Last week in the Middle East and North Africa, state authorities continued their imposition of state-sanctioned morality and religious norms. In Yemen, pro-Houthi authorities seized a local Quran radio station and desecrated a mosque as part of an ongoing campaign to impose their ideology. In Iraq, the governor of Babil prohibited the establishment of liquor stores, two weeks after a government body approved a permit to establish a store in the governorate. In Iran, police forces shut down several restaurants and cafes for morality-related reasons. In Israel, the government announced a proposal for religious reform of Jewish institutions, as Haredi demonstrators clashed with police and attacked women’s activists calling for gender equality at the Western Wall.
Last week in Yemen, pro-Houthi authorities continued to target religious infrastructure in an effort to impose Houthi ideology on Yemenis, desecrating a mosque in the process. In Bayhan district, pro-Houthi forces stormed a local Quran radio station, stopped its broadcast and forced the station to broadcast pro-Houthi zamils (traditional poems) and sermons by Hussein Al Houthi, the Houthi Movement’s former leader. In Usaylan district, pro-Houthi forces stormed and seized the Abdullah bin Masoud mosque in Al Safhah village. They burned down the mosque’s library, transformed the women’s musalla (prayer area) into a storage space for fuel supplies, and turned the imam’s private chambers into headquarters for their forces. Pro-Houthi authorities have been conducting systematic campaigns to enforce Yemenis’ “ideological commitment” to the Houthi movement and mobilize resources for their war efforts.
In Iraq and Iran, several morality-related events were reported last week. In Iraq, the governor of Babil issued a directive prohibiting the establishment of liquor stores in the governorate. The governor justified the prohibition by claiming that selling alcohol “causes social risks that contradict with Islamic values” (NINA, 1 November 2021). This prohibition comes two weeks after the Iraqi Tourism Board approved a permit for a warehouse to sell alcoholic drinks in Babil. The sale of alcohol is a controversial practice in Iraq, with both conservative Shiite political parties and fundamentalist armed groups increasingly targeting the sale and consumption of alcohol in recent years. Meanwhile, in Iran, police forces shut down and sealed several restaurants and cafes in Khorramshahr for “playing live music and publishing norm-breaking advertisements online” (HRANA, 4 November 2021). In addition, Iranian police arrested two people, one in Tabriz and the other in Marvdasht, for publishing videos and images of female models wearing veils that police deemed to be ‘inappropriate.’ These arrests in Iran are part of a larger campaign by the regime to impose its interpretation of Islamic values on the populace and punish those breaking its strict morality laws. Between January and September 2021, ACLED-Religion records 98 religious imposition events in Iran involving state forces targeting morality-related issues, like women’s attire, gender-mixing, and inappropriate audiovisual content.
In Iraq, prominent Shiite cleric and leader of the Sadrist Movement, Muqtada Al Sadr, announced last week the formation of a committee to “correct the path” of Saraya Al Salam, the movement’s armed militia and member of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). The new committee will oversee the militia’s “religious, ethical, jihadist, military, security, and intelligence affairs” (NRT TV, 3 November 2021). Al Sadr had previously ordered the closure of Saraya offices across the country on 29 October — except in Baghdad, Najaf, and Salah Al Din governorates — as part of a purported move to disarm the Saraya (NRT TV, 3 November 2021).
In Iran, the regime continued its systematic campaign of repression against the Baha’i minority last week. In Damavand city, a Revolutionary Court sentenced a Bahai citizen to two years of imprisonment on the charge of “acting against national security by membership in and running of a Baha’i organization” (HRANA, 5 November 2021). Meanwhile, a Revolutionary Court in Shiraz city sentenced six Baha’is to a combined total of 19 years and six months of imprisonment for similar charges. Lastly, a Court of Appeals in Babol city confirmed a previous verdict that sentenced a Baha’i person to one year of imprisonment on charges of anti-government activities.
In Israel, the Minister of Religious Services Matan Kahana proposed the establishment of an organizational framework within the ministry for examining and granting women qualifications for the obtainment of knowledge of Jewish law, Halacha (Jerusalem Post, 7 November 2021). The proposal would circumvent the Chief Rabbinate of Israel’s refusal to allow women to obtain these qualifications (Jerusalem Post, 6 August 2020). Local women’s advocacy groups have stated that the ministry’s proposal will likely take too long to be implemented and have suggested quicker alternatives such as filing a petition against the Chief Rabbinate in the High Court of Justice (Jerusalem Post, 7 November 2021). A High Court hearing on the petition is scheduled before the end of November. The Rabbinate for its part has stated its complete opposition to the move and declared that they would discontinue testing “if they were forced to accept women’s candidacy for rabbinical tests” (Haderi Ha Haredeem, 5 November 2021).
Meanwhile, in East Jerusalem, thousands of Haredi Jews gathered at the Western Wall once again to demonstrate monthly prayers held by the Women of the Wall campaign for gender equality at the site (Haaretz, 5 November 2021). These monthly prayers are often marred by controversy and minor clashes between police and Haredi Jews attempting to block the women’s prayers at the site. The demonstrations last week were called by Haredi Knesset members, who decided at the last minute not to join the demonstrations which turned riotous (Jerusalem Post, 6 November 2021). For decades the Women of the Wall group has campaigned for equality of worship at the wall, one of Judaism’s holiest sites, where men and women pray in separate areas (Washington Post, 5 November 2021). The group was met with violence from the police and Haredi demonstrators at the Western Wall as they tried to enter the plaza holding Torah scrolls (which is forbidden by the Haredi authorities in charge of the Western Wall) and carried empty Torah mantles to the prayer area.
Last week in Egypt, the Ministry of Religious Endowments announced a ban on all non-government approved forms of money collection, including donations for charity (zakat), inside or around mosques. Only vow (nadhir) boxes, found in specific mosques, will remain exempt from government oversight (Al Shorouk, 5 November 2021). The government has declared that the removal of donation boxes from mosques is “to achieve the highest levels of transparency… and legalizing the process of fundraising in light of financial digitization and financial inclusion” (Egypt Today, 7 November 2021). This decision, however, was criticized by some religious leaders who have voiced concerns that this decision could discourage people to donate, if they have to go to a bank (Arabi21, 7 November 2021).
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