Last week in the Middle East and North Africa, morality-related events constituted the majority of religious repression and conflict, while repression of religious minorities also continued unabated. In Egypt, authorities banned the American superhero film, Eternals, for containing scenes which were described as contradicting the values of Egyptian society. In Iraq, a criminal court sentenced a man to three months imprisonment for wearing a dress, and the governor of Najaf issued a directive banning musical concerts in Najaf city halls and public parks. In Yemen, a pro-Houthi court sentenced a prominent Yemeni model and actress to five years imprisonment on charges of prostitution and drug abuse. In Iran, two citizens were sentenced to death on charges of adultery and sexual relations outside of marriage, while the persecution of Baha’is and Christian converts continued in several provinces. In Israel, a preliminary proposal for a bill on the expansion of the definition of racism to include incitement against the Haredi community was passed in the Knesset.
Authorities imposed state-sanctioned morality in Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, and Iran last week. In Egypt, authorities banned the American superhero film, Eternals, hours before its first screening because it included scenes that portrayed “homosexual sex” and that “questioned God’s divinity” (Al Araby Al Jadeed, 10 November, 2021). The movie had also previously been banned in several Gulf countries including in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and Bahrain.
Meanwhile in Iraq, the Kerbala Criminal Court sentenced a man to three months imprisonment last week for wearing a wedding dress in a wedding procession on a street in Kerbala. The sentence was issued in accordance with the Kerbala Sanctification Law, which prohibits “any activity or practice that leads to the desecration of the holy city” (NINA, 12 November 2021). The individual in question and two others were arrested in late October 2021 for holding a “a gay marriage,” which the accused maintained was just a joke. Also in Iraq, the governor of Al Najaf province last week prohibited musical concerts in Najaf city halls and public parks to preserve the “sanctity of the city” (Shia Waves, 9 November 2021). The directive is the first of its kind to be reported in Iraq, outside of Ramadan, during which all concerts are prohibited nationwide (Al Mawqif, 1 April 2021).
In Yemen, a pro-Houthi court sentenced a prominent Yemeni model and actress to five years imprisonment last week on charges of prostitution and drug abuse. Reports suggest that authorities targeted the model, who was arrested in June 2020, because of her public persona and her appearance in photographs online without a headscarf, defying strict societal norms set by pro-Houthi authorities (BBC, 8 November 2021). Furthermore, pro-Houthi authorities transferred women teachers in the Mohammed Ad Durrah Secondary School in Sanaa to another school, citing gender-mixing as a pretext for the transfer. The pro-Houthi government frequently targets Yemeni women with harassment or restrictive policies under the pretext of opposing ‘immorality’ and ‘gender-mixing.’ In Iran last week, judicial authorities sentenced two citizens to death in the city of Tehran for “adultery and sexual relationships outside of marriage” (HRANA, 6 November 2021).
In Egypt and Iran, religious minorities were subjected to discrimination last week. In Egypt, a school principal and teachers in Izbat Bushra Hanna in Menia governorate incited Muslim students to assault their Christian classmates (CSW, 10 November 2021). The Muslim teachers and students tore off the Christian student’s crosses worn as necklaces and destroyed them. The assault allegedly started as a fistfight between a Muslim student and a Christian student that evolved into a general assault on all Christian students. The Egyptian Directorate of Education initiated an investigation into the incident (Copts United, 9 November, 2021).
In Iran, state prosecution of non-Twelver Shiite religious communities continued last week. In Mazandaran province, Iranian authorities confiscated several farms and lands belonging to Baha’i citizens in Rowshan Kuh village under the pretext that they were illegally built on lands classified as ‘forests.’ The Iranian government has targeted Baha’i properties in Rowshan Kuh in the past as part of an ongoing policy of systematic discrimination and harassment of Baha’is and other religious minorities in Mazandaran province. Iranian police forces also sealed nine Baha’i-owned businesses last week in Babol and Qaem Shahr in Mazandaran province. Observant Baha’is close their businesses on a number of Baha’i holidays, and the Iranian government uses this as a way of identifying Baha’i-owned businesses to shut them down (HRANA, 8 November 2021). Meanwhile, a Revolutionary Court summoned three Christian converts from Islam in Karaj to serve five-year sentences on charges of undertaking “deviant propaganda and educational activities contrary to the holy Sharia [law] of Islam” (HRANA, 9 November 2021).
Last week in Israel, the Knesset plenum approved a bill calling for an expansion of the definition of racism to include the Haredi community during a preliminary reading. Despite the ruling coalition’s opposition, the proposal passed and will be forwarded to the Knesset committee. The explanatory memorandum to the proposal cites the “recent expanding phenomenon of incitement to racism against the Haredi community” as the main reason for the proposal (Kikar HaShabbat, 10 November 2021). This law is proposed because the current penal code in Israel only defines racism on the basis of color, racial affiliation or national ethnic origin; which does not apply to the Haredi community (OECD, 1977). Meanwhile, members of the appointing committee for new rabbis in Israel — primarily consisting of Haredi religious leaders — boycotted the committee’s deliberations in opposition to the latest policies of the Minister of Religious Services Matan Kahana. Boycotting rabbis accused Kahana, who also serves as the committee chair, of “desecrating Judaism and ruining it” (Kikar HaShabbat, 8 November 2021). Kahana has proposed several rounds of religious reform, including recent proposed changes to Kashrut supervision as well as laws pertaining to the appointment of women as rabbis. The reforms have been met with widespread opposition from the Haredi religious establishment.
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