Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘women rights

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

Second Class or lower rate citizens? Lebanon new law project…

January 18, 2013
The Daily Star
Prime Minister Najib Mikati, center, heads a Cabinet session at the Grand Serail in Beirut, Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

The revelation this week, thanks only to leaked documents and not the transparency of government, that the ministerial committee studying the draft nationality law has rejected it in its entirety is, while not at all surprising, disheartening to say the least.

The law, which would see women for the first time gain equal citizenship rights with men, is supported by the prime minister, the president and the first lady. But ministers studying the draft rejected it on the grounds that it would upset national demographics, explicitly citing concerns over the settlement of Palestinians.

Yet again, the country’s leaders have revealed their arrogance in seemingly believing that international conventions and standards do not apply. This hypocrisy, in claiming to stand with human rights and rejecting such laws, is blatant, and the little issues of equality and human rights are apparently viewed as subjective concerns. That a Lebanese woman cannot pass her citizenship on to her children if she is married to a foreigner is unjust, that much is obvious.

Sectarianism has once more won the day, and those allegedly responsible for protecting the rights of the country’s citizens have been swayed by their blind allegiance to sectarian values.

Women’s rights are also denied in many of the Personal Status laws. The draft law on domestic violence still sits in Parliament, but it has already been stripped of much of its content.

At a time when women around the region are rightly demanding equal opportunities, and their right to justice and representation, Lebanese leaders appear to believe that women’s legitimate demands can be repeatedly ignored.

In Saudi Kingdom, where women are not even allowed to drive, a recent decree has stipulated that women account for 20 percent of the legislative council.

However in Lebanon, which has long boasted of its respect for women’s rights, the 30-member Cabinet is still entirely male, and those three female MPs all happen to be widows, wives or relatives of male politicians.

This is not the first time the issue of equal nationality rights has been discussed at top levels of government and rejected. It should not, then, come as a big surprise. But it is as saddening and frustrating as ever. There are those, many of the campaigners themselves, who truly believed that change was around the corner, having received promises to that end by many politicians.

But, as the current electoral law saga has also shown, the sectarianism argument still refuses to die. Perhaps especially now, as so many parties are latching on to this issue, as they think it will protect their own interests, it is being bandied about more than ever.

Laws, especially those addressing such fundamental issues as nationality, must not be used and abused in the runup to an election, either to garner support or to distract voters from the real and genuine problems the country is facing.

The fact that this rejection of the law also undermines the first article of the Constitution, which affirms that all Lebanese are equal, is also crucial.

If politicians can choose to so openly negate the founding principles of the state, what message does this send? This shameful episode is an insult to this country’s women, and an embarrassment to Lebanon’s image internationally.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 18, 2013, on page 7.


Any ideas on breaking up this war on women?

Is it still the same story all over the world?

Abusive, violent men in charge of making the laws that are supposed to protect wome?

And males using their power to fend off challenges from victims or voters

Is it time to change that. It is very feasibel.

When a 23-year-old student was brutally gang-raped on a bus in Delhi, citizen protests caught fire across the country and the world erupted in outrage.

India commissioned an official review. And this week the government brazenly says it will ignore the review’s recommendation that politicians charged with rape or similar violence against women must step down.

The 260 Indian politicians accused of such offences are fighting tooth and nail, and so far they are winning!

The only way to turn this round is a concerted, people-powered effort to banish men like this from office.

With 25,000 pledges to donate, Avaaz claims to be able to create a campaign war chest to take on the worst politicians.

The politicians in India depend on their reputations. And we intend to expose them in the news and social media, including through ads and polls.

We’ll start in India — the world’s largest democracy, which is gearing up for national elections — and then stand ready to intervene wherever there are opportunities to change politics and end the war on women! 

Here’s the plan:

1. Avaaz will identify elected representatives or election candidates who are known violators of women’s rights.

2. We’ll choose elections which, when we win, will get massive attention and encourage other abusive men to stay away from public office.

3. We’ll lay down the gauntlet!

4.  We’ll go in hard to kill their chances of clinging to power or getting elected. This could include:

  • running opinion polls to encourage their parties to choose other candidates;
  • organising actions in their local area;
  • encouraging local and national reporters to cover their crimes;
  • releasing ads in major print, TV and radio outlets;
  • hiring lawyers to ensure their victims aren’t intimidated into silence;
  • running hard-hitting campaigns to end the war on women.

Violent, chauvinist attitudes to women aren’t confined to Indian politicians.

Italy’s former PM Silvio Berlusconi could be elected again this month despite facing trial for sex with a minor.

Morocco just let off an MP sentenced for a year for raping a civil servant… then laid charges on the rape survivor!

Berlusconi owns a tonne of Italy’s media, so gets off lightly there, while in Morocco and other countries, powerful people can lean on judges and media bosses.

So people-powered campaigns are the only way to end the culture of impunity!

Worldwide, 1 in 5 women will become a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime according to UN studies.

Until men like these are kicked out of power, we’ll never get the changes to laws and attitudes that women need.

Our power multiplies when these guys are at their most vulnerable: when they’re running for office and need every vote they can muster.

We know this strategy works.

A few months ago when Republican front-runner for US Senate Todd Akin suggested some rapes are “legitimate“, savvy bloggers and campaigners turned the story into his worst nightmare. The firestorm they created cost him the race, and the Republican Party, calling his remarks “insulting and inexcusable”, pulled his funding and asked him to step aside. It sparked a conversation about sexual violence that’s still going on in the US.

We can ensure that men like Akin can no longer get into office anywhere.

If enough of us pledge to donate a small amount now, we can launch rapid-response campaigning that could flip elections like Akin’s across the world and get other political parties to think again.

Time and again, Avaaz members have risen to the challenge of defending women’s rights:

In Afghanistan, we helped protect Lal Bibi when she spoke out about her horrific rape.

 In Honduras, we fought alongside local women against a law that would jail women for using the morning-after pill, even if they’ve been raped.

Now we can address these issues at the source, by changing who sits in parliaments and ministries, making decisions about women’s lives!

We’ve seen how much positive change pro-women politicians — male and female — can bring to our societies, so let’s make room for them!

With hope,

Mia, David, Jooyea, Michelle, Alex, Ricken, Alaphia, Emily and the whole Avaaz team


For politicians, shaming rapists should start at home (Firstpost):

The Government vs. the Committee (WSJ):

Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock fall to Senate defeats (Guardian):

How widespread is violence against women? (UN): 

Miscarriage of justice: MP Accused of Rape Acquitted, Plaintiff Arrested (Morocco World News):

Nawal El Saadawi on canal ARTE “Religion is a political ideology…”

Nawal El Saadawi is a famous Egyptian author engaged in the rights of women for many decades. She is 82 now, and still very much on the front line and observing the evolution of the Tahrir Square revolution. 

She received the award Prix Nord-Sud 2004. Nawal is targeted to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature: She published 47 books translated in 30 languages, and she changed the mentality of 5 generations of Egyptians…

Invited at the French city of Strasbourg to participate at the first Forum Mondial de la Démocratie, Annette Gerlach et Evelyne Herber have interviewed her on octobre 11.

The audio are available in the original English version.

This a short review of the translation from French to English

“We were 20 million gathered in Tahrir Square for more than two months. We were not demanding democracy: We were fighting for liberty, human rights, economic equity, social equality…regardless of genders, race or religious beliefs…

We can have democracy within economic and social inequality and within capitalist system…

The revolution was aborted because of the corrupting US dollars and the support of the US for a Moslem Brotherhood system

The US negotiated with the Moslem Brotherhood and pressured the nascent political organizations for an early election in order to force united organizations to confront one another in unfair election, never allowing for the association to discuss and negotiate a transitional system

I am a physician before being a political woman. And the disease is the same everywhere, in all power systems dominated by the patriarchal structure.  The women should be represented by 50% in all administrations and institutions.

The US agreed that the “reformed Constitution” be undertaken my male-only representatives because the US didn’t want to lose Egypt and permit for equitable power struggle. And the Europeans didn’t react to the US biased negotiations…

Democracy is an art of living, and it start within the family, in the education system. Democracy is not a representative parliament… Democracy is a training field, of how to respect the opinions of others, treating people equally…

ARTE Journal : Un an et demi après la révolution, l’Egypte est-elle sur la voie de la démocratie ?

Nawal El Saadawi : Nous parlons de démocratie. Mais que signifie exactement le terme « démocratie » ? Pour nous il est assez vague, car ce mot « démocratie » n’existe pas dans la langue arabe, mais nous avons le mot « liberté ». Durant la révolution égyptienne, nous sommes descendus dans les rues et place Tahrir, contre Moubarak. Nous voulions la liberté, la justice, la justice économique et sociale et la dignité pour tous, peu importe le sexe, la classe sociale ou la religion.

Nous étions 20 millions dans les rues, dormant sous les tentes en janvier et en février, et on ne revendiquait pas la démocratie. On revendiquait la liberté, la justice économique et sociale et la dignité pour tous. Parce qu’on peut avoir la démocratie avec de l’inégalité, avec de l’injustice et même avec la guerre et le capitalisme ou encore avec le colonialisme et le système patriarcal. C’est pour ça que je veux être précise sur l’emploi du mot  » démocratie « . La révolution égyptienne a été géante. J’ai fait partie de ces gens qui ont dormi la nuit sous tente pour changer le système, Moubarak et tout ça…

Arte Journal : Que s’est-il passé depuis la révolution ?

Nawal El Saadawi : Que s’est-il passé ? La révolution a avorté. Qui a fait avorter la révolution ? Moubarak était hors jeu. Qui soutenait Moubarak ? Les Etats-Unis, ils donnaient des milliards de dollars à l’armée, à travers ce qu’on appelait l’USAID, corrompant ainsi l’armée, corrompant le système. L’argent américain, l’aide américaine est facteur de corruption. Nous avons voulu nous débarrasser de ce système corrompu.

Que s’est-il passé ? Les pouvoirs qui soutenaient Moubarak ne voulaient pas que la révolution réussisse. Aussi ils ont allié leur force. De qui s’agit-il ? Des Etats-Unis et des Frères musulmans. Vous voyez la contradiction. Les Etats-Unis et les Frères musulmans ont travaillé ensemble, négocié ensemble, pour passer par-dessus la révolution et la faire échouer.

Et ils ont fait avorter la révolution par deux moyens : d’abord les élections.

Des élections prématurées, le pays saigne encore, des gens ont été blessés, certains sont morts, il y avait du sang dans les rues, des jeunes gens ont perdu la vue. Mais Hillary Clinton est venue au Caire en disant, il faut des élections. C’est leur démocratie, les élections. Mais la démocratie ce ne sont pas juste des élections. Il faut d’abord changer le système, pour qu’il soit plus honnête, plus juste, égalitaire, humain, pour qu’il apporte une vraie paix, une vraie démocratie. Mais c’est précisément ce qu’ils ne voulaient pas.

Nous dans les rues, nous étions unis, 20 millions unis contre Moubarak et son système, c’est pour ça qu’on a réussi à le renverser. Alors ils nous ont divisés au moyen des élections. A la minute où ont démarré les élections en Egypte, les gens ont commencé à se diviser, ils ont été mis en compétition. La compétition, le sang, la violence, la corruption qui a permis d’acheter les votes.

Tout cela a permis de faire avorter la révolution. Les élections étaient prématurées car nous n’étions pas prêts pour ces élections. Nous voulions nous organiser car la révolution n’est pas très créative, elle est surtout spontanée. Après on s’installe et on s’organise. Ils ne nous ont pas laissé le temps de faire cela. Les Etats-Unis et les Frères musulmans ont fait un deal et les Frères musulmans sont arrivés au pouvoir. Ils ont dit « nous sommes arrivés au pouvoir par les élections », mais ce n’étaient pas des élections libres.

ARTE Journal : Quelle est la place de la femme dans la société égyptienne ?

Nawal El Saadawi : Depuis la revolution, mais déjà avant la révolution, j’ai beaucoup écrit sur ce thème, de nombreuses fois. La constitution n’est pas honnête, pas du tout. Mais c’est ainsi dans tous les pays, je ne parle pas seulement de l’Egypte ou de l’Islam. Je parle de cette maladie présente dans le monde, car nous vivons dans un monde unique et nous sommes confrontés à une maladie.

Je vous rappelle que je suis médecin et non pas politicienne, alors je dois diagnostiquer cette maladie qui frappe le monde, le système lui-même.

La charia en fait partie, la religion en fait partie. La religion est une idéologie politique. Ce n’est pas une cour de justice morale.

La religion est faite par des être humains, par les hommes, le patriarcat, les classes sociales. On trouve tout ça dans la religion. Nous avons fait de nombreuses et grandes manifestations en Egypte contre les Frères musulmans, contre l’islamisation de l’Egypte, et nous avons dénoncé la constitution.

Car un comité sans femmes a commencé à rédiger la constitution et ils ont introduit la charia. Nous avons dit que le pays ne devait pas avoir de religion, ça devait être un pays pour tous, pour les chrétiens, les musulmans, les hommes, les femmes, pour tous .

Mais les Frères musulmans soutenus par les Américains, voulaient la charia. En Europe on ne le sait pas. En Europe, on pense que les Etats-Unis sont opposés à l’islamisation. D’habitude je dis, Georges Bush et Ben Laden sont jumeaux.

Le 4 octobre dernier, les femmes ont organisé une grande manifestation. Nous avons dit que les femmes sont la moitié de l’Egypte et que nous devons être représentées à parité partout, au gouvernement, au parlement, dans la société. Partout les femmes doivent être présentes à 50%. Et il doit y avoir une complète séparation de l’église et de l’état.

Comme je vous le disais, nous vivons dans un seul monde. L’Egypte fait partie de l’Europe, des Etats-Unis, nous vivons ensemble, et nous souffrons des décisions prises par l’Union europénnne, par le gouvernement américain, par le gouvernement égyptien.

Le global est local, nous utilison un mot pour ça, le « glocal ». Ca nous rapproche. J’espère que la prochaine manifestation au Caire prévue pour vendredi 12 octobre va réussir, même si les autorités ne vont pas l’autoriser. Car le pouvoir est puissant, et les Etats-uni ne veulent pas perdre l’Egypte à cause d’Israël.

ARTE Journal : Comment faire évoluer les mentalités ?

Nawal El Saadawi : Pour faire évoluer les esprits, il faut l’éducation. La démocratie commence dans l’enfance à la maison. La démocratie ce n’est pas une décision prise au parlement qui se décrète un jour. La démocratie c’est un art de vivre.

Dès l’enfance, je dois être éduquée pour comprendre et respecter l’égalité, avec mon frère, ma soeur, les gens qui travaillent pour moi. Je dois être un être humain dès l’enfance. Mais parce que le système est malade et inégalitaire, et qu’il existe une oppression sexuelle, une oppression de classe, les enfants sont contaminés par de très mauvaises valeurs contraires à la démocratie.

C’est pour ça qu’ils ne peuvent pas être démocratiques de façon soudaine, juste en allant aux urnes. C’est un apprentissage. Il faut éduquer les enfants, comment respecter l’égalité pour que ça coule dans leurs veines. Mais ce n’est pas ce qui se passe. Le système éducatif sert le système politque.

ARTE Journal : La rumeur prétend que vous pourriez obtenir le prix Nobel de littérature ?

Nawal El Saadawi : La rumeur, je rigole, je ne suis pas pour les rumeurs. Si on parle de justice, j’aurais dû avoir ce prix, il y a déjà 30 ans. J’ai écrit 47 livres traduits dans plus d’une trentaine de langues à travers le monde. Mes livres ont changé la vie de cinq générations en Egypte et dans le monde arabe. Et dans d’autres pays, même aux Etats-Unis.

Aux Etats-Unis, j’enseigne aux enseignants, pas aux enfants. Et les enseignants, les professeurs, là-bas m’ont dit que mes livres ont changé leur vie. C’est pour ça qu’ils m’invitent à leurs séminaires. C’est pour ça que je pense que je le mérite ce prix, s’il y a une justice.

Evelyne Herber – Annette Gerlach pour ARTE Journal

Photo : Marie Thiery
Photo au-dessus : Council of Europe


The Queen of Palmyra, “La reine de Palmyre” by Denise Brahimi  (Written on March 26, 2007)

The novel is about Hester Stanhope, this English lady who lived most of her life in the village of Djoun, Joun, in the Chouf of Lebanon from 1819 till her death in 1839.

This historical fiction based on facts is wonderful, critical and very funny.  It is written in the first person as Hester.  Since there is no introduction or preface,  I am not sure how much the author relied on confirmed letters or any sort of diary by Lady Stanhope.

Whatever I report is kind of review of this book and my knowledge of the region history, geography and traditions.

I appreciated greatly the details and the corny sexual innuendos and emotional descriptions of relationship among people coming from different civilizations, cultures, and traditions.

Lady Hester Stanhope was the niece of William Pitt, PM.  William was her mother’s brother and ruled England for 22 years since he was 25 years old and he died young by the age of 47.

Hester’s mother died when she was only 4 years old.  Lady Chatham was her grand mother, a very strict lady that apparently never fell in love.  Hester move in with William since the age of 25 and worked with him for over 10 years: She had the best political mind to instruct her on world affairs.

Four years after the death of William she left England in 1810, never to return.

Hester was a tall girl of over 185 cm, svelte, pretty with large hands and feet. She was healthy with a fighting spirit that saved her when the plague fever or something as dangerous hit her in Lataquieh in Syria.

The journey of Hester started by visited northern Spain to erect a marble tombstone over her fiancé, General Moore, who died during the retreat of the British army from the advance of Emperor Bonaparte.

She stayed briefly in Gibraltar, then in Malta where she dropped her lover girlfriend Elizabeth who was to wed a Maltese man.

Hester stayed in Alexandria, saw the ruling strongman Mehemet Ali in Cairo, and she moved on to Akka, Saida, Constantinople, Palmyra, and Latakieh before she settled in Djoun in the Chouf.

Her lover Michael, 10 years younger than her, accompanied her because the rich Michael’s father wanted his son to see the world and get instructions from Hester.

Hester fell in love with the French Colonel, Vincent Yves Boutin, on mission by Bonaparte in the Orient.  Boutin disappeared in the mountains of Ansarieh in Syria around 1815, this was the bastion of the Alawi Moslem sect. Hester waited a year for his return and then spent six hectic months pressuring the authorities to inquire about Boutin whereabouts.

Her friend Suleiman, the Pasha of Akka, reluctantly sent an expedition to Ansarieh which massacred villagers and destroyed the ancient fortress Kalaat el Kef without any results of finding news of Boutin.  Hester had to visit Ansarieh and stayed there for 6 weeks explaining her motives to the poor mountain people who listened silently.

Knowing a little about history and the culture of the region, I think that the Turks had a habit of persecuting this closed sect of Hashasheen that settled in the region near Aleppo.  The Hashasheen had transferred their headquarters to the Ansarieh region after the Mogul ransacked their impregnable fortress in North-East Iran.  The sect had ruled Aleppo and its environs for quite a time and were powerful during the reign of Salah El Dine.

Hester knew the Ottoman Sultan Mahmoud II who came to power during Pitt’s tenure and was a sure ally to Britain.

Hester had a long, close and turbulent relationship with Emir Basheer II of Lebanon for over 25 years; they had respect for one another and kept nagging one another over many little and big difficulties.

Hester spent her last years in Djoun in financial difficulty, which prevented her to instituting a center of Oriental research like Napoleon did in Egypt; she intended to retain the scholars who visited the region.  (Napoleon instituted the first Egyptian studies for archaeology,  ancient religion, culture and civilization which encouraged the European researchers to resume and build on the findings of the Napoleonic discoveries).  S

She lived a very frugal life in Djoun using wooden utensils, sleeping on the floor, going barefoot except during cold weather, raising goats and chickens and living from the resources of her land.  Hester was not a morning person: she could not bear being disturbed when she wakes up and needed her regular Turkish coffee served in her bed, several cups of coffee, and then she lighted her narghileh.

She took into drinking cheap rum and Lebanese wine in her later years, just as her uncle Pitt was barely sober during his long tenure as Prime Minister to King George III.  Hester died in 1839, a week before Sultan Mahmoud II and one year before Bashir II.

Hester could never find out the true religion of Basheer II because he was considered Druze, Maronite, or Sunni as people preferred to categorize him to their illusive wishes: Basher knew the local game perfectly and used to play on the animosities between Maronite and Druze, Metoualis (Shiaa) and Ansarieh, Kurds and Ismailieh.

Once, Hester confronted Besheer II and said: “Don’t you take yourself for Fakhredine when you claim to be the sole recognized chief in Lebanon?”  Basher retorted: “On which country are you governing Queen of Palmyra? Do you realize how much I had to pay the Bedouins of Palmyra to coronate you?  I am the one who ordered your diadem and I am the one who ordered the tribe of Aneze to obey you and celebrate your fictitious coronation.  Go ahead with your theatrical acts but let me govern my country”

Lady Stanhope realized that regardless of their difference of religions and sects, the fellahs (peasant) of Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine form one people in their customs, tradition and way of living. Most of the Orientalists who visited the region shared the same impression and Lamartine once said: “Egypt is one man but Lebanon is one people“.  The fellahs here have not the habit of being treated as slaves or being herded in any army by duress to work the mines or anything else far from his patch of land.

Hester could not suffer the normal contradictions in old Europe toward the other indigent out of unconsciousness or plain hypocrisy.  She wondered why the western bemoaned the reclusive life of the woman in the Orient though she was far happier and content with her lot.

Women used to wear the veil when out of their domiciles but the aristocratic women in London wore the veil too to set themselves apart from the common people.  The rich women in Lebanon spent their time taking care of their beauty and meeting leisurely, though little girls in Britain were hired to work over 14 hours a day.

The women in the Orient enjoyed their own financial independence that their husbands could not share and they always managed to satisfy their sexual appetites outside their homes.  The workers in the industrial age are stupefied and turning drunkards, bandits and prostitutes.  How could such an ignorant relic of physical and mental exhaustion vote appropriately in a democratic system?

There was no sexual inhibition in our region (Near East) during Hester time and lesbianism and gay relationships were taken as natural behavior and even healthy to add “amusement and inventing games”.  The servants naturally knew when Hester needed sexual release and they satisfied her tenderly, professionally, and respectfully.

When she asked Logmagi, her stable man and courrier, for tea he came in with a fresh rose in his teeth.

Hester believed that the domination of the Ottoman Sultan is by far a better deal and more benevolent for Syria, Lebanon and Palestine than Mehetmet Ali of Egypt: simply because the Ottoman Empire was getting old and weak and let its subject people more autonomous decisions within their regions.

She told Basheer II that the Arabs would become the masters of the Orient if they maintain the power of the Ottoman Sultan; otherwise other powers, like the Egyptians and especially the western powers, would take the Sultan place and considerably retard that advent.  Basheer agreed with her completely but was forced to ally to Mehemet Ali because the latter was stronger militarily than the Ottoman and he was brutal and merciless for those who sided against him.

It was during Hester time that steam ships made it easier to travel by seas and the French started their conquest of Algeria and northern Africa in general.  Even at this period Hester could no longer find differences between the two major parties in Britain, the Whigs and the Tories, who seek progress at any price by hegemony and the suppressing the dignity of the British people through mass production and the other oppressed people.

I am not sure about the author claim that William Pitt, in cooperation with Talleyrand, Napoleon’s Foreign Minister, encouraged Bonaparte to changing his objective from invading Britain to going to Egypt instead.  Napoleon invaded Egypt at least four years before he amassed his forces in Boulogne Sur Mer in order to invading Britain.  Unless the author is referring to Napoleon’s dilemma when he was just one of the three Consuls into selecting the next objective in 1798.

Bonaparte was sent to Egypt out of internal politics because the Senate and Directorate feared the rising political clout of Napoleon and wanted him as far away from France as possible.

I think it is the author who had the dates mixed up and not Hester, because the author said that Napoleon changed his mind and hurried to defeat the European coalition in the famous Austerlitz battle of the three Emperors of France, Russia Alexander I and Prussia Frederic-Guillaume.

Although Hester feared Napoleon’s threats to Britain, she considered him the genius of his century compared to those leaders that governed Europe after he was exiled to St. Helena. She was infuriated by the methods used to humiliate the Emperor of all Europe.

She was impressed by Napoleon pluck of enthroning himself and then crowning Josephine while the Pope was standing in the background.




March 2023

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