x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

What's next for women after the Arab Spring?

A controversial rape case in Tunisia puts the spotlight on women's rights and role after the Arab Spring, a commentator says. Other topics: Chemical weapons in Syria and journalism in Morocco.

Tunisian rape case, and subsequent 'indecency' charge, highlight a crisis for women's rights

Last September a woman was raped by two police officers in Tunisia, while a third officer held down her fiancé who had been with her in a car. It was a weighty event in a country that is still feeling its way forward after it inaugurated the era of Arab revolutions, said the Lebanese journalist Diana Mkalled in the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al Awsat.

Gruesome though it was, the incident would have been ignored had the regular legal course not been derailed. Rather than arresting the policemen and prosecuting them, by some unexpected politico-judicial manipulation the victim suddenly became a suspect awaiting prosecution on charges of "public indecency".

Her alleged crime is that she was out with a man at a late hour when the patrol officers attacked her and threatened her companion.

"It was the easiest excuse to justify leniency for the policemen and to turn the case against the woman and distort facts in the court of public opinion," said the writer.

The issue was taken out of context: the real issue was of course the sexual assault on a woman and the violation of values of protection and security that make up the basic elements of state power.

The desperate efforts by Tunisian authorities to deflect attention from the core issue in this case have sparked a storm of public outrage and protest in various parts of Tunisia.

Provocative expressions such as "indecency" and "immoral behaviour" were intentionally used by the ministry of interior in an attempt to undermine the victim's credibility.

These are expressions that echo especially well among the ultraconservative segments of society that have surfaced as a major force in Tunisia since the revolution.

"After all, this is the age of political Islamist movements that use women as their gateway to controlling society and promoting values that serve their concept of life and the universe," added Mkalled.

Tunisian women worry that they could be robbed of the equality and advanced rights they enjoyed under former regimes.

But, in any scenario, the Tunisian incident is merely one of many signals that warrant alarm in the countries of the Arab Spring. Since the expulsion of the former regime and the ascent to power of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egyptian women are constantly wary of sexual assaults and are hearing calls to legitimise early marriages for girls.

As for the women of Yemen and Libya, hope of better treatment remains in the realm of dreams.

These are but a few elements in the long list of concerns of those women who spearheaded the Arab democratic movement only to find themselves pushed into the back row as soon as the revolutions subsided.

Is Assad close to using chemical weapons?

The Syrian regime is reportedly massing 30,000 soldiers and hundreds of tanks; is this a sign that it is close to using chemical weapons to win the fight, starting with Aleppo? That's what Rajeh Al Khouri asked in the Lebanese newspaper Annahar.

"What prompted me to pose this question is the recent, interesting warning from Iran to its ally Bashar Al Assad: Ali Akbar Salehi [Iran's foreign minister] said the use of chemical weapons would end the regime's legitimacy," he wrote.

Iran, entangled in the conflict alongside Mr Al Assad, could have warned him in secret, but instead chose to do so at an international meeting. Concurrently, Russia warned Nato against military intervention in Syria.

"This makes it seem as though the regime, being unable to win the battle in Aleppo … may really be ready to do that," he wrote.

Then there was the statement of a defector, Gen Ali Sillu, who told TheTimes of London that serious discussions had been held [before he defected] on using chemical weapons, how to use them and the target cities.

The regime is losing ground and its collapse is certain, although this may take months or years. But the regime knows that using chemical weapons would be "digging its own grave immediately".

Mr Salehi's warning can be linked more to Iran's needs, which are more urgent now that it faces an escalating economic crisis.

Journalists in Morocco are walking on eggs

Being part of Morocco's independent press is like walking on eggs, Taoufik Bouachrine wrote in Wednesday's edition of the Moroccan daily Akhbar Al Youm. Journalists must walk carefully because if they break an egg, who knows what could be inside it?

"The red lines of this business change daily without journalists knowing," he noted.

A new liberal publication law is needed, to reduce the number of "losses and victims". Yet laws alone are not sufficient to protect independent journalism.

"The independent press in Morocco needs validation and full and final recognition as a partner, not a wage earner or intruder," he went on.

"Journalism is a legitimate offspring of democracy and is by definition annoying - it operates at the margins of what can be said." But it goes after only those who are suspect," the writer said.

"Journalism is a mirror of society, and public opinion's eyes on power and wealth … therefore, it must be revered and allowed freedom of movement."

Like any other profession in society, journalism has bad and the good, genuine practitioners and interlopers. Nobody is above law, but the law must be applied under justice and democracy. In Morocco today serious independent journalism is too often targeted unfairly, the writer said.

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk