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Any sexism in your own profession? Policy experts decry Middle East sexism?

My gender has never hindered my ability to conduct in-depth research all over the world. So why don’t more of my male colleagues recognize women’s contributions?

Nancy Okail is executive director of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. Follow @NancyGEO

A few weeks ago, I started to think that I’d mistakenly walked into the men’s locker room. Wrong: As it turns out, I had merely arrived at the national security conference at which I was scheduled to speak, and my fellow panelists — all men — were gearing up to talk about the threat the Islamic State poses to the progressive Western world.

Too bad the irony of a male-dominated conference, criticizing the repressive male-dominated culture of the Islamic State, was lost on all.

Though there’s certainly a considerable qualitative difference between the positioning of women in Western society and that of the Middle East, many in the West, including those who consider themselves experts, can still be woefully blind to the double standard.

The “locker-room” colloquy with fellow conference-goers — all well-meaning — is a case in point, though by no means an isolated occasion.

Andrew Bossone shared this link. August 16 at 8:11pm ·

“Weeks later, back in Washington, I gave a briefing on the findings of the research trip to a group of analysts and policymakers in a well-lit, air-conditioned office.

The first question, offered by a male colleague, was, “How did you deal with these extremist groups? You must have been the only woman.” My response: “Yes, just like in our meeting today.”

What I left unsaid was that in both cases, I struggled with the challenge of getting the men to take me seriously.”

It was an international conference with a slate of 21 speakers, all male except for me and one other woman.

When I vented, to a male peer, about the glaring gender imbalance, he replied that it was “only normal,” after all, because I work on extremism and terrorism, not a very “feminine” field, like peace building or development. He really said that.

My gender has never impeded my ability to conduct in-depth research in places around the world that many men would not even consider approaching. Most recently, I spent an extended period of time on the borders of Aleppo, Syria, interviewing refugees, rebels, ex-Islamic State members and leaders of violent extremist groups.

It wasn’t easy, especially interacting with members of groups that have demonstrated contempt for women. I had to travel through perilous places to access my interviewees, including areas that the Islamic State shells on a daily basis.

Weeks later, back in Washington, I gave a briefing on the findings of the research trip to a group of analysts and policymakers in a well-lit, air-conditioned office. The first question, offered by a male colleague, was, “How did you deal with these extremist groups? You must have been the only woman.” My response: “Yes, just like in our meeting today.” What I left unsaid was that in both cases, I struggled with the challenge of getting the men to take me seriously.

And it’s frustrating, because I resisted the temptation to point out that despite the challenges and perils, unlike many “experts” in the room, I’ve actually met the individuals who are the subject of my research face to face.

These are by no means unique experiences in our field. I head the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy in Washington, working on issues related to security, freedom and democracy.

More often than not, I find myself the only woman in meetings I attend or panels I am on — during which we routinely discuss and dissect the patriarchal Middle East society — and, to be sure, it is patriarchal — and endlessly criticize the exclusion of women in the Arab world, all along operating in a field that systematically marginalizes women.

I’m not the only one who notices the frequency of these “manels.” And there are many women far more expert than I in our field who do not receive the same recognition and acknowledgment as our male counterparts.

One colleague responded to my criticism by saying, “It is maybe because women are not aggressive enough at self-promotion” — so, presumably, blame for the inequity is on us.

Some commentators claim that men dominate my field because women prioritize family over work commitments — to which I note that after I met my professional obligation at the conference, I flew back to Washington for my twins and family grieving my mom’s passing.

It’s a shame that this choice can still be construed as a career impediment, when it should be seen as an honor.

There’s also the backward notion that women are too emotional to handle the atrocities we witness in our field. (As if males are Not professional cowards in these situations?)

But it’s one thing to be emotional and another to have our emotions prevent us from meeting our career demands.

In 2011, I was heading Freedom House’s Cairo office, when I was prosecuted, interrogated, indicted and sentenced to prison in absentia for defending freedom and democracy as part of Egypt’s infamous NGO case.

I certainly wasn’t afforded more delicate treatment by Egyptian authorities because of my womanhood. They still persecuted me, forcing me to pay a high cost for what I decided to stand up for, including being exiled for the past four years.

Last month my mother passed away a day before my conference. And I couldn’t go home to Egypt for the funeral due to my sentence. But while I would have been able to excuse myself from the conference at what is a naturally emotional time for anyone, I still kept my professional commitment. I made my presentation at the all-male conference on the Islamic State with no tears and no expectation of special treatment.

In more than one way, women face a more difficult path. In professional settings, we’re paid less and have fewer opportunities for exposure, and in repressive circumstances, women often wind up as targets.

During my own trial, my gender was used against me as I was subject both to threats and sexual harassment. Arguably, it’s harder as a woman to do research in my field, but rather than get credit for that, we are still not accorded the same level of recognition as men.

Here we are, in 2016, when a woman is running for president of the United States, the Middle East is topic A in the campaign and the current president writes an op-ed in a popular women’s magazine, describing himself as a feminist.

Yet I still expect to hear sexist comments after my talks — everything from men in my field subtly discounting the work of female colleagues, or overtly telling me I am “more than just a pretty face,” as if that’s some sort of compliment.

If part of the so-called clash of civilizations between the West and Middle East is based on the latter’s presumably regressive worldview — and the conceit of Westerners seeking to change that — what is the excuse when sexism is so commonly found on this side of the globe?

Turkey’s Corruption scandal? What kind of outrageous news is this?

Dozens of their journalists colleagues are in prison or on trial, thousands of faceless opponents hound them on Twitter, and phone calls from government officials warn them over their coverage – all hazards of the trade for Turkey’s journalists.

Government critics who refuse to be muzzled can find themselves sacked.

Others avoid trouble, such as the broadcaster screening a documentary on penguins last June while police sprayed thousands of demonstrators in Istanbul with tear gas.

DASHA AFANASIEVA published this Feb. 3, 2014 on Reuters:

Corruption scandal tests Turkey’s cowed media

What has erupted in the past few weeks, a probe into alleged corruption at the heart of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan‘s government,  might seem like a gift to Turkey’s cowed and long-suffering press.

With a few exceptions, much of the press is in no position to capitalize on the scandal by taking a more robust line with the government.

The scandal has blown open a feud between Erdogan and the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, (Fathallah-Gulan) a powerful former ally whose “Hizmet” (Service) movement has influence in the police and judiciary, as well as parts of the media, and whom Erdogan blames for orchestrating the graft probe to unseat him.

An anti-government protester holds a placard during a demonstration in Ankara in this June 4, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/Files

An anti-government protester holds a placard during a demonstration in Ankara in this June 4, 2013 file photo. CREDIT: REUTERS/UMIT BEKTAS/FILES

“Gulenist” newspapers such as Zaman and Bugun, previously loosely allied to Erdogan’s AK Party, have reported details of the allegations, from pictures of cash stuffed in shoe boxes to damaging phone recordings between businessmen and Erdogan’s associates, something almost unthinkable just a few months ago.

Pro-government newspapers like Sabah, Star and Yeni Safak have largely portrayed the corruption investigations as a plot against Erdogan.

In the middle is a mainstream media, largely owned by sprawling conglomerates with business ties to the state, which has been cautiously trying to find a more assertive new voice, although its ownership structures cast doubt over whether there can be real change.

“The graft probe is a new opportunity for Turkish journalism to push itself out of suffocation,” said Yavuz Baydar, one of Turkey’s most prominent journalists who launched Platform 24, a media monitoring website, on Monday.

“The question is whether major conglomerate-owned outlets such as Hurriyet and Milliyet will be able to rise up to the challenge,” he told Reuters. Milliyet declined to comment while the editor in chief of Hurriyet did not respond to emailed requests.

Baydar lost his job at Sabah, whose former owner Calik Holding is run by Erdogan’s son-in-law, after criticizing the police crackdown on anti-government protests last June.

Sabah was sold in December to Kalyon, a construction group with major government contracts, in a deal that typifies the ownership structures in Turkey’s media landscape.

At least a dozen newspapers and 10 TV stations are owned by conglomerates with energy, construction or mining interests, all sectors heavily dependent on government business.

“This has created a situation in which media outlets are used to promote the ownership group’s financial interests,” U.S.-based press watchdog Freedom House said in a report published on Monday.

“Members of the media and the government alike describe newspapers’ Ankara bureau chiefs as ‘lobbyists’ for their companies,” it said.


Erdogan has described the corruption investigation as an attempted “judicial coup“. He has reassigned prosecutors and judges and thousands of police officers.

That has brought the probe to a halt and prompted lawyers, despairing at what they view as a lack of transparent judicial process, to leak court documents to those parts of the press not favorable to the government.

But when news website T24 published an article about a parliamentary question from the opposition Republican People’s Party regarding claims of bribery in the sale of Sabah (Morning) and other media assets, it was told to take it down by the media regulator. Then on Monday the same regulator said it had sent the warning by mistake.

“We’re just trying to provide something different from the ‘government newspapers’ that publish the AK Party line that this is a coup d’etat,” said Erhan Basyurt, Bugun’s editor-in-chief.

The paper’s circulation went up to 165,000 from 140,000 in the month after the corruption probe broke.

Other newspapers have had to be more cautious.

A senior editor at one of Turkey’s largest dailies, who did not want to be named and fears for his job after his boss was told to fire him, said he had been the subject of a hate campaign on the Internet and in pro-government newspapers.

He was followed and threatened, his car-license plate at one point published online, he said.

Sometimes he did not put bylines on stories to protect reporters. He also might soften the headline or put material damaging to Erdogan lower down in stories.

Restrictions on press freedom and attacks on journalists are nothing new in Turkey.

Commemorations of the 2007 murder of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink, widely viewed as a political assassination, still draw tens of thousands each year.

But the taboos have changed.

Where once criticism of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the revered founder of the modern secular republic, or portraying Kurdish militants as anything other than “terrorists” might have resulted in a jail sentence for “insulting Turkish identity,” now it is criticism of the government which is problematic.

Editors and reporters said they had received phone calls from officials close to the prime minister asking them to change their coverage or dismiss journalists for critical stories.

“The voice on the end of the line says, ‘Beyefendi rahatsız olmasın,’ which can be translated as ‘Better not upset sir’,” said prominent author and columnist Ece Temelkuran, fired from the Haberturk newspaper after a series of such warnings for her coverage of a Turkish air strike which killed Kurdish civilians.

“The use of the word ‘sir’, ‘beyefendi’ makes your realize straight away what you are dealing with,” she said.

Government and AK Party officials declined to comment.


Turkey is the world’s leading jailer of journalists, with 40 in prison as of December, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Reporters Without Borders‘ press freedom index ranks Turkey 154th out of 178.

The government says no journalist is being held or tried for their work.

“They are facing situations like these solely because they have got mixed up in other activities,” a senior government official, who did not want to be names, told Reuters.

But government influence, such as the indirect sackings and threat of loss of business for parent companies, which poses the main threat to press freedom, journalists and rights groups say.

“The government seems to have acquired the habit of shooting the messenger whenever it is in trouble. Journalists should not have to suffer because of high-level administrative in-fighting,” Reporters Without Borders said in a December report.

These criticisms come ahead of local elections in March, a presidential race in August and parliamentary polls next year.

Opposition candidates complain that Erdogan’s frequent speeches are broadcast live and in full by a slew of television stations, a degree of coverage his opponents do not enjoy.

One of the most pernicious effects of the widespread firings of reporters and editors from the ‘mainstream’ media is that there are fewer moderate voices to be heard,”  Freedom House said in its report.

(Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun and Gulsen Solaker in Ankara; Reporting by Dasha Afanasieva; Editing by Alexandra HudsonNick Tattersall and Giles Elgood)

Note 1: Turkish Cultural expansion in Central Asia

Note 2: How many terms a President or Prime Minister has to serve before turning a dictator or an oligarch? Is Putin of Russia any better?

The US Constitution didn’t mention any restriction on the number of times a President can be candidate. Luckily, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson refused a third tenure on account of facing great difficulties during their second term. Only Franklin Roosevelt served 4 terms because of the WWII and couldn’t finish it.

The Constitution was amended to only two terms since then.




January 2023

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