Glimpse into 2014 struggles draws image of upcoming year
This year was a powerful amalgamation of torment, dissent, and small victories – a mixture of struggles, oftentimes intersecting, which will shape the new year.
Resistance across Egypt, against the torrent of brutal authoritarianism, is ongoing, and the battle that is being waged against the Sisi regime, which is still netting protesters and attempting to expand its security forces, has not dimmed. This week, 24 protesters, including Yara Sallam, Transitional Justice Officer at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), were sentenced to two years imprisonment after being charged under Egypt’s restrictive assembly law. This signifies not a deviation from the Mubarak-era suppression but a sustained follow-through, and arguably at times the actions of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s illegitimate government have outdone even Mubarak’s. Under the current regime a more brazenly Zionist Egypt has taken center stage, making life for Palestinians in Gaza, many of whom are internally displaced, a living nightmare as they watch another Arab regime collude with the occupier, preventing them from having access to education, healthcare and going as far as to plan the demolition of 1,000 homes in order to expand the Rafah border, forcing many, who are still healing from the latest Gaza war, deeper into the throes of despair.
The displacement of the Palestinians converges with another cruelty – the displacement of the Syrian people. Syrians have been forced into refugee tents by unwavering violence, not only from inside and above but from host countries who are preventing them from having access to proper medical care, work and housing. Lebanon, which is now home to the largest Syrian refugee presence, over 1.1 million according to UNHCR, has unleashed its own brutality against the Syrian people; from the sexual abuse of Syrian women, violence against Syrian workers, to incomprehensible living arrangements by greedy landlords who are looking to profit off misery. To make matters worse, Syrians are also facing ISIS, which threatens to destroy any viable resolution to the conflict, and seeks to expand a violent pseudo-state by indiscriminately targeting anyone deemed a threat, as ISIS is composed of equal opportunity destroyers.
In Bahrain the long shadow of despotism reaches far into the streets, generously filling the jail cells with people like women’s rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja, recently sentenced to three years in prison after she ripped up a photo of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, and Ghada Jamsheer, head of the Women’s Petition Committee, who has been under house arrest since December 19, facing at least 12 charges. Al-Khawaja and Jamsheer are not the only women in the region facing an all-encompassing totalitarian state. In Saudi Arabia, 25-year-old Loujain al-Hathloul, who called for women to join the October 26 movement to end, among other things, the absurd restrictions on driving by taking to the roads, was arrested for doing just that. Al-Hathloul and 33-year-old Maysa al-Amoudi were arrested November 30, al-Hathloul for attempting to drive from the United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia and al-Amoudi after she arrived to support her.
At the forefront of the greater campaign for women’s rights are organizations in the region that challenge patriarchy, heteronormativity, and imperialism such as Beirut-based Nasawiya and Lebanon’s secular Lebanese civil society organization KAFA (Enough). Nasawiya, working alongside other local groups, have been involved in the fight against Lebanon’s nationality laws, sectarianism, and domestic violence. A domestic violence law, the first of its kind in Lebanon, passed by Lebanon’s parliament on April 1, after a strong, year-long campaign lead by KAFA. KAFA, which works tirelessly to not only provide domestic abuse victims and abusers with counseling, but child protection services, has criticized legislators for not focusing more on women, though despite the laws shortcomings many are calling this a step forward and women’s right activists in Lebanon are promising to continue the fight so as to bring about even more impactful, long-lasting change.
Nasawiya and KAFA have long challenged local discourse regarding not only Lebanese women but migrant domestic workers in Lebanon, and provide migrants with social and legal counseling. A recent publication by KAFA, “If Not For The System,” reveals the stories of women migrant workers in Lebanon, in both English and Arabic, and the exploitation they face as they navigate the oftentimes racist and abusive landscape. Lebanon’s migrant workers, who already face physical abuse at the hands of those they work for, are now struggling even harder to make a living if they are found to be Syrian, as many Syrians are now facing the obstacle of a war being waged against their identities, as they are being senselessly blamed for violent extremism in the country. In Qatar we also see the horrific crimes being committed against migrant workers. In a report released in May the Qatari government admitted to some 1,000 migrant deaths, at least one a day, in the last two years alone. Six months after this report was published, and after promising to reform its abominable system, “only a handful of the limited measures announced in May have even been partially implemented,” according to Sherif Elsayid-Ali, Amnesty International’s head of refugee and migrant rights.
It is difficult to read into the future, despite the imprints left behind this year, like a constellation of stains on the inside of a coffee cup. But one can hope that the minor victories for rights that were attained this year – despite the major setbacks – can set the tone for the coming years and forge a more auspicious new year for all.
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