Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sex & the Arab City: Arab winds of change.

Reading the countless comments in the press and on the Internet about the arrest and judgment of the “Saudi Casanova” who boasted his sexual exploits on the panarab LBC channel, gives the feeling that Arab sexuality is really an interesting topic (in the “West” at least).

More recently, female pop singers have moved once again the sexual issue to the top of the chart. In Egypt, first, when an Egyptian MP, close to the Muslim Brotherhood, protested against the coming of Beyonce, a symbol of depravation and immorality, to the rich and fancy Red Sea Resort.

Different characters but more or less the same story in Morocco after Haifa Wehbe performed at Agadir tolerance concert. Although a large number of the (masculine) audience was obviously fascinated by the "aura" of the Lebanese icon, wearing an offensive négligé, comments in the local press, for instance in the daily Al-Tajdid, close to the religious opposition, opposed violently what the perceived as a pitiful picture of a South ripping off clothes and dignity.

Such polemics are nothing new of course (see for instance this previous post) but it gives us the opportunity to mention an interesting discussion on a related topic between Brian Whitaker, the Guardian’s Middle East Editor and As’ad Abu Khalil, a Lebanese born professor of political science at California State University.

Under the title Arab Winds of Change, Whitaker underscores what he sees the real challenges in the region: “If asked where change is likely to come from in the Arab countries, I would not put much faith in "reformist" politicians and opposition parties – they're mostly no-hopers – but I would definitely put feminists, gay men, lesbians and bloggers very high on my list”.

Why? Because “In these highly stratified societies, people are discriminated for and against largely according to accidents of birth: by gender, by family, by tribe, by sect. Women, as the largest disadvantaged group, can play a major role in overcoming this and helping smaller disadvantaged groups to do the same. Once the equality principle is accepted for women it becomes easier to apply it to others. Contrary to popular opinion, most human rights abuses in the Arab countries are perpetrated by society rather than regimes. Yes, ordinary people are oppressed by their rulers, but they are also participants themselves in a system of oppression that includes systematic denial of rights on a grand scale”.

An explanation which infuriates the Angry Arab (As’ad Abu Khalil’s blog title) who denounces a “pathetic” analysis, “an insult to the people of the region.” (see his comment here, and Whitaker’s answer there.

Whatever opinion you choose, it is worth to note that discussion, for once, is not limited to the classical topics but embraces unusual topics.

Indeed, a bit like As’ad Abu Khalil’s blog, which focuses, as mentionned in the subtitle, on “politics, war, the Middle East, Arabic poetry, and art”!

As usual, here is the link to the more developed post in French.

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