When Will the Revolutions in Syria and Egypt Come to TV Dramas?

For many of us, television drama can be an enriching part of our living experience, defining many of our day-to-day conversations with family members, co-workers and social network friends.  But what happens if drama series go too far in fantasizing about our life situations by presenting us with unreal representations of events, issues and personalities that we find hard to identify with?

During this past Ramadan, I found two different soap operas tackling stories of Arab women from different perspectives quite misleading. One of them, Banat El ‘Aileh (The Family Girls), a Syrian production, tells the story of seven cousins, and the challenges facing young women at work, at home, and in relationship contexts.

The Family Girls introduces success stories of women who excelled at workplaces and at home alike, turning them into role models for other women in society. For example, Sara, the main character, is a successful radio anchor. She is engaged to a successful businessman, but fails to experience true romance in her life. One of her avid radio show listeners falls in love with her, chasing her wherever she goes. Because it has to end in a happy way, Sara leaves her fiancé for this lover, who believes in her career and success.

The other six cousins have similar stories, but this is not the real issue here. For me personally, watching bloody scenes of civilian killings on television makes it rather agonizing for me to switch the channel to The Family Girls. It is as if I wanted to be cheated into believing the situation in Syria is fine and the drama series was proof of that. One the one hand, it feels good to see women finally becoming walking up the ladder of achievement in society, but it saddens me to see those drama-generated dreams dashed against the bloody conflict in which women and children are the prime victims. [Read more...]

Good Memories of Hijab and Ramadan

For most of us, Ramadan has always been linked to achieving spiritual goals, or spending some time with the family for Iftar or Suhoor.  One very special memory that the first day of Ramadan holds for me is beginning to wear hijab, three years ago.

I had been thinking of putting it on since I was in college, which is around seven years ago, and I had read and watched people talking about this issue. One interesting show was running on Al Jazeera documentary channel in 2003 (as I remember), and a religious scholar on the show was talking about how the Muslim Arab community has more and more “hijabi girls,” as he called them. He talked about hijab as a form of protection and respect.

I was not convinced 100% by what was being said, but it got stuck in my head, and I had thought about it a number of times. I also can’t ignore the fact that the atmosphere I was surrounded by at that time, among my in-laws, had a great influence, since all the ladies wore hijab. To be honest, their style of wearing hijab was very beautiful, since they mixed different colors, with different designs of clothes, and that made it more appealing to wear. This is not a surrounding I was used to before getting married. It was totally new. But I was happy with the change as it was something new to experience,. I got a lot of positive feedback from people, some of them I don’t even know, and that made me feel confident about my decision.

Today after three years, Ramadan still reminds me of that step, a decision that my mom called a very brave one, but as I go on with life, I keep on searching for the real reason behind my decision to wear hijab. [Read more...]

The “Problem” of Spinsterhood in the Gulf

Last month, one of my close friends in Dubai got engaged. She is 35, an accountant, and her fiancé is a doctor. I still remember how her mother used to worry about her not getting married, to the extent that she kept wondering what was going to happen to her daughter after she (the mother) dies! In Arab-Muslim society, being a ‘spinster’ is a real ‘problem,’ and often a crippling stigma.

A woman that reaches 30 years of age without getting married is considered a ‘spinster’, who contributes to a ‘demographic problem’. MMW writer Ethar wrote about this phenomenon in Egypt some years ago, while Tasnim wrote about 3ayza atgawez, a “spinster crisis comedy” also set in Egypt.

In the Gulf however, this phenomenon is linked to what is described as a demographic problem, especially in a country like the United Arab Emirates, which is home to about eight million people, only 950,000 of them are Emirati citizens.
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#UAEDressCode: A Tool for Judgement, or Education?

A few years back, when shopping malls turned into major destination for shoppers and tourists in the United Arab Emirates, the issue of how men and women appear in public began to gain greater attention. Mall entrances have come to carry signs and instructions relating not only to pets, trash, bicycles and skaters, but dress codes as well.  In a cosmopolitan society, the idea of modesty does not have a clear definition; it just refers to wearing clothes that do not resemble wearing a swimming suit.  One sign, for example, asks people to wear “respectful clothing,” and specifies that “shoulders and knees should be covered.” But so as not to portray Dubai only as a strict conservative society, it is worth mentioning the fact that in certain areas, such as bars and night clubs, people can wear whatever they want, and there is no one that polices them. On beaches, on the other hand, people who wear full clothes are not allowed to just sit and watch beach goers, because it is obvious that their goal is to watch rather than swim (this refers mainly to men watching women), and this is considered an invasion of people’s privacy.

Among other things, dress code signs encourage modesty in clothing out of respect for Arab-Islamic traditions that define life in the UAE.  But as it turned out later, many mall visitors seem to have either missed on noticing those signs or have ignored them by putting on more revealing clothes that certainly go counter to what was suggested by those signs.

In reaction to what seems like a rising dress code violations in public places, two Emirati ladies, Hanan Al Rayes and Asma Al Muhairi, decided to launch a Twitter campaign to prod people to respect certain norms around clothing. [Read more...]

TEDx Mogadishu and the Symbolic Rebirth of a Torn Society

During the past three decades, global perceptions of Somalia have for the most part been shaped by images of the country as a disaster area, ravaged by poverty and war. Somalia seems to appear in the news only in the context of humanitarian assistance appeals or of Al Qaeda-inspired militias carrying out their heinous acts across the country.

Since the outbreak of the civil war in 1991, there has been virtually no central government control in Somalia. The country has been characterized as a failed state, and as one of the poorest and most violent countries in the world. The situation for women in that country could not be worse, according to a 2011 global survey. Ninety five percent of girls, mostly between the ages of 4 and 11, suffer  genital mutilation; only 7% of parliamentary seats are held by women; and only 9% of women give birth in a health facility.

But recently, this image of a nation of despair and devastation is shifting to an image of hope and re-construction, thanks to a number of initiatives and projects by different individuals and NGOs. One of them is TEDxMogadishu, an event organized on Thursday May 17 that focused on bringing life to a dying nation long victimized by human evils and natural calamities. [Read more...]

What it Means to be One of the 100 Most Influential People in the World

I spent the last weekend in Istanbul, having decided with my husband to escape the hectic daily news cycles of cosmopolitan Dubai, bustling with all kinds of events. It was meant to be a time for relaxation, to enjoy the beautiful natural scenery and the delicious Turkish cuisine. But my obsession with how international media are representing transitions in the Arab region seems to be insatiable.  Time Magazine’s feature on the 100 most influential people in the world might be an annual journalistic ritual, nothing out of the ordinary, but the inclusion of several women from Muslim backgrounds in the list was compelling enough for me to be lured in by the story. [Read more...]