Voices from the Arab press: Will the women of Iran bring down the law imposing the veil?

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world.

 VEILED WOMEN in Tehran. (photo credit: Raheb Homavandi/TIMA/Reuters)
(photo credit: Raheb Homavandi/TIMA/Reuters)

Will the women of Iran bring down the law imposing the veil?

Al Qabas, Kuwait, September 30

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There is no doubt that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi would have liked to win the sympathy of the delegates sitting at the UN General Assembly hall during his speech, but even those who could sympathize with him had in mind the sights of Iranian police chasing women, arresting them and shooting them. 

The soul of Mahsa Amini, who succumbed to the wounds inflicted upon her by the Iranian police, hovered over everyone present in the room. As you might recall, Mahsa Amini was arrested because some of her hair showed through her veil, which was against the law. The Iranian regime first imposed the veil laws in 1981. But the truth is that the laws weren’t just imposed in Iran; they also made their way to most Gulf and Arab countries. Inspired by the Iranian Revolution, other counties in the region began imposing their own laws pertaining to head covering. 

At this time when Iranian women are revolting against the most important symbols of authoritarianism, I recall the late Fatema Mernissi, the renowned Moroccan sociologist, whose research focused on the veil. One of Mernissi’s most important books was “Behind the Veil,” in which she refuted the claim made by some clergymen about women’s hair and face as a fitnah – a temptation – for men. In this book, Mernissi claims that men who are afraid of seduction should lower their gaze. It seems that Iranian President Raisi remains adamant about his position on the veil, so he refused to meet CNN reporter Christian Amanpour if she was not veiled. Amanpour declined the request out of empathy with her sisters in Iran who are being killed for their rebellion against the veil. If further political unrest unfolds in Iran, President Raisi will bear the consequences, and even conservatives will hate the day he became president. 

 PRIME MINISTER Yair Lapid addresses the 77th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York City, Sept. 22.  (credit: Mike Segar/Reuters) PRIME MINISTER Yair Lapid addresses the 77th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York City, Sept. 22. (credit: Mike Segar/Reuters)

The women’s revolution at the present time is not an accident but is rather a result of years of harsh and strict policing by the Iranian morality police. Iranians in general, and Iranian women in particular, were accustomed to an atmosphere of relative tolerance during the rule of Hassan Rouhani, who was more open than Raisi. But after the latter came to power, rules were changed to punish women whose headscarves are not accepted by the morality police. For example, they couldn’t use public transportation or receive social benefits. What impresses many about this revolution led by women in Iran is that it has extends to all regions and cities, and includes all sects – including Persians, Kurds, Turks, and Arabs. Most importantly, it was supported by women who chose to be veiled. The New York Times reported on September 27 that veiled women were hosting unveiled women to sleep in their homes to avoid police arrest. 

Many of us wonder not about the future of veiling in Iran and the Arab region, but about the future of the regime in Iran. Unfortunately, there is no law or mathematical formula that accurately predicts what will happen in Iran over the next few years. Certainly, women in Iran after September 16, 2022, are different from women before this date. If they manage to overturn the veil law, it is expected that many women on the opposite side of the Gulf will reconsider their options as well. Hopefully, I will be able to visit Iran one day in the future without seeing public signs indicating that the wearing of a head scarf is required by every woman in every public setting. – Hamed Al-Hamoud

The long journey toward a unified call to prayer

Al-Ahram, Egypt, October 1

Over the decades, many complaints were filed over the noise caused by mosques located in residential neighborhoods. At first, the government attempted to deal with the issue by promising that the Adhan – the call to prayer usually played on loudspeakers – would be limited to one mosque per neighborhood. However, this solution was short-lived and was soon replaced with the idea of implementing a unified call to prayer, which would be sounded by all mosques simultaneously. But even this initiative hasn’t been met with success across the country.

The demand to standardize the call to prayer has yet to be met. Recently, Minister of Endowments Dr. Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa explained that the delay in implementation has been caused by the Coronavirus pandemic. But the obvious fact is that the project is progressing very slowly. The excuses made by senior officials in the ministry have been prevalent since 2019. To date, very few of the mosques located in Greater Cairo have joined the initiative. It turns out that there are many mosques that fall outside the jurisdiction of the ministry, allowing them to sound whatever Adhan they want. Sadly, many mosques still believe that having the loudest call to prayer distinguishes them from other mosques, even if they disturb the peace of their neighbors and violate the public’s right to a basic quality of life. – Ahmed Abd Al-Tawab

Will Arab voters appoint the prime minister of Israel?

An-Nahar, Lebanon, September 30

The speech given by Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid at the UN General Assembly revolved around the two-state solution. Whereas the Israeli Right, led by Binyamin Netanyahu, has opposed the Palestinians’ right to establish a state of their own, a new camp, led by the likes of Lapid, supports such a move. For Lapid to speak about the two-state solution just weeks before Israel’s next election – the fifth Israeli parliamentary election in three and a half years – is a huge bet. It is true that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas acknowledged Lapid’s speech with skepticism. But Lapid’s position is an important one in the Israeli political scene. His announcement of support for the two-state solution seems to have been a calculated move aimed at highlighting his distinction from Netanyahu. Publicly supporting the two-state solution may also be a way for Lapid to woo over the Democratic administration in the White House, which is also concerned with Netanyahu’s potential return to power. 

Meanwhile, the Israeli public has grudgingly grown used to the idea that the Arab vote in the election will determine the identity of the next coalition. The Arabs in Israel make up about 21% of the total population. However, the percentage of those eligible to vote, due to the age structure, stands at only about 17% percent. Nevertheless, this percentage is supposed to allow the Arabs to obtain more than 20 Knesset seats out of the total of 120. But division, the multiplicity of parties and low voter turnout all have prevented this from happening. Some reports in 2019 spoke of right-wing settler parties financing the Arab boycott of the election, and Arab MP Aida Touma raised the matter at one time. On the other hand, reports these days speak of foreign funds, some of them American, aimed at encouraging Arabs to participate in the election.

But what caught my eye was the eagerness shown by Jordan towards the Arab political parties in Israel, in an attempt to push them toward unity that would grow their parliamentary presence. Whereas Washington is hiding its historical “hatred” of Netanyahu, Amman is publicly working to avoid his return to office. In the 2020 election, the Arabs ran under one party, the Joint List, achieving their highest-ever representative power by obtaining 15 seats. This number was reduced to 10 seats in the 2021 election following the split of the bloc into smaller parties. Mansour Abbas, whose list won four seats, allowed for the establishment of a government by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid. He joined the government coalition, which sparked an Israeli debate on the issue of the Arabs determining the fate of a government and an Arab debate about Abbas’s choice to formally join an Israeli government. 

If the Abbas phenomenon emerged from a bilateral Arab division in the last election, this time the Arab candidates are even more fragmented. The split will lead to more dispersal of the Arab voice. Polls suggest that the voter turnout will drop to 40% after it reaches 70% in 2020. However, other pundits believe that this pluralism of parties will strengthen the vitality of the electoral campaign in the Arab community. In the polls, Netanyahu’s bloc will get 59 seats compared to 56 for his opponents. This means, once again, that whoever will rule Israel will need a few seats that must be found among one of the Arab lists. Indeed, Arab voters will play a pivotal role in the Israeli election. Within the Arab community, there are those who fear that this fact will lead to more extremism against the Arabs in Israel. – Mohamed Kawas

Save one life, save the entire world

Al Arabiya, Saudi Arabia, October 2

I recently received an important message from Dr. Salah Sanad, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Cairo Medicine, who responded to clergy who reject organ transplantation on the grounds that “the body belongs to God.” Dr. Salah wrote: “The vast majority of societies – Islamic and non-Islamic – agreed on the permissibility of donating body organs after death. In Egypt, a law was approved to regulate it, but it has not been activated yet for an unknown reason, which gives the opportunity for some public figures to promote the prohibition of organ donation based on the opinions and rulings of some fringe sheikhs. Whatever the rank of these scholars is, no one is infallible from error, and even the prophets are not immune to making mistakes. 

“We all know the saying ‘save one life, save the entire world.’ Saving a human soul is one of the noblest acts a man can commit; one that will provide the greatest reward following one’s death. Therefore, treatment by any medical or surgical means, such as organ transplantation, is a preservation of the soul and life. Furthermore, there is a religious distinction between the soul and the body. The soul lives forever, while the body doesn’t. The soul is the main component of the human being, and it is what made the human a better being than all other creatures. When we donate organs, what we are donating is the vessel that once held the soul, not the soul itself,” he said. 

“Finally, let us remember that evolution inherently means that we all carry the atoms and particles that came from the decomposition of the bodies of those who preceded us. As past generations decay and dissolve into the earth, they become dust that feeds the plants and animals that we feed on. Ultimately, they become part of our bodies. Therefore, donating organs is as natural and normal of a process as being born and living. It is a way for us to continue preserving humanity and ensure the cycle of life.” – Khaled Montaser

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.