Mohamed Jegham – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Wed, 05 Jun 2024 06:57:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Comedy as a Tool of Justice Sat, 08 Jun 2024 04:15:55 +0000

Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” Cesar A. Cruz

Istanbul (Special to Informed Comment; Feature) – To most people, comedy can be a source of entertainment, an enjoyment to remove us from our daily routine and everyday problems. For this reason, many comedians tend to avoid complicated topics and controversial issues so as not to offend any part of their audience and to broaden the scope of their reach and influence. Yet, there’s another breed of comedians, like the late great George Carlin, who reject safe comedy and believe that comedy and satire can and must challenge taboos. By using witty, clever jokes they delve into topics in ways that the classical politicians and journalists are unable to do. A lot of research believes that this brand of comedy has a lot of merit when it comes to navigating complex political situations, fighting injustices, or advancing social change in the world. Unsurprisingly then, the recent War in Gaza has become the subject of many comedians’ sets and punchlines for a myriad of reasons.

Comedy at its core is meant to be funny, that’s the one thing almost every person on the planet would agree to. Yet is that all that comedy is good for? A lot of researchers would disagree. Research by Sara Ödmark proposes that the main difference between comedians and journalists in news framing is that comedy tends to be more personal, emotional and understood at a societal level. These features in comedy create a space for the audience to feel heard and understood. Caty Borum Chattoo shares similar findings in her research where she argues that journalism institutions should take notes from comedians on how to make news accessible to their readers. While this may come as a shock to some, many people trust comedians’ input in serious matters such as political affairs. For instance, an old Pew research from 2007 revealed that “16% of Americans said they regularly watched The Daily Show or the Comedy Central spin-off, The Colbert Report”. Jon Stewart, who wouldn’t be identified as a classic journalist, is trusted by many Americans for his provoking and satirical takes on American and foreign affairs. Ödmark clarifies that comedians like Stewart occupy a position her research coined as a “comedic interlocutor: a satirist who uses humor, emotion, comedic metaphors, and analogies while addressing the audience to discuss serious topics”. A 2020 research by Rutgers goes into detail on how this form of comedy could become a force for social change through:

“Drawing attention, disarming audiences, lowering resistance to persuasion, breaking down social barriers and stimulating sharing and discussion…Comedy also can have broader cultural effects, shaping news coverage and social media discourse, providing visibility to alternative ideas and marginalized groups, and serving as a resource for collective action”. 

Zeteo Video: “Bassem Youssef and Mehdi Hasan on Gaza: “If you’re going to kill me, I’m allowed to scream.”

So, if comedy can be such a force of change, how has it been employed in the war in Gaza? 

For starters, comedy can be a strong therapeutic tool to process feelings and emotions for both the comedian and the audience. This is true for many Palestinian comedians who found solace in their comedy. Palestinian comedian Sammy Obeid explained in an interview with CBC how talking about the conflict not only can help bring the Palestinian narrative to light but is also a way for him to process his emotions, “I get to say things that maybe haven’t been said before … and helping people come to those realizations with me also feels cathartic,” This sentiment is shared by his fellow Palestinian comedian Mohammed “Mo” Amer whose comedy has been focused mostly on his Palestinian heritage, through his Netflix specials such as “The Vagabond” and “Mohammed in Texas,” and his comedy series “Mo”. Amer believes that comedy can help foster understanding and can assist in humanizing Palestinians, especially for Western audience. Yet, he also acknowledges the strength of comedy for comedians to process their own feelings stating that “Comedy has been what saved me.” Hence, through comedy, these comedians found an outlet to channel their grievances and let other people, who may not have a proper way to do so, feel heard and understood.

While comedy can be a great outlet for grief and processing our emotions, other comedians believe in its power as a tool for social criticism. A notable example of such potency can be seen in the Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef. A heart surgeon-turned-political comedian, Youssef came into the limelight through his satirical show Al Bernameg”. In format, Youssef’s show mirrored the Daily Show with Jon Stewart garnering him the nickname ‘Egypt’s Jon Stewart’. His main focus was the criticism of Egyptian politics and politicians through satire. This premise, while highly successful, landed him in hot water with the government and he had to flee from his country. These days, Youssef decided to aim his satirical talent at the war in Gaza, attending different interviews prepared with satirical, witty, and often exaggerated answers to the hosts’ talking points. 

His two interviews with Piers Morgan remain two of the best examples of how comedy can be phenomenally successful in delivering poignant criticism and in making people listen to alternative perspectives. Through his dark humor, both interviews attempt to dismantle the Israeli points of view by exposing their illogic and by humanizing and shedding light on the Palestinian perspective. For instance, to expose the Israeli’s overuse of the human shield argument, Youssef jokes with an uncomfortable Piers Morgan about how hard it is to kill his Palestinian wife:

“You know those Palestinians, they’re very dramatic: ‘Ahh, Israelis killing us!’ But they never die. … They are … very difficult people to kill. I know because I’m married to one. I tried many times — couldn’t kill her… I tried to get to her, but she uses our kids as human shields; I can never take her out.” 

This joke is funny but also uncomfortable because of how embedded it is in truth. Yet, this is only one example of many that Youssef employs to expose the fallacies of the Western media but also to highlight the dehumanization of Palestinians by Israeli propaganda. As Noor Nooman puts it, Youssef’s humor “isn’t intended to make us laugh. It is intended to make us feel agony and to provoke people who blithely mouth Western talking points about Palestinians to question their assumptions”.

The best comedians are master storytellers, they create a space for their jokes that is both immersed in reality and exaggeration. An ability that, when appropriately used, can render the audience defenseless against their own misconceptions and assumptions. Akin to the jesters of the past, comedians hold immense power to oppose the injustices of our leaders and to expose the lies and hypocrisies of those in charge. 


The U.S. used to Stand up to Israeli Expansionism: Time for Biden to Show Eisenhower’s Spine Sun, 07 Apr 2024 04:15:17 +0000 Istanbul (Special to Informed Comment; Feature) – President John. F Kennedy coined the term “special relationship” to describe the American-Israeli relationship. This “special relationship” has only continued to grow stronger, sometimes by fits and starts, since the inception of the Jewish state in 1948. 

Despite its support for Israel, when it came to the issue of Palestine, the United States held on to the hope of achieving a two-state solution. To this end, American foreign policy has always sought to show support for both parties and sought a central role as a mediator on more than one occasion. Yet under Trump and Biden, America’s foreign policy has displayed an unbalanced and unwavering support for Israel that has inevitably harmed America’s position in the international community and has left in tatters what little trust Palestinians had in America’s mediation.

Since its creation, Israel has been the biggest beneficiary of American foreign aid, which has over the years totalled $300 billion (adjusting for inflation). Furthermore, since 1945, the United States has acted as a political shield for Israel. It has used more than half of its vetoes in the UN’s Security Council to defend Israel from any repercussions for its illegal behavior. It also shares with Israel a strong economic relationship that reached an annual sum of $50 billion in bilateral trade.

Many readers may be surprised to discover that America’s support for Israel hasn’t always been as unconditional as it is today.

The relationship between the two countries was rocky at times. For instance, during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, President Harry Truman slapped an arms embargo on both Israel and the Arab countries as he saw the conflict as a source of instability that might give aid the spread of Communism in the region.

President Dwight Eisenhower was even more stern, when Israel invaded Egypt in October 1956. Eisenhower warned, “Should a nation which attacks and occupies foreign territory in the face of United Nations disapproval be allowed to impose conditions on its withdrawal?”. Eisenhower threatened to call in US loans to Israel and crash its economy if Tel Aviv did not immediately withdraw from the Sinai Peninsulat and the Gaza Strip, which it had seized from Egypt. The Israelis completely caved to the angry demands of the former Supreme Allied Commander who had vanquished the Third Reich.

These two examples reflect the major goal of American foreign policy; Ensuring the stability of the Middle East. Hence, many previous American administrations, while they generally supported Israel, tried to be at least a little even-handed between Israel and Palestine.

The downfall: Trump

The long-standing foreign policy of the United States always had cracks in its neutrality but the rise of Donald Trump ushered in an era of unilateral support for Israel that caused unrest in the region. The Biden administration’s failure to undo Trump’s damage and its unwillingness to condemn or punish Israeli war crimes in the current Gaza war will likely deepen this unrest and fatally undermine U.S. credibility in the eyes of the international community. 

During Trump’s presidency, many controversial policies halted the path towards the two-state solution and rendered it even harder. The biggest blow to Palestinians and Arabs was the relocation of the American Embassy to Jerusalem and the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. That move was condemned by the Palestinians, who still see (at least East) Jerusalem as their capital. The Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warned that this step was proof of the United States’ inability to be neutral.

To add insult to injury, the Trump administration envisioned a peace plan “Peace to prosperity” for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that bypassed any Palestinian input, ignored the key demands of Palestinians and provided Israel with the whole of Jerusalem. This plan was rejected vehemently by Palestinians and in turn by the Arab League which led to the disruption of ties between Palestinians, Israel and the US.

The downfall continues: Biden

The ascension of the Democrat Joe Biden to the presidency signified to many people a return to diplomacy and inspired some hopeful thinking about the Middle East. However, throughout his tenure, President Biden had only reversed a part of Trump’s policies, failed to restart any meaningful talks for peace and most glaringly mishandled the current conflict in Gaza to the point that America’s neutral position as a mediator has been damaged beyond repair. 

In retaliation for the October 7th attacks on Israel, the Israeli military launched a brutal and long-lasting attack on Gaza aimed at wiping out the entire Hamas paramilitary of some 37,000 men. Israel’s attack on Gazans resulted in the deaths of over 30.000 people in the months that followed, all with the support of American tax dollars.

CNN Video: “Biden to Netanyahu: Protect civilians or else”

In response to the attacks, President Biden gave his full support to Israel, “We will not stand by and do nothing again. The support was nothing out of the norm as most Western countries and the international community witnessed an outpouring of sympathy for Israel and the victims of October 7th. However, Biden’s support surpassed that of any previous American leader. His presence and inclusion in the Israeli-war cabinet meeting signified to Palestinians and everyone else, that America was on the side of Israel.

As the war slowly evolved from retaliation and self-defense into genocide, the support for Israel started to wane across the international community. However, at a time when the world began to question and condemn Israel’s actions. the United States led by President Biden is preparing to provide an extra $17.6 billion in new military assistance. This action goes against American law. The Leahy Act forbids the US from sending assistance to foreign governments that are committing gross human rights violations — a characterization that many scholars along with the international community would see as fitting of Israel’s actions.

American double standards:

At the current stage of the war, more than one-quarter of Gazans are on the doorstep of starvation warn UN officials. Most observers agree that the only solution is to implement an immediate ceasefire to alleviate the humanitarian crisis. Yet, the United States keeps beating around the bush.

 The United States’ decision to build a pier on the shores of Gaza to provide humanitarian aid made Biden the laughingstock of the international community. This idea has been ridiculed from different sides, Robert Ford, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria said “This is applying a very small Band-Aid to a very big wound.”. While Mustafa Barghouti, the secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative claimed that this idea is nothing but a diversion to distract the international community from the real issue. 

The strength of American foreign policy had always been its ability to distance itself from conflicts to adopt a somewhat impartial posture. Howeve, today this is further from the case. After vetoing several different UN ceasefire resolutions over the course of the war, the resolution drafted by the United States calling for a conditional ceasefire was initially vetoed by China and Russia over allegations of prioritizing Israeli demands. When the US abstained and allowed a UNSC demand for a ceasefire to pass, administration spokespersons made a mockery of it by deriding it as “nonbinding.” In the eyes of the international community, if the United States fails to hold Israel accountable for its actions, it will lose any credibility it had in the Middle East and all of the gains of the Abraham Accords would be lost.   

Systemic Journalistic Malpractice: How Western Journalism Failed in covering Gaza Fri, 09 Feb 2024 05:31:39 +0000 At the beginning of their classic Manufacturing Consent, Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman pondered the proposition that “media are independent and committed to discovering and reporting the truth, and that they do not merely reflect the world as powerful groups wish it to be perceived.” 

We all know how that story turns out. Media often functions as a propagandistic tool that turns the truth on its head. The best example of this upside-down image can be observed in the dichotomous journalism of Western media on Palestine and Ukraine. 

By legal and international definitions, Gaza and Ukraine bear many unquestionable similarities to one another — from suffering daily air strikes to the bombardment of civilian targets and the obstruction of humanitarian aid by an authoritarian power that seeks control over both respective territories. In Ukraine’s case, the West and its media newsrooms instantly and unanimously came to the support of Ukrainians and the vilification of Russia. Yet, in Palestine’s case, Western leaders, supported by their legions of media outlets, have practically condemned everyone from Hamas to Iran but have continuously refused to hold Israel accountable for any of its actions. 

In actuality, many Western media outlets keep on insisting that Ukraine and Israel are the victims that share similar aggressions from unlawful and heinous invaders. This narrative is sponsored by many Western leaders such as the United States President Joe Biden and the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who have both attempted to paint Ukraine and Israel as two democracies in a struggle against evil. How is Western media creating this narrative and why is it invested in spreading it?

In Western countries, much of the public has been taken in by this media narrative, especially during the first stages of the war on Gaza. According to Amer Aroggi, a Palestinian residing in Ukraine, while Ukraine and Gaza were both under air strikes from Russia and Israel, many Ukrainians showed their support and empathy towards Israel instead of Gaza. Aroggi argues that it was due to “massive propaganda.” 

While it seems incredible that media propaganda could distort reality to such an extent, the conclusion also seems unavoidable. In an interview on Sky News, Palestinian journalist Yara Eid confronted the Sky News reporter for her double standard and selective reporting on topics such as the aggression committed daily against Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank. There is nothing new about Western media’s tunnel vision. Back in 2008, throughout Israel’s Cast Lead operation, a study found that although Palestinians died at a rate “106 times greater than Israelis”  “the New York Times engaged in a practice of media bias that resulted in coverage of only 3% of Palestinian deaths in the headlines and first paragraphs.”

Other features of Western media coverage are decontextualization and overgeneralization. In his second interview on the Piers Morgan Show, Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef criticized Western media on two major grounds — first, for their failure to contextualize events in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Without this context, Palestinians come across as simple aggressors who abruptly choose to attack Israel. Second, he lambasted the press for their attempt to depict Palestinians as mere generic Arabs who should seek refuge in other Arabic countries like Egypt and Jordan, denying them their peoplehood.

Piers Morgan Uncensored Video: “Piers Morgan vs Bassem Youssef Round 2 | Two-Hour Special Interview”

Yet another characteristic of journalistic malpractice has to do with sanitizing language. In 2021, many journalists came together to publish an open letter condemning American news outlets for their refusal to use terms such as “apartheid”, “ethnic cleansing”, and “genocide” to describe Israeli actions in Palestine. According to the letter, experts agree that these terms are appropriate to describe what’s happening in Palestine, but editors avoid them.

And no wonder. Chris McGreal at The Guardian reported this week that the American cable news channel CNN has for years essentially allowed the Israeli government to censor and shape its coverage of the Mideast, to the extent that professional correspondents working at the channel privately accuse it of “journalistic malpractice.”

The Hill Video: “CNN Staffers REVOLT Over ‘PRO-ISRAEL’ Slant Amounting to ‘JOURNALISTIC MALPRACTICE’: Report”

It isn’t only CNN. At the end of 2023, almost 1500 journalists from different newsrooms signed another open letter condemning the killing of journalists in Gaza by the Israeli military and the censorship and biased coverage of the war on Gaza by Western media. In this letter, journalists blame Western media outlets for biased reporting and spreading misinformation that, in their words, have “undermined Palestinian, Arab and Muslim perspectives, dismissing them as unreliable and have invoked inflammatory language that reinforces Islamophobic and racist tropes.”

All this isn’t even to take into account the way media shapes perceptions by simply not reporting important stories. Israeli indiscriminate bombing can kill hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza in a 24-hour period but this news may simply be ignored on channels such as CNN. If only 50% of Americans feel that Israel has gone too far in killing some 27,000 Palestinians after an attack that left a little over 1100 Israelis dead, it is in part because the 50% who do not feel this way watch channels such as Fox and CNN and have not seen the daily, intensive carnage, which is clearly visible on social media outlets such as TikTok favored by younger viewers.

These journalistic practices have distorted the conversation surrounding Gaza. But to say so still begs the question, why? What is the reasoning behind backing Ukraine and demonizing Palestinians?

To answer this question, we must revisit Chomsky and Herman’s book, where they claim that the Western media is conditioned to “Concentrate on the victims of enemy powers and forget about the victims of friends.” Hence, media outlets are not just reporters of what’s happening but “are subjective co-creators of the shifting global order in a bigger game of geopolitics”.

So as Eva Połońska-Kimunguyi points out,

    “When the aggressor is Russia, the pronounced enemy of the liberal West, the media message generates anger at the atrocities committed, sympathy and solidarity towards the victims. When the liberal West drops bombs on Middle Eastern and African towns and populations, information silence descends on the media”.

In this case, when Israel, the ally of the US and the West in the Middle East commits war crimes, editors at the big media corporations seem to feel that their job is to paper over these atrocities to protect an ally. Let’s not forget that old video showing President Joe Biden proclaiming in the Senate “[Israel] is the best 3 billion dollar investment [the United States] made…were there not an Israel, the United States would have to invent an Israel to protect our interests in the region (Middle East).”

Not “Surrounded by Enemies:” Regional Powers Egypt and Turkey retain Ties with Israel during Gaza Conflict despite Critical Rhetoric Mon, 11 Dec 2023 06:47:02 +0000 Istanbul (Special to Informed Comment; Feature) – A recent conversation in Israel was reported by The Forward: “‘We are surrounded by our enemies,’ muttered a Jewish history teacher to his student Moshe Klein.”

Maybe decades ago this statement had some truth to it, but it is outdated and irrelevant in today’s geopolitical climate. Israel is bookended by the two most powerful military states in the region, Egypt and Turkey, which are also many times more populous than the Jewish-majority state. Turkey, as a NATO member, has long had diplomatic relations with Israel, with which it does vigorous bilateral trade, including in weapons. Egypt has a peace treaty with Israel that has held since 1979, and the two countries engage in extensive military consultations. The Israeli campaign against Gaza since October 7 has done nothing to change all this.

Many Israelis believe that “ceding the Sinai was a mistake that will cost us dearly one day when Egyptian army divisions cross the Suez Canal into the Sinai and attack Israel”  The contrary is obviously true. By relinquishing its occupation of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and removing any sense of grievance toward Tel Aviv on the part of Cairo, Israel secured decades of peace on its western border.

Egypt, a military power ranked the 14th strongest in the world, was on a war footing with the new neighboring country of Israel from 1948 through the mid-1970s. Yet, the relationship between the two military powers has been increasingly amicable in recent times due to many internal and external factors, including a common interest in quelling insurgencies in the strategic Sinai.

At the establishment of the Israeli state back in 1948, Egypt was one of the most vehement enemies of the newly founded nation, participating and often taking a leading role in the wars and skirmishes that unfolded in 1948, 1956, and 1967. However, by the late 1970s Egypt and Israel had begun to work on their relationship, especially through the Camp David Accords in 1978 that led to the signing of the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty in 1979. Facilitated by former US president Jimmy Carter, this treaty established diplomatic, economic, and cultural relations between the two states. 

Despite some fluctuations in the relationship between the two countries in the ensuing decades, the relationship became even more important with the rise of strongman Abdelfattah El-Sisi to power in 2014; His rise to power led to stronger ties to the Israeli state, given that both opposed the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoot, Hamas, as well as the ISIL terrorist organization.

Since the rise of the pro-Islam Justice and Development Party (AKP) from 2002, Israeli analysts have had some trepidation about Türkiye, a country that boasts a military power ranked at 11 in the world. Türkiye, long ruled by a militantly secular military junta, whether directly or behind the scenes, has increasingly made a place for Muslim devotion and a Muslim inflection of politics, though the secular constitution remains so far untouched. The long rule of Tayyip Erdogan, the country’s current president, has seen the AKP express support for Hamas and lambaste Israeli policy toward the Palestinians. In an article posted by The Jerusalem Post back in 2020, the newspaper’s editorial team claimed that Türkiye was a major threat to Israel and that any “Attempts to reconcile with Turkey have failed, and Ankara is now increasingly drunk on militarism and willingness to use force to get what it wants.”

In contrast to Egypt, Türkiye was one of the first nations with a Muslim majority to acknowledge the existence of the Israeli state and to establish diplomatic ties with the country. During Israel’s first two decades the two nations became strong allies and participated in military, economic, and financial collaborations.

The relationship between the two countries became strained in the late 2000s because of two incidents. In late 2008 Israel attacked on Gaza bwithout informing Türkiye beforehand. Then, even more seriously, in 2010 Israeli commandos attacked the Turkish humanitarian ship Mavi Marmara that was headed to Gaza, resulting in the deaths of 9 Turks and 1 Turkish-American.

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Still, starting in 2020, the relationship between the two nations was on a corrective path with Israel President Herzog visiting Ankara in 2022 to discuss Energy deals between the two and to encourage stronger economic and trade ties.

The New Africa Channel: “Egyptian President Al Sisi says Palestine must be recognized as a state to end Israel Gaza war ”

Post-October 7th, the relationship between these two regional powers and Israel saw, understandably, a shift in tone. Yet, it’s not a shift that endangers Israeli policy, much less Israeli’s existence. Both Türkiye and Egypt along with most Arab states and many countries of the global South have condemned Israel’s response to the Hamas-led attacks, which has resulted in over 15.000 deaths in the Strip. None of these countries, however, have shown any interest in military interference, or a hostile approach. 

From Egypt’s perspective, ties with with Israel are largely undisturbed. The main tension has arisen over Israel’s pressuring of Egypt to open its border with Gaza at Rafah and to accept large numbers of Palestinian refugees. According to Egypt, such massive Palestinian displacement is a contravention of humanitarian law. Cairo is afraid, more importantly, that such a huge refugee population would endanger Egypt’s already struggling economy and would cause some serious threats to the country’s security.

Hence, Egypt’s stance on the issue had nothing to do with hostility toward Israel, but was defensive in nature, showing a profound concern about policies that threatened to harm its security.

In Türkiye’s case, after the October 7th attacks the country was ready to help mediate the situation. In an effort to take the first step, Erdogan decided to ask Hamas’ political wing, who were in his country at that moment, to leave. However, the tone of Turkiye’s stance slowly began to change as Israel inflicted more and more casualties on the Palestinians of Gaza, to the extent that Erdogan began branding the campaign a genocide.

Erdogan expressed himself more and more virulently toward Israel’s conduct of the war. In one post, Erdogan pledged that “As Türkiye, we will continue to work for a humanitarian ceasefire and then for the establishment of lasting stability.” Yet shortly thereafter, in his speech at the COP28 UN climate summit in Dubai, Erdogan called Israel’s actions “ war crimes.”  In a recent speech he branded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “the Butcher of Gaza” and predicted he would be tried in the Hague, as Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic was. Despite Erdogan’s vehement rhetoric, however, trade with Israel continues unimpeded, even trade in weaponry.

To conclude, despite a checkered relationship between Israel and the two regional powers of Turkey and Egypt, Israel’s claim that it is pitted in the Middle East alone against a swarm of enemies is unfounded and misleading. While enemies of the Israeli state unmistakably exist, opposition to Israeli policies and their mistreatment of Palestinians does not equate to a call for Israel’s destruction. The change in both Türkiye and Egypt’s rhetoric toward Israel constitutes a critique of in Israel’s policies. The biggest and best-armed countries in the region other than Israel itself have remained uneasy economic and security partners for Tel Aviv throughout this crisis.

Why have Tunisia’s Women won so many more Rights than those in Iran? Thu, 26 Oct 2023 04:06:29 +0000 Istanbul (Special to Informed Comment) – To many foreign onlookers, Tunisia and Iran share many common qualities; Both countries are mostly Muslims and both are considered third world countries that have been influenced by western powers, Tunisia with the French colonization and Iran with the British Empire influence. Yet, when it comes to women rights, Tunisia has always been considered a leader in Women rights among Muslim countries, especially when compared to countries like Iran. This statement might be true in the first look but a deeper analysis of women rights in both countries demonstrate that this has not always been the case.

If we had to trace back the start of women rights in Tunisia, many would guide you back to the historic promulgation of progressive family law in Tunisia in 1956 right after the independence from France. This law made Tunisia a pioneer of women rights in the Arab world. Many Tunisian women give credit to the 1956 civil rights code (Code of Personal Status) to all the suffrage Tunisian women gained thereafter, alongside a focus on an accessible and an egalitarian education system that began to flourish after Tunisia’s independence. Since the unveiling of this code in 1956 by former President Habib Bourguiba, this day has become a celebration for Tunisian women every 13th of August as the women’s National day.

Despite critics of former President Bourguiba who argue that this code was nothing more than a facade used by the previous president, the effects were undoubtedly a big gain for Tunisian women. Although the country soon moved into a repressive authoritarian regime for more than 20 years led by former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the political and societal gains in women rights were safeguarded and even pushed forward. Yet, while these rights may appear to be modern and progressive, they were used by this regime to pander to the west and to hide the ugly realities of Ben Ali’s authoritarian regime that all came to collapse in 2011.

Global Land Tool Network: “Success stories: Women securing their housing, land, and property rights in Tunisia”

Political and economic instability and corruption in Tunisia were the catalyst for the 2011 Jasmine Revolution. However, Tunisian women took the chance provided by the revolution to push women’s rights into the central stage. Women were as essential as men in the protests leading to the success of the Revolution, and according to Lawyer Bilel Larbi, women from all walks of life were present in the protests; from veiled women to women in mini-skirts. Thanks to the Jasmine Revolution, women protected their already established rights, and gained even more political rights such as the 2014 gender-parity law in the parliament, the passing of the 2017 legislation concerning violence against women, or the fact that in 2018, women secured 47 percent of seats in local elections.

Since the 2011 revolution, women have truly established themselves in the political scene and fought hard to maintain and improve their rights. However, the fight for equality and representation is still an ongoing issue in the country especially with the new government. According to Ahlam Boursal, general secretary of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women, women in Tunisia still suffer from systematic violence and hate speech along with other major issues that still plague the Tunisian scene. Hence, Tunisian women do have major gains when it comes to women rights but it’s not enough. It was and still is an ongoing fight to protect these rights and push them even forward.

On the other hand, if we want to talk about women rights in Iran, we need to start with pre-revolutionary Iran. The Pahlavi era provided major gains in terms of women rights; Education was free and equal for boys and girls, in 1963, women gained the right to vote and run for parliament, the legal marriage age for women was raised from 13 to 18, and women were protected from unilateral divorce. However, many of these advancements came to a halt after the 1979 Revolution under Khomeini. The new government undid most of the progress in women rights as they were seen as a rejection of Islamic rules and as an imposition of western values.

Since the 1979 Revolution, compulsory hijab laws and the removal of Pahlavi era reforms in Iran have penetrated and restricted almost all aspects of women’s life in the country. For instance, The compulsory hijab laws in modern day Iran restrict Iranian women’s access to employment, education, social benefits and proper health care. Also, due to the removal of the 1967 Family Protection Act, Iranian women can lawfully wed at the age of 13 and even younger than that through judicial and parental consent. Hence, instead of pushing women rights forward, the revolution provided the contrary effects and brought them back years behind.

Throughout this era of regression in women rights in Iran, women activists were unable to sustain any strong political support to champion their case but they are hailed with social support all over the world. A major example of their situation is the many names of socially influential activists who were faced with harassment, intimidation, detention, and smear campaigns in the pursuit of their rights such as Narges Mohammadi, who received an 11 years sentence for leading a human rights organization on charges of “colluding against national security,” and “generating propaganda against the state.”.

A simple comparison of Iran and Tunisia’s cases would undoubtedly lead to the conclusion that Tunisia’s revolutions — first against France and then against Ben Ali’s regime — led to the improvement of women’s rights and their solidification. As for Iran’s case, the Khomeini revolution irreversibly led to the regression of women’s rights in Iran. However, a deeper analysis would provide a better explanation and a closer look at both countries.

Democracy Now! “Woman, Life, Freedom: Narges Mohammadi, Imprisoned Iranian Activist, Awarded 2023 Nobel Peace Prize”

For starters, the Khomeini revolution of 1979 deployed women in their protests against the Pahlavi rule but in contrast to the Tunisian Jasmine Revolution, women were used as instruments for the revolution, not as agents of change championing their own cause like in the Tunisian revolution. Hence, the main difference was that women rights were an essential cause in Tunisia’s case, and a hindrance and a liability for the Iranian’s revolution’s goals.

Furthermore, deeper down in history, women rights in Tunisia starting from the rule of Habib Bourguiba became an integral part in Tunisians’ lives and norms, starting with the Code of Personal Status, which is celebrated and hailed to this day by Tunisian women. Yet, these progressive changes in Iran at the hands of the Pahlavi rulers were seen by the masses as western norms imposed on the people and were massively rejected and seen as a rejection of Iran’s culture.

In the end, while many women in Tunisia do still face numerous challenges in Tunisian society, the core concepts of women’s rights “were considered important to Tunisians from the creation of their sovereign national identity” which led them to survive multiple revolutions and stay on the forefront of the country’s social issues. On the other hand, these same concepts were imposed on the public and favored by the pre-revolution government in Iran making them feel unauthentic and a tool to please the west which rendered them in the end ineffective and detrimental in the long run to the women’s cause.

African and Maghrebi “Migrants” versus Ukrainian “Refugees”: Europe’s Racial Tunnel Vision Creates discriminatory, and deadly, Policies Wed, 30 Aug 2023 05:13:29 +0000 Sousse, Tunisia (Special to Informed Comment; Feature) – The Mediterranean Sea route is still the most dangerous immigration route in the world. Since 2014, the UN has registered more than 20,000 deaths and disappearances in the Central Mediterranean Sea. Immigration to Europe is not a new phenomenon. Still, the numbers of immigrants have increased substantially over the last few decades, and these include especially undocumented immigrants from the Sub-Saharan regions of Africa. However, contrary to popular belief, Europe is not facing an immigration crisis, but more a policy question regarding selective immigration. The difference between who is considered a welcome refugee and who is seen as an unwelcome immigrant reveals a racial bias that is deep-rooted in Europe.

Most commentators about the Mediterranean migrants would claim that there is a migration crisis that explains the harsh treatment and the denial of entry for many refugees. However, is there really a crisis? In truth, the statistics suggest that immigration to Europe from Africa by sea has dropped significantly, from 362,000 in 2016 to around 172.000 in 2017 and to 110 000 in 2018. At the same time, since the war in Ukraine started in February 2022, more than 8 million refugees have been welcomed into Europe, with 40% of those being children. In contrast, 1 in 50 Mediterranean migrants ends up dead or missing. According to a Save the Children report, European countries and the EU exhibit a double standard when it comes to refugees.

Despite the provision of essential services by African immigrants to European states, their reception is often harsh, and often these newcomers are seen as a security threat. European countries’ main response to African immigration is to increase security, intensify national borders, and create more detention centers even at the expense of human lives. For instance, Italy recently made a deal with Libya to train its coast guard to reduce immigration vessels. However, it’s no secret that would-be immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa apprehended in Libya are sent to detention centers.  The bargain Italy struck with Tripoli knowingly left people to be tortured, kidnapped, and put horrendous living quarters. These measures are proven to not diminish immigration.  Instead, they force would-be immigrants to place themselves in the hands of people smugglers who pledge to get them past the Libyan security forces; but these same smugglers do not hesitate to put the lives of these immigrants at grave risk.

Most African immigrants are of North African heritage (Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia). They comprise almost two-thirds of all migrants in Europe. However, Sub-Saharan Africa is slowly increasing its percentage of immigrants to Europe. As far as destinations abroad, Europe attracts the biggest share of African migrants in comparison to other destinations like the US. This unequal distribution could be linked to multiple factors but mostly to “advantages with relation to transfer cost, and the established cultural and socio‐economic links of African Diasporas to the former colonial powers, England, France, Portugal, Spain, Germany and Italy” (GIGA).

This wave of immigration is for the most part portrayed by politicians and journalists as a negative phenomenon for European countries. In reality however, African migration has a complex impact both on the country of origin as well as on the new host countries. For many European states, African immigrants are “often a valuable and sought-after resource” (Africa and Europe). This is owing to the aging population of many European countries and labor shortages in these states. For example, in many European countries, migrants form a big percentage of the healthcare workforce, an essential sector, which was especially in evidence especially during the Covid-19 crisis. The role of high-powered professionals form Africa in Europe highlights one of the main concerns about this outflow, namely Brain Drain. Most African migrants, contrary to widespread belief, are highly skilled individuals. Over the last couple of decades, Africa has lost about one-third of its highly skilled workforce to developed countries in Europe.

         At the same time, African immigrants in Europe do provide their fair share of benefits to their home countries. A lot of African countries that send students and short-term immigrants north benefit from a reverse Brain Drain, such that migrants return to their home countries with their resumes enhanced by skills, knowledge, and values beneficial for the development of their respective countries.

         Even those who do manage to pass through European borders are not met with the warmest welcome. People confront challenges from the get-go, seeking shelter, food, facing hostile authorities, and more. However, the European response is to attack NGOs and individuals who seek to help such people. According to a 2015-2016 report published by the European Network Against Racism (ENAR), these African migrants who are in dire need of help, are often seen as “economic” or “illegal” immigrants without any consideration for the reasons of their immigration.

         Some of the Mediterranean refugees are facing the same situation as Ukrainians, that is, they are fleeing warfare or foreign intervention — including Afghans, Syrians, and Somalis. Yet, “it seemed as if there were two parallel realities: one for Ukrainians and another one for everyone else” (Save the Children). Not only that, but European countries were swift in their response to the Ukrainian crisis, but even far right-wing politicians from the EU who had always spouted a strong anti-immigration stance are now flocking to support Ukrainian refugees. This clearly highlights a deeper issue of racism. The change of heart for many Europeans towards immigration raises the question of who is seen as an immigrant and who is seen as a refugee. Europeans are observing the scene with racial lenses, categorizing newcomers as “Us” or “Them”.

         Ukrainians are truly suffering from a horrendous situation, and they deserve all the help they can get. Yet, the way the EU and the European countries show a double standard treatment exposes an ugly side of humanity. A comment by Flavio di Giacomo, a spokesperson for IOM Italy about rickety immigrant ships in the Mediterranean Sea holds true to this day on the double standard treatment of immigrants “European coast guards are slow to intervene because it is not a priority for their governments”  (NPR).


The French “Nahel” Protests spring from Systemic Racism, not Immigration or Islam Wed, 12 Jul 2023 04:15:42 +0000 Sousse, Tunisia (Special to Informed Comment; Feature) – Since June 27, every news channel has been covering the recent protests in Paris. On the surface, these disturbances are the result of a police shooting of an unarmed 17-year-old Nahel Merzouk who was attempting to flee the police at a traffic stop. However, many news outlets neglect to note that this is neither an isolated incident nor a simple case of poor policing. These riots and similar instances in France demonstrate the country’s deep-seated institutional racism.

Officially, France operates under the rule of a colorblind identity, There are no Black, white, or brown French, just a French citizen. However, the shooting of Nahel has reignited a debate over systematic racism that many French politicians refuse to acknowledge exists. Yet, in reality, the problem runs deeper in the country and is more complicated.

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Protesters hold placards reading “Justice for Adama, Nahel, Alhoussein and all the others” (R) and “Free our comrades” as they attend a demonstration against “State racism” in front of the court of Nanterre, western Paris, on July 10, 2023, following the shooting of a teenage driver by French police in the Paris suburb of Nanterre on June 27. More than 3,700 people were taken into police custody in connection with the protests since Nahel’s death, including at least 1,160 minors, according to official figures. (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP) (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA/AFP via Getty Images)

While many police officers reject the idea that minority groups are being discriminated against because of their skin color, a lot of incidents throughout the years prove otherwise. Solely in 2023, Nahel’s death has been the third police fatal shooting at a traffic stop. In most of the shootings throughout the years, the victims had been either black or of North African origin.  Furthermore, in 2021, Amnesty International along with other rights groups filed a lawsuit against the French state accusing it of police profiling on a racial basis.  

Another point that hints at police racism could be seen from the last French election. In that election, more than half of the police officers in France admitted that they would be voting for Marine Le Pen. The far-right candidate whose campaign focused mainly on anti-immigrant and anti-muslim rhetoric.

Nonetheless, this issue is not merely a police issue, it goes deep into French society.

A recent survey by the French representative council of Black Associations discovered that most black people in France have suffered from racial discrimination at one point or another.

Perhaps a better indicator of these sentiments can be seen in the fundraiser started for the 38-year-old police officer Florian M, who shot and killed Nahel. This fundraiser which was started by Jean Messiha, a former spokesperson for the far-right presidential candidate Éric Zemmour, had collected over €1m while a similar fundraiser for the family of the victim had amassed less than €200,000.

These sentiments attributed to French society have also, in more than one instance, been encouraged by French media. In more than one example, the French media frequently relied heavily on police sources without verifying them, but have also vilified and criminalized Nahel, as an individual who deserved to be shot dead, rather than a victim of police brutality.

So this issue is not only a police problem but it also has strings all over the French population. But one cannot turn a blind eye to this problem within the French politics itself.  

As we just mentioned earlier,  In the last France election, A rhetoric spread by the right-wing candidate Le Pen showcases the existence of these racist sentiments within French politics. However, these sentiments are not something new. Since the start of immigration waves toward France, it has been the strategy of French governments to designate specific suburbs away from city centers to host immigrant communities. In theory, to provide support for these communities, but in practice, it left these communities isolated and in dire need of opportunities.

That in itself explains how the recent riots are not something new for the French capital as it echoes the same tragedy of the 2005 riots. It was a riot instigated by the accidental electrocution and death of two teenagers who were hiding from police.

Many individuals believe that both the 2005 and 2023 riots have these deeply-seated concerns from these communities as a catalyst for the riots. Concerning the 2005 riots, Eric Favreau, a French social commentator, claimed that people living in these communities don’t seek violence “The inhabitants don’t want it. The Muslims don’t want it. Even the drug dealers don’t want it. But the problems in these suburbs have been left to stagnate for 30 years, and somehow they’re right. The more they burn cars, the more we pay attention to them (NPR) “.

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PARIS, FRANCE – JULY 8:Despite the ban on the annual march in tribute to Adama Traore, several hundred people gathered at Place de la Republique against police violence and the current climate of repression, at the call of Assa Traore, the Truth and Justice for Adama committee and NUPES-LFI deputies, in Paris on July 8, 2023,France. The memorial commemorated Adama Traoré, a black French man who died in custody in 2016 after he was arrested and restrained by police. The memorial comes the week after the death of 17-year-old Nahel Merzouk, who was killed by police in the Parisian suburb of Nanterre, an incident which sparked protests across the country. (Photo by Antoine Gyori – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

Similarly, Amine Kessaci, the brother of another victim of a police shooting, in an interview for BBC denounced the violence but argued that “There are no other options. There are no companies coming here and saying we’ll pay you more than minimum wage… here people are supermarket cashiers or cleaners or security guards. We can’t be judges, lawyers or accountants.” (BBC).

While the issue of systemic racism in France is not something new or something that can easily be sorted out, the way the French government has been dealing with it will only deepen the issue. Ignoring this issue will not make it go away. When France was called out by the UN for the shooting of Nahel, the French Foreign Ministry blatantly claimed “Any accusation of racism or systemic discrimination in the police force in France is totally unfounded (LeMonde)”.

Also, the way that Macron and the French government have been dealing with the riots depicts a misunderstanding of the roots of the issue. Macron tried to paint the recent riots as an issue of moral crumbling and youth rebellion on one hand and even showcased some signs of authoritarianism by threatening to cut off social media to stop street violence.

All in all, the steps taken by the French government at the moment seem to mostly deflect the rooted issues that not only caused this riot but also the 2005 riots. A self-reflection by the government and the French people is quite necessary before even thinking about starting a conversation about Racism within the colorblind country.