Author Archives: SCEME


Bahraini Doctors Jailed for Treating Protestors

Bahrain – A group of approximately twenty medical staff from Bahrain’s Salmaniya Medical Center have been arrested for treating protestors during a wave of uprisings in the state. A collection of doctors and nurses were sentenced by a military court, which accused them of aiding protestors, stealing medical supplies, using ambulances to carry weapons and violently occupying the hospital.
Bahrain’s Salmaniya Medical Center 
The medical staff involved in the case have branded these accusations as “completely false” and that any punishment of them is simply unwarranted. “During the times of unrest in Bahrain, we honored our medical oath to treat the wounded and save lives. And as a result, we are being rewarded with unjust and harsh sentences, ” read a statement issued by the doctors.  
One victim of these accusations is Dr. Fatima, who urged during an interview on the BBC World Service, that she had remained loyal to her medical duties by treating everyone, regardless of their political leanings. However, Bahraini officials have refused to hear her plea and she has been sentenced to 5 years in prison, forcing her to say goodbye to her 3 year-old son.
New allegations have suggested that medical staff experienced severe torture whilst in detainment. Dr. Fatima explained that she was threatened with rape on numerous occasions, whilst the psychological torture that she received was deeply distressing.
Surgeon Dr. Ghassan Dhaif and his wife Dr. Zarhra Al Sammak are two more doctors who have been sentenced to imprisonment by Bahrain’s military court. Dr. Dhaif told Sky News in an interview that the interrogations they suffered were “carried out under severe torture” and included “kicks, using sticks, using a plastic hose, using plastic bottles, using shoes” as a means of intimidation and injury.  In addition to this, Dr. Zarhra, explained how the couple were blindfolded and forced to sign illegitimate confessions.
On Saturday, medical staff in Bahrain sent an appeal to the U.N in the hopes of an investigation into the brutal behavior of Bahraini authorities.  A representative from the U.N Human Right’s Office, Rupert Colville, explained that there were “severe concerns” regarding the treatment of medical staff and that the issue needed to be examined further.
Bahrain’s maltreatment of doctors has ignited a wave of international criticism on social networking sites. The Journal of Medicine has said that “no one should be imprisoned for treating another human being” whilst one Twitter user named patrickcullen01 said that he is “absolutely disgusted that medics doing their jobs are facing up to 15 years” imprisonment.
We hope that the international pressure being placed on Bahrain will allow the safe and secure release of medical staff and that they may carry on their vital and invaluable work in the country.


Women in Saudi Arabia gain The Right to Vote

Huge movements have been made in Saudi Arabia as women have now been given the right to vote and partake in municipal elections. King Abdullah’s announcement on state T.V explained that women would be able to nominate candidates for the next set municipal elections taking place in the Kingdom.
The move has been celebrated by women’s rights groups throughout the Kingdom, Activist Wajeha Al-Hawaida was reported by CNN as saying: “We welcome Saudi King Abdullah’s announcement today that women will serve as full members of the Shura Council in the next session, and will have the right to participate in future elections…these reforms recognize the significant contributions women in Saudi Arabia make to their society and will offer them new ways to participate in the decisions that affect their lives and communities.”
This new legislation is being seen as a huge move towards gender-equality in Saudi Arabia, with the White House issuing a statement that said “We welcome Saudi King Abdullah’s announcement today that women will serve as full members of the Shura Council in the next session, and will have the right to participate in future elections.”
TIME magazine reported on Hatoon Al-Fassi, a University Lecturer and Women’s Right’s Activist who was thrilled by the recent announcement saying, “I haven’t been able to take my breath…We’re so excited. We believe it’s the response to our demands, the first step in our long struggle to get our rights.”
Given that women in Saudi Arabia have been struggling in the fight towards gender-equality for so long, this announcement comes as a huge step-forward for change in the Kingdom. Many women activists feel that they can now use this development as a platform for gaining other rights such as the right to drive. Facebook and Twitter enthusiasts in the country have been showing their joy at this news, saying that it is “a new day for Saudi Arabian Women.”

We hope that this will give women a chance to continue to voice their opinions and fight the battle against gender-inequality. 


SCEME speaking about women trafficking in the Middle East with the Duchess of Cornwall

Iman Abou Atta, Founder and Director of SCEME, had the great honour to meet with Camilla Parker Bowles, Duchess of Cornwall, last night at a dinner celebrating women in the Middle East. They discussed the urgent issue of women trafficking in the Middle East, a problem SCEME is addressing through its Karamatuna- Dignity Campaign.


New Moroccan Constitution makes changes to promote Gender Equality

Moroccan Women gather at a conference in Marrakesh 

The June 2011 Moroccan Constitution outlined a series of new reforms centred around the promotion of good governance, freedom of speech and the importance of gender-equality. Previously women’s issues had gone unnoticed in the country, having little or no place in Morocco’s legislation. However, these new reforms are taking groups that have historically been ignored and ‘placing them at the forefront of the country’s politics’ explains Fatima Sadiqi of the Kaleej Times.
Morocco’s Berber population has also been fighting for their rights – demanding that Berber be recognised as an official language alongside Arabic.  ‘The fate of women has been closely tied to the fate of the Berber population throughout Morocco’s history’ said Sadiqi. The past couple of months have seen an active unification of both Berber and Women’s Rights groups in Morocco who have joined forces as a means of promoting change within their communities.
The new constitution aims to promote women’s rights by giving them more control over their lives. It is actively encouraging the creation of women’s organisations in addition to providing women with more solid legal rights in the areas of divorce and child custody. Whilst in theory these moves are all incredibly positive, what is important now is their practical imposition. Communities will have to work together to ensure that these new laws are enforced and not merely words on a document.
A Berber women in her home
Sadly, Morocco has one the highest rates of female illiteracy in the MENA region – this has automatically put women in a disadvantaged position. There still the remains the issue of the cultural expectations of women, and in order for these reforms to work, society will have to quickly shift its practises on gender inequality.  Many women living in Morocco’s most rural communities are unable to gain access to any form of media outlet and are unsure of what rights they actually possess. In order for these reforms to work, more focus needs to be placed upon improving literacy rates among women as well creating a situation where the media can reach those even in the most rural of settings. Education is undoubtedly the quickest road to change.  

Tackling Lebanon’s Discriminatory Citizenship Laws

This report from Aljazeera may be a couple of years old but, unfortunately, Lebanon’s citizenship laws have not changed. The nationality law  in 2011 dictates that women who are married to foreigners cannot pass on their Lebanese citizenship to their children (they must be widowed to do so). However, a Lebanese man who marries a foreigner may pass on his nationality to his children and wife. The result is that children with Lebanese mothers and foreign fathers continue to be viewed as immigrants by the state. They are denied all access to public schools and hospitals and are unable to work without costly residents permits that have to continually be renewed. Women’s rights groups such as The Lebanese Council of Women, continue to push for change on this disturbing act of gender-inequality that spans across numerous countries in the MENA region. What is important now is that an active dialogue is created as a means of putting pressure on those who enforce this unjust and distressing legislation.

Shoura Council Recommends that Saudi women should have the right to vote

Jeddah – The Shoura Council in Saudi Arabia has now suggested that women in the Kingdom should be given the right to vote. The recommendation came as a surprise to many who now eagerly wait to see if this will materialize into something more substantial for women in the Kingdom.

The recommendation, which has now been sent to King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz for approval, is a significant advancement for women in Saudi Arabia and a hopeful sign that Saudi’s electoral future is moving away from the harsh and distressing aspects of gender inequality that it continues to practice. Unfortunately, this recommendation does not allow for women to stand for election. However, it is a historic and important movement in “conveying the pulse of the Saudi street and the people’s desire for women to be allowed to participate in the municipal council elections,” explained Dr. Abdulrahman al-Enad of the Shoura Council to Alsharq Alowsat earlier this week.

Sadly, Saudi women who have fought for their right to vote were not greeted warmly when they appeared at election polls. Reports from Muslim Media Watch explained that they were met with a wave of insults and violent abuse. 
Women in Saudi Arabia face some of the worst examples of gender-inequality in the modern world, yet they continue to speak out against these inequalities and hope that increased pressure may urge King Abdullah to turn this recommendation for women’s suffrage into a reality.

Qatar Launches Project to Raise Awareness of Human Trafficking

A research project has recently been launched by the Qatar Foundation for Combating Human Trafficking (QFCHT) as a means of raising public awareness about human trafficking within the country. The organization works in association with the UN office of Drugs and Crime and has been implemented as a means of understanding the extent to which human trafficking continues to take place in the region.

QFCHT plans to use the information developed from this project to support further campaigns to prevent human trafficking, not only within Qatar but in the entire MENA region. Over the past year, Qatar has come under increasing criticism for failing to successfully deal with this growing problem. However, the organization urged that this report will give them a much better understanding of the present situation and allow them to move forward in their campaign. “It is necessary to begin the initiative with accurate information about the understanding of the real meaning of human trafficking,” said one spokesperson.

The QFCHT, which is made up of numerous volunteers that work in both English and Arabic, explained that the progress of the report will move quickly and results will be published by the end of 2011. The organization will work with the Qatari House for Lodging and Human Care in order to create polices that can directly tackle issues of human trafficking as well as develop more practical solutions such as training projects, conferences and support groups. This report will certainly act as a stepping stone in creating a dialogue about human trafficking in the MENA region and hopefully will show some promising results within the New Year.


U.A.E makes Progress in allowing Women to have more Political Involvement

New Reports from the U.A.E have stated that there are record numbers of women now applying for seats on the Federal National Council – The country’s legislative body. 
Out of the 469 candidates, 85 are women. Whilst this may seem a small number at first, it is a huge sign that things in the Emirates are moving forward and women are slowly gaining their place in the country’s political system.

The Emirates have not been directly affected but the widespread protests that have moved across the region, however, they have made significant developments and reforms over the last year. There has been a push for women to be more politically involved and they now make up 46% of the electorate. Anwar Mohammad Garhash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs showed his happiness in the rising numbers of with the results so far.

However, some female activists have been unsure about these latest developments. Whilst they are excited at the prospect of more female council representatives, the fact that the council does not have any actual legislative power means that women in any law-making process. “Female political participation is a relatively new phenomenon in the Gulf Arab states,” explained once source. The past UAE election saw only 1 woman elected to the FNC.

However, the movement is a positive step forward and the Emirates have proven itself to be on the road to breaking the gender inequality in the political sphere. Sadly may Gulf countries still remain headstrong on their views towards gender inequality as Saudi Arabia announced that no women will be allowed to run or vote in any of the Kingdom’s future elections.

Mobile phones, social media and the Arab Spring

Current events are making clearer the fact that new technologies, such as the spread of the internet, social media and new mobile software applications are impacting in developing fast and lasting social changes.
Recent riots in the UK have certainly been a clear example of the effectiveness and rapidity of these tools in engaging communities around certain topics and values. Considering UK riots it is worthy to note how specific patterns characterising the Arab spring are developing in a similar way, yet with different causes and social settings.
The so-called Arab Spring not only has challenged years of dictatorship, but also enabled people to realise how powerful the use of new technologies and media is in creating shared values able to support revolutions. As a matter of fact, the socio-political unrest that took place in countries such as Tunisia and Egypt first; Libya, Syria and Yemen then, have been shaped by new technologies, yet in different ways.  

With this paper not only we aim to look at the different ways new technologies have impacted on the development of revolts in the MENA region, but also the extent to which mobile phones have been used to tackle governments’ restrictions.

Did mobile phones and social media really enabled revolutions?
Answering this question is far from easy. Many would argue that the importance given to social media has been overstated, since countries like Libya, Syria and Yemen, characterised by similar patterns than Egypt and Tunisia, did not manage to realise a successful revolution, even though the use of new technology has been, and still is massive.
However, it is important to recognise that although the Arab Spring has not been created by new technologies, yet it has spread through them. Indeed, if we compare and analyse the events that took place in these countries, we could assert that not only have social media and mobile phones enabled the crowds to organise and coordinate themselves, but also provided a valuable means to tackle governmental control over information.
If we look at statistics, it would be immediate to notice how high internet and mobile phones penetration in developing countries is. Although in most of the Arab states governments are trying to control mainly the whole net of telecommunication infrastructures, still the development of internet access is giving people an immediate and less controlled means of communication.  As the Centre for International Media Assistance states in his report on Social Media in the Arab World, broadband high-speed internet is available in countries like Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt, while 3G mobile services are already developed in the North African region, as well as countries like Sudan and Syria (Ghannam, 2011). The global penetration rate of simple mobile phones is currently over 70%. Just to quote few numbers, only in 2009 Saudi Arabia  had a mobile penetration rate of 103%, Tunisia 87%, Egypt 72%, Syria 45%, Yemen 34% (Ghannam, 2011), while the whole Middle East region has currently seen a total rate of 285 million mobile subscribers (Africa and Middle East telecom-week report, July 2011).
By analysing and comparing the social unrest in different countries, we will highlight here the role played by mobile phones and social media in determining successful or unsuccessful revolutions.

The positive role of mobile phones in victorious revolutions: Egypt and Tunisia
Egypt and Tunisia represent the two main countries where the social revolution has succeeded. In both nations the coordination of masses and the insurgent action plan have been spread through main social media, such as Twitter and Facebook. While riots and revolutions in the past were developing and spreading by word of mouth, nowadays social media and mobile phones seem to be the main tool to give protesters information about how to counteract security controls, decreasing the risk of being captured and amplifying the achievement of the main objectives.
Therefore, the initial success of these two big revolutions is given by the powerful channels, which, by permitting to avoid the conventional media and governmental surveillance, gave voice to people’s needs. As many have already highlighted, the internet provided the means for both gathering and disseminating information, social media for connecting and organising groups of individuals spread across the country, and mobile phones played a huge role in both coordinating local groups and recording events through videos and pictures.
The power residing in these tools has also been recognised by the governments themselves, to the extent that they both decided to block internet sites and cut all the communication systems. This action, however, gave the opposite result and increased the number of participants protesting in the streets to claim their freedom of information back, so that both the Tunisian and the Egyptian governments had to apologise and re-establish communication infrastructures.  
Although the events described above already emphasize the relevance of new media and communication, it is important to highlight the prominence of mobile phones in reporting information. As a matter of fact, as it is true that social media had a massive influence in bridging distant areas and bringing people together, it is also true that mobile phones represented the main tool that provided protesters with the opportunity to spread their voices and share their values with the entire world.
For months we have been seeing massive amounts of images on television, newspapers, or the internet, and all those images were originated directly by personal headsets and mobile phones belonging to each individual involved in the revolts. If it is true (as many commentators have stated) that Twitter and Facebook are just an intermediary tool to share pre-created information, it is also true, and really important to mention, that mobile phones were creating those news and information. Mobile phones enabled people to broadcast themselves, factor that could be depicted as one of the most powerful resource for social change.
As Nabil Al Sharif, former Minister of State for Communications, stated: “The most important outcome of the Arab Spring has been the destruction of the old media regime”. As a matter of fact, the high level of media censorship in Arab countries brought citizens to increasingly distrust National media and information, leading them to rely on self-generated news, easier to spread both on a national and international level. One protester said: “We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate and YouTube to tell the world”. This sentence fairly expresses the power embedded in mobile phones for developing freedom of information and creating a two way communication with the world. Not only were the millions of camera phones recording events to be uploaded on the internet, but also represented the main source of information for international newspapers, such as BBC and Al Jazeera.  Indeed, as many commentators have stated, videos and pictures taken by mobile phones represented the sole record of the violent scenes picturing governmental repression.
Furthermore, new technology also played a massive role after the revolution, as a powerful resource to write history. As a matter of fact, an Egyptian filmmaker Amr Salama has recently posted on Twitter a call for footage in order to create a documentary about the Egyptian revolution. So far, he has received over 300 gigabytes of images, mainly created through mobile phone devices. Therefore, mobile phones can be seen as the main tool that gave transparency, freedom and fairness to international information.
These testimonies highlight the development of a new form of civil engagement in society, a new way for communities to be involved and play an active role in lasting social change and development of rights and liberties. A new and more effective way because it broadens quickly, it brings together people who might feel different one another, yet who share same values on the basis of one shared community. A new way that is transparent and gives the opportunity to people to be heard on a large scale and therefore makes it worthy to try, as the outcomes can be seen; and can be seen immediately, without censorship or control. As Ghannam (2011) states

“Social networking has changed expectations of freedom of expression and association to the degree that individual and collective capacities to communicate, mobilize and gain technical knowledge are expected to lead even greater voice, political influence and participation over the next 10 to 20 years.”

And social networking starts from mobile phones. If we think about our daily life and the activities that we undertake regularly, it becomes immediately obvious that we spend a lot of time using our mobile phones. Whether undertaking work related or personal functions, communication becomes easier through mobile phones and I-phone and I-pad applications. Whether we are running late to appointments or whether we just want to say a quick “Hi” to someone we have not seen in a while, these technologies are becoming essential. Indeed, SMS is one of the quickest and easiest ways to communicate and this simple mechanism was a key driver in sweeping thoughts and communications in the Arab Spring across the Arab World.

The role of mobile phones in unsuccessful revolutions: Syria and Libya. 

Considering unsuccessful revolutions also contributes in demonstrating that, although mobile phones and new technologies cannot determine the outcome of a revolution, yet they can make it happen. As a matter of fact, although both Syrian and Libyan governments represent oppressive regimes, characterised by a cruel military force, which hardly leaves any hope for a socio-political change, yet Mr Radwan Ziadeh, executive director of the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Washington DC affirmed that it is the first time that Syria assists to this kind of popular uprising.

Many protesters have confirmed that what gave power and voice to their resistance is digital technology (Somaskanda, 2011, Spreading the Word: Syria’s digital revolution). Images of popular uprising in Tunisia and Egypt and broadcast news mentioned above, reached the Syrian and Libyan citizens, transmitting them that spirit of protest. One Syrian protester stated:

“This couldn’t have happened earlier […] now we have cell phones and can talk to each other, and we know what is happening in other towns.”

It is therefore obvious to note that the increasing penetration of simple mobile headset in the Arab society has made drastic changes in considering and developing opportunities for social action. The immediate communication among individuals belonging to a given community and sharing a certain set of values provides them with a strong feeling of companionship. Mobile phones and social media give the opportunity to concretely acknowledge the amount of people engaging in the same battle and increase citizens’ involvement.
The part played by mobile phones in Libya is to a greater extent astonishing. As a matter of fact, unlike the Tunisian and Egyptian governments, when Ghaddafi shut the whole communication network and internet he did not step back and based the hub of the communication infrastructure in Tripoli, to give the regime full control over any kind of internal communication. Given the impossibility of interacting, rebels have been forced to develop a plan to hack a new hub to create a new and independent network. Thanks to the financial help from the U.A.E. and Qatar, a group of Libyan engineers managed to successfully integrate their new equipment to the existing hub in Tripoli and restore communication. The satellite network provided by the U.A.E. telecom Etisalat, enabled rebels to have their own mobile phone network, which gave them the opportunity to organise subsequent actions (The Wall Street Journal, 13/04/2011).
Moreover, the easiness of communication given by mobile phones and social media not only has enabled citizens and rebels in countries like Syria, Libya or Yemen to follow the North African events, but also led governments to follow the same path and approach the equivalent method. 
As the Tunisian blogger Sami Ben Gharbia acknowledged, “Governments are using social media to their benefit” since many groups supporting the Algerian President Bouteflika or the Egyptian President Mubarak’s son have been created during presidential elections or in rioting times (Ghannam 2011). Furthermore, in Libya text messages stating “We congratulate those who understand that interfering with national unity threatens the future of generations” have been sent from the Ghaddafi regime to millions of mobile phone subscribers (The Telegraph, 20/02/2011), while Egypt is known to have forced the telecom company Vodafone to send pro-governmental SMS.   

Positively or negatively, supporting or opposing revolutionary actions, mobile phones and new technology have played an impressive role in reaching and influencing people globally. Although talking about immediate social change might be too optimistic and quite unrealistic, it should be admitted that mobile telephony and the spread of the use of social media in socio-political related issues is providing the basis for gradual and long term social transformations. Already people feel increasingly comfortable in taking action because of the power embedded in these tools. Distances have been shortened and times have been restrained. While in the past organising a revolution was requiring years of personal and secret meeting on a small scale, today events like those we have witnessed can be organised in few days, thanks to the inputs and contribution that every single and each person can easily introduce every minute.


Tunisian Women take to the Streets in the Hopes of Maintaining Gender-Equality

TUNIS – Over 1000 women took to the streets of Tunis last Saturday in order to ensure that the gender-equality rights that they have enjoyed for so long are maintained. Tunisia will hold its first election since the ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on October 23rd of this year, however, with women in Lebanon and Egypt being pushed out of new constitutions, it is only natural that those in Tunisia are fearful of being sidelined under the new government.
The protest marked the 55th anniversary of The Personal Status Code (CPS), a significant equal rights bill that was passed under the leadership of Tunisia’s first president Habib Bourguiba. The bill – that enforced equal pay for women, provided them with equal rights in courts of law and banned polygamy – was seen as groundbreaking during its implementation in 1956. However, if Tunisia suffers from a rise in post-revolution religious conservatism, women in the country may see restrictions imposed on these rights. Emna Ben Jemaa, a Tunisian lecturer and journalist explained that “for Tunisian women, independence is not something that came with the revolution, it has been there for a long time” but gender equality in the country is “facing the threat of a loss in the gains made over the past decades,” said to Ahlem Belhaj  head of the Tunisian association of Democratic Women.

Political Islamist group, Ennahda, who were unable to exist under the rule of Ben Ali, have gained a significant amount support in recent months. However, representatives from the group have explained that women have nothing to fear, they “along with men, were victims of injustice under the Ben Ali regime, and it is time for them participate in governing the country,”  explained Noureddine Bhiri, a senior official of the party.

Human Rights Watch issued a questionnaire on Tuesday to all those parties and individuals who will be running in the October elections. The questionnaire, that aims to find out where these parties stand in regards to human rights,  urges all those taking part to “guarantee gender equality as a matter of law, eliminate criminal penalties for nonviolent speech, strengthen judicial independence, and revise the anti-terrorism law to ensure it does not criminalize speech offenses or trample the right to a fair trial.”
“The stakes for human rights are enormous in the election of an assembly that will draft a new constitution and probably adopt critical laws,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.  This questionnaire will prove vital in providing women with the most accurate information about where the electoral candidates stand with regards to gender equality, and will therefore allow them to make an informed and empowered decision in the upcoming elections.