Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2003, page 79-85
Baghdad: The Movie
The Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS) at Georgetown University hosted an Oct. 7 screening of a documentary film trailer about Baghdad today. Five current or former Georgetown students—Sinan Antoon, Bassam Haddad, Maya Mikdashi, Suzy Salamy, and Adam Shapiro, most of them from the MAAS (Master of Arts in Arab Studies) program—traveled to Baghdad over the summer to document the Iraqi perspective on the U.S. invasion and occupation. As an exiled Iraqi writer and student, Antoon wanted both to see for himself what had become of his city, and to show the world a picture of Iraq not present in the American news media.
Haddad introduced the movie by sharing several basic findings that the filmmakers agreed were fundamental to understanding the current situation in Iraq. Foremost among these was that, after years of oppression, three wars, over a decade of sanctions, and now occupation, Iraqis are far more traumatized and exhausted than the filmmakers had anticipated. Secondly the group found that there was an acquiescence to, rather than acceptance of, U.S. forces. Though Baghdadis were generally pleased with Saddam Hussain’s removal from power, they were not happy with the U.S. occupation, nor the methods used to remove Hussain. Though Iraqis were opposed to both Hussain and the U.S. government, in a codicil heard frequently with regard to the Middle East, they were not opposed to the American people.
Thirdly, the filmmakers found that, whereas most Baghdadis were ready to support the Islamists against the U.S. occupation, they would not necessarily support efforts to create an Islamist state. Moreover, the serious hardships of day-to-day life for Iraqis—with 70 percent unemployment and lacking even basic goods and services—were leading to increased resistance, especially among the young and single. Finally, the Georgetown filmmakers found that an initial cautious optimism on the part of Iraqis is turning to cynicism and pessimism as it becomes increasingly clear that the U.S. either does not intend or is unable to deliver on its promises. Resistance, the visitors concluded, would continue to grow unless the U.S. radically changes both its tactics and its policy.
As an example of unpopular U.S. decisions, Antoon and his colleagues pointed to typical Baghdadi views of the Interim Governing Council as alien expatriates who are divided by sect, subordinate to the U.S., and ineffectual. Additionally, the filmmakers contended that most Baghdadis are aware that the U.S. is monopolizing prime contracts and has plans to privatize Iraq. Common Iraqi comments on security expressed the view that U.S. troops cannot even keep themselves safe, much less U.N. personnel or Iraqis.
Other members of the filmmaking team offered their perspectives. Mikdashi noted that Iraqis tended to reject the option of being either pro-war or pro-Hussain, that they rejected “war as video-game” and, because of their frustration with that, wanted a democratization of the media. Moreover, she added, the U.S. government’s relationship with the Ba’athist party cast Iraqis in a role of constant victimization.
Antoon said that he personally was struck with Iraqis’ thirst to tell their stories. (Ironically, it was Iraqi Antoon’s own thirst to tell his story—or that of his country—that initially led to the documentary.) Antoon found that Iraqis were lonely, and dissatisfied with mainstream news coverage, both Arab and American, charging that the Arab press were only interested in resistance, and the U.S. press with glorifying the occupation. “Iraqis are more complex than that,” Antoon stated, arguing that the U.S. plan to educate Iraqis about democracy was a racist concept. According to Antoon, Iraqis realized that the U.S. wanted their oil, but thought the U.S. would still give them more than Hussain did—not realizing, he said, that the U.S. was “after the whole pie.”
The filmmakers, who so far have shot more than 70 hours of footage, offered audiences a sneak peak at a 14-minute trailer, to guage reaction and raise funds to complete the movie. The 14 minutes of rich and poor, old and young, male and female, and left and right Baghdadis who had their say against a backdrop of utter privation and loss left this reporter wanting more. For additional information, or to contribute funds toward finishing this movie, e-mail <[email protected]> or visit the Web site <www.aboutbaghdad.com>.
Israel’s Economy a Casualty of the Intifada
Israel’s economic disaster has become a dominant subject in Israeli political discourse, affirmed Basel Ghattas, chief executive officer of the Galilee Society, in an Oct. 20 briefing he gave at the Palestine Center in Washington, DC. The Galilee Society, the Arab National Society for Health Research and Services, aims at achieving “equality in health, environmental, and socio-economic conditions and opportunities for the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel.”
In the fall of 2000, Ghattas recalled, Israel’s economy was at its peak. It had profited immensely from the late ’90s high-tech boom and in the nascent peace agreements between it and the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its neighbor Jordan. By the end of September 2000, however, the structural flaws behind the “peace process” revealed themselves. The intifada was reignited, and from that moment Israel’s economy began a rapid downturn, with no end in sight.
Although Israeli Finance Minister Binyamin “Bibi” Netanyahu and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon attempted to separate the economic and political situations during the last election campaign, no one will be able to make that separation again, Ghattas asserted. Economic improvement will not occur without simultaneous progress on the political front, he argued.
Ghattas described the situation as “terribly bad,” noting that the head of Israel’s Ben-Gurion University, a former senior World Bank official, recently commented that economically Israel was beginning to resemble a Third World country. Israel’s most recent Consumer Price Index indicated a 0.5 percent decline—defying the projections of top Israeli economists. This happened despite a depreciation of the shekel against the dollar, Ghattas noted, which always before had signaled at least a slight economic upturn. Israel faces a “deep, chronic” recession that will not be remedied in the absence of political solutions.
Many commentators now refer to the “lost decade” of Israel’s economy, which began to rise in 1994, in the grip of post-Oslo optimism, and peaked in 2000. Now, 10 years later, it has sunk back to its early 1990s level and shows little promise of improving. The country’s State of the Economy index has shown a consistent decline since the start of the intifada, as have its Index of Trade and Services and Index of Manufacturing. As expected, tourism has declined precipitously since September 2000. The Real Wage Indicator in particular, Ghattas pointed out, shows the “sharp decline” in buying power suffered by Israeli workers in the private and public sectors alike. Despite recent positive fluctuations in the level of Israeli imports and exports, he insisted, the basic economic indicators show consistent decline.
Israel’s Palestinian citizens always bear the brunt of economic distress, Ghattas told the audience. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, 97 percent of the localities in Israel that currently suffer from unemployment are majority-Arab areas. In 2001, he noted, only 15 localities in Israel were classified as suffering from unemployment, with a rate of more than 10 percent. By 2003 the number of these localities has more than doubled, Ghattas said—but the increase occurred almost exclusively in majority-Arab areas. In his opinion, unemployment is even higher than the statistics report.
Additionally, said Ghattas, there has been an almost 50 percent increase in the number of Palestinian families in Israel living below the poverty line. Between 1998 and 2001, the number of Palestinian-Israeli families living below the poverty line rose from 63,000 to over 90,000. More than 50 percent of Palestinian children in Israel live in families below the poverty line. Finally, he noted, in a survey which rated the economic prosperity of all Israeli areas on a scale of 1 to 10, no Arab towns or cities were included in the top three deciles, and only one in the fourth.
According to Ghattas, one of the major effects of the intifada has been a dramatic decline in foreign investment in Israel. In the year before the intifada, foreign interests invested $11 billion in Israel. By 2002, this figure had fallen to below $1 billion. Economic recovery under these conditions would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, Ghattas observed.
Referring to the fragile economic foundation of the peace process, Ghattas concluded that Israel “has been living in an illusion” for 10 years. The billions of dollars in investments came largely from venture capital, which lost interest when the security situation deteriorated. Ghattas described Israel’s economic experience of the 1990s as “virtual reality.”
The intifada has also had a disastrous impact on the Palestinian economy, of course, due to Israeli subjugation and terror that masquerade as security measures. However, Ghattas explained, the great imbalance the peace process had created between the suffering Palestinian economy and the Israeli boom has disappeared.
As the first few years of the Oslo process demonstrated, economic prosperity is attainable for Palestinians and Israelis alike, but it will never occur without a real and lasting, just and peaceful solution to the conflict.
—Courtesy of the Palestine Center
Arab and Jewish Women Discuss Peace and Reconciliation
As the political climate between Palestinians and Israelis falls deeper into the abyss and humanitarian conditions in the cccupied territories rapidly deteriorate, Yehudit Keshet and Mai Nassar still believe in peace and co-existence. Keshet, a Jewish activist who documents human rights abuses at Israeli military checkpoints, and Nassar, a Palestinian Christian university professor, are touring the United States to spread awareness and hope. As part of the annual “Jerusalem Women Speak” tour organized by Partners for Peace, they appeared Oct. 14 at the Palestine Center in Washington, DC.
Keshet described the more than 200 Israeli checkpoints throughout the West Bank as “military installations” that enable Israel to maintain control over Palestinians, who as a result cannot move between West Bank villages and cities. “This causes a total paralysis of Palestinian society,” Keshet explained.
In February 2001 she and other Israeli women launched Checkpoint Watch, after they heard of several instances of Palestinian women having to give birth at checkpoints where Israeli soldiers denied them passage to hospitals. Today, 200 Jewish women are members of Checkpoint Watch.
According to Keshet, “What we have seen is a whole system of arbitrary control.” The decision whether or not to let someone pass is left to the discretion of young Israeli soldiers whose awareness of human rights is very minimal. Although Keshet admits that Checkpoint Watch has failed to increase people’s awareness of human rights violations, the group has succeeded in documenting what is happening on the ground.
Keshet stressed that the military checkpoints have no function in providing security, but are erected merely to tighten control over the Palestinians. By their presence at these military barriers, Keshet maintained, Checkpoint Watch members are showing Palestinians that there are Israelis who understand what is happening to them and who support their “just cause.” This Keshet sees as a bridge of solidarity and support. She acknowledged, however, that there also is a selfish aspect to their work, in that for many of these women it is about being able to say that they did not stand by and let the atrocities happen. “It is important to us that we are able to say that we protested,” she explained.
Keshet also denounced Israel’s construction of its separation wall in the West Bank, arguing that the wall does not guarantee security for Israel and pushes prospects for peace further away.
Mai Nassar described life under siege and gunfire. Her house in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem, was destroyed by Israeli shelling, she told the audience. As a professor of English at Bethlehem University, Nassar sees the frustration of young Palestinians, especially the men, who see no future for themselves in the Palestinian territories. ”˜To convince the men to stay has become very difficult,” Nassar said, noting that, in the past three years, the university population has become 67 percent female.
Although not a devout Christian, Nassar said that she likes to attend services on major holy days. During Easter, Christianity’s holiest season, her town was under curfew for 55 days. Not being able to reach church was “torture,” Nassar said, and not being able to reach her students at the university was equally painful. Being a Christian during that time was very difficult, she said. Nassar warned that the small Christian community is quickly diminishing and urged people to help the Christians remain in the Holy Land. “Help them find the hope that will convince them to stay,” Nassar pleaded.
—Courtesy of the Palestine Center
The Jerusalem Wall: Barrier to a Two State Solution
Since occupying Jerusalem in 1967, Israel has used various means to change the legal status of East Jerusalem—which, like other West Bank cities and the Gaza Strip, is occupied territory. “Jerusalem is as occupied as Jenin,” explained Anwar Darkazally, a legal adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) Negotiations Affairs Department. Darkazally and his colleague Amjad Atallah described the dangers of Israel’s separation wall in Jerusalem and the political ramifications of Israel’s actions at the Washington, DC Palestine Center on Sept. 23.
For 36 years, Israel has embarked on two simultaneous projects in East Jerusalem. The first is its aggressive attempt to create facts on the ground that would forever link East Jerusalem to West Jerusalem and Israel. The second is to try to limit Palestinian natural growth as much as possible. According to Darkazally, Israel has established a demographic balance of 70 percent Jewish to 30 percent Palestinian in East Jerusalem. To limit natural growth, Israel has revoked Palestinian residency permits, demolished Palestinian homes and stringently limited building permits granted to Palestinians.
Since occupying Jerusalem in 1967, Darkazally said, Israel has demolished 2,000 Palestinian homes while 2,000 others are pending. From 1967 to 2001, 6,500 residencies have been revoked. During the same period, Palestinians were granted 500 building permits, compared to 65,000 for Israelis. As a result of such constraints, Palestinians are effectively being forced out of Jerusalem. “The demographic battle on one hand and the creation of facts on the ground on the other hand will bring all of Jerusalem under Israeli control,” Darkazally warned.
One such example is the Old City’s Maghariba Quarter. Immediately after the Israelis occupied East Jerusalem the entire quarter was destroyed, making over 6,000 people homeless. Today that space is known as the Wailing Wall Plaza.
Settlements were the first facts Israel created on the ground to consolidate its hold on Jerusalem. The ring of illegal settlements also served to cut off Jerusalem from Ramallah in the north and Bethlehem in the south, to prevent any contiguity along the central axis. “A lot of this is about making life so unpleasant by restricting movement that people will eventually move,” argued Darkazally.
The Jerusalem section of the separation wall serves the same purpose as the overall wall: it separates Palestinians from their land and from each other. Although it must not be seen in isolation, the Jerusalem area is important because it is the axis where the north will be separated from the south.
“The name of the game throughout the construction of the wall is to take the land and leave the people,” Darkazally said. He described the wall as “incredibly cynical,” noting that its course aims, as closely as possible, to leave the land on the Israeli side and isolate its Palestinian owners in enclaves on the other.
As the maps reveal, the wall deviates significantly from the 1967 Green Line. In the Jerusalem area, about 320 square kilometers, or 124 square miles, will be annexed to Israel. The same can be seen in other sections of the wall, which clearly demonstrates that the wall is not a security wall, as Israel claims, but a land grab.
Two issues arise as a result of the wall’s construction: the political issue that deals with the future of a Palestinian state, people’s rights, and the status of the road map; and the humanitarian issue. What is the fate of the Palestinians who are trapped within barbed wire and electrified fences? Darkazally asked.
On the political level, the land confiscated in Jerusalem for the construction of the wall is a secondary issue compared to the area of land severed from its Palestinians owners. In the Jerusalem suburb of Sur Baher, 1.5 square kilometers (0.6 square miles) of land went for the construction of the wall, while the villagers lost 15 square kilometers (6 square miles) of their land because the real estate falls on the Israeli side of the wall.
“Palestinians are being separated from Palestinians, not from Israelis,” Darkazally explained, with 252,000 Palestinians ending up on the Israeli side of the wall and another 15,000 Palestinians trapped between the Green Line and the wall. In all, close to 300,000 Palestinians will be incorporated into Israel—a price Israel feels it can pay in order to absorb East Jerusalem and the center of the West Bank.
Atallah argued that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has a master plan that, when implemented, would make a two-state solution impossible. The plan, he said, consists of three main elements: settlement growth, a separation wall that would leave the Palestinians with a mini-state or a series of townships, and the removal of Palestinian Authority (PA) President Yasser Arafat from power, in the belief that that would end Palestinian nationalist claims.
According to Atallah, Sharon’s policy is assisted by three American reversals. First, Washington’s five-month delay in presenting the road map gave Israel time to accelerate construction of the wall and carry out other measures. Second, the unilateral U.S. decision to withdraw the monitoring mechanism component of the road map allowed Israel to violate its conditions with no accountability. Finally, the U.S. interpretation of the road map is that Israel is not required to implement its obligations until the Palestinians have implemented all of theirs. “This is a physical impossibility leading to the failure of the road map,” Atallah argued.
Israel will continue with its occupation of the Palestinians and their land, he predicted, because it is being subsidized by U.S. tax dollars. As long as this continues, the occupation will continue. However, he emphasized, no Israeli master plan will prevent the Palestinian people from struggling for freedom and independence.
—Courtesy of the Palestine Center
MEPC Conference Ponders “Imperial Dreams”
The Middle East Policy Council (MEPC) on Oct. 3 held the 34th event of its Capitol Hill Conference Series on U.S. Middle East policy. With the ambitious title of “Imperial Dreams: Can the Middle East Be Transformed?” the conference attempted to explain America’s current Iraq morass. With the Rayburn House Office Building as its venue, the conference drew a full audience peppered with diplomats, army personnel, professors and congressional aides.
MEPC president Chas. W. Freeman, Jr. moderated the panel and offered incisive commentary throughout the event—observing, for example, that although tasked with the reconstruction of Iraq, “Bechtel remains at the Kuwait Sheraton” and that the “U.N. fled to Jordan.”
Conference speakers included Kenneth Pollack, author of The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq and director of research at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center; W. Patrick Lang, president of Global Resources Group; Amy Hawthorne, associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and Philip C. Wilcox, Jr., president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace.
Pollack argued that, until the average Iraqi feels safe in his home at night, we can’t speak of there being real security in Iraq. Discrediting the reports by some U.S. Army generals that they have the right strategy but the wrong intelligence, Pollack opined that this is equivalent to a “magic bullet” theory. Stating that intelligence has “actually [been] very good,” he went on to blame much of the current instability on a “weird combination of micromanagement and no management.”
With a non-representative governing council and little international support, Pollack predicted that the current crisis will result in one of three outcomes: 1) a stable and prosperous Iraq that takes 10 to 15 years to develop; 2) a breakdown of the Iraqi society and state similar to what occurred in Lebanon in the 1970s and ”˜80s; or 3) an Iraq “mostly on life support” provided by the United States. The implications, according to Pollack, include possibly the “first Arab democracy,” or “chaos [that] would spread to all of the countries” bordering Iraq.
So far, noted Lang, the U.S. has shown that it can occupy Iraq. Its ability to pacify Iraq, however, is still “up in the air,” he said. Contrary to many suggestions heard in the media, the invasion, occupation, and ongoing pacification of Iraq is not a “unique artifact of history,” argued Lang.
Uttering such banalities as “we’ve been there before” and “it is possible to win those things [resistance and insurgency against foreign occupation],” Lang baldly stated that statistics do not matter. Because “Iraq is not some place we [the U.S. government] can walk away from,” he advocated the resurrection of “village councils” in Iraq (a throwback to the Vietnam War’s Phoenix program) as a method of providing political reform, good governance, and civic action to the Iraqi people.
According to Lang, the only other method of winning in Iraq is to commit “genocide” to prevent the 10 percent of the population fighting as guerrillas against the U.S. occupation from “slowly starting to erode [the American] position” there.
Freeman interjected that the entire episode in Iraq—invasion and occupation—has been a “great mistake.” Now that the U.S. is there, however, he said, it must endeavor to create better stability and governance than that offered by the Ba’athist regime of Saddam Hussain.
Hawthorne predicted that the path toward democracy—one of the official goals of the Iraq escapade—will be “extremely long, messy, and very difficult to reach.”
Hawthorne pointed out that the results of any “fundamental political change” in Iraq do not necessarily mean advancement toward democracy, which (even if achieved) is not “predictable.” Moreover, Hawthorne argued, Islam and democracy are not mutually exclusive.
Providing the finishing touches of analysis on the American position in Iraq, Wilcox noted that the balance sheet is “hardly encouraging.” Although the U.S. can eliminate specific terrorists and groups of terrorists with time, he asserted, this kind of action is “only a palliative.” The root issues causing terrorism need to be addressed, Wilcox insisted. This would mean analyzing the maldistribution of power and wealth not only in Iraq, but throughout the world.
Accordingly, the utility of military force is “still limited,” he argued, as it alienates allies, frightens all countries (since the U.S. acts unilaterally), kills innocent civilians, and fertilizes the area for fresh recruits into forces resistant to American occupation. The current “pro-Sharon” policies of the Bush administration and Congress are serving as a catalyst to the creation of an ever- expanding opposition to the hypothetical Pax Americana throughout the Arab/Muslim world, and specifically in Iraq and Palestine.
—Brock L. Bevan
End the Occupation—Bring the Troops Home
On a sunny Saturday, Oct. 25, International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) and UFPJ (United for Peace and Justice) united at the Washington Monument in the national capital to demand an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq, and that American troops be brought home now.
About 100,000 diverse Americans turned out to listen to a number of speakers, including presidential candidate Al Sharpton, former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, representatives of Military Families Speak Out, the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, union activist Brenda Stokely, Islamic activist Mahdi Bray, and representatives of the International Action Center, ANSWER, UFPJ, the Muslim Student Association, and other activist groups.
Joining Americans who rallied and marched in Washington, DC, and thousands more who marched in San Francisco, were people in some 40 countries around the world, representing almost every continent. The event marked the first major anti-war rally since President George Bush’s May Day declaration of an end to major military operations in Iraq. Following a six-month hiatus in major protests since the April 12 ANSWER demonstration in Washington, DC, organizers were cautious about the number of people who might attend, emphasizing that they were intent on building an anti-war movement, not just a single rally. The size and energy of the rally pleased all involved.
Sudanese Women Hold Fair in Virginia
The Sudanese American Women’s Organization (SAWO) held its first fairin support of Sudanese businesses in the Washington, DC area at Mason District Park in Annandale, VA on Oct. 12. SAWO founders briefly commandeered the henna-painting booth to sit with the Washington Report amid brightly draped cushions and describe the fledgling organization.
SAWO president Nazik Elgaddal said a few of her friends decided Sudanese immigrants living in the Washington, DC area needed a support system, since many live so far from their families. They need help navigating U.S. rules and regulations, Naila Hassan, one of the two leaders of the family secretariat, added. In June 2002 SAWO launched its nonprofit volunteer organization, which is open to all Sudanese women over the age of 18 living in the United States, regardless of political, religious or ethnic orientation.
According to general secretary Nadia M. Osman, SAWO is a forum for Sudanese women to discuss social issues as well as a bridge to the wider American community. The group has held various cultural activities for its members, as well as a seminar on breast and cervical cancer, a workshop focusing on the challenges facing parents in bringing up children in America, another introducing social services provided by counties, and a workshop on employment procedures and job openings. SAWO plans to hold a health fair, seminars on the pressures faced by both married couples and single women, and an International Women’s Day event, Osman added.
The Sudanese community in the Washington, DC area is a close-knit one, numbering about 15,000. SAWO gives women a chance to share their experiences. According to Hassan, the most common problem Sudanese women face is the stress of juggling a job and child-rearing without the help of a nearby extended family or social network. Raising children in the U.S. while trying to retain a Sudanese identity also is an issue. Many children attend Saturday classes in Arabic to keep up their language skills.
SAWO, Osman added, also is working to introduce itself to the American community, and invited quite a few non-Sudanese attendees to the fair. Children performed traditional Sudanese dances, as well as dancing to U.S. pop hits. Participants tried henna painting, delicious foods, or wandering through the bazaar admiring colorful clothes, spices, perfume, creams and henna. All enjoyed a sunny day in the park and a taste of Sudan in Northern Virginia. For more information see SAWO’s new Web site <www.sudaneseamericanwoman.org
—Delinda C. Hanley
Petra: the Red Rose City
Jane Taylor, author of Petra and the Lost Kingdom of the Nabateans, spoke about “Petra: Days of Glory, Days of Dust” at the Embassy of Jordan Oct. 6. The lecture was the fifth in the Mosaic Foundation’s Ambassador’s Cultural Series. The standing-room-only audience included diplomats, business people and staff members of non-profit organizations in the national capital.
Petra, a city hewn out of sandstone, was able to thrive under the Nabateans due to its control of important trade routes, Taylor explained. These trade routes originated largely in the Hadramaut, in what is today Yemen. The people of the area produced abundant quantities of myrrh and frankincense, commodities much in demand in the Mediterranean region. In addition to being used as aromatics, both substances were used as salves for a variety of ailments, according to Taylor—from body odor and hemorrhoids to headaches!
Although the primary producers did not benefit from the high prices fetched by myrrh and frankincense in western Mediterranean markets, the traders—the Nabateans—did. They were able to corner the trade on these commodities because of their skills in navigating the intervening “ocean of sand.” Not only were they effective at roaming the deserts while transporting goods in caravans, Taylor said, but they also created “hydraulic systems” that collected rain water in the desert. These systems were hidden, and marked so that only other Nabateans could locate them.
In addition to influencing the trade in myrrh and frankincense, the Nabateans were able to extract bitumen from the Dead Sea and export it abroad, to Egypt among other places. Bitumen was used in the embalming process as well as a waterproofing agent.
Although the Nabateans lived from direct trade, taxes, and “protection,” they were not limited just to trade, Taylor stated. “Although their technology was far from sophisticated,” she acknowledged, the Nabateans have left behind the rose red city of Petra, which is visited by thousands of international tourists every year. What remain today are the “architectural faÃ§ades” with burial chambers which are accessible to visitors behind them.
Located at the bottom of a wadi, or seasonal flood channel, Petra was and is susceptible to flash floods four months a year. Since the ground usually cannot drain it, the rain can cause catastrophic damage. The Nabateans, however, had developed a “detailed, complex, and totally effective” method of controlling the floods, according to Taylor.
Their methods included a network of dams and channels to divert any floods that developed. Taylor speculated that much of this water was diverted for agricultural use. The diverted water was “not just for survival,” however, she pointed out, as some of it was used for display in the form of fountains, pools, and artificial cascades.
Nabatean-ruled Petra was extant from the sixth century until 106 CE, when the Romans captured Petra and put an end to the “genius of the Nabateans.” Finally, Taylor told the audience, although the Nabateans most likely spoke a form of Arabic—and their script was a form of Aramaic—the first known written words of Arabic were produced by the Nabateans.
—Brock L. Bevan
Late Queen Effat of Saudi Arabia
This year’s fall lecture series sponsored by the Mosaic Foundation’s cultural committee is examining the lives of internationally known and admired women of the Arab world who married men with great political power, then went beyond traditional roles to make significant contributions to their countries. The series’ first lecture, held Oct. 9 at the Reagan Center in Washington, DC, examined the life and contributions of the late Queen Effat Al-Thunayaan, wife of the late King Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud. Frances Meade, author of Honey and Onions, who worked as an educator in Saudi Arabia from 1970 to 1993, welcomed several hundred attendees after a reception made possible by a grant from Chevron Texaco. Meade said she hoped this series would help introduce Americans to Arab culture and dispel Western misconceptions.
Two of the late queen’s nine children, or “legacies,” Princess Lulua Al-Faisal, dean of Effat National College in Jeddah, and Prince Turki bin Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Great Britain, described their mother’s life. The future queen was born in Istanbul during Ottoman Empire days, Princess Lulua said. Her father, Mohammad Saud, was killed in the war, plunging the family into poverty. Effat’s mother took her brother into the country to live, leaving Effat with an aunt in Istanbul.
A “sterling student,” Effat was so poor she wore shoes without soles, stuffed with paper, to school. As the Ottoman Empire collapsed in the late 1920s, members of the Al Saud family began to reunite in Saudi Arabia. Effat’s aunt contacted the family and asked for their assistance to finance a pilgrimage to Mecca for her and her niece, who was by then 16, and held a teaching degree.
As soon as the future King Faisal laid eyes on his cousin Effat, in 1932, he sent a message to his family saying he’d already married her—just to forestall anyone else beating him to the punch. Effat spoke no Arabic and King Faisal no Turkish, so until they mastered each other’s languages, they had to communicate through an interpreter.
When the couple had children, they decided against hiring tutors to home school, in the manner of other well-off Saudis. Instead they started a boarding school in Taif, which attracted children from all over the Kingdom. Graduates of that school are still in leadership positions across the country.
The queen launched many philanthropic societies in the Kingdom to help women assist each other. Her societies promoted literacy, libraries, maternal care, nurseries, legal aid, and assistance for the blind and people with Down’s Syndrome, to name a few. These societies also provided a platform for Saudi Arabian women to work in a role acceptable to their conservative society.
Queen Effat was very opinionated when it came to education and new ideas. She felt that uneducated women were the weak link between the family and the nation, and on her wedding anniversary in 1955 she launched Dar Hannan in Jeddah, the first private school for women. It was not an immediate success. At first the only students were orphans, a few boarders and her own daughter. Little by little, however, prominent families began enrolling their little girls. Gradually more schools opened, and modern education for women took hold in the Kingdom. When some conservative Saudis complained, Queen Effat told them, “If you don’t want your daughter to go to school, don’t send her. But the schools must stay open for those who do want education.”
In modern Saudi Arabia, it has become a cultural honor to finish school and enter the work force, Princess Lulua said. Both men and women receive free education, and even higher education abroad.
The most prized woman in Saudi Arabia today, agreed Prince Turki Al-Faisal, is a woman with an education. She can go out and get a job to help support her family.
Before Queen Effat died in February 2000, she was able to see her last dream come true, when Effat National College opened its doors in 1999. Most of the queen’s children, stepchildren, and grandchildren are involved in education or other service to their country. Queen Effat truly left a vital legacy for her country.
During the question-and-answer period, the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, asked how many Saudi Arabian students changed plans to study in the U.S. this year. The princess replied that only a few students came to the U.S. Many students who were enrolled in universities across the country, she explained, were forced to interrupt their studies because of visa problems in the aftermath of 9/11. Most Saudi students have opted to attend university at home or elsewhere in the Gulf, Lebanon, Canada and Europe.
According to Ambassador Turki bin Faisal, 650 Saudi students decided to attend British universities. This may have a serious effect on the next generation of both U.S. and Saudi Arabian leadership, he noted, who no longer will remember each other as old school friends.
—Delinda C. Hanley