Addressing the Mediterranean Water Crisis

I have contributed to Revolve´s annual water report about the challenges of water scarcity that affects the Mediterranean and Middle East.

I visited Spain´s Almería region and investigated about the price of watering Europe´s southern plains.

You can download a pdf version of my article here or read the full report entitled “Water Around the Mediterranean” here.

Why is my bra or pants size any of your business?


Why is everyone so obsessed by women´s body. I can´t seem to walk around without being surrounded by a hotchpotch of thighs, bums and boobs in all colors and sizes. Companies, regardless of the product they sell, feel entitled to tell women how they should look like and the public either slam them for encouraging women to starve or applaud them for reassuring women that it´s ok to be fat.

Are companies like Dove, Curvy Kate Lingerie and Dear Kate that launched positive body image campaigns any better than the others? They are equally concentrating on women´s looks and feel entitled to tell them how they should feel about themsleves. Isn´t it better to just forget about our bodies and find a more creative way to promote their business?

Why is my bra or pants size any of your business? A funny and at some points shocking quiz on BuzzFeed asking readers to guess what some sexist adverts are trying to sell perfectly reflects my point. Check it out here.

Shout Art Loud

An interactive documentary by Melody Patry on different artistic initiatives that tackle sexual harassment in Egypt. It really sums up some of the most creative art movements since the overthrow of Mubarak.

You can see the full documentary here.

فيلم تسجيلي تفاعلي من إخراج ملودي باتري حول مبادرات فنية مختلفة تعالج موضوع التحرش الجنسي في مصر. يجمع الفيلم بعضاً من أكثر التوجهات الفنية تفرداً منذ الإطاحة بمبارك.

يمكنك هنا مشاهدة الفيلم كاملاً.


The West Loves the Story of Iran’s Jailed ‘Happy’ Dancers For All the Wrong Reasons

An interesting take on the FreeHappyIranians story. This was written by senior editor for islawmix, Sana Saeed.


When there’s slow movement on the hashtag battlefield, you can always count on a story about Muslim women and headscarves to pick up the pace.

On May 7, in her Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty column, Golnaz Esfandiari highlighted a Facebook page started by Iranian political journalist (in exile), Masih Alinejad, now called “My Stealthy Freedom.” The page features images of various Iranian women defying the national law that dictates women be covered with a headscarf at all times in public.

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The story, which has the necessary ingredients of a Western media fantasy, picked up in the English press immediately. Hell, even George Takei shared the story, expressing his awe at “[some] very brave women in Iran … doing something extraordinary on Facebook.” The story is still popping up online, and the Facebook group itself now boasts over 315,000 followers — an incredible increase from its initial few hundred, then few thousand, followers over the course of less than two weeks.

And just this week, attention was turned to Iran once more in the name of freedom of expression.

A group of young, trendy, Iranians (including three women without their headscarves) were arrested for “indecency” after creating a video of themselves dancing to Pharrell’s hit song, “Happy.” This story, too, garnered the attention of social media crusaders when news of the arrest broke. The group has now been released.



Iranian laws governing public morality and the possible punishments undoubtedly have a detrimental effect on the citizenry. For women, especially, to be publicly engaging in defiance of laws that limit their expressions of self — as really anywhere — is a risk and feat worth acknowledging.

But there’s a self-centered quality of our appetite for these stories. We are uncomfortably selective in our interest in which human rights stories from Iran get our attention.

There’s a reason why the “My Stealthy Freedom” page has been lauded as a “silent revolution,” and stories of life under the country’s crippling sanctions are underreported: These stories reinforce a warped narrative of Iran that is all too familiar in the West.

In response to the kind of coverage this story has received, editors of AJAM Media Collective, Shima Houshyar and Behzad Sarmadi pointed out the trouble with the seductive, oversimplified narrative evident through these stories:

These articles produce simplistic generalizations for the sake of provocative and yet easily digestible reading. They do so by: treating women’s bodily surfaces as a measure of societal progress and morality; romanticizing the notion of resistance; and eliding the significance of class and consumer culture in everyday urban life.

Houshyar and Sarmadi also point out that a western audience has a tendency to “romanticize resistance,” which only offers solidarity if its “own values and ideals seems apparent in the resistance.”

In short, these stories aren’t told with the intention of understanding — they’re told for the sake of consumption.


Images Credit: YouTube and facebook.

That means that the voices that really matter here — Iranian women that actually live with enforced dress codes — are lost in the coverage.

According to Houshyar and Sarmadi, “There is a significant internal conversation and a long history of engagement with the headscarf that is never part of any external conversation on the headscarf in Iran or on Iranian women.”

And that internal conversation, about mandatory veiling, is one that should not be dismissed or ignored. As Alinejad noted in an e-mail correspondence with PolicyMic, “[by] the time the international publicity came, [the Facebook page] had already become established in Iranian circles … with no publicity at all I was getting more than 50 photos a day.”

And in a similar vein, the story of the Iranians arrested for making a “Happy” video is a part of a wider conversation on censorship and dissent, or as Houshyar pointed out about the unfolding story on Wednesday:

But these nuances were lost in the online chorus of outrage. That’s because our envisioning of Iran and Iranians has been and remains limited to the sorts of issues that redeem our own beliefs and visions of ‘freedom’. The issues and stories that indict us of any complacency and wrongdoing are ignored or justified. When Iranians are the denied the apparent basic human right to make a Pharrell video, we are maddened and disappointed. When Iranians are unable to access basic medical supplies as a result of our sanctions, we don’t even know.

There is a space for solidarity and support that does not situate the external conversation and perspective as the dominant conversation and perspective; that does not create a hierarchy of rights and freedoms. Unfortunately, we still have not quite learned how to find it.

Sana Saeed is the Senior Editor for islawmix, a project incubated at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society dedicated to bringing clarity to discussions and portrayals of Islamic law in US news. She is also a researcher at the Islamophobia …
Article credit: PolicyMic

Romani Platni, Eating the Roma Way

Romani Platni (Romanian for Romani Stove) a Roma eatery that fights roma-related stereotypes and misconceptions by bringing Hungarians and Romas closer together in the intimacy of a mutual dinner.

When I first saw Malvin néni (Hungarian for Auntie Malvin as she likes to be called) she reminded me of my late Hungarian grandmother. Just like my grandmother, Malvin néni is energetic and loud, she likes to sing and starts dancing whenever the music is playing and most of all, she loves cooking. But unlike my grandmother, Malvin néni is Roma.

Malvin néni, chéf at Hungary´s first Roma restaurant

Malvin néni, chéf at Hungary´s first Roma restaurant

Although Malvin néni never faced any discrimination or atrocities because of her origin, she follows the news of discrimination against Romas in Hungary with concern (Accurate stats are hard to come by but according to a study by the Athena Institute the overwhelming majority of hate crimes in Hungary are committed with racist motivation). So she took it as her mission to ease this racial tension through cooking exquisite and authentic Roma dinners in Romani Platni, Hungary’s first Roma eatery. “My food is not for dieters!” she warns. While eating pork chops, hanuska (potato and dumplings) and the greasy bodagok (roma bread) among many other simple yet delicious Roma dishes, she hopes fear and stereotypes of her Hungarian visitors of the Roma as hostile people will ease too. “They eat a lot of bodagok, they like it a lot,” she says with a proud smile. “When they finish eating I tell them get on you heels, get out of here, time to dance… and they do, they enjoy their time.”

Romani Platni_photo by Szivák Fruzsina

Romani Platni_photo by Szivák Fruzsina

Romani Platni (Romanian for Romani Stove) was opened in February 2012 by a Hungarian social aid group in collaboration with local Roma women and a small grant from the Open Society Institute with the clear aim of bringing Hungarians and Romas closer together in the intimacy of a mutual dinner. The eatery occupies a small room in the aid group’s youth center in Budapest’s infamous 9th district, an area mostly inhibited by residents from minority backgrounds that many Hungarian mothers warn their kids from visiting at night for fear of robbery and violence. Yet, crowds of Hungarians visit the district on a weekly basis to try out the home-made foods of Malvin néni and her 3 other Roma mates. Romani Platni is a not a licensed restaurant that functions 18 hours a day. Rather, it’s a community kitchen where you have to book through email an appointment for a private dinner or subscribe to public dinners . The eatery has no phone number and its street number is not published on the eatery’s blog. According to Kriszta Nagy, the Hungarian Romani Platni project manager, this is done on purpose.

“We don’t have the capacity to manage a professional restaurant but that’s not the point anyway. The idea is for Hungarians to share an intimate and authentic Roma dinner and learn about the ways of the Roma,” Nagy explains. “We want to show them that Romas can do more than just live in poverty. Unfortunately, in the media, Romas are mostly associated with poverty and violence. The women´s attitude at Romani Platni is that I am a Roma and a woman, and I am proud of it.”

Romani Platni solely promotes itself on social media. “The Romani Platni project is aimed at Hungary’s intellectuals circles who live in a totally different world, move between offices and banks and probably never met a Roma. The only way to reach these people is facebook.” Nagy explains. ” and it works! I had to book one month ahead to get a free table.

Hungarians make up 60% of Romani Platni’s guests. The rest are social workers from foreign NGOs and Roma intellectuals who live in mixed families and miss the Roma food. While most visitors are sympethatic to Roma or just curious about the food, Nagy remembers a dinner with an anti-Roma guest.

”He told me he didn’t like Romas, but he came anyway to please his friends,” Nagy recalls. “He sat with a stiff back for the first one hour, then slowly he started to relax and I think by the end he actually enjoyed himself.”

Romani Platni_photo by Szivák Fruzsina

Romani Platni_photo by Szivák Fruzsina

Another source of pride for Nagy is that right wing media appraoched Romani Platni and published what, according to her, might be its first positive coverage of Romas. She also boasts a cooking event Romani Platni organized in collaboration with the Hungarian police to ease the forces’ misconceptions of Romas.

Some Romas like Béla Radics, the director of the Radical Civic Movement for Safeguarding Roma Interests are suspecious about the success of projects like Romani Platni.

”Romani Platni does not have the impact we wish for,” Radics says. “The majority of {Hungarian} society is racist. If they don’t like the Roma people, they won’t like their food.”

Malvin néni agrees that her guests are mostly sympethatic to Romas. “There are racist people, but it’s different here {in the eatery}. I don’t feel that the guests hate us. If they did, they wouldn’t have come to eat,” she says.

Still, Nagy insists that positive inititatives like Romani Platni are important. “Maybe racist people won’t come, but if someone who doesn’t know Romas and sees this aspect of Roma’s first and reads positive articles about them in the right wing media then maybe he/she will start to think differently. This project can’t impact extremists, but it can point those people who don’t have an opinon on this matter in the right direction.”

Check out this story on Storify. I wrote this as part of the World perspectives, minority voices study session organized in Budapest by the Council of Europe, the European Youth Press, Concordia International Group and the Minority Rights Group Europe. Find out more about the study session here and here. Twitter #minorityvoices.

Review of ’Arous Amman, a novel by Jordanian writer and blogger Fadi Zaghmout

’Arous Amman (Amman’s bride), a controversial book in both its form and content

Book cover of 'Arous Amman

Book cover of ‘Arous Amman

In an interview on Roya Jordanian TV channel with writer and blogger Fadi Zaghmout, the presenter referred to a gay character in Zaghmout’s novel ’Arous Amman as shaz (an offensive term to describe gays, similar to faggot). „Muthley,” Zaghmout corrected her using a politically correct word for “homosexual”. By the end of the interview, the presenter was using „LGBT-friendly language”.

More than a literary work, Zaghomout’s first novel ’Arous Amman is an activism work advocating women rights and sexual liberties in the conservative Jordanian society. The novel is based on  a collection of short stories, film scripts and blog posts that Zaghmout published on his popular blog. The blog had 118,745 subscribers at the time of publishing this review.

What makes Zaghmout’s blog-turned-into-novel stand out is that it not only tackles some of the major taboos in Jordanian society like domestic rape, inter-religious marriages, sex out-of-wedlock which are often covered in contemporary literature, but it also raises other sensitive issues that are less talked about like LGBT rights and the sexual rights of women who were tricked into marrying homosexual men to hide the husband’s sexual orientation. What also makes it unique is that it is one of the few Arab feminist novels written by a man. Perhaps this is also why it is one of the few novels that don’t crucify men and blame them solely for the plight of women in the Arab world. Rather, Zaghmout presents them as loving fathers and supportive husbands and sometimes even victims of the patriarchal society just like women, blaming women rights violations in the Arab world on the patriarchal upbringing, ignorance and social pressure among others. It is also one of the few feminist novels I read that managed to walk the fine line between creating sympathy for its violated women and LGBT characters and being too depressive. In his novel, Zaghmout does not only showcase the problems that Jordanian women and LGBTs face, but also explains the mentality behind it.

The form and language of ’Arous Amman is no less controversial than its content. It is made up of a series of monologues and reflections by its main characters: 4 women and a homosexual man with very little dialogue. If this sounds daunting, it isn’t. Zaghmout divided his novel into short, blog like sections written in a simple language often using colloquial words which made it easy to read and accessible for a wider audience. While the style he adopted definitely helps in spreading his advocacy message, it triggered heated debates among the more traditional Jordanian intellectuals who call for elitist literature written in pure fusha (literary Arabic language).

Rather than its simple language and form, which I personally found suitable for the message that the novel conveys, what I didn’t like in ’Arous Amman is its romantic ’everyone lived happily ever after’ ending because it lies in contrast with the story’s serious and sometimes even tragic tone. To avoid including spoilers here… it just wasn’t convincing!

’Arous Amman is definitely a good choice if you are a foreigner interested in better understanding the psychology behind women and LGBT rights violations in the Arab world. While the novel might offer little new information for Arab readers, its power lies in challenging the traditional mindset of Arab societies and being brave enough to call social prejudices and atrocities by the name.

The Spanish Spring

So the Spanish revolution – or the 15M (el movimiento 15M)*  as the Spanish like to call it – is not led by the young only, It is about building an active civil society rather than changing regimes, and it isn’t about money but rather ethics! I talked to consultant in International Cooperation and Development, Alberto Hedo Delgado and screenwriter, Mario Cuesta Hernando, who are both actively participating in the 15M, to find out what “other” misconceptions I have about the revolution.

 “From Tahrir to Madrid to the world, world revolution,” says one of the banners raised by Spanish protesters referring to sit-ins organized by Egyptian protestors in Tahrir square. Do you think the Arab Spring will turn into a “European or Spanish Summer”? Why do you think so?

Mario: There have been slogans linking the Spanish Revolution to the Arab Spring, to the Greek fury in Syntagma Square, and the Icelandic demonstrators who refused to pay their bank debts… The difference is that in Spain (and so Europe) we demand economic changes (like protection of public services, stopping the international stock-market speculation and cutting the links of governments with the economic powers), while the Arab Spring is about politics and demanding democracy. I think the main link is that in a global economy, citizen movements are global too. With different demands, we look around and we think “this is the time”.

What do the two revolutions have in common?

Alberto: Both movements avoid (at least in principle) concrete ideologies. What unites people in both movements is the desire for change and the need to find a better form of government. Both movements are using social media to expand and take both national and international hold. Another common element in all the movements that have emerged this year is occupying a physical space (squares) as a symbol of taking over the power by the people.

Mario: Both [revolutions] have the impulse of the youth but involve people of every age and are supported by the middle class. All of them were unexpected in their strength and persistence. For me, persistence is the singularity of all these demonstrations.

Analysts say the Spanish revolution is about the power of the globalised industrialized corporations and their partnership with banks rather than democracy and politics. What do you think? If yes, how are you hoping to change this power relationship between banks and corporations?

Mario: We demand new economic ethics, but this can only be done through politics. I don’t expect banks and corporations to change their mentality, but I do expect the parliament to release laws that will force them to act ethically.

However, every person you ask from the 15M will give you a different perspective on what economic and politic changes he/she expects. Some people just expect stronger regulations for banks and stock exchange, others want to protect public services (Health, Education…), but there are anarchist tendencies demanding a complete change of the rules. I think all of us would agree on two things: we didn’t provoke this crisis, so we shouldn’t pay and suffer the consequences (that we already do); and we must do whatever it takes to avoid a crisis like this in the future.

How to make that happen? First, by encouraging people to express their anger. It is necessary to spread an individual “revolutionary state of mind” and the sense of responsibility that as citizens we should be aware, meet with those who share our concerns, and find tools for citizen participation other than voting.

Second, – and I think this is the main goal of the 15M till now- to control media’s agenda. The last decade journalists were supporters of political parties. Their agenda was the same as the parties’ agenda. The political section of [local] papers were like “kids’ fight” between the government and the opposition. “You did this”, “but you did it before”, “but you do it more often”. The political debate was extremely shallow. Now, whether journalist and politicians agree or disagree with our movement, but they talk about us daily, and that means they talk about our concerns, our demands, and they can’t do it without using our vocabulary: poverty, abuse, speculation, unemployment, justice… we pushed politics debate to a more adult level.

And finally [we are achieving change] through specific actions, some of which were already taken before the 15M, but the revolution has provided them with better logistics and higher numbers. For example, since the start of the financial crisis, thousands of families were evicted from their homes because they couldn’t pay their mortgages (200 families daily since 2007; 15.491 only in the first three months of 2011). When the police and the court secretary go to the house to evict the family, they find hundreds of people at the front door. Only riot police can move those people, and usually banks (who own the mortgage) prefer not have that bad publicity. So families can stay. It is working so well that we have caught media’s attention, and the parliament had to approve a law to protect families. Still, the [new] law was not good enough and we keep meeting at front doors. Persistence is working.

Protestors called for boycotting elections. Yet municipal elections witnessed a relatively high figure this year (65 per cent of Spanish voters). Why do you think is that? And what do you think of the elections’ result?

Alberto: The 15M is not an organized movement, with a visible head or leader to follow. Each person or small group choose the best form of protest they like. Media promoted the view that protesters were mainly calling for abstention. I doubt that the majority did so, since the election results showed that abstention was not significantly higher than it was in previous elections. Major political parties, large corporations, banks and mass media fostered the view that we are young “anti-systems”, we ignore politics and elections, just a bunch of anarchists protesting without any proposal. This is clearly an attempt to discredit a movement that is taking shape and gaining growing acceptance by society. But we will not stop. To quote one of our slogans: “we do not fear” and since many people have no jobs, no homes, no peace of mind or rest… we have plenty of time!

Spain has tended, except in very specific historical periods, towards conformism. This is finally starting to change. But still, there are many people with pessimistic attitudes, who will not vote. Many people who failed to vote cried the next day because the right party won almost everything. It was devastating. Now it is time to convince those who chose not to vote that in the next election they should play an active role and vote.

Mario: participating in a democracy is not only about voting every 4 years. You must get involved and participate. For example, I am against the weapon industry but my savings were in a bank that finances that industry. I was basically demonstrating in the evening against what I was financing in the morning, so I searched for another bank and I moved my savings.

Things don’t happen every 4 years. Suddenly a huge financial crisis happened and we were not prepared to react as sovereign citizens. Politicians didn’t think for a second that they had to ask before giving our taxes to banks, because in their mentality if we don’t like what they do we will vote differently in 4 years time… A decision so important should not have been taken without asking people in a referendum. Look at Iceland, they refused to pay. That can’t happen again, and the only way to avoid it is by having regular citizen participation.

Would a change of regime in Spain, anyway, help solve the economical crisis the country is facing today?

Alberto: The crisis is global, so a change of government and attitude will not change anything related to the international crisis. However, there are concrete proposals that assemblies of 15M made to mitigate the effects of the crisis like limiting bailouts to banks and financial institutions, promoting social spending and supporting families to encourage household spending and revive the economy, identifying the implications of the alleged Spanish debt and rebuilding the Spanish National Bank as a public entity with the capacity to control inflation and financial transactions.

It is clear that the implementation of such initiatives, will not be to the international markets and international financial institutions’ likening. Nor will it be to the likening of many countries that promote initiatives of public spending cuts. This would have consequences for Spain and the debt ratings by rating agencies, but the more important thing for Spanish society is to feel that the Spanish government is more concerned about the people it represents rather than external institutions who are only concerned about their own interests and about maintaining an economic and political system that is clearly unfair.

The Spanish revolution was described by journalist Matthew Campbell in The Australian as “Part new-age festival, part student sit-in” that “has no leadership, no party affiliation and no specific aims”. As participants in the protests, how do you see the Spanish revolution? What is it about?

Mario: Mr Campbell is right when he says “has no leadership, no party affiliation and no specific aims”. But I don’t consider it an obstacle, even more, I think it’s a big achievement, and part of the nature of the movement. We demand new politics, starting by a new way of doing politics. However it is not true that we don’t have specific aims, we do. But we have many. I like very much the distinction that Antonio Negri makes in his last book Multitude. He says revolution of the masses was a XX century movement, meanwhile now people behave as a multitude: a sum of individualities, a net.

Alberto: As I see it, the Spanish revolution is the struggle to overcome a political, social economic, immoral, unfair and violent system that is less democratic than they want us to believe. It is a struggle for the governments to begin to rule by and for the people and not by and for banks and international markets.

The movement is not made up of a few young students, there are all kinds of people: young and old, children, women, men … What unites us is a desire to recover our dignity, control of politics and ultimately to regain control over decisions that affect our daily lives.

Dubbed the “lost generation”, the Spanish youth was described as apolitical and passive. Yet, since the 15th of May, thousands of Spaniards took to the street to demand change. How is the current revolution changing the attitude and mentality of the Spanish youth?

Alberto:  After 40 years of repressive dictatorship, the arrival of democracy without promoting the mobilization of citizens led to conformity. It was as though we’ve gone as far as we could. This is not entirely true! now we can see that people are thinking. A revolution is not something that emerges one day, but it is an amalgam of emotions and feelings and need for change that has been brewing for a long time in the heads of people. They just had to overcome their fear to express themselves publicly.

When everything looks fine, as promoted by all political and economic institutions, you can only think that you’re lucky. During good times, if you say something is wrong, society rejects you and considers you extremist or maybe too pessimistic. This is why people have been quiet although they enjoy a supposedly guaranteed freedom of expression.

Mario:  Not only youth is supporting the movement. Mass media say it does, maybe because they love the label of “youth-revolutions” but that’s a terrible simplification and has been very painful for the 15M. I’m sure many old people who agree with our aims didn’t join because of that awful label. My neighbourhood-assembly had to make specific actions to break that image and involve everybody on the hood, regardless of their age. I can’t understand why some people think that “young” is more romantic.

The two activists stressed that they are not representatives of the 15M and that their views do not represent the views of all protestors.

* el movimiento 15M: the 15 M movement – refers to the first protest that marked the start of the Spanish revolution on May 15.

Bill of Rights

What does the Syrian constitution say about citizenship and how might this change?

Photo by Fadi al-Hamwi

Photo by Fadi al-Hamwi

With the escalation of the unrest in Syria and the accompanying surge in political dialogue, there has been a resurgence of discussion about the concept of citizenship.

In his book Guide to Citizenship, Hassan Abbas, a Syrian researcher, wrote that it is not enough to define citizenship as acquiring a nationality and enjoying the civil and political rights it offers. The definition includes active participation in public life.

“Freedom is the legal status quo of the citizen meaning that a citizen is free to choose between becoming an active citizen who participates in public life or…being a passive one,” Abbas wrote.

“Citizenship means the right of citizens to participate in all aspects of life,” Adel, a young theater critic who asked to remain anonymous, told Syria Today. He explained that the concept combines rights and duties, but that in Syria, duties trump rights.

“Limiting citizenship to Syrian Arabs is unacceptable,” Maalouf declared. “A citizen must be any person who lives in this land and has specific rights and duties.”

Until recently, broader duties and rights as citizens went ignored, he argued, because people were more concerned with their everyday struggles.

“Through chatting with friends or with the grocer, I have a perception that the majority of people here have a similar direction in life: to secure a living for their families,” he said. “What has been happening [since the unrest started] put this view to the test. Things are bigger than that.”

The outline
Lawyers interviewed by Syria Today argued that deficiencies in ensuring citizens’ rights in Syria come from flaws in the constitution, where the state defines its idea of citizenship and organises the relationship between the government and citizens. Others said that the constitution guarantees adequate rights to citizens; however, the problem lies in many laws which are, in fact, unconstitutional.

In his speech last month, President Bashar al-Assad said that the new media, parties and electoral laws will allow “citizens to participate in making decisions, monitor and denounce” activities of the state. Making this change, Assad said, might require revising the constitution or issuing a new one.

President Assad said that no changes will take place before September and if any do occur they will be based on what the national dialogue meetings, held in July, recommended. It called for the establishment of a committee to “offer suggestions” that would create a “contemporary and new” constitution that “ensures political collectivity, social justice, the sovereignty of the law and basic human rights”.

Contradictory rulings
To implement citizens’ rights, as outlined in the Syrian constitution, articles from the very same constitution must be changed and effectively applied.

People’s political and civil rights can be found in the first chapter of the constitution titled “Basic Principles”. It grants all citizens personal freedom, equality before the law, participation in the political, economic, social and cultural life of society, the freedom of faith, the right (and duty) to work, free obligatory education, the right of free and open expression, freedom of the press and the right to demonstrate peacefully.

However, articles like number 8 – which grants the ruling Ba’ath party a monopoly on political power in the country – contradict and effectively negate the right of citizens to participate in political life.

Nazih Maalouf, a lawyer and former judge and the manager of Syria Court, a legal website that covers human rights and other legal issues in Syria, said the constitution includes many contradictory articles. For example, it states that all Syrians have equal rights and opportunities, but another article says that the country’s president must be Muslim and that legislation must be based on Islamic jurisprudence.

“Syrian women cannot pass down citizenship to their children, and they do not have the right of equal inheritance, or even [the right] to take independent decisions in many cases; like marriage, or travel,” Diala, a 27-year-old working in a private bank who asked to remain anonymous, said.

Syrian constitution states that all Syrians have equal rights and opportunities, but at the same time says that the country’s president must be Muslim and that legislation must be based on Islamic jurisprudence.

Anwar al-Bouni, a lawyer and head of the Syrian Center for Legal Studies, said that problems like these come from laws that contradict the constitution.

“In the Syrian constitution, there is no discrimination between men and women, but discrimination exists in some laws like the nationality one [which prevents Syrian mothers from passing their nationality to their offspring],” Bouni said.

Recently, a committee was set up to study the draft bill about amending Article 3 of the Nationality Law, which includes granting nationality to the children of Syrian women married to non-Syrians.

Another measure that contradicts the notion of universal equality came in with the constitution of 1961, which was drafted following a military coup that ended three years of union between Egypt and Syria, when the Syrian republic was first defined as Arab. This remained unchanged.

“Limiting citizenship to Syrian Arabs is unacceptable,” Maalouf declared. “A citizen must be any person who lives in this land and has specific rights and duties. Equality and people’s general liberties must be established by the constitution regardless of their religion or ethnicity.”

A new constitution, if amended or overhauled, should more clearly delineate citizens’ rights in order to prevent such contradictions in the future, he said.

“Individual liberties must be addressed by the constitution and should not be governed by laws because laws are subject to change, according to who is in power and are easy to play around with,” Maalouf explained. “The constitution is obligatory and is not easily changed.”

Challenges to change
“Changing the constitution alone is not enough. There should be a new constitution,” the veteran lawyer Bouni said.

According to Bouni, the power of the country’s constitutional court is restricted. It is supposed to be able to strike down unconstitutional laws. But the president, according to the constitution, assigns the members of the constitutional court to four-year posts, limiting the court’s independence. Another article in the constitution states that only the Syrian president or a quarter of the parliament can challenge unconstitutional laws.

As a result, the system is crippled, Bouni added.

“Obviously, they [members of parliament] are not going to issue unconstitutional laws and then refer them to court. Consequently, there are hundreds of unconstitutional laws in Syria and no one can challenge them,” he explained. “Since the establishment of the constitutional court not a single Syrian law has been challenged as unconstitutional.”

I published this article together with Syrian journalist Alma Hassoun in Syria Today

We used only first names for interviewees who wished to remain anonymous.