Friday, December 27, 2013

Sequence of events after a Beirut blast

This is literally what happens every single time:
  1. When you hear the news, experience shock and moment of silence. Heart sinks.
  2. When you recover, immediately - and irrationally, contact your partner/significant other/loved ones via Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter (phone lines are usually down) to make sure they are fine, even though you're not sure exactly where the explosion was.
  3. When the initial panic wears off, try to determine the general vicinity of the blast and remember if anyone you know works, lives or may be in the area at the time. Repeat Step 2 for those people.
  4. When you are sure everyone is fine, start getting angry at the cowardly assholes with no clear agenda except terrorizing people who are just going about their lives, when they already have enough problems.
  5. When you realize that this was an assassination and not a random blast, secretly breathe a sigh of relief for one second but then decide that this only means one thing: we are as irrelevant and insignificant as we have ever been in this damn excuse for a country, and only serve as collateral damage in a decades long conflict that has nothing to do with us.
  6. Get frustrated and depressed.
  7. Repeat ad infinitum.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Is Egypt really the worst Arab state for women?

After Amman was the rated the third "Ugliest City in the World" and Beirut the 20th "Top City in the World", using vague criteria such as "dirty, chaotic streets and ugly buildings looking like they're crumbling on top of each other" (in reference to Amman not Beirut!), the polling community has come up with a new ranking system: worst Arab states for women. And Egypt won, apparently due to a "surge in violence and Islamist feeling", whatever that means.

Now I am not going to make the argument that Egypt doesn't deserve the title when there are countries like Saudi Arabia and Yemen in contention. I am not an expert on how it is to be a woman in Egypt these days, enduring harassment in the street on a daily basis, nor have I ever been a female citizen of Saudi or Yemen. But I am almost certain that as a Lebanese woman, it in no way feels like I am supposed to be worse off than a woman living in Somalia, a country that still refuses to sign the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. I do not believe that as a woman living in Tunisia, with full citizenship rights, I would be worse off than a Jordanian woman, exposed to "honor" crimes and denied the right to pass my citizenship to my children, where the glass ceiling feels like fortified cement. Something doesn't add up here.

This strangely designed poll by the Thomas Reuters Foundation is reminiscent of the annual Transparency International  poll in which people from different countries are asked about the perception of corruption in their country. The headlines always goes something like "Lebanon most corrupt country in Middle East". In fact, it is simply an indicator of people's perception about corruption, because there is no other way of actually measuring corruption (you can't just go up to a politician and ask them if they accept bribes - well let's just say it gets more complicated). This poll basically asked "336 specialists" their own opinion on whether statements like "Women and men have equal access to run for all elected positions in public office" or "Girls are expected to give up their education sooner than boys" in their country. As complicated as the statements were to confirm, more problematic were answering questions like: "Current inheritance laws are biased towards men.", an issue that has a basis in religion.

What bothered me about this poll is first, the obviously strange and inexplicable results. The second thing is that many of the questions, such as "Marital rape is recognised by law and punished" or "Female genital mutilation is a common practice in this country" can be clearly answered through a little bit of research. They are not really perception based. Another problem is using the indicator of access to health care, as Karl noted, which may not be a sign of a gender equal society but of a rentier state, compared to a country that does not provide public health care to any of its citizens.

I am not sure why the Thomas Reuters foundation decided to conduct their study in this manner, but it has not shed any light on the issue of gender discrimination in the Arab world, as we ended up with one more useless list of countries ranked at someone else's whim.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A justified rant: Are you kidding me with this citizenship thing?

This seriously cannot go on. How retarded are we? Did you know this:

Palestine was the first Arab country to give women the right to pass on their citizenship, in 2003, followed by Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Yemen, Tunisia and Libya. Last year, the UAE announced that children of Emirati women married to foreigners could apply for citizenship once they turn 18. And in January 2012, the Council of Ministers in Saudi Arabia announced it would grant citizenship to children of Saudi women married to non-Saudi men, on the condition that they meet other citizenship requirements.

Saudi Arabia people. Where women can't drive. Saudi Arabia, the most backward country in the world when it comes to women's rights, doesn't think that granting women the right to pass on their nationality will turn their country upside down and ruin life for everyone else.

But in Lebanon, it's a different story. In Lebanon, we form an all-male committee to review the possibility of granting women full citizenship. We not only leave it to the "men" to decide, we do it at the most patronizing timing: On Mother's Day. You know, as a "gift" to mothers, not an inherent right to all women. Of course the committee found that this "gift" was not a good idea after all, because despite the constitution, human rights and international treaties that Lebanon is committed to, granting this priceless gift may unhinge the delicate sectarian balance of the nation. And God forbid this sectarian balance, that for all I can see only guarantees government positions for the country's warlords, should be unhinged. Meanwhile, Americans of Lebanese male ancestry from 1921 have every right to that coveted nationality. I wonder how many actually claimed it.

I don't know why we expected anything different from such a cynical committee. Everybody knows that on Mother's Day, the Lebanese buy their mothers toasters.