Category Archives: In The Media

The Real Roots of Sexism in the Middle East (It’s Not Islam, Race, or ‘Hate’)

By Max Fisher
Arab societies suffer from deep misogyny, but the problem is not as particularly Arab or Islamic as you might think.

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Women pray at Hussein mosque in the old city of Cairo. Reuters.

Picture a woman in the Middle East, and probably the first thing that comes into your mind will be thehijab. You might not even envision a face, just the black shroud of the burqa or the niqab. Women’s rights in the mostly Arab countries of the region are among the worst in the world, but it’s more than that. As Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy writes in a provocative cover story for Foreign Policy, misogyny has become so endemic to Arab societies that it’s not just a war on women, it’s a destructive force tearing apart Arab economies and societies. But why? How did misogyny become so deeply ingrained in the Arab world?

As Maya Mikdashi once wrote, “Gender is not the study of what is evident, it is an analysis of how what is evident came to be.” That’s a much tougher task than cataloging the awful and often socially accepted abuses of women in the Arab world. But they both matter, and Eltahawy’s lengthy article on the former might reveal more of the latter than she meant.

There are two general ways to think about the problem of misogyny in the Arab world. The first is to think of it as an Arab problem, an issue of what Arab societies and people are doing wrong. “We have no freedoms because they hate us,” Eltahawy writes, the first of many times she uses “they” in a sweeping indictment of the cultures spanning from Morocco to the Arabian Peninsula. “Yes: They hate us. It must be said.”

But is it really that simple? If that misogyny is so innately Arab, why is there such wide variance between Arab societies? Why did Egypt’s hateful “they” elect only 2 percent women to its post-revolutionary legislature, while Tunisia’s hateful “they” elected 27 percent, far short of half but still significantly more than America’s 17 percent? Why are so many misogynist Arab practices as or more common in the non-Arab societies of sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia? After all, nearly every society in history has struggled with sexism, and maybe still is. Just in the U.S., for example, women could not vote until 1920; even today, their access to basic reproductive health care is backsliding. We don’t think about this as an issue of American men, white men, or Christian men innately and irreducibly hating women. Why, then, should we be so ready to believe it about Arab Muslims?

A number of Arab Muslim feminists have criticized the article as reinforcing reductive, Western perceptions of Arabs as particularly and innately barbaric. Nahed Eltantawy accused the piece of representing Arab women “as the Oriental Other, weak, helpless and submissive, oppressed by Islam and the Muslim male, this ugly, barbaric monster.” Samia Errazzouki fumed at “the monolithic representation of women in the region.” Roqayah Chamseddine wrote, “Not only has Eltahawy demonized the men of the Middle East and confined them into one role, that of eternal tormentors, as her Western audience claps and cheers, she has not provided a way forward for these men.” Dima Khatib sighed, “Arab society is not as barbaric as you present it in the article.” She lamented the article as enhancing “a stereotype full of overwhelming generalizations [that] contributes to the widening cultural rift between our society and other societies, and the increase of racism towards us.”

Dozens, maybe hundreds, of reports and papers compare women’s rights and treatment across countries, and they all rank Arab states low on the list. But maybe not as close to the bottom as you’d think. A 2011 World Economic Forum report on national gender gaps put four Arab states in the bottom 10; the bottom 25 includes 10 Arab states, more than half of them. But sub-Saharan African countries tend to rank even more poorly. And so do South Asian societies — where a population of nearly five times as many womenas live in the Middle East endure some of the most horrific abuses in the world today. Also in 2011,Newsweek synthesized several reports and statistics on women’s rights and quality of life. Their final ranking included only one Arab country in the bottom 10 (Yemen) and one more in the bottom 25 (Saudi Arabia, although we might also count Sudan). That’s not to downplay the harm and severity of the problem in Arab societies, but a reminder that “misogyny” and “Arab” are not as synonymous as we sometimes treat them to be.

The other way to think about misogyny in the Arab world is as a problem of misogyny. As the above rankings show, culturally engrained sexism is not particular to Arab societies. In other words, it’s a problem that Arab societies have, but it’s not a distinctly Arab problem. The actual, root causes are disputed, complicated, and often controversial. But you can’t cure a symptom without at least acknowledging the disease, and that disease is not race, religion, or ethnicity.

Some of the most important architects of institutionalized Arab misogyny weren’t actually Arab. They were Turkish — or, as they called themselves at the time, Ottoman — British, and French. These foreigners ruled Arabs for centuries, twisting the cultures to accommodate their dominance. One of their favorite tricks was to buy the submission of men by offering them absolute power over women. The foreign overlords ruled the public sphere, local men ruled the private sphere, and women got nothing; academicDeniz Kandiyoti called this the “patriarchal bargain.” Colonial powers employed it in the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, and in South Asia, promoting misogynist ideas and misogynist men who might have otherwise stayed on the margins, slowly but surely ingraining these ideas into the societies.

Of course, those first seeds of misogyny had to come from somewhere. The evolutionary explanations are controversial. Some say that it’s simply because men are bigger and could fight their way to dominance; some that men seek to control women, and particularly female sexuality, out of a subconscious fear being of cuckolded and raising another man’s child; others that the rise of the nation-state promoted the role of warfare in society, which meant the physically stronger gender took on more power. You don’t hear these, or any of the other evolutionary theories, cited much. What you do hear cited is religion.

Like Christianity, Islam is an expansive and living religion. It has moved with the currents of history, and its billion-plus practitioners bring a wide spectrum of interpretations and beliefs. The colonial rulers who conquered Muslim societies were skilled at pulling out the slightest justification for their “patriarchal bargain.” They promoted the religious leaders who were willing to take this bargain and suppressed those who objected. This is a big part of how misogynistic practices became especially common in the Muslim world (another reason is that, when the West later promoted secular rulers, anti-colonialists adopted extreme religious interpretations as a way to oppose them). “They enshrined their gentleman’s agreement in the realm of the sacred by elevating their religious family laws to state laws,” anthropologist Suad Joseph wrote in her 2000 bookGender and Citizenship in the Middle East. “Women and children were the inevitable chips with which the political and religious leaders bargained.” Some misogynist practices predated colonialism. But many of those, for example female genital mutilation, also predated Islam.

Arabs have endured centuries of brutal, authoritarian rule, and this could also play a role. A Western female journalist who spent years in the region, where she endured some of the region’s infamous street harassment, told me that she sensed her harassers may have been acting in part out of misery, anger, and their own emasculation. Enduring the daily torments and humiliations of life under the Egyptian or Syrian or Algerian secret police, she suggested, might make an Arab man more likely to reassert his lost manhood by taking it out on women.

The intersection of race and gender is tough to discuss candidly. If we want to understand why an Egyptian man beats his wife, it’s right and good to condemn him for doing it, but it’s not enough. We also have to discuss the bigger forces that are guiding him, even if that makes us uncomfortable because it feels like we’re excusing him. For decades, that conversation has gotten tripped up by issues of race and post-colonial relations that are always present but often too sensitive to address directly. 

Spend some time in the Middle East or North Africa talking about gender and you might hear the expression, “My Arab brother before my Western sister,” a warning to be quiet about injustice so as not to give the West any more excuses to condescend and dictate. The fact that feminism is broadly (and wrongly) considered a Western idea has made it tougher for proponents. After centuries of Western colonialism, bombings, invasions, and occupation, Arab men can dismiss the calls for gender equality as just another form of imposition, insisting that Arab culture does it differently. The louder our calls for gender equality get, the easier they are to wave away.

Eltahawy’s personal background, unfortunately, might play a role in how some of her critics are responding. She lives mostly in the West, writes mostly for Western publications, and speaks American-accented English, all of which complicates her position and risks making her ideas seem as Westernized as she is. That’s neither fair nor a reflection of the merit of her ideas, but it might inform the backlash, and it might tell us something about why the conversation she’s trying to start has been stalled for so long.

The Arab Muslim women who criticized Eltahawy have been outspoken proponents of Arab feminism for years. So their backlash isn’t about “Arab brother before Western sister,” but it does show the extreme sensitivity about anything that could portray Arab misogyny as somehow particular to Arab society or Islam. It’s not Eltahawy’s job to tiptoe around Arab cultural anxieties about Western-imposed values, but the fact that her piece seems to have raised those anxieties more than it has awakened Arab male self-awareness is an important reminder that the exploitation of Arab women is about more than just gender. As some of Eltahawy’s defenders have put it to me, the patriarchal societies of the Arab world need to be jolted into awareness of the harm they’re doing themselves. They’re right, but this article doesn’t seem to have done it.

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The Atlantic: Can Turkey make its Mosques Feminist?

By Dorian Jones
Istanbul Islamic leaders are requiring houses of worship to treat men and women equally, challenging some traditional norms and raising a few tempers

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Women sit at Eyup Sultan mosque while waiting for Eid al-Fitr prayers, in Istanbul / Reuters

A campaign to make Istanbul’s roughly 3,100 mosques more welcoming for women could set off a gender revolution in Turkey’s places of Islamic worship – and one that may not be uniformly welcomed.


mli, Istanbul’s deputy mufti, the city’s second most powerful administrator of the Islamic faith. “When a woman enters a mosque, she is entering the house of God and she should experience the same sacred treatment. In front of God, men and women are equal; they have the same rights to practice their religion.”

As part of the “Beautification of Mosques for Women” project, Erdemli sent 30 teams to visit all of Istanbul’s mosques and report back on the facilities for women. What the teams found was shocking, she claimed. “Many of the mosques have no toilets for women, no place for women to wash before praying,” Erdemli recounted. “Most of the places allocated for women were used as storage places, and those that weren’t were usually filthy and freezing cold in winter.”

Istanbul’s mosques are now under strict instructions to clean up and provide equal facilities for both men and women by February 2012. But it’s not only a push for cleanliness and improved sanitation that is underway. The way mosques are arranged is also being changed, according to Erdemli. “In most mosques, the women’s area was divided by a curtain or a wall, and this is not fair,” she elaborated. “They are sacred places and women have the right to take advantage of their spiritual feeling as well.”

“In front of God, men and women are equal; they have the same rights to practice their religion”

Unlike men, women are not required under Islam to attend a mosque; their presence is allowed, but, traditionally, female Muslim believers have prayed more frequently at home. Practices, however, can vary from country to country, and from mosque to mosque. In Istanbul’s mosques, to reflect the beautification project’s goal of equal worship space, “all the curtains and walls are coming down,” Erdemli said. “But segregation will remain; men and children will pray in front of women.”

Starting in late December, inspections will start to check if mosques are complying with instructions. Since the program began in March, Erdemli has addressed over 5,000 of the city’s imams and religious staff to explain the theological reason for why mosques are for women as much as they are for men. On the streets of Istanbul, there appears to be broad support for the program among religious women. “Sure, it would be beautiful. It would be much better,” said one 30-year-old woman, who gave her name as Münevver. “In some places, the spaces for women are clean, but in others they are filthy.”

The Diyanet, the state-run administrative body for Turkey’s mosques, has not only given its complete support to the project, but also provided a theological justification. In November, the head of the Diyanet, Mehmet Gomez, gave an uncompromising speech, in which he acknowledged the problem of misogyny in Islam. “There are some wrong, incomplete, biased interpretations that do not reflect the general principles of our noble religion,” Hürriyet Daily News on December 7 reported Gomez as saying.

All are not happy with this gender revolution. “I hope all these increasing efforts are not aimed at removing the obstacles for a woman to come out of her home, and first go out to the mosque, and then to find a job; all by finding legitimacy within [the Islamic] religion,” grumbled leading Islamic columnist Ali Bulac on December 3 in the Zaman newspaper.

The column provoked a storm of reaction. The outcry, interestingly, was louder coming from practicing Islamic women than from secular feminists. In her December 6 column for the daily Yeni Safak, Islamic columnist Ozlem Albayrak termed Bulac’s attitude a form of “persecution against women.”

The heated polemic is just the latest example of an important change in Turkish society. Istar Gozaydin, a law professor at Istanbul’s Dogus University and an expert on the Diyanet, argues that the rise of a new conservative Islamic middle class on the coattails of the decade-long rule of the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party has eased both formal and informal restrictions on Islamic women in education and state workplaces. “We see more and more women getting educated in the universities, more women in the workplace,” Gozaydin said. “They’ve been able to become more visible in society. And they want to be a part of the mosque system as opposed to praying at home.”

The Democracy ReportAlthough the percentage of women in Turkey’s workplaces and university student bodies may appear relatively low, the figures are trending upward. A 2010 World Bank report on gender equality reported that 30 percent of Turkish women work. According to official data for the same year, women accounted for 44 percent of Turkish university students.

Erdemli has her sights on the Beautification of Mosques for Women project becoming an inspiration for the rest of Turkey. She maintains, though, that its goal is not revolution, but simply bringing the Muslim faith back to its roots. “All we are doing is taking Islam to back before it was corrupted and misinterpreted, when women and men were treated equally,” she said.

This article originally appeared at, an Atlantic partner site.

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Ban Ki-Moon: Dictators more afraid of tweets than armies

Foreign Policy Post

Posted By Joshua Keating  Monday, April 9, 2012 – 11:43 AM   Share

The secretary-general has raised some eyebrows with comments made last week during an address at the Global Colloqium of University Presidents:

“To unleash the power of young people, we need to partner with them. This is what the United Nations is trying to do,” he added, announcing his decision to appoint a U.N. Special Adviser on Youth.

“Some dictators in our world are more afraid of tweets than they are of opposing armies,” he declared, pointing out the rising political clout of the younger generation.

Some commentators have responded to Ban’s comments with mockery… on Twitter naturally. “What’s Ban Ki-moon smoking? Show me one dictator who’s more afraid of tweets than armies.”wrote Evgeny Morozov.

FP’s Daniel Drezner chipped in: “Some dictators no doubt would reply with, “How many divisions does Twitter have?… And, inevitably, some lolcat on Youtube will say, “I can haz divisions?!”

In (partial) defense of Ban, this isn’t that absurd a comment if you don’t take it literally. Most autocratic governments are probably under greater threat from the possibility of uprisings by their own populations — particularly young people — than invasions by foreign armies. Granted, it’s not the tweets they’re worried about but the people sending them.

Foreign Policy – Why Do They Hate Us?

Why Do They Hate Us?

The real war on women is in the Middle East.


In “Distant View of a Minaret,” the late and much-neglected Egyptian writer Alifa Rifaat begins her short story with a woman so unmoved by sex with her husband that as he focuses solely on his pleasure, she notices a spider web she must sweep off the ceiling and has time to ruminate on her husband’s repeated refusal to prolong intercourse until she too climaxes, “as though purposely to deprive her.” Just as her husband denies her an orgasm, the call to prayer interrupts his, and the man leaves. After washing up, she loses herself in prayer — so much more satisfying that she can’t wait until the next prayer — and looks out onto the street from her balcony. She interrupts her reverie to make coffee dutifully for her husband to drink after his nap. Taking it to their bedroom to pour it in front of him as he prefers, she notices he is dead. She instructs their son to go and get a doctor. “She returned to the living room and poured out the coffee for herself. She was surprised at how calm she was,” Rifaat writes.

Yes: They hate us. It must be said. 

Some may ask why I’m bringing this up now, at a time when the region has risen up, fueled not by the usual hatred of America and Israel but by a common demand for freedom. After all, shouldn’t everyone get basic rights first, before women demand special treatment? And what does gender, or for that matter, sex, have to do with the Arab Spring? But I’m not talking about sex hidden away in dark corners and closed bedrooms. An entire political and economic system — one that treats half of humanity like animals — must be destroyed along with the other more obvious tyrannies choking off the region from its future. Until the rage shifts from the oppressors in our presidential palaces to the oppressors on our streets and in our homes, our revolution has not even begun.

So: Yes, women all over the world have problems; yes, the United States has yet to elect a female president; and yes, women continue to be objectified in many “Western” countries (I live in one of them). That’s where the conversation usually ends when you try to discuss why Arab societies hate women.

But let’s put aside what the United States does or doesn’t do to women. Name me an Arab country, and I’ll recite a litany of abuses fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend. When more than 90 percent of ever-married women in Egypt — including my mother and all but one of her six sisters — have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty, then surely we must all blaspheme. When Egyptian women are subjected to humiliating “virginity tests” merely for speaking out, it’s no time for silence. When an article in the Egyptian criminal code says that if a woman has been beaten by her husband “with good intentions” no punitive damages can be obtained, then to hell with political correctness. And what, pray tell, are “good intentions”? They are legally deemed to include any beating that is “not severe” or “directed at the face.” What all this means is that when it comes to the status of women in the Middle East, it’s not better than you think. It’s much, much worse. Even after these “revolutions,” all is more or less considered well with the world as long as women are covered up, anchored to the home, denied the simple mobility of getting into their own cars, forced to get permission from men to travel, and unable to marry without a male guardian’s blessing — or divorce either.

Not a single Arab country ranks in the top 100 in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, putting the region as a whole solidly at the planet’s rock bottom. Poor or rich, we all hate our women. Neighbors Saudi Arabia and Yemen, for instance, might be eons apart when it comes to GDP, but only four places separate them on the index, with the kingdom at 131 and Yemen coming in at 135 out of 135 countries. Morocco, often touted for its “progressive” family law (a 2005 report by Western “experts” called it “an example for Muslim countries aiming to integrate into modern society”), ranks 129; according to Morocco’s Ministry of Justice, 41,098 girls under age 18 were married there in 2010.

It’s easy to see why the lowest-ranked country is Yemen, where 55 percent of women are illiterate, 79 percent do not participate in the labor force, and just one woman serves in the 301-person parliament. Horrific news reports about 12-year-old girls dying in childbirth do little to stem the tide of child marriage there. Instead, demonstrations in support of child marriage outstrip those against it, fueled by clerical declarations that opponents of state-sanctioned pedophilia are apostates because the Prophet Mohammed, according to them, married his second wife, Aisha, when she was a child.

But at least Yemeni women can drive. It surely hasn’t ended their litany of problems, but it symbolizes freedom — and nowhere does such symbolism resonate more than in Saudi Arabia, where child marriage is also practiced and women are perpetually minors regardless of their age or education. Saudi women far outnumber their male counterparts on university campuses but are reduced to watching men far less qualified control every aspect of their lives.

Yes, Saudi Arabia, the country where a gang-rape survivor was sentenced to jail for agreeing to get into a car with an unrelated male and needed a royal pardon; Saudi Arabia, where a woman who broke the ban on driving was sentenced to 10 lashes and again needed a royal pardon; Saudi Arabia, where women still can’t vote or run in elections, yet it’s considered “progress” that a royal decree promised to enfranchise them for almost completely symbolic local elections in — wait for it — 2015. So bad is it for women in Saudi Arabia that those tiny paternalistic pats on their backs are greeted with delight as the monarch behind them, King Abdullah, is hailed as a “reformer”  — even by those who ought to know better, such as Newsweek, which in 2010 named the king one of the top 11 most respected world leaders. You want to know how bad it is? The “reformer’s” answer to the revolutions popping up across the region was to numb his people with still more government handouts — especially for the Salafi zealots from whom the Saudi royal family inhales legitimacy. King Abdullah is 87. Just wait until you see the next in line, Prince Nayef, a man straight out of the Middle Ages. His misogyny and zealotry make King Abdullah look like Susan B. Anthony.

SO WHY DO THEY HATE US? Sex, or more precisely hymens, explains much.

“Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said recently. “But they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They want to control women.” (And yet Clinton represents an administration that openly supports many of those misogynistic despots.) Attempts to control by such regimes often stem from the suspicion that without it, a woman is just a few degrees short of sexual insatiability. Observe Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the popular cleric and longtime conservative TV host on Al Jazeera who developed a stunning penchant for the Arab Spring revolutions — once they were under way, that is — undoubtedly understanding that they would eliminate the tyrants who long tormented and oppressed both him and the Muslim Brotherhood movement from which he springs.

I could find you a host of crackpots sounding off on Woman the Insatiable Temptress, but I’m staying mainstream with Qaradawi, who commands a huge audience on and off the satellite channels. Although he says female genital mutilation (which he calls “circumcision,” a common euphemism that tries to put the practice on a par with male circumcision) is not “obligatory,” you will also find this priceless observation in one of his books: “I personally support this under the current circumstances in the modern world. Anyone who thinks that circumcision is the best way to protect his daughters should do it,” he wrote, adding, “The moderate opinion is in favor of practicing circumcision to reduce temptation.” So even among “moderates,” girls’ genitals are cut to ensure their desire is nipped in the bud — pun fully intended. Qaradawi has since issued a fatwa against female genital mutilation, but it comes as no surprise that when Egypt banned the practice in 2008, some Muslim Brotherhood legislators opposed the law. And some still do — including a prominent female parliamentarian, Azza al-Garf.

Yet it’s the men who can’t control themselves on the streets, where from Morocco to Yemen, sexual harassment is endemic and it’s for the men’s sake that so many women are encouraged to cover up. Cairo has a women-only subway car to protect us from wandering hands and worse; countless Saudi malls are for families only, barring single men from entry unless they produce a requisite female to accompany them.

We often hear how the Middle East’s failing economies have left many men unable to marry, and some even use that to explain rising levels of sexual harassment on the streets. In a 2008 survey by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, more than 80 percent of Egyptian women said they’d experienced sexual harassment and more than 60 percent of men admitted to harassing women. Yet we never hear how a later marriage age affects women. Do women have sex drives or not? Apparently, the Arab jury is still out on the basics of human biology.

Enter that call to prayer and the sublimation through religion that Rifaat so brilliantly introduces in her story. Just as regime-appointed clerics lull the poor across the region with promises of justice — and nubile virgins — in the next world rather than a reckoning with the corruption and nepotism of the dictator in this life, so women are silenced by a deadly combination of men who hate them while also claiming to have God firmly on their side.

I turn again to Saudi Arabia, and not just because when I encountered the country at age 15 I was traumatized into feminism — there’s no other way to describe it — but because the kingdom is unabashed in its worship of a misogynistic God and never suffers any consequences for it, thanks to its double-whammy advantage of having oil and being home to Islam’s two holiest places, Mecca and Medina.

Then — the 1980s and 1990s — as now, clerics on Saudi TV were obsessed with women and their orifices, especially what came out of them. I’ll never forget hearing that if a baby boy urinated on you, you could go ahead and pray in the same clothes, yet if a baby girl peed on you, you had to change. What on Earth in the girl’s urine made you impure? I wondered.

Hatred of women.

How much does Saudi Arabia hate women? So much so that 15 girls died in a school fire in Mecca in 2002, after “morality police” barred them from fleeing the burning building — and kept firefighters from rescuing them — because the girls were not wearing headscarves and cloaks required in public. And nothing happened. No one was put on trial. Parents were silenced. The only concession to the horror was that girls’ education was quietly taken away by then-Crown Prince Abdullah from the Salafi zealots, who have nonetheless managed to retain their vise-like grip on the kingdom’s education system writ large.

This, however, is no mere Saudi phenomenon, no hateful curiosity in the rich, isolated desert. The Islamist hatred of women burns brightly across the region — now more than ever.

In Kuwait, where for years Islamists fought women’s enfranchisement, they hounded the four women who finally made it into parliament, demanding that the two who didn’t cover their hair wear hijabs. When the Kuwaiti parliament was dissolved this past December, an Islamist parliamentarian demanded the new house — devoid of a single female legislator — discuss his proposed “decent attire” law.

In Tunisia, long considered the closest thing to a beacon of tolerance in the region, women took a deep breath last fall after the Islamist Ennahda party won the largest share of votes in the country’s Constituent Assembly. Party leaders vowed to respect Tunisia’s 1956 Personal Status Code, which declared “the principle of equality between men and women” as citizens and banned polygamy. But female university professors and students have complained since then of assaults and intimidation by Islamists for not wearing hijabs, while many women’s rights activists wonder how talk of Islamic law will affect the actual law they will live under in post-revolution Tunisia.

In Libya, the first thing the head of the interim government, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, promised to do was to lift the late Libyan tyrant’s restrictions on polygamy. Lest you think of Muammar al-Qaddafi as a feminist of any kind, remember that under his rule girls and women who survived sexual assaults or were suspected of “moral crimes” were dumped into “social rehabilitation centers,” effective prisons from which they could not leave unless a man agreed to marry them or their families took them back.

Then there’s Egypt, where less than a month after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, the military junta that replaced him, ostensibly to “protect the revolution,” inadvertently reminded us of the two revolutions we women need. After it cleared Tahrir Square of protesters, the military detained dozens of male and female activists. Tyrants oppress, beat, and torture all. We know. But these officers reserved “virginity tests” for female activists: rape disguised as a medical doctor inserting his fingers into their vaginal opening in search of hymens. (The doctor was sued and eventually acquitted in March.)

What hope can there be for women in the new Egyptian parliament, dominated as it is by men stuck in the seventh century? A quarter of those parliamentary seats are now held by Salafis, who believe that mimicking the original ways of the Prophet Mohammed is an appropriate prescription for modern life. Last fall, when fielding female candidates, Egypt’s Salafi Nour Party ran a flower in place of each woman’s face. Women are not to be seen or heard — even their voices are a temptation — so there they are in the Egyptian parliament, covered from head to toe in black and never uttering a word.

And we’re in the middle of a revolution in Egypt! It’s a revolution in which women have died, been beaten, shot at, and sexually assaulted fighting alongside men to rid our country of that uppercase Patriarch — Mubarak — yet so many lowercase patriarchs still oppress us. The Muslim Brotherhood, with almost half the total seats in our new revolutionary parliament, does not believe women (or Christians for that matter) can be president. The woman who heads the “women’s committee” of the Brotherhood’s political party said recently that women should not march or protest because it’s more “dignified” to let their husbands and brothers demonstrate for them.

The hatred of women goes deep in Egyptian society. Those of us who have marched and protested have had to navigate a minefield of sexual assaults by both the regime and its lackeys, and, sadly, at times by our fellow revolutionaries. On the November day I was sexually assaulted on Mohamed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir Square, by at least four Egyptian riot police, I was first groped by a man in the square itself. While we are eager to expose assaults by the regime, when we’re violated by our fellow civilians we immediately assume they’re agents of the regime or thugs because we don’t want to taint the revolution.


First we stop pretending. Call out the hate for what it is. Resist cultural relativism and know that even in countries undergoing revolutions and uprisings, women will remain the cheapest bargaining chips. You — the outside world — will be told that it’s our “culture” and “religion” to do X, Y, or Z to women. Understand that whoever deemed it as such was never a woman. The Arab uprisings may have been sparked by an Arab man — Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in desperation — but they will be finished by Arab women.

Amina Filali — the 16-year-old Moroccan girl who drank poison after she was forced to marry, and beaten by, her rapist — is our Bouazizi. Salwa el-Husseini, the first Egyptian woman to speak out against the “virginity tests“; Samira Ibrahim, the first one to sue; and Rasha Abdel Rahman, who testified alongside her — they are our Bouazizis. We must not wait for them to die to become so. Manal al-Sharif, who spent nine days in jail for breaking her country’s ban on women driving, is Saudi Arabia’s Bouazizi. She is a one-woman revolutionary force who pushes against an ocean of misogyny.

Our political revolutions will not succeed unless they are accompanied by revolutions of thought — social, sexual, and cultural revolutions that topple the Mubaraks in our minds as well as our bedrooms.

“Do you know why they subjected us to virginity tests?” Ibrahim asked me soon after we’d spent hours marching together to mark International Women’s Day in Cairo on March 8. “They want to silence us; they want to chase women back home. But we’re not going anywhere.”

We are more than our headscarves and our hymens. Listen to those of us fighting. Amplify the voices of the region and poke the hatred in its eye. There was a time when being an Islamist was the most vulnerable political position in Egypt and Tunisia. Understand that now it very well might be Woman. As it always has been. 

Fareed Zakaria: Status of Women. Video + Transcript


TRANSCRIPT: The Role of Women in the World; Interview With Robot Comedian

Aired September 4, 2011 – 10:00   ET

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST: This is GPS, THE GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of our viewers in the United States and around the world. I’m Fareed Zakaria.

We have a terrific show for you today, filled with some of the most interesting thinkers in their fields. First up, a new way to think about the role of women in the world with a terrific, important panel.

Then a first for GPS, I will have a robot as a guest. You will want to meet my new friend, Data.

Next, a man who made me think differently about innovation, the world renowned architect, Frank Gehry. He designs buildings like nothing you’ve ever seen before. How does he innovate?

Then, how do you capture the essence of a world leader? I’ll talk to the acclaimed and innovative photographer Platon.

And finally, think you can’t sell chopsticks to China? Think again.

But first, here’s my take. These are the dog days of summer, and in this hot, sweltering weather, most Americans are busy working. I know, I know, not you folks in the Hamptons, but the others.

Meanwhile, most Europeans are busy vacationing. Thus it has ever been, only it’s getting worse. Nowadays the average European gets about three times as many days of paid vacation as his counterpart in America.

Italy has the most vacation days, with the average worker there getting 42 paid days off according to the World Tourism Organization. Next was France, with 37 days; Germany with 35; Brazil at 34; the U.K. at 28; Canada, 26; Korea and Japan both with 25. The United States was near the bottom of the list, with the average worker getting 13 paid days off.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Well, the conventional answer is that this attitude towards work makes the American economy the envy of the world. America is a hectic turbo-charged system that builds, destroys, rebuilds all at warp speed. It’s what created the information revolution, Silicone Valley, hedge funds, biotechnology, nanotechnology – whatever that is – and so on, and there’s no time for lolling at the beach. In fact, it’s not clear at all that working for a few extra weeks in the summer is what makes a nation’s economy hum. Take a look at these numbers from Ipsos, a consulting firm, on the percentage of citizens that actually use all of their vacation days.

The French, predictably, lead the pack. Eighty-nine percent take all of their days; but 75 percent of the Germans – and their economy is strong – take their allotted days; 70 percent of Indonesians, in a country enjoying a booming economy, use all of their days; but only 57 percent of Americans take advantage of their days. And we have fewer paid vacation days than almost any other major country. Even with those just 13 days off, only 57 percent of Americans take them all. To remind you again, 89 percent of the French use all of their days off.

If you’re worried that working less will mean America lags behind, don’t worry. America’s growth historically has been fueled mostly by investment, education, productivity, innovation and immigration. The one thing that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with America’s growth rate is a brutal work schedule.

After all, we were working hard during the very slow years of the 1970s, we’re working hard now. In fact, some experts believe that working harder might actually depress productivity numbers because the additional hours worked rarely generate strong output. We are not as productive at 8:00 P.M. as we are at 9:00 A.M.

So, take a break. Go to the beach. Read a book. Watch TV. Wait a minute, you’re already watching TV. So, well done.

Let’s get started.


ZAKARIA: I want to spend a little time today talking about an absolutely crucial issue, the role of women in the world. One of the most important indicators, for example, of how the revolutions in the Middle East will go is how well they will treat women. Throughout the Arab world and in Africa, women remain second class citizens, beholden for life to a male relative.

Is this changing? How fast? What else is happening with women in the world?

We brought together a terrific panel to talk about this issue. Let’s turn to “New York Times” columnist Nicholas Kristof, who with his wife, the journalist Sheryl Wudunn, together wrote “Half The Sky.”

One of the great stories from that book is that of Zainab Salbi, who also joins us. She is the founder of Women for Women International.

Nick, how much of the treatment of women is culture, how much of it is religion, and how much of it is Islam in particular?

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: There’s no question that organized religions in general tended to take a social hierarchy that typically had men very much in top and sanctified it, kind of placed the stamp of God on top of it. And this is true of a number of religions.

On the other hand, it is clear empirically, if you look around the world, that the places where women are most likely to run into terrible problems are predominantly Muslim countries. My own take is that has much less to do with the Koran and with Islam, as such, and rather more to do with culture and that the insecurity, the violence, the social conflict has less to do with the Koran and rather more to do with a cycle of not educating girls, of marginalizing women, which leads to very high birth rates, which leads to a very high demographic cohort of young people aged 15 to 24, which is the most destabilizing thing a country can have.

And the way out of that is to do what a number of Muslim countries have done – Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia – which is to educate girls. And, you know, the reason that Bangladesh is so different from Pakistan today, even though they started as one country, in part is that Bangladesh has done a superb job educating girls and now has more girls in high school than boys.

ZAKARIA: And both countries are 95 – 99 percent Muslim.

KRISTOF: And both are – both are Muslim countries. I mean it’s – and they read the same Koran. But Pakistan is a real mess, and Bangladesh is not.

ZAKARIA: What about China? Because, I mean, to my – to me, when you hear about the treatment of women, you know, if you go back 100 years in China, women’s feet were bound, which, you know, people have to understand that that basically meant you were breaking the feet of every woman in –

SHERYL WUDUNN, CO-AUTHOR, “HALF THE SKY”: Absolutely. A hundred years ago, China was probably the worst place on earth to be born female. My grandmother’s feet were bound. But what gives me extreme amount of hope is that in one generation that was eradicated. This is a centuries-old practice.

And yet, partly because they had people inside China and people outside China that were foreign missionaries also, who thought this was a horrendous practice. They got together and they actually formed a strategy. They really were able to basically launch a counterattack against this practice, and in one generation eradicate it in China.

And then, what Mao did was that he said – and this is really critical. He said that education for everybody, including girls. So that meant that girls could go to school with the boys, and it was just mandatory education for everybody in the country.

But then, what was even more important – and this is a critical fact, especially for places like Saudi Arabia and Japan – the girls were not only educated, they were able to work in the formal labor force. The society accepted them in the formal labor force, and that was critical. They could get jobs, they could work in factories. And that was the beginning of China’s economic revolution. Light industry, which employed women, making the clothes – the clothes we wear, the shoes we wear, the – the bags that we – we carry, they were made by women, and that jumpstarted China’s economic revolution.

KRISTOF: I think China is a good antidote to the way we tend to psych ourselves out about the Muslim world. And, yes, indeed in a number of harder line Muslim countries, you know, because of culture, women don’t have opportunities. But culture is not immutable. Culture can change, and China is the best evidence of that.

And the other thing is that I think we tend to psych ourselves out and say, you know, should – isn’t it a little bit imperialist for us to be telling other countries how to treat women? You know, isn’t that a value that we should leave it to them to decide?

And I think, again, you know, Sheryl just feel – feel so fortunate that there were outsiders who were willing to push against the practice of foot binding. And I think there are some practices that you just have to say are not acceptable.

ZAKARIA: Well, in India, you know, the – there used to be a practice, a Hindu practice, that the woman was tossed on the – on the funeral pyre, on the burning funeral pyre of the man, in a – into – as a kind of sacrifice. And the British basically just outlawed it, a governor general called William Bentinck, said this is abhorrent and I don’t care what people think, and it caused riots and all that.

But talk about Islam, because this is something – what, you know, we come back to, writers like Ayaan Hirsi Ali say it’s Islam, and, you know, until you change the religion really, you can’t change anything.

ZAINAB SALBI, FOUNDER & CEO, WOMEN FOR WOMEN INTERNATIONAL: No, I don’t believe that, because Christianity at one point had that, Judaism had that. Every religion has this patriarchy and horrible practice towards women. It changed. It evolved.

I think –

ZAKARIA: But it is true that right now the Muslim world –

SALBI: It’s our Dark Ages.


SALBI: Yes. I think the Muslim world is – is living in the Dark Ages, and if you look at it historically, as what happened in Europe and other religion, then it makes historical sense. And it’s – I do believe we can evolve and we can – the religion can – and we can do that in a few things.

A) I think revival of historical characters in Islam, such as Khadija. Muhammad’s wife was 20 years older than him. She was a very successful business woman. She hired him as her employee. She chose to marry him, and she was the first one who – who helped him believe in God’s message.

The revival of characters like Khadija – if she was alive today, she would probably – to quote President Clinton when he went to Saudi Arabia, she probably would be the biggest business woman, actually, in today’s history. And everyone accepts her personality and character. We need to revive her in a much more vibrant way.

So I do believe in the possibility of a cultural and a religious evolution, as all religions went through this historical period.


ZAKARIA: We’ll be back in a moment with more from the panel, including why international aid groups now realize it is much smarter to give money to women than men. Why? When we come back.


KRISTOF: Between 50 and 110 million females are missing around the globe. This is an astonishing figure. It means that in any one decade more girls are discriminated against to death around the world than all the people who died in all the genocides of the 20th century, which is a, you know, it’s a staggering scope.




ZAKARIA: It is a truism in the world of international development that if you give an aid dollar to a man, he is likely to spend it at the bar or on guns. If you give that same aid dollar to a woman, she will buy necessities, food or diapers, or invest it in the family or a moneymaking venture.

And we are back with Nick Kristof, Sheryl Wudunn and Zainab Salbi, talking about women, culture, Islam – all kinds of things.

Nick, when you look at this – this statistic, why do you think that that’s true?

KRISTOF: You know, that’s the part that we really don’t know, and there are various theories. Some people think that it’s biological, nurturing instinct. Other people think that’s nonsense, that it’s essentially the way we’re socialized.

But what is clear is that across continents, across religions, across cultural traditions, that women are more likely to take income that they have, and also if they have titled-over assets, if they have financial assets, more likely to convert those to the benefit of their children and more likely to invest in small businesses.

ZAKARIA: Do you – have you seen this in action? I mean, are there stories of – when you went around, do you feel as though there are places where you actually could see this vividly? WUDUNN: Well, there are many different ways that this comes to – that this surfaces. For instance, in microfinance, which is a very typical way that – that many people have gotten involved in this issue. If you give a loan to a woman she really seems to tend to take it very far. When you give a loan to a man, he can take it somewhere, but often the repayment rates are much lower.

So big micro financing institutions like Grameen and – and BRAC, which basically started these things in Bangladesh, they didn’t want to be discriminatory, so they wanted to give to men and to women. But they found that women were just repaying at much higher rates than men. They were losing money by giving micro loans to men. So they’ve now switched to 97 percent of lending to women.

ZAKARIA: Zainab, what – what do you think about this? What’s your response – I mean, do you see this on the ground, that the women put the money to work productively?

SALBI: Very much so. I mean, statistically, women, re-spend 97 percent of their income or whatever their investment are, on their families, compared to men, who spend – re-spend 40 percent on their families.

But this reminds me of a story. I was in Afghanistan a few months ago, and I met a woman who was promised to be married at six – at the age of six, was married at the age of 15, was a widow and single mother at the age of 16. And she talks about how, you know, her life led and what she’s done with it.

So she – during the Taliban she was very poor. The Taliban beat her up for working in the streets with the very shoes – with the only shoes she owned, and they broke her shoes, and she was very bitter and – and sad about that.

And when I met her right now, she is working. She’s earning $450 a month, which is very significant in Afghanistan. She’s sending her daughter to school and determined that her daughter will not get married until she finish college. And she’s going back to her own school. She’s finishing her own education.

There’s a correlation – if you want to change practices from child marriages to women education and women working and the economy, there’s a correlation between that and investing in their mothers. And that mother, in her case, knows that I will not repeat to my daughter what I’ve gone through. And she is changing that culture practices in Afghanistan, or the behavior practice in Afghanistan.

So there’s no better investment, in talking about Afghans as an example, than investments in women who gets it. My money goes to my daughter who will go to college, who will get a better life.

ZAKARIA: What – what is the most successful place in which you’ve operated? You’re – you deal with women in distress in – in so many places. What’s your big success story?

SALBI: You know, all of them are successful. I mean, we work from Congo to Rwanda to Sudan to Afghanistan and Iraq.

ZAKARIA: And you started in Bosnia.

SALBI: And we started in Bosnia.

A couple of things is. One is we’re noticing that the first investment a woman make in terms of who they hire in their business is actually their husbands or their sons. The first decision they make. All of them – in Africa tend to – women tend to actually run with that $1 investment and do so much of it, and that seems to be the most vibrant place in terms of change.

I recently met a woman in Congo, in the midst – I mean, right now, as we speak right now, hundreds of thousands of women are getting raped in Congo. And this woman – it’s the same story usually. It’s a pattern of a story. She’s displaced, she doesn’t have anything, poverty. Her husband doesn’t know how to deal with the situation.

She went through Women for Women International’s program. We taught her – part of what we do is teach vocational and business skills for women, very poor women, to help them stand on their feet and earn their own income.

She learned soap making. He was cynical about her soap. She gave it to – she gave him samples to show it to his friends, and – and he started believing in her soap. And instead of her running a separate business of soap making, she actually made him a partner, but a different kind of partner, in which he goes and sell, gives her the money back, she is the one managing the money. And you see change –

Again, I’m interested in the changing of social patterns. She changed the relationship from she gives him all the money and he spend it on his, as you mentioned earlier, on his alcohol and cigarettes and prostitution or weapons. And now she reversed it. Now he goes and works and brings her the money and they manage it together about their sending their kids to school, better housing and better life’s conditions for both of them.

And so the – I would say Africa in general actually, where the investment is – goes triple the way than other countries.

ZAKARIA: You know, there’s – there’s a lot of good news in – in this book, but there’s also a lot of bad news in the sense that – paint the picture of just how bad it is for women in many parts of the world.

KRISTOF: Maybe the best gauge of the discrimination against women and girls is that how much of it is lethal. We don’t tend to think of discrimination, gender discrimination as being lethal. In much of the world, it is, and you can measure that by looking at the population ratios.

In India, for example, for the first year of life male and female mortality rates are fairly similar, because they’re depending upon the breast, and the breast doesn’t have a son preference. In age one to age five, a girl is 50 percent more likely to die than a boy, and that’s because they’re depending upon their parents, who do have a son preference, who don’t give that girl the same access to food and health care. And the upshot of – of this is differential levels of mortality that mean that between 50 and 110 million females are missing around globe.

This is an astonishing figure. It means that in any one decade more girls are discriminated against to death around the world than all the people who died in all the genocides of the 20th century, which is a, you know, it’s a staggering scope.

ZAKARIA: Final thought, what can we – what can people do?

WUDUNN: Oh, there are many ways. First of all, people have to care. They have to say this is unacceptable, as Zainab was saying. And once each individual can actually say that and take a step, then the politicians will start beginning to notice that this is something that – it’s an issue that the voters care about.

It really does start with individuals and a mass of individuals to join a movement to create change. It isn’t just something that the government does from the top down. The governments have to play the role as well, but you also need bottom up. You need grassroots, bottom-up movement that really starts to change perception and attitudes around the world.

ZAKARIA: Thank you very much. We will be right back.



“DATA”, ROBOT SKETCH COMEDIAN: I am just a mediocre robotic comedian. Pleased to meet you, Fareed. Are you ready for some action?




ZAKARIA: And now for our “What in the World?” segment, a very special one. You’ve probably heard of Watson, the computer that went head-to-head with humans on “Jeopardy.” You know that robots are increasingly used in manufacturing around the country, around the world. But have you ever heard of a robot sketch comedian?

Well, meet Data. Also joining us is Data’s handler, Heather Knight, a doctoral researcher in robotics at Carnegie-Mellon, who studies the intersection of entertainment and robotics.

So Data, take it away.

DATA: Hello, everybody. Can you hear me? All right. The volume is good. OK. Thanks. Excited to be here. Let’s get started. Gosh, I love saying that. It makes me feel like some kind of superhero, but actually, I am just a mediocre robotic comedian. Great to meet you, Fareed. Are you ready for some action?


DATA: Show me a postcard.

ZAKARIA: So what Data wants here is a postcard of one of three neighborhoods in New York about which he has some comedy sketches prepared. And I think, of the three neighborhoods – Times Square, West Village and Brooklyn – I’m going to choose Times Square and show him the card.

DATA: Good choice. On my way over here, I passed through Times Square. Have you seen the Naked Cowboy? He plays the guitar in his underwear and a cowboy hat. You know, just shaking his booty.

Tourists love that guy.

ROBERT JOHN BURCK, THE NAKED COWBOY: All right, don’t touch the squishy parts.

DATA: In fact, I am such a devout tourist that I had two video cameras installed on my face.

Well, that’s all I got. Did I do OK? Be honest.

ZAKARIA: No, not really.

DATA: But I was really trying.


ZAKARIA: Oh, come on. It’s not so bad.

KNIGHT: Try again.

DATA: Am I doing a good job?


DATA: They love me. They really, really love me. Now I can go home happy.

ZAKARIA: OK. So Heather, that was pretty amusing, but mostly just fascinating. Now, we should tell the audience that you wrote the –

DATA: Catch you later.

ZAKARIA: — you wrote the routine for Data, but his reactions are sort of natural. He senses – and if there were an audience there, he would actually – he’s trained – the sensors work so that he can sense the audience’s reaction. KNIGHT: Right. Yes.

ZAKARIA: Explain how that works.

KNIGHT: So, like robots can learn through lots of Data and so what’s – in some of my work I’ve been using each member of the audience as kind of a data point for machine learning. So in the reactions of a large group of people to a robot performer on stage, a robot could potentially learn – hopefully learn – to be more charismatic and more effective communicator and also – yes. And also be able to shape a performance for an individual group of people.

So there can be visual feedback, which is kind of conscious or we could make an iPhone app for you’re all giving feedback along the way, like I love that joke. You could rate things more, like Netflix style or –

ZAKARIA: And – and the robot would, in effect, incorporate that information and tell more of the jokes that –


ZAKARIA: — that you like and fewer of the ones – sort of like Pandora, with the thumbs up or thumbs down.

KNIGHT: Absolutely. Or you can even try telling jokes with a different set of gestures and see that joke is 10 times as funny for an audience.

ZAKARIA: Now, all of this is – sort of can be filed under artificial intelligence, and earlier this year, Watson, the IBM super computer, beat its human competitors in “Jeopardy.”

KNIGHT: I know.

ZAKARIA: So how sophisticated is – are we – are we getting here?

KNIGHT: Well, I think that those two projects are actually great tandem projects. Watson is great at searching databases, and – and one of the things that I’m trying to do with the audience is generate some of those databases and also specifically generate them around social expression. So a machine can know how to actually communicate effectively with us, and so we don’t have to adapt to using a screen or using a keyboard. They can learn how to work the way that we do.

ZAKARIA: Now, there are people, of course, who worry about something called the singularity. That is, the moment where robots will actually become smarter than we – than humans, and will be able to learn and keep learning. Is that really going to happen?

KNIGHT: Do all parents feel that way about their children? I just – I just wonder sometimes. I – I do feel like the way that we raise technology and the – and the applications we use them for can – and the storytelling we think about in the creation of new technology will help us shape the direction that it’s used. And we’re not on the cusp of singularity at this very moment, but I do think that when – and you put people and robots together in teams, we can achieve much more than either of us can do alone. We’re still very unique.

ZAKARIA: Heather Knight, Data, thank you very much.

KNIGHT: Thanks for having us.

ZAKARIA: And we’ll be right back.



CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Time for a check of today’s top stories.

Tropical Storm Lee has triggered tornado warnings along the Gulf Coast and is pounding Southern Louisiana with heavy rains and high winds. The slow-moving storm is expected to drop as much as 20 inches of rain by tomorrow night.

As officials keep an eye on Tropical Storm Lee, President Obama travels to Patterson, New Jersey, today to survey the damage from Hurricane Irene. The state’s Governor Chris Christie will join the president on the tour of Patterson’s flooded areas.

A typhoon in Western Japan has left at least 18 people dead and dozens more injured, according to Japanese News Sources. The storm which struck yesterday also caused massive mudslides. At least 50 people are missing.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn is back in France. The former International Monetary Fund chief has been under house arrest in New York after being accused of sexually assaulting a hotel maid. But prosecutors dropped those charges because of questions about his accuser’s credibility.

Strauss-Kahn was widely expected to challenge French President Nicolas Sarkozy in the country’s presidential elections next year, but polls show most French voters now don’t want him to run.

And those are your top stories. Now back to FAREED ZAKARIA GPS.


ZAKARIA: Think for a second about the most innovative thing you’ve seen. I bet whatever comes to mind was probably a technological innovation, a gee-whiz gadget or a joke-cracking robot, something like that.

But the fact is, innovation can and does come in many different areas, from business practices to the arts, literature, music, painting, design, architecture. The finest artists are often the most innovative. Think of Jackson Pollock’s paintings, Charlie Parker’s “Bebop.”

One of the finest architects in the world fits that model. He’s Frank Gehry, perhaps best known for his innovative, undulating waves at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao amongst many others. He joins me now.

Frank, thank you for joining.


ZAKARIA: How do you come up with an idea? Because so much of what you have done was not conventional, was not the way buildings were build. It was not the way people conceived of things. So where did stuff come to you from?

GEHRY: Well, I’m very thorough, which people probably don’t realize. And so I do a lot of research. I spend a lot of time with the clients, with the site, with the program and invent as I go along ideas that respond to those.

And in that process with – with the client involved and a clear understanding of budget and, you know, engineering and what can go on, we vet some directions together and they’re complicit, which I love because in the end when it looks strange, it want them – they’ve been part of it.

ZAKARIA: But the strangeness comes from where?

GEHRY: Well, I don’t know these whys, but there’s – to me it’s not strange. It looks like everything else is strange. And so stuff starts to unfold and little models and ideas and sketches. A lot – there are about 50 to 100 models made in that process.

ZAKARIA: And it’s very deliberative.

GEHRY: Yes. And then when I understand it completely, when I think I know, then I kind of put it away and then I call that the candy store. I call that when I know the problem, everything about it that I can imagine. And then I start to make the real design and the ideas.

And so the language comes from – of the curves comes from history. It’s not just invented out of whole cloth. If you look (INAUDIBLE) Marbles in the Elgin (ph) Marbles in Britain, they express motion in the marble. You see the soldiers pushing their – their shields, and it’s palpable. You feel it.

If you look at the Indian Sheba figures moving and – and I’ve studied those and there’s movement with inert materials. So it’s from history, it’s possible.

ZAKARIA: So this – the famous story that you took a piece of paper and crumpled it and looked at it and that was the Disney Hall in L.A.

GEHRY: But that’s a famous story because the Simpsons had me do that.


MARGE SIMPSON, “THE SIMPSON’S”: We asked Frank Gehry to build us a concert hall.


GEHRY: And that’s the (INAUDIBLE). Everybody thinks I’m going to crumple a paper. Clients come to me and say crumple a piece of paper, we’ll give you $100 and then we’ll build it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Frank Gehry, you’re a genius.


ZAKARIA: But in fact, it was a long, long –

GEHRY: No, no, no, no. That was just a fun – fun thing. But it has – it has haunted me. People do – who’ve seen “The Simpson’s” believe it.

ZAKARIA: When you design a building, is your principal concern to make something dazzling beautiful? Or is your principal concern to have it so that it functions exactly the way that it’s meant to be, an apartment building with all the apartments?

GEHRY: Yes, to function is first and to get it build, it has to be on budget. And so you have to deal with technology and the culture of construction. And that’s complicated, and I think it’s very important. And then to bring something to it other than just – and it doesn’t cost extra. That’s the interesting thing. We’ve proven that over and over again.

So a building should engender some kind of an emotional response. If you go to Disney Hall, the key issue was the relationship between performer and audience. I worked my butt off to make that special. I think it helps the – psychologically, it’s psycho acoustic, we call it. If the orchestra feels the audience, you’ve experience this in one of your talks (ph) you speak better. You feel it. And that happens in a performance and I think it happens in everything.

ZAKARIA: What about this new building in New York? It’s a big apartment building. What did you see as the crucial thing there to get right?

GEHRY: The pro former for the apartments was a T-shaped building. It’s a given in New York, it’s a New York model. We made it a little bit higher so that – and added the stair steps like the historic buildings in New York. We didn’t have to do that. We could have been straight up.

So that was the declaration, if you will. It was my trying to fit a building into New York. And then I added the – the folds. Folds are like when your mother holds you in your arms, it’s very basic I think. It’s primitive that people respond to folds. And I think that’s why great artists in history focus so much on it.

And so I wanted to have that warmth, that feeling in the city that this building was accessible and that it – by adding the folds it was somehow timeless. It wasn’t exactly a modernist slab. It had some kind of a thing to it.

ZAKARIA: Do you think that when you look at American architecture, creativity right now, does it feel like, you know, we’re still at the top of the world? Does it feel like 1950s, abstract expressionism taking the world by storm? Where – where is America in today’s kind of landscape?

GEHRY: Well, I think we’ve just been through – in architecture we’ve just been through a very expressionist period where there’s a lot of money, people are doing things, and – and it’s coming to a screeching halt by – by the culture around architecture. There’s kind of a backlash and they’re saying focus on sustainability, focus on – on the social issues and the architecture should be – come secondary. And it seems like so thoughtless to eliminate the baby with the bath water kind of – use those other things. It becomes a manter for less talented people to get their way probably.

ZAKARIA: Frank Gehry, thank you. We will be right back.



PLATON, PHOTOGRAPHER: I thought in the last 15 seconds, I owe it to myself to do the picture I really believe in. So I said to him, Mr. President, will you show me the love?




ZAKARIA: Most people with one-word names are rock stars – Bono, Madonna, Cher. My next guest has a one-word name – Platon. He’s not a rock star in the traditional sense, but he is a star photographer. And his specialty is capturing the essence of world leaders in a single frame. Welcome.

PLATON: It’s good to be here, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: You worked before with a lot of celebrities, George Clooney, Al Pacino, Yoko Ono. So who are more difficult to deal with? Mega stars or world leaders?

PLATON: There’s actually now formula with people. And the moment you – you start to fake it and apply a formula, it’s Endsville. Every person is totally different and you have to go in in a very humble, raw, open state of mind. I mean, what I do is maybe three percent photography. The rest is complete psychology and people skills.

ZAKARIA: So tell me about a few of these. There’s this great shot of Putin, a difficult man to photograph only in the sense he rarely agrees to be photographed.

PLATON: Yes. To my knowledge, it’s the only formal portrait he’s ever done outside the Kremlin. I was flown to Moscow. I photographed him in his private dasher. And I was let into his room where they essentially dissolved the Soviet Union, so it’s very historic.

And I said to him, I’m a massive Beatles fan, are you? And the first thing he did was he took off his translating earpiece, ushered all his advisors out of the room. And it was me, him and perhaps 15 security guards. So it was very, very cozy and he said let’s talk.

So he spoke perfect English. And I said, well, I want to know if you like The Beatles. So he said I do like The Beatles. So I said what’s your favorite Beatles song? He said “Yesterday.” So I said I can’t believe I’m talking to you about The Beatles.

Now, the interesting thing is that connection allowed me then to get close and – and he allowed me in. And I think probably when I took the picture I was about an inch and a half away from his nose.

ZAKARIA: And probably the most famous shot of yours, I have to say, is probably the Bill Clinton shot, which was during the Lewinsky scandal. It is called the crotch shot, right?

PLATON: Yes, it was.

ZAKARIA: Did you think when you did it, you know what? This is going to come out with a rather emphasized crotch?

PLATON: I had no idea. It was my first presidential portrait, and it should probably have been my last. The magazine actually said to me, whatever you do, don’t use that lens. You’ve got eight minutes with him.

So, you know, I spent seven and a half minutes doing a very sort of elegant head shot of Clinton. And then, I thought in the last 15 seconds, I owe it to myself to do the picture I really believe in. So I said to him, Mr. President, will you show me the love? And at that point I think some of his advisors winced. But he knew what I wanted. He said, I know what he means. And he put his hands on his knees and he gave me that Clinton charisma.

ZAKARIA: You have two photographs of – one of Obama and one of Bush, and they couldn’t be more different.


ZAKARIA: And in a way, you know, at least, they conform to the conventional view of Obama is cold, as cerebral, very elegant. Bush as warm, folksy. Is that how they came across to you? PLATON: No, actually. And it’s very interesting because in this project, Obama was photographed on the rise to power. It was during his presidential election campaign. And Bush was photographed after he left office. So bush was rather – had a reflective view on the whole sitting.

Obama is obviously very charismatic as we know as a speaker. I remember saying to him, though, as I was taking the picture that my mom really hopes you make to it the White House. And he leaned forward and said, tell your mamma I said hi. So it was – there are moments of this wonderful natural people skills that just overflow with Obama.

With Bush, it was – it was quite a challenging shoot, one of the hardest I’ve ever had. He walked in the room and I remember he said to me, you better be photographing a guy who is happy and not some kind of snarler.

ZAKARIA: B.B. Netanyahu, how did he strike you?

PLATON: Netanyahu has a very powerful confidence. He came over to me and he put his hand on one shoulder, on my shoulder and he took my hand with the other hand very firmly. He looked into my eyes and he said, Platon, make me look good.

ZAKARIA: Perhaps your most famous shot is the Gadhafi. I don’t know if it’s the most famous. It’s the most grand.

PLATON: Gadhafi chose arguably the worst moment to sit for me. Again, at the General Assembly in New York, I was just a few feet away from the podium where Obama was actually speaking. And it’s a very confined space.

And at the end of the corridor, I saw this giant crowd swell of about 200 people coming towards us. In the middle of the crowd swell was Gadhafi, and he was marching in slow motion with this defiant spirit. He was surrounded by female bodyguards dressed head to foot in green military clothing. It was a scene from a James Bond movie.

ZAKARIA: The Amazonian guard.

PLATON: Yes. So he walked right up to me and sat for me as if saying, I will sit for a portrait on American soil right under the nose of the American administration while Obama is actually making the speech. And that’s when we did it.

ZAKARIA: And his wild clothes with this – the –

PLATON: Yes, the regalia.

ZAKARIA: — the brooch of the Africa – of Africa and the robes.

PLATON: It’s – he wore this – this sort of pork pie hat that tamed his wild hair. He had these incredible chocolate robes. I mean, people say to me, is he – is he crazy? Is he mad? He may well be those things, but he also may well be the smartest person in the room. And I don’t think he’s to be underestimated.

ZAKARIA: What makes a photograph great? I mean, people sometimes wonder, they look at photographs and they think, well, you know, I could take photographs. Is it – is it the moment? Is it the lighting? Is it – you say it’s a lot of psychology.

PLATON: I think it’s all the things working together. Sometimes the stars are aligned to create a happening. You may laugh at my foolish optimism, but I – I do passionately believe in the human condition, and I believe in the – the dignity of the individual, and in many ways this is perhaps a feeble attempt to appeal to this international power community to come together to solve the world’s problems.

ZAKARIA: Platon, pleasure.

PLATON: Thank you so much.

ZAKARIA: And we will be back.




ZAKARIA: There’s been a lot of talk recently about the economic strength of the U.S. dollar. But our “GPS Question” this week concerns the physical strength of the dollar. The question is, how long does the average $20 bill last? How long is it in circulation? Is it, A) six months; B) two years; C) six years; or D) 10 years?

Stay tuned, we’ll tell you the correct answer.

Make sure you go to for 10 more challenging questions. And while you’re there, check out our website, The Global Public Square. You’ll find smart interviews and takes by some of our favorite experts many of who you’ve seen on the show. You’ll also find the show itself if you missed it. Don’t forget you should also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

This week’s “Book of the Week” is by our guest earlier, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. It’s called “Half The Sky.” It’s filled with uplifting stories of women defying the odds, breaking through oppression and repression, and it reminds you of just how tough it is for women in so many parts of the world.

Now, for “The Last Look,” they say you shouldn’t send coals to Newcastle or try to sell ice to Eskimos. But how about trying to sell chopsticks to the Chinese? Think it’s a bad business idea?

Jay Lee is here to prove you wrong. He has built a chopstick factory in America’s Georgia. He employs 100 people. But perhaps his best worker is this chopstick chopping machine. It runs 24 hours a day, six days a week and it makes two million chopsticks a day. And Lee sells them to the Chinese. You see, it turns out China is running out of wood, and Georgia’s soft poplar trees are apparently perfect. Lee, better keep chopping. China uses 45 billion chopsticks every year.

The correct answer to the “GPS Challenge Question” was B, the average $20 bill lasts only two years in circulation. The life span of a $1 bill is even shorter, 1.8 years. Maybe we ought to consider going the way of the Canadian Loonie and having a coin. Go to our website for more.

Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week. Stay tuned for “RELIABLE SOURCES.”

Bruised but defiant: Mona Eltahawy on her assault by Egyptian security forces

The prominent US-Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy

The price of protest: writer Mona Eltahawy with her arms in casts after they were broken by Egyptian security forces in Cairo. ‘Our dictators tailor wounds to suit their victims’ occupations,’ she says. Photograph: Dan Callister for the Guardian

The last thing I remember before the riot police surrounded me was punching a man who had groped me. Who the hell thinks of copping a feel as you’re taking shelter from bullets? Another man tried to protect him by standing between us, but I was enraged, and kept going back for more. A third man was trying to snatch my smartphone out of my other hand. He was the one who had pulled my friend Maged Butter and me into an abandoned shop – supposedly for safety’s sake – and he wouldn’t let go of my hand.

It was November. Maged and I had come from Tahrir Square to Mohamed Mahmoud Street, the frontline of clashes between protesters and the military, following a violent invasion of Tahrir by police and soldiers a few days earlier. Almost 40 people had died – including a distant relative – and 3,000 were wounded.

Maged tried to pull me away. “Enough smacking the groper, let the phone go.” It’s clear to us both now that those men we’d met among the protesters on Mohamed Mahmoud Street had entrapped us. They worked with the security services, who were a few metres away, just beyond no man’s land, and their job was to hold on to us until the riot police came.

And when they did come, I was the only one left in the deserted shop. I thought Maged had managed to escape, but he later told me he was nearby being beaten, able to see riot police beat me, too. “You were smart to defend your head,” he said. He needed stitches to his face, and still has contusions to his head and chest.

I suffered a broken left arm and right hand. The Egyptian security forces’ brutality is always ugly, often random and occasionally poetic. Initially, I assumed my experience was random, but a veteran human rights activist told me they knew exactly who I was and what they were doing to my writing arms when they sent riot police conscripts to that deserted shop. Bashar al-Assad’s henchmen stomped on the hands of famed Syrian cartoonist Ali Farzat. Our dictators tailor wounds to suit their victims’ occupations.

As the nightsticks whacked at my arms, legs and the top of my head (in the week that followed, I would discover new bruises every day), two things were at the front of my mind: the pain and my smartphone.

The viciousness of their attack took me aback. Yes, I confess, this feminist thought they wouldn’t beat a woman so hard. But I wasn’t just a woman. My body had become Tahrir Square, and it was time for revenge against the revolution that had broken and humiliated Hosni Mubarak’s police. And it continues. We’ve all seen that painfully iconic photograph of the woman who was beaten and stripped to her underwear by soldiers in Tahrir Square. Did you notice the soldier who was about to stomp on her exposed midriff? How could you not?

My phone fell as the four or five riot policemen beat me and then started to drag me towards no man’s land. “My phone, I have to get my phone,” I said, and reached down to try to retrieve it. It wasn’t the Twitterholic in me that threw herself after the phone, but the survivor. For the first three or four hours of detention, I knew they could do anything and no one would know. In the event, it was near-miraculous that, while I was at the ministry, an activist with a smartphone came to discuss setting up a truce between protesters and security. As soon as he signed me in to Twitter, I sent out, “beaten arrested at interior ministry”. And then his phone battery died.

Most people detained the same week I was taken in ended up at a police station or jail, but for some reason I was taken to the interior ministry and was then handed over to military intelligence for almost 12 hours. The sexual assault couldn’t have lasted more than a few minutes, but the psychic bruise remains the freshest.

The orange midnight air – a cocktail of street lights, an adjacent school on fire, and air that was more tear gas than oxygen – and the black outlines of the helmeted riot policemen invade my thoughts every day, but I feel as though I have dissociated myself from what happened. I read news reports about a journalist whose arms were broken by Egyptian police, but I don’t connect them to the splints around my arms that allow only one-finger typing on a touchpad, nor with the titanium plate that will remain in my left arm for a year, to help a displaced fracture align and fuse.

But the hands on my breasts, in between my legs and inside my trousers – that, I know, happened to me. Sometimes I think of them as ravens plucking at my body. Calling me a whore. Pulling my hair. All the while beating me. At one point I fell. Eye-level with their boots, all I thought was: “Get up or you will die.”

They dragged me to the interior ministry, past men in plain clothes who were wearing the same surgical masks that we Tahrir-side civilians had worn against the tear gas. I almost shouted out, “Are you friend or foe?” Their eyes, dead to my assault, were my answer.

“Shit, I’ve been caught.” I began to panic. “Shit, they’re probably going to charge me with spying.” I had lived in Israel for a period, where I had worked as a Reuters correspondent.

“You’re safe now, I’ll protect you.” A senior plainclothes officer reassured me. “If I wasn’t here, there would be no one protecting you from them. See them, over there? Do you know what they’d do to you?” He was pointing to a mob just steps away, itching to get at me. Even as the officer offered hollow protection, the men who had brought me in still went at my breasts. He did nothing.

It was an older man, from the military, who ended it. “Get her out.”

“Why are you at war with the people?” I asked him. He looked me square in the eyes, fought his tears and swallowed. He couldn’t speak. Others asked me again and again: “Why were you there?”

“I’m a journalist, I’m a writer, I’m an analyst,” I said. But really I wanted to tell them I had longed to touch courage. It lived on Mohamed Mahmoud Street where young men – just boys in many cases, with their mothers’ numbers written on their forearms in case they ended up in a morgue – would face off with security forces. Some of those who survived the tear gas and the bullets – rubber-coated and live – lost eyes. Security sharpshooters liked to aim for the head.

For months, Tahrir Square had been my mental touchstone: in New York City, where I live, and wherever I travelled to lecture on the revolution. But it was impossible just to stand by in the square and watch as the Motorbike Angels – volunteers who came on bikes to aid the overworked medics – zipped towards the field hospitals with their unconscious passengers, asphyxiated from the tear gas – and often worse – from the Mohamed Mahmoud frontline.

“If I die, I want to be buried in my Moroccan djellaba. It’s laid out on my bed, ready,” tweeted blogger and activist Mohamed “Gemyhood” Beshir. The hits of tear gas he inhaled pushed him back, so younger men would break his fall and fill in for him on the frontline until he recovered.

Throughout my detention, I demanded medical care for my arms, and showed my captors the increasingly dramatic bruises developing on my hand and arm. Most asked me to make a fist. “See, it’s just a bruise. You wouldn’t be able to make a fist if you had a fracture.”

And I told them deliberately graphic details about the sexual assault. Eyes would twitch and look away. No one wanted to hear. “Why’s a good girl like you talking about hands in your trousers? Shut up and silence your shame,” I imagined them saying.

I’ll be damned if I carry this alone,I thought. And so I went on and on, until finally they heard, and one of them yelled out: “Our society has a sickness. Those riot police conscripts who assaulted you, do you know what we’ve done for them? We’ve lifted them out of their villages, scrubbed them clean and opened a tiny door in their minds.”

“That’s exactly why we’re having a revolution,” I responded. “No one should have to live like that. Who created that misery they live in that you ‘rescued’ them from?”

I also let it be known that I was a US citizen, and asked for a consular representative to be called. I knew that, as an Egyptian-American (I moved to the US in 2000), I would be spared many horrors that countless unnamed Egyptians suffer. But I also anticipated the flip side. “Aren’t you proud of being Egyptian? Do you want to renounce your citizenship,” the military intelligence officer asked me.

Blindfolded, bone-tired and in agony from my fractures, I replied: “If your fellow Egyptians break your arms and sexually assault you, you’d want someone in the room you can trust.”

The sadistic violence the security forces and army unleashed on Mohamed Mahmoud Street has ripped asunder naive notions that the military were “guardians of the revolution”, or that the “army and the people are one hand”. No, they broke my hand.

Last week’s images from Egypt of the woman stripped down to her underwear and beaten have further unmasked the brutality of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the military junta that runs Egypt and which must be tried with crimes against the Egyptian people. I’m unable to look at any of those images of beatings because I feel the nightsticks fracturing my arms all over again. If I hadn’t got up when I fell, they would have stomped on me as they stomped on that woman.

I spent the first two weeks back in New York on a painkiller high. It numbed the pain, as well as my ability to write. Once a week I see a psychologist who specialises in trauma; an orthopaedic surgeon has operated on my left arm to realign the ulnar shaft and fix it in place with a titanium plate and screws, and I have regular physiotherapy. But this week’s massive women’s march in Tahrir has sharpened my focus once again. When a woman who took part wrote to tell me I’d helped to inspire the march because I’d spoken out on Egyptian TV about my beating and assault, I was finally able to cry. They were the tears of a survivor, not a victim.

The Mubarak regime used systematic sexual violence against female activists and journalists, and here’s the SCAF upholding that ignoble legacy. But to quote the women in Tahrir this week: “The women of Egypt are a red line.” My body, and mind, belong to me. That’s the gem at the heart of the revolution. And until I return to Egypt in January, healed once again, I will tell that to the SCAF over and over. One finger at a time.

How Mona tweeted her arrest and assault

The night of 23 November, as violence builds in the Egyptian capital, Eltahawy is reported missing. From prison she borrows a phone to tweet:

“Beaten arrested in interior ministry”

A campaign to free her begins to gather momentum, then on Eltahawy’s feed:


“12 hours with Interior Ministry bastards and military intelligence combined. Can barely type – must go xray arms after CSF pigs beat me”

“5 or 6 surrounded me, groped and prodded my breasts, grabbed my genital area and I lost count how many hands tried to get into my trousers”

“@Sarahngb is coming to kindly take me to the hospital. Besides beating me, the dogs of CSF subjected me to the worst sexual assault ever”

“Didn’t want to go with military intelligence but one MP said either come politely or not. Those guys didn’t beat or assault me”

“Instead, blindfolded me for 2 hrs, after keeping me waiting for 3. At 1st answered Qs bec passport wasn’t w me but then refused as civilian”

And then…

“The whole time I was thinking about article I would write; just you fuckers wait”

 © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

Reuters: Women urged to put their stamp on Arab Spring

Women urged to put their stamp on Arab Spring

11:05am EDT

DUBAI (Reuters) – Women should voice demands about their rights during the popular uprisings sweeping the Arab world to avoid being short-changed by post-revolutionary governments, Iranian Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi said.

Ebadi, a practicing Muslim, also expressed hope that Arab men and women would learn from Iran’s 1979 revolution, when the overthrow of the shah led to the establishment of an Islamic republic which imposed sharia-inspired laws many women regard as restrictive of their rights.

“I think it is too early to talk of an Arab Spring, which should be used when democracy has been established and people can determine their own destiny and are equal and free. And we cannot forget half of society — the women,” Ebadi, a human and women’s rights activist, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

“If women cannot gain equality and the right to set their own destiny then that is not a real revolution and won’t lead to democracy.

“Our experience in Iran’s 1979 revolution proves this. We saw that people got rid of a dictator but instead of democracy he was replaced by religious despotism and many of the laws on polygamy, men’s power of divorce … and stoning were passed.”

Since long-time leaders were toppled in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, many — not least in the West — have fretted that their departure will leave the door open for Islamist groups to take power.

In Tunisia, some women have expressed concern over the victory of the Islamist party Ennahda in elections last month, though its leaders have said they will not alter laws that guarantee women equal rights to men in divorce, marriage and inheritance.


Unless Arab women speak up soon, they risk being sidelined by the region’s new governments, Ebadi said.

“Women should raise their egalitarian demands and the people should put forth their civic demands early on and oblige groups that are seeking power to answer,” said Ebadi, a defense lawyer for Iranian dissidents who has lived outside Iran since 2009.

“These issues should be raised early, otherwise after a party reaches power it may be too late.”

Egyptian feminist Nawal al-Saadawi has called for women to move fast to secure their rights as the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood targets large support in a parliamentary election later this month, following Hosni Mubarak’s ouster.

“In Iran, the error committed by feminists and political groups was to put off the egalitarian demands of women until after the overthrow of the shah… But the women’s problems were not resolved and things even got worse after the regime changed,” Ebadi said.

“Pushing for transparency is the best way for this. Feminist groups should directly ask parties ‘Do you support polygamy, yes or no?’ … Or ask “Do you support equal inheritance for men and women?’ So that people would know a party’s stand on rights issues before they take power,” Ebadi said.

The leader of Libya’s National Transitional Council Mustafa Abdel Jalil caused consternation last month when he took to the podium at a celebration of the country’s “liberation” and said polygamy would no longer be outlawed.

Ebadi rejected charges by some Islamists that demanding women’s rights and more modern laws was part of a Western-inspired attack on Islam. Equally she said Islam was compatible with women’s rights.

“I believe that if Islam is interpreted and applied correctly we can have totally egalitarian laws for women and strike punishments such as stoning and cutting hands from out of

law books,” she said.

Ebadi was Iran’s first woman judge but lost that job following the Islamic revolution because the country’s new leaders said women were too emotional to be judges.

She became a human rights lawyer but, after suffering harassment, she left the country in 2009.

“It’s no good if a dictator goes and he is replaced by another. I hope Arabs who have risen up in revolutions learn from Iran’s experience.”

(Reporting by Isabel Coles; Editing by Robert Woodward)


Accessed: 4th November 2011





BBC: Yemen women burn veils in Sanaa in anti-Saleh protest

Hundreds of women have set fire to their traditional veils in Yemen in protest at the violence used against anti-government demonstrators.

The women, in the capital Sanaa, made a pile of veils in the street which they then doused with petrol and set alight.

Women have played a key part in the uprising against Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

A Yemeni woman activist, Tawakkul Karman, was joint winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.

She received the award for her role in the struggle for women’s rights and democracy in Yemen.

The veil-burning protest began when a group of women spread a black cloth across a main street.

They threw full-body veils, known as makrama, onto it.

As the flames rose, they chanted, “Who protects Yemeni women from the crimes of the thugs?”

The Associated Press news agency says they also handed out leaflets appealing for help.

“Here we burn our makrama in front of the world to witness the bloody massacres carried out by the tyrant Saleh,” the leaflets read.

A woman protester in SanaaThe message on the hand reads “get out”, a message to President Saleh

Deadly clashes

The women’s protest followed further violence overnight between forces loyal to Mr Saleh and his opponents.

More than 20 people died in the fighting in Sanaa and the country’s second city, Taiz.

On Tuesday, the government announced a truce which it said had been agreed with rival forces, but there was no sign of any pause in the clashes.

President Saleh has held on to power through eight months of protests against his 33-year rule.

The demonstrations were relatively peaceful to begin with but have increasingly degenerated into fighting between Saleh loyalists and different tribes and militias who have sided with the protesters.

There has been widespread international criticism of the Yemeni government’s response to the uprising.

The United Nations Security Council has urged Mr Saleh to step down.

The president says he will sign a deal brokered by Gulf Arab countries to hand over power in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

He has repeatedly indicated that his departure is imminent, but has yet to name a date.

Published : 26 October 2011 Last updated at 16:08 GMT


Date Accessed : 28 October 2011