Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Luxor Lately

Article first published as Luxor Lately on Blogcritics.

Luxor (the ancient city of Thebes) is a beautiful city of approximately 500,000 people. The streets are clean and broad. Horse drawn carriages and donkey drawn carts share the streets with slow moving vehicles. The Luxor Railway station is sparkling, decorated in the typical red granite of Egypt, with impressive bas reliefs drawn from the many temples in the area.

Words do not do justice to the grandiosity of the Luxor temple. The columns are several stories tall. The statues and hieroglyphics have lasted for over 3000 years. What building built today could last that long?  The near absence of rain certainly helped to preserve the temple and its statues, but one can only marvel at the ancient Egyptian mastery of engineering. In late April, the reformed Egyptian Antiquities Council announced that a 3400 year old statute of King Ahmenhotep III was unearthed in Luxor.

The main Luxor temple was unusual in that it first housed a temple for ancient Egyptian Gods. Then, a church was built on the Temple grounds. Later, a Mosque, which is still operational, was built on the ruins of part of the temple. For a period, both the Mosque and the Church operated simultaneously within the temple grounds. There is a lesson regarding peaceful coexistence of multiple faiths inside that temple.

In Upper Egypt, remnants of the old regime still cling to power. In late April. violence erupted between supporters of the old National Democratic Party, and the January 25 Revolution Youth Coalition during a rally for Amr Moussa , Secretary General of the Arab League and a potential presidential candidate for Egypt. Moussa has pledged to prioritize the region of Upper Egypt.

I asked my guide to tell me how the government of Luxor has been functioning since the Revolution. My guide Khaled lives in Luxor with his family. The Governor of Luxor, Samir Farag has been replaced by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Allegedly, Farag is implicated in the corruption of the Mubarak era.  The SCAF has replaced 14 out of 26 regional governors since the revolution. In mid April, hundreds of thousands of protesters demanded the speedy trial of Mubarak and the replacement of governors he had appointed. The SCAF made the decision to replace these governors one day after the massive protest. As Khaled pointed out, the head of the snake has been removed, but the body is still there, and writhing, with enough venom in it to do damage. He said that in Luxor, electricity and water are functioning, but many government services are barely being attended to.

While in Luxor, I saw many many signs with the photo of a beautiful young girl about my daughter's age: five years old.Apparently, she has been abducted. According to Al Masry Al Youm, two children have dissapeared from their homes, and several child abductions have been attempted. Apparently, Luxor has been plagued by a state of lawlessness in the past few months. As I mentioned, one of Mubarak's moves to thwart the revolution was to pull the police from the streets. A small number of police are back on the streets, but according to my tour guide Khaled, they are not really doing their jobs lately.  The Local People's Council has warned of a continuing deterioration of security in the area, and has asked for more police to be deployed, to combat thuggery and thievery.

Changes are coming to Upper Egypt in this post-revolutionary period, and Luxor, as the nation's tourism capital, will be an important part of this change. In a good year, as many as 11 million tourists can pass through Egypt, and the vast majority of them will make a stop in Luxor. This is a city to watch in the coming months as Egypt moves tentatively toward democracy.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


I am in Luxor right now. I am on a boat, taking the obligatory Nile Cruise, so I have limited Internet access. while checking my email today, I was very pleased to see this article in the New York Times regarding a predominantly "liberal" protest that took place in Cairo.

The protesters called on the military council now ruling Egypt to end the practice of sending civilians to military trials, to expedite legal action against former President Hosni Mubarak and his associates, and to start governing with some civilian presidential council.

But now, I am in Upper Egypt, so it is a good chance to check in on the rest of Egypt. There are 80 million people in Egypt, and only 20 million of them live in Cairo.

Business is very low on the tourist areas in the Nile. The tour guides tell me that the coverage of the Imbaba Clashes, in which 12 people were killed, hurt tourism more than the Revolution, in which 800 people were killed. The temples on this trip seem full to me, but my guides tell me they are nearly empty. I went to the papyrus store today, and the salesman nearly begged me to buy things. I bought two small pieces, but I could smell his hunger for business, as he offered me three pieces priced at 550 LE for 350 LE. A moment of sorrow.

My daughter fell in love with a horse today. Her name is Aziza. She pulled our horsedrawn carriage to the temple of Edfu. Apparently, during the revolution, the citizens of Edfu demanded that the only way one can get to Edfu Temple is by horsedrawn carriage. This reduces the number of cars on the road, and guarantees nearly full employment for the citizens of Edfu. I like this tradition. It is scenic, and it slows the flow of tourists into the temples. We gave the driver a few extra pounds to buy Aziza some extra oats. A moment of joy.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Does Shariah Allow Women to Vote?

 Women voters stand in line to cast their ballot in Egypt's first major democratic vote, the Constitutional Referendum, 2011. Photo Credit: the author.

Sometimes I can see what people are interested in by what they type into search engines in order to get to my site. This morning, I saw the following question: Does Shariah allow women to vote? This is an interesting question. Again, we must make the distinction between Shariah, and fiqh, which is Islamic Jurisprudence as applied.

I think that we should start this inquiry with reflections upon the words of Arzu Merali, the Director of Research for the Islamic Human Rights Commission. Writing in The Guardian, she notes that neither men nor women could vote under Mullah Omar's regime in Afghanistan. Mullah Omar was the spiritual leader of the Taliban, and was Afghanistan's "head of state," from 1996 to 2001. She makes the important point that the cruel excesses and limitations upon womens' rights in Taliban-led Afghanistan must be seen as an indictment of the Taliban's prejudices, and cultural views, not an indictment of Islam.

By the way, I myself am not a practicing Muslim. I am a practicing Presbyterian and sometimes Unitarian Universalist. However, I have a deep respect for many of the world's great religions, including Islam, Buddhism, Christianity and Judaism. Zakat, which is a pillar of Islam, is basically tithing. Ramadan, which is a pillar of Islam, is basically a more rigorous version of Lent. Accordingly, do not interpret my words as an attempt to convert you. Rather, interpret my words as an attempt to "get it right."

Saraji Umm Zaid, writing at modernmuslima, makes a very important point. She notes that we must respect Shariah, but that we should not fall into the trap of focusing on the "virtues of the Ideal Place of Women in Ideal Islam." Rather, we must confront the reality on the ground. It is not enough, she argues, to simply place all the negative aspects of how women are treated in predominantly Muslim societies, on "culture." She notes that among conservative Muslims,

[] there is a resounding silence when the issue being raised is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), honor killings, forced marriages, the unequal application of hadd punishments on women, or the denial of education to girls and women. 

Saraji Umm Zaid urges the average Muslim to petition governments, and urge for change against these practices. She states that Muslims can no longer afford to be silent about human rights abuses, especially those committed against women, in the name of Islam. I provide a long quote from her here, because her words are simply brilliant:

Prophet Mohammed, sallalahu aleyhi wa salaam, was mocked and assaulted because of his strong and courageous stance on the status of women.  He came with a message that lifted women up and gave them dignity.  Fourteen hundred years later, we have descended back into the dark pit of Jahiliya, and Muslim women around the world find themselves cast into the same slavery that the Prophet, sallalahu aleyhi wa salaam, was sent to liberate them from.

It does not make you a "radical feminist" to decry honor killings and volunteer for peaceful campaigns to educate and change laws.  Raising your voice against Female Genital Mutilation does not mean you want to "undermine Islam."  To the contrary, working against these injustices in the way of Allah is a manifestation of the desire to uplift Islam and the Muslim people.

When the Taliban decided to deny education to any girl over a certain age, it is the conservative Muslims, the ones who profess adherence to "Qur'an and Sunnah" that should have spoken the loudest against this.  The longer we stay silent, the more people, both Muslim and non Muslim, will begin to equate "Shar'ia" with the oppression of women.

Returning to the topic of voting, the teachings of Islam, according to Jamal A. Badawi, author of "The Status of Women in Islam," Al-lttihad, Vol. 8, No. 2, Sha'ban 1391/Sept 1971, informs us that Islam gives women the right of election, as well as of nomination to political offices. Women have the right to participate in political affairs and the Holy Quran gives examples of women who participated in political discussions and even argued with the Prophet Mohammed (See Qur'an 58: 14 and 60: 10-12).

Interestingly, Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim country, has had a woman head of state, Benazir Bhutto, and several other prominent female politicians. According to Saimah Ashraf, women in Pakistan are allowed to drive, vote, attend co-educational universities, and hold paying jobs.That being said, life in Pakistan is not very pleasant for women, as there are honor killings and high rates of violence against women there, but that is another topic.

Certainly, women just voted in the last referendum here in Egypt, and the Egyptian legal system is based in part on Shariah. The Parliament in Egypt is currently suspended, so no women or men are serving in it. The country is being run by the SCAF, which appears to be composed entirely of men. There is certainly a lot of room to expand the role and influence of women in Egypt now that the country is in the process of forming new political parties.

The right to vote was established in Iran in 1963. Iran has a very high number of women in Parliament, and women form more than half the entering class in Iran's universities according to Simin Royanian as well as an article in the BBC by Roxana Saberi. According to that article Women in Iran's Parliament are very active, and women also serve in local government. However, in Iran, women cannot be judges, and have many social rights restricted. President Ahmadinejad is quite conservative on the role of women, and wants them home with their families.There is a lot of room for improvement on the political role of women in Iran. According to Raz Zimmt, writing about Iran's parliamentary elections, currently only eight women have been elected in the 8th Majlis (elected in March 2008), in comparison to four women in the first, second, and third Majlis; nine in the fourth Majlis; 14 in the fifth and sixth Majlis sessions; and 13 in the seventh.

I have not had time to review the situation of women and the vote in Saudi Arabia, but this quick survey indicates that under Shariah, women certainly have the right to vote, and in many countries that are governed by Islamic Jurisprudence, women have that right as well. 

I would like to leave you with some wise words from Dr. Christina Jones, a professor of Law from Germany with expertise in Islamic Law:

I would like to leave you with the following proposition: It is possible to use Islamic law in the interests of women's rights. It is possible to combine the very best for women from all of the interpretations of the Quranic text. The decision to do this is political.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Amr Al Shalakany's Series of Unfortunate Events: An Essay on Military Detentions in Egypt

 Military observe and control a protest in Tahrir Square, Cairo.
Photo Credit, the author.
I have spent quite a bit of time writing about the detention of American University in Cairo Law Professor Amr El Shalakany. (Please See post post 1, and post 2, and finally post 3) Dr. Shalakany was arrested and detained at a police station near Sharm El Sheikh. He was charged with being drunk in public, and slandering a police officer. He was later charged with inciting a riot, damaging public property, and attempting to escape. He was handed over to a military prosecutor's office. Shalakany was released after paying a bail of 100 pounds, and a case of slandering a police officer is still pending against him.

One reason I have paid attention to the matter is that I know Shalakany a little bit. He works on my floor, in my building.  There, but for the grace of God go I, and all of that. Another reason I have been following his case is that he found himself in a situation that many everyday Egyptians have found themselves in. Namely, he had a run in with the military, and it ended badly.

Luckily for Shalakany, he is a prominent lawyer, from a family of prominent lawyers, who teaches at a prominent university, and has prominent friends. Al Jazeera states that Shalakany was released because of an "honest military prosecutor." However, a more cynical analyst (i.e. me), might suggest that he was released because holding him was a lot more trouble to the SCAF than he was actually worth. Regardless of why he was released, we are very happy for him. I suggest we celebrate his release by reflecting upon how the series of unfortunate events he just experienced gives us an insight into military detentions in Egypt.

Let us begin our discussion with reference to one of my favorite documents, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This crucial document was passed by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1948. Since Egypt is in the middle of a "Revolution," the country has a chance to reconsider its laws and government, and really rearrange and rebuild its institutions and organizations. Accordingly,  reference to core documents such as the Declaration is important during this period.

A few different articles of the UDHR are relevant to this discussion. Article 5 states that "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." Article 9 states that "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile." Article 10 states that "Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him." A strong argument can be made that the Egyptian military has routinely violated all three of these provisions since January 25th, 2011.

First of all, the military and the "government," have passed a law declaring that "calling for or participating in protests that disrupt business or involve violence while the emergency law is in effect," is a crime punishable by up to a year in jail, and a fine of LE 500,000.  (Al Masry Al Youm, "Demonstrators Denounce Protest Ban, Call for More Reforms," March 28, 2011) This law is carte blanche for illegal detentions in my view, in addition to being an unnecessary constraint on the freedom of the people to peaceably assemble (another right protected by the UDHR). The Emergency Law remains in effect in Egypt. This law has been in force for the past 30 years, and according to Jano Charbel, is to remain in effect until parliamentary elections are held. (Al Masry Al Youm, Jano Charbel. "Activists Denounce New Law Criminalizing Protests," March 24, 2011) As Karam Saber of the Land Center for Human Rights has noted, it is not clear how to determine whether strikes and protests disrupt the economy. In addition, it is unknown if protesters will be subject to military tribunals, and it is unknown if their sentences can be appealed.

According to Ahmed Maher, a co-founder of the April 6 Youth Movement, the SCAF has become increasingly "opaque and unaccountable." (AlJazeera.net, Evan Hill, "Egypt's Youth Leaders Vow Continued Protests," April 7, 2011).  Evan Hill reports that Egyptian military police have been accused of baseless arrests, abuse and torture, summary trials, and illegal detentions. (Ibid at 2). A recent report by Hill notes that the Egyptian army has subjected thousands of ordinary Egyptians "to incommunicado detentions, trials and sentencings in front of military courts that provide little or no due process. Soldiers have . . . beaten activists with metal bars, ropes and electrified batons." (AlJazeera.net, Evan Hill, "Egypt's Crackdown now Wears Camouflage," May 20, 2011)

The Egyptian Army may be holding as many as 10,000 people (Ibid, Hill 2). After a church attack in early May, the army detained more than 190 people, and said they will face military trials as a deterrent against further violence.("Egypt Christians Protest in Cairo after Church Attack," BBC News, May 9, 2011)   On its Facebook Page, the Egyptian Army announced that the SCAF will send all 190 persons arrested to the Supreme Military Court. Although the violence against Christians must be strongly and unequivocally condemned, we must also condemn summary justice and sham trials.

Human Rights Watch has asked that the Egyptian military immediately end trials of civilians before military courts and release all those arbitrarily detained or convicted after unfair proceedings. (Human Rights Watch, "Egypt: Military Trials Usurp Justice System," April 29, 2011.) Human Rights Watch points out that the SCAF has tried more than 5000 civilians before military tribunals since February, including many arrested following peaceful protests in Tahrir and elsewhere. The trials are taking place under the Code of Military Justice   Ironically, at the same time that protesters are being charged in military courts, senior officials of Mubarak's governments facing corruption allegations are being tried in civilian courts. (Ibid, HRW). Over the past several months, civilians have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from six months to seven years, with some receiving sentences ranging from 25 years to life imprisonment. These military trials of civilians "constitute wholesale violations of basic fair trial rights," according to HRW.

Writing in April, Mohamed Elmeshad noted that "activists and analysts are questioning the ruling military council's decision-making process and challenging the military on frequent allegations of human rights abuses." (Al Masry Al Youm, Mohamed Elmeshad, "Military's Performance raises questions on the way forward"). Elmeshad quotes a prisoner, Hany Adel, who claims to have beaten for seven hours straight. Further, women prisoners have allegedly been subjected to "virginity tests," a form of torture. (Amnesty International, Egyptian Women Protesters Forced to Take "Virginity Tests") Further, blogger Michael Nabil has been imprisoned for criticizing the SCAF, a fairly obvious violation of free speech, among other things.( Pen International, Blogger Michael Nabil Sentenced to three years in prison)  )

There is mounting evidence that illegal detentions and unfair trials are occurring in Egypt, in violation of international human rights guidelines. Let us all-- as scholars, activists, journalists and citizens-- deplore the series of unfortunate events which Dr. Shalakany was subjected to. Let us take his case as a call to oppose illegal detentions, and summary military trials in Egypt. WMB

I would like to thank my colleague Joe Hill,, who has done a good job of keeping me up to date on the topic of military detentions.  

Postscript May 25, 2011. 

According to my Kenyan attorney friend Samuel Ochieng Ollunga, who is himself a Harvard Law graduate like Shalakany,  civilians' right to a fair trial is also buttressed by the following statutes:  the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 14 and 16), the Convention Against Torture to which Egypt is a signatory circa 1986, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (Article 7 and 25). The ACHPR's protocol also establishes the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Joint Investment Area between Sudan and Egypt

Photo Credit, BBC News. 
An African Union soldier surveys an abandoned village in Darfur, 2006.

According to Al Masry Al Youm, Sudan and Egypt will be working more closely together on targeted investments. Is this good news?

We hear a lot about Egypt's neighbor, Libya, and the war of liberation that is going on there. Meanwhile, Sudan is undergoing its own spectacular democratic transformation. There has been a lot of focus on the Arab Spring. Yet, the pressure for democracy, and indeed--more meaningful democracy-- has also been taking place in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Sudan, among other locations in Africa.

The South of Sudan is now independent. Darfur is fighting for its freedom, and the hegemony of the Northern Sudanese government is crumbling. I am lucky that I work with, and went to school with, one of the world's foremost authorities on Darfur, Dr. Hamid Eltgani Ali.  Dr. Ali argues that the Northern Sudanese government is a bankrupt and failed state. Like Egypt and South Sudan, argues Dr. Ali, North Sudan needs to move forward on the path to peace and democracy.

Although it is positive, in principle, that the Egyptian Government is working with its neighbor to increase economic development,  it is a mistake to negotiate with the Northern Sudanese government about anything. Egypt is negotiating with the Northern Sudanese government about joint investments between the two countries in the area between Cairo and Khartoum. This cooperation will occur in the disputed "Halaib Triangle," which includes the three main towns of Halayeb, Abu Ramad, and Shalatin.

The bad news is that working with the Northern Sudanese government is an exercise in futility. Sudan's President Omar Al Bashir came to power in a coup in 1989. According to the BBC, he has ruled Sudan "with an iron fist," since that time. The Northern Sudanese state uses excessive force against opposition forces, in particular illustrated by its "scorched earth" policy against Darfur. He is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. If the Arab Spring has anything to teach us, it is that the days of unelected, brutal, corrupt dictators are numbered in North Africa, and the Middle East. Egypt should heed its own experience of January 25th, and refuse to do business with Bashir.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Shariah in Egypt and elsewhere part two

 Veiled woman with child attends a political rally about the Egyptian Constitution. Location, Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt. Photo Credit, the author.

According to Toni Johnson of the Council on Foreign Relations, Shariah guides "all aspects of Muslim life, including daily life, familial and religious obligations, and financial obligations." It is derived mainly from the Holy Quran and the Sunna, the path and practices of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH)

However, given that I am in Cairo, I decided to go to the source. Al Azhar University, located in Cairo, is Sunni Islam's foremost seat of learning. It is one of the world's oldest universities.  Al Azhar teaches Shariah, among other things. According to scholar Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood, one must separate Islam from the cultural practices of a given country. For example, Islam insists on the free consent of bride and groom, so would in theory make arranged marriages illegal. Saudi Arabia forbids women from driving cars in that country, but according to scholar Maqsood, this "bizarre law has nothing to do with Islam." Afghani girls were cruelly banned from education under the Taliban, yet Islam encourages all Muslims to seek knowledge from cradle to grave, from every source possible.

In November, a law was passed in Oklahoma barring Oklahoma courts from considering Islamic Law (which my previous post establishes is actually fiqh, not Shariah) when deciding cases. US District Court Judge Vicki Miles LeGrange suspended the measure until a November 22, 2010 hearing. Amazingly, Fox News coverage of this story gets it right. They state "the implementation [of shariah] varies widely."

I think, my friends, that this is the point. Just as Christian pastors and priests vary in their interpretation of what Christianity requires, so to do Muslim clerics vary in their interpretation of what Islam requires. Indeed, this is the problem. Regardless of what the Holy Quran actually says, some countries have mixed in their intolerant, misogynist cultures, and used those cultural reasons to disenfranchise women. It is the implementation of the law we must resist, not Islam itself.

The Quran does advocate modest dress for both men and women. However, the interpretation of what is required varies widely. In Indonesia, most women do not veil. In Egypt, practicing Muslim women may wear no head covering, a Hijab covering the hair, or Nekab, covering everything but the eyes.  According to Maqsood, only one verse in the Quran refers to the veiling of women, and that is in regard to the wives of the Prophet Mohammad, whose wives were to wear Hijab in the presence of male guests.

Indeed, Proverbs, Chapter 1, (King James Version) which is part of the Old Testament, a text respected and revered by Christians, Jews and Muslims instructs us to seek wisdom, justice, judgment and equity.

1 The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel;

2 To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding;

3 To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity;

4 To give subtlety to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.

5 A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels:
Let us educate ourselves on this matter of Shariah, before we make hasty and intolerant judgments.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Initial Thoughts on Shariah Law, Women, and the Muslim Brotherhood

Dear readers

My students had a lively debate in my leadership class yesterday about whether Shariah humiliates women. (By the way, and importantly, they suggested the topic, and they voted on it. It was not my idea).  I learned a lot. Let me just start by saying that I do not know the answer to this question. But since I am a "lifelong learner" I am ready to study up on it. My biggest reaction to the debate was pleasure that all the students were extremely well prepared. I also was extremely relieved that no blood was on the floor by the end of the debate.

First of all, I learned that Shariah is based on the Holy Quran and the Sunna.

One side of the debate made a very persuasive case that the Holy Quran has a progressive stance on the rights of women in society and in the family. The other side of the debate made an equally persuasive case that Shariah, as actually implemented in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan, and to a certain extent Egypt, severely and unfairly restricts the rights of women.

This topic is of interest to both Egyptians, and those who follow Egyptian politics because the policies of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB's) proposed  Freedom and Justice Party are to be based on Shariah ("Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party to be based on Islamic Law," Al Masry Al Youm English, February 23, 2011)  At least four Islamic political parties are likely to be formed in the wake of Egypt's uprising. ("Muslim Brotherhood to Establish Freedom and Justice Party, Al Masry Al Youm English, February 21, 2011) The Freedom and Justice Party is scheduled to officially begin on June 17, 2011. ("Brotherhood Expects Political Party to Be Active by June," Al Masry Al Youm English, May 18, 2011)

A thoughtful article, "Why Shariah?" by Noah Feldman, a Harvard Law Professor, in the New York Times (March 16, 2008) makes the following point.

One reason for the divergence between Western and Muslim views of Shariah is that we are not all using the word to mean the same thing. Although it is commonplace to use the word “Shariah” and the phrase “Islamic law” interchangeably, this prosaic English translation does not capture the full set of associations that the term “Shariah” conjures for the believer. Shariah, properly understood, is not just a set of legal rules. To believing Muslims, it is something deeper and higher, infused with moral and metaphysical purpose. At its core, Shariah represents the idea that all human beings — and all human governments — are subject to justice under the law.

In fact, “Shariah” is not the word traditionally used in Arabic to refer to the processes of Islamic legal reasoning or the rulings produced through it: that word is fiqh, meaning something like Islamic jurisprudence. The word “Shariah” connotes a connection to the divine, a set of unchanging beliefs and principles that order life in accordance with God’s will. Westerners typically imagine that Shariah advocates simply want to use the Koran as their legal code. But the reality is much more complicated. Islamist politicians tend to be very vague about exactly what it would mean for Shariah to be the source for the law of the land — and with good reason, because just adopting such a principle would not determine how the legal system would actually operate.

My students made some interesting points. One team pointed out that there are varying interpretations and applications of shariah, which allow some disturbing behavior towards women. For example, the law in Saudi Arabia, which the Saudi Government claims is based in sharia, allows amputation, and stoning for various violations of the law. In Iran, my students argue, a woman is wholly the possession of her husband. In Saudi Arabia, women may not drive, unless they are accompanied by an employee or close male relative. In Afghanistan, they argued, only 5% of women can read and write, and young women are married off early for the bride price.

The other side argued persuasively that in fact these governments are not following the true Shariah. The true Shariah, they argue, protects the role of women. The Quran elevated the status of women, who were subjected to infanticide in the Arab desert 1400 years ago at the dawn of Islam. Islam came to address the wrongs committed against women. Men at the time could marry as many women as they chose. Islam limited men to four wives, who must be cared for in equal measure. In addition, my students pointed out, it is the case that women in Britain and America could not own property until the early 1900s. How can Shariah humiliate women, when it has always allowed women to own property? They noted that Shariah states that gender is recognized in the Holy Quran, and that a woman's personhood is respected. According to my students, Islam honors mothers, and protects the rights of the wife in divorce and marriage.

Fiqh, or Islamic Jurisprudence, my students argued echoing Feldman, although they had not read him, should not be confused with Shariah. The Islamic Jurisprudence applied in Taliban run Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia, they stated, is not Shariah. Those governments are mixing culture, and their own internalized sexism, with Shariah. Feldman makes an argument that supports this position, saying that the governments in these countries are not adequately limited by Islamic scholars, and thus, behave somewhat arbitrarily. He states:

But if Shariah is popular among many Muslims in large part because of its historical association with the rule of law, can it actually do the same work today? Here there is reason for caution and skepticism. The problem is that the traditional Islamic constitution rested on a balance of powers between a ruler subject to law and a class of scholars who interpreted and administered that law. The governments of most contemporary majority-Muslim states, however, have lost these features. Rulers govern as if they were above the law, not subject to it, and the scholars who once wielded so much influence are much reduced in status. If they have judicial posts at all, it is usually as judges in the family-law courts.

In other words, the problem is that traditionally, Islamic scholars had significant social power. They could control arbitrary or unjust rulers and protect the people. Unfortunately, these scholars have lost their social position in the modern world, and have thus lost the ability to ensure that Shariah is applied in accordance with the consensus of Quranic law. For Shariah to be applied properly, there would have to be an effort to rebalance the power of the Islamic scholar in order to reinstate their ability to restrain the executive, like a kind of "Supreme Court." In the absence of these balancing institutions, Feldman and my students argue, the Saudi state, for example, has imposed extreme restrictions on the actions of women that arguably many Islamic scholars would argue are in conflict with the intention of the Quran.

Anyway, this is a very difficult topic. I am not suggesting an answer. I am just trying to become literate about it. I hope you found my musings informative. These are my thoughts for today. Lots to think about. WMB

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Police Use Trumped Up Charges Against Law Professor: Update on Amr El Shalakany Case

I am pleased to report that my colleague Amr El Shalakany appears to be fine.

According to the AUC Newspaper, The Caravan, Amr El Shalakany, an associate professor of law at AUC, was arrested on April 27, 2011, in Sharm El Sheikh, "on what he says are trumped up charges." You can read the article here.

According to the article, Shalakany claims that police had planted an informant to support their charge that Shalakany attempted to burn a police station. AES was apparently detained for four days.

According to the article, "on the fourth day of detention, an investigation by the Military Prosecution Office found false eyewitness and unsubstantiated statements were used as the basis for the charges against Shalakany."

According to the article, Professor Shalakany is striking back against his mistreatment

"In a series of law suits currently launched by several Human Rights Organizations, led by the Hisham Mubarak Center, Shalakany is now formally accusing “the Chief of Sharm El Sheikh Police Station, the Chief of Investigations Bureau, the Director of Investigations Bureau, and at least four other police officers and detectives of the Investigations Bureau of conspiracy to frame him for a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison before a military tribunal."

He is lucky he was released. Apparently, Human Rights Watch reports that at least 5000 civilians have been tried in military tribunals in Egypt since the revolution. If his allegations of trumped up charges and false imprisonment are true, they represent a real human rights problem in Egypt. I thought from the beginning that the charges against him were nothing short of fantastic, as in "the product of fantasy."

For my previous coverage of this story, read here for a twitter update and here for my initial thoughts on the story.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Wusool Mahtar (Airport Arrivals)

Article first published as "Travel Tension under Military Rule in Egypt" on Blogcritics.

Photo by author of Egyptian Army Soldier at Tahrir square

My husband arrived last week. Everyone in the house is much happier. The kids sleep through the night. The baby does not need three bottles. The house is lively, full of activity, full of fun.

Getting him here was a bit of a production. He is Kenyan, with a green card. Accordingly, he needs a visa before he enters Egypt, whereas Americans can simply buy their visa at the airport for $15. My husband decided on the spur of the moment to come do some business in Ethiopia, and then to come to Egypt. We only had a few days to apply for his visa. Needless to say, it was not ready by the time he arrived.

This resulted in a nervewracking situation for me,  the wife (zogah). I asked my university to apply for the visa. They applied, but he only told us on a Friday, which is the equivalent of the western Sunday, i.e. Nobody works because it is the Lord's Day. As a result, the time to apply for the visa was shortened even more. So, here it was, Wednesday, and Hamadi did not have a visa yet. In addition, he was travelling, so it was hard to communicate with him.

Let's just say that I went on an "all systems alert." I am a worry wort and anxious by nature. But now I was facing the prospect of two outcomes: good case scenario my husband is detained at the airport, and bad case scenario, my husband is deported from Egypt. Not a fun scene.

So, going through my obsessive compulsive checklist I liased with the travel office, the business services office, the center for migration and refugees, a friend who is a travel agent, and my boss. The business service office was working on speeding up the visa. The travel office provided me (at a reasonable fee) with an official driver and an "expeditor." I brought my passport and my AUC badge just in case the distraught wife thing might work.

Needless to say, I was a nervous wreck. The current "government" of Egypt is nothing more or less than the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. They are very strict, and they are not known for their easygoing flexibility. I had basically steeled myself for Hamadi being locked in some small room at the airport for an unknown number of days. The business service office strongly recommended that he not travel and stay wherever he was till the visa cleared. However, since I had no way to get in touch with him, I had to just steel myself for the inevitable.

We arrived at the airport and met the "expeditor." I handed him my passport and my AUC badge. I informed him that Hamadi had received a visa and entered the country and left the country before the Revolution. The expeditor was a jolly man named Mark, and he remained pleasant yet impassive as I told him these details. All of us were in the dark. No one new what the reaction would be to this bureacratic error in a time of military rule.

The driver and I stood anxiously at the gate.  Women passed by, some in black Nekab with feet covered and gloves on their hands, only their heavily kohled eyes showing. Young women stood with their boyfriends in tight jeans and high heels. Taxi drivers came up to me repeatedly asking if I needed assistance in Arabic. I anxiously checked the board, flights from Tripoli, cancelled. Flights from Benghazi, cancelled. Flights from Aden, on point. Where was the flight from Dubai?

As we waited, the driver worked on my Arabic with me. His wife is from Morocco, where they speak Arabic and French.  I learned to speak my first Arabic sentence waiting for goozy (my husband). It surely sounds like nonsense to you, but for me it was a significant moment to go from single, isolated words to an entire sentence. "Ana saafa dunia bil nahaar." I see the world in the daytime. I picked this sentence, because this was my first time coming to Cairo airport in the day. Suddenly, I could see where it was going in the bright Egyptian sunshine. As I mused on my accomplishment, my husband appeared at the gate, safari jacket pockets full. The expeditor had expedited. Goozy fi el beit.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

In the Blood

I went to a conference on refugees and migration at the Tahrir Square Campus of American University on Friday, May 13, 2011. I was chatting with some of the attendees at the reception. I was telling them about how the mixed aborigines in Australia would be taken away from their families, stripped of their language, and raised in the church. The idea was to make them European, white, civilized. A similar process occurred in the United States. Native American children were removed from their families and educated at church schools. If they attempted to speak their native language, they were beaten. The funny thing is, some of these Aborigines, and some of these Native Americans would go through this whole process, and then run away, and somehow, some way, they would find their way back to their tribal people, and make a home with them.

I tell this story for many reasons. It is sad. It is unfortunate that man could try to take away another person's culture, but I also tell this story because it resonates with me: returning to your roots. It is not just a saying. I have felt the need to go back to the land of my ancestors. I have heard the call in my blood.

When I was a young woman, I felt ill at ease. I was working in America. I had a high profile job in Washington DC in the mid 1990s. I was in my late twenties, beautiful, making very good money, and I had a lot of prestige. I was working at  the United States Department of Justice doing environmental work. On paper, it was the world's greatest job. Yet, I felt empty to my very core.

My mother was an immigrant, God Rest her Soul. She came to the United States in the late 1950s, to attend college at Occidental, in Los Angeles. She came on some kind of a missionary scholarship. I have not exactly figured out the details of it, but I will ask my uncle.

While at Occidental, my mother, Wairimu Tabitha Gethaiga, met my father, James David Bowman, who was studying physics at Caltech. They fell in love and got married in 1965, even though in most of the country so- called "interracial marriage" was illegal. They moved to New Mexico in the early 1970s where my father was a nuclear physicist at Los Alamos National Labs. My mother died (very unexpectedly) in her sleep of summer pneumonia in Los Alamos in 1992. I was 24 years old.

I grew up in New Mexico. I didn't learn my mother's language, and I did not get to spend much time in Kenya as a child. We went every so often. It averaged out to about once every seven years. Apparently, we spent a bit of time there when I was very small. My father said I was annoyed I could not speak with any of the other children. He says I was completely quiet for a few weeks, and then suddenly began speaking in Kikuyu. I believe it, because I took my children to Kenya for two months when I evacuated them from the Egyptian Revolution, and they came back speaking fluent Swahili (all except for the smallest one, who doesn't say anything yet, except unn unn.)

So, we visited when I was two or so. I remember another visit when I was about 12 (1979) although it is possible we went before that, I just do not remember. I took a very special trip alone with my mother when I turned 17. We had a wonderful time, and I figured out that I have a half brother, John Ndegwa, who apparently is the son of Central Banker Duncan Ndegwa, but that my friends, is another story, and a long story as well. It was the ultimate mother-daughter bonding trip. My mom was very social, and very glamorous, and we hobnobbed with Kenyattas, with bankers, with the creme de la creme. It was like being a long-lost celebrity.

I went off to college, and I started law school. Life was rolling along. I can remember thinking to myself how incredibly lucky I was, how blessed I was. How God had really shown me special favor in my life. I remember that summer was the happiest summer of my life. And then my mother died. I never felt lucky again.

All of this is to say that the remaining years of my life were spent trying to fill that emptiness. I quit that fancy job. I got a divorce. I moved back home. I took all my money, and applied to graduate school, although I already had a perfectly good job. I spent nearly ten years in graduate school (a masters and a Ph.D.)  traveling to Africa, learning Swahili, and generally learning everything I could about myself and my mother's culture. I still do not speak her native language, but I am beginning to.

Here it is 2011, about a decade or so after I quit my fancy Washington DC job. Here I am with a Ph.D. from Harvard, a handsome, kind, and hardworking husband who happens to be from my mother's tribe, and three gorgeous children. Amazingly enough, I am living and teaching in Africa. My oldest is a daughter, born in Nairobi hospital in 2005. She is named after my husband's mother. She has one Swahili name, Mariamu, and one Kikuyu name, Njoki. Njoki, fittingly, means "return" in Kikuyu. I am not rich (yet) and I am not famous (yet). I do not have everything I want in life, and I have not accomplished all of my goals yet. But I  have noticed, rather recently, that the gnawing emptiness and the disabling unease seem to be gone.

My Egyptian-American student MM just graduated with a degree from a very good masters program in public affairs in the United States. He was born in Cairo. He grew up in New Jersey. He came back to Cairo, and has been trying to get a job here. He is about the age I was when my mother died.  I have been trying to help him. He did not really visit Egypt much as a child, but he tells me that he has always wanted to come back and get involved in politics, and help his country. He returned to his homeland. How could he not? It's in the blood.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Generation Gap Musical Interlude

Dear Digital Natives

I hope you are not too angry that I called you out on your ("lack of") manners. I am over thirty something, so I guess I am old enough to be cranky. Anyway, here is a song from my dad's era, that still resonates. I think it will cheer you up! Dr. B.

Reference Below from Wikipedia

"My Generation" is a song by the British rock group The Who, which became a hit and one of their most recognizable songs. The song was named the 11th greatest song by Rolling Stone on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and 13th on VH1's list of the 100 Greatest Songs of Rock & Roll.[3] It's also part of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll and is inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for "historical, artistic and significant" value. In 2009 it was named the 37th Greatest Hard Rock Song by VH1.[4] The song, composed by Pete Townshend at the age of twenty in 1965, was written for rebellious British youths called Mods, and expressed their feeling that older people "just don't get it".

The song was released as a single on 5 November 1965, reaching #2 in the UK, the Who's highest charting single in their home country [5] and #74 in America.[6] "My Generation" also appeared on The Who's 1965 debut album, My Generation (The Who Sings My Generation in the United States), and in greatly extended form on their live album Live at Leeds (1970). The Who re-recorded the song for the Ready Steady Who! EP in 1966, but this version was only released in 1995 on the remastered version of the A Quick One album. The main difference between this version and the original is that instead of the hail of feedback which ends the original, the band play a chaotic rendition of Edward Elgar's "Land of Hope and Glory". In the album's liner notes the song is credited to both Townshend and Elgar. A music video featuring a montage of live performance clips has been played on music stations."


People try to put us d-down (Talkin' 'bout my generation)

Just because we get around (Talkin' 'bout my generation)

Things they do look awful c-c-cold (Talkin' 'bout my generation)

I hope I die before I get old (Talkin' 'bout my generation)

This is my generation

This is my generation, baby

Why don't you all f-fade away (Talkin' 'bout my generation)

And don't try to dig what we all s-s-say (Talkin' 'bout my generation)

I'm not trying to cause a big s-s-sensation (Talkin' 'bout my generation)

I'm just talkin' 'bout my g-g-g-generation (Talkin' 'bout my generation)

This is my generation

This is my generation, baby

Why don't you all f-fade away (Talkin' 'bout my generation)

And don't try to d-dig what we all s-s-say (Talkin' 'bout my generation)

I'm not trying to cause a b-big s-s-sensation (Talkin' 'bout my generation)

I'm just talkin' 'bout my g-g-generation (Talkin' 'bout my generation)

This is my generation

This is my generation, baby

People try to put us d-down (Talkin' 'bout my generation)

Just because we g-g-get around (Talkin' 'bout my generation)

Things they do look awful c-c-cold (Talkin' 'bout my generation)

Yeah, I hope I die before I get old (Talkin' 'bout my generation)

This is my generation

This is my generation, baby

Emily Post for Digital Natives

Dear Readers

It has come to my attention that everyone is really excited about the Royal Nuptials. Even the Emily Post Institute has a congratulatory message to Prince William and Kate Middleton, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Personally, I think we should take this moment to reflect on our manners. Now, one thing we have learned from the Royals is that some Royals have bad manners (e.g. Prince Charles and Fergie). Other Royals have good manners (e.g. Queen Elizabeth). In other words, being Royal does not guarantee that you have good manners. In addition, Being a so called "Commoner," like Kate Middleton, does not mean that you have bad manners.

I think that one of the most gracious people around is the wife of former President Jimmy Carter, Rosalynn Carter.

Another good example of a southern lady with very good manners was Lady Bird Johnson, wife of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who himself did not have very good manners, so it was good that he was married to the dignified Lady Bird.

I personally learned most of my manners from my grandmother, Margaret Safronia Rasnick. She was a Southerner, and definitely a commoner, being descended from Hessian mecenaries who settled in the Appalachias. However, she prized good manners, and she taught me some.

Now, let me pass on some lessons to you.

Dear Digital Natives. First of all, I humbly submit that your generation is a little overly familiar. It upsets me a little bit when 21 year old students who have met me once call me by my first name. First of all, I am old enough to be your mother. Secondly, I have loads of titles and degrees, which I earned with some very hard work. Third, I am your professor. One student at the American University in Cairo informed me that he calls the President of the American University in Cairo "Lisa." I think that is unwise. I believe her correct title is President Anderson. In addition, she is 40 years older than said student, because she was my Professor at Columbia when I was in undergraduate school. I informed this cheeky student that I myself, who am much closer to her in both age and stature, call her President Anderson.

According to Emily Post

It may not always be clear how to address a person. Are they a "Mrs." or a "Miss?" Do you say "Mr." or "Sir?" Both on letters and in person, these titles can in fact make a difference in how a person is received. Although there can be many potential options, addressing someone by the name or title that he or she prefers is one of the most basic ways to show your respect.

Ms. Post also states

Whether it is a written correspondence, a face-to-face conversation or an introduction, being aware of a person's title shows respect for place and time. Some titles are earned by hard work, some connote age; and just as using the proper one is respectful, using the wrong one can seem discourteous. Titles are not universally utilized, but it is best to be prepared with an appropriate choice when addressing someone.

According to an expert in business etiquette

"Address individuals by their honorific or title: There is so much informality in the workplace today that in many offices business is lost, and goodwill destroyed, because of total disregard for properly addressing clients. The proper way to address a client is to greet them using their honorific or title followed by their last name. It is up to the client, or your superior, to ask you to call them by their first name."

As a general rule, one should use the highest title to whom the bearer is entitled. So for example, Dean Ed Dorn of the Lyndon Baines Johnson School is no longer the Dean. He is also a Professor and holds a doctorate from Yale. He is also Former Under Secretary of Defense. While working in Washington, he should have been called Secretary Dorn. Now that he lives in Texas, he should be called Dean Dorn. I have known him for many years, but I still call him Dean Dorn.

I hope you have found this lesson useful. I will address other matters in manners and demeanor in time.

Sincerely, Dr. Bowman.

Spying Musical Interlude

James Bond Theme Song

The Reggae Version, which I personally love, by Desmond Dekker

The Name is Bond, James Bond

Dear readers

It has come to my attention that some of my students think that I am a spy. I am not sure whether to be flattered, puzzled or mortified.

So, my research assistant R-- told me that some students were discussing whether to take my class this June. I am teaching Leadership this June again. The class has gone well this semester, although I did have a bit of a disagreement with one student. Nonetheless, we worked through it, and we are all good friends again. Anywho, the students were discussing my class, and allegedly said that it was fun and interesting, and that I make them work hard. However, one student allegedly said that she thinks I am a spy. She thought that I make them do to much research, and the research is in support of my work for the federal government. My research assistant R-- warned me to "be careful about research."

Umm, note to students. I am a professor. Professors profess. Professors do research. It is what we do. That is our actual job description.

So, moving on. Another one of my friends, Andrew Cohen Sampson, (a fellow LBJ alum) called me very flatteringly "The James Bond of Academia."

Rigia. You truly amaze me!! You're like the James Bond of academia --always traveling where the action is and fighting for peace, justice and good.

Again, I love the imagery. Very bad ass. It does suggest however, that I am in the employ of Her Majesty's Secret Service. Also, we have a gender problem here. James Bond is a man, and I am a woman. Hmmm. What to do, what to do.

My good friend Svetlana Negrustueva, (another fellow LBJ alum) and I had a running joke that she and I were Bond Girls. Of course, Svetlana really fits the bill. She is Russian, and she is beautiful. She looks a bit like this. This is Bond Girl Professor Inga Bergstorm, who starred in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997).

I am not Russian. I also have had three children, so am not at my all time most glamorous. However, I would be really psyched if I could look like Hally Berry in Die Another Day (2002). I could do it if I run enough. Come to think of it, I am going to make this a personal goal.

Another problem with being a Bond Girl, though, is that the men do all the cool stuff. The women, aka the Bond Girls, are mainly there as eye candy, and to make love to the super cool, super handsome James Bond, like Holly Goodhead (no pun intended?) in Moonraker (1979).

I am a 20th Century Fox, myself, however. And I want to be out there changing the world, not just playing golf in Sean Connery's big shirt like Sylvia Trench in Dr. No (1962) and From Russia with Love (1963).

 I do not want to just be window dressing to some hot man. [That being said, my man is really hot and handsome, almost as cute as Sean Connery, thanks for being my guy, honey.]

Nonetheless, as Hilary Clinton has pointed out, "Sisters are doing it for themselves."  I guess I could join the CIA. That probably would not be so bad, now that Leon Panetta is running it. He is a pretty cool guy. maybe I should consider it. I would certainly make more money than I do now. Food for thought . . . .

But, right now, I am just a Professor, or that is what you think. Think about Professor Inga Bergstrom . . . . I guess you guys do not really know just who I work for?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Updated Facts on Libyan Crisis: Week of May 1, 2011

May 2, 2011

According to Al Jazeera, the UN Staff left Tripoli after a mob attack. Western embassies and UN offices have been targeted after a NATO bombing reportedly killed Ghadaffi's son and grandchildren. Al Jazeera also reports that doubt has been cast on the claim that Ghadaffi's son has been killed. NATO says that it is stepping up attack is on Libyan targets. NATO plans to step up attacks on the palaces, headquarters, and communications centers that Ghadaffi uses to maintain his grip on power in Libya. (New York Times).

NATO officials and western leaders are defending the increasingly aggressive air strikes in Libya after the Libyan government said one barrage had killed four members of Ghadaffi's family. The US, British, and Italian embassies were attacked and burnt by mobs in the Tripoli. (Washington Post) Ghadaffi, tanks shelled Misurata, amid fears that Ghadaffi will use chemical weapons against NATO and Libyan rebels (Washington Post).

May 1, 2011.

NYT reports that three of MG's grandchildren were killed. Cannot believe that Ghadaffi's grandchildren were killed. I am really sad about that. I was telling a friend that I hoped Ghadaffi had the sense to move his grandchildren to somewhere safe. They are just children. Of course, the same can be said for children killed by his forces fighting the rebels. I mourn for them as well. I am a mother and I am soft-hearted, what can I say. On that topic, here is what has happened to rebel families according to NYT:

     "The pro-Qaddafi forces resumed shelling and firing rockets into the city in the morning and again late at night. At least 15 people were reported killed, including at least five rebel fighters, an old man who was struck by shrapnel, and a young father of four children.  The young man’s children and his wife were all wounded. They huddled at a Red Crescent clinic, unaware he was dead. “It is not easy to tell them,” said Absalom Essid, who stood at the door to the room where the dead man’s wife was being treated.   At another clinic, the wounded included a baby girl who appeared to be about 10 months old and suffered a broken leg. She was teary-eyed with a pacifier in her mouth as doctors prepared to set the bone."

Al Jazeera reports that the Libyan government announced the death of Ghadaffi's youngest son, Seif al-arab Ghadaffi, in an airstrike. At least one missle fired by NATO hit the Ghadaffi Tripoli home in the al Garghour neighborhood. (Note to self, are they suicidal? I am sure they are not living there, unless MG totally insane).

It does seem NATO's mission has crept, and that it no longer has anything to do with protecting civilians. I agree with Libya Spokesman Ibrahim Moussa on this.

According to the NYT, (link here)

     "Earlier Saturday, NATO officials had rejected an offer by Colonel Qaddafi to call a cease-fire and negotiate as false. The proposal was delivered in a rambling and often defiant speech, broadcast over Libyan state television, in which Colonel Qaddafi insisted he would never leave Libya."