art of resistance, Lebanon

Playlist: PJ Harvey & Ramy Essam.

Capture/from the video The Camp/

PJ Harvey and Egyptian artist Ramy Essam have come together to write and record The Camp, and they will donate all net profits from the track to Beyond Association, a national Lebanese NGO which provides access to education, healthcare, and psycho-social support for displaced children in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon.

The video for The Camp premiered on Guardian today – it features photographs by photo-journalist Giles Duley and was edited by Rick Holbrook.

You can watch & listen The Camp here.

Previous Playlist:

Basel Rajoub

Crystalline (Omar Souleyman Remix)

Aynur Doğan

Hello Pshychaleppo

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art of resistance, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria

Without Peace, We Can’t Have Women’s Rights.

obey_middle_east_mural_20141202505809/photo: Shepard Fairey, Obey Middle East Mural/

More than a century has passed since the famous strikes of female workers in the American textile industry. For more than a century, all around the world, International Women’s Day is celebrated on the 8th of March. A century later, inequality isn’t gone. To discuss the issues of inequality and representation in the Middle East, a region often in the spotlight for violation of women’s rights, we talk with female lawyers, poets, aid workers, directors and activists from the region – Jehan Bseiso, Hind Shoufani, Roula Baghdadi, Fatima Idriss and Nagwan El-Ashwal.

In the honor of International Women’s Day, in the name of continuity of the struggle, we’re in discussion with women from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Egypt. We tackle the issues for women in general, and in the Middle East particularly. Western media usually doesn’t do justice to this topic and the mainstream discourse on Middle Eastern women is highly problematic. It’s not only about the stories written, it’s equally about the imagery that follows them – in some cases the photographs chosen to accompany the news about Middle Eastern women are less than representational of the story at hand. Let’s change that. The struggle continues, but solidarity continues too!

Jehan Bseiso: Between victims and superheros – too much of a burden

Bseiso is a Palestinian poet, researcher and aid worker. Her poetry has been published in Warscapes, The Funambulist, The Electronic Intifada, and Mada Masr among others. Her book I Remember My Name (2016) is the creative category winner of the Palestine Book Awards. Bseiso is co-editing Making Mirrors a new anthology by, for and about refugees. She is also working on a collection of poems: Conversations Continued, a compilation of real, misheard, and misremembered conversations. Bseiso has been working with Médecins sans Frontières /Doctors Without Borders since 2008.

In Jordan and Lebanon, women continue to carve out a space across all spheres at home and at work. There is a lot of incredible progress, but also so much work left to do in confronting unjust laws , like the one that lets a rapist marry his victim, permits a brother to shoot his sister in the name of “honor” and forces women to “declare pregnancy” when applying for a job.

I find that women from the MENA region are portrayed either as victims or superheroes, and that is too much of a burden, it needs to stop.  The ordinary is extraordinary and we forget that. Western media is particularly obsessed with the trope of “the oppressed Arab and Muslim woman” to an extent that first it misrepresents that story, and it overshadows any other narrative.

Concerning change – each step, however small, if it’s in the right direction it counts. The struggle for change and improvement of the situation for women in the MENA is historical and ongoing, it predates the “Arab spring” and it must necessarily continue to be allied to any call for systemic change.

Hind Shoufani: Legal system written against women

Hind Shoufani is a filmmaker and a writer, working and living in many cities in the Middle East. She’s Palestinian by blood, born in Lebanon and at heart a Beirut girl, raised in Damascus, but also lived in Jordan and held a Jordanian citizenship her whole life. Shoufani currently lives in Dubai and considers herself from all of these places. She is the founder of the Poeticians collective, where poets from all backgrounds read multilingual spoken word and poetry in Beirut and Dubai. She performed her poetry in various cities in Europe, the US and the Arab world and currently works as a freelance director/producer/writer in the UAE and the Arab region at large. Shoufani is currently making a video art feature length documentary on the sensuality, politics and religion present in the poetry and life of six female Arab poets. 

Aside from the violence against women, issues such as honor killings, assault and abuse that goes unreported and unpunished, women in the Arab world suffer the most from the legal system that is written against them. Whether based on Sharia law or civil rights law, women are never treated equally in the eyes of the law. We do not inherit assets, money or land the same way men do, we cannot pass on our citizenship to our children if their father is from a different nationality, and Christian women can be robbed of their children/assets/money if they marry a Muslim man who either divorces them, or passes away. Lebanon just removed the law that says if a rapist marries the woman he assaulted he will not be prosecuted under the legal system.

There are attempts in various countries to improve the standing of women in society as a legal citizen with rights, but it has not yet fulfilled any equality with men. This is mostly due to religion being the key reference for most arbitration in court, whether its issues of childbirth, divorce, inheritance or marriage in general. The personal status laws in the Arab world when it comes to women are abysmal and need a complete overhaul. Issues like violence against women are international issues and not specific to the Arab world, but our legal system really needs to be completely rewritten. A separation of “Church” and state is very much needed here. Sadly, there are very strong forces in the region who want to see us go back to a thousand years ago, and a massive clash of ideology is currently playing out, to very bloody and sad results.

That being said, a lot of mainstream discourse is offensive to Arab women. No one outside the region quite understands how amazingly strong Arab women are. We defy the odds and persevere every single day, we rise from swamps of hatred, prejudice, narrow minded beliefs, obstacles, violence, a legal system that treats us as inferior citizens, and we make life happen. We are doctors and poets and mothers and cleaners and dancers and teachers and warriors. This holds especially true for the Palestinian women who have resisted such a cruel occupation for over seventy years, and more recently Syrian women who are doing best to hold the sky together for themselves and their families dispersed in camps, prisons, street corners, homeless and refugeed and hated and besieged and starving.

The mainstream media is also missing a massive point. While there are hundreds of thousands of women who are struggling for a better life in the region, there are very large numbers of women who were born free, into educated and progressive and open minded families, who are leading brave and exhilarating lives. Not all of us are fighting oppression. Not all of us are in a camp, attempting to escape terrorists such as ISIS and so on. Not all of us have a brother or father who beats us. I personally know hundreds of women who have university degrees, live on their own, make their own money and are economically independent of their parents, choose their lovers, are lesbians, are artists, are outspoken activists and lawyers and nurses and teachers and poets. Many are atheists, some are spiritual, some Muslim or Christian. Free. The mainstream view of Arab women rarely showcases these stories because they are not considered sexy.

Roula Baghdadi: Without peace, we can’t have human and women’s rights

Roula Baghdadi is a Syrian lawyer. She is a part of supervisor’s legal team In Equal Citizenship Center inside Syria, and works with a legal team which defends abused women. Baghdadi is also currently doing her Master in Public law.

On the International Women’s Day, I am hoping for peace, in all of the world, for all of the people. Without peace we can’t achieve respect and fulfillment of all human and women’s rights.

Women in the region are in the worst situation, by the effects of religion and the Islamic extremism, but also totalitarian regimes. Our women today have to fight the long and strong history of thoughts and ideologies, wars, poverty… They have to deal with all of these problems to reach their rights. I believe women’s rights can’t exist without democracy, social justice, and full respect of human rights in general – in constitutions and laws and society. As a lawyer, I believe laws help societies evolve, but that still needs real development in the region.

In Middle East, women do their best. These issues will still need decades to be resolved, but we are on our path, we reject the old systems of the world – in which there’s discrimination between women and men, between black and white, between poor and rich. We reject the regime of profiling, we reject tyranny. And that is not easy.

Syrian women are sold in the markets and are whipped and are still being arrested and abducted. They are being targeted and used as a weapon of war, raped and sold, forced into marriage – particularly minors. All of the parties in Syrian war agreed to one thing, which is targeting of women. That’s why I’d like to say, once again, on the International Women’s Day – let’s work for peace, peace and peace. For all of humanity.

Fatima Idriss: It starts with people addressing immediate issues of daily life

Fatima Idriss is a general manager of Tadamon Council (Egyptian Multicultural Council for Refugees) since 2009, and one of its founders. In 2013, Idriss published a research booklet on education for refugees, which was mainly written by children and young people. She has participated in many international conferences in Europe and in the Arab world. Idriss has been working in the human rights field since 2001, with different international organizations based in Egypt, including: Save the Children – Regional office Middle East and North Africa as Child Participation officer (2004); or CARE Egypt on an awareness-raising project on SIDA (2006).

It has been proved that women still struggle globally – to be considered an equal human and citizen, and those struggles are not ending, due to multi-dimensional factors preventing women to achieve a decent amount of their basic rights.

In Middle East and Egypt particularly, being a woman is a trouble for the community on a daily basis. Women in Middle East have been heavily torn under the concept of “women rights defenders” by those who declare themselves as protectors of the rights of women, but are full of hostility and hatred for women – they are not happy as long as women don’t complete the form that they want and not what women really want. Every violence against women and sexual harassment is still seen as women’s liability, they are the ones blamed by the whole community.

Freedom is not always about grand political debates. It often starts with people addressing the immediate issues of daily life. When it comes to women controlling their lives, the current mainstream discourse on women is different  – the example of Tunisia is completely different from Egypt, and then there’s Gulf area, which is totally different from the rest. When questioning the current mainstream discourse on women as an act of justice to the reality, the answer is “NO”.

We are witnessing massive deterioration of women’s rights. We’ve gone from taking on the roles as active citizens after the Arab spring to passivity – due to limits of change in the social, economic, and political atmosphere in general. At one level, community members kept back to undercurrent burden of economic situation (Egypt as example), it keeps them so busy with the daily needs. The economic situation got the priority and that created limited space for all citizens to engage in public life – so women have less opportunity to be active.

Nagwan El-Ashwal: The issue of democracy

Nagwan El-Ashwal is from Egypt. She is PhD researcher at the European University Institute – EUI- Florence, Italy and she works on Jihadi movements in the Arab region. Also, she was a visiting PhD scholar at the Institute of International Studies at University of California at Berkeley and the chairperson of Regional Center for Mediation and Dialogue. El-Ashwal was involved with a lot of different organizations related to justice, equality and democracy in Europe and in the Middle East.

The main issue for women in the Middle East today is the issue of democracy and freedom from repressive regimes. Those regimes close the public sphere when confronted with any kind of activism.

I think that women activists in the first years of the Arab spring have enjoyed a lot with the free space where they could take part in all political activities and push society forward to get more rights – in terms of political and economical struggle. However, after what occurred – either in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen or Libya, women involved in activism are getting back to the first step. The situation is better in Tunisia but it is still dramatically bad in other cases.

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This article was also published in Croatian, on H-Alter.

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict

Rachel, Who Came To Rafah.

rachel/photo © Tom Hurndall/

Today marks thirteen years since American peace activist Rachel Corrie was killed by the Israeli military in the Palestinian city of Rafah. Today, I remember Corrie through the post I wrote two years ago, introducing her and her letters from Palestine.

In his article for The Independent Robert Fisk wrote:

“An American heroine, Rachel earned no brownie points from the Bush administration which bangs on about courage and freedom from oppression every few minutes. Rachel’s was the wrong sort of courage and she was defending the freedom of the wrong people.”

I remember Corrie through thoughts she expressed in one of her letters:

If I lived in Bosnia or Rwanda or who knows where else, needless death wouldn’t be a distant symbol to me, it wouldn’t be a metaphor, it would be a reality. And I have no right to this metaphor.

But I use it to console myself. To give a fraction of meaning to something enormous and needless. This realization. This realization that I will live my life in this world where I have privileges.

I can’t cool boiling waters in Russia. I can’t be Picasso. I can’t be Jesus. I can’t save the planet single-handedly. I can wash dishes.”

Read the full article about Corrie and her letters here.

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art of resistance, Syria

(Interview) All That’s Left Is Women Wearing Black.

_alice_pasquini_syrian_protest-women/image © Alice Pasquini, Syrian Protest Women/

I met Aida Baghdadi* in Beirut, at a conference we were both attending. She was one of the first people I noticed, standing confident, with long beautiful hair and determined look in her eyes. Baghdadi is a feminist, a lawyer working with Syrian political prisoners and abused women in refugee camps and shelters. She is well educated, passionate and strong.

I can see it in her face, the way she talks, how excited she gets when we discuss the situation in Syria and possibilites for a change. It is not easy developing civil society under the regime’s ever-present watch, but she and her fellow activists already got used to it – they meet in private apartments, basements, and sometimes – in other countries, like here, in Lebanon.

I tried to catch her to take away some time from her busy schedule and managed to spend some hours talking to her last couple of days. She tells me she has been a lawyer since 2007, and is working for the Equal Citizenship Center in Damascus.

“We work on many things, like the projects with EFI Initiative, but also different workshops and trainings. We try to educate people in Syria, talk to them about international and human rights, and build a new base, a platform for civil society. I provide legal opinion and also defend people, primarily women, in courts, informing and empowering them, to know about their rights and ask and fight for their rights”, Aida tells me.

Her eyes are fixed on an inivisible point ahead of her, like she’s remembering all the people she works with and trying to bring them to life in our conversation. She tells me how it is particularly hard to work in refugee camps inside Syria, because there’s often wrong information from the regime about the number of camps and people in them.

Women have it really hard, they are not only exposed to violence, but also discrimination in laws and the constitution. For human rights organisations it is hard to do any activity at all, human rights and women’s rights remain unimportant issues under the regime’s control or/and under the control of armed Islamist groups.

“That is what we really want to change – our laws and our constitution, because they are the basis of our society. We are working on new, better laws, for men and for women. I hope we’ll get a chance to implement them one day”, Aida explains to me.

She describes how some places in Syria have left women totally deseperate: “Women are the biggest losers of this war, and all wars, I think. Young men die, or they fight or  leave the country, all that is left in some places now are women wearing black. These are women that lost their children, their husbands, women who try to do anything, work were they can and how they can – to survive and provide for themselves”.

She explains how these issues demand changes on all levels. Her association is focused on the separation of the religion from the state – secularism and democracy, and in relation to that they work hard to introduce the concept of citizenship to Syrian people. I aks her about cooperation with religious leaders, and her answer begins with a deep sigh. “Cooperation with the religious leaders is almost impossible, it doesn’t exist. It is because they don’t want to change the situation, this is good for them, it is an envinronment in which they prosper”, she tells me.

Regime already arrested some of the people from her team, but she was lucky so far. Still, there is a constant fear that haunts her. “I am scared every time I am giving a passport at the border control – I might get arrested and just disappear and nobody will know what happened to me”, she explains.

The situation is the same for a lot of activists in Syria, and many of them are in even worse situations – at risk of arrest and murder cover-ups, not just by the regime but by Islamist groups. Comparing life in Syria now and before, she insists that good life for all people was never a reality, good life was a reality only for people with special connections, religious background, or lots of money.

She asks how it is possible that during the last ten years of Assad’s rule there were outside impressions that the economic situation is good, when there were more than two milion people below the poverty line. Talking about economy, she reflects on the economic sanctions EU imposed on Syria.

“Those sanctions did nothing to hurt the regime, it was left standing strong, because it has found other resources. But sanctions did have an impact on regular people, the poverty spread out, people were suffering, in many hospitals there was no medicines. There was a big pressure on  people in their everyday life, it’s hard to even imagine how some of them managed to survive”, Aida tells me.

She tinks that the control and support of individuals, certain groups and privileged parts of society, is what saved the regime all these years. When mentioning Daesh, she says Assad is to blame because dictators bring problems, they allow the space in which terrorism is born, and that is when the money flows in and weapons flow in.

“Daesh is a complicated web, a lot of foreigners fight for Daesh, they have good financing and, among other things,  they control a substantial amount of oil. But, you know, I don’t think it is the main problem. Keep in mind that many of their supporters are recruited from the outside, so if there is a real intention to get rid of them, it could be done.

But why is that not happening? Let’s start from 2011, when the revolution started. People went out to the streets, and the regime sent the army on the streets. As time moved on, we realized that there are rebels and radicals provided with money from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and citizens who really wanted changes found themselves between them and the regime, between two evils, two fires.

And now all of these countries joined in – Iran, Russia, Turkey, US, France – all of them with their particular interests in Syria. US and Russia mainly kill civilians with their strikes, they barely did any harm to Daesh. All of these interests are what frightens me. Even when the war ends, there is a possibility that Daesh will stay, less powerful but present, like a destabilizing factor many are counting on, like a match that can be lit up when necessary.

And all of this war, it’s all profit for the military–industrial complex, and it’s a profit many our counting on and will not be willing to let go of it. It’s also about showing off power and establishing power relations between countries, so – we have to consider so many things and not look at one thing isolated, like Daesh”, Aida explains.

She compares the situation with Iraq, saying both countries have a lot in common and might go through the same process – Syria could also have decades of instability and crippling conflicts, even after the war ends. She thinks political solutions might solve the war, but they will not heal the country, and the big question is – what will remain off the country after the war.

When talking about healing the country, she emphasizes on the issue of political prisoners Syria had  for many decades (and still has), and the massacre in Hama (1982) that is still unresolved. “Hama is important in the collective memory of the Syrian people, taking responsibility for the massacre is an important step in moving forward in our future”, she says.

In her work, she met many political prisoners. It made her realize that many people no longer find meaning in life in Syria, they feel completely helpless, and it pushes them to the edge.  “Some of them may have done some bad things, but you realize that in many cases they actually had no way out, their choice was total blackness, no matter where they turn. When you realize that, it just breaks you”, she tells me, her voice quavering. It’s hard for her to talk about all this without getting emotional.

She tells me about her friend’s husband, Bassel Safadi, a prisoner who was held captive for three years. His wife Noura knew where he was and she could visit him from time to time, but almost three months ago “somebody” came to the prison and took him away – nobody knows where he is now.  His wife was told only that he was deleted from the list of prisoners in the prison in which he was before.

waiting/Waiting by Noura Ghazi Safadi/

She and Bassel’s friends started a petition, wrote to the UN, made hashtag #freeBassel and a facebook page, in order to put pressure on the Syrian government to get an answer about his disappearance, but all efforts have so far been unsuccessful. Bassels’s wife Noura, human rights lawyer, is still relentlessly searching for answers. During the waiting period she has written a wonderful book of poetry Waiting, in which she writes, lifting her voice and recording their love story and the story of Syria.

Aida continues explaining the situation: “People get taken away and you don’t know where they are… People are leaving the country, this is like a big fire that is spreading out, all over the country, with every new country involved and fighting in Syria. You can take a couple of years of war maybe, but more than that, I don’t know.

With every new year, it gets harder and harder. There’s only as much one can take. Civil society is losing people every day, and that is why it is important to work with the young people, but you cannot insist or ask of anyone to stay in the country. People’s lives are at stake, their future is at stake. You have to understand when they say that  they want to leave. That is why it is so important to stop this war”.

Her complaint is that nobody deals with the main issue, with the source of the problem. If Europe really has issues with the refugees, she says,  if they want to stop refugees from coming to Europe, they need to do one thing  and one thing mainly – stop the war. Syrian people will stay in their country, Syrian people will come back to their country – if there is future, Aida is sure about that.

Her special hope are the women – a lot of women, strong women, women that still have some resources and are engaging in civil society efforts, but also women who are unprotected, poor women without anything and anybody – those barely surviving, but still fighting.

She wants to continue studying international law and will go for an exchange programme to Italy to study for five months, and then come back to Syria and continue her work. Finishing our conversation, she takes a deep breath. We both have tears in our eyes.

“Time goes by, with every new hour and day more people die, their lives are destroyed… I don’t want to see anyone die, not ‘regular’ people and not the regime people. I just want to work and live without the constant fear, without thinking of me or my family going to prison or dying, I want to be able to think and talk about Syrian future without sadness”, Aida concludes.

*Name changed due to security issues

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This interview was also published in Croatian, on Libela.

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art of resistance

Faces From Belgrade’s Refugee Park.

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In his poem On Fifth Avenue He Greeted Me (dedicated to Rashid Hussein), Mahmoud Darwish wrote: Are we to remain like this/Moving to the outside/In this orange day/Only to touch/The dark and vague inside?

Darwish writes about the state of exile, about being a refugee. Like I wrote recently – refugees are not a new thing. Palestinians have been refugees for so long now that being a refugee is a normal thing, it’s an identity, it’s one’s whole life. People are fleeing Afghanistan and Iraq for decades now. People are leaving Syria and Libya for years now. And that is just to name a few.

Europe is acknowledging refugees now only because they are now coming to Europe, because they are not far away, somewhere out there. And the saddest part is that this new awareness is not obtained in order to help the refugees, but in order to preserve ‘our’ borders.

That is what we need to stand up to – we need to keep on challenging the exclusive discourse of European leaders, within our countries and within Europe in general. That is what brings hope – seeing people helping other people, seeing people being open to other people – no matter what the politicians preach.

One of the lovely examples of such work is Tinka Kalajžić Ines. She’s an activist, artist, photographer, who’s currently in Belgrade volonteering with refugees.

Here are some of her photos from Belgrade’s ‘refugee park’. It’s been raining in Belgrade and the weather is getting colder, so the situation is now even worse for the refugees. All of those who would like to help (in any way) can contact Refugee Aid Serbia, they do a great job in Miksalište (place where lots of refugees come for donations).

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//all photos © Tinka Kalajžić//

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Be sure to follow Tinka on facebook for more stories and photos from Belgrade. I also recommend following Refugee Aid Serbia, No Borders, and Help the refugees in Macedonia for finding out more about the ways you can help and get involved.

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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, Egypt

BuSSy: A Place For Untold Gender Stories.

bussy svjedočanstvo

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.

nadia

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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