave orders that he should be hanged upon his own gallows, which was done accordingly, nor was he so much as asked what he had to say why this judgment should not be passed upon him and execution awarded. The sentence is short–Hang him thereon; and the execution speedy–So they hanged Haman on the gallows, v. 10. See here,

1. Pride brought down. He that expected every one to do him homage is now made an ignominious spectacle to the world, and he himself sacrificed to his revenge. God resists the proud; and those whom he resists will find him irresistible.

2. Persecution punished. Haman was upon many accounts a wicked man, but his enmity to God’s church was his most provoking crime, and for that the God to whom vengeance belongs here reckons with him, and, though his plot was defeated, gives him according to the wickedness of his endeavours, Ps. 28:4 [show/hide]ERROR: You have exceeded your quota of 5000 requests per day. Please contact the developer of this application if you have questions. (If you're the developer and have questions about this error message, please contact Crossway.)
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3. Mischief returned upon the person himself that contrived it, the wicked snared in the work of his own hands, Ps. 7:15, 16 [show/hide]ERROR: You have exceeded your quota of 5000 requests per day. Please contact the developer of this application if you have questions. (If you're the developer and have questions about this error message, please contact Crossway.)
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; Ps. 9:15, 16 [show/hide]ERROR: You have exceeded your quota of 5000 requests per day. Please contact the developer of this application if you have questions. (If you're the developer and have questions about this error message, please contact Crossway.)
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. Haman was justly hanged on the very gallows he had unjustly prepared for Mordecai. If he had not set up that gallows, perhaps the king would not have thought of ordering him to be hanged; but, if he rear a gallows for the man whom the king delights to honour, the thought is very natural that he should be ordered to try it himself, and see how it fits him, see how he likes it. The enemies of God’s church have often been thus taken in their own craftiness. In the morning Haman was designing himself for the robes and Mordecai for the gallows; but the tables are turned: Mordecai has the crown, Haman the cross. The Lord is known by such judgments. See Prov. 11:8 [show/hide]ERROR: You have exceeded your quota of 5000 requests per day. Please contact the developer of this application if you have questions. (If you're the developer and have questions about this error message, please contact Crossway.)
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Lastly, The satisfaction which the king had in this execution. Then was the king’s wrath pacified, and not till then. He was as well pleased in ordering Haman to be hanged as in ordering Mordecai to be honoured. Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to take vengeance on. God saith of wicked men (Ezek. 5:13), I will cause my fury to rest upon them, and I will be comforted.

- Matthew Henry Commentary

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Nov 30 2010

Esther 7:1-6; Haman Accused by Esther; The king in humour, and Haman out of humour, meet at Esther’s table; Haman is soon apprehensive of his danger; He was afraid before the king and queen; and it was time for him to fear when the queen was his prosecutor, the king his judge, and his own conscience a witness against him; He is cast into a net by his own feet. B.C. 510

Tag: The Book of EstherSage @ 6:32 pm



We are now to attend the second banquet to which the king and Haman were invited: and there, I. Esther presents her petition to the king for her life and the life of her people, ver. 1-4. II. She plainly tells the king that Haman is the man who designed her ruin and the ruin of all her friends, ver. 5, 6. III. The king thereupon gave orders for the hanging of Haman upon the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai, which was done accordingly, ver. 7-10. And thus, by the destruction of the plotter, a good step was taken towards the defeating of the plot.

Haman Accused by Esther.

B. C. 510.

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1 So the king and Haman came to banquet with Esther the queen.   2 And the king said again unto Esther on the second day at the banquet of wine, What is thy petition, queen Esther? and it shall be granted thee: and what is thy request? and it shall be performed, even to the half of the kingdom.   3 Then Esther the queen answered and said, If I have found favour in thy sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request:   4 For we are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish. But if we had been sold for bondmen and bondwomen, I had held my tongue, although the enemy could not countervail the king’s damage.   5 Then the king Ahasuerus answered and said unto Esther the queen, Who is he, and where is he, that durst presume in his heart to do so?   6 And Esther said, The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman. Then Haman was afraid before the king and the queen.

The king in humour, and Haman out of humour, meet at Esther’s table. Now,

I. The king urged Esther, a third time, to tell him what her request was, for he longed to know, and repeated his promise that it should be granted, v. 2. If the king had now forgotten that Esther had an errand to him, and had not again asked what it was, she could scarcely have known how to renew it herself; but he was mindful of it, and now was bound with the threefold cord of a promise thrice made to favour her.

II. Esther, at length, surprises the king with a petition, not for wealth or honour, or the preferment of some of her friends to some high post, which the king expected, but for the preservation of herself and her countrymen from death and destruction, v. 3, 4.

1. Even a stranger, a criminal, shall be permitted to petition for his life; but that a friend, a wife, should have occasion to present such a petition was very affecting: Let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request. Two things bespeak lives to be very precious, and fit to be saved, if innocent, at any expense:–

(1.) Majesty. If it be a crowned head that is struck at, it is time to stir. Esther’s was such: “Let my life be given me. If thou hast any affection for the wife of thy bosom, now is the time to show it; for that is the life that lies at stake.”

(2.) Multitude. If they be many lives, very many, and those no way forfeited, that are aimed at, no time should be lost nor pains spared to prevent the mischief. “It is not a friend or two, but my people, a whole nation, and a nation dear to me, for the saving of which I now intercede.”

2. To move the king the more she suggests,

(1.) That she and her people were bought and sold. They had not sold themselves by any offence against the government, but were sold to gratify the pride and revenge of one man.

(2.) That it was not their liberty only, but their lives that were sold. “Had we been sold” (she says) “into slavery, I would not have complained; for in time we might have recovered our liberty, thought eh king would have made but a bad bargain of it, and not have increased his wealth by our price. Whatever had been paid for us, the loss of so many industrious hands out of his kingdom would have been more damage to the treasury than the price would countervail.” To persecute good people is as impolitic as it is impious, and a manifest wrong to the interests of princes and states; they are weakened and impoverished by it. But this was not the case. We are sold (says she) to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish; and then it is time to speak. She refers to the words of the decree (ch. 3:13), which aimed at nothing short of their destruction; this would touch in a tender part if there were any such in the king’s heart, and would bring him to relent.

III. The king stands amazed at the remonstrance, and asks (v. 5) “Who is he, and where is he, that durst presume in his heart to do so? What! contrive the murder of the queen and all her friends? Is there such a man, such a monster rather, in nature? Who is he, and where is he, whose heart has filled him to do so?” Or, Who hath filled his heart. He wonders,

1. That any one should be so bad as to think such a thing; Satan certainly filled his heart.

2. That any one should be so bold as to do such a thing, should have his heart so fully set in him to do wickedly, should be so very daring. Note,

(1.) It is hard to imagine that there should be such horrid wickedness committed in the world as really there is. Who, where is he, that dares, presumes, to question the being of God and his providence, to banter his oracles, profane his name, persecute his people, and yet bid defiance to his wrath? Such there are, to think of whom is enough to make horror take hold of us, Ps. 119:53 [show/hide]ERROR: You have exceeded your quota of 5000 requests per day. Please contact the developer of this application if you have questions. (If you're the developer and have questions about this error message, please contact Crossway.)
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(2.) We sometimes startle at the mention of that evil which yet we ourselves are chargeable with. Ahasuerus is amazed at that wickedness which he himself is guilty of; for he consented to that bloody edict against the Jews. Thou art the man, might Esther too truly have said.

IV. Esther plainly charged Haman with it before his face: “Here he is, let him speak for himself, for therefore he is invited: The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman (v. 6); it is he that has designed our murder, and, which is worse, has basely drawn the king in to be particeps criminis–a partaker of his crime, ignorantly agreeing to it.”

V. Haman is soon apprehensive of his danger: He was afraid before the king and queen; and it was time for him to fear when the queen was his prosecutor, the king his judge, and his own conscience a witness against him; and the surprising operations of Providence against him that same morning could not but increase his fear. Now he has little joy of his being invited to the banquet of wine, but finds himself in straits when he thought himself in the fulness of his sufficiency. He is cast into a net by his own feet.

- Matthew Henry Commentary

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Nov 30 2010

Lagging Far Behind: Women in the Middle East

Tag: Global CommentarySage @ 6:04 pm

From Gloria-Centre.Org

Lagging Far Behind: Women in the Middle East

By Judith Colp Rubin *

The following article is an extract from the author’s book Women in the Middle East (Sharpe, forthcoming).

This article reviews the political and social situation of women in the Islamic Middle East over the past decade. It concludes that while these women have been guaranteed equal rights under their own constitutions and international laws adopted by the government, in practice, they have not enjoyed these rights in politics, marriage, divorce, freedom of movement, education, or work.

Two major studies conducted in 2005 of the situation of women in the Arab Middle East states all came to the same conclusion: Women there are lagging behind the rest of the world. The May 2005 Freedom House report ranked 16 Arab nations on a scale between one and five in several categories related to women’s rights, including freedom; economic, political, and social rights; and nondiscrimination. The highest overall score was given to Tunisia, which received an average rating of 3.24, while Saudi Arabia had the lowest score of 1.26.

“The Middle East is not, of course, the only region of the world where women are, in effect, relegated to the status of second-class citizens,” the Freedom House report stated, pointing out that in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, and North America, there is still a gender gap. “It is, however, in these countries where the gap between the rights of men and those of women is the most visible and significant and where resistance to women’s equality has been most challenging.”[1]

The second study, “Towards the Rise of Women in the Arab World,” issued by the Arab Human Development Report, which examined the same countries, concluded that women there “have entered the twenty-first century still dragging behind them the dead weight of such issues as a woman’s right to education, work and political activity, matters long resolved elsewhere.”[2]

The majority of Middle Eastern countries have long had constitutions granting women equal rights with men. With the exception of Iran and Qatar, these countries have also ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Again Women (CEDAW), an international document that calls for guaranteeing women’s rights. However, these documents have not translated into equality in marriage and divorce rights or employment, or to a decline in domestic violence against women. One major reason for continued inequality is that there have not been enough women from these countries elected to political office.

According to a public opinion poll included in the Arab Human Development Report, which canvassed participants in four sample Arab countries–Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan–79 percent said women have an equal right to political activity. Women have been able to vote and run for office in 22 Arab League countries as well as in Iran and Israel. The two exceptions have been the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia.

One of the last Middle Eastern countries to grant women suffrage was Kuwait, in May 2005, although women there were first promised that right in 1991 by the emir, who took seven years to introduce the measure. It was then defeated in parliament. This was due in part to liberal members, who while favoring other democratizing reforms, opposed female suffrage because they feared that women–who would become the majority of the electorate–wouldn’t vote for them.

Nor did female voters vote for other women. The first electoral test for female voters and candidates in Kuwait was in April 2006, when two women were among the 11 candidates vying for a seat that had become vacant on the municipal council in the district of Salmiyya, 15 kilometers from Kuwait City. Women voters were in the majority, but the female candidates lost by wide margins. Female candidates have fared equally badly in other countries.

April 2005 statistics from the Interparliamentary Union ranking the representation of women in elected governments worldwide found that Arab states were at the bottom, with an average of less than seven percent representation in the parliament. That was compared to 20 percent in North America, 16 percent in sub-Sahara Africa, and 14 percent in Israel. In Iran, women only made up four percent of parliament in 2006, while Israel the figure was 15 percent–still below that of North America and sub-Sahara Africa.


The two most effective ways shown to get women into elected office in the region has been through appointments, uncontested elections, and quotas. The first two ways were illustrated in Bahrain. When no women were elected in their first parliamentary elections in 2002, the king appointed six women. In the next round of parliamentary elections in 2006, the sole female candidate, Latifa al-Qu’ud, was among 221 candidates vying for 40 seats. Yet she was the only one running in her district–a virtually uninhabited island, Hawar, in southern Bahrain–thereby ensuring her victory.

Electoral quotas have meant that women must constitute a certain number or percentage of a candidate list or parliamentary assembly. Egypt’s case dramatically illustrated the difference quotas have made in getting women into government. Egypt was one of the first countries in the Middle East to institute electoral quotas, with a 1979 decree by President Anwar Sadat reserving ten percent of the seats in parliament for women. However, in 1986, quotas were abolished. As a result, the number of women in parliament has consistently plummeted.

Following December 2005 elections, only two percent of the Egyptian parliament were women. In Morocco, women comprised only 0.66 percent of the elected deputies in 1993, placing it 118th internationally. After quotas were imposed in 2002, that figure increased to 10.77, making Morocco a respectable 69th in the world. In the Arab world, it was surpassed only by Tunisia, where quotas ensured that 14 percent of the parliament has been female. In Jordan no women were elected between 1993 and 2003, when an electoral law reserved six seats for the top female vote-getters.

Two recent successes in getting quotas imposed were in Iraq and Afghanistan after U.S. military intervention changed the governments there. In Iraq, 25 percent of the seats in the parliament has been reserved for women, and in the 2005 parliamentary elections, close to that percentage, 20 percent, were elected. In Afghanistan, where 25 percent of seats in the lower house of parliament and the provincial councils were reserved for women, about that number were elected the same year.

A new phenomenon in the Middle East has been the rise of elected Islamist women. Many of the women elected in Iraq in December 2005 were from the Shi’a United Alliance ticket, which was dominated by religious parties. Another example was the January 2006 Palestinian Authority Legislative Council elections; the largest number of women elected were from Hamas, an Islamist party with the highest electoral plurality.

An electoral quota required that Palestinian political parties had to have at least one woman among the first three candidates on a list, at least one woman among the next four, and for the rest a woman for every fifth. That resulted in six of Hamas’ 74 seats in parliament being held by women. One of those elected was Mariam Farhat, a mother of three Hamas supporters killed while waging terrorist attacks on Israelis. Female support for Hamas was critical to their party’s victory in 2005. The reason was the success of Hamas’ social programs, which have included financial assistance for widows of suicide bombers, health clinics, day care centers, kindergartens and preschools, and even beauty parlors and women-only gyms.


Although most Middle Eastern countries have permitted women to run for parliament, it has been even more of a struggle for them to run for head of state. In 2005, women were legally barred from running for president in Iran. One of the only countries where a woman has run for head of state is in Algeria with the 2004 presidential candidacy of Louisa Hanoun, leader of the left-wing Algeria’s Worker’s Party. Hanoun, however, only placed fifth out of a six-person race. Moreover, only 51 percent of those participants in the Arab Human Development Report poll said that women have the right to become head of state.

All the Islamic Middle Eastern countries have had women as government ministers, with the exception of Saudi Arabia. One of the most recent countries that did so was the UAE, which in 2005 appointed a woman as economics minister and in 2006 appointed a woman as minister of public works. In 2005, Kuwait appointed its first female cabinet minister with the portfolio of planning and administrative development. Yet these appointments, as well as the vast majority throughout the region in the past, have been in social or women’s affairs and none have been in the most important positions, such as foreign affairs, defense, interior, or finance.

Attitudes toward women in the cabinet differed, according to a Gallup poll released in 2006 in which participants were asked whether women should be allowed to hold leadership positions there. While 91 percent of those in Lebanon, 78 percent in Iran, and 74 percent in Morocco answered in the affirmative, the number dipped down to 55 percent in Jordan, 54 percent in Egypt, and 40 percent in Saudi Arabia.


For advocates of women’s rights as important as getting women elected as politicians and named as cabinet members has been getting them appointed as judges. A female judge in the Islamic world has been even more taboo than a female politician or cabinet, because this is discouraged by the interpretation of Islamic doctrine. A judge, by the nature of that job, has represented the essence of reason, something in which women have been supposedly innately lacking. In Iran, following the revolution, women were no longer able to become judges, although they remained in the government. In the Arab Human Development Report poll only 66 percent of those polled said they supported women as judges.

Eleven Islamic Middle Eastern nations had female judges by 2006–Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Libya, Jordan, Egypt, Afghanistan, and Yemen. However, getting these appointments wasn’t easy. In Egypt, for example, where only about half of those participating in the Arab Human Development Report poll supported female judges, it took 25 years. In 1949, a female lawyer, Aisha Ratib, unsuccessfully sued the government when she was passed over for a judgeship on the State Council, the highest administrative court. It was the same result 40 years later when another female attorney, Fatma Lashin, filed a sexual discrimination suit after being denied a position on the bench, but also failed to get an appointment. The government’s refusal to appoint a female judge was consistent with public opinions on the subject. A 1997 opinion poll conducted by the Cairo-based Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and Legal Profession found that the strongest opponents of female judges in Egypt were women. In 2003, the government appointed Tahani al-Gibali as the first nation’s first female judge. Although Gibali’s appointment was prestigious, since she was tapped to the Supreme Constitutional Court, some activists said it would have been better if she had been appointed to a family court, where she could influence divorce and children’s custody issues.

In Iraq, where the Middle East’s first ever female judge was appointed, efforts in 2003 to appoint the first female judge in Najaf, a Shi’a religious city, resulted in fatwas (religious edicts) being issued by two prominent clerics and angry demonstrators against it. The U.S. military indefinitely suspended the appointment, although women have remained on the bench in other parts of the country.


Judges in Islamic countries are especially important, because they are able to render decisions interpreting personal status laws dealing with marriage, divorce, guardianship, and children’s custody. In these countries, these personal status laws have been influenced by Shari’a, or Islamic law. The sources of Shari’a are the Koran and the Hadith, or the recorded actions and sayings of Muhammad. At one extreme are those nations, such as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, that strictly follow Shari’a, and at the other extreme are those like Tunisia that have replaced much of Shari’a with laws meeting international standards on these issues. Most Islamic countries fall in the middle.

In those Islamic Middle Eastern countries more strictly governed by Shari’a, women have not been entirely their own guardians with the right to make major decisions or have unrestricted freedom of movement. Rather they have been under the control of a male guardian, their husband (if married), or their father or another close relative (if unmarried). A guardian has been able to prevent their ward’s marriage, although in many countries–even Saudi Arabia, which has the strictest rules regarding the role of guardian–not to force her into marriage. The guardian has also been empowered to hinder a woman’s freedom of movement outside the home, especially from leaving the country, since their permission has been needed to acquire and use a passport.

However, that provision is no longer strictly enforced in many countries. In Kuwait, for example, while women have traditionally needed to seek permission from guardians to travel outside the country or even inside the country overnight, violations have not been enforced. Moreover, while a married women in Kuwait is able to acquire a passport without the approval of her husband, an unmarried woman over the age of 21 cannot.

Although Syrian laws empower a husband to stop his wife from leaving the country by contacting the Ministry of Interior, this has rarely happened; and a Syrian woman may obtain a passport without her husband’s permission. Yet only 54 percent of those in the Arab Human Development Report poll believed that women should be allowed to travel on their own.

Legal marriage ages for women in several countries in the Islamic world are lower than the international norm of 18, since this is mandated in Islamic law, and which could be made even lower with consent from a religious judge. In Iran, the legal age of marriage for women has been 13, while in Yemen and Kuwait, it has been. In Afghanistan, 57 percent, of all girls were married before the legal age of 16, some as young as six.

A husband is empowered to support his wife and in exchange to receive her full obedience, while a wife is not allowed to act against her husband’s wishes, according to Shari’a. That has meant, for example, that in Yemen and Algeria, a woman was not allowed to work outside the home if her husband didn’t give her permission to do so, while in Syria, a wife whose husband refuses her right to work may do so anyway, but only if she forfeits financial support from him.

Men have been allowed by Shari’a law to have up to four wives simultaneously, if they could treat them all equally and provide them with separate places to live. This has been the situation in the Gulf states. On the opposite end of the spectrum has been Tunisia where polygamy was made illegal in 1956, while in Morocco, although it was not officially outlawed, polygamy was made so difficult in 2003 as to have been de facto eradicated. Most Islamic nations fall between these cases. Algerian women have been granted the right to a “no-polygamy clause” in their prenuptial agreement and to initiate divorce if they were not informed in advance of the existence of other wives. Egyptian husbands have had the rights to another wife if the man has told his other wives who could then initiate a divorce on those grounds, but only if she can prove to a judge that an additional marriage would harm her. Jordan has required a judge to ascertain that the husband can financially support multiple wives, and that each wife was informed of other marriages.

In divorce, in those nations that strictly govern under Shari’a, such as Saudi Arabia, a man has been able to divorce his wife without cause by simply uttering “I divorce thee,” three times over three months. One concession to women was that he had to then pay her a sum of money agreed to before the wedding in the marriage contract and let her keep her dowry. Women’s rights to divorce have been extremely limited, only possible in such cases as male infertility at the time of marriage, insanity, or a contagious skin disease such as leprosy. Some countries have granted women other conditions under which they can initiate a divorce, a right which was supported by 68 percent of those participating in the Arab Human Development Report poll.

In Syria, both husbands and wives have been able to claim adultery as grounds for divorce. Yet a husband would only be considered guilty if he cheated in the couple’s home and has also confessed or there has been testimony of a third witness. A Syrian wife could be accused of adultery committed anywhere, backed up by any evidence.

There were also different penalties for men and women regarding adultery. Egyptian male adulterers have been likely to get imprisonment for only six months, while women have received two years. Under Egyptian law, a husband who kills his wife after finding her in bed with another man would be charged with a non-felony crime, while a woman doing the same would be charged with a felony. In Lebanon, men have also received lighter sentences for such cases of murder than women have.

By 2007, there were no reported cases where a Syrian woman successfully filed for divorce based on adultery. A Kuwaiti woman who has been physically abused may initiate divorce but she must provide at least two male witnesses to attest to the injury committed. In Jordan, a woman can divorce without cause provided she gives up her financial rights, which she can keep if she can prove that she was physically abused. From 2001 to 2005, only 500 Jordanian women initiated and received divorces. A Jordanian man could still divorce without providing any reason, although he had to pay his wife’s expenses for at least one year and no more than three.

After a divorce when there are children involved, there are few Islamic Middle Eastern countries in which a woman has been able to become a legal guardian of the children. This has meant that although the children have been able to stay with mother in several countries just until the end of childhood–age seven for both boys and girls in Iran, 13 for boys and 15 for girls in Syria–she has had to rely upon the father to register for school or for passports. It has also meant that divorced mothers who remarry have lost custody of their children. Even in countries like Morocco and Tunisia a woman has only been able to become a legal guardian if her husband were deceased or legally incompetent, while in countries governed by Shari’a that right has gone to paternal grandparents.

The only such nations where women have been able to pass on nationality are Tunisia, Algeria, and Egypt. In the UAE, a woman has been required to surrender citizenship if she marries a man who was not a citizen of a Gulf state. These laws have created major logistical problems for those families with members without citizenship. Non-citizens must constantly renew residence permits in their own country, cannot travel without visas, and are prohibited from holding certain jobs (such as in the government). Morocco, Jordan, and Bahrain have adopted measures to allow children from a citizen mother and a non-citizen father to receive more services and benefits if the family decides to reside in the mother’s country.

In most of the Middle Eastern Islamic countries, even Tunisia, women have inherited less, usually half the amount that men inherit. A woman who is an only child still receives only half, with the rest going to the closest male relative. These inheritance laws have been fair, say some, because male Muslim heirs have the duty to provide for all family members, which women do not. Even in Saudi Arabia, a woman has been allowed to keep her money throughout marriage, while in Syria a male heir can even be sued if he doesn’t provide financially for his close female relatives.

In a courtroom, women in those countries with a strict interpretation of Shari’a, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, have considered a woman’s testimony worth half that of a man, and a woman’s life half that of a man for purposes of blood money–murder cases which are settled by payment from the perpetrator’s family to the victim’s family.

Courts in the region have been reluctant to go after perpetrators of domestic violence. Although 97 percent of those in the Arab Human Development Report poll believed that women should not be subject to physical violence, domestic violence has been rampant. In Bahrain, an estimated 30 percent of the nation’s married women were victims of verbal, physical, or psychological spousal violence in 2004, while in the UAE the figure was 66 percent. In Syria, 25 percent of married women have claimed to have been beaten.

Yet there is no Islamic Middle Eastern nation with a law clearly prohibiting domestic violence or marital rape, and courts have made it difficult to prove. In Algeria, spousal abuse can be prosecuted only if a victim were incapacitated for over two weeks and had a doctor’s evaluation. Not surprisingly, a 2004 study by women’s groups there found that 70 percent of domestic violence victims did not file a complaint. A Bahraini man convicted in 2004 for beating his wife to death was found guilty to a lesser degree, involuntary manslaughter, because the court ruled that the beating was a form of discipline. In Saudi Arabia, Rania al-Baz, host of a popular morning show, lapsed into a coma in 2004 as the result of a brutal beating from her husband. Her husband, however, only ended up serving three months and receiving 300 lashes, after he worked out an arrangement with Baz, who agreed to a lesser sentence in return for a divorce and custody of her sons.

Muslim clerics both parallel and inspire the judicial situation. They may set limits on domestic violence–one suggesting that hitting be done with a toothpick–but do not oppose it, which has meant effectively endorsing it. For example, Lebanese cleric Zakariyya Ghandur provided specific advice for wife beaters saying on television that:

Disciplining by beating occurs as a reprimand–not brutal beating. Brutal beating is forbidden. Use of a ruler or… beating on the hand, the shoulder, the buttocks, or anything like that [is permitted] as a reprimand of a woman when all methods of guidance have failed. [This should be] like a mother or father who beat their son or daughter to prevent them from wrongdoing, and not out of hatred or animosity.[3]

Muslim women are also victims of “honor killings.” This usually occurs to unmarried women who were killed by a close relative after they were believed to have “disgraced” their family by having sexual relations, or even unchaperoned contact, with a man who was not a relative. Whether the woman was a willing participant or was raped was not even relevant; she had to be murdered to save the family’s honor, a situation which largely or partly exonerated her murderer. This has been practiced in many countries including Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon, and has been tough to eradicate.

Take the case of Jordan, where in 1998 some 100 women were the victims of honor crimes. When in 1999, King Abdallah tried to increase the punishment–which in some cases was only three months–he was met with widespread resistance. The Islamic Action Front issued a fatwa saying that a repeal would, “Destroy… family values by stripping men of their humanity when they surprise their wives or female relatives committing adultery.”[4] According to a Jordan Times poll, 62 percent of Jordanians opposed increasing punishments. The monarch’s effort to tighten the punishment passed the Jordanian Senate but was rejected by the lower house.

Lebanon, whose legal system once outright pardoned honor crime murders, has recently allowed those responsible to get a reduced sentence if they personally saw their victim having sex with a man other than her spouse. However, sometimes even that has not been necessary. In 2005, a 19-year-old Lebanese man who admitted stabbing his older sister to death simply because he thought she was guilty of adultery was sentenced to six months in jail. In 2001, Lebanon held a conference on honor killings citing evidence that on average, one woman per month is killed by a close male relative, although activists believe the figure to be higher.


The area in which women have made the greatest gains has been in education, although the successes there have also been mixed. In 2005, half of all women in Arab countries were illiterate compared to only one-third of men, and only three-quarters of women had access to education compared to four-fifths of men. Those Arab countries that were less wealthy, such as Yemen, Egypt, and Morocco, had female literacy rates of less than 50 percent of women in 2006. The most significant educational gains for women were in the wealthy Gulf nations of Bahrain, Qatar, and the UAE–usually among the most conservative with respect to rights for women but where education has been guaranteed free through university for all citizens. In these countries, and also in Jordan, between 80 to 85 percent were literate.

In all but four Arab countries, less than 80 percent of girls were attending secondary school in 2005. Higher percentages were found in Qatar, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority. One of the worst rates was in Yemen, where only 20 percent of females were in secondary school–less than half that of boys in school.

At least as many women as men were studying in universities in Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, the Palestinian Authority, Oman, Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia. In Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE more women than men were in universities. Yet part of the reason for this was that a certain percentage of men had left the country to study abroad, something which many female students usually could not consider because of parental objections or restrictions on traveling. Female university students in some countries have faced discrimination. Kuwait University increased the minimum grades needed for women to get accepted into the departments of engineering and petroleum so that more men could be admitted. In Saudi Arabia, women were still prevented from studying engineering, astronomy, physical education, agriculture, tourism, computer science, administration and journalism, and could not attend the King Fahd University for Oil and Minerals in Dhahran–the training ground for the nation’s most lucrative industry, among other subjects.

One field that recently opened to women in a few countries is religious clerical studies. Morocco has taken the lead in this area. In May 2006, 50 women graduated along with 150 men from Dar al-Hadith al-Hassaniyya–a religious seminar once just reserved for men–to become the first female imams, or clerics. These women will not lead prayers, like their male counterparts, but will answer religious queries and teach. The efforts to promote women were pushed by the king as one of several ways to promote a liberal Islam.

Yet the high percentage of female students has not resulted in more women in the workforce. Although 91 percent of those surveyed in the Arab Human Development Report believed that a woman should have an equal right to work, Arab women’s economic participation has been the lowest in the world.

The Arab world only had 32 percent of its women in the labor force in 2005. The greatest number of working women was found in Tunisia, where women represented 36 percent of judges, 31 percent of the country’s lawyers, and 51 percent of doctors. In neighboring Morocco during the same time, women comprised 35 percent of the workforce, including one-third of all doctors and one-quarter of university professors. In Syria, working women constituted 13 percent of judges, 15 percent of lawyers, 57 percent of teachers below university level, and 20 percent of university professors.

Even countries such as Saudi Arabia have focused on increasing the number of working women by expanding the kinds of jobs available to them. The UAE also began promoting the role of women in the workplace and has guaranteed public sector employment for all women who have sought it. Women have been the majority of workers in education and health care. By 2000, they were 100 percent of nursery school teachers, 74 percent of primary school teachers, and 54 percent of secondary school teachers. They have even become police officers, military volunteers, and taxi drivers.

Several countries in the Middle East such as Egypt, Bahrain, Lebanon, Tunisia, Morocco, and Kuwait have tried to make conditions easier for working women with paid maternity leave. In Kuwait, for example, women have been entitled to up to two months at their full salary, and an extra four months at half salary if they showed that they were sick due to the pregnancy. Other countries have also passed laws prohibiting gender discrimination in the workplace. For example in 2002, Lebanon’s law was changed to make it illegal for employers to discriminate based on gender in the nature of work, salary, or promotion. Yet women there were loathe to try to sue violators. A group of employers in the Gulf countries said in 2006 that they preferred women for many job openings, because they could pay them ten percent less than their male counterparts, although they also admitted that women were harder-working than men.

An increasing number of women have become more prominent in business by either starting their own companies or rising to high-level positions in others. Most of these women were in the service industry, and more such women than men had family ties to the business. One consistent business growth area for women has been banking to service the growing assets of women. In Bahrain, a woman became the general manager of the National Bank of Commerce while three other women became a bank-branch manager.

With the increase of women in business have come critical networking associations. The 2006 Global Summit for Women, an annual event drawing female business leaders worldwide, was held in Cairo. The main speakers were Sana’a Mun’im al-Bana, chairperson of the Egyptian Petrochemicals Holding Company; and Sahar al-Sallab, vice chairperson and managing director of the Commercial International Bank, the largest private bank in Egypt. In Egypt by 2005, there were 22 businesswomen’s associations, compared to only one ten years earlier. In 2004, the first Gulf Cooperation Council Businesswomen’s Forum was held in Oman, drawing 400 women.


Experts have disagreed as to the causes of the continued gap between female and male rights. Some have blamed Islam. Others have blamed the region’s economic failure, corruption, political oppression, armed conflicts in the region, and scarcity of resources. It has not even been clear how eager those in the Arab world have been for change. Some 88 percent of those participating in the Arab Human Development Report poll said that an Arab human renaissance demanded the rise of women. However, when a 2004 poll conducted by Zogby International asked men and women in Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, and the UAE to rank the importance of ten different reform issues, they put women’s rights second to last in importance.��

Women in the Islamic Middle East have been guaranteed equal rights under their own constitutions and international laws adopted by the government. Yet women have not enjoyed these rights in politics, marriage, divorce, freedom of movement, education, or work.

*Judith Colp-Rubin is an author and journalist. She is the author of Women in the Middle East, soon to be published by Sharpe Publishers and co-author of Yasir Arafat: A Political Biography, (Oxford, 2003), “Hating America: A History,” (Oxford, 2004) and Anti-American Terrorism in the Middle East, (Oxford, 2001). She was also founder and publisher of Women’s International Net, a magazine about women worldwide. She has reported about the Middle East for several publications in North America.


[1] Freedom House, “Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Citizenship and Justice,” October 14, 2005.

[2] The Arab Human Development Report 2005, “Towards the Rise of Women in the Arab World,” (United Nations Development Program, 2006), p. 146.

[3] Heya TV, December 30, 2004. Excerpted and translated in “Wife-Beating Debated on Lebanese TV Channels,” Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Clip No. 588, December 30, 2004,

[4] Quoted in Jeff Chiu, “Raising their Voices,” Time Europe Magazine, February 15, 2004,

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Nov 30 2010

Women in the New Iraq

Tag: Global CommentarySage @ 5:54 pm

From Gloria-Centre.Org

Judith Colp Rubin*

*The following article is an extract from Barry Rubin (ed.), Iraq After Saddam (Sharpe, forthcoming).

Iraqi women once enjoyed more civil and social rights than many of their sisters in other Islamic nations. Ironically, that was thanks in part to the dictator Saddam Hussein, although in the last years of his rule women were among those groups whose rights were eroded. Now that Hussein has been overthrown, Iraqi women are among Iraqi special interest groups seeking rights. Yet women here are not a united force as Islamist women have emerged as a political entity. Meanwhile, women remain disproportionately victims of the violence that has gripped the country.

When Iraq’s long-ruling dictator Saddam Hussein was overthrown by U.S. forces in 2003, women were among the special interest groups clamoring to be heard in structuring the new regime and society. In the climate of burgeoning democracy, women started forming nongovernmental organizations–80 of them in Baghdad alone. There were suddenly programs to teach women about computers, political leadership, entrepreneurship, democracy, and the media. There were also handicraft workshops, women’s centers offering free legal advice or aid to battered women, and classes in English.

Yet as the new government was being formed it remained to be seen which women’s view of Iraq would prevail. Mirroring changes in the rest of Iraq’s burgeoning democracy was a struggle between Islamist women versus their secular sisters.


This is not a new struggle in the history of Iraq’s women. The idea of women’s rights came to Iraq at the start of the twentieth century. It began with promoting girls’ education, a step even relatively traditional families had an incentive to support since an educated woman had higher marriage prospects than an uneducated one. An influential booster of girls’ education was King Faisal I who bestowed awards on talented female pupils. One recipient was Sabiha al-Shaykh Daud who, in 1922 when she was only eight years old, caused a stir by reciting verses at a poetry festival, clad in a traditional dress without a veil and astride a camel.

Daud’s story also shows that girls’ education was only to be tolerated so far. When Daud became the first Muslim Iraqi woman to study at Iraq’s College of Law she was forced to attend classes in a special box to separate her from the rest of the class. Even so her male classmates greatly ridiculed her.

However, other Iraqi men were the nation’s major proponents of women’s rights. Iraq’s poets took the lead on social issues, including the status of women. Jamil Sidqi al-Zahawi, one of the most prominent Iraqi poets, championed education for women and, far more controversially, called for abolishing the veil. “They claim that the veil protects women. They lie because in reality it is calamitous,” al-Zahawi wrote. “They claim that unveiling is shameful; wrong! Unveiling is perfect chastity. A veil does not protect woman’s chastity; an education does.”[1]

Another Iraqi poet who wanted to abolish the veil was Zahawi’s professional rival, Ma’ruf al-Rusafi, who bluntly told Iraqi women that the hijab (clothing preserving an Islamic woman’s modesty by covering her, especially her head) imprisoned them. Women, he wrote, needed freedom instead.

It was not only men who were writing about women. After the women’s literary movement exploded in Egypt it made its way to Iraq. In 1923, a Palestinian immigrant, Paulina Hassoun, published the first women’s publication in Iraq, called Leila. In one of her early editorials, Hassoun wrote that “The time in which women were treated like playthings or as breeding animals, in which men were considered the absolute masters, doing whatever they liked with their women and children, is over.”[2] The magazine, however, only lasted two years, and it took another 13 years for another to be launched.

The same year Leila commenced publication, Asma Zahawi, the poet’s sister, started the first women’s association in Iraq. Known as the Awakening Club, the organization provided classes in such subjects as literacy, hygiene, and child care and also sponsored social welfare projects. It attracted such prominent women as Nuri al-Sayid, wife of the then prime minister. Yet when clerics demanded its name be changed to the more innocent-sounding Women’s Club, Zahawi refused to give in, so the club closed.

By the late 1940s, the situation for Iraqi women improved. One of the most prominent poets to emerge was a woman, Nazik al-Mala’ika, herself the daughter of two prominent poets. Her father also edited a 20-volume encyclopedia on Arab grammar but still found time to take over his daughter’s education in Arabic after being dismayed by some of her writing errors. He drilled her in the principles of Arabic grammar and classics of literature. At age ten, Mala’ika penned her first poem in Classical Arabic.

While a student at the Higher Teachers’ Training College in Baghdad, she published poems in newspapers and magazines. Her breakthrough poem was written in 1947 and dealt with the cholera epidemic that was claiming thousands of lives in Egypt. The poem received attention not only because of its powerful subject but also because of its style. Mala’ika had become one of the first in the region to reject the rigid rules about meter and verse used in Arab poetry in favor of free verse. After earning a scholarship at Princeton University, one of the few women studying at the all-male college, she worked as a university professor in Kuwait and later moved to London.

She also tried to promote the rights of women in Iraq and gave a famous lecture entitled “Women between passivity and positive morality.” The title of that lecture indeed described Iraqi women, who were divided between the traditional and the modern. In 1957, a group of Iraqi women who had taken off their veils within the confines of an all-female company in a private home hurriedly put them back on when a man could be seen on a new gadget known as a television set. It took days before they were reassured that they could not be seen by the men on television but considerably longer before many women felt ready to be seen without their veils outside the home.

Yet during this time Iraqi women enjoyed more rights than their sisters in the Islamic world, thanks to the changing political situation. In 1959, the leftist-nationalist government of Abd al-Karim Qasim, a military officer who came to power in a coup, passed a new personal status law that, even by today’s standards, was one of the most progressive such laws in the Arab world. It was greatly opposed by the nation’s religious and conservative leaders. The law replaced courts that ruled according to Shari’a (Islamic law) with those making decisions on such issues according to state law. The law further set the minimum marriage age to 18, ensured equal inheritance rights for sons and daughters, and prevented men from unilaterally divorcing their wives. It also made polygamy virtually impossible by requiring men seeking a second wife to get judicial permission that was granted only if the judge believed the man could treat both wives equally.

These are measures that are considered progressive today–nearly a half century later–in many Arab countries. When they were passed, some supporters led demonstrations with slogans such as “By the end of the month there will be no dowries,”[3] although that proved to be considerably over-optimistic.

Qasim also appointed the first Iraqi female government minister, albeit with a relatively minor portfolio of municipalities. The appointee was Naziha al-Dulaimi, a member of the Communist Party and president of the Iraqi Women’s League, which had been founded in 1952. He also appointed the first female judge not just in Iraq but in the entire Middle East. The latter was something particularly unthinkable since under Islam women are explicitly not permitted to be judges. The woman he tapped for the job was Zakiyya Hakki, a member of Iraq’s Kurdish minority, who later became the only woman in the leadership of the Kurdish Democratic Party.

Underscoring how progressive Iraq was at the time compared to many other Arab countries, one Iraqi woman recalls the reaction of Libyan officials when the Iraqi Red Crescent delegation, which happened to be all female and were clad in Western clothes, attended a conference in Libya in the 1960s. “We got off the plane and they [the Libyan hosts] said, ‘Where is the delegation?….’ Because we were all women, they couldn’t believe we were the representatives of a country.”[4]

However, in 1963 Qasim was ousted from power and soon a new army officer, Abd al-Salam Arif, took power. After an appeal by religious leaders, Arif diluted the new personal status law, reverting to traditional Islamic inheritance laws that greatly favored men.


Women’s rights seemed once again on track when the Ba’th Party again took power in 1968. Women’s equality was enshrined in the 1970 Iraqi Provisional Constitution. In January 1971, Iraq also ratified the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which provide equal protection under international law to all.

In 1979, Saddam Hussein, who had been the power behind-the-scenes for years, fully established himself as Iraq’s leader. Although Saddam Hussein was undeniably a despot who terrorized the nation and created a republic of fear for both male and female Iraqis, he also—-at least initially—-promoted women’s rights. He wanted Iraqi women to be educated, to be part of the workforce and political landscape (such as it was under the dictatorship), and to enjoy rights in marriage and divorce; and, of course, whatever Hussein wanted, Hussein got.

The promotion of women’s rights fit in with Hussein’s interest in building a secular, non- traditional Iraq. Women could be used to help the nation achieve their goal of rapid economic growth. Rather than rely upon foreign labor, Hussein decided to use women to deal with labor shortages.

Incorporated into Hussein’s rhetorical flourishes about the great nation of Iraq were flattering references to its women: “The women of our country are the descendants of the immortal Arab women who fought valiantly side-by-side with their men folk, wrote the poetry of chivalry and glory, and participated in the great Arab heritage of civilization.”[5]

Hussein, however did more than talk about women’s rights. Iraqi women were among the greatest beneficiaries of his widespread literacy programs for all Iraqis. That included mandatory education for children between the ages of six and ten and literacy classes for all Iraqis between the ages of 15 and 45, of which women were a disproportionate number. By the 1990s, the female illiteracy rate in Iraq was among the lowest in the region. Female high-school graduates were encouraged to attend one of the many newly opened colleges and universities, after which they were guaranteed jobs.

Women were further lured to the workplace by promises of equal opportunity, generous maternity benefits, subsidized day care, free transportation, and in some cases, even free housing. That most of the jobs for women were in the civil service made them respectable even for traditional families. By the late 1970s, it was estimated that women made up about 60 percent of the Iraqi civil service.

In 1980, women were part of the nation’s oil industry, comprising 37 percent of government oil-project designers and 30 percent of construction supervisors. By 1982, women were 46 percent of teachers, 29 percent of doctors, 46 percent of dentists, 70 percent of pharmacists, 15 percent of accountants, 14 percent of factory workers, and 4 percent of the senior management positions in Iraq.

In 1980, Iraqi women were granted suffrage and the right to run for office. That parliamentary election year, women won 16 out of 250 seats on the National Council. Five years later, women won 33 council seats, representing 13 percent of the total body. However, it should be emphasized that these were strictly party-controlled elections in which only the Ba’th Party ran candidates. By 1984, 13.2 percent of the National Assembly was female.

Women were also given increased benefits in a new personal status law. Compulsory marriage became a punishable crime. A woman could get a divorce if her husband did not fulfill any of the conditions from their marriage contract. Divorced mothers could now get custody of their children until the age of ten (it had previously been seven for boys and nine for girls), and, with court approval, custody could even be extended to the child’s fifteenth birthday. The child could then choose with which parent to live.

“Unjustified divorce ought to be condemned everywhere. Polygamy ought to be condemned in every corner of our society,” said Saddam Hussein.[6]

Yet, as with so many other things, Hussein was untroubled by an obvious hypocrisy; he himself had two wives. There is also evidence that not all of the personal status law’s provisions were enforced.

In 1986, Iraq became one of the first countries to ratify the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Yet like many Muslim countries, when it accepted this document Iraq cited reservations on the basis of Islamic law that diluted some of the legislation’s effect. For example, while CEDAW guarantees a woman the right to pass on her own nationality, Iraqi law gives that right only to the father.

Moreover, the general repression of political activity prevented women from freely organizing. Hussein closed the Iraqi Women’s League and made the Ba’thist General Federation of Iraqi Women the only women’s organization allowed to function. By 1997, some 47 percent of all women in Iraq reportedly belonged to this organization, although other sources put the figure as lower.

By 1998, the Federation had 21 branches and ran some 250 rural and urban community centers offering job training, education, and other social programs for women. It also helped promote women in public office and initiated the changes in the personal status law. One of its most important functions was educating women about their legal rights through a radio and television campaign, and it even focused on abolishing gender stereotypes in education. A U.S. reporter who visited Iraq in 1999 was told by a federation member that after they discovered that the cover of a children’s textbook showed a boy holding a pen and notebook and a girl carrying a doll, they contacted the publisher and asked that the cover be changed. Presumably, it was. The reporter was also told of how federation members run workshops for elementary school teachers to train them how to teach housekeeping and cooking classes to both boys and girls and run sports events for girls, many of which were televised. Broadcasting images of female athletes wearing shorts and swimsuits is considered nothing short of scandalous in many other parts of the Arab world.[7]

Iraq’s eight-year war with Iran initially provided another boost to women’s rights before creating a major backlash against them. After the war started in 1980, women were needed to join the labor force in even greater numbers as men were going off to the battlefield. In a program known as the “National Campaign to Increase Women’s Participation in the Economic Development Process,” women were trained to work as gas station attendants, bus conductors, and even in the army as doctors and engineers.

However, the toll the war took on Iraq was the beginning of changed circumstances for Iraqi women. In the last years of the war, women were fired from these jobs as their places were needed for returning soldiers. Women were encouraged to focus on becoming mothers who should produce at least five children as the nation needed a population boost to take on the much more populous Iran.

Yet the Iran-Iraq War was only the start of Iraq’s problems. In 1991, Saddam Hussein recklessly invaded Kuwait, only retreating after he was defeated by an international coalition. Following the war, the United Nations imposed trade sanctions against Iraq, leading to an economic crisis in the country. Women were among the primary victims.

For example, indigent families kept girls at home rather than send them to school. As unemployment rose further, women were the first to lose their jobs. In 1998, the government fired all female secretaries in governmental agencies.

During this time, too, there was an increased religious atmosphere in Iraq. “When you have a problem, you need to go nearer to God,” said Imam Majid, director of women’s medicine at Baghdad Teaching Hospital, who began wearing a hijab in 1999. “Many of us have had many problems now, and many of us have lost someone to death. We have changed over these wars.”[8]

These economic hard times also set off another wave of veiling for another reason. “When gray hair comes out, many women cannot afford to dye it. I know so many women who cover for that reason,” said Wassan al-Souz, a longtime women’s activist.[9]

Nevertheless, as with everything else in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, major changes always occurred primarily because of the man at the top. By then, greatly unpopular because of the national crisis, Hussein (once the great secularist) began supporting Islamic and tribal traditions. He passed a series of laws aimed at pleasing Muslim clerics, such as a 1993 decree that allowed Iraqi men to marry a second and third wife without the consent of the first wife. Another law forbade Iraqi women from marrying foreigners. In 2000, women were no longer allowed to travel abroad unless accompanied by a male relative.

In 1990, a presidential decree reduced prison sentences from eight years to a maximum six months for men who pleaded family honor as a reason for killing their female relatives. Not surprisingly, honor killings greatly increased in Iraq, claiming the lives of 4,000 women between 1991 and 2001.[10]

Even more pernicious, however, was the authorities’ deliberate targeting of women. Rape of a suspected man’s wife or sister was used as a way to obtain information by the police. Some Iraqi security officials openly carried professional cards that listed “violation of women’s honor” as one of their duties.

Many crimes against women were committed by Hussein’s oldest son, Udayy, who was notorious for his enormous sexual appetite and ruthlessness. There were many stories of Udayy raping and physically assaulting Iraqi women, even young teenagers and brides during their own weddings. Naturally, he was immune to punishment.

Udayy also headed a paramilitary group charged with dealing with prostitution–which Saddam had banned and made punishable by death. Women anywhere could be accused and found guilty of that crime, although their real misdeed was often being themselves or a relative to someone considered to be an enemy of the regime or refusing to have sexual relations with a Ba’th official.

In front of their family and neighbors, these women would be taken away from their home, stretched out on an iron bench in the center of their village, and decapitated. Their heads would then be displayed publicly outside their family home for several hours. After the execution, the killers would fire shots of celebration. From June 2000 to April 2001, at least 130 women, some as young as age 12, were accused of being prostitutes and beheaded; human rights experts believe the number is much higher.

Those women who were put in jail were subject to great brutality such as being raped or hung by their feet while they were menstruating so that they were “poisoned by the infection generated by their own blood,” recalls Affra al-Barak, who said she was put in jail after she spoke with a man authorities considered to be suspicious.[11]

Some Iraqi women were able to fight back. Women participated in the 1991 Kurdish uprising. When from 1991 to 2003 an Iraqi Kurdish area functioned as an autonomous area under international protection, women became members of the Kurdistan Regional Government and were also able to form women’s organizations.

On the other hand, there were Iraqi women who participated in the system. In the last years of Saddam Hussein’s rule, Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash was the highest-ranking woman in the government and the only woman in the 18-member Iraq Command that ran the Ba’th Party. Her rise in power was due to her expertise. Ammash was dubbed “Mrs. Anthrax” for having been instrumental in rebuilding Iraq’s biological weapons program in the mid-1990s after the Gulf War. She took on this role even after her own father—-a member of the Ba’th Party leadership and former vice president and defense minister–was killed in 1983, reportedly under Hussein’s orders.

Born in 1953, Ammash studied microbiology in Texas and then obtained a doctorate in the subject from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She returned to Iraq to train with Nasir al-Hindawi, who had started Iraq’s biological weapons program. She became a dean at the University of Baghdad and head of Iraq’s Microbiology Society, where research was being done on biological weapons. However, she may also have paid a major personal price for her work, as she is believed to have contracted breast cancer as a result of working with depleted uranium.

After the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003, Ammash had the dubious distinction of being the sole woman on the U.S. list of the 55 most wanted Iraqi leaders. She appeared, clad in a military jacket, in the last footage released of the most prominent members of the Iraqi government and was arrested by U.S. forces in May 2003.

The U.S. authorities also abolished the General Federation of Iraqi Women because of its close association with the Ba’th Party. The Iraq Women’s League, which Saddam Hussein had closed, was reopened. Many other organizations dealing with women’s issues were created.

“Women pushed to be active. They didn’t get anyone’s permission, they just did it,” said Eleana Gordon, senior vice president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, which has supported women’s activists in Iraq.[12]

Nonetheless, women soon complained that their organizations did not receive local government funding and were only receiving money from abroad. Women also felt that they were being excluded from the political scene.

At the first leadership meeting in Nasiriyyah after the ouster of Saddam Hussein, there were only four women among the 123 people in attendance. At a second gathering of 250 future Iraqi leaders held in Baghdad on April 2003, there were only six women. During the 2003 local elections in Baghdad, leaflets warned women not to participate, according to Salwa Ali, an adviser on human rights issues for the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority. When she went to the polling station, the men there told her to go home; they would make sure to take care of women’s concerns.

However, three women were included in the 12-member Iraqi Governing Council, chosen in July 2003 by the U.S. administration in Iraq. One of them, Raja Khuzay, an obstetrician and hospital director, described how the male members looked away when the female members spoke and held important votes only after the women had left the room. When Khuzay submitted a report to the Council about the problems of poorly paid doctors, she could not persuade most of the male members to read what she wrote.

“It is very frustrating,” she later told a group of U.S. legislators. “We’re pretty much ignored.”[13]

Yet the 50-something mother of seven was used to managing under extreme circumstances. In 1991, during the first Persian Gulf War, she was made the first female hospital director in Iraq, in charge of a maternity hospital in Diwaniyyah. After the U.S.-led Coalition liberated Kuwait, there was a rebellion against Hussein’s regime in Diwaniyyah that was quickly put down by the Republican Guard.

When the city was bombarded, Khuzay was the only doctor left at the hospital. She had to work alone, with no electricity, to help women give birth. She performed 22 Cesarean sections by candlelight.

“At that time, I was alone in the [operating] theater,” she recalled. “Now, we are many.”[14]

Two months after the Governing Council was formed, one of the three female appointees became a victim of the terrorism that was becoming rampant in Iraq. Aqila al-Hashimi, who had served as a diplomat under the Hussein regime, was murdered. Khuzay and her colleague, Songul Chapuk, an engineer and ethnic Turkmen from Kirkuk, were incensed when Hashimi’s replacement was named while they were away at a World Bank conference on women’s issues. Their male colleagues had voted to appoint a conservative Shi’a woman, Salama al-Khafaji, in what a former U.S. ambassador and women’s activist Swanee Hunt termed “clearly a railroading.”[15]


Indeed, al-Khafaji was far from the mold of a women’s activist. She proved this when she supported Resolution 137, which called for canceling Iraq’s existing family laws and instituting Shari’a law in its place. Shi’a clerics on the governing council used a closed-door meeting to push through the resolution that called for religious courts to determine inheritance, marriage, and divorce. Women’s activists said that under the law, women would not be allowed to leave their houses without asking permission from their husbands, custody of children would be given to men after divorce, and men would be free to take multiple wives.

“This new law will send Iraqi families back to the Middle Ages,” said Zakiyya Hakki, the first Iraqi woman appointed a judge who had become an advisor to the Minister of Justice.[16]

Zainab al-Suwaij, an Iraqi-American women’s activist, added, “We would have been in a worse situation than the women of Afghanistan before the American occupation.”[17]

Women’s activists worked hard to organize opposition to the agreement, to which they objected both on its merits and due to the way that it had been pushed through in secrecy. The fervent opposition to Resolution 137 made the proposed legislation a “blessing in disguise,” said Nasreen Berwari, who later became minister of municipalities and public works.

Its passage motivated Iraqi women to organize and demonstrate, and successfully represent themselves…. The retraction brought Iraqi women together for a common cause. Cooperation and organization crossed religious and ethnic lines–Shia, Sunni, Christian, Arab, Kurd, Assyrian, Turkoman.[18]

The women succeeded. U.S. authorities stepped in to ensure the measure was scrapped, a move which women’s activists hope could be repeated in the future should similar measures be passed.

However, in July 2003 the United States felt it could not side with women’s activists when there was a dispute about the appointment of a female judge in Najaf, a holy Shi’a city. Although there are five female judges in Baghdad, some in Najaf were appalled by the appointment by U.S. authorities of Nidal Nasir Husayn, the city’s first female lawyer as its first female judge. When Lt. Col. Christopher C. Conlin, the senior military official in charge of Najaf, showed up for Husayn’s swearing-in ceremony, he was met with a small party complete with a decorated cake and a group of protestors, including some female lawyers, shouting, “No, No Women!”[19]

The cake might have been cut and the appointment completed if Conlin had not been presented with three fatwas (religious edicts) against female judges, one signed by the influential Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and the other by the militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, whose late father and namesake was a revered Shi’a cleric. An argument ensued with opponents saying that the appointment went against Islamic law since women, because they were easily swayed by emotions, were not mentally fit to be judges.

“I have an angry crowd, and there are indications that some of the senior clerics have some serious issues,” Conlin told Nidal Nasir Husayn. “It is my goal to make you a judge, but I need to do better research.”[20] Pleaded Nidal Nasir Husayn: “There were demonstrations against the first elementary schools for women, too, but everything needs a beginning. Don’t just talk to the people who are shouting, talk to sensible people.”[21]Yet Conlin indefinitely postponed the appointment.

In September 2003, only one woman–Berwari–was appointed to the 25-member provisional cabinet appointed by the Governing Council. Berwari was named minister of municipalities and public works. In June 2004, she was among six women named to the 30-member transitional cabinet (the others had the posts of agriculture, environment, displacement and migration, labor and social affairs, and women’s affairs) and in April 2005 was named permanently to that post. As the top Iraqi official in charge of water treatment, waste management, environmental sanitation, and municipal facilities, al-Berwari was one of the most important figures in the Iraqi civil administration. She herself is a fascinating contradiction.

Born in Baghdad in 1967 to a Kurdish family, by age 14 Berwari was already a political prisoner as she sought autonomy for her people. She obtained a Bachelor of Science in architectural engineering at the University of Baghdad in 1991 just before the failed Kurdish uprising caused her to leave the country. Yet she returned after a safe haven was created in Northern Iraq to work for the United Nations, eventually becoming head of its Center for Human Settlements field office in 1997. She obtained a Master’s degree in public administration at Harvard University after which the Kurdistan Regional Government appointed her minister of reconstruction and development, one of two women among 20 ministers.

Yet in 2004 Berwari shocked many women’s rights activists when she married Ghazi al-Yawar, an assembly member and former interim president. The marriage made headlines, not only because al-Yawar was a Sunni but also because he had two other wives.

“This marriage has degraded Kurdish ladies, showing one of our most educated and leading figures being opportunistic. By accepting a fat Arab sheikh for position and fame at the cost of her values and the values of other females in Iraq,” wrote one Kurdish newspaper commentator.[22]

Responding to the charges of hypocrisy, Berwari points out that Iraqi women comprise more than 55 percent of the population due to the deaths of many men in wars, making multiple marriages more of a necessity.[23]


What was acceptable to most Iraqi women was revealed in a poll taken on January 30, 2005, in which slightly more women (37 percent) than men (31 percent) said they favored a more openly Islamic government in Iraq.

These results were borne out after the first parliamentary election to the provisional assembly in January 2005. Eighty-nine women, 31 percent of the total, were elected to parliament, thanks to a rule that every third position on electoral lists must have a woman’s name. However, more than half of those elected were from the conservative Shi’a United Iraqi Alliance, which won the election with just over half the seats. Some women’s activists suggested that the imposition of quotas for female candidates may have worked against them because the Shi’a parties stacked the list with women who would blindly support the party’s agenda.

The woman who emerged as the new leading female politician in Iraq, Salama al-Khafaji, did not seem like a woman who would blindly follow anything. She is the daughter of a carpenter, although her parents greatly valued learning and encouraged their daughter to become a doctor. They, however, were not religious, and it was al-Khafaji who decided at age 15 to wear a hijab and later the abaya. She became a dentist and spent her spare time pursuing her interest in Islam. That led her to study with a prominent Shi’a cleric, Shaykh Fatih Kashif Ghita, who was teaching at the main Shi’a religious school in Najaf. Ghita taught a women’s-only class on the same subjects he taught men, but with one difference: He taught his classes from behind a screen and never saw his students’ faces. It was not only a question of modesty. Ghita was also protecting his students so that if he were arrested he would not divulge their names. In fact, in 1998, the Shi’a cleric was arrested. His mother took over his women’s classes and during prison visits received scraps of paper from her son with recommended readings.

Al-Khafaji’s first political involvement was as a member of the executive committee of the Dentists Union. Yet as a Shi’a woman with some political experience, al-Khafaji was tapped by the Islamic Da’wa party to replace a slain Shi’a woman on the Iraqi Governing Council.

“I did not plan on entering politics, but after the American invasion, I realized that the voice of the majority of Iraqi women–who are religious and not returning exiles–was not being heard,” said al-Khafaji. “I wanted that voice to be heard.”[24]

Her supporters say that because she was the only council member chosen by her fellow politicians and not appointed by U.S. officials she had more credibility than the other members. Before taking the appointment, the pious al-Khafaji requested and received permission from a senior group of Shi’a clerics.

Al-Khafaji’s credibility with her supporters was strengthened after she denounced the U.S. siege of the Sunni city of Fallujah and a crackdown on the supporters of Shi’a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. In April and May of 2005, with the aid of Ghita and other Shi’a clerics, she helped pressure Sadr into accepting a ceasefire.

Still, in Iraq’s new terrorist atmosphere she had her enemies. On May 27, 2005, the car in which she was driving was attacked, and although al-Khafaji was unharmed, her son and a bodyguard were killed.

“I remember the day of the attack, I thought of Sayyidah Zainab, the heroine of Karbala,” she says. “After she saw many deaths, she kept taking care of the children. She was a very great inspiration for me. She did not cry in front of the others. She only cried when she was alone.”[25]

The attack only increased her popularity. In a poll conducted a month later by the International Republican Institute, she was ranked as the most popular female leader in the country and the eleventh most popular among both male and female politicians. The phrase “technocrat in a headscarf” was used to describe her.

During the elections, al-Khafaji dropped the idea of starting her own list and became number 30 on the list of the United Iraqi Alliance. Soon after that decision, there were two more terrorist attacks against al-Khafaji, one of which resulted in her husband being wounded. His wife’s insistence on continuing her campaign was too much for her husband, who had long been displeased with his wife’s busy career. After presenting her an ultimatum to choose between the marriage and her career, she chose the latter.

“Destroying a family is very hard,” she said. “If you are divorced, you will be criticized. It’s something seen very negatively in our society.”[26] At the same time, she believed she had a duty to remain in public office:

I have Islamic ideas on justice, but I am moderate. I have optimism. I can speak with people who are liberal and with those who are from the Islamic party…. If I leave, other women may not come and take so burdensome a job… so leaving the job to stay at home, cleaning the shoes, cleaning the clothes, mopping the floor, that was not something I wanted, or felt I could do.

She contends that Islamic law protects her better as a divorced woman than secular law and that polygamy is necessary in a society filled with fatherless households. “We speak about what is really happening in our community,” she says, “not for bringing in extremist, liberal ideas.”[27]

Still, other Iraqi female parliament members disagree. “We should think about fixing these gaps, not going backward,” said Azhar Ramadan Rahim, a Kurdish assembly member from Baghdad. “I am a Muslim too, and Shiite, but rules written 1,400 years ago cannot be applied now.”[28]

In the drafting of the permanent constitution, these two views of women’s rights clashed. Although there were no women on the committee to draft the interim constitution, the new committee had eight women, five from the Shi’a United Iraqi Alliance, two Kurds, and one independent–Raja Khuzay.

The schism between the female members of parliament was perfectly illustrated in an incident described by a New York Times reporter. In April 2005, around 40 female parliamentarians clad in Western-style business suits met with newly designated Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja’fari and presented a list of demands. They wanted the constitution to guarantee that women would be placed in at least ten of Iraq’s 30 government ministries and would make up 40 percent of the members of Iraq’s parliament, and they wanted a statement indicating that respect for women’s rights would be guaranteed.[29]

Not long after the group had left, Ja’fari greeted a second group of female parliamentarians. These women were clad in black abayasand wanted to make sure that Shari’a law became part of Iraq’s legal code, which would give men the right to take multiple wives and would see that women received half the inheritance of men.

It could be said that the view of both sides prevailed during the drafting of the constitution in late 2005. The equality of men and women is enshrined in the new constitution, and there is a quota for women in parliament, although it is 25 percent, not the 40 percent women’s activists had hoped for. However, the constitution allows Iraqis to choose whether they will follow secular law or Shari’a law in family matters such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Unclear is how the law will address differences between a husband and a wife or a father and a daughter over which law to follow.

Women’s activists were also disappointed by an article that did not make it into the final draft in which the mother would be permitted to pass citizenship on to her children rather than only giving the father that right, which is dictated by Islamic law. Its passage would have made Iraq one of the few countries in the region (along with Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt) to have such a measure.

In the December 2005 parliamentary elections, the number of women elected fell short of the goal of 25 percent because there were many small parties that won less than three seats. Yet the fact that women comprise about 19 percent of the seats is still impressive, certainly in the Middle East and even compared to many Western countries.

Ironically, it was the conservative Shi’a-led United Iraqi Alliance that gave the greatest percentage of its seats to women–23 percent–while the more liberal Kurdish Alliance only gave 17 percent of its seats to women; and one Sunni Arab list, the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, had no women among its 11 parliamentarians.

In May 2006, Iraq’s new government was formed, and four women were among the 39 cabinet ministers given the portfolios of housing and construction, the environment, human rights, and women’s affairs–not one of them a major post. Also, there were two fewer women than had been in the previous cabinet.

Among the new female ministers, two were Kurds, one was a Sunni representing the Accord Party, and the third was from a secular party, Iraqiyyah. One of the two Kurds was Environmental Minister Narmin Othman, whose uncle and brother-in-law were executed under the Hussein regime and whose husband was also imprisoned and tortured. She had seen democracy first-hand while living in exile in Sweden from 1984 to 1992. She and her family returned to the newly formed independent Iraqi Kurdistan Region, and as a former high school teacher, she became minister of education. She had been minister of women’s affairs in the interim government.


Othman, like many other prominent Iraqi women, escaped several assassination attempts. Other women were not so lucky. These included Amal Mamalchi, who worked at the Iraqi Ministry of Public Works and was a prominent member of the Iraqi Women’s Network, an umbrella organization for 80 Iraqi groups; another victim was parliamentarian Lamia Abed Khadouri al-Sagri, a member of the Iraqi List party.

Other women were targeted because they were not considered sufficiently Islamic. Zina al-Qushtayni was a divorced mother who owned a pharmacy and was known as “Lady Zeena” because of her preference for flamboyant Western clothes and friendships with female activists and members of the U.S. forces. After being abducted, her dead body was found dressed in a full-length black abaya and headscarf soaked in blood. A film was later released of her murder at the hands of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qa’ida’s leader in Iraq.

In March 2006, it was estimated that 2,000 Iraqi women had been kidnapped since the collapse of the Hussein regime. Human Rights Watch reported that at least 400 women and girls, some as young as eight years old, had been raped during this period, although they believe the figure is likely higher.

In one account, Dalal S., a 23-year-old woman, said she was walking with her mother and relatives to a social event when about six armed men abducted her from a crowded Baghdad street and drove off with her in their car. She was taken to a farm outside the city. One of the terrorists told her that he was a former prisoner who had been sentenced to 80 years’ imprisonment but had been given amnesty by Saddam Hussein in October 2002. She recalled

When they took me, at first they said it was because someone wanted to marry me but my parents hadn’t consented, then another said I looked like his sister-in-law, who had caused him big problems…. The third one said that it was because I was wearing trousers. He said, “Why are you wearing trousers, the American soldiers are looking at you.” But really, they just wanted to deceive me, to take what they wanted…. They wanted to kidnap anyone, they had [it in] their mind to take four girls waiting for a taxi, I think they wanted to rape them, but they couldn’t take them so they took me instead.

It is highly likely that she was raped.[30] Many women were harassed for not adhering to what was considered a proper Islamic dress code. Acts of violence against Iraqi women who do not wear headscarves more than tripled in the three years since the U.S. invasion, according to the Women’s Rights Association in Iraq. Some government ministries set a religious dress code for female employees. Other Iraqi women said they were warned by individuals in their neighborhoods to dress properly.

One of the results of the violence was that school attendance plummeted, with only 50 percent of children–especially fewer girls–going to school, as fearful parents cited the very real threats of kidnapping or rape. Other women stopped working for the same reason. Of no assistance with such cases was the Iraqi police force, which had received no training on sexual abuse of women or was at best indifferent and sometimes hostile to victims. Even the few new Iraqi female security forces could not escape sexual harassment. One woman training for the Iraqi police filed a complaint against a male superior for punching her in the face but was ignored. Major Huda Angham said she was fired for complaining about the condition of women in the force.

“A woman in my team was kidnapped and we have heard nothing more about her,” said Angham. “Another was shot and our leaders have not done anything for us, even though we have paid the same price as our male colleagues through attacks by insurgents.”[31]

The violence against women was not only perpetrated by strangers. From 2003 to 2006, there were 80 attacks and four “honor killings” by family members, compared to 22 attacks and one death in the previous four years.[32]

There was also an increase in cases of female genital mutilation. Sixty percent of some 1,554 Iraqi women and girls over ten years old interviewed by a German charitable local medical team said they had had the operation. Girls under the age of 15, even as young as 12 years old, were forced into marriage.

Iraqi women who are Shi’a are also victims of so-called “temporary” marriages, known as Mut’a, a custom among Shi’a Muslims, which had been banned under the Hussein regime. Some 300 such marriages occur daily in Kerbala, Najaf, and Basra. Under such unions, an unmarried Shi’a woman temporarily marries a man–he can be married or unmarried–for a period ranging from a few hours to an entire lifetime in return for a payment, usually about $1,000. Men may also have several Mut’a arrangements simultaneously. Some women have turned to such marriages as a way out of poverty. The marriage, however, has risks. After the temporary marriage dissolves, the woman can end up pregnant with no right to seek support and is often branded as a prostitute.

One woman who experienced intimately all the threats of violence was Yanar Muhammad, an Iraqi who returned from exile in Canada to found the Organization of Women’s Freedom. After going on television to speak out against the proposed change in the personal status law she received a blunt email: “Stop speaking out for women’s rights, or we will kill you.”[33]

“They said, because of my psychologically disturbed ideas, they would have to kill me and crucify me,” Muhammad recalled. “It sounded to me like a serious warning.”[34]

Muhammad began wearing a bulletproof vest and canceling all appearances; then she stopped. “After the war, groups from Iran and Saudi Arabia have funding to come in and teach these ideas that women’s rights are less than men, that they can be harassed on the street,” she said. “I’m living with fear every day, but I cannot wear a bullet-proof vest any more.”[35]

It is largely because of such violence that many members of NGOs dealing with women’s rights concluded that they were better off under the regime of Saddam Hussein, according to a survey put out by Muhammad’s organization. “The results show that women are less respected now than they were under the previous regime, while their freedom has been curtailed,” said Mohammed.[36]

Not surprisingly, however, given how divided Iraq is on women’s issues, other women’s activists vehemently disagree with the reports’ findings. They say such findings were published by “radical, feminist anti-war groups,”[37] as A.Yasmine Rassam, who runs international policy at the Independent Women’s Forum, puts it.

“Much of the anti-war propagandists’ defense of Saddam as a champion of women’s rights rests on his willingness to allow women to vote (for him), drive cars, own property, get an education and work,” writes Rassam. “What they choose to ignore, however, is the systematic rapes, torture, beheadings, honor killings, forced fertility programs, and declining literacy rates that also characterized Saddam’s regime….. A brutal dictator who tortures his own people cannot be a champion of women’s rights.”[38]

*Judith Colp Rubin is author of the forthcoming Women in the Middle East (Sharpe). She is co-author of Yassir Arafat:  A Political Biography and Hating America.


[1] Sadok Masliyah, “Zahawi: A Muslim Pioneer of Women’s Liberation,” Middle Eastern Studies, July 1, 1996.

[2] Doreen Ingrams, The Awakened: Women in Iraq (Beirut: Third World Center for Research and Publishing, 1995), p. 91.

[3] Sami Zubaida, “The Next Iraqi State: Secular or Religious?,” OpenDemocracy, February 12, 2004,

[4] Lauren Sandler, “Veiled Interests,” Boston Globe, August 31, 2003,

[5] Andrea Laurenz, “Iraqi Women Preserve Gains Despite Wartime Problems,” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July 1989, p. 4.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Nicholas Birch, “Efforts pay off to protect Kurdish Women,” Christian Science Monitor, March 3, 2004,

[11] Elizabeth Nickson, “Selling Out Our Veiled Sisters,” National Post, July 10, 2004,

[12] “Discussion: Women in the Middle East: Progress or Regress?,” Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, Vol. 10, No. 2 (June 2006),

[13] Maria Caballero, “Raising Their Voices,” Newsweek, December 10, 2003,

[14] M.E. Sprengelmeyer, “Women Struggle for Rights in Iraq of the Future,” Scripps Howard News Service, December 26, 2003.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Pamela Constable, “Women in Iraq Decry Decision to Curb Rights,” Washington Post, January 16, 2004, p. A12.

[17] Maria Caballero, “Leaders Say Vote Decides Equality for Iraqi Women,” Women’s ENEws, January 30, 2005,

[18] U.S. Department of State, “Iraqi Women Raise Their Political Voices, Says Minister Berwari,”

[19] Neil MacFarquhar, “In Najaf, Justice Can be Blind But Not Female,” New York Times, July 30, 2003,

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Shafiq Shemzin, “What an Irony: Ms. Nasreen (Berwari) Al-Yawer Mission,”, November 8, 2005,

[23] Robert F. Worth, “In Jeans or Veils, Iraqi Women Are Split on New Political Power,” New York Times, April 13, 2005,

[24] Mohamad Bazzi, “Female Iraqi Poised to Take Power,” Newsday, January 24, 2005,,0,4962580.story?coll=ny-nationworld-world-utility.

[25] Alissa Rubin, “A Painful Road to Leadership,” Newsday, November 2, 2005,,0,1432499.story?page=3.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Larry Kaplow, “Womens’ Rights in Spotlight for Iraq Election,” Salt Lake Tribune, January 16, 2005,

[28] Worth, “In Jeans or Veils.”

[29] Ibid.

[30] Human Rights Watch, “Climate of Fear: Sexual Violence and Abduction of Women and Girls in Baghdad,” July 2003, Vol. 15, No. 7,

[31] Hala Jaber, “Rebels Kill Iraqi Women as ‘Betrayers’ of Islam,” The Sunday Times, March 20, 2005,,,2089-1533563,00.html.

[32] Feminist Daily News Wire, March 13, 2006,

[33] “Women’s Groups Under Threat in the New Iraq,” Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), March 24, 2004,

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] “Women Were More Respected Under Saddam,” IRIN, April 13, 2006,

[37] A. Yassime Rassam, “Saddam Wasn’t a Feminist,” Wall Street Journal, May 3, 2006.

[38] Ibid.

MERIA Journal Staff
Publisher and Editor: Prof. Barry Rubin
Assistant Editors: Yeru Aharoni, Anna Melman.
Webmaster: Tsadok Moshe Blok
MERIA is a project of the Global Research in International Affairs
GLORIA) Center, Interdisciplinary University.
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Nov 30 2010

God Spoke to Moses as a Man to his friend. B.C. 1491

Tag: Interesting ReflectionsSage @ 5:34 pm

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11 And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle

God was, in Moses, reconciling Israel to himself, and manifested himself very willing to be at peace.

(1.) God met Moses at the place of treaty, v. 9. The cloudy pillar, which had withdrawn itself from the camp when it was polluted with idolatry, now returned to this tabernacle at some distance, coming back gradually. If our hearts go forth towards God to meet him he will graciously come down to meet us.

(2.) God talked with Moses (v. 9), spoke to him face to face, as a man speaks to his friend (v. 11), which intimates that God revealed himself to Moses, not only with greater clearness and evidence of divine light than to any other of the prophets, but also with greater expressions of particular kindness and grace. He spoke, not as a prince to a subject, but as a man to his friend, whom he loves, and with whom he takes sweet counsel. This was great encouragement to Israel, to see their advocate so great a favourite; and, that they might be encouraged by it, Moses turned again into the camp, to tell the people what hopes he had of bringing this business to a good issue, and that they might not despair if he should be long absent. But, because he intended speedily to return to the tabernacle of the congregation, he left Joshua there, for it was not fit that the place should be empty, so long as the cloud of glory stood at the door (v. 9); but, if God had any thing to say out of that cloud while Moses was absent, Joshua was there, ready to hear it.
- Matthew Henry Commentary

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Nov 30 2010

Until the sound of a mighty rain is heard

Tag: Verse of the DaySage @ 5:19 pm

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I will pour water on him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground; I will pour My spirit upon thy seed, and My blessing upon thine offspring.

We must keep on praying and waiting upon the Lord, until the sound of a mighty rain is heard. There is no reason why we should not ask for large things.

And without doubt we shall get large things if we ask in faith, and have the courage to wait with patient perseverance upon Him, meantime doing those things which lie within our power to do.

We cannot create the wind or set it in motion, but we can set our sails to catch it when it comes; we cannot make the electricity, but we can stretch the wire along upon which it is to run and do its work; we cannot in a word, control the spirit, but we can so place ourselves before the Lord, and so do the things He has bidden us do that we will come under the influence and power of His mighty breath. – The Independent.

The promise of God’s outpouring of blessing inspires us to pray for its coming. God will be ready to give great things quite as soon as we are to receive them.
- Daily Meditations for Prayer.

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Nov 29 2010

Two Cheers For Wikileaks!

Tag: Israel: Middle EastSage @ 8:18 pm

From Rubin Reports.Blogspot.Com

Two Cheers For Wikileaks!

Posted: 29 Nov 2010 09:30 AM PST

By Barry Rubin

The Wikileaks could be a beneficial revelation, a turning point, changing Western perceptions of the Middle East.
After all, only the leak of U.S. secret documents is forcing–finally!–the mass media to recognize that its entire model of the Middle East has been wrong. For years, we have been told that the region revolves around the Arab-Israeli conflict.

And that was to some extent true up through the end of the 1980s. But now the Middle East revolves around the battle between Islamists and nationalists, and especially between the Iran-led bloc (Iran, Syria, Hizballah, Hamas, Iraqi insurgents, the government that rules Turkey) and most of the other countries.

Here’s how the New York Times put it in an article:

“The cables reveal how Iran’s ascent has unified Israel and many longtime Arab adversaries — notably the Saudis — in a common cause. Publicly, these Arab states held their tongues, for fear of a domestic uproar and the retributions of a powerful neighbor. Privately, they clamored for strong action — by someone else.

“If they seemed obsessed with Iran, though, they also seemed deeply conflicted about how to deal with it — with diplomacy, covert action or force. In one typical cable, a senior Omani military officer is described as unable to decide what is worse: `A strike against Iran’s nuclear capability and the resulting turmoil it would cause in the Gulf, or inaction and having to live with a nuclear-capable Iran.’”

Could this possibly be a turning point in persuading Western governments, the media, and academia to deal with reality?

Now, if you want to understand this Middle East– and the tasks for the U.S. government in dealing with this kind of Middle East–I plead with you to read my article “U.S. Middle East Policy: Too Many Challenges and yet a Single Theme.”

Note 1: Please keep in mind that the leaks consist of two totally different parts.

–Intelligence materials are direct from sources and may be totally inaccurate. A report saying that an Iranian leader has cancer, for example, doesn’t mean it is true but merely what some sources are saying.

–Reports on meetings and discussions are accurate, reflecting policy positions of officials.

Note 2: The concept of two cheers–instead of three–means that something has done some good even though one doesn’t approve of it completely.

PS: Historical note: I haven’t heard anyone denouncing Wikileaks mention The Pentagon Papers, which was regarded as a heroic action. I have no opinion on that but failing to refer to what seems to me to be a parallel situation reflects the general lack of historical perspective.

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Nov 29 2010

Has the Obama Administration Failed Again?: No Freeze, No Talks, No Competence

Tag: Israel: Middle EastSage @ 6:28 pm

From Rubin Reports.Blogspot.Com

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Has the Obama Administration Failed Again?: No Freeze, No Talks, No Competence

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We rely on your contributions. Tax-deductible donation via PayPal or credit card: click Donate button, top right corner of this page: By check: “American Friends of IDC.” “For GLORIA Center” on memo line. Mail: American Friends of IDC, 116 East 16th St., 11th Floor, NY, NY 10003.

By Barry Rubin

While the outcome still isn’t clear, it seems that a new example of failure and humiliation is unfolding for the Obama Administration’s Middle East policy.

It appears increasingly unlikely that the president’s high-profile effort to restart Israel-Palestinian talks will succeed during the remainder of 2010 or even well beyond that time.

This Administration has had a very clear idea of what it wanted to achieve:

1. A comprehensive Israel-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli peace.

2. Getting rid of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the belief that this will reduce terrorism and strengthen US power in region and US interests.

3. Getting rid of the conflict to get Arab support on Iraq, Iran, and Aghanistan.

The embarrassment is taking place due to faulty assumptions about these goals and how to achieve them:

–That a high-profile effort would serve U.S. interests. By showing American engagement on the issue, the Administration thought it would please Arab and Muslim-majority countries so as to gain their support on other issues. This didn’t work.

–That, at best, a high-profile campaign would be likely to succeed in bringing rapid progress toward comprehensive peace. That obviously isn’t working.

–That , at minimum, they could at least get the two sides to sit down to pretend talks where nothing actually happened but at least it could be portrayed as a diplomatic achievement. Even that isn’t working and that’s really embarrassing.

Part of the problem is due to the Administration’s additional wrong assumption that the Palestinians are eager to negotiate and get a state plus the belief that the current Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership could deliver a deal. In fact, both of these ideas are wrong, too.  The PA leadership can’t–and doesn’t want to–deliver even on holding talks that go nowhere.

Most of the Palestinian leadership and the masses, too, are still locked into the belief that a combination of struggle and intransigence will bring them total victory some day in wiping Israel off the map. And even though they are more moderate than this, neither “President” Mahmoud Abbas nor Prime Minister Salam Fayyad are strong or determined enough even to attempt to change that orientation.

Another part of the problem is the Administration’s mistaken view that it could pressure or bribe Israel and the PA into doing what it wants. Yet since neither side has faith in the Obama Administration, both know that it’s weak, and Israel has seen that Washington doesn’t keep commitments, their incentive for cooperation is reduced. In the PA’s case at least, the United States doesn’t even put on any pressure or criticism. In Israel’s case the Administration has not put on the level of pressure that its more extreme officials (and outside supporters) would like to see, though that wouldn’t work either.

But even that’s not all. There’s every indication that the Administration has incompetently handled the actual negotiations about holding negotiationsy. It focused on getting Israeli concessions without firming up the PA side, thus allowing the PA to demand more. The offer to Israel was presented in a confused manner and it still isn’t clear what precisely is to be given in exchange for a three-month construction freeze.

Moreover, part of the package that led people to say that it was so “generous” that Israel was being “bribed” seems to consist of things that the United States has always provided, like support in the UN or maintaining Israel’s strategic advantage over its enemies.

The whole thing has turned into a mess and this isn’t the first time that’s happened in Obama policy on the issue. To cite just four examples, there was:

–The raising of the construction freeze idea in the first place;

–The position that promises made by the Bush Administration would not be fulfilled by his successor;

–Praising Israel for a construction freeze that didn’t include Jerusalem and then screaming when Israel fulfilled the agreed conditions;

–And announcing last year that intensive Israel-PA negotiations would begin in two months when no such agreement had been made by the PA.

Yet even that’s not all. Why did the administration seek a three-month freeze (originally a two-month freeze) at all? What was the purpose of this clearly useless goal? After all, even if the Administration obtained the freeze there would have been twelve weeks of stagnant conversation—purchased by the United States at a high price—followed by the break-down of the talks. As an election ploy the idea at least made sense but if that was the motive the whole frantic exercise is now useless.

So far the Obama Administration has achieved a remarkable record of failure on this issue. It is, of course, understandable that the U.S. government was unable to solve the long-standing conflict–though making over-optimistic claims over what might be achieved was a self-inflicted wound–but it actually succeeding in moving the diplomatic process backwards.

Has the Obama done much harm regarding Israel-Palestinian issues? Directly, not so much since there was never much chance for dramatic progress. Yet for the Obama Administration’s own reputation and credibility in the region this has been disastrous. Finally and worst of all, it isn’t clear that the current government has learned anything from the experience.

The above article could be taken as a highly critical bashing of the Obama Administration. But the sad thing is that it is totally accurate albeit not–in order to save time and to promote clarity–cloaked in bland language.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

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Nov 29 2010

Wikileaks Confirm Our Analysis of U.S. Policy and Middle East Politics

Tag: Israel: Middle EastSage @ 6:19 pm

From Rubin Reports.Blogspot.Com

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Wikileaks Confirm Our Analysis of U.S. Policy and Middle East Politics

Please be subscriber 17,956 (and daily reader 19,956.). Put your email address in the upper right-hand box of the page at [Note: For those following this closely we have raised our daily reader figure due to a consistent readership rise on the GLORIA site.]

We rely on your contributions. Tax-deductible donation via PayPal or credit card: click Donate button, top right corner of this page: By check: “American Friends of IDC.” “For GLORIA Center” on memo line. Mail: American Friends of IDC, 116 East 16th St., 11th Floor, NY, NY 10003.

By Barry Rubin

Please forgive me for saying this, but what really amazed me in reading the Wikileaks was how thoroughly they proved points I’ve been making for years. I wouldn’t have had the nerve to say that except that readers have been telling me the same thing.

1. Iran steadily smuggled arms to Hizballah using various means including in ambulances and medical vehicles during the 2006 war. This violates the laws of war. At times, the media has condemned Israel for attacking ambulances though it showed Hamas was also using such vehicles for military and arms-smuggling operations. Moreover, the postwar UN force proved consistently ineffective in stopping smuggling while the U.S. government did not denounce Iran, Syria, and Hizballah for breaking the ceasefire arrangements.

2. Israeli leaders have repeatedly made clear in diplomatic discussions their acceptance of a two-state solution but warned that the Palestinian leadership sought Israel’s destruction.

3. Arab states have constantly been warning the United States about the threat from Iran as their highest priority, even urging the United States to attack Iran itself. Note that Arab leaders did not condition their oppositon to Iran or call for a U.S. attack on settling the Arab-Israeli or Israel-Palestinian conflicts. This is contrary to what Administration officials, academia, and parts of the mass media who argue these issues are basically linked and that is why the conflicts must be ”solved”  before doing much else. As I’ve told you, the Arab regimes worry first and foremost about Iran and have greatly downgraded their interest in the conflict or antagonism toward Israel.

4. Iran and North Korea cooperated to provide Tehran with long-rang missiles that were shipped to Hizballah.

5. One week after President Bashar al-Asad promised a top State Department official that he would not send “new” arms to Hizballah, the United States complained that it had information that Syria was providing increasingly sophisticated weapons to the group. Yet the U.S. government did not take strong action.

(Reminds me of how Bashar promised the Bush Administration that he would stop buying oil from Iran in violation of UN sanctions but continued doing so; and how Yasir Arafat promised that he had nothing to do with terrorism and arms smuggling from Iran and then was shown to have lied. Is there a pattern here?)

6. Israel has been warning the United States about how Iran obtaining nuclear weapons would destabilize the region, not just create a danger of an Ian-initiated attack on Israel.

7. U.S. Officials in Turkey think that the current government is in fact an Islamist one, though the U.S. government (and media) keeps insisting it is some kind of democratic-reform-minded centrist regime.

8. The U.S. government ignored repeated pleas from Israel to press Egypt to block smuggling of military equipment into the Gaza Strip.

Here are some sources for the raw materials:

US Cables on Iran:

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

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