Calling Arab Feminists
I am gathering materials for an anthology of writings by Arab feminists. If you are Arab-American, Arab-Canadian or of Arab/Middle Eastern origin and now living in the US or Canada, please consider contributing to this book. It will be published by Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press. The purpose of the anthology is to help create visibility of Arab feminists, to provide a forum where we can speak about issues that concern us, and to help sustain all political activists. To receive a detailed call for submissions, send SASE to: J. Kadi, PO Box 7556, Minneapolis, MN 55407.
Eric Hooglund’s “Iranian Populism and Political Change in the Gulf” (MER 174) offers important insights about the (oddly enough) democratic appeal of today’s Iran among Gulf Arabs. His point about the subversive aspect of this appeal within the various sheikhdoms is well taken. However, he underestimates the appeal of Iran’s official brand of “Islamic democracy”: The notion carries a lot of potential clout, not the least of which is its once improbable wedding of democracy and traditionalist religion.
Islamic democracy in Iran is, by Western standards, a limited democracy that disenfranchises non-Islamic groups and parties. Item 20 of the Election Law of the Islamic Republic requires “ethical and practical commitment (eltezam) to the Islamic Republic.” Consequently, elections remain legally closed to the opponents of the system; what Hooglund terms “competitive elections” turns out to be a limited competition between the ruling factions. This betrays the very essence of democracy. Whatever its attractiveness in the eyes of Iran’s Arab neighbors, from the point of view of Iran’s democratic forces the travesty the government calls free elections lacks legitimacy. Unless the restrictions are removed, no amount of government propaganda can hide the fact that these are convenient shades of a religious dictatorship.
Women and Democracy
I was happy to see a whole issue dedicated to democracy in the Arab world [MER 174). I read one article after another with growing excitement and received a lot of new and interesting information. Yet I missed badly an article about women and democracy. Not only is the status of women and family a main topic in all contemporary political discourse in the Arab world, it also seems that women, whether organized or individually, are the most radical part of society calling for democracy. Women calling for autonomy not only question the political but also the moral setup of Arab society. Thus I would have expected a more comprehensive selection of topics related to democracy.