Yes. It’s true. Yesterday, we went to Vantage Points, a film festival organized by UNHCR in Metropolis Sofil to mark World Refugee Day. This was happening while 20 Sudanese refugees had been on hunger strike for 15 days to protest their maltreatment. We escorted 4 refugees on hunger strike and their families (including 8 children). The kids handed out flyers to the attendees that explain the reasons behind the hunger strike. Check photos here.
They were completely ignored by UNHCR. When the film started, we went into the theater and lifted a banner (photo below) and they held up posters that said “Why won’t you meet with us?” The cinema staff asked us to get out of the theater and not disrupt the film screening. So we got out and sat in the lobby. An hour passed and still nobody from UNHCR would talk to the refugees. One person earlier only asked them if they wanted to see the movie.
After an hour, Tony, who works at Sofil came to tell us that he was obliged to notify the authorities of our presence. We asked why and he said because we were bring disruptive. Note that we had only been sitting in the lobby for an hour quietly, waiting for the audience to finish the movie, thinking maybe they might want to talk to the Sudanese refugees then. Tony had asked us to leave before, but we insisted on staying. He then warned us that the police might come. Why? we asked. He repeated that we had been disruptive. I asked him if UNHCR had asked him to call the police and he said yes – although UNHCR staff then denied that they had called the cops. You can call Tony yourself and ask him.
The police arrived, asked us to leave, and we insisted on staying. They agreed that we weren’t being disruptive and told us we could stay but couldn’t do any action on the premises. So we stayed. 15 minutes later, a second police patrol came with a higher-ranking officer. UNHCR finished their movie and came out into the lobby to have wine and snacks. They stood there eating, drinking, and chatting, with the police standing between them and the refugees (kids, again).
The level of ignoring at the event was surreal to me. Not a word, nothing. Not a hello, how do you do, nothing. The Sudanese families were completely invisible. UNHCR kept chatting with their audience at the event, saying they couldn’t do anything about their situation. But how could they not even say hello? If it is true that it’s not in their hands, why can’t they just meet with the refugees and explain everything and reach a compromise? How could they treat them with such indifference and impertinence? It was pretty obvious that they had circulated an internal memo asking their staff not to talk to the refugees at all. I’m pretty sure they were expecting some action at their event. They seemed unsurprised and unaffected.
It was one of the most depressing things I’ve ever seen – to be so invisible to people in power. Our Sudanese friends were less shocked than we were, having experienced this sort of treatment for years. What else did you expect? they asked us. Perhaps I was expecting a tad bit more humanity and compassion from the people who make their living off of helping others.
Tuesday, April 17 – Wednesday, April 18
Experts & activists from across the Middle East/North Africa convene in Istanbul to discuss region’s democratic transitions
Check out this terrific line-up of speakers! You can also watch the Live Webcast here.
3:00 – 3:30 Welcome and Introductions
3:30 – 6:00 Opening Plenary Session
Introductory remarks/chair: Thoraya Obaid
An Overview of the Geopolitical Landscape and Women’s Rights in the MENA Region
Deniz Kandiyoti, Jean Said Makdisi
Challenges and Opportunities for the Women’s Movement: Feminism, Fundamentalism & Patriarchy
Women’s Rights and Transitions in a Global Context
Jacqueline Pitanguy – Brazil
9:15 – 11:00 Lessons Learned from Recent Engagement with Political Transformations in the MENA Region
Introductory Remarks/Chair: Zeina Zaatari
Amina Lemrini, Wajeeha Al Baharna, Amal Grami, Asma Khader, Sawsan Zakzak
11:00 – 11:15 Break
11:15 – 1:00 Lessons Learned in Other Regions: International Mechanisms, Transitional Justice, Legal Reform, Citizen Transformation
Introductory Remarks/Chair: Lydia Alpizar-Durán
Sapna Pradhan Mallah, Sanja Sarnavka, Claudia Samayoa, Daptne Cuevas, Shamim Meer
1:00 – 2:30 Break for lunch
2:30 – 4:15 Challenges Women and Feminist Movements Face: Fundamentalism & Patriarchy
Introductory Remarks/Chair: Mahnaz Afkhami
Haideh Moghissi, Maria Consuelo Mejia, Yakin Ertürk, Ho Yock Lin
4:15 – 4:30 Break
4:30 – 6:00 Where Do We Go from Here? Rethinking the Relationship between the State and Women as Individual Citizens
Introductory Remarks/Chair: Musimbi Kanyoro
Rahmah Bourkyah, Amal Abdel Hadi, Gina Vargas
6:00 – 6:30 Closing Remarks
The 3rd Arab Bloggers Meeting is currently being held in Tunis, Tunisia. The meeting gathers around 100 bloggers, journalists, techies, and experts from the Arab world and international organizations. You can learn more on the Arab Bloggers website and follow the live tweeting on the #AB11 hashtag.
Here’s a list of the Arab blogger tweeps who are currently at the Arab Bloggers Meeting in Tunis. Palestinian bloggers were outrageously denied visas by the Tunisian government and were not able to make it to the meeting.
Abdurahman Warsame @abdu
Hussain Yousif @hussain_info
Randa Aboeldahab @randoshka2000
Manal Hassan @manal
Alaa Abdel Fattah @alaa
Mohamed El Gohary @ircpresident
Ahmed Awadalla @3awadalla
Tarek Amr @gr33ndata
Lilian Wagdy @lilianwagdy
Wael Abbas @waelabbas
Ahmad Gharbeia @aGharbeia
Hisham Almiraat @__Hisham
Riyadh Al Balushi @blue_chi
Saed Karzoun @Saedkarzoun
Irene Nasser @almagdela
Dalia Othman @DaliaOthman (didn’t make because Tunisia rejected visas of Palestinians)
Saleh Dawabsheh @Dawabsheh (didn’t make because Tunisia rejected visas of Palestinians)
Liliane Assaf @funkyozzi
Nadine Moawad @nmoawad
Jamal Ghosn @jamalghosn
Racha Ghamlouch @LebaneseVoices
Assaad Thebian @beirutiyat
Angie Nassar @angienassar
Mansour Aziz @AlAkhbarEnglish
Abir Saksouk @abirsasso
Thalia Rahme @Thalloula
Nasser Weddady @weddady
Amir Ahmad Nasr @SudaneseThinker
I have undoubtedly forgotten some people, please tweet me at @nmoawad so I can add them.
Guest post by Christine @czahm
Yesterday, while having a coffee at Colombiano in Sassine Square, Ashrafieh, this is what I witnessed:
A shoe shiner came up to one of the customers and asked to shine his shoes. The customer being the super important person he is shoos away the guy with: rou7 min houn wla! (Get lost!)
And then, almost out of nowhere, Elie, one of the waiters, grabs the shoe shiner from the back by the shoulders and violently hurls/ pushes him. The shoe shiner barely has time to gain balance, when Elie slaps him very hard on the head!!!!!!!
I was ENRAGED! I couldn’t wait for Elie to walk back past my table, I got out of my chair and walked up to him. I’ll admit, I was scared; Elie is much bigger than I am, and I had just seen how violent he can be. As I stood in front of him, I had to put my hand on his chest, and push him back a little, otherwise, he would have walked right passed me.
I can’t remember what I said exactly, but something along the lines of: What’s wrong with you? Who gave you the right to hit someone? Who do you think you are? Shame on you.
His immediate response was: You don’t know what this guy has done before!!!!
My friend and I filled out a comments card, and asked for Zeina, the manager’s phone number. My friend called her a couple of hours after the incident, and I called her today.
Not so surprisingly, she was pretty chill about it, saying lines like: Well, I can’t undo something that was done already. This guy has stolen from our customers a couple of times before. I agree with you that Elie should not have been violent, I have talked to him, and we have taken corrective action. What we care about is that our customers be comfortable!!!! (Oh yeah, seeing a waiter act violently with a passerby, did put me at ease!!!)
I am grossed out… I am! I don’t mean this as a personal attack on Colombiano, Zeina, or even Elie. This incident could have happened at a different place, with a different waiter and handled by a different manager. But I just couldn’t let this go by unnoticed, and undocumented. The attitude some people have in this country is just disgraceful! Thinking they are better than someone with a less paying job, or from a poorer country… SHAME! Shame on them.
We were on a mission this weekend to raise global twitter awareness about the Freedom Flotilla heading towards Gaza with tons of aid supplies. The organizers were doing an amazing job with social media, tweeting live from the boats, video live streaming, as well as Google-mapping their locations in the sea on the hour. We wanted to amplify those efforts.
Before the Attack
We tweeted and tweeted and #flotilla did not trend, although it was technically ahead of many trending topics over 24 hours. Even the Jerusalem Post recognized the phenomenal effort we put. I flipped through the TV channels and found no news covering the topic, except for occasional updates from Al Jazeera. By 5am Beirut time, over 13,000 viewers had been watching the live stream continuously for hours. The flotilla had been surrounded by Israeli warships and air force. Nobody reported about it. I stupidly thought there was no way Israel would attack the activists, who all appeared in positive, high spirits on the live stream. One young woman, an Arab American laughed and said to the camera she apologizes to her family for not telling them she was going to Gaza again. She was really cool. Max, I thought, the Israeli warships would block the flotilla near Gaza and escort them to the tents they had prepared in Ashdod. How else does one deal with a peaceful, non-violent protest?
And so, I went to sleep, waiting to hear the news of the flotilla in the morning. I woke up to the horror that 16 activists had been killed and that the flotilla had been captured by the Israeli military. I was shocked and speechless for a good hour. #Flotilla had risen to over 0.7% on twitter but still wasn’t trending. It is undoubtedly a case of censorship. I challenge anyone to tell me it wasn’t. I saved all the graphs. @ShantDotMe suggested that we try and trend another term since twitter must have blocked #Flotilla. I figured they also had the excuse of flotilla being a common noun, so I suggested we go for #FreedomFlotilla. An hour later, both “Gaza Flotilla” and #FreedomFlotilla were trending and have been for the past couple of hours.
We did not mean for #Flotilla to trend because of a massacre. No, that was not our purpose at all. We wanted #Flotilla to trend while the boats were on their way towards Gaza so that the world could follow what was happening.
The Wrong Kind of Trending
But all of that doesn’t matter. We did not mean for #Flotilla to trend because of a massacre. No, that was not our purpose at all. We wanted #Flotilla to trend while the boats were on their way towards Gaza so that the world could follow what was happening. We wanted the world to follow the facts, to meet the faces on board the boats, to see the situation unfold in front of their eyes. The Zionist propaganda machine is extremely powerful and it was on full speed last night with arguments like: people on the flotilla are armed, they are on their way to murder thousands of Israelis, they are smuggling guns to give to Hamas, all bullshit accusations. The Gaza Freedom Flotilla was an international group of over 700 people from 40 different countries, carrying thousands of tons of aid to the Palestinians who have been under siege for over 1080 days. Do you think they would be brave enough to sail to Gaza, knowing the threat they were under, if their purpose was to smuggle arms? Of course the point was not only to deliver the aid; they were on a political action to break the siege. Their action was brave and courageous and pacifist and non-violent. The world continues to be silent about the siege. Gazans continue to suffer. And so the activists wanted to wake the world up by sailing straight to Gaza through international waters.
And so, what is Israel to do in the face of non-violent protest? First, of course, Israel tries to play the innocent helpful role: give us the aid, we will deliver it ourselves, knowing the organizers would not agree because this is not an isolated incident of sending aid to Gaza. This is a political message to break the siege. Second, of course, Israel tries to delegitimize the non-violence, accusing the activists of “provoking” the Israeli warships. But who provoked who really? Israel taunted the activists, circling them by sea and sky, in international waters, signaling and threatening to take action. The flotilla boats then huddled close together and diverted their course a little in order to avoid the clash with the Israeli warships, and their spirits remained high. The Zionist taunting did not work. Israel weighs out the options:
- Attack the flotilla, kill a few people, scare everyone from ever attempting such actions again, take a tiny bit of criticism, remain protected by impunity, whitewash the crime with excuses of self-defense, and come out of it unscathed; or
- allow the activists to reach Gaza, break the siege, deliver some aid, and give hope to thousands of other activists that non-violent marches (or sails) actually work?
The choice is obvious. The Israelis thus act ruthlessly – even in the face of such non-violence – to scare the hell out of these activists and any others. Their message is clear: you cannot resist Zionism, not even non-violently. They will shut down every glimpse of it lest it grow too powerful. And no, my dear Arab leaders, you are not getting off the hook so easily. All of you are racing now to denounce the attacks on the flotilla. Where were you a few days ago when the mission needed your support? Where are all the other boat and ships from all the other countries to join the flotilla? Astankir, nastankir.. shut the fuck up!
So. Israel knew exactly what to do. The question now is: what are we to do? Our choice is just as obvious.
Today, a bunch of us arrived in Cairo, Egypt in preparation for our meeting to design and launch a network of peer support for young feminists in the Arab world. Exciting!
I have big hopes set for this meeting (organized and led by women under 30) and for a new wave of young feminism that is of and for our region. The first thing I want to share with you is that we set out from the beginning to be a network that depends very little on money. Indeed, you can see it reflected in our choice of venue for the accommodation of our meeting participants, the Lotus Hotel in Cairo,which also housed participants of the Gaza Freedom March last December. We have grown accustomed, in the NGO world, to put our participants up in fancy hotel rooms and conference halls. This is the first time that I am actually spending my nights in a youth hostel that costs $25 a night for a double room. Who said we need to raise tens of thousands of dollars to hold a regional conference? Take a look at these simple rooms in the pictures. This is what a feminist meeting looks like!
The radical feminist organizing in the MENA region emerged 20, 30, 40 years after the similar movements in the West. In Turkey, for example, it didn’t start until the late 1980s. This is not because the women in our region were stupid or were not politically engaged or did not have demands. It is rather because we were under autocratic regimes or in the middle of wars and post-colonial struggles that there was no space for any of these movements to rise. The moment a small space became available, you immediately saw these initiatives taking form. The problem is that by that time, there was already an international discourse at the United Nations around gender and development. So when these movements rose, they clashed with these existing structures of funding and NGOs and civil society that were already in place. Most of the initiatives were thus quickly institutionalized and tamed. And from this clash rose the whole debate on whether feminism is authentically local or a Western import.
My non-verbatim account of a comment made by Pinar Ilkkaracan at the GFW meeting in Jordan: Feminisms in the Middle East and North Africa
Most of the 54th CSW sessions were packed, and I mean PACKED. They were filling up 30 minutes before the sessions started. So I couldn’t blog much from inside the sessions (believe it or not, I couldn’t take my laptop out because the rooms were so packed). I will sum up my notes later tonight. In the meantime, here are some pictures I took today.
Some pics taken by the awesome @69mirs from @naeema‘s fantastic workshop on optimizing images for the web at Nasawiya happening live right now. Special thanks to @monajem and @smexbeirut for lending us the projector.
The Shorty Awards finale is here! We’ve got until 7pm (Beirut time) on Friday, February 5 to vote for Ali Abunimah al molakkab bi @avinunu on twitter. I don’t need to go into the details of why this is important, but to recap: it raises awareness, it fights back the slander (and since last week Ali has been getting TONS of online slander by zionist propagandists), it brings activists for Palestine together, it gives us hope that small actions on our part can fight the seemingly all-powerful zionist machine. And all it takes is really a couple of minutes.
Ali is leading now by a small margin of votes but his opponent (who has 55,000 followers!) is always making comebacks. So even if we’re leading, keep on voting! Here are some of the basics:
- To vote, tweet this: “I vote for @avinunu for a Shorty Award in #politics because…” and put a reason after “because..” or else it won’t count. Also, your reason must be unique & real. Don’t put anything hateful towards the opponent or anything silly. Lost for a reason? Google Ali. You can also do this at the voting page.
- If you voted during the nomination phase, you don’t need to vote again – you will still only count once. You can, however, re-vote to updated your reason if you feel your reason wasn’t that good. They take the last votes.
- Now is the time to RECRUIT actively to get others to vote too. Shorty Awards are monitored by real people, so they will check the accounts voting. If an account was just created, it is disqualified or if it never tweets, it is disqualified too. So take a few minutes please to recruit friends and supporters of Palestine to vote for Ali (and to recruit others in turn). You can do this by tweeting something like “Please encourage your friends to vote for @avinunu in Shorty Awards. We need 100s more people to win!” or DM-ing them (don’t spam). Or you can go back to traditional methods and call them, email them, or tell to vote when you bump into them in a cafe.
- Use other channels like Facebook and blogs to tell people about this campaign.
- Monitor the results live! It’s really exciting