Mona Eltahawy at PostGlobal

Mona Eltahawy

New York City, NY, USA

Mona Eltahawy is an award-winning syndicated columnist and an international lecturer on Arab and Muslim issues. Before she moved to the U.S. in 2000, she was a news reporter in the Middle East, including in Cairo and Jerusalem as a Reuters correspondent. She also reported from the region for Britain's The Guardian and U.S. News and World Report. She has lived in Egypt, the UK, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, and is currently based in New York. Close.

Mona Eltahawy

New York City, NY, USA

Mona Eltahawy is an award-winning syndicated columnist and an international lecturer on Arab and Muslim issues. Before she moved to the U.S. in 2000, she was a news reporter in the Middle East, including in Cairo and Jerusalem as a Reuters correspondent. She also reported from the region for Britain's The Guardian and U.S. News and World Report. She has lived in Egypt, the UK, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, and is currently based in New York. more »

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January 2, 2009 11:25 AM

Israel, Opium of the People

NEW YORK - "Why aren't you as an Arab lady writing about Gaza?"

"Where are your columns about Gaza?"

"Say the Israelis are wrong!"

The messages started to arrive soon after Israel's bombardment of Gaza killed close to 300 Palestinians. Implicit was the pressure to toe the party line, Hamas is good, Israel is bad. Say it, say it! Or else you're not Arab enough, you're not Muslim enough, you're not enough.

But what to say about a conflict that for more than 60 years now has fed Arab and Israeli senses of victimhood and their respective demands to stop everything else we're doing and pay attention to their fights because what's the slaughter of anyone else - be they in Darfur, Congo or anywhere else - compared to their often avoidable bloodletting?

Hasn't it all been said before? Has nothing been learned?

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November 1, 2008 10:25 PM

'Doha Debates' Pick Obama for Mideast

DOHA - What if the rest of the world had a say in the U.S. Elections?

Well, a large part of it did during the latest episode of "The Doha Debates"- a monthly forum on Arab and Muslim issues aired on BBC World to a potential audience of nearly 300 million viewers across 200 countries. The result was a resounding "no" for Sen. John McCain.

Interestingly, the overwhelming majority which voted against a motion suggesting McCain was better for the Middle East didn't necessarily think Sen. Barack Obama would make a better president. Some in the 350-strong audience expressed ambivalence about both candidates.

But when they were asked to vote at the end of a lively and at times contentious debate between a pro-McCain team and a pro-Obama team, 87 percent of the audience voted against the motion "This House believes the Middle East would be better off with John McCain in the White House."

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May 22, 2008 3:23 PM

Arab Bloggers Keep Watch Over Government – And Each Other

The Current Discussion: Egypt has detained a number of its citizens for using the social networking site Facebook to organize anti-government protests. What online sites are most effective in influencing politics -- and is the impact positive?

President Hosni Mubarak, who recently turned 80, has ruled Egypt for 26 years. What compels his regime to arrest and bully young people - who have known no other leader – simply for creating Facebook groups to call for a general strike in support of the poor and to protest spiraling food prices?

The Saudi Arabian royal family is firmly in charge of its kingdom and oil wealth. What compels it to detain a blogger without charge for four months because he defended the rights of dissidents?

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, once hailed as Mr. Technology for his keenness to get Syria online and connected, is also firmly in control in Syria. So what compels his regime to block Syrians from accessing Facebook and to arrest and bully the same young people who took him at his earlier word and went online and got connected by blogging?

A desire to express themselves and a determination to use blogs and social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace to circumvent censorship has created a thrilling equation in the Arab world: one man/woman + internet = very angry dictator.

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February 9, 2008 7:24 PM

Fed Up With Headscarves

I am a Muslim. I wore a headscarf for nine years. And I am fed up with headscarves.

I’m fed up that every conversation about Muslim women begins and ends with headscarves. I’m fed up that secularists and Islamists alike are obsessed with headscarves. I’m fed up that the fights between the two sides always take place over women’s heads – literally and figuratively. Women rarely get a say in such arguments – just their hair and what’s on it is deemed more important.

Of course it was ridiculous to prohibit women from wearing headscarves on Turkish university campuses. How awful that women had to choose between an education and what they believed was a religious requirement. Many of those women would wear wigs on campus as an attempt at reconciliation.

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January 30, 2008 1:51 PM

Change? Competence? Egypt Has Neither

The Current Discussion: With the U.S. presidential primary season in full swing, there's a lot of talk here about "change" vs. "competence" in leadership. Which does your country have more of? Is that a good thing?

I am writing this on the plane taking me back to New York from Cairo, my hometown. Almost every conversation I had during the three weeks I spent in Egypt revolved around the decay and increasing poverty that continues to tighten its grip on my country. So my heart aches just to consider “change” vs. “competence”.

They are words that have been erased from modern Egypt’s political lexicon by a succession of military dictators who have ruled since a coup in 1952. The latest one, President Hosni Mubarak, has been in power since his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, was assassinated at the end of 1981. For the past 26 years, Mubarak has ruled Egypt with little regard for competence or change and he is said to be grooming his son Gamal, a former banker, to inherit his regime. So much for any competence or change on the horizon.

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December 29, 2007 12:51 PM

Pakistan's Hope Under House Arrest

In 1988, when Hilary Clinton was still just the wife of the governor of Arkansas, Benazir Bhutto became the first female prime minister in the Muslim world. She was just 35. Her election victory could not have come at a better time for this Muslim woman.

I was 21, returning home to my country of birth, Egypt, a newly minted feminist after six difficult years in Saudi Arabia where women couldn’t drive – let alone contemplate a career in politics.

How great it was to see a Muslim woman ruling a country. There was Bhutto making redundant all those arguments our clerics love to have over women – our bodies, our minds, our lives. Could a woman lead a country? Hell, yes, Bhutto’s victory yelled!

After Bhutto, we got Tansu Ciller in Turkey, Beghum Khaleda Zia in Bangladesh and President Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia. But Bhutto was the first.

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December 22, 2007 2:06 PM

Afghans Must Face Truth About Taboos

The Question: The producers of the movie "The Kite Runner" had to evacuate three boy actors from Afghanistan because they were involved in a scene portraying homosexual rape. Who's at fault here: the movie producers who exposed the boys to danger, or the Afghan culture that threatens them?

It’s easy to say, “A plague on both your houses,” to The Kite Runner’s producers for exposing the Afghan child actors to danger and to the Afghans who are threatening those boys.

Naive doesn’t even begin to describe The Kite Runner’s filmmakers. Yes, it was commendable for the novel’s author Khaled Hosseini to smash a taboo like male rape in his novel. But by recruiting Afghan child actors who actually live in the country to carry out that taboo-smashing, the filmmakers left it to children to absorb the anger of those who hate self-criticism of any kind.

We are talking about a country where the Taliban are resurgent in some areas, but more importantly where their brand of ultra-orthodox zealotry is shared by many and cuts across sects and ethnic groups.

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December 12, 2007 10:45 AM

The Arab World’s Nuclear Envy

The Middle East is a much safer place if Iran doesn’t have nuclear weapons. And I’m not just talking about Israel.

Forget Israel for a moment and you’ll see that the region is far from being united on the Iranian nuclear issue. Don’t believe for a second the hype over the “Muslim bomb.” It has nothing to do with “Muslim” and everything to do with “Arab” and “Persian,” and more to the point, “Sunni” and “Shi’ite”.

Various Arab leaders have made their disdain for Iran clear over the past few years - from Jordan’s King Abdullah’s warning of the “Shi’ite Crescent” to Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak who claimed last year that Shi’ite Muslims citizen of Arab countries were more loyal to Iran than to their home countries.

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December 6, 2007 11:00 AM

Time to Redefine “Leftist”

The poor aren’t stupid.

Hugo Chavez is finally beginning to understand that. His hard lesson learned is also a great one for my part of world, the Middle East, where our dictators regularly make outrageous statements such as “the people aren’t ready for democracy” – codeword for, “the poor are stupid”.

Thank you, Venezuelans! Thank you for showing that you weren’t fooled by “incentives” - social security for informal workers and popular participation in government. Thank you for showing that whether poor or rich, and despite those “incentives”, voters pay attention when a leader wants to start dismantling democracy by scrapping presidential term limits and consolidating his control over a country even further.

If being a leftist means assuming the poor are stupid, then Venezuelans and Latin Americans in general are well to be rid of that kind of leftist thought.

The term leftist is long overdue for a redefinition anyway.

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November 29, 2007 9:38 AM

Real Solutions Won’t Come from Summits

Whenever the Arab League gets together for it bi-annual meetings, journalists in Cairo – where the pan-Arab body is based – joke they can write the final communiqué themselves as they wait for the officials to come out of their meetings and talk to the media. Seven years might have passed since the last major Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, but the same things are always said at these summits so we might as well have played the Cairo press packs’ game of inking the final statement ourselves.

Being in the region – I was in Cairo at the beginning of November and I’m writing this from Tel Aviv – it’s easy to see why Annapolis produced nothing new: both Arab and Israeli politics have failed to produce anything new for years now.

I was a correspondent for Reuters News Agency in Jerusalem in 1998. I came back this week for the first time in nine years so that I could speak at a Tel Aviv University conference marking the 30th anniversary of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat’s surprise visit to Israel, which I wrote about in my last column. To this day, I am still in trouble with Egyptian State Security for living in Israel.

Surveying the Israeli political scene since my return, it was as if the major players have spent the past nine years engaged in a bizarre game of musical chairs. The same names are still on the scene – they’re just sitting in different chairs.

On the Palestinian political scene, resist the temptation to confuse combustibility with change or new ideas. Just as they were back in the 1990s, Fatah and Hamas are still fighting it out - only more overtly now. New and alternative voices are pushed aside, discouraged and marginalized.

In Egypt, it’s just the regime and the Muslim Brotherhood on the political stage at the moment, and it looks like our republic will give birth to dynastic politics that will install the president’s son into the presidency. It’s no wonder that with the same man ruling for the past twenty-six years, Egypt – long considered the leader of the Arab world – has run out of ideas.

And so on and so forth.

Old and stale ideas are natural outcomes of old and stale politicians. Just because President Bush – fourteen months away from the end of his presidency - has suddenly realized he’s done nothing substantial to push along peace, that doesn’t mean that his invitations to the White House this week alone are sufficient.

On the political level in the Middle East, I am resolutely pessimistic. Annapolis didn’t change that.

Where it did help, though, was to provide a poignant backdrop for the Tel Aviv University conference on Nov. 28 and 29. As Dr. Mira Tzoreff, an Egypt expert at The Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, was planning the conference this summer, President Bush gave her quite a gift by saying he’d host the Annapolis talks sometime in November.

So as we meet for the conference to discuss Israeli-Egyptian relations thirty years after that historic visit, there are lessons to be learned from the Camp David peace treaty that are useful for all peace talks.

The young Egyptians I interviewed for my conference presentation embodied those lessons. They were all born after Sadat’s visit. In other words, for their entire lives, Egypt has been at peace with Israel. And yet although those young people disagreed on support for Sadat’s peace initiative, they all shared a negative attitude towards Israel. Unless Israel made peace with the Palestinians and ended its occupation, they said, they would never accept it.

Hostility towards Israel can also be traced to the Egyptian regime’s continued scapegoating of Israel over the years – made easier by Israel’s continued settlement expansion and its heavy-handed attacks on Lebanon last summer.

Thirty years after making peace, Israeli journalists who visit Egypt are often snubbed and Egyptians refuse to visit Israel altogether.

Even so, Dr. Tzoreff insists she will never lose her optimism. It takes nerves of steel to be an Israeli academic organizing a conference to mark the 30th anniversary of an Egyptian leader’s visit. The Egyptian ambassador didn’t take part in the opening night’s proceedings, sending his number two instead. I am the only Egyptian invited who agreed to come. I know there aren’t any Egyptian academics who organized similar conferences to which they invited Israelis. And yet those young Egyptians who were uniformly negative in their attitudes towards Israel were still curious to hear how Israelis viewed them and reacted to their comments at the Tel Aviv University conference.

Many co-existence efforts go unnoticed, but it is these “non-political” actors who are coming up with the new ideas. The leaders at Annapolis have run out of them.

PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send us your comments, questions and suggestions.