Egyptian women use ancient Indonesian martial arts to fight abuse – Middle East Monitor


In the heart of Egypt’s capital, an ancient Indonesian martial arts sport is helping dozens of women stand up to harassment, reports Reuters.

With the help of Indonesian students, over 1,200 women and children are learning the sport at a cultural centre in Cairo.

“Of course there are problems in the street,” Egyptian teenager Rahma Hatem said during a break from training.

“If someone comes near me, I’m able to defend myself well. I have confidence now and no one can harass me because I can face them.”

“Pencak Silat” gained prominence in Egypt in 2003 but started to increase in popularity in 2011, said trainer Roqaya Samaloosi.

The women, mostly teenagers and young adults, gather in the Indonesian Cultural Centre weekly and train to enhance self-defence skills and fitness.

READ: Egyptian women race in Cairo to campaign for end to violence

Sexual Harassment – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

At one recent session, women wearing red uniforms paired with black head covers sat in a circle around two women exchanging kicks and punches. The women clapped when one of the fighters took down her opponent.

Experts surveyed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in 2017 ranked Cairo as the world’s most dangerous megacity for women, based on lack of protection from sexual violence, harmful cultural practices, and poor access to healthcare and finance.

Women are frequently cat-called in the streets.

Pencak Silat dates back to the sixth century, where it was practised on Sumatra island and the Malay peninsula.

Two kingdoms, the Sriwijaya in Sumatra and the Majapahit on Java island, used the fighting skills and between the 7th and 16th century ruled much of what is now Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

READ: ‘Egypt harassment hotline ignores 95% of calls’

Influences of Hindu weapons, Nepalese music, Indian grappling styles, Siamese costumes, Arabian weapons and Chinese fighting methods are found in Pencak Silat due to trade, migration and wars.

Pencak is the performance aspect of the discipline, while Silat is the fighting and self-defence version of the sport.

Silat has many different techniques but players usually focus on strikes, joint manipulation and throws. One point is rewarded for punches, two for kicks and three for takedowns in three two-minute bouts.



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Israel’s threat to world peace – Middle East Monitor


Headlines this week about an apparent rift between top British and US military officers over Iran were a reminder of just how embedded the UK’s military is within the US world empire.

This closeness has only heightened during the era of US President Donald Trump. The mere idea that a British general should take a different view from a US one seems to be almost heretical, according to much establishment opinion.

Whereas once Britain led the world’s biggest empire – to the detriment of its uncounted millions of victims – after World War II, after 1956 the US took over the reins of empire in much of the former British “sphere of influence”. The US now has military bases in most parts of the world, including in the UK. These bases are often unpopular with the local people, and have led to protests in places like Japan and South Korea.

One country that does not allow US military bases is Iran. Instead, it is literally surrounded by them – in the Persian Gulf and Turkey to the west and in Afghanistan to the east.

Open disagreements between top British officers and their US counterparts are pretty rare, prompting the Times (somewhat breathlessly) to characterise this week’s disagreement over Iran as a “public clash”. Major-General Chris Ghika, Britain’s top military commander in the US-led campaign against Daesh in Iraq and Syria, took issue with recent bellicose US rhetoric against Iran.

More specifically, Ghika disagreed with a supposed US intelligence assessment that there is an “imminent” threat to US military forces in Iraq posed by Iranian-backed armed groups, saying: “There’s been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria.”

What’s more, Ghika made his disagreement known in the most public way possible – during a Pentagon press conference in Washington DC. His contribution was beamed in live from Iraqi capital Baghdad via video link. According to the Times, what he said “sparked consternation”. Yet instead of deleting his comments when they put out their transcript, the Pentagon instead added a “correction” prominently at the top.

READ: Trump tells aides he does not want US war with Iran

The British media kerfuffle over the disagreement slightly obscured another factor in the affair – the Israeli role in this latest escalation of war against Iran.

According to Israeli media reports, the intelligence warning of a supposed “imminent threat” to US forces in Iraq originated with the Mossad, Israel’s notorious spying, assassination and dirty tricks agency. Even the New York Times – hardly a radically anti-Zionist publication – could not help but come to the logical conclusion: “Israel has quietly played an instrumental role in the recently escalating tensions in the Middle East.”

Jewish-American journalist and blogger Richard Silverstein, meanwhile, described the Israeli claims of a threat to US forces as “tenuous” and “based on lies and fraud”. If the idea of a potential US-led war in the Middle East based on fraudulent “intelligence” claims, exacerbated by a wish to aid Israeli war aims, sounds so-very-2003 to you, that is no coincidence.

John Bolton, now President Trump’s national security advisor, was also a lesser official in the George W. Bush administration. He was one of the earliest and most fanatical supporters of the disastrous, bloody and illegal US invasion of Iraq. Unlike some others who later wrote Iraq off as a “mistake,” Bolton has never recanted and stands by his role in the invasion.

This same warmongering, hard-right ideologue is now leading the drumbeat for war against Iran.

READ: Iraq won’t allow US to attack Iran from its territory

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that, much like the “intelligence” President Bush and then UK Prime Minister Tony Blair drummed up as pretext for their Iraq invasion, warning about “imminent” Iranian threats to US personnel overseas is politically motivated.

As a Times analyst put it, “it is still unclear exactly what the threat warning refers to, other than an elevated risk to US and allied forces in Iraq and Syria”. The fact that UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt now seems to have backed Trump and Bolton over even his own general also shows how politically motivated these claims really are.

It was reported yesterday that, after Hunt’s intervention, the UK has now elevated its threat level. Yet the fact that the general apparently knew nothing of this shows, yet again, that when the US empire says jump, the British poodle replied “how high?”

And all this has been exacerbated and egged-on by the Israelis. Israel, in inventing and fabricating “threats” to the US from countries which it considers its enemies, is the real threat to world peace.

Iran has a right to defend itself from US aggression, should it come to that. Iran is correct to worry, with such an irrational president in place, who has surrounded himself with belligerent war-mongers like Bolton, who are in full lock-step with Israel’s agenda.

READ: Iran says exercising restraint despite ‘unacceptable’ escalation of US sanctions

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.



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US ready to approve Israel’s ‘colonial policies’ – Middle East Monitor


The US is getting ready to approve Israel’s “colonial policies” by disregarding Palestinian rights, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said Friday, Anadolu Agency reports.

“Two days ago, the Palestinian people commemorated the 71st anniversary of the Naqba – the Catastrophe – and while their disposition continues, one can not but reflect on this long journey of a nation that refuse to die or disappear and continues to strive for its rightful place in history and geography among all the nations of the world,” he told the Chatham House think tank in London.

“Throughout those decades, Israeli policies aimed to displace and replace the Palestinian people and ensured confinement of the Palestinians and expansion of the Israeli settlers with as objective of deposition of maximum land with minimum Palestinians,” he said.

The former Minister of Information and government spokesperson was referring to Palestinian figures that show more than 650,000 settlers currently live on 164 Jewish-only settlements built illegally throughout the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Those territories were occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.

The Palestinians have laid claim on the territories for a future state, alongside Israel.

READ: Germany votes to define BDS as anti-Semitic

US President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” drew criticism from Malki who said it offered Palestinians “no independence, no sovereignty, no freedom and no justice.”

The deal was engineered by Trump’s son-in-law and top advisor, Jared Kusher, who said recently the proposal “will lead to both sides being much better off”.

No one outside the US administration has seen the plan that Washington said could be disclosed sometime next month.

“One way or other, they are the ones who are delusional, not us,” Malki added.

“This can not be the future of Palestine,” Malki said.

“We are in the final phases of this master plan that Israel is no longer even trying to hide and which can only be qualified as colonialism under the disguise of occupation,” he said.

READ: Israel firm meddled in Africa, Asia and Latin America elections

Israel applied over the years a system reminiscent of “apartheid” of “discrimination, domination and segregation” and it found its “ultimate definition” in Israeli state law, said the former European Peace Prize recipient.

He emphasised his point by highlighting an op-ed by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman in the Wall Street Journal where they said Trump’s decision to recognise the Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights fulfils a UN Security Council Resolution. It “shows to what extend they have exposed the narrative of Israeli extreme right wing,” Malki said.

“They are trying to bend the law to accommodate violations instead of ending violations to uphold the law.”

Palestine is grateful to the international community for standing up on the Jerusalem move by the Trump administration, he said. “But when it comes to taking the lead of the peace efforts, the world left the steering wheel in the hands of a reckless driver … with a view that we should wait until he, this reckless driver goes over a cliff, or runs over the Palestinian people to do something about it.,” he added.



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After surviving ISIS and a civil war, these Syrian women built a female-only village


It triggered a series of events that would bring her to Jinwar, a village built and inhabited by women — a refuge for Syrian women and their children fleeing a rigid family structure, domestic abuse and the horrors of civil war.

Jinwar means “women’s land” in the Kurdish language. The village welcomes Syrian women and children, regardless of religion, ethnicity and political views. It is a mosaic of diverse women who want to experience freedom, democracy and a new form of life.

“Jinwar is a response to every person who thinks of violating a woman’s freedom, or sees the woman as the weaker sex in the society, or that she can’t manage her life or manage her children,” Emin told CNN by phone in Arabic. “On the contrary, a woman can build her house. Here we are — we built a village not only for Kurdish women, but we have Arab, we have Yazidi and some of our foreign friends are also living with us.”

After Emin’s husband died in August 2015, the stigma of being a widow weighed heavily on her.

The 35-year-old had to fight to keep her six children — her husband’s family repeatedly took them away from her, she said. They didn’t want her to work, and demanded she give up a job she loved in Kobani’s local government to raise her daughters under the family’s supervision. She says they viewed her and her children as weak, with no man left to protect them.

“The people that I was mixing with didn’t value this and didn’t accept me as a strong or a working woman, or raising my kids after my husband’s death,” Emin said. “I worked at the (Kurdish) administration and I was good and excelling at my work.”

When she managed to get her children back with the help of a Kurdish women’s movement group, she moved to Jinwar — a village in northeast Syria built from the ground up by Kurdish women two years ago.

A refuge from war

All women in Jinwar take part in building and maintaining their village.

Brown, rectangular houses constructed of handmade bricks sit on land that looks dry and parched. But on the inside, the homes are painted and decorated, showing the touches of the families who live in them. Today, Jinwar is home to 16 women and 32 children.

Men are allowed to visit during the day as long as they behave respectfully toward the women, but they can’t stay overnight. Working in shifts, the women keep track of who comes and goes from Jinwar. They only carry a weapon during night shifts for security.

Jiyan Efrin is a 30-year-old mother to two daughters and one son, who live elsewhere with their grandfather. Efrin moved to the village by herself three months ago to escape the Turkish assault on Afrin, a city in northwest Syria. She says life in Jinwar is beautiful.

“You feel like there is a normal society that you can live in,” Efrin said. “We work, we farm and get paid, too, from the village council.”

Some of the women who live there have fled displacement, rape, imprisonment and death at the hands of ISIS and other armed groups. “In the war conditions that we have been through, every woman suffered. Every woman was hurt. Every woman was lost, but Jinwar brought them together,” Emin said.

Syria’s civil war has devastated the country and wrecked its economy with intense fighting, arbitrary detainment and use of chemical weapons. It created the worst refugee crisis of the 21st century. And it continues.

Women built the village with their own hands

Syrian women in Jinwar rely on each other for farming and planting their own food.

Two years ago, Jinwar was just an abandoned piece of land. After a year of planning by local Kurdish women’s organizations, such as Kongreya Star and The Free Women’s Foundation of Rojava, construction began in 2017.

These organizations, along with local and international groups, continue to fund Jinwar. The village officially opened on November 25, 2018.

Jinwar has a council in which women take turns each month acting as the leader of the village. The women built the village in an ecological and sustainable way using mud bricks. They built 30 houses, a store and a bakery, where they sell bread and handicrafts to each other and to neighboring villages. They also have land where they herd animals and grow crops that can be sold when they exceed their needs, says Nujin Derya, an activist in Jinwar.

The village has an alternative-medicine hospital where some women have been trained, but they still lack enough medication to open a full-fledged hospital.

The children growing up in Jinwar will be given the choice when they come of age whether they want to remain in the village or move elsewhere, Derya said.

The boys will be allowed to stay in the village because they were raised with Jinwar’s values, Derya said.

The children already go outside the village to attend secondary and high schools, as the village school offers classes only for first through sixth graders, according to Derya.

In addition, women are offered private English tutoring and will have the opportunity to continue their education as the village grows.

An unstable region

The region around the village is surrounded by endless uncertainty — Jinwar is an hour away from Qamishli, a city on the Syrian-Turkish border, and there is the risk that the village might fall under Turkish control, if they intrude.

Turkey is one of the powers in northern Syria that opposes two US-backed Kurdish groups: the Syrian Democratic Forces and People’s Protection Units, known as YPG. Turkey sees elements of these groups as linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a separatist group that Turkey considers a terrorist group.

The Turkish-Kurdish conflict is decades old. The Kurds have sought to carve out a state of their own in Kurdish-majority parts of Turkey, Syria and Iraq, which led to their political aspirations being quashed by those governments.

Turkey’s intervention poses a threat primarily to the Kurdish population, as Turkey plans to create a buffer zone of 20 miles inside Syria to fight Kurdish forces.

Another threat causing instability is ISIS. Even though the war on ISIS is over, the potential risk of sleeper cells and the state’s supporters loom over the region.

“Everyone is hoping that this will not happen, because a lot of things have been built, a lot of progress has been made and it would be kind of horrible if this would be destroyed,” Derya says.

In the case of a military attack, Kurdish forces will protect them, Derya says. Many of the women also “wanted to learn basics of self-defense with weapons in case of emergency,” she said.

In the meantime, women in the village are not spending their time worrying about politics. They are doing what they can to maintain the village and live independently in a communal place.

Challenging entrenched ideas

The women of Jinwar say they want to change the idea that women are victims of patriarchal relationships and violence. They want to establish the concept of free and independent women.

Though many parts of Syrian society are governed by patriarchal structures and rigid traditions, it’s not the case everywhere. Syrian culture consists of a diverse set of ethnicities, religions and sub-societies, ranging from conservative to moderate and liberal.

Emin, Efrin and other women say they want Jinwar to be a place that challenges conservative, patriarchal ideas.

The children of Jinwar attend the village school. When the children become adults, they can continue their education outside the village.

“Jinwar is life’s spirit, nature’s spirit and a free woman’s spirit. The women here are establishing their existence in the entire society,” Emin said. “I wish that the whole world would see Jinwar the same way we see it and I wish that we build more Jinwars in every region so that no woman would be subjected to injustice.”

Some people in the area think Jinwar is like a prison, Emin said, where women are not allowed to leave and interact with men and the rest of society. But she says it is simply a peaceful village for women and their children to live in harmony.

Emin is a mother to six girls between 5 and 17 years old. She came to the village seven months ago and became the head of Jinwar’s council. She also helped organize Jinwar’s opening ceremony.

Jinwar women chose to open the village on November 25, which is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Some of her daughters attend the village primary school where children learn Kurdish, Arabic and English. Emin, who left school after grade nine, said she feels relieved to be building a life for her and her children.

“The future of my kids is also here. What I planned for them to study and how to live is getting achieved in Jinwar,” Emin said.

Regardless of the conflict with her husband’s family, Emin doesn’t forbid them from seeing the girls. She doesn’t want her daughters to grow up without ties to their family.

Emin continues to lead an independent life, despite her in-laws’ continuous disapproval of the life path that she is paving.

“Wherever I go, I keep standing on my feet and will continue my work, whether you accept me or not,” she said. “This is me, Fatma, who saw herself as strong and will never be weak.”



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And the Nakbas continue – Middle East Monitor


The Palestinians’ perseverance and resilience have not broken or wavered, even though it has been 71 years since the Palestinian Nakba, and it continues to grow and intensify. The Palestinians insist on freedom, independence, the restoration of their confiscated rights, and on returning to their homeland and their determination grows and is handed down to generation after generation. The Great March of Return continues despite the obstacles, pitfalls, and conspiracies accompanying it.

Over the past seven decades, the age of the Palestinian Nakba, the number of Palestinians has multiplied by 9, amounting to over 13 million Palestinians. Half of the Palestinian population is inside Palestine, and the other half is outside. The Palestinian struggle to establish an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes has continued nonstop.

In 1947 and 1948, Zionist gangs committed more than seventy massacres in the historic cities and villages of Palestine, killing more than 15,000 Palestinian martyrs. Moreover, they displaced more than 800,000 Palestinians inside and outside Palestine and destroyed hundreds of Palestinian villages and communities. Israel has now usurped over 85 per cent of historical Palestine, amounting to 27,000 square kilometres and about 7 million Israeli occupiers live there.

READ: Palestine appeals to ICC for legal action against US

The Zionist project is not yet complete in historic Palestine, because this occupation project aims to confiscate all of Palestine, establish a Jewish nation-state, and expel all the Palestinians from their land and property. The comprehensive Palestinian war on the Palestinian people is moving in three directions: geographic, demographic, and financial/economic direction, but the goal is one: to uproot the Palestinians from their land. The process of confiscating and stealing Palestinian land across occupied Palestine, with a focus on occupied Jerusalem.

Palestinians perform on the ruins of a home which was bombed by Israeli warplanes in Gaza on 14 May 2019 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

All that is left for the Palestinians are tiny cantons surrounded by Jewish settlements and Separation Walls. As for the demographic war, which constitutes the real engine of the Israeli occupation’s terror, the occupation managed to plant over 700,000 Israeli settlers in the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967. The settlement attack continues with unprecedented ruthlessness to control more Palestinian territories and plant settlements in them. All of this is accompanied by a financial and economic siege imposed by the Israeli authorities and the American Zionist administration on the Palestinian people with the goal of achieving the Zionist project in Palestine from the river to the sea, and then to spread from the Nile to the Euphrates, according to their political and Talmudic strategy.

The Palestinian people are facing a new Nakba within the next three months, known as the deal of the century. This Nakba began implementation last year, but the next three months will witness the continuation of the new Nakba’s chapters, which aim to completely liquidate the Palestinian cause, in cooperation and direct coordination between the Israeli occupation and the American Zionist administration, headed by Trump, and the complicity of others.

READ: After 71 years, Abu Ibrahim still hopes to return to his home 

This article first appeared in Arabic in Addustour on 15 May 2019

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.



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In Tehran, specter of war met with more defiance than fear


Many Iranians — desperate for relief from financial dire straits partly caused by US sanctions — are reacting with defiance rather than antagonism as the countries hurtle towards confrontation.

Many people here believe that Iran’s enemies — namely the US and its Gulf allies, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia — have long been on a warpath. Though US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that the US does not want war, some believe the US administration’s diplomatic and economic campaign against the country is taking things to a fever pitch.

A year ago, US President Donald Trump withdrew from the landmark nuclear deal and imposed on Iran some of the most stringent sanctions in the country’s history.

Foreign companies exited the country in droves, the Iranian riyal nose-dived and prices soared.

“I am not afraid of war as I have already seen war,” said motor courier Majid Haqiqi, 57, referring to the country’s eight-year conflict with neighbor Iraq in the 1980. “I believe that America is not eager to attack Iran and only tries to terrify us.”

Haqiqi instead suggests a solution that many in Tehran would consider controversial. “The only way out of this situation is having dialogue. What is wrong with having the US here?” said Haqiqi. “(The US) can start businesses in Iran and use our workforce. If they take a step towards us, we also can take one step.”

Last week, Trump made several overtures to Tehran, asking the government to call him. He even contacted the Swiss last week to leave a phone number for Tehran to reach him, according to a diplomatic source.

The move seemed out of sync with the hawkish stances of National Security Advisor John Bolton, who has talked tough, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who has been trying to rally diplomatic support for the US campaign against Iran’s regime.

Dialogue between the two countries is anathema to Iran’s hardliners, including Khamenei. “Negotiations are like a poison as long as the US remains the same way it is. And with the current US government is additionally poisonous,” the Ayatollah said in a speech on Tuesday.

A general view of Tehran, Iran on March 11, 2019.

‘We have nothing to lose’

Many Iranians are concerned about everyday issues, however. “I don’t think of war when I must think of basic needs,” said Janati, a 70-year-old retired army officer. “Ordinary people in Iran do not think of the enemy or of Zionists. They just need a better life.”

“We have nothing to lose,” said 37-year-old Alireza Sahraiee. Sahraiee said he was an international businessman last year and a luxury car-owner. A year after the start of Trump’s sanctions, he is a cashier at a shop.

“I believe we must revise our external affairs policy,” added Sahraiee. “We must let foreign investment come to us.”

Saba, a 19-year-old secondary school student, who declined to reveal her full name, said that, in the case of war, “I won’t leave Iran but will go to a remote area with my family and come back only when peace returns.”

Iran’s hardline politicians remain defiant, continuing to rail against Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his reformer camp for forging the 2015 nuclear agreement. “We told you so,” is the prevailing message among Tehran’s conservatives.

They also believe that the US and its allies have too much to lose from a potential conflict. “We have a lot of capabilities,” said Hossein Kanani Moghadam, a former Commander of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

“Oil transit lines are very vulnerable in the Persian Gulf area … so we wouldn’t need to use advanced weapons.”

Iran may disrupt vital waterways for some of the world’s biggest oil supplies, such as the Strait of Hormuz, if a direct confrontation came to pass, the former commander said.

“I believe Trump is a poker player, playing with open cards. But our Supreme Leader is a chess player who is playing under the table,” said Moghadam. “It seems this is the battle of two wills. And it seems Trump’s will is more to scare the other side whereas we are not scared of Trump at all.”

But beyond the rhetoric and muscle flexing, Iran also has much at stake. “I think at this stage Iran really doesn’t want direct confrontation, neither with the US nor any other countries in the region,” said Aniseh Bassiri Tabrizi, senior research fellow at RUSI. “There has been a response but not a provocation so far from Iran and there has been a commitment to clarify that, if needed, Iran would respond with all its tools at its disposal.”

An Iranian woman walks past pictures of Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (top L) and of late Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (top R), on October 13, 2017.

Proxy forces

Those tools consist of Iran-backed armed groups throughout the region.

In Yemen, Iran-backed Houthi rebels operate near the Red Sea’s Bab el-Mandeb strait, a vital route for oil supplies.

In Iraq, the formidable Popular Mobilization Units, an umbrella group of Iran-backed militias, could potentially be ordered to attack US positions in the country.

In Lebanon, the reach of Hezbollah’s seasoned fighters now spans two parts of Israel’s frontier, the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in Syria, in addition to Lebanon’s border with Israel.

“We have seen in the past that Iran’s reliance on its proxies is probably the main tool at its disposal to deter a direct attack or avoid a direct confrontation,” said Tabrizi. “We are likely to see this as a main possibility and the main risk of confrontation — direct confrontation — between the US and Iran.”



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