Last week in the Middle East and North Africa, religious ceremonies led to increased incidents of religious repression, and morality-related events continued to lead to increased harassment. In Bahrain, the commemoration of the death of the Ninth Twelver Shiite Imam led to increased harassment by the state against the Shiite community. In Israel, Haredi citizens criticized the alleged desecration of Shabbat due to the resumption of bus services on Saturday evening. While in Palestine, increased instances of settler desecration of Al Aqsa mosque were reported in the lead up to Eid Al Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice). In Iraq, Muqtada Al Sadr announced that his coalition will not be participating in the upcoming parliamentary elections scheduled on 10 October. In Iran, state authorities continue to persecute religious minorities and repurposed a number of buildings used by religious minorities.
Last week in Bahrain, Shiite citizens carried out annual religious ceremonies commemorating the death of Ninth Twelver Shiite Imam Muhammad Al Jawad, exacerbating friction with state authorities. Police forces summoned around 90 Shiite Bahrainis to police stations in Manama, Al Diraz, Sanabis, and Nabih Saleh and questioned them about their participation in Shiite mourning processions (14 February Revolution Youth Coalition, 13 July 2021). Furthermore, police ordered four individuals from among those summoned in Al Diraz, to pay a fine of 1,000 BHD (approximately 2,500 USD) in order to be released. They were accused of breaking COVID-19 social distancing measures during the processions (Bahrain Alyoum, 15 July 2021). In previous years, reports of Bahraini state repression against Shiite Muslims have increased close to the month of Muharram, which commences next week (ADHRB, 5 October 2020). Shiite Muslims commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, one of the most foundational events of Shiite history, on the tenth day of Muharram, and thus the month often sees heightened levels of Shiite activism.
Last week in Israel, Haredi Jewish citizens protested against the alleged desecration of Shabbat through the resumption of bus services in various Haredi neighborhoods on Saturday evenings. In Petah Tikva, rabbis blamed the alleged desecration for the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in the city (Kikar HaShabbat, 15 July 2021). In Palestine, settlers carried out several acts of desecration at Al Aqsa mosque and the Islamic tomb of Hudhah in Tubas last week, the week prior to Eid Al Adha.
In Iraq, prominent Shiite cleric and leader of the Sadrist Movement, Muqtada Al Sadr, whose Alliance Toward Reform bloc is currently the largest in parliament, announced his withdrawal from the upcoming Iraqi national election on 10 October (The Arab Weekly, 15 July 2021). While Al Sadr did not give any reasons behind his withdrawal, many speculated that his withdrawal followed the Political Committee’s calculations that the Sadr movement would not “win more than 30 seats in the upcoming elections”(Al Monitor, 19 July 2021). While Al Sadr did not give any reasons behind his withdrawal, many speculate that his withdrawal follows the Political Committee’s calculations that the Sadr movement would not “win more than 30 seats in the upcoming elections” (Al Monitor, 19 July 2021). Al Sadr also declared that he will not give his support or blessing to any political party running in the elections (Al Monitor, 19 July 2021). However, while some of Al Sadr’s parliamentary supporters have publicly declared their withdrawal from the upcoming elections, the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) announced that it had received no official withdrawal requests (Al Sumaria TV, 15 July 2021).
In Iran, the government once again targeted religious minorities last week, forcibly repurposing several religious buildings, in a first this year. Iranian authorities converted the Orthodox Church of Cantor in Qazvin province into a handicrafts workshop (HRANA, 15 July 2021). Meanwhile, the historical residence of the Episcopalian Bishop of Iran was converted into a museum in Isfahan province (Mohabat News Agency, 15 July 2021).
At the same time, Iranian authorities continue to prosecute people for breaking the country’s strict ban on gender-mixing. Iranian police arrested a fabric shop owner and four female models he hired in the city of Mahabad last week, after videos showing the models unveiled during the opening ceremony of the shop went viral on social media (HRANA, 12 July 2021). Meanwhile in Yemen, pro-Houthi forces stormed a wedding in Amran city over the violation of a ban on singing at weddings (Aden al Ghad, 11 July 2021). The pro-Houthi forces destroyed musical instruments during the raid, and arrested the groom and wedding singers.
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