Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Talks Will Go Nowhere. By Benny Morris.

Talks Will Go Nowhere. By Benny Morris. The Daily Beast, April 10, 2012.


Western observers have suggested that this prospective exchange is equivalent to a diplomatic cul-de-sac, and have long pointed to Israeli recalcitrance over the settlements as the chief obstacle to progress toward peace. Recent Israeli government announcements of moves to beef up settlements on Jerusalem’s peripheries—most notably in Har Homa, a new neighborhood just east of the Jerusalem-Bethlehem road—have done nothing to help Israel’s image abroad.

And without doubt, the whole settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria—the Biblical term Israel uses to define the West Bank—has posed an obstacle to peace, intensifying Israeli acquisitive drives and expansionist ambitions as well as underlining Palestinian fears—or certainties—that Israel has no real intention of ever relinquishing the territories.

But in deep and broad historical terms, all of this is a giant red herring. The Palestinian political elite—both of the secular Fatah persuasion, which controls the PA, and Hamas, the Islamist party that has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007 (and won the Palestinian general elections in 2006)—has no intention of ever accepting Israel’s legitimacy or a two-state settlement based on the partition of Palestine into two states, one for the Palestinian Arabs and one for the Jewish people.

Hamas has always been clear about this; its 1988 charter states simply that, through jihad, it will uproot Zionism and that no Arab leader has the right to concede even one inch of Palestine’s sacred land to the Jews.

Fatah has played a more cagey game, but its historical record is no less clear to those willing to look at the facts. The successive leaders of the Palestinian Arab national movement have consistently rejected a two-state solution. Haj Amin al-Husseini, its first leader, did so twice, in 1937 (when he rejected the Peel Commission partition proposals) and in 1947-1948 (when he rejected the UN General Assembly partition plan, Resolution 181).  His successor, Yasser Arafat who founded the Fatah in the late 1950s and led it—and the PA—until his death in 2004, similarly decisively rejected the idea twice (while occasionally making vague positive noises to appease Washington and Western Europe): In 1978, when he turned down the Sadat-Begin Camp David Agreement that provided for the establishment of a Palestinian “Autonomy”—which would have devolved into statehood—in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; and in 2000, when he rejected the two-state proposals that ultimately offered the Palestinians 95% of the West Bank, 100% of the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem (Ehud Barak’s peace offer in July 2000 and the Clinton “Parameters” of December 2000, which the Barak government, albeit grudgingly, endorsed).

Neither in 1978 nor in 2000 did Abbas publicly dissent from Arafat’s rejectionist position—and, in 2008, after a protracted negotiation with then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Abbas himself in effect said “no” to Olmert’s peace plan, which had somewhat upgraded (from the Palestinian perspective) the Clinton “Parameters.” (Actually he never uttered a full-throated “no”—he simply refused to respond to the plan, despite American and Israeli prodding, and a few months later Olmert was out of office, replaced by Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition, and the plan was off the table).

To this one needs to add that Abbas has repeatedly, publicly, over the past decade rejected the Clinton formula of “two states for two peoples”—while endorsing what he calls a “two-state solution”—and has inflexibly affirmed the “right” of the Palestinian refugees to return to pre-1967 Israel proper. As there are in the world some 5-6 million Palestinian “refugees” (meaning those still left of the original 1948 refugees and their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren) and as Israel has about 1.5 million Arab citizens and less than 6 million Jewish citizens, a mass refugee return would create an Arab majority in Israel and nullify the state’s Jewish character.

This would seem to indicate that Abbas’s hoped-for “two-state solution” means one state for the Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza, and another state for the Palestinians (with a Jewish minority) where pre-1967 Israel used to be. This doesn’t really give the Jews very much, when it comes to their two-thousand year quest for a resumption of political sovereignty.

And this is the real, protracted, historical deal-breaker which will stymie the prospective “peace” meetings. Settlements can be finessed and uprooted (as Israel’s uprooting of all the Gaza Strip settlements in 2005 demonstrated). But uprooting deep, basic Palestinian rejectionism is a far more difficult task.

Of Herrings and Elephants: Benny Morris and “Palestinian Rejectionism.” By Daniel Levy. The Daily Beast, April 16, 2012.

A Response to Daniel Levy. By Benny Morris. The Daily Beast, April 17, 2012.

A Second Response to Benny Morris. By Daniel Levy. The Daily Beast, April 24, 2012.

Israel Under Siege. By Benny Morris. The Daily Beast, July 31, 2012.

Palestinians Dupe West. By Benny Morris. The National Interest, April 25, 2011.

Ilan Pappe: The Liar as Hero. By Benny Morris. The New Republic, March 17, 2011. From the April 7, 2011 issue. Also here.

Bleak House: The Grim Prospects for a Palestinian State. By Benny Morris. Tablet, December 2, 2010.


Which brings us to the current Israeli-Palestinian negotiating impasse. I am not talking about the tactical problem posed by continued or discontinued Israeli construction in West Bank settlements, which will probably be resolved, after some bumps and hesitations. I am speaking of a basic, strategic impasse which, unfortunately, is far more cogent and telling than the ongoing “negotiations,” which are unlikely to lead to a peace treaty or even a “framework” agreement for a future peace accord. This unlikelihood stems from a set of obstacles that I see as insurmountable, given current political-ideological mindsets.

The first, the one that American and European officials never express and—if impolitely mentioned in their presence—turn away from in distaste, is that Palestinian political elites, of both the so-called “secular” and Islamist varieties, are dead set against partitioning the Land of Israel/Palestine with the Jews. They regard all of Palestine as their patrimony and believe that it will eventually be theirs. History, because of demography and the steady empowerment of the Arab and Islamic worlds and the West’s growing alienation from Israel, and because of Allah’s wishes, is, they believe, on their side. They do not want a permanent two-state solution, with a Palestinian Arab state co-existing alongside a (larger) Jewish state; they will not compromise on this core belief and do not believe, on moral or practical grounds, that they should.

This basic Palestinian rejectionism, amounting to a Weltanschauung, is routinely ignored or denied by most Western commentators and officials. To grant it means to admit that the Israeli-Arab conflict has no resolution apart from the complete victory of one side or the other (with the corollary of expulsion, or annihilation, by one side of the other)—which leaves leaders like President Barack Obama with nowhere realistic to go with regard to the conflict. Philosophically, acceptance of the rock-like unpliability of this reality is extremely problematic, given the ongoing military and philosophical clash between the West and various forces in the Islamic world. Perhaps the fight between America and its allies and its enemies in the Middle East and South Asia and North Africa and the banlieues of Western Europe will go on and on, until one side is vanquished?

In this connection, our age, it may turn out, resembles the classic age of appeasement, the 1930s, when the Western democracies (and the Soviet Union) were ranged against, but preferred not to confront, Nazi Germany and its allies, Fascist Italy, and expansionist Japan. During that decade, Hitler’s inexorable martial, racist, and uncompromising mindset was misread by Western leaders, officials, and intellectuals—and for much the same reasons. Living in unideological societies, they could not fathom the minds and politics of their ideologically driven antagonists. The leaders and intellectuals of the Western democracies, educated and suffused with liberal and relativist values, by and large were unable to comprehend the essential “otherness” of Hitler and ended up fighting him, to the finish, after negotiation and compromise had proved useless.


Another problem for Westerners is that the Palestinians, by design or no, speak to them in several voices. Hamas, which may represent the majority of the Palestinian people and certainly has the unflinching support of some 40 percent of them, speaks clearly. It openly repudiates a two-state solution. Hamas leaders, to bamboozle naïve (or wicked) Westerners like Henry Siegman, occasionally express a tactical readiness for a long-term truce under terms that they know are unacceptable to any Jewish Israelis (complete Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders and acceptance of the refugees’ “Right of Return”), but their strategic message is clear, echoing the Roman statesman Cato the Elder: “Israel must be destroyed.”

The secular Palestinian leadership looks to a similar historical denouement but is more flexible on the tactics and pacing. They express a readiness for a two-state solution but envision such an outcome as intermediate and temporary. They speak of two states, a Palestinian Arab West Bank-Gaza-East Jerusalem state and another state whose population is Jewish and Arab and which they believe will eventually become majority-Arab within a generation or two through Arab procreation (Palestinian Arab birth-rates are roughly twice those of Israeli Jews) and the “return” of Palestinians with refugee status. This is why Fatah’s leaders, led by Palestine National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, flatly reject the Clintonian formula of “two states for two peoples” and refuse to recognize the “other” state, Israel, as a “Jewish state.” They hope that this “other” state will also, in time, be “Arabized,” thus setting the stage for the eventual merger of the two temporary states into one Palestinian Arab-majority state between the River and the Sea.

Review Article: Benny Morris, Islamophobia, and the Case for the One-State Solution. By Oren Ben-Dor. Holy Land Studies, Vol. 9, No. 2 (November 2010).

One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel/Palestine Conflict. By Benny Morris. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2009.

Review of Benny Morris, One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel/Palestine Conflict. By Peter Gubser. Middle East Policy, Vol. 16, No. 4 (Winter 2009). Also here.

The Zero-Sum Question. By Elliot Jager. Commentary, July 1, 2009. Review of One State, Two States. By Benny Morris. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2009.

Review of Benny Morris, One State, Two States. By Ami Isseroff. MidEastWeb.

Christopher Hitchens has no love for Muslims unless they’re Palestinian. By Benny Morris. Haaretz, September 29, 2010.

Benny Morris on a “secular, democratic Palestine.” Elder of Ziyon, May 13, 2009. Also here, here, and The Augean Stables. [Excerpted from One State, Two States, pp 167-171.]


The Palestinian national movement started life with a vision and goal of a Palestinian Muslim Arab-majority state in all of Palestine — a one-state “solution” — and continues to espouse and aim to establish such a state down to the present day. Moreover, and as a corollary, al-Husseini, the Palestinian national leader during the 1930s and 1940s; the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which led the national movement from the 1960s to Yasser Arafat’s death in November, 2004; and Hamas today — all sought and seek to vastly reduce the number of Jewish inhabitants in the country, in other words, to ethnically cleanse Palestine. Al-Husseini and the PLO explicitly declared the aim of limiting Palestinian citizenship to those Jews who had lived in Palestine permanently before 1917 (or, in another version, to limit it to those 50,000-odd Jews and their descendants). This goal was spelled out clearly in the Palestinian National Charter and in other documents. Hamas has been publicly more reserved on this issue, but its intentions are clear.

The Palestinian vision was never — as described by various Palestinian spokesmen in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s to Western journalists — of a “secular, democratic Palestine” (though it certainly sounded more palatable than, say, the “destruction of Israel,” which was the goal it was meant to paper over or camouflage). Indeed, “a secular democratic Palestine” had never been the goal of Fatah or the so-called moderate groups that dominated the PLO between the 1960s and the 2006 elections that brought Hamas to power.

Middle East historian Rashid Khalidi has written that “in 1969 [the PLO] amended [its previous goal and henceforward advocated] the establishment of a secular democratic state in Palestine for Muslims, Christians and Jews, replacing Israel.” And Palestinian-American journalist Ali Abunimah has written, in his recent book, One Country: “The PLO did ultimately adopt [in the late 1960s or 1970s] the goal of a secular, democratic state in all Palestine as its official stance.”

This is hogwash. The Palestine National Council (PNC) never amended the Palestine National Charter to the effect that the goal of the PLO was “a secular democratic state in Palestine.” The words and notion never figured in the charter or in any PNC or PLO Central Committee or Fatah Executive Committee resolutions, at any time. It is a spin invented for gullible Westerners and was never part of Palestinian mainstream ideology. The Palestinian leadership has never, at any time, endorsed a “secular, democratic Palestine.”

The PNC did amend the charter, in 1968 (not 1969). But the thrust of the emendation was to limit non-Arab citizenship in a future Arab-liberated Palestine to “Jews who had normally resided in Palestine until the beginning of the Zionist invasion” — that is, 1917.

True, the amended charter also guaranteed, in the future State of Palestine, “freedom of worship and of visit” to holy sites to all, “without discrimination of race, colour, language or religion.” And, no doubt, this was music to liberal Western ears. But it had no connection to the reality or history of contemporary Muslim Arab societies. What Muslim Arab society in the modern age has treated Christians, Jews, pagans, Buddhists and Hindus with tolerance and as equals? Why should anyone believe that Palestinian Muslim Arabs would behave any differently?

Western liberals like, or pretend, to view Palestinian Arabs, indeed all Arabs, as Scandinavians, and refuse to recognize that peoples, for good historical, cultural and social reasons, are different and behave differently in similar or identical sets of circumstances.

So where did the slogan of “a secular, democratic Palestine” originate? That goal was first explicitly proposed in 1969 by the small Marxist splinter group the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). According to Khalidi, “It was [then] discreetly but effectively backed by the leaders of the mainstream, dominant Fatah movement . . . The democratic secular state model eventually became the official position of the PLO.” As I have said, this is pure invention. The PNC, PLO and Fatah turned down the DFLP proposal, and it was never adopted or enunciated by any important Palestinian leader or body – though the Western media during the 1970s were forever attributing it to the Palestinians. As a result, however, the myth has taken hold that this was the PLO’s official goal through the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

And today, again, and for the same reasons – the phrase retains its good, multicultural, liberal ring – “a secular, democratic Palestine” is bandied about by Palestinian one-state supporters. And a few one-statists, indeed, may sincerely believe in and desire such a denouement. But given the realities of Palestinian politics and behaviour, the phrase objectively serves merely as camouflage for the goal of a Muslim Arab-dominated polity to replace Israel. And, as in the past, the goal of “a secular democratic Palestine” is not the platform or policy of any major Palestinian political institution or party.

Indeed, the idea of a “secular democratic Palestine” is as much a nonstarter today as it was three decades ago. It is a nonstarter primarily because the Palestinian Arabs, like the world’s other Muslim Arab communities, are deeply religious and have no respect for democratic values and no tradition of democratic governance.

And matters have only gotten worse since the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. For anyone who has missed the significance of Hamas’s electoral victory in 2006 and the violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007, a mere glance at the West Bank and Gaza today (and, indeed, at Israel’s Arab minority villages and towns) reveals a landscape dominated by rapidly multiplying mosque minarets, the air filled with the calls to prayer of the muezzins and alleyways filled with hijab-ed women. Only fools and children were persuaded in 2006-07 that Hamas beat Fatah merely because they had an uncorrupt image or dispensed aid to the poor. The main reasons for the Hamas victory were religious and political: the growing religiosity of the Palestinian masses and their “recognition” that Hamas embodies the “truth” and, with Allah’s help, will lead them to final victory over the infidels, much as Hamas achieved, through armed struggle, the withdrawal of the infidels from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

And Now For Some Facts. By Benny Morris. The New Republic, May 8, 2006. Also here. Review of Mearsheimer and Walt.


From Mearsheimer and Walt, you would never suspect that the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem in 1948 occurred against the backdrop, and as the result, of a war—a war that for the Jews was a matter of survival, and which those same Palestinians and their Arab brothers had launched. To omit this historical background is bad history—and stark dishonesty. It is quite true, and quite understandable, that the Israeli government during the war decided to bar a return of the refugees to their homes—to bar the return of those who, before becoming refugees, had attempted to destroy the Jewish state and whose continued loyalty to the Jewish state, if they were readmitted, would have been more than questionable. There was nothing “innocent,” as Mearsheimer and Walt put it, about the Palestinians and their behavior before their eviction-evacuation in 1947-1948 (as there was nothing innocent about Haj Amin al Husseini’s work for the Nazis in Berlin from 1941 to 1945, broadcasting anti-Allied propaganda and recruiting Muslim troops for the Wehrmacht). And what befell the Palestinians was not “a moral crime,” whatever that might mean; it was something the Palestinians brought down upon themselves, with their own decisions and actions, their own historical agency. But they like to deny their historical agency, and many “sympathetic” outsiders like to abet them in this illusion, which is significantly responsible for their continued statelessness.

A new exodus for the Middle East? By Benny Morris. The Guardian, October 2, 2002.

No chance for peace in Israel. By Benny Morris. The Guardian, February 20, 2002.

Survival of the Fittest. Interview with Benny Morris by Ari Shavit. Haaretz, January 9, 2004. Also here, here, here. Part 1 here, here. Part 2 here, here. Part 1 at Haaretz. Part 2 at Haaretz.

Benny Morris: Moral Bankruptcy of a Zionist Historian. By Richard Silverstein. Tikkun Olam, February 25, 2004.

Diagnosing Benny Morris: The mind of a European settler. By Gabriel Ash. The Electronic Intifada, January 27, 2004.

Moral decay and Benny Morris. By Ali Abunimah. The Electronic Intifada, January 24, 2004.

Benny Morris’s Shocking Interview. By Baruch Kimmerling. History News Network, January 26, 2004. Also at The Electronic Intifada.

Relative Humanity: The Fundamental Obstacle to a One-State Solution in Historic Palestine. By Omar Barghouti. The Electronic Intifada, January 6, 2004. Part 1Part 2.

The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited. By Benny Morris. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Also here.

Eyeless in Zion: When Palestine First Exploded. By Anita Shapira. The New Republic, December 11, 2000. Review of Tom Segev, One Palestine Complete.

The Past Is Not a Foreign Country: The Failure of Israel’s “New Historians” to Explain War and Peace. By Anita Shapira. The New Republic, November 29, 1999.

The New Historiography: Israel Confronts Its Past. By Benny Morris. Tikkun, November/December 1988.

The Causes and Character of the Arab Exodus from Palestine: The Israel Defence Forces Intelligence Branch Analysis of June 1948. By Benny Morris. Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 22, No. 1 (January 1986).

Operation Dani and the Palestinian Exodus from Lydda and Ramle in 1948. By Benny Morris. The Middle East Journal, Vol. 40, No. 1 (Winter 1986).

Myths and Historiography of the 1948 Palestine War Revisited: The Case of Lydda. By Alon Kadish and Avraham Sela. The Middle East Journal, Vol. 59 No. 4 (Autumn 2005).

Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001. By Benny Morris. New York: Vintage Books, 2001. Part 1. Part 2. Also here.

1948 as Jihad. By Benny Morris. NJBR, July 14, 2013. With related articles.

The Arab World Needs Its Own Nelson Mandela – and Its Own FW de Klerk.

The Arab world needs its own Nelson Mandela – and its own FW de Klerk. By Richard Spencer. The Telegraph, December 10, 2013.

U.S. Plan for Israel’s Safety. By Ron Ben-Yishai.

U.S. plan for Israel’s safety. By Ron Ben-Yishai. Ynet News, December 5, 2013.

Imbalance in Israel. By Richard Cohen.

Imbalance in Israel. By Richard Cohen. Real Clear Politics, December 10, 2013. Also at the Washington Post.


In “My Promised Land,” Ari Shavit’s anguished book about Israel, there is plenty about the mistreatment of Palestinians — today, yesterday and always. Some of it is just plain sickening, reminiscent of the ethnic cleansing attempted in the Balkans. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, a passage pierces the gloom like the sun breaking through the fog. Shavit is walking in the Galillee with Palestinian-Israeli attorney Mohammed Dahla when the lawyer’s phone rings. The family of an accused terrorist is asking Dahla to represent him. From a hilltop, the lawyer calls the Jerusalem police to find his client and declare his interest in the case. Then he and Shavit resume their walk. Justice was served.
Does the alacrity, the efficiency, the very existence of the Israeli justice system outweigh or negate the occupation of the West Bank? No. Does it matter that in the nearby Arab states, justice is the word for the outcome the government wants? No. Does any of that compensate for what the Palestinians have suffered? No. The answer is always no.
But the immense virtue of Shavit’s book is its insistent use of the concept of “and.” It is not so much said as implied, and it is actually the theme of the book. Much of Israel’s history is about parallelism. Things happen and at the same time other things happen. Palestinians are oppressed and they are given legal representation. Israel conquers the Gaza Strip and then withdraws. The blogger’s handy word “but” is of no use here. Nothing balances. Everything exists at the same time.
Take the ethnic cleansing of Lydda during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948. “Lydda is our black box,” Shavit writes. “In it lies the dark secret of Zionism. The truth is that Zionism could not bear Lydda.”
And yet the truth is also that the emerging state needed to control the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv road. A civil war was underway, and victory required atrocity. Some 50,000 to 70,000 Palestinians were evicted from the area. The innocent were murdered. Terrible things happened. Shavit provides first-person accounts, but Israeli historians, particularly Benny Morris in his book “1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War,” have not ignored the ethnic cleansing that produced what the Arabs call “the Nakba,” the catastrophe. Israel is more than an open society. It is an open wound.
Israel today is 20 percent Arab. This is because the country was not ethnically cleansed. Israel did not follow what in 1945 through 1948 was standard behavior — the population transfers approved by the victors of World War II. Europe was ethnically reorganized — no Germans in Poland; no Germans in Czechoslovakia, either. And, lest we forget, the British approved the plan to swap Muslims and Hindus in the creation of Pakistan. All over the world, millions died — at least 500,000 ethnic Germans alone.
Shavit is an Israeli aristocrat, if such a thing exists. He is fourth-generation Israeli, a columnist for the robustly left-of-center newspaper Haaretz, and so he knows many of the people who run the country. Unfortunately, it is precisely people like him who could be affected by various academic organizations that want to boycott Israel. One of them, the National Council of the American Studies Association, just passed such a resolution, but from the evidence it could sorely benefit from listening to Israeli academics. The Americans know so much, yet understand so little.
A virtue of Shavit’s virtuous book is that it exhumes the dream of Zionism — and also its success. This was a movement that saved countless lives, that was fueled by the ovens of Auschwitz, that became imbued with the appealing dreaminess of socialism and whose leaders often espoused tolerance and respect for the Palestinians. (“I am certain that the world will judge the Jewish state by what it will do with the Arabs,” Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann, wrote before taking office.) These Zionists never lost sight of the right thing. Sometimes, though, they just couldn’t do it.
Shavit has nothing in common with the religiously zealous West Bank settlers. He wants them all — religious, nationalist, secular, whatever — gone. This is what I want, too. But when Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip, it got a daily barrage of rockets by way of thanks. What if the West Bank becomes, like Gaza, a Hamas state?
In Israel, nothing is easy, which is why the subtitle of Shavit’s book is “The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel.” One does not balance the other — and both are true.

Egypt’s Trouble with Women. By Alaa al Aswany.

Egypt’s Trouble with Women. By Alaa al Aswany. New York Times, December 8, 2013. Translated from the Arabic by Russell Harris.


CAIRO — In December 1933, an air race from Cairo to Alexandria was held. The first plane to cross the finish line was piloted by a 26-year-old woman named Lotfia El Nadi, Egypt’s first female aviator.
To have a flying career was not easy for Lotfia. Her father had rejected the idea, but she did not despair. She persuaded the director of the Institute of Aviation to let her work, free of charge, as his secretary — in exchange for flying lessons. As she later explained, “I learned to fly because I love to be free.”
Lotfia became a hero and a national treasure in the eyes of Egyptians. Women saw her as an inspiration in their struggle for equal rights, and many young women followed her example by applying for flying lessons. Egyptian women made advances in equality throughout the period of the monarchy, which ended in 1953. After the republic of Egypt was established, under Gamal Abdel Nasser, women continued to advance, achieving positions in universities, Parliament and the senior judiciary.
The historical advancement of Egyptian women contrasts sharply with the results of a new Thomson Reuters Foundation survey that found Egypt ranked overall worst among 22 Arab countries for discrimination in law, sexual harassment and the paucity of female political representation. Why do Lotfia’s granddaughters suffer from problems today that she managed to overcome 80 years ago?
After the 1973 war in the Middle East, the price of oil shot up. This gave Gulf states unprecedented power, while the economic shock forced millions of Egyptians to emigrate to work there. Many of these Egyptians came home having absorbed radical Wahhabi values.
Egypt’s tradition of moderate Islam recognized women’s rights and encouraged women to study and work. By contrast, for Wahhabis, a woman’s job is to please her husband and provide offspring. Wahhabi preachers promote female genital mutilation, to control women’s sexuality. A woman must cover her body completely and may not study, work or travel. She cannot even leave the house without her husband’s permission.
Wahhabism has influenced all Islamic societies and movements, including Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. As it spread in Egypt, more women started to wear the hijab, or head scarf. But this did not create a virtuous society; it led to the reverse.
Until the end of the 1970s, many Egyptian women still went without head scarves, wearing modern Western-style dress, yet incidents of sexual harassment were rare. Now, with the spread of the hijab, harassment has taken on epidemic proportions. A 2008 study from the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights revealed that 83 percent of women interviewed had been subjected to sexual harassment at least once, and that 50 percent experienced it on a daily basis.
Why is it that men did not harass Egyptian women when they wore short skirts but that sexual harassment has increased against women in head scarves? When ultraconservative doctrine dehumanizes women, reducing them to objects, it legitimizes acts of sexual aggression against them.
The Mubarak regime had various differences with the followers of political Islam, but the two camps converged in their contempt toward women. In spite of some formal reforms instigated by Suzanne Mubarak, who wanted to appear as an enlightened first lady, the Mubarak era witnessed a deterioration in women’s rights.
Even so, it was not until 2005 that sexual harassment became an organized form of retribution against Egyptian women who took part in anti-Mubarak demonstrations. The security apparatus paid thugs, known as “beltagiya,” to gang up on a woman attending a demonstration, tear off her clothes and molest her. This sexualized form of punishment continued through the period of the military regime and into the Brotherhood’s rule.
On Dec. 17, 2011, during a demonstration against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces near Tahrir Square in Cairo, soldiers pulled a female protester’s clothes off and dragged her along the ground, stomping on her with their boots. A video of the attack went viral, eliciting the sympathy of millions. Solidarity committees were formed, and the victim of the attack became an icon for Egyptian women. But the Islamists, at that time allied with the council, mocked the victim, blaming her for not staying in the home — as was seemly for a respectable woman.
During the revolution, millions of Egyptian women went out and bravely faced snipers’ bullets, but those who gained power played down their bravery and attempted to sideline them. After the 2012 election that brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power, there were only 10 female members of Parliament out of a total of 508. President Mohamed Morsi’s later attempt to rewrite the Egyptian Constitution would also have removed the only female judge on the Supreme Constitutional Court.
In short, the Islamists strove to eradicate the gains Egyptian women had made. They tried to overturn the law punishing doctors who carried out female genital mutilation, and refused to consider the marriage of minors as a form of human trafficking by claiming that Islam permitted a girl as young as 10 years old to be married.
Women’s rights are a bellwether of the current conflict in Egypt. The revolutionaries are fighting for equality, whereas the reactionary forces of both the Brotherhood and the Mubarak regime are trying to strip women of their political and social rights and make them subject to men’s authority.
The conflict will eventually be resolved in favor of women because the revolution represents a future that no one can prevent. In 2002, Lotfia El Nadi died at age 95. Shortly before her death, she said: “I don’t recognize Egypt as it is now, but the Egypt I knew will return. I am certain of that.”

Obama Takes a Selfie at Mandela Memorial. By Peter Grier.

President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron pose for a picture with Denmark’s Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt next to First Lady Michelle Obama during the memorial service of South African former president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on December 10, 2013. (Photo: ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images.)

Obama takes selfie at Mandela memorial. Inappropriate? By Peter Grier. The Christian Science Monitor, December 10, 2013.

President Obama poses for a funeral selfie and gets chummy with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt but Michelle does not look impressed. By Leslie Larson. New York Daily News, December 10, 2013.

President Obama snaps a selfie at Mandela’s memorial service. By Caitlin Dewey. Washington Post, December 10, 2013. Also here.

Obama Takes Selfie with World Leaders at Mandela Memorial, and Michelle Is Having None of It. By Paige Lavender. The Huffington Post, December 10, 2013.

The media’s Michelle Obama problem: What a selfie says about our biases. By Roxane Gay. Salon, December 10, 2013.


The overanalysis of the first lady’s expression speaks volumes about America’s expectations of black women. . . .
More than anything, the response to these latest images of Michelle Obama speaks volumes about the expectations placed on black women in the public eye and how a black woman’s default emotional state is perceived as angry. The black woman is ever at the ready to aggressively defend her territory. She is making her disapproval known. She never gets to simply be.

Michelle Obama was not unhappy during Nelson Mandela “selfie,” photographer insists. By Natasha Clark. The Telegraph, December 11, 2013.

Mandela funeral selfie adds to image problem for Denmark’s prime minister. By Andrew Anthony. The Guardian, December 14, 2013.

The Great Mandela Selfie. Cartoon by Chip Bok. Bokbluster, December 13, 2013. Also at Real Clear Politics.

Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt of Denmark: Bilateral Meeting with President Obama (2012). Video. The Film Archive, May 20, 2012. YouTube.

Raúl Castro Honors Mandela, But Ignores His Message. By Alex Massie.

Raúl Castro Honors Mandela, But Ignores His Message. By Alex Massie. The Daily Beast, December 10, 2013.

“The last great liberator”: Why Mandela made and stayed friends with dictators. By Max Fisher. Washington Post, December 10, 2013. Also here.