Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Miriam

Women rights and Written Constitution: A chapter in my novel set in the 15th century during the Mamluk Empire

Note: A re-edit of of a 2008 post “Rainbow over the Levant: Women rights and Written Constitution

Chapter 16: Postponement of a written Constitution (#23)

The First Emir had secretly adopted the party lines of the Aram National Party and he swore allegiance and signed the contract as a regular Party member.  He directed Miriam to be his official representative, thus propelling Miriam firmly into the highest hierarchy of the Party, which was the legislative committee.

The government allocated a budget to promote the expansion of the Party through an increase in the educational budget and proclaimed that all political parties should join efforts for the “Unity and Defense” of the nation.

Although the First Emir kingdom did not stretch beyond the Eastern mountain chains of today’s Lebanon, he recognized the necessity of unifying the people in Syria for a satisfactory defense front from any major invader.

The First Emir was willing to negotiate in due time for an alternative name of the Party and other concessions on the political principles by the opposition groups.

The First Emir felt that winning the mind and heart of his citizens to the new program was going to be much harder than anything contemplated before.

He knew that the society was enjoying wealth and stability from an open sea, an economy relying on medium size industries and tourism: the Syrian market was conquered without the need for direct interventions.

This state of affairs was ideal for business and suited greatly the institutions of the government which abhorred undue risks to their profitable businesses by hinting to probable preparation for war.

Since rational dialogue was not propitious at this stage because of the powerful institutions, the First Emir had to create a climate of emotional need for the slogans of the new party.

Before setting the propaganda machine at work, the new party had to propose its position on a written Constitution and a draft electoral system.

The new spirit disseminated in the land was highly controversial in most of the regions, but the new society had enjoyed enough freedom of expression that the fundamental issues were tolerably discussed.

Women, for example, would enjoy equal rights as men in education, work opportunities, inheritance and acquiring properties and businesses.

The suffrage of the female gender

Miriam stepped in as candidate for the coming legislative election and struggled hard to provide women all the rights accorded to men. She led a vast campaign of civic demands to alter the previous temporary electoral system into a fair and equitable Constitution that would guarantee equal rights to both gender in duties, responsibilities, and rights.

Miriam’s position as head of the Legislative committee in the Aram National Party gave her an important leverage for organizing impact lobbying pressure groups in the State administrations, propagating the new demands within the masses and concentrating their energies into a few targeted reform changes.

Miriam was installed in Baldat El Mir and had a wing in the Saraya as minister of education. She was still not married because of unusual circumstances but had a steady gentleman for many years by the name of Ignatios Doumany.

They both did not mind a formal wedding but realized that the social traditions would inevitably pressure the couple into changing their priorities; Miriam would have to refrain from open political activities and cramp her flexibility to maneuver in the political scene; and Ignatios would have to assume roles that he was not willing or capable of shouldering as head of the family and controlling its behavior according to the expected norms.

Ignatios was an academician and a linguist versed in ancient languages such as Latin, Greek, and Farisi; he used to teach at the Foreign Office Center in Baldat El Mir.(Currently Beit Mery).

Later on, during Latifa Regency, (Eldest sister of the First Emir), he would transfer to Mtein as head of the new branch of that department which was recently established in the historic Capital.  He was housed in an annex to the house of Miriam and instructed her two adoptive daughters and played the role of the adoptive father in the household management.

Samar, the eldest daughter, was already about eighteen and was adopted during the mountain outlaws’ period and was the dynamo for refueling Miriam with recharged energy and revolutionary zeal for change, especially in gender discrimination issues and females rights.

The second daughter Sahar, who was rumored that she was Miriam’s legitimate kid,  was seven and had the freckled face of Miriam but resembled more to Ignatios.

Miriam had adopted Sahar after she returned from her leave of absence that lasted ten months in Palestine; she went there accompanied by Ignatios to study the school systems of the European missionaries in Jerusalem.

During her stay, she trekked behind Jesus’ footsteps throughout Galilee, Judea, Jericho, and the Dead Sea, and then crossed the Jordan River to Jerash and Petra.

Ignatios was aware of the different treatments received by Samar and Sahar from Mariam.

Samar was encouraged to behave as boys were raised, independent and self-confident in society but Sahar succumbed to the unconscious symbiotic relationship of mother and daughter.

By attitudes, gestures, and remarks Miriam unconsciously sent messages to Sahar who assimilated them in her upbringing and generated reactions as daughters do to preserving the “love” of their mothers:  Sahar was wholly scared to part from her mother during her travels and behaved in subordination to customs with sudden violent outcries and revolts when the pressures of rivalry and jealousy aroused among her mother and her sister.

Sahar was fond of making the life of Miriam untenable in most circumstances and the kind and patient support of Ignatius was essential in keeping the peace and tranquility in the family atmosphere; the efficiency of Ignatius was far better when Miriam was away.

In the town of Antelias, Miriam called for and organized a vast gathering for the female gender active in the electoral process for holding administrative, organizational, or management positions in the government or private enterprises. This assembly lasted for two days and Miriam spoke on the first session saying:

“Compatriots, mothers, daughters, wives, single women and grandmothers; I welcome you wholeheartedly and admire your courage and determination to join this beautiful gathering of dedicated citizens.

As you can witness, male citizens are excluded from this gathering, not on the basis of our unwillingness to have a fruitful dialogue with them but because we need to be alone to boldly discuss critical issues among ourselves without shame or innuendoes, or patronizing attitudes.

As far as I know, this is a first grand gathering of its kind made possible by the new era of openness and freedom of speech and assembly. Let us take full advantage of being together and openly discuss and set up a workable agenda for our political and social platform”.

“Please, this is not the time to feel intimidated; we don’t have to work on the basis that the next gathering will be more suited to expound on your grievances because this sort of get together, among the female gender, might not happen again for decades, realizing full well the entrenchment of the patriarchal system we are still experiencing in every step of our life.  The strength of this system can handicap our development and the acquisition of our political, economic and social rights”.

“Understand that this is Not the time to dwell on what your father, or husband, or brother might think or say or do.  This is an opportunity to think and feel for yourself as a full fledge individual. What are your needs, emotionally, financially and educationally as an integral citizen of this free Nation?”

“This is an exciting time but fraught with serious dangers if we fail to unite and express our steadfastness and stubbornness for securing our natural rights and demonstrate that we are the group on which is founded the survival of our society.

We are not to dwell on survival anymore; we are here to go beyond the de facto status we have been subjugated to. We are to design the new life process that this society need to erect in order to progress and the best strategy to counter the calamities that our Nation might have to sustain”.

“First, we will form committees to discuss, study and make recommendations on the subjects of education of the girls, the inheritance both tangible and immaterial, wedding traditions and conditions both financially and emotionally, voting rights, representation in the Parliament, municipalities, and governance as half the society, mothers’ rights in childbearing and support from the public funds for medical and babies growth, travel rights, and work rights”.

“This is your golden opportunity to talk plainly in everything that is cramping your life and your dreams.

Please, I urge you to recall all your dreams when you were young and how you might be able to accomplish them if full citizenship rights are accorded to you by your valiant fights.

Remember, rights are never offered without struggle; let us fight with the firm determination to earn them publicly and in the privacy of our own homes and families”.

“We can win our rights by our union after agreeing on a platform.

Let this platform represent our youthful dreams and not what our fathers, husbands or brothers might agree with.

Let our feelings and our minds mesh to win the battle of gender equality and equitable progress of our people and children.  Long Live our First Emir! Long Live women rights! Long Live the Levant Nation!”

To protect the convention of the women, each of the three accesses to the meeting place was guarded by a phalanx of the army, located half a kilometer away, with an order to deny entrance to disturbing or curious elements.  Male supporters were assembled close to the military barracks to cater to the requirements of the convention and ensure smooth logistical supplies.

Two female phalanxes  (the army included women phalanxes) insured the internal security of the convention and participated in the military committee.

The first day of the convention was hectic in the administrative and management tasks, but a learning curve settled as the days went by.

Many bold and articulated female leaders went beyond the enthusiastic themes of claiming laws for the equality of the sexes and dwelled deeper on the other facets that were restricting their independence to growing wings.

They reminded their colleagues that they were mostly responsible for their secondary status in society because they exhibited the attitude that a good wife has the duty to efface herself in conversation among men and avoided the critical financial decisions in the household.  They encouraged the wives and daughters to voice their concerns in family matters and stop interjecting their accumulated anger as a mean to establishing peace in the family environment.

After the convention, which made the headline news in social gatherings for months to come, the female population vented their feelings and inclinations to the public and were ready to pay the price for their rights as equal to men in social status.

There were  divergent arguments.

One group viewed that individual family decisions such as who is head of the family, how to lead life and maintain family cohesion should be separate from the Constitution and only female rights as a complete human being equal to men in everything in the law should be an integral item in the Constitution.

Another group maintained that specific articles in the Constitution relative to women might harm their peace of mind and the harmony in the households. Instead, the laws should maintain her power to reclaim her rights at critical circumstances whenever she is ready to grasp them, especially for divorce and separation cases.

Securing female rights in the Constitution was the glorious fight that Miriam accepted to lead against all odds.

It was at this period that the government proclaimed prizes for anyone inventing techniques or equipments that would facilitate the printing of leaflets which were done manually.

The demand for mass writing materials generated ideas and the rudiment of a few inventions that did not materialize because of the political instability in the Levant.

End of tome I

Miriam. Soul mate buddy. Harvested too early…

October 22, 2013

I am calling her Miriam: Her real name starts with M.

I was kind of surprised that it was the son of Miriam who emailed me and asked me to write what I can recollect of his mother.

I didn’t insist to try to find out the reasons behind this request: After all, I did write my autobiography, and that’s a good enough reason to begin an investigation on the dear departed.

I wrote a short paragraph on Miriam in my autobiography and declined to develop any further on my close relationship with my cousin Miriam.

All that I mentioned is how I knew about her trespassing, so sudden and so untimely.

I was at the other end of the world, in Norman, Oklahoma when Miriam died in 1976. Nobody called me up or even sent me a letter to inform me of that tragedy: I guess they imagined that I will be too affected, living alone and far away, and resuming higher education….

My cousin Nassif, younger brother of Miriam, invited me to visit him at Columbus University (Ohio) at Christmas time and I did oblige.

Entering Nassif’s apartment, I saw Miriam picture in a frame at the entrance. I was kind of taken aback: Why only Miriam picture when they are six brothers and sisters in the family?

As far as I recall Miriam was the one taking care of the house, maintenance, cleaning, ironing, and even maybe cooking. And yet, I was under the impression no one really noticed her or appreciated her good work and dedication. They took her dedication for granted.

Nassif quickly filled me in: “She died 6 months ago. A complication in the renal or bladder system or something… Water flooded her lungs before the doctors realized the seriousness of her conditions…”

I didn’t cry at all. I kept my silence and refused to ask any questions. I left the matter to Nassif to develop and talk about Miriam, if he wished to. Nassif didn’t expound on the matter and we resumed the night as usual.

When I left to the USA, knowing no one, and not even knowing where Oklahoma is on the map, and it being my first trip out of my country… Miriam was married with two kid boys.

Miriam is a year younger than me. A guy from the town came from Africa wanting to marry. from his hometown.  Sessine paid frequent visits to my aunt’s house: Sessine is a relative of the family from the father side.

Rumors spread that Sessine intends on asking Miriam’s hand. This was normal, since Miriam was the elder female, since the eldest female became a nun.

Wrong! Sessine shifted his attention to the youngest sister, barely 14 and still playing basketball with the kids. People were shocked of this turn of events, but Sessine married the kid girl against her free will. I am not sure if Miriam felt sorry for herself or for Samira.

A couple of months later, Miriam was wed to the guy next door. Joseph was at least a decade older.

Miriam didn’t even move across the street: She just descended a few steps down her new home, facing her turbulent and insufferable grandmother, (the father side), “sit al ekhweh” (the lady of the brothers), living in the basement.

I was surprised at this sudden decision of the family to marry Miriam, this beautiful and full of energy girl, a girl who filled the room when she entered and started dancing and singing and participating with the merriment…

Miriam was not a happy girl by any standard, but she knew how to make people around feel cheerful and contended. And she was the hardest working in the house, and totally unappreciated for her hard work and dedication to the family.

Miriam was kind of taken for granted and neglected by the other members of the family who pursued their idiosyncratic purposes.

I wish I had any overwhelming daydream project. I was the clueless type of his surrounding relationships. I didn’t consciously observe, investigate, asked to know what was going on.

I wish I was the caring kind of person, with all the side effects attached to caring…

I doubt that Miriam received any allowances for maintaining the house.

I didn’t receive allowances too, though my parents were well off: I was too proud to asking for money. I made whatever money I got at Christmas time and Palm Sunday to spread the entire year.

I am coming to term that only kids who receive lavish stipends to entertain up-to-date lifestyles are the one who learn to stomp and demand more money.

I never heard Miriam complaining. Except once, when she was married and feeling tired and exhausted and exclaiming “Why my lot was to stay that close to home?”

Miriam would have done herself the best of services if she had stomped her feet  at least once before getting wed and made sure to the family that she is a woman of her own mind.

Miriam was my best female cousin buddy.

When on trips, I was very bashful and refused to invite any girl to dance. When Miriam was in the company, dancing was no longer a problem: She would whisk me to the dancing floor and we dance cha cha cha or whatever.

Miriam is the one who tried her best to teach me all kinds of dances, but I ended up dancing my own awkward ways.

I guess that I improved overseas, and danced cha cha cha on the rhythm of any music, even on slow music…

When I was 20, I used to pay Miriam frequent visits. Most of the time she was with her best girlfriend Elham, sitting in the living room, kind of dark at sundown.

Elham was a shy person and Miriam would whisper in her ears and they would laugh together, sort of complotting at my expense.

On second thought, I feel that Miriam might have tacitly used Elham to play the chaperon in my presence.

I remember that it was Miriam who lent me books to read, about sexual biology and romantic novels.

Miriam could have married anyone she wished: lack of opportunities and being stuck down there in the hole of this loftiest of towns.

Decades later, I got into thinking about this quick arranged marriage of Miriam.

I am under the strong suspicion that the family thought that Miriam had an eye on me and wanted to marry me.

From my side, marriage, falling in love, confidences and all these stories were miles away from my mind. Maybe it was different from Miriam side. Most probably Miriam might have opened up to her mother, and my aunt got suspicious and hurried the entire affairs.

When I was overseas, my many aunts would suggest I marry one of their girls, and I would refuse adamantly.

I refused so many times that my latest letter was not delivered to destination. Miriam’s mother, who was now living in Paris and fleeing the civil war, and who forwarded my letters with people going back to Lebanon, read my letter and decided that it was best not to transfer it to my parents.

If Miriam didn’t marry that young, we would have attended university together.

We would have walked all over Beirut together, watched theater and movies, and maybe shared in a few demonstrations and marches. Together, Beirut would have looked much more interesting and social and fun.

We could have arranged to live in any country, fleeing the civil war, any country that she liked, continuing our education.

Life would have never been boring, lonely, sad, oppressing… I would have had the best buddy around to fill any room she entered…

Miriam is Mireille.

I would have been a happier guy if she were around. My life would have been different if she were around.

Note 1: My younger sister told me that Miriam was like her older sister and she constantly totally confided in her and accepted to join her invitations to parties…

My sister said that she noticed the neighbor Joseph ogling Miriam while she was sweeping the balcony and she told her that Joseph looked in love. Six months later, Miriam and Joseph were engaged.

The Christmas of Miriam passing away, my sister hand-designed the ornaments of the Xmas tree. Samir, the elder son of Miriam, claims that the evening was vivid in his mind and that he saved the ornaments.

Miriam was pregnant with a third child, and it was a difficult pregnancy. A week before passing away, Miriam was busy shopping in order to attend the wedding of a relative Khalil. Not many attended the wedding: People were grieving Miriam.

Note 2: I don’t even recall where the wedding ceremony took place. My younger sister was 11 of age then and told me that the ceremony was in the Bishopry (Motraniyat)  in Antelias, but she has no idea  where the celebration was held.

Note 3: I feel ashamed that I was so inconscient those days and even don’t recall if I knew before hand of the fiancaille of Mireille. Though right now, I feel as angry as a wasp against all the aunts and elder brother and sister for this hurried wedding. They should have been steadfast against Mireille marriage, until at least she tried one year at university and tried to fly a little on her own.

Note 4: The son of Miriam, now settled in Australia, never replied to my article.





November 2022

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