art of resistance, Yemen

Yemen: The Melody of Our Alienation.

max pam/image © Max Pam, Ramadan in Yemen (1993)/

“What could I say about Yemen that did it justice. I tried in my journal to work it honestly. I tried with 60 rolls of black and white 120 film to translate the experience. That hot, spare and beautiful Ramadan.

No eating or drinking anything between sunrise and sunset. The faithful waiting for the moment. The cannon booms from the mosque in the afterglow of the day. KABOUMMM and a frenzy of quat buying, tea drinking and food eating begins in the suqs and squares and oases and towns all over the country. Everyone happy, elated laughing and joking sitting down together as one nation.

And you know what, people always wanted me to share and be part of their Ramadan, their community, their Yemen. I travelled all over the country with them. To Shibam, Taizz, Al Mukallah, Sanaa, over the desert, by the sea and into the mountains. The shared taxis were always a half past dead Peugeot 405’s with sometimes 10 or 12 people jammed in.

The 92 pages of this book give my version of that unforgettable Ramadan month. An experience freely given to me by the generosity of Yemeni people.”

That is how Max Pam described his experience of Yemen twenty-two years ago, summed up in his journal Ramadan in Yemen.

Twenty-two years later in Yemen, at least 120 people are dead after Saudi-led airstrikes pummeled a residential neighborhood in the western port city of Mokha late Friday. It was the deadliest wave of bombings since the U.S.-backed campaign against Houthi rebels began in March. The strikes hit a housing complex for power plant workers, flattening buildings and sparking fires that spread throughout the neighborhood and burned alive women, children and elderly.

One of the Mokha residents described the onslaught: “There were continuous airstrikes without any breaks. And we have no military men, no devils. We don’t even have gunmen around here. We couldn’t get to our children. There were some 20 bodies that I pulled out with my own hands and counted. Who is to blame for this?”

The ceasefire took effect Sunday night at midnight, but within hours both sides said the other had resumed attack.

As Yemeni poet Abdulaziz Al Maqaleh asks in The Melody of Our Alienation: “Has nonsense become common sense? Has the non-rational become rational?”

His poem comes to my mind because it is a beautiful act of devotion and hope in these bad times for Yemen. But, it also comes to my mind because the title The Melody of Our Alienation illustrates the position of the outside world towards Yemen (and not just Yemen) perfectly. All these wars and conflicts played to the tunes of our alienation – from the rest of the world, from ‘others’, from anything and everything that is not Me, Myself & I.

Watch and listen. In the end, The Melody of Our Alienation is a reminder that no matter how strange the city of Sana’a (and Yemen in general) feels now, its people are not strangers in their own city. It is their city. It is where they belong. It is where they will make a difference as agents of peace.

“Sana’a.. Even if she slept on its sorrows for some time. Even if she caved in and the numbness took too long. Her morning shall revolt in the face of darkness. And certainly… The rain will one day wash away her drought.”

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Occupied Pleasures: (Girls) Just Want to Have Fun.

tanya/Gaza: A toy store van drives along Gaza’s beach high way/

Who says Palestinians don’t (like to) have fun? With a great sense of humor and a touch for details, Tanya Habjouqa captures the ‘occupied pleasures’ of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. The following are only a few stories from her great photo series – be sure to check out her official website for more.

tanya23Hayat Abu R’maes, 25 (left) recently took a yoga lesson from a visiting American yoga instructor. She is now teaching the young residents of her village, Zataara, a small village on the outskirts of Bethlehem in the West Bank. The women are increasing in number each week. They call it, “inner resistance and that its proving to be the ultimate release.”

tanya26West Bank: Students from the Al-Quds University javelin team wrap up the last practice before summer vacation in the West Bank city of Abu Dis, next to the Israeli Separation Wall.

tanya44West Bank: After grueling traffic at the Qalandia check point, a young man enjoys a cigarette in his car as traffic finally clears on the last evening of Ramadan. He is bringing home a sheep for the upcoming Eid celebration.

astaGaza: A woman plays with two baby lion cubs born in the Rafah Zoo. Gaza once had six zoos, but two were closed due to financial losses and the deaths of large animals. Gazan zoo keepers are renowned for creativity in limited options, having famously painted a donkey as a zebra, smuggling in animals in the tunnels, and stuffing them once they are dead as animals are not easy to replace.

tahWest Bank : Two furniture makers take a break in a pair of plush armchairs (of their creation) in the open-air in Hizma, against Israel’s 26-foot high Separation Wall.

tanya5A young fiancee goes wedding dress shopping in Gaza. Her future husband is working in Libya, where she hopes to join him. Since the Israeli siege, many Gazans say that girls are marrying younger as there are less possibilities for both work and travel. Most young girls say they hope to find a husband who is based outside or will find work that will take them away from the confines of Gaza.

//all images © Tanya Habjouqa//

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Ali Ashour: Daily Life in Gaza (II).

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Ali Ashour is a young Palestinian photographer. I’ve already introduced his lovely work and written about his way of capturing beauty in Gaza and his happy-go-lucky perspective on things.

I am happy to be able to continue to present Ashour’s work and his new images of daily life in Gaza. Enjoy the photos, and for more – follow Ali on facebook.

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//all photos © Ali Ashour//

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art of resistance, Sudan

Time Travel Booth: 70’s And 80’s Sudan by Abbas Habiballa.

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Sudanese photographer Abbas Habiballa was born in 1950. He started taking photographs when he was fifteen years old.

He took photographs of numerous events in Sudan, his surroudings, neighbours and family everyday life. Take a look at some of the vibrant moments and beautiful humans he captured with his camera.

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//all photos © Abbas Habiballa/Elnur//

• • •

For more on Abbas Habiballa, visit Elnur.

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art of resistance, Israel, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

A Year Later: Rebuilding Gaza.

Jehan_Abu_Dagga-children/photo via IMEU/

Institute for Middle East Understanding has a powerful new story out – it features six out of the tens of thousands Palestinians struggling to rebuild their lives a year after the Israeli summer assault on Gaza.

The following are the fragments of some of those stories.

Jehan_Abu_Dagga-family2/Jehan and her family, photo via IMEU/

Jehan Abu Dagga is a lawyer. Her home was seriously damaged by Israel’s most recent offensive in Gaza.

We weren’t able to leave so we decided to wait for the situation to get calm. When the dark came, I thought ‘We have to escape. We can’t be trapped here. They want to kill everyone.’ We tried many times to get out from our home to a safe place but we couldn’t get far in such dangerous conditions.

The kids wanted to sleep but we prevented them because if something happened, we were afraid we would not have time to wake them up. The situation started to get more serious and dangerous from all directions. We knew that we were stuck and could not get out with all the shelling and gas bombs. We spent one week under the shelling.

In the first ceasefire after that terrifying night, which was only for three hours, I asked my husband to go to our house to bring our official papers, IDs, and passports. When he returned, he told me that our home was bombed but it wasn’t completely destroyed.

I sold my jewelry to build the house we wanted and now we don’t have enough to rebuild it. My husband is a farmer and we don’t have that kind of money. I studied law and I worked as a lawyer but I stopped to stay with my children. Now I wish I didn’t study law. Maybe if I was a nurse, it would be better so I could help in these situations.

The most challenging moment of my life was when I had to choose a safe room in the house to put my children in for the many days while we were stuck inside during the attacks.

Yassir_Mahmoud_El_Haj4/Yassir and his family, photo via IMEU/

Yassir Mahmoud El Haj, 25, is from Khan Younis Refugee Camp in Gaza. His family’s house was struck by Israeli warplanes without warning during the first week of Israel’s 2014 attacks. Yassir’s parents, Mahmoud Lutfi El Haj and Basma Abd El Qader El Haj, and his six brothers and sisters — Najla, 28; Asmaa, 22; Omar, 20; Tareq, 18; Sa’ad, 16; Fatma, 14 — were all killed.

Then they took me to the hospital and I started to search for my family between all the injured people and I didn’t find any of them there. I lost control of myself and screamed, ‘Where is family?’ The doctor came and gave me a sedative and some of my relatives told me that my family is fine and that I could see them when I felt better. When I woke up, they told me that they were all killed. Then, my brother-in-law took me to my house again and I found that they were still taking out the bodies there and I saw my father’s and brothers’ bodies being removed.

After the war, I lived in my uncle’s house and then in my sister’s house in Rafah. Then I rented a house, and I faced many problems in finding an apartment. I don’t work and I don’t have the ability to rebuild the house, especially since I was living inside a refugee camp where the houses are very close to each other and full of people. Thirty people were injured that day and seven houses are unsuitable for habitation in addition to the many partly damaged houses around my house.

I have no one now. I lost my family in this life so I don’t expect any good days in future  — I’m only waiting for time to pass. The hardest moment in the war for me was when I came back from my friend’s house and I didn’t find my home. I just couldn’t understand that I just left all my family inside for only one hour and then found it destroyed. I regret that I went out; I wish I was there with them.

I want the world to know that Israel targets civilians’ houses directly. The children and the families who were killed during the war are the evidence of Israel’s crimes toward civilians in Gaza, so I ask the whole world not to support Israel. All my sisters and brothers were smart and had good grades in school and they were still so young. None of them were involved in any political or resistance parties. Fatma, my sister, and Sa’ad, my brother got 98% averages at school. My eldest sister, Najla, was first in her class in college and and she worked as a teaching assistant at her university.

I remember when we had our last dinner during Ramadan and gathered on one table and talked about the news and situations as any normal family. I wish I knew the reason why they bombed my house and killed my family. I still want to know why.”

Aysha_Saeed_Owda_El_Kurd2/Aysha among the ruins, photo via IMEU/

Aysha Saeed Owda El Kurd, a mother of five from Rafah, works as a nurse. Her husband was a prisoner in Israeli prisons for 14 years. In 1988, shortly after Israel freed him, he was killed.

“I play the role of mother and father in my family. I have a lot of responsibility because all but one of my sons can’t find work. After my husband was killed, I lived with my five children in a rented house until we were able to buy a new house.

When the war started in 2014, my son Ibrahim was supposed to come to Gaza and tried twice but the closure of the borders prevented him from coming and he wasn’t here when his brother was killed. My other three sons came to my house with their families in Al-Shaboura neighborhood because it was safer than the eastern areas where their house is beside the borders. During the ceasefire, my son Yasser went to check on his house like everyone else, to see what happened in the area and suddenly the ceasefire was broken and the Israeli army started to bomb randomly. The house was bombed with two missiles and Yasser was killed with two other people.

When I heard my son was injured, I remember that I walked the street at night under the continuous bombing to search for him. I tried calling him on his phone. I just couldn’t believe that he was killed. I asked my colleagues in Abu Yosef Al Najjar Hospital to ask about him and they told me that they didn’t know anything because the hospital was bombed. I felt they were also afraid to tell me the truth.

When we arrived, they told me the full truth, which I already knew in my heart — that he was killed. I asked to see him and went into the mortuary in the hospital and I saw him for the last time. I kissed him and said goodbye. It was extremely hard for me. There was nothing I could do. I couldn’t save him with medical treatment as I did for so many other people.

We’re currently 22 people living in the same house and we don’t have the ability to rebuild my sons’ house again because our income is not enough and because of the blockade.

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For more – see the full article on IMEU.

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Afghanistan, art of resistance

The ‘Victory’ in Afghanistan.

AFGHANISTAN.  Dasht-e-Qala, Northeast region. Northern Alliance troops marching. 2001.

AFGHANISTAN. Dasht-e-Qala, Northeast region. Northern Alliance troops marching. 2001. Photo by Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos

The following article was written by Demian Vokši and it makes me happy it is first published here on Middle East Revised.

In the heat of the race for the 2016 US presidential election primaries, Jeb Bush – brother of the former US president George W. Bush, admitted that he would have invaded Iraq in 2003 if he had been in his older brother’s shoes. [1] Faced with overwhelming outrage over such a confession, he tried to point out that Hillary Clinton would have done the same, and then tried to dump the blame for the Iraq catastrophe on Obama but damage was already done.

The upheaval over his statement was huge and the degree to which the sentiment is controversial is telling a lot: a US presidential candidate, even a republican one is esentially comitting professional suicide by admitting his support for the 2003 invasion. Such is the legacy of Iraq- an illegal war built on a foundation of lies, resulting in an estimated half a million civilian deaths, destabilizing a whole country and pushing it towards a civil war which resulted in the birth of the so called ‘Islamic State’.

But for all the outrage which is being made about Iraq, it seems that its older brother, the War in Afghanistan is getting none of it. The Afghanistan war, spearheaded by the United States and later led by NATO has been perceived legitimate by almost everyone who cared to comment about it, and has been supported by virtually all of the top players on the global political scene.

In the Afghanistan- Iraqi tandem, the Afghanistan war is seen as, how Tariq Ali had put it in his 2008 essay, the „Good War“ [2], a legitimate and legal older brother of the failure that is the War in Iraq. Such a reasoning is inherently flawed- it ignores the geopolitical context of the invasion, it downplays the histories of Afghanistan and the very important neighbouring Pakistan, and it creates space for making the same mistakes in Afghanistan which were made in Iraq- mistakes which are already in the process of repeating themselves.

AFGHANISTAN. Kabul. 2001. Refugees living in the ex Russian embassy compounds.

AFGHANISTAN. Kabul. 2001. Refugees living in the ex Russian embassy compounds. Photo by Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos

To explain Afghanistan we would have to go back to in time. The initial reason for the invasion were the terrorist attacks of 9/11 after which the US commenced Operation Enduring Freedom by bombing Afghanistan extensively in order to eliminate terrorist training camps. In order to succesfully operate in Afghanistan the US had to secure the cooperation of Pakistan. On the surface it would seem that Pakistan, a long term US ally, would not object to the US operations in Afghanistan but the reality is that the Taliban were basically an extension of Pakistan in Afghanistan.

Pakistan, especially its secret service ISI, had been a major player in Afghanistan since the Soviet invasion. Although the horifically inept Afghan Communist Party had kickstarted the Mujahideen rebellion in Afghanistan by rash and not particularly thought out implementation of land and social reform (even Soviet officials suggested a more gradual implementation) thus pulling the Soviet Union into Afghanistan to protect the interests of its ally state, the US and Pakistan had exploited that chain of events to the best of their abilities.

The US has supplied Pakistan’s ISI with military equipment and money, and ISI has channeled those resources to fuel the Mujahideen rebellion in Afghanistan. The US logic behind this was obvious- to hurt the Soviet Union and give them its own Vietnam, and the Pakistani logic was that if Afghanistan fell in Soviet hands, the Soviet Union would be just a step away from its long time wish – a warm water port, possibly in Pakistan itself.

AFGHANISTAN. Kabul. The river. 2001.

AFGHANISTAN. Kabul. The river. 2001. Photo by Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos

After the Soviet withdrawall, the US lost its interest for Afghanistan, and Pakistan was now unable to control the warring fractions of the Mujahideen which engaged in a civil war across the country. Therefore it turned to the new rising force, the Taliban. The Taliban were largely groomed in Pakistan’s Madrassas – Islamic seminaries.

The students in those Madrassas (and the word Taliban literally means students in Pashto) came from the Afghan refugee population and the local Pakistani population- poor families unable to support all of their children would often send their sons to Madrassas because the Madrassas would not only grant them education in a country with an underdeveloped educational infrastructure, but would also house and feed them during their stay thus relieving the family of that burden.

Thus, the rise of the Taliban in the 90’s (although they had already been active in the 80′) was navigated by Pakistan as a way to stabilize Afghanistan, to lead it out of the civil war phase and to ensure that the country is calm enough so Pakistan can go on with the new energy deals which would connect it with the rest of Central Asia, whose infrastructure would have to go through Afghanistan. The need for such energy deals has been a vital interest for Pakistan who to this very days still suffers from energy reductions.

Meanwhile the US mainly kept away from the issue of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. It even tried to dissuade Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Mujahideen leader of the opposition to the Taliban, from putting up a fight. He refused to surrender. Only after several Al Qaeda operations against US targets in the 90’s, had the US started to cooperate with Massoud and his Northern Alliance.

AFGHANISTAN. . Southeast region. On the road to Tora Bora refugees escaping from the conflict areas. 2001.

AFGHANISTAN. . Southeast region. On the road to Tora Bora refugees escaping from the conflict areas. 2001. Photo by Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos

After the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan (one of the three states, together with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which has recognized the Taliban led Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) had to turn its back on its most succesful foreign policy, at least oficially, and had lent its help to the US, and the NATO operations in Afghanistan.

The US started a bombing campaign designed to rout the Al Qaeda forces from Afghanistan and to end the Taliban support for the terrorist organization. Interestingly, in October 2001, not long after the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom, the Taliban had offered to hand Osama bin Laden to a third country under conditions that the US stop their bombardment and that they offer proof that bin Laden is guilty of the 9/11 attacks. Bush turned the offer down. [3] The invasion went underway, and was soon enough taken over by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) led by NATO forces with the goal of combating Taliban and Al Qaeda forces and rebuilding the country.

Almost 14 years later ISAF concluded Operation Enduring Freedom on December 28, 2014 with not much accomplished. After the initial show of force and establishing its presence in the whole of the country, NATO, led by US forces had been caught in a lenghty and tiring assymetric warfare with the Taliban forces. The number of the Taliban fell from the inital estimate of 40 000 fighters, only to rise again in recent years.

AFGHANISTAN. Kalakata front line, Northeast region. A Northern Alliance soldier jumps out from the truck bringing him to the front line. 2001.

AFGHANISTAN. Kalakata front line, Northeast region. A Northern Alliance soldier jumps out from the truck bringing him to the front line. 2001. Photo by Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos

Their number in 2015 is estimated to be 60 000 in Afghanistan and there are more of them in Pakistan. Accordingly, although the number of Taliban attacks fell during the initial years of the NATO operations, they have risen again in 2013 and especially in 2014. [4] The reasons for the spike in attacks can be attributed to the fact that the Taliban were simply waiting for the foreign forces to leave and were starting to intensify their attacks when the US withdrawal was underway.

The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) consisting of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP) have proved time and time again to be not particularly cohesive [5], have been described as generally unprepared [6], are plagued by corruption (especially the police) and desertions. The number of ANA troops fell from 184 839 in February 2014 to 169 203 in November 2014 with the complete number of ANSF forces being 34 000 people short of the 325 000 projected goal for the end of 2014. [8]

An incompetent army, low on numbers and morale rings dangerously similar to the American  project of disbanding the army and building it from scratch in Iraq, only to see that army being blasted away by the forces of the ‘Islamic State’ again and again. The danger is only amplified in Afghanistan which has an unpleasant tradition of being utterly unmanageable by any unprepared invading or even domestic force since Alexander the Great, and then through the British wars, the Communist period, the Soviet invasion, Mujahideen civil war and lastly the US/NATO invasion.

AFGHANISTAN. Kabul. Chicken street. The woman showing me a drug prescription. 2001.

AFGHANISTAN. Kabul. Chicken street. The woman showing me a drug prescription. 2001. Photo by Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos

Although Operation Enduring Freedom has ended, NATO forces have mantained a presence in Afghanistan through the new Resolute Support Mission devised to advise ANSF. The US have also started Operation Freedom’s Sentinel devised to root out the remnants of Al Qaeda form Afghanistan [9] although Al Qaeda has not been a significant force in Afghanistan for years now and has since started a number of other branches including one in Iraq (which has evolved into the ‘Islamic State’), and in the Arabian Peninsula (which has, among plentiful other activities, managed to pull off an attack in January this year in Paris, targeting the magazine Charlie Hebdo). Such a lasting commitment in Afghanistan also goes against Obama’s promise of a full American withdrawal from Afghanistan by the ond of 2014, later prolonged to 2016.

With the US desperately chasing remaining irrelevant Al Qaeda members in Central Asia so it could somehow justify the immense civilian deaths, the 14 year long strain on the economy and the, if seen in the light of recent Taliban successes and gains, failed attempt to eradicate radicalism from Afghanistan, the game has transferred into other parts of the world.

Terrorism has gained a globally distributed network, and new centres from which it can operate. The US was not particularly opposed to negotiating with the Taliban when it has not had an interest in Afghanistan so why should it be difficult to negotiate now? After all, the Afghan government is already negotiating peace talks with Taliban leaders [10], and considering all of the US support for the most repugnant dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia, the Afghan government-Taliban cooperation is not really something that impossible to imagine being supported by the US.

In the end, the War in Afghanistan has proved to be a particularly gruesome child of the imperialistic Wolfowitz doctrine and the knee-jerk reaction to the 9/11 attacks which could have been handled much better. In fact, it could not have been handled worse. Its enduring legacy is 20 000 dead civilians [11], almost 2 000 000 refugees [12], and a country not much better than it was to begin with, with a dangerous tendency of turning to worse. Iraq’s older brother, the „Good War“ has proved itself not to be so good in the end.

[1] http://time.com/3853505/jeb-bush-iraq-war/

[2] http://newleftreview.org/II/50/tariq-ali-afghanistan-mirage-of-the-good-war

[3] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/oct/14/afghanistan.terrorism5

[4] http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=50111#.VWoKGu_a9TQ

[5] http://rt.com/op-edge/178404-afghanistan-shooting-security-soldiers/

[6] http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/article/afghanistans-army-still-unprepared

[7] http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/1/12/afghanistan-s-3-6billionpoliceproblembrokensystemsandcorruption.html

[8] http://www.stripes.com/news/casualties-desertions-spike-as-afghan-forces-take-lead-1.332504

[9] http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2014/12/29/meet-operation-freedoms-sentinel-the-pentagons-new-mission-in-afghanistan/

[10] http://www.wsj.com/articles/taliban-afghan-officials-to-meet-for-peace-talks-1424335356

[11] http://www.costsofwar.org/sites/default/files/Direct%20War%20Death%20Toll%20in%20Iraq,%20Afghanistan%20and%20Pakistan%20since%202001%20to%20April%202014%206%2026.pdf

[12] http://costsofwar.org/article/afghan-refugees

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//all photos © Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos//

For more on Demian Vokši and his writing, contact him at demian.voksi@gmail.com.

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art of resistance, Egypt

BuSSy: A Place For Untold Gender Stories.

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BuSSy is a performing arts project that has been slowly changing Egypt for the last ten years. It aims to empower men and women to express themselves and talk about the things that are “not to be talked about”. Through storytelling, they raise awareness about social issues that are crippling Egypt nowadays. To find out more about BuSSy and their efforts, I talked with Nadia Elboubkri, BuSSy’s project manager.

When and how did the BuSSy project start? What was the motivation behind it?

In 2005, the American University in Cairo hosted a performance of the Vagina Monologues. Many female students felt the performance was daring but irrelevant to Egyptians. And in reaction to that… BuSSy was born! In 2006, a group of female students started The BuSSy project – an annual performance of true stories of women in Egypt. The very first BuSSy performance was a collection of stories submitted by women in response to a flyer that read: “If you have a story about yourself or a woman you know, please pick up a submission form and share it.”
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The monologues, which were written and performed by women, for women, exposed real women’s stories and provided for the first time in Egypt, a space for free expression on issues that society often failed/refused to address.

Despite  being constantly subjected to censorship attempts from both the private theaters and state owned ones, BuSSy was able to carry on and expand further. In 2010 the project developed its scope to include stories of both women and men. Both genders are invited to share their personal experiences during the workshop and later on stage.

In 2012, we began working on a larger scale, instead of one workshop and one performance. We started conducting several workshops around Cairo to produce different performances each year that include stories of both genders. Some of the performances and workshops revolved around specific timely/relevant themes such as harassment incidents during protests and domestic violence.

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You’ve been holding performances on stages all over Egypt for the last couple of years. What are the biggest obstacles you faced on your way?

The issues that BuSSy often discusses in our workshops are often taboo in Egypt, rarely spoken about publicly, and often women are shamed and considered dishonorable if they are sexually violated, let alone if they speak about it in public forum.
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BuSSy gives women a space to discuss these stories, whether anonymously or with their own names… Though many choose to remain anonymous. We hold workshops in cities all over Egypt, and invite women from all walks of life to come and share their stories with us. Then, we put the stories together into a performance, and the women [if they so choose] go on stage and share their stories.
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This all sounds a lot easier than it is… Often we are faced with community backlash – community members heckle the storytellers on stage, some women are forced to hide their identities, we can’t feature some of our storytellers on film, or publish their pictures on social media.
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We are also subject to government censorship. Most recently we were forced out of a government venue [the Cairo Opera House] because a performance we were invited to give there discussed issues that were deemed “immoral” by the government, such as masturbation and sexual education.
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Because of this, we are now crowdfunding for our own space, because we promise a safe and judgment-free environment for our storytellers, and that has become increasingly difficult to find…sometimes we hold workshops in unsafe neighborhoods, or rehearsals in parking lots, and even our own living rooms, because we can’t find a space to work.
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Gender issues are in the focus of your activism. Through your stories, what are the big issues Egyptian women and men face in relation to gender roles and expectations?
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Many of the common issues that Egyptian women and men face are related to the high rates of sexual violence, which has its roots in the occupation of public space and culture-based gender dynamics. A common thread in our workshops is street harassment, and women feeling scared or ashamed to go outside in public, often spending excessive time deliberating about what to wear, where to walk, etc.
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For men, similar issues arise, there exists harassment of males, though it isn’t always discussed. Our workshops help both genders find connections with others who have had similar experiences, and show them they are not alone, which empowers them to step on stage and tell others,thereby raising awareness about the issue.
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Having this space to express often hidden stories from all parts of the society is of incredible importance to many. What were the reactions of people when BuSSy project started and how did it change throughout the years? Were they scared in the beginning? And do you have bigger support now?
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Bussy is fortunate to have a large and loyal support base in Cairo, when we hold workshops and performances they are almost always sold out. However, we still have our fair share of difficulties in addressing the public. Many audience members are shocked during our performances, people have walked out during a show, or addressed us afterwards to tell us their thoughts.
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However, many of our audience members are the opposite too–cheering us on, or wanting to join us in our next workshop and performance. In cities outside of Cairo, because we are very new to them, it takes longer to thaw the ice. Our workshops have been a great way to connect with the community, and after getting to know the storytellers, we find that they also become willing to step on stage and speak about issues that have never been publicly addressed in their communities. They are breaking ground in their communities!
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You’ve mentioned the cooperation with other theatres – private and state owned ones. What was the case most of the times – were they ready to cooperate with you or were there censorhip efforts?
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Ever since it’s birth BuSSy has been facing a lot of difficulties finding spaces to hold the workshops and rehearsals.
We have held workshops and rehearsals in school court yards, garages, flats, public cafe, rented rooms, bookshops…
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For BuSSy to continue to share with the world the remarkable histories of our storytellers, we need a safe and open space to hold our workshops, create other activities that would help sustain the project on the long run, and help it operate independently away from censorship and content-controlling funding – which is commonly practiced by hosting venues.
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It depends on the circumstances, the legality, and the independence of the venue. But, anytime we are asked to submit a script for review or to censor our language, we respectfully decline holding our performance in that particular venue. It is one of our most important principles to share the stories exactly how they are told to us.
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BuSSy is currently crowdfunding to create a space for women and men to speak up about their untold gender stories. What would be your hope and dream for the future?
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Our crowdfunding campaign is not only aiming to acquire our own space to hold workshops and events, but we are also seeking to become self-sustaining within the next few years. We plan to hold regular storytelling workshops, open-mic events, mini-performances, and more in our new space, and hopefully, over time, we can support our own activities, particularly our activities outside of Cairo.
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/all photos © BuSSy/
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The Croatian version of the interview can be found on Libela.
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