MESA Banner
Gender and Power Relations in MENA

Panel V-24, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Friday, November 3 at 1:30 pm

Panel Description
  • Most Arab weddings include a festive spectacle called al-zifāf. This is a bridal procession; the bride rides or walks away from her natal home, to the accompaniment of music and celebration, and journeys to the groom’s family’s house. Most Arabs regard the zifāf as a central part of the wedding. However, not all Arab weddings include it. In at least two Arab societies there is no bridal procession. Why? Materialist explanations of cultural variation usually invoke infrastructural factors. This approach leads us to expect that Bedouin, sedentary agriculturalists, and urban wage workers would have different kinds of weddings, since they depend on different modes of production. To test this hypothesis, I examine weddings in two Bedouin societies (the al-Dawāghirah Bedouin of northern Sinai and the Rashāyidah Bedouin of eastern Sudan), two rural societies (the town of Kufrinjah in northern Jordan and the Kawāḥilah villagers of central Sudan), and two urban societies (a neighborhood in Cairo and a neighborhood in Damascus). I show that weddings include the zifāf in four of these societies (al-Dawāghirah, Kufrinjah, Cairo, and Damascus), even though their economies differ considerably. In contrast, there is no zifāf among the Rashāyidah Bedouin and the Kawāḥilah agriculturalists. I argue that infrastructure is not the factor that determines whether or not the wedding includes a bridal procession. Instead, it is the society’s post-marital residence rule. In the societies where there is a zifāf, the bride comes to live with her husband’s family. When she arrives at the groom’s house during the wedding, she is a stranger. To consummate the marriage, she needs space inside the groom’s family’s house. The groom’s family offers her this space in a ritualized manner by taking part in the bridal procession. In the two societies where there is no zifāf, the post-marital residence rule is different. The wedding takes place near the bride’s family’s house and it is the groom who arrives as a stranger, not the bride. The newlyweds reside near the bride’s family for a long time after the marriage. Because the bride does not leave her natal home in these two cases, there is no need for a bridal procession. Cross-cultural comparison allows anthropologists to detect this kind variation in ritual performance and to test explanations of it. Other kinds of variation in Arab weddings exist but are barely noticed. Further comparisons will help reveal and explain them.
  • AbstractWomen's discrimination against athletes has been one of the major caveats of Iran’s current political system since 1979. Despite the fact that sports contribute to a healthy lifestyle, women are not in full compliance when it comes to sports. Women’s sportive fields vary from individualones such as martial arts, jogging, and cycling to team sports such as volleyball. The list excludes water sports, football (soccer), tennis, and other types of activities in which parts of the body need to be free of any cover or clothing. In the case of permitted sportive activities, women are required to respect the Islamic dress code or hijab. In recent years, the impeding Islamic dress code has discouraged several female athletes to pursue their activities; some have been forced to emigrate. Given recent events in Iran, the present paper aim to present a survey of an array of challenges faced by Iranian sportswoman, including the restriction of sportive activities, social discrimination, and the encumbering dress codes.
  • Collective recitation of the Qur’an using microphones, continuous supplication, hands raised to the sky with every dangerous attack, and prostration after every goal are all common scenes in Egyptian football stadiums. These scenes are not limited to stadiums only, as they can also be seen on the Ultras pages of the Al-Ahly and Zamalek republics, so we find continuous supplications and reminders of the times of prayers and seasons of obedience. As much as these scenes express religiosity, the situation changes completely once the match begins. According to many reports, football stadiums are among the most places where sexual harassment, verbal insults, and racism are witnessed. However, it is also remarkable that these sexual songs and insults to the opponent players, appear only when the cheering team is ahead in the game. The winning team is always portrayed as a male sexually dominating the losing team, who is always described as a "white girl" or "red-dressed" female, depending on which side you are on. Victory greetings are always accompanied by phrases such as "wedding night", "hot night," and "adults only". All this and more turned football stadiums into male-dominated venues. It also made them places where religiosity and pornography intersect, surprisingly. How can it be possible for those who were seeking victory from Allah and collectively reciting His book to turn their situation in a matter of minutes into predators ready to kill or rape the opponent sexually and psychologically? Isn't this sudden behavioral shift a stark contradiction? Does this not indicate a remarkable understanding of religion? Were the initial calls an attempt to appease God to give our team victory? Referring to literature, and interviews with football players, religious scholars, sociologists, and ultras fans, this study attempts to understand this contradictory and controversial situation between the public expression of religiosity, gender, and dominance in Egyptian football stadiums.
  • “Our whole lives we are trying to prove to our families that we are neither a whore, nor a failure”, a young feminist activist tells me during our interview in Erbil. She is hinting at the ways in which honour is attached to women’s bodies, and at the fine line young women tread when trying to succeed professionally and still adhere to their family’s and society’s norms around who is considered to be a “good woman” from a “good family”. During my interviews for a previous project, I observed that what many young women are most afraid of, when they engage in activism (e.g. for gender based equality and justice) is “what people will say” - and how that might reflect on them and their families. The gossip that circulates about and around a person can be both positive and damning, it can protect and, in in some instances, also destroy and kill. On a regular basis, women in Iraqi Kurdistan are victims of so called “honour-crimes”, and often these are women who were previously subject to gossips about how she had lost her honour; by allegedly engaging in pre-marital sex, by living alone, by drinking and smoking, or more recently also by working for feminist organisations. In this paper I ask how gossip as a form of knowledge “works”: how is it deployed by young university students and to what end? How is (the fear of) gossip inherited and practiced across generations? And how do young women protect themselves from bad gossip? Conceptually, this paper revisits some of the older concepts of the “relational self” and “patriarchal connectivity” (Jospeh 1999; 2005), as well as the “patriarchal bargain” (Kandiyoti 1988), but adapts an intersectional approach to ask how, in an era of “forever wars” and rapid neoliberal development, young women in Iraqi Kurdistan are navigating their “boundedness”, alongside the promise of “women’s emancipation and equality” that the Kurdish Regional Government officially subscribes to. Based on data collected during three months of ethnographic fieldwork, I argue that gossip is one of the main forms of social control in Iraqi Kurdistan, particularly in areas where the government fails or refuses to regulate and protect; namely the family (Keli 2022), and a key tool that is being mobilised by both men and women to police norms around gender and sexuality in the Kurdish “non-yet-state”.
  • The household level production of edible argan oil from a native tree species in southwestern Morocco has been part of women’s work in the rural indigenous Amazigh community for generations. The more recent growth of cooperative structures in Morocco since the 1990s and the burgeoning global industry for the expensive cosmetic variety of argan oil have led to a proliferation of local argan industries throughout the zone where the tree grows in a UNESCO protected biosphere. For many women producers, engaging with argan production in the household or through a collective, cooperative structure provides an entry into the local market economy with limited opportunities for income generation and increased autonomy for rural women. Based on team research conducted in 2022-23 in conjunction with a field school for anthropology and engineering students from two US universities, this paper discusses the results from interviewing household level women producers and argan cooperative members near Agadir, Essaouira, and Sidi Ifni. Results demonstrate that while commercializing argan oil offers small gains to household economies in the region, the benefits are tempered by several key factors including onerous physical labor inputs, growing corporate interests in argan, lack of training for women in marketing and cooperative management, and lack of access to larger markets. Our research also suggests that narratives of women’s empowerment and fair trade that are widely marketed to attract tourists and consumers fail to represent the difficult conditions in which largely non-literate, underpaid rural women support the global argan industry.