Lebanon’s banking sector is constantly walking a fine line when it comes to financial transactions with Hezbollah. On the one hand, banking officials want to please US regulators who see Hezbollah as a terrorist group; on the other hand, the support of the Lebanese public has turned Hezbollah into a major political party, and is therefore seen as a legitimate actor. This contradiction is frequently under scrutiny and came to a head recently when the US Department of the Treasury blacklisted two Lebanese exchange houses under Section 311 of the Patriot Act, denouncing them as a “primary money laundering concern”.
Lebanon is a familiar character in the world of illicit finance due to its covert banking system and a lack of transparent regulations; however, Hezbollah’s categorization as a political group there and a terrorist organization elsewhere will continue to put the country at risk for sanctions.
Lebanon’s Drug Connection
The Lebanese case is not simply about banking regulations, but delves into the relationship between financial crime and other illicit activity – as a group, Hezbollah has connections to international crime rings and drug smuggling that many other partakers in illicit finance do not have, which makes the issue of banking even more complicated.
In the most recent case, two moneychangers, Kassem Rmeiti & Co. for Exchange and Halawi Exchange Co., were accused of laundering money for the Lebanese drug czar Ayman Joumaa and using those funds to finance Hezbollah (and therefore, terrorism).
This is not the first time that Joumaa and his connection to Hezbollah have come under US Treasury fire. In 2011, the Treasury department sanctioned Lebanese Canadian Bank for laundering and redistributing the spoils of the illegal drug trade. Officials now allege that after LCB closed, Joumaa transferred his financial transactions to the two smaller and lesser-known money exchanges.
The link between Hezbollah and drug activity is not new. It is known that Hezbollah gets its funding from both legitimate and illegitimate sources, from narcotics trafficking (much of it related to the sizable Lebanese population in South America) to used car businesses, charities and beyond.
However, the link between Hezbollah and drug smuggling is unlikely to slow any time soon, as its largest financial supporter, Iran, continues to struggle economically and fiscally due to sanctions over its controversial nuclear program. As a result, Hezbollah will increasingly need to find financial sources elsewhere. In fact, the situation will continue to worsen as its other supporter in the region, the Shiite regime of Bashar al-Assad, fights the rebel groups in Syria for power.
Regardless of the fault of bankers involved, some Arabic sources have decried the practice of blacklisting banks that interact with Hezbollah. Since Hezbollah is widely seen as a political group and is a prominent figure in Lebanon’s government, the majority of Lebanese banks must deal with members of Hezbollah, or so they argue. For the US to attack banks with any connection to Hezbollah is unfair and unjust, since only the US and Israel consider Hezbollah proper to be a terrorist group (other countries, namely European, only consider Hezbollah’s armed wing to be a terrorist group).
Businesses in Lebanon are now seeing the repercussions of this activity. At the same time, however, assuming that these businesses are blind-sided or acting under duress is faulty. Lebanon’s largest banking group, the Association of Banks in Lebanon, announced that it would abide by all US sanctions and has even hired American legal council to help it increase transparency and stability.
Therefore, it could be said that the banks and financial institutions involved are doing so with the full knowledge that they are out of compliance with previously stated standards. Indeed, truly legitimate businesses refuse to take part in crime-related financial activity.
In some ways, the Arab reports are correct. As long as Hezbollah is considered a political party and is active in the government, financial institutions will be forced to deal with members of the group. Yet, as long as Hezbollah is considered a terror group by the US, the Treasury Department will be blacklisting Lebanese banks.
The US Response
In truth, groups such as Hezbollah have merged the line between politics, terrorism, and social works so thoroughly that it is next-to-impossible to ferret out the funds used for illegal activity. Members of Hezbollah hold government seats and in much of the country Hezbollah provides basic needs such as education, medical care, and infrastructure for communication. To take money away from Hezbollah is just as likely to deprive these sorts of activities from funding as it is to prevent the funding of another bombing in Burgas, Bulgaria (which most countries, even those that officially categorize Hezbollah as a political group, acknowledge was planned and carried out by members of Hezbollah).
However, until intelligence officials are consistently able to keep track of what money goes where, depriving groups that act as social movements as well as terror supporters will continue to raise the hackles of those who focus on social justice. Unfortunately, as long as Hezbollah funds both hospitals and terrorism, banks in Lebanon will be hounded for their interactions with the group.
This article was originally published on the WIIS-Israel blog on May 11, 2013.
Sophie Jacobs has a BS in economics and mathematics from the University of Washington and an MA in Middle East Studies from Tel Aviv University. She works as an analyst writing about Middle East economics, finance, and business.
This article originally appeared in the Central Eurasia Standard on April 19, 2013.
The Boston Bomber suspects may be Chechen and lived at one time in Dagestan. These are not the same places. We don’t know anything else about the suspects, and they have/had lived in America for a very long time as well. But since Chechnya and Dagestan are all over the news now, here’s the very basics of what you should know about the ongoing conflicts in these regions.
This post is not speculating on the guilt or motivations of the suspects. You can get all of that from other sources. Since these two conflicts have just been hurled forward into the public eye, this is a quick catch-up. We are in no way implicating the regions or ethnic groups from these regions in the crimes committed. We are simply trying to shed light on the complex history of the regions so people can better understand them before conflating them with other parts of the world that are associated, rightly or wrongly, with extremism.
To reiterate: these are two separate territories, with many different conflicts, insurgencies and militant groups. Both countries have separatist conflicts (to gain full independence from Russia) and both countries experienced violence related to Islamism.
This is a complicated region and not suited to generalization. Dagestan is one of the most ethnically heterogeneous regions in the world and the most diverse republic in the Russian territories with at least 10 different groups claiming to be indigenous to the region and 30 spoken languages. Chechnya is more homogeneous, with a 2010 Russian census placing the ethnic make up to be 95% Chechen, followed by ethnic Russians.
Chechnya actually invaded Dagestan in 1999 in an effort to support a local separatist movement. This launched the 2nd Chechen War – leading us into the complex conflicts in Chechnya and Dagestan.
These are primarily local conflicts, rooted in separatism from Russia.
Background on Chechen conflict: Although officially an autonomous republic within Russia, Chechnya has consistently defied Russian rule. Chechnya was first taken by force by Russia in 1858. During the Soviet Stalin years hundreds of thousands of Chechens and Ingushetians (another ethnic group in the region) were deported to Siberia for supposed ties to Nazi fascists. Thousands perished in the process. In 1957, Khrushchev re-established the Chechen-Ingush autonomous republic and allowed the indigenous populations to return.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the republic again sought to secure its independence from Russian control, adopting its own constitution. Shortly thereafter in 1994, Russia invaded killing up to 100,000 Chechens, many of whom were civilians, women and children. In 2000, under Putin’s rule Russia captured Grozny (the Chechen capital) and declared it to officially be under Moscow’s rule. The 2000s saw a series of terrorist strikes followed by Russian retaliations ending in “normalization” in 2009 under Medvedev’s presidency.
Background on conflict in Dagestan: Conflict in Dagestan has been brutal for decades. It is related to corruption, separatism, and Islamism. As previously mentioned, though Dagestani authorities attempted to prevent the turbulence seen in Chechnya, there was violent spillover when Chechen militants invaded in 1999. Though Chechnya is quieter now, Dagestan is considered Russia’s secret war, but there are near-daily attacks by militants on police or vice versa. Russian counter-terrorism operations occur regularly. The reports from Dagestan, which are scarce, indicate that the territory is increasingly struggling with Islamist insurgency, but it cannot be seperated from anger at Moscow and local authorities over pervasive corruption, human rights violations and ties to criminal organizations. To call the conflict in Dagestan merely an ‘Islamist’ conflict is to gravely oversimplify the issue:
“Instead of reforming the court system, so independent courts could prosecute those who abduct and execute people in this part of Russia, Moscow assigns thugs, men known for their criminal background, to leading positions at security agencies, who pay million-dollar kickbacks to the insurgency in order to save their lives,” said Gagzhimurad Omarov, a former member of parliament from Dagestan who stepped down last fall and has now joined the opposition. It’s a paradox that Moscow refuses to address. At the same time Putin has declared a zero-tolerance policy for militant activity in Dagestan, the officials he has appointed are paying protection money to the insurgency, which has often targeted Russian officials.(From Foreign Policy’s Anna Nemtsova, linked above)
The main takeaway? Do not make any assumptions about these regions or the people in them – so few people truly understand them, including ourselves.
Ingrid Pederson co-founded Central Eurasia Standard in June 2012 to bring news and analysis of Central Asia and the Caucasus to foreign policy watchers trying to learn more about the region. She has a Masters Degree in International Relations from the University of Nottingham, where she focused on conflict related to energy security.
Women in conflict-affected areas do not have the luxury of debating the relative happiness and fulfillment quotients of homemakers or breadwinners – self-preservation and the survival of their families demands they become breadwinners and homemakers, whether they choose to or not. Women acquire valuable negotiation and management skills while ‘learning from doing’ and sustaining business operations in an inhospitable environment. While this places immense psychological pressure on women, the result is their economic empowerment.
Female-headed households typically increase during conflict, as waging war remains primarily a male occupation. In Cambodia, 20-25% of households were led by women at the end of the civil war in 1998; similarly in Guatemala, where post-war female-headed households comprised 30-50%, a significant increase from prewar years. A study of women’s economic activities during civil war in Uganda revealed that, as women explored means of economic survival, their mobility and presence in the public sphere increased. They created unique organizations including revolving-loan saving schemes for investments in businesses with shared profits to facilitate women-run income generating activities. In Cambodia, Rwanda, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Georgia, women’s participation in agriculture as sharecroppers, landless laborers, and farmers increased during conflict. Women entered diverse industries and occupations due to labor shortages, gaining experience and confidence as productive workers.
In some cases, conflict erodes social norms restricting women’s movement and provides them with the social space to engage in activities to which they may previously have been denied access. However, these gains may not be capitalized on during peace negotiations and the resultant transition to a post-conflict society. Often women are not even acknowledged as viable stakeholders in peace, much less given a place at the negotiating table. Of the 585 peace treaties drafted over the past two decades, only 16% included references to women. In addition, a mere 2% of post-conflict budgets are aimed at women’s empowerment, including economic development.
This reality reflects a gross underestimation of the potential economic contributions women can make to post-conflict stability and security. The exclusion of women from peace settlements therefore undermines the very objective of these settlements – to set conflict-affected societies on the path to sustainable socio-economic development.
Given that a majority of post-conflict societies lack the resources required to rebuild economies from scratch, it is important to capitalize on existing resources, offering a crucial path towards job creation and socio-economic rebuilding. There is also significant evidence to support the hypothesis that women’s economic activities engender positive spillovers for the community, including increased spending on education and health. Generating these spillovers necessarily entails engaging with women who have been leading their families and communities during conflict. Ideally, engagement in this context takes the form of financial and policy support for women-led enterprises through microcredit and other financial mechanisms. In post-conflict countries where women face uncertain ownership rights over productive assets such as land, legalizing female ownership/administration of property is essential to facilitate access to the resources needed to maintain and expand their economic activities. Additionally, it is essential to maintain women’s security and economic rights as working-age former combatants are reintegrated into society. Including women’s economic empowerment as a specific policy priority during the transition to peace and beyond is therefore a necessary condition for a sustainable transition to peace.
Most discussions surrounding the inclusion of women in peace processes focus on the egalitarian aspect – recognizing the role women can (and should) play in determining the future direction of their post-conflict countries is the ‘right’ thing to do. However, there is a very cogent economic argument for giving women their rightful place at the peacemaking table – they are (by necessity) active economic agents in conflict societies, so leveraging their experiences and networks offers a viable route towards economic rebuilding.
Women who have led their households and communities through conflict have the proven capacity to contribute effectively to the economic development of post-conflict societies; it is therefore imperative to ensure they are able to do so. Additionally, the socioeconomic needs of post-conflict societies demand significant investments in health, education and housing. Research has proven that women spend 80 cents on these social priorities for each dollar earned compared to about 30 cents spent by men. Improving women’s incomes uplifts entire families and by extension, communities. Nowhere is this more urgent than in post-conflict societies. While there is a strong moral imperative to include women as stakeholders in peace-building, the economic rationale to do so may provide a more convincing argument – investing in and empowering women economically offers a strong bulwark against relapse into conflict.
In what many be seen as a positive step for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, religious police (the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice) have finally permitted women to ride bicycles in public –with restrictions, of course. They must be in the company of a male, wear appropriate clothing, and ride only for recreational purposes; pointedly, using bicycles for transportation is forbidden by the ruling.
As a result, the most freeing aspect of the decision – giving women increased access to participate in the workforce – is conspicuously absent.
At its core, a bicycle is a tool for transport; one that is cheap, efficient, and renders the user independent. Taking this into account, it is unsurprising that their use has been limited. Women in Saudi Arabia cannot work without the express permission of their male guardian and are forbidden from coming into contact with unknown males, restricting their ability to leave the house.
This leaves women’s position in the economy in a highly precarious state, which is normally a shame because countries where women work and have increased control over the family’s finances tend to flourish economically. However, Saudi Arabia is different from most developing countries in that it can afford to keep women from participating in the work force. The abundance of oil keeps the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) high and lessens the need for a large, active and efficient work force.
Saudi Arabia is working on expanding its economy and in particular, strengthening its non-oil economy. Relying on one export is an unstable way to run an economy, particularly one as large as Saudi Arabia’s. Saudi authorities know that oil prices and demand are unreliable, and government revenue is exceedingly important for the economic security of a country that imports the majority of its food, as Saudi does. In order to create a more prosperous and economically stable nation, it will eventually be forced to make use of the large portion of underutilized human capital.
Even universities are trying to get around the restrictions on women. Saudi Arabia houses the world’s largest women-only university, where many students are forced to telecommute when they cannot get to their classes.
The Saudi Ministry of Labor estimates that there are roughly 100,000 Saudi women in the workforce, about 21% of all women in Saudi Arabia. Opportunities for women are expanding, and they are now allowed to become doctors, lawyers, and even own businesses. Private sector workplaces are allowed to mix men and women.
However, if something as simple as getting to work is forbidden, these gains will mean nothing in the long run.
Women-only “cities” (industrial areas) are one solution that the government has come up with to keep women and men separate and yet still allow women a vocation. However, if transportation to these areas is not sufficient and women are not permitted means of transportation on their own, they must rely on male family members to accompany them to and from work.
Some argue that giving permission for women to ride bikes in recreational areas is a baby step – however, it can also be seen as emphasizing the limited extent of women’s freedom in Saudi Arabia and showing just how little autonomy they have.
Last year’s objection to the ban on women drivers made waves, but the use of bicycles is equally important. Most people who do work in Saudi Arabia don’t work far from their homes, and bicycling could be the thing that allows a woman to get to work or in other cases, stay in school.
Women are major contributors to the economy when they are allowed to be. Study after study shows that giving women control of the household income results in more educated children and a healthier family. Indeed, women in the workforce improve a country’s “human capital” – healthcare, education, and other needs that improve the lives of those living in the country.
In particular, women are more likely to invest in their daughters’ education than men are, creating a cycle of economic advancement for women and society as a whole.
The question is, how likely is it that women will be integrated into the Saudi economy? Saudi Arabia is not a developing country that desperately seeks economic growth, a common criteria for a rise in the number of working women. While poverty is high, the government and those in the royal family remain rich thanks to the country’s oil wealth. While the rest of the Arab world was afflicted with Arab Spring protests and rapid change, Saudi Arabia paid off unhappy portions of the population to prevent similar protests, or simply out-powered them, as it did with its small Shia population. As long as Saudi Arabia can afford its current economic arrangement, the situation for women will remain the same.
Sophie Jacobs has a BS in economics and mathematics from the University of Washington and an MA in Middle East Studies from Tel Aviv University. She works as an analyst writing about Middle East economics, finance, and business.
This article was originally posted on the WIIS-Israel blog on April 10, 2013.
Weapons proliferation. Cyber-security. Global warming. Drug laundering. International trade. All of these above issues, among many others, are top priorities that affect national as well as international security and dominate the agendas of international bodies. However, terrorism, while still an important component of national security, has currently been waning in importance and coverage.
This is not without good reason. There has been a series of accomplishments over the past several years that leads one to believe that terrorism is a diminishing threat to the United States. For one, the long-time leader of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, was killed in May 2011, which essentially cut off the head of the organization. It was also a major blow to the symbolic nature of the organization – bin Laden was the face of al-Qaeda and synonymous with fear, terrorist attacks and the loss of many lives.
The successes do not end there. There have been numerous senior al-Qaeda members based in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region who have either been killed through military strikes or captured and interrogated, leading to further uprooting of the organization from its original safe haven since September 11, 2001. Primary affiliates, to include al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), have also suffered major setbacks such as the loss of leadership and the thwarting of major attacks. Because of these successes – in addition to greater world-wide awareness of these groups, the help of individual nations stemming home-grown threats, and other international efforts – the organization we knew in 2001 is very different now.
It is important to not lose sight of the threat of terrorism in the coming years. The fiscal environment understandably calls for all agencies, terrorism-related or not, to prioritize national security threats more strictly. However, one must recognize that terrorism still persists and important security policies require a similar sense of urgency to stem the prospects of terrorism and its root causes.
The primary reason for this is that terrorism has not completely diminished and continues to pose a very salient threat to the U.S. and its allies, including in North and West Africa as well as the Middle East. Many nations around the world have been more vigilant in combating the spread of al-Qaeda-associated and attributed violence throughout this region, most notably by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and loosely al-Qaeda affiliated group Nigeria-based group Boko Haram. Recently, France, with the assistance of other nations including the United States, has been trying to rid AQIM of its safe haven in Mali. And while France and her allies have been successful to some extent in rolling back the terrorists, there have been indications that these elements could possibly reemerge in other areas as well.
Terrorism has not diminished because the threat it poses is coupled with other security threats. Terrorism in and of itself does not exist within a vacuum. Standalone issues such as cyber threats, weapons proliferation and civil war can be used as a tactic or strategy for terrorist groups. It takes a whole-of-government approach to address these linked threats. However, as seen in Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and East Africa, due to the resources devoted to counter-terrorism efforts, the U.S. and her allies have been successful in addressing and mitigating terrorism with the back drop of other major security threats. If and when the emphasis on combating terrorism decreases, it may be difficult in the long term to experience similar successes.
To be sure, al-Qaeda as a terrorist organization is very different from 12 years ago and there are many strikes against it. However, making counter-terrorism efforts less of a priority assumes the risk of allowing terrorists to conduct more strategic and spectacular attacks. The current Syrian civil war is a prime example in which there are many elements that pose a threat to U.S. interests and allies in the region. As there has been a rise in opposition against the Bashir Assad regime, the opposition has been increasingly countered by outside support for the Assad regime, including by Iran and Hezbollah. On the other hand, many, sources have indicated that the al- Jabhat al-Nusra Front, which is associated with the al-Qaeda elements in Iraq, are based within Syria and working with the opposition groups. Although it appears as though terrorism is a small portion of the current conflict, the terrorism element can no doubt create a complicated, longer-term issue. It will likely prove to be difficult to decouple from not only the opposition but possibly from how the U.S. will work with a presumably new opposition-leaning government.
It is understandably necessary for our leaders in national security to differentiate the up-and-coming threats while also forming and implementing plans to mitigate these threats. As the world continues to change and adapt, so do adversaries. However, the efforts and strides that were and are still being made in the fight against global terrorism should not be abandoned.
Stanli Montgomery is a Georgetown graduate and focuses on international security affairs in the Defense Department. She is a regular contributor to the WIIS blog. Any opinions expressed in this article are her own.
For the past two years, Egypt has been stuck in a protracted, tough post-revolutionary transition phase that is bound to last a while longer. Owning a continuously plunging economy triggered by – and further fueling – a larger political and social crisis, Egypt has seen countless protests (and abundant violence) since 2011, which are increasing once again.
Nearly one year after the revolution began, Islamists won over 75% of seats in Egypt’s first lower-house parliamentary elections, with the Muslim Brotherhood Freedom and Justice party-led coalition winning 47%. Thirty decades of single-party rule left no unified liberal opposition, allowing the Brotherhood, as the only organized political movement in Egypt with significant resources and experience – and with its vast international network and far-reaching ideological influence – to rise to power.
Liberals, women, the youth and minorities all participated in the revolution, with the single intent to establish a democratic system; in fact, they were the ones who spontaneously started it, and played crucial roles in overthrowing former President Hosni Mubarak. Nevertheless, pro-democratic parties fared poorly in the elections. In the initial composition of the parliament before it would be disbanded later, there were only eleven women among 805 members.
Following a year of stalled negotiations to form a committee that would draft the document, in December of 2012, Egypt approved a controversial constitution. The referendum validating the constitution, drafted by a new Constituent Assembly, failed in Cairo and other mostly-secular urban centers. Though the constitution was approved with 64% in favor, only 33% of the electorate voted.
Mursi and his party had been hoping that adopting a permanent constitution and holding final elections in the Spring of 2013 would end the political crisis, and allow him to focus on the financial crisis. Yet, much of the transitional political turmoil revolved precisely around their proposed constitution, which was in the end written mostly by Islamists, and the draft of which was reportedly finished after the referendum. On December 26th 2012, the President signed the document into law.
A few days after signing it, Mr. Mursi commented that his government had made mistakes in writing the constitution, however, he did not offer to correct any ‘mistakes’. The treatise that mentions Islamic jurisprudence abundantly, stipulates that the principles of Islamic sharia are the main source of law. Furthermore, it gives the Islamist-dominated upper-house parliament full legislative powers until a new lower chamber is elected – which it used to remove several judges from the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) who were either deemed loyalists of the previous regime, or liberal opponents of the new government.
The constitution that was adopted without consensus, with many flaws, lacks protection rights, and even allows for dangerous discriminatory policies against women and girls, and minorities, and threatens freedom of religion and free expression. Seen as having a negative effect on labor rights in general, the constitution could also be interpreted as allowing child labor in some cases. Indeed, the document indirectly allows for infringement upon some basic, universal human rights.
One of the biggest problems with the new constitution concerns women’s rights. Nehad Abul Komsan, director of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, sums it up: ”The constitutional process was flawed from the start since the committee overseeing it was mostly comprised of men who view women’s role as either sex objects or servants.” Ms. Komsan is among the rare female heads of Egyptian women’s rights organizations. Within most women’s rights activist groups and even feminist organizations that formed out of the revolution – attempts that have mostly been initiated, supported, or protected by men – women have almost no leadership roles.
Instead of protecting women’s freedom and equality in political, education, and work opportunities, the constitution is seen as relegating women to stereotyped roles in laws affecting their political and professional lives – and also, meddling in affairs far out of line, affecting their social and private lives. All rights that it proscribes to women, the constitution stipulates, have to be in accordance with Islamic jurisprudence, and apparently, with the Brotherhood’s ideology.
While it has removed the best and retained the worst of regulations concerning women’s rights from Egypt’s previous constitution, the new one has left out a detrimental clause that criminalizes trafficking of female minors, and sets a minimum legal marriage age for girls. Activists have voiced concerns that this effectively allows for very young girls to be married and sold off into marriage by their families, a practice that is not uncommon in Egypt’s rural areas.
Women, badly disenfranchised and cheated on in the aftermath, stand to become the biggest losers in Egypt’s revolution, which, without a doubt, would not have succeeded without them.
The new document also fails to address long-held cultural and institutionalized attitudes that allow for the physical and psychological abuse, and sexual harassment and abuse of Egyptian women – and the legal impunity with which most such crimes are not brought to justice. Such abuse is on the rise and has become an instrumental political tool to punish, and scare women away from playing decisive part in shaping Egypt’s future. There had been cases of abuse of female protesters during the uprising, including subjugating women to infamous ‘virginity tests,’ and throughout the past two years.
Alarmingly, physical abuse and sexual abuse, including rape and even gang-rape, have been increasing over the past months at the many anti-constitution and anti-government demonstrations. Allegedly, the Muslim Brotherhood is responsible for these tactical attacks. The Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment, an organization established to fight sexual harassment of women near Tahrir Square, received nineteen reports of cases of violent attacks against women from a single day; another similar activist group reported five more cases from that same day, January 25th, perpetrated during protests marking the second anniversary of the revolution.
The authorities have often put the blame on the victims themselves, claiming that they had brought on the abuse by being dressed indecently, and so on. Criticizing law-enforcement complicity in many cases, Amnesty International has relayed accounts of victims who have alleged that police officers and state prosecutors put pressure on them to drop charges, allowing for further attacks.
Men have also faced abuse and harassment. And it isn’t just men who perpetrate discrimination against women. It is always disturbing to hear of women who perpetuate the discrimination against themselves. USA Today reported on such cases:
Activists agree that those who will bear the brunt of discrimination are women in poor and rural areas, where traditional societies are unforgiving to females. In the past few months, several unveiled women were victimized. In December, an Egyptian Coptic woman had her hair cut off and was thrown from a Cairo train by two women wearing the Islamic niqab, which covers the entire face with a slit for the eyes.
It was the third incident in one week as reported by the independent Al-Shorouk newspaper. In November, a teacher in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Luxor cut the hair of two female pupils as a punishment for not wearing hijabs, or head scarves. Disciplinary action was taken against her.
Despite the opposition, women, and men, have organized anti-harassment groups and rallies recently. Nevertheless, in a male-dominated society with a patriarchal culture, the few organizations and protests that have been organized to fully address the issue still have few allies across the political and social spectrum. As the new 2013-2014 editions of high-school textbooks had erased the picture of a prominent Egyptian pioneer activist for women’s rights because she was unveiled in the photo, it turns out that physical and sexual abuse against women is just one of the worst forms of the widespread, and unrelenting discrimination facing women in Egyptian society today.
Nina Kontevska is an M.A. graduate from the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, and a member of WIIS Israel.
This article was originally published on March 17, 2013 in the WIIS Israel blog.
For the past two months, British newspaper readers have been riveted by the sage of Vicky Price and Chris Huhne. Here’s the story in brief: Price and Huhne were a British power couple. He was a liberal democratic member of Parliament and Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, while Price, an immigrant from Greece, was a high-flying academic who had served as Chief Economist in the Department of Business, Enterprise and Reform. They divorced in June 2010. During the divorce proceedings, Pryce gave a series of interviews alleging that they had had an abusive marriage in which he had coerced her on numerous occasions. According to Pryce, he forced her to sign a legal document saying that she had been the driver of the car when he was arrested for speeding in 2003, claiming that being convicted of such a charge could cost him his career. She also alleged that he pressured her to have an abortion on two occasions – the first time she complied while the second time she refused, going on to have a son.
In the legal trial which followed – both were tried for perverting the course of justice due to the fraud committed when Pryce took the speeding points for her husband – she adopted an unusual legal defense. She claimed that she was not liable for her unlawful behavior because it was an act of marital coercion. The coercion defense dates back to the seventh century in Britain when women had no legal rights or independent social, political or economic identity. In the original case, a husband hid stolen goods in the family home and the wife claimed that she felt forced to go along with his larcenous behavior since she had no independent means or recourse. She was found innocent by reason of marital coercion.
However, in 2013 (some thirteen hundred years later), Pryce lost her trial and now faces jail time, along with her ex-husband. The situation has led to a debate in Britain about the notion of martial coercion. At present, legal analysts claim that the defense is outdated for two reasons: First women today have independent legal status, along with incomes and careers. It is difficult to see how a woman could be coerced, they argue, when she clearly has the option of leaving the marriage. In other words, the law is outdated because marriage is no longer a patriarchal institution.
Second, some analysts argue that it is wrong – and in violation of European Human Rights legislation – to claim that only women can be coerced in an intimate relationship. Thus the law is discriminatory since it does not afford the same protection to everyone– including those in non-traditional partnerships. It improperly privileges both marriage and the rights of women in according this protection to them alone.
The stance advocated by both the jury and the judge in the Pryce case represents a clear shift from traditional 1970’s feminist thinking. Back then, scholars described marriage as an inherently repressive institution which did not benefit women and always oppressed them. Later, marriage was deemed to be an irrelevant institution, which conferred no utility upon the participants, and which should not be treated as in any way special or unique. In current debates about gay marriage, the thinking has changed again – with advocates noting that marriage benefits the participants and society, and that this benefit should be available to all. This argument against marital coercion legislation also represents an end to feminist essentialism arguments which suggested that women were inherently more peaceful or more fragile and that masculine behavior was inherently more belligerent. The new viewpoint suggests that both sexes have the potential for violence, aggression and coercion within marriage and that therefore women should not be afforded special protection.
The problem with both of these arguments is that they ignore other worldwide/global realities. Those who pillory Price and ask why she did not simply leave sound a great deal like those who would blame a woman for being raped.
It is also far too simplistic to argue that coercion no longer exists and that protections are no longer required. Even in Britain, statistics presented by Plan UK note that ten percent of adolescent girls in the UK marry before the age of eighteen. They note that worldwide, “every three seconds a girl becomes a child bride,” with the average age of marriage in some African nations hovering around fifteen. In addition, gendercide of female fetuses still exists – in India, in China and even in the US and the UK. Just this week, the British press reported on women in England who were pressured by their husbands and families to abort their female fetuses. (Even a prominent female physician felt powerless to resist deeply ingrained cultural attitudes and family power structures.) In another high profile case a surrogate was pressured to abort a child with birth defects. In addition, we can still identify situations where husbands will not ‘permit’ their wives to work, and feminist analysts have suggested that domestic violence within marriage represents a sort of internal terrorism.
So how do we reconcile these two conflicting views of marriage and intimate relations? Clearly, the jurors believed that Vicky Price could not have been coerced within the bounds of marriage because she was wealthy and educated. And certainly it upsets the feminist ‘party line’ to believe that even wealthy, educated women might be coerced into making reproductive choices by other people. Similarly, it is disturbing to contemplate that despite strides being made in women’s political representation and education, marriage may still be harmful to at least some women both in the UK and worldwide.
The problem is that in establishing an upper-middle class, educated, white woman as the standard for feminist thinking, we have (once again) failed to focus on the fact that she herself is an anomaly. It would be wrong to adopt universal policies regarding marital coercion or indeed marriage in general by making reference to this one isolated and atypical case. As we think about issues of human security, about the vulnerability of women who are refugees, immigrants and victims of war, we need to acknowledge that women are often uniquely vulnerable and deserving of special protection. Admitting this does not make anyone a bad feminist, nor does it affect the agenda of those who wish to provide more opportunities for women everywhere.
The danger is if Western policymakers continue to see middle-class white women as the ‘typical woman’ and to assume that policy prescriptions in the West will work equally well elsewhere in the world. For example, rolling back legislation which protects women within marriage in the UK might establish a standard which could then become a universal norm. This does not create a positive worldwide precedent.
Mary Manjikian is an Assistant Professor at the Robertson School of Government in Virginia Beach, VA. She is currently a Fulbright Research fellow at the Institute of Advanced Study at Durham University in the UK. She is the author of three books on international security.