Last week in the Middle East and North Africa, state authorities prosecuted citizens for morality-related charges in Iraq, Iran, and Yemen. Meanwhile, in Iraq, a militant group targeted a Christian family that sells alcohol with an explosive device. In Yemen, local pro-Houthi authorities circulated a document constricting women’s marriage rights and freedom of movement. In Israel, proposed government reforms to the Jewish conversion system led to calls for protests to oppose the reforms.
Last week in Iraq, Iran, and Yemen, both state actors and non-state armed groups engaged in morality-related events. In Iraq, unknown militants detonated an explosive device in Amara city, targeting the residence of a Christian family that sells alcoholic drinks. The explosion caused material damage. Attacks against shops and people selling alcoholic drinks have increased in frequency in recent years. Meanwhile, police forces arrested a woman accused of practicing sorcery in Baghdad governorate (Shafaaq News, 1 December 2021). Iraqi authorities criminalize certain acts associated with sorcery and folk Islam, such as exorcising Jinns and making lucky charms and curses.1The Jinn are mythological creatures found in Islam and that originate from pre-Islamic Arabian beliefs. Some Muslims believe that they are capable of possessing human beings. The Iraqi Ministry of Interior introduced a ban on businesses offering ‘magical’ services, such as exorcisms, in Baghdad and southern Iraq in 2017, and Kurdish authorities conducted a security campaign against such businesses in July 2021 (Shafaaq News, 11 July 2021). In Iran, a Court of Appeals confirmed an earlier guilty verdict and sentenced the CEO of the Divar e-commerce platform to three months of imprisonment last week on the charge of “promoting impurity and indecency” (HRANA, 27 November 2021). The businessman was convicted over user advertisements on the platform for services such as mixed-gender massages and prostitution (HRANA, 27 November 2021). Iranian authorities often target owners of online businesses: in October 2020, Iranian authorities had also prosecuted owners of online businesses for their users’ activities. A Revolutionary Court sentenced the CEO of Aparat, an Iranian video-sharing website, to 12 years of imprisonment after users uploaded and shared a sex education video (HRANA, 27 October 2020). Additionally, Iranian cyber police forces arrested a photographer in Kerman city and five other people in North Khorasan province for “publishing immoral content on social media” (IRNA, 30 November 2021; HRANA, 30 November 2021). Finally, in Yemen, pro-Houthi police forces raided an underground alcohol factory in Hadda last week and arrested two Somali workers for possession of alcohol.
In Yemen last week, pro-Houthi authorities expanded restrictions on Yemeni women in areas under their control. Local pro-Houthi authorities in Iyal Surayh district and Radaa city circulated a document specifying the mehr2Mehr is the Islamic opposite of a dowry. Whereas a dowry is a price the bride’s family must pay to the groom to marry her, the mehr is the price the groom has to pay to the bride herself (or her family) to marry her. for virgin women at one million riyals and for non-virgin ones at 500,000 rials. The document also bans the playing of all music and singing at weddings, and prohibits women from gathering for social occasions at nighttime.
Last week in Israel, Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana released another package of religious reforms, targeting the Jewish conversion system. The proposed reforms would allow municipal chief rabbis to conduct Jewish conversions, to ease the conversion process for people of Jewish descent that are not considered Jewish under religious law (Jerusalem Post, 3 December 2021). The proposal comes at a time of mounting tensions within the religious community, with a group of prominent rabbis affiliated with the national-religious party issued a call last week for protests against government policies on religion and state (Times of Israel, 2 December 2021). Within the Knesset itself, the two Haredi political parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, announced the establishment of a joint committee to fight the government’s religious reforms. These proposed religious reforms are expected to continue to create tensions within the Israeli community and possibly lead to increased protest activity over the coming months.
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