Last week in the Middle East and North Africa, state forces targeted dissident religious and sexual minorities, and some morality-related events were also reported. In Egypt, judicial authorities denied a transgender prisoner legal recognition of her gender, while Iraqi police forces arrested three men on the charge of holding a ‘gay wedding.’ In Iran, regime forces arrested Instagram administrators and summoned an actress and theater director for failing to abide by the state’s Islamic morality code. In Yemen and Iran, authorities forcibly closed down mosques belonging to dissident Muslim groups, with regime forces in Iran shutting down a Sunni mosque and pro-Houthi forces in Yemen raiding and closing Salafi mosques and centers. In Israel, the kashrut (kosher) market reform bill passed the first round of approval in parliament, which led to widespread protests amongst the Haredi community and kashrut supervisors. In East Jerusalem, violent clashes erupted once again between Palestinians and Israeli security forces at the site of a Muslim cemetery where construction work is taking place.
Last week in Egypt and Iraq, state authorities targeted sexual and gender minorities with judicial harassment. In Egypt, the Supreme Administrative Court rejected an appeal raised by a transgender woman to devote specific cells in prisons and police stations to trangender persons for “absence of interest” (Madamasr, 23 October, 2021). Moreover, she was forced to appear at all court sessions, as authorities prevented her from signing over power of attorney to her lawyer, as her ID does not match her gender identity (Madamasr, 23 October, 2021). In Iraq, police forces arrested three men for holding a ‘gay wedding,’ in a reference to a video filmed by the men and uploaded to social media that involved one of the arrestees wearing a wedding gown. The men claimed that the video was made as a joke, but the government’s Security Media Cell released a statement in which it accused the men of “trifling with public morals” (NRT News, 28 October 2021). LGBT+ Iraqis hold a precarious position in Iraqi society; they suffer from both systematic discrimination and a lack of legal protection from the government, as well as deadly violence from Islamist militias and state forces (VOA, 9 April 2021).
Last week in Iran, state forces judicially harassed Iranians who did not adhere to the regime’s interpretation of Islamic morality. In Mazandaran province, cyber police forces arrested 17 Instagram page administrators for “promoting the Western lifestyle, publishing immoral images, and using models in advertisements” (HRANA, 28 October 2021). Meanwhile in Tehran, a committee from the Performing Arts Department in the Ministry of Culture summoned an actress and the director of a theater show after a video of the actress singing alone went viral on social media. The video was recorded backstage of the show and the actress published it on her Instagram account. The committee considered it as an advertisement for the show and summoned the director and actress. The Iranian regime prohibits women from singing alone in front of a male or mixed-gender audience, based on a Shiite interpretation of Islamic law. Iranian authorities have prosecuted musicians who flouted this prohibition and have banned their works in the past (France 24, 13 February 2019).
In Yemen and Iran, state authorities shut down Muslim institutions belonging to dissident religious Muslim groups last week. In Yemen, pro-Houthi forces resumed targeting Salafi religious institutions. They raided and seized the Salafi At Tawfiq Mosque and its adjoining Quran memorization center in Sanaa city, converting them into “Houthi congregation centers where video sermons of the movement’s leader are played” (Al Asimah, 23 October 2021). Pro-Houthi forces also raided and closed a Salafi mosque and education center in Jarashah village, west of Dhamar city. Pro-Houthi authorities have been systematically raiding, closing down, and confiscating Salafi-run mosques and religious institutions since at least June 2021. In Iran, security forces cordoned off a Sunni mosque in the city of Rasak in Baluchestan during Friday prayers and searched worshippers under the pretext of a bomb threat issued by an Afghani armed group. Sunni sources, however, suggest that the regime fabricated the bomb threat to harass Sunnis, citing a previous incident in which the regime restricted the movement of Sunni clerics in Baluchestan due to supposed “Israel assassination attempts” targeting them (Sunni News, 24 October 2021).
Meanwhile, in Yemen, pro-Houthi authorities gave an unidentified number of mosque preachers across Al Bayda governorate, who are unaffiliated with the Houthi Movement, a week to leave their posts, declaring that they will be replaced with pro-Houthi preachers.
In Israel, a kashrut market reform bill passed a Knesset committee hearing last week, prompting demonstrations by kashrut supervisors and Haredi citizens. The bill, proposed by the Minister of Religious Affairs Matan Kahana in July 2021, will abolish the current kashrut certification system under which only local rabbinates can certify that a restaurant or other food business is kosher (The Jerusalem Post, 27 October 2021). In its place, independent kashrut authorities will be allowed to certify any business requesting their services, with the Chief Rabbinate operating as a supervisory body to ensure compliance with kashrut standards (The Jerusalem Post, 27 October 2021). The Chief Rabbinate and Haredi citizens have staunchly opposed these reforms, with at least two protest events by kashrut supervisors and Haredi citizens taking place in Tel Aviv and Yavne cities. Meanwhile, local Israeli businessmen have welcomed the move, which many see will create competition, lower costs, and provide businesses with more leverage (Haaretz, 27 July 2021). The bill will now advance to a second and third reading in the Knesset plenum (Times of Israel, 27 October 2021).
Meanwhile, in East Jerusalem, clashes were reported between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli forces at the historic Al Youssoufyia Muslim cemetery, after Israeli authorities resumed construction work at the site to make way for a Toratic theme park and biblical gardens (The New Arab, 11 October 2021). Since the start of the works by Israeli authorities three weeks ago, Palestinians have increased their presence at the cemetery, with repeated violent clashes and arrests taking place between Israeli authorities and Palestinians. Last week, following the resumption of demolition works on 25 October, Palestinian Muslim worshippers flocked to the cemetery to perform prayers as a form of protest. Israeli security forces responded with force and evacuated the worshippers from the site. This led to heightened tensions throughout the week, with multiple demonstration events and violent clashes. Amid ongoing works at the cemetery, it will likely be the site of further clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians.
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