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.

 

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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.

Let’s Take This Online

Is Syria’s new online political debate turning nasty?

Syrian online political debate - Caricature by Ala Rustom

Syrian online political debate – Caricature by Ala Rustom

In Syria, Facebook is getting political. Just a few months ago, logging on to the then-blocked social-networking site to write about your day at work, a film you saw or a romantic break-up meant using proxies to bypass the government’s internet security.

Changing netscape

Now that Facebook is freely accessible, Syrians are regularly using it to express their political views. Discussing politics used to be a major taboo in Syria. But since the revolution began in mid-March, many young Syrians are openly discussing politics online as well as in the street for the first time. But that has not been a wholly positive change. Syrian Facebook users living both in Syria and abroad said that what began as a forum for political discussion quickly turned into a shouting match. Users started blocking and in some cases even reporting their ‘friends’ accounts to Facebook because of their political views. Some are going as far as calling those who disagree with their views traitors and calling for their execution. “The discussions I’m seeing on Facebook are depressing and dangerous,” Hassan Abbas, a Syrian researcher in cultural issues, said. “People are no longer discussing their opponents’ argument but their morals.” He believes that abandoning logical argument and attacking the moral veracity of people is the most dangerous element of what is happening on Facebook today. “It is important that discourse remains interactive,” Abbas added. “It’s depressing as this moment requires a high level of awareness and selflessness and to focus our efforts on the future of Syria.” Syrians often post links or comments about sensitive topics online, which can cause heated exchanges and even lead to the break-up of otherwise solid friendships. This is what happened to Mohammed Ghazi, a 21-year-old mechanical engineering trainee. “Sometimes my friends post things on Facebook or Twitter that are very different from what I know they think,” Ghazi said. “I posted a video of a pro-government demonstration and several of my friends deleted me after we argued about it.” Syrian Facebook users first started changing their profile pictures to reflect their political stance during the revolution against Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia. Since March 15 many now reflect their views on domestic politics. Plain black images are used to signify mourning for those who were killed, while pictures of President Bashar al-Assad and illustrations of inter-religious and ethnic solidarity are also popular. Syrian users have also established hundreds of ‘groups’ to promote their political views. “I was constantly being added by friends — without my permission — to groups in support or against the demonstrations taking place now in Syria,” a young Syrian Facebook user, who requested anonymity, said.

Virtual ‘warlords’

As the unrest escalates, conflict between pro-government Facebook users and the opposition is growing more aggressive, forcing other users to take sides or be criticised by both. “If you criticise the demonstrators then you are called a coward and if you criticise the regime you become a traitor – this is depressing,” the young Syrian said. “In the past, I had to bypass internet security to access my Facebook account to speak my mind because the website was blocked. Now that it is no longer banned and easy to access, I’ve deactivated my account because I couldn’t take all the fighting and accusations anymore.” Bassam al-Kadi, founder of Syrian Women’s Observatory, who has been attacked online by both pro-and anti-government figures, believes that instead of discussing the current revolution in Syria, Facebook is being used to promote political propaganda and to mobilise people. “Facebook today resembles a warfront rather than a political platform. Political participation means discussing solutions, the balance of forces, etcetera, and not throwing accusations at each other,” Kadi said. “Facebook users are acting now like ‘warlords’ who, instead of addressing people’s minds, speak to their emotions and polarise them.” “[Facebook users] don’t represent the whole of Syrian society but they do reflect part of the Syrian reality today,” Hassan Abbas said. According to Marwan Kabalan, a politics professor at the University of Damascus’s faculty of political science, the conflict is the result of decades-old policies of exclusion and marginalisation. Since the seventies, young Syrians could not actively participate in their country’s internal politics. The one-party system in Syria and the lack of independent political institutions and liberties deprived them of the means to do so. Young Syrians interviewed by Syria Today said that expressing their views on politics used to equal “trouble”. They believed that leading an active political life was “dangerous” and “pointless” since they “couldn’t change anything anyway”. “Our generation was raised to believe that politics, religion and sex are three major taboos that should never be broken,” Zeina Qahwaji, a 25-year-old Syrian living in Damascus, said. Abbas added that, though politically inactive, young Syrians have deep political awareness. “When you can’t express your political awareness, you try to express it through art or religion or simply pack up and leave the country,” he said. Following the recent events in Tunisia and Egypt, however, some young Syrians’ attitudes towards politics changed. “What I saw in Egypt gave me hope that young people can have a say. I saw it happening. It is possible!” a young engineer in his thirties, who asked to remain anonymous, said. “It is no longer possible to be a viewer. Whether you are pro or against [the government], you have to take a stance,” Mohammad Ghannam, a 32-year-old engineer living in Damascus, said. According to Kabalan, the lack of the traditional means of political participation in Syria, such as political parties, cultural clubs and other organisations, has led young Syrians to find other ways to voice their political views, mainly through social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter as well as by marching in the street.

Reform needed

Establishing new parties that truly reflect the aspirations of the young generation along with an independent judicial system and a new media law that allows freedom of expression and transparency are also crucial to help the youth effectively participate in the country’s politics and push economic reform, Kabalan said. “You cannot have a more competitive economic life if you do not have a more competitive political life,” he added. The new Prime Minister Adel Safar on May 1 promised political reform. He said it is part of a comprehensive package of reforms that the government is preparing in the coming weeks. A committee responsible for issuing new laws regulating parties and elections is also going to be formed “to ensure a more effective role for parties in society”, Information Minister Adnan Mahmoud later said. Young Syrians want political change. “I never had the chance to choose before. I didn’t choose my religion, my name and it’s the same with politics. I had to repeat the Ba’ath slogans as a student at school. I would like to have other choices as well,” Qahwaji said. Since March 15, Syria has undergone political and social changes that cannot be easily reversed. “When you know that you have more political rights and you are able to express them, it is difficult to reverse gear and go back,” Kabalan said. “Let us not fear the side effects that might come with granting political rights to the young generation.”

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

You can download here a pdf version of Lets take this online

Out of the Dark (Suicide in Syria)

Suicide, once a taboo subject, is now making headlines. Prevention efforts, however, remain insufficient.

“A 16-year-old boy shot himself dead because of an argument with his father.”

This passage was published in an article on Aks Elser website in November. Similar succinct, brutal news briefs about suicide appear regularly in Syrian media. At least 100 news briefs on suicide cases are reported by Syrian publications every year, according to estimates by the Syrian journalists who cover them. The Syrian news website Aks Alser alone has reported 80 suicide cases this year.

Although such widespread coverage of suicide is surely a relatively new phenomenon, it is difficult to determine whether this is because suicide is increasing or if interest in it and coverage of it has simply grown. Most reports paint unsympathetic pictures of suicide victims, focusing on the method of suicide rather than analysing its causes.

“Al-Thawra newspaper sells out every Monday because it dedicates a section to local crimes,” said Yahya al-Aous, a journalist in his thirties who covers suicide for the online magazine Thara. Notably, suicide is included in the crime section. “People are attracted to violence, and, as a result, many newly-established Syrian websites have turned to ‘yellow journalism’ and are solely covering crimes and suicide cases.”

However, the increased media attention of suicides at least makes the issue less of a hidden problem.

“Suicide is becoming less of a taboo here,” Mohammad Dandal, a psychologist who runs a clinic in central Damascus, said.

This shift might be in part due to Syrian religious figures’ liberalising ideas towards suicide. While traditionally, major religions have labelled suicide a sin, some Syrian leaders have moderated their attitudes towards the subject. For example, although Islam forbids those who commit suicide from being buried in a Muslim cemetery, this rule is no longer strictly applied, Sarhat al-Kafen, a sheikh in Damascus, said.

“Today, in most cases, suicide victims are given the same burial rituals as any other Muslim,” Kafen said, explaining that there were no official changes to the rules, but rather a voluntary oversight that is considered merciful. “People recognise that the family is already having a hard time and do not wish to make it worse.”

Rising stress

The increase in media coverage may nevertheless indicate that suicide is on the rise. Identifying reliable figures on it, however, is challenging. There are no statistics on suicide in Syria – neither the Ministry of Health nor the Central Statistics Bureau keep them. Even if they were to, doctors say many families register suicide as sudden deaths to avoid being stigmatised.

Globally, suicide rates are increasing steadily. Today, 3,000 people commit suicide daily and another 60,000 attempt to do so, according to figures from the World Health Organization. Health workers in Syria say they believe the country is no exception, pointing to mental health problems related to the increase in stress of everyday life. Syria’s economic liberalisation, which caused an increase in prices but has yet to boost wages at the same rate, is an ever-present source of anxiety for many people.

“We entered the age of globalisation unprepared,” the psychologist Dandal said. “The economic and cultural changes from this transition were huge and have affected people deeply.”

In tandem, traditional support networks have broken down, leaving people isolated, he explained. This has particularly affected young people. According to Aous, most suicides reported by his website are primarily by young Syrians between age 15 and 30.

“The traditional family structure that used to provide financial, social and psychological comfort to young people is also changing,” he said. “This is taking its toll on young Syrians.”

The stigma continues

Despite some strides, prejudice towards the suicidal and their families remains.

“Many Syrians still view those who commit suicide as murderers,” Aous said. “This is reflected in the way the reporting often doesn’t look at why the person has committed suicide. Instead, it focuses on the method and often draws an unsympathetic picture.”

Legally, people who attempt suicide can be detained and questioned for up to three days while police investigate the case to make sure it was not an attempted murder, Mohammad Ismaeel, a Damascus-based lawyer, said.

Though punishment awaits, few preventative services exist to help stop suicide attempts. Mental health services are limited and people receiving psychotherapy face social stigma. There is no hotline for those considering suicide and no public or private inpatient depression centres exist in Syria. Dandal said this unnecessarily puts people at risk.

“Suicide is not a choice in the way people believe it is, but is caused by mental illness such as depression,” Dandal said. “In 90 percent of the cases, suicide can be prevented by awareness and better facilities, which are still lacking in Syria.”

For those who do seek counselling, the cost of it can be prohibitive. Therapy sessions generally start at about SYP 500 (USD 11), not cheap for most Syrians when this is almost equivalent to the average daily wage in the country.

“I do not have the money to pay for my children’s schooling, so psychotherapy is an unaffordable luxury,” a father of two teenage sons who suffer from depression said.

Action needed

Journalists and health workers told Syria Today that government and civil society organisations could do more to tackle suicide. They emphasised successes in publicising the causes of equally touchy social issues.

“To prevent suicide we need the government to support civil rights organisations’ work in Syria,” Aous said. “Just five years ago few Syrians sympathised with the victims of honour killings, but a swath of civil society campaigns have changed people’s views. The same can be achieved for suicide.”

Dandal said more publicity of mental-health treatment could also help prevent suicide. The majority of his suicidal patients have contacted him after learning about therapies from the television or radio, at lectures or through friends. He has more patients now than ever before, he said, and a few of them even travel from rural areas for their appointments.

“The taboo of suicide is finally breaking in Syria,” Dandal said. “It is now the responsibility of everyone, from doctors to activists, to make sure that vital support is put in place.”

This article was published in Syria Today magazine.

Virgin Territory (Hymen restoration surgeries in Syria)

News of artificial hymens hitting the regional market led to huge debate in Egypt and resulted in an official ban on the product. The reaction in Syria, by contrast, was surprisingly mild.

When rumours of artificial hymens being imported into Syria first began to circulate last summer, few believed they could be true. Yet when Syrian journalist Souror Nasraldeen began researching the product, she soon discovered that the Gigimo Artificial Virginity Hymen kit was indeed no hoax – for just USD 15 Syrian women could now win back their virginity in the space of 20 minutes. Made in Japan and distributed by a Chinese company called Gigimo, the kit, which can be bought online, consists of a pouch which is to be inserted 20 minutes before sexual intercourse and leaks a blood-like substance when broken.

“No more worry about losing your virginity,” the Gigimo website says in broken English. “With this product, you can have your first night back anytime.”

Outraged by the concept, Nasraldeen published one of the first articles in the region about the device in Day Press, a Syrian daily news website, last August. “The artificial hymen is the product of an old mentality which links honour to a woman’s virginity, that’s why I’m completely against it,” she told Syria Today. “This product creates unbalanced families which are built on lies right from the wedding night. I wanted my article to be a wake-up call.”

Muted public reaction

While Syria’s state-run media paid little attention to the story, internet users did and the article racked up a huge number of hits on the Day Press website. Yet while most Syrian internet users seemed relatively accepting of the product, finding it intriguing at worst, controversy in the Egyptian blogosphere began to mount.

“There were many angry men making comments who feared that this product would encourage women to lie about their virginity,” Nasraldeen said. “Some even accused Day Press of promoting the product.”

When BBC Arabic, Radio Netherlands Worldwide and Egypt’s press latched on to the article – and the device – the storm grew. In Egypt, conservative politicians and religious figures instigated a debate which grew so intense that the Ministry of Health officially banned the import of the product into the country.

By contrast, the Syrian authorities did not even comment. And what little public reaction there was in the country took a much milder tone, focusing on the issue of virginity and virtue. “Many people said the problem was not with the product itself, but with the promotion of the idea that a woman’s virginity is a good measure of her morality,” Nasraleen said.

One month after the article was published Sham FM dedicated an hour and a half of its talk show Hiwar al-Yawm (Today’s Dialogue) to the importance of virginity before marriage, a topic rarely discussed openly in Syrian society or the media.

“Most of the phone calls to the show were by men, some of whom felt angry and deceived by the idea that a woman might fake her virginity,” Qusay ‘Amama, producer and presenter of the radio show, said. One such caller was Ammar, a young man from Jobar, who discovered after nine years of marriage that his wife used to sleep with men from the Gulf for money and had pretended to be a virgin on their wedding night.

“I can’t divorce her because we already have three children but I can’t bear living with her anymore,” he said “I feel so betrayed.”

Other callers expressed more liberal views. “I don’t care whether the woman I marry is a virgin or not.” Ahmad Hamada said. “It’s superficial to measure honour by a piece of skin.”

The argument for legalisation

For many Syrians, the concept behind the Gigimo Artificial Hymen kit is nothing new. Hymen restoration surgery, while rarely spoken about, has long been carried out in the country.

“Syrian doctors have been mending hymens for ages, this artificial hymen is only the latest trend in the world of virginity reconstruction in Syria,” Da’ed Mousa, a Syrian lawyer specialising in family law and women’s issues, said. “I don’t know why people would make such a big fuss about it now.”

Doctors point out, however, that unlike hymen restoration surgery, the risks of using an artificial hymen are still unknown. According to its advertising, the Gigimo Artificial Hymen kit is made of natural albumen glue and methylcellulose. Apart from this, however, there is a complete absence of medical information about the product.

“This product has been manufactured for commercial purposes and I don’t know what it’s made of,” Jury el-Tali, a Syrian gynaecologist, said. “I certainly don’t recommend using it.”

With this in mind, Mohammad Habash, Syrian MP and head of the Islamic Studies Centre in Damascus, told Day Press that if the artificial hymen is being brought into the country anyway, it would be better for Syria’s Ministry of Health to legally import it. This way, he claims, the ministry could test the product to see if it meets the country’s health standards. Furthermore, it could also restrict the distribution of the product to women who lost their virginity as a result of rape, accident or because of health issues.

Like Habash, Mahmoud ‘Akkam, a mufti from Aleppo, defends a woman’s right to reconstructive surgery.

“Reconstructing your virginity is a personal issue and women are free to do whatever they want with their bodies as long as it doesn’t put their health at risk,” ‘Akkam said.

“Unfortunately we live in a society which stigmatises women who lose their virginity before marriage; therefore they should have the right to surgery or to use such products. If a woman has had premarital sex, however, she shouldn’t lie to her husband and deceive him by using a fake hymen, especially if virginity is an issue for him.”

This moderate response by religious figures, coupled with the local press’s indifference towards the issue, is why little controversy has mounted over the device in Syria, according to ‘Amama.

“The Egyptian press and religious figures provoked Egyptians by launching a fierce campaign against smuggling the artificial hymen into the Syrian and Egyptian markets,” ‘Amama said. “It was a kind of propaganda against the artificial hymen that didn’t take hold in Syria.”

Ahmad Barkawi, professor of philosophy and social sciences at the University of Damascus, says the issue stirred up little controversy because of the lack of a dominant conservative trend in society.

He believes that had the artificial hymen appeared on the Syrian market 10 years ago, however, the reaction would have been different.

“While I wouldn’t say that Syrian society is growing more liberal, the growing demand for different methods of virginity reconstruction during the last 10 years does signal a change in young Syrians’ attitude to sex,” he said.

“They want to have premarital sex without confronting Syria’s largely traditional society. Now they can say: ‘You want an intact hymen? Here, have a Chinese one’.”

This article was published in Syria Today magazine.

Living in Sin (Living together in Syria)

Living together before marriage remains a major taboo in Syria. Some couples, however, just do not care.

Like most Syrians, 25-year-old Arwa Naser is firm in her views about living together before marriage.

“Living together is like marriage, but without any rights or sense of responsibility towards your partner,” Naser, an employee at an international Non-Governmental Organisation, said. “I find such relationships degrading for me as a woman. Why would I live with someone who only wants to sleep with me but is not committed enough to marry me?”

For a local house painter riding the Dahyet Kudsaya-Damascus service van, it is simply a matter of right and wrong.

“Love and relationships are important,” he said. “But even in love there are some boundaries that you should never cross. Living together before marriage is one of them.”

Breaking the norm

Syrians generally consider sex before marriage to be immoral; an act forbidden by God. Moving in together before marriage is, therefore, unacceptable. These views are, however, not shared by everyone.

Wasim Mikdad, a 24-year-old medical student, has lived with his girlfriend for the past year and a half. While their parents and close friends know about their living arrangements, they tell their neighbours they are married and generally try to hide the relationship from their extended families.

“My family knew about my boyfriend right from the beginning, but it was only a while ago that I told them I’m living with him,” Mikdad’s girlfriend, a 22-year-old pharmacy student who moved to the capital from Tartous two years ago, said. “First they rejected the idea all together. After two days, however, they said it was OK, but it would be better if we delayed moving in together until I graduated. Finally, they accepted the idea. They were worried about social pressure from relatives, but since I live in Damascus things are easier.”

Mikdad also delayed telling his immediate family, who live in Damascus, presenting them with a fait accompli after a year of living together. “I didn’t ask for their permission,” he said. “I told them I’m already independent and if they don’t like it then they don’t have to see me anymore.”

Living together before marriage remains a major taboo in Syria.

“We live in a society which is dominated by religion and religion condemns living together,” a 31-year-old single career woman who asked to remain anonymous said. Her partner has asked her to move into a flat with him. While she would like to, she dares not risk the disapproval of family and friends. “There is no way society would accept our relationship,” she said.

Although not technically illegal, unmarried couples living together can face charges of zena – sleeping with someone who is not your wife or husband. More than any of the above, it is a situation which can lead to violence, particularly when the woman’s family finds out. So why then do some people risk society’s scorn, as well as their families’ rage, and move in together?

The first step

Mikdad’s girlfriend said living together was an important step in testing their relationship; a way to make sure they were right for each other before involving the families through marriage.

“When you live together with someone, it’s only you and your partner,” she said. “But once you marry it’s not a game for two anymore. Rather, it’s the marriage of two families and two social circles and this puts a lot of pressure on the couple.”

She points out that she is not against marriage per se, but opposes a wedding certificate being used “as a form of permission to have sex, rather than a social system to build balanced and healthy families”.

“When I get married, I want to do so because I want to build a family and create a stable home for my children,” she said.

Mikdad is more concerned with practical matters. “When you are living together with someone, it’s enough to rent a small room and share your lives together,” he said. “Once you marry, you have to, at the very minimum, buy a house and some jewellery, arrange a wedding party and pay for the jihaz [a new wardrobe for the bride] to please your in-laws. Living together is a social arrangement that solves such problems.”

Not without risk

No specific law forbids unmarried couples from living together. Nevertheless, some articles from the Syrian criminal law can be used against couples, Da’ed Mousa, a Syrian lawyer specialising in family law and women’s issues, said.

One such piece of legislation is Article 473 which states that an unmarried woman who has sex can receive a two-year prison sentence. Her male companion, on the other hand, faces a maximum prison term of one year, unless he is married in which case he faces a two-year term. According to Article 475, however, only male relatives of the unmarried couple have the right to lay charges.

“Most people living together do so without their families knowing about it,” Mousa said. “When the family finds out they can move to prosecute the couple, but more often than not they kill them and then give themselves up to the police for committing an honour crime.”

Mousa is currently working on two separate cases involving young women who previously lived with unmarried partners. When their families found out, they threatened to kill them. The women now live in shelters. To make matters worse, their partners walked out on them after finding out they were pregnant.

“It’s not easy to live as a single mother in Syria,” Mousa said. “Children born out of wedlock can’t be legally registered and therefore have no rights.”

According to Mousa, the best outcome for her clients is for them to marry and register their children under their husband’s name. Otherwise, their children will not be eligible to apply for a number of basic public benefits, including an identity card.

Public discussion

While Mikdad and his girlfriend have the support of their immediate family and friends, they are well aware of the need to conform to society’s expectations. To minimise controversy, they chose to live far from their families in Jaramana, a multi-ethnic area known for its liberal climate.

“Here people are more open and tolerant to different norms and lifestyles,” Mikdad said. “But even here we fear some of our neighbours might consider our relationship akin to prostitution if they knew we weren’t married.”

Despite the difficulties of living together in Syria, the young couple says it is a lifestyle choice which is slowly becoming more accepted.

“Both private and public media have started talking about living together which makes me feel that we are not social outcasts anymore,” Mikdad’s partner said. “This gives me hope that one day society will accept us the way we are.”

This article was published in  Syria Today magazine