🌍 Inside The Middle East — March 25

Turkey Quits Women’s Rights Pact, Israel Election Results, Nowruz Celebrations, Syrian Hospitals Attacked Near Collapse, Iconic Egyptian Writer Nawal El Saadawi Passes

Happy Thursday folks! It’s time for another edition of Inside The Middle East where we round up the latest news from the region. Make sure you read last week’s recap of the 10th anniversary of Syria’s devastating civil war, where we dissected why the war started in the first place, what’s happened since, and what’s next for the country of 17 million.

Today we’ll visit the Persian world, who’s celebrating its new year by eating lucky foods and jumping over fires; Turkey whose government pulled out of the Istanbul Convention, which protects women against violence; Israel whose fourth election in two years unsurprisingly yielded no majority winner; Syria whose hospitals are under attack and on the brink of total collapse; and Egypt where iconic writer, doctor and activist Nawal El Saadawi has sadly passed away.

Job Corner and Data Corner below, let’s get to the news… 🗞️

Job Corner ✍️

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Data Corner 🧮

A few datasets referenced in today’s edition…

  1. Israel Election Results: Historical election results since 1949, from the Jewish Virtual Library

  2. Femicides: Intentional female homicides per country, from the World Bank

  3. Hospital Attacks: Data on Syrian hospital attacks, from the Syrian Archive

Happy Belated Nowruz! 🍎

We start this week with Persia’s Nowruz celebrations, the two-week festival at the spring equinox, marking the Persian New Year. The Persian year is based on the Solar Hijri calendar, meaning its time depends on the Earth’s movements around the Sun. The festival is celebrated by about 300 million people, mainly in Iran, Afghanistan, the Kurdish regions of Iraq and Turkey, members of the Parsi community in India and diaspora across the globe.

Festivities were limited this year because of pandemic lockdowns and restrictions, but those celebrating were still able to jump over fires, a more than 3,000-year-old tradition that dates back to the Zoroastrians, who saw fire as a sign of perennial strength and health. Another major tradition includes arranging a table with seven items beginning with the letter ‘s’ — seven is considered a lucky number in Persian culture. I know what I’ll be doing next year…

Video: How millions celebrate the Persian New Year

Israel Election Heads to Another Deadlock

Now to Israel whose latest general election looks set for yet another deadlock, as no one party won enough seats to form a majority. Tuesday’s vote was of course the fourth time Israelis have gone to the polls in two years, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party unable to win enough votes, and no opposition leader garnering enough support to finally end Netanyahu’s 12-year rule. Likely due to fatigue, voter turnout dropped to 67.2 percent, its lowest in more than a decade.

With little certainty in sight, Israel remains entrenched in political crisis, and isn’t helped by the fact that its prime minister remains on trial for corruption, whose future personal freedom could rest on whether he can remain in power. What happens next? Who the heck knows. If no coalition is formed, Israel could have a fifth election in the coming months.

Last Time on Inside The Middle East…

🇸🇾 10 Years of Syrian Civil War — March 18

🌍 Inside The Middle East — March 11

🌍 Inside The Middle East — March 4

🌍 Inside The Middle East — Feb. 24

Turkey Withdraws from Women’s Rights Convention

To Turkey next, where President Recep Erdoğan has exited the Istanbul Convention that requires governments to adopt laws preventing and combating domestic violence and violence against women. Originally ratified by former President Abdullah Gül in 2012, Turkey was in fact the first country to do so, sparking another 33 countries to follow suit. But under Erdoğan, Turkish officials claim its national laws sufficiently protect women.

The decision sparked nationwide protests at a time when violence against women is rapidly rising. The World Health Organization reports that 38 percent of women in Turkey are subject to domestic violence, with more than 3,000 women killed by men since 2010, according to the London School of Economics. Similar sentiment exists around the world, perhaps no more so than in the UK, where the murder of Sarah Everard has brought under scrutiny laws that prosecute those who attack statues more harshly than those that commit violence against women.

Chart: Number of femicides in Turkey per year

Syrian Hospitals Attacked, Near Collapse

Up next is Syria where intensive care units in the capital Damascus have reached full capacity, due to a rapid rise in Covid-19 cases. In a rare public acknowledgement of the severity of the country’s Covid crisis, the health ministry said doctors were forced to ship patients to other provinces. Covid has been enough to cripple medical systems around the world, but few countries have dealt with a pandemic in the midst of a civil war, which has seen more than 400 attacks on its hospitals in the last decade.

While approximately 175 new daily new cases are relatively low for a country of 17 million, the actual figure is likely to be much higher due to a lack of testing taking place. The cost of a single PCR test is about $28 on the underground market, unaffordable for the majority of the country who live on less than $100 a month. Last month, it was reported that Israel will pay for Russia to supply Syria with vaccines as part of a prisoner exchange deal. The Syrian government confirmed its vaccination rollout started this month, but data on the pace of the campaign is spotty, if available at all.

Iconic Egyptian Writer Nawal El Saadawi Passes

We end this week in Egypt where writer, doctor and activist Nawal El Saadawi, who fought against patriarchy and poverty, has passed away from a long illness at the age of 89. At the age of 10, El Saadawi was involved in an unwanted arranged marriage, so she ate raw aubergines to discolour her teeth, warding off potential suitors as quickly as they came. This allowed El Saadawi to convince her parents to let her study medicine, which she did so at Cairo University, and then went onto work at some of the world’s most prestigious institutions, including Harvard and Yale.

El Saadawi wrote more than 55 books, with Women and Sex perhaps the most famous and which led to her losing her job at Egypt’s Ministry of Health in 1972. In it, she fiercely criticized female circumcision, a practice that’s all too common even today — 87 per cent of Egyptian women have been subjected to FGM, according to UNICEF, despite being outlawed in 2008. In 1981, El Saadawi was jailed by then president Anwar El Sadat for her so-called ‘dissent’.

We’ll leave you with some of our favourite words from the legendary Nawal El Saadawi…

Writing: such has been my crime ever since I was a small child. To this day writing remains my crime. Now, although I am out of prison, I continue to live inside a prison of another sort, one without steel bars.

For the technology of oppression and might without justice has become more advanced, and the fetters imposed on mind and body have become invisible. The most dangerous shackles are the invisible ones, because they deceive people into believing they are free.

This delusion is the new prison that people inhabit today, north and south, east and west... We inhabit the age of the technology of false consciousness, the technology of hiding truths behind amiable humanistic slogans that may change from one era to another...

Democracy is not just freedom to criticize the government or head of state, or to hold parliamentary elections. True democracy obtains only when the people - women, men, young people, children - have the ability to change the system of industrial capitalism that has oppressed them since the earliest days of slavery: a system based on class division, patriarchy, and military might, a hierarchical system that subjugates people merely because they are born poor, or female, or dark-skinned.”

― Nawal El Saadawi, Memoirs from the Women's Prison

Video: Egypt's Voice of Freedom

That’s all for today! See you on tomorrow for Picks of the Week! 👋