Arab Spring

News media take heed: Tunisia, not Saudi Arabia, is where Arab Muslim women are truly advancing

News media take heed: Tunisia, not Saudi Arabia, is where Arab Muslim women are truly advancing

So the Saudi monarchy has indicated it will allow the kingdom’s women to drive. And the international media has mostly applauded (with notable exceptions) what elsewhere around the globe has long been a given.

As “Weekend Update” co-host Michael Che joked on “Saturday Night Live,” Saudi Arabia’s announcement barely beat out allowing vehicles to drive themselves.

Understand that I'm not dismissing the Saudi decision as entirely meaningless, because it's not. For now, however, it amounts to little more than a Band-Aid. I'll say more about this below.

But first, let's take a look at what's been happening in Tunisia, where the news about Muslim women has received less coverage than the Saudi story — even though its of potentially far greater significance for women in the Arab Muslim world.

Events in Tunisia sparked the 2011 Arab Spring, which largely failed elsewhere — disastrously so in Syria and Yemen — but did succeed in Tunisia. What’s happening there now led one New York Times op-ed writer to wonder optimistically whether a second Arab Spring focused on women’s rights just might be in the wind.

If so, let’s hope it ends far better than the first one.

The latest bit of underplayed Tunisian news is the North African nation’s decision to allow its Muslim women to legally marry non-Muslim men without the grooms having to convert to Islam ahead of the wedding.

That's huge in the Arab world because it speaks to the core of Islam’s self-understanding, whereas the Saudi driving story is more about local cultural and political arrangements.

Here’s how the BBC covered the story. The following graphs get to the meat of the issue.

Many Tunisians see the removal of the marriage restriction as another landmark in guaranteeing women's freedom in the country.

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Tunisia bucks the Islamist narrative. Why can't journalists tell its story more broadly?

Tunisia bucks the Islamist narrative. Why can't journalists tell its story more broadly?

The Arab Spring has been an unmitigated disaster, right? Sure it has, because isn't that the primary message you've learned from wherever you get your news?

Well, yes, that's mostly true. Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, the Arab Middle East in general; they've all gone from bad to worse. And because that which bleeds leads, media coverage of the series of national uprisings known collectively as the Arab Spring has focused by a wide margin on the news of disaster.

(Journalists take note: Try to avoid premature optimism when coming up with catch phrase-labels, particularly if you're dealing with the Middle East.)

But, in fact, the Arab Spring has not been across the board bad news. There's also Tunisia, where it all started more than five years ago, but which gets far less American media attention because, by regional standards, the violence there has been relatively-- and I emphasize "relatively" -- light.

Tunisia is often cited -- and properly so, from a liberal Western standpoint -- as the Arab Spring's lone success story.

Here's the top of a New York Times piece that lays out the Tunisian reality.

TUNIS -- The leader of Tunisia’s main Islamic political party was re-elected on Monday, winning endorsement for his effort to move the party away from its Islamist roots and stay in tune with the country’s five-year-old democratic revolution.

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A stunning (and haunted) work of public art in honor of Cairo's famous garbage collectors

A stunning (and haunted) work of public art in honor of Cairo's famous garbage collectors

Now, here is a very beautiful and unusual story set in Egypt, one describing an astonishingly ambitious work of public art in a highly unusual place.

When I saw the headline -- "Sprawling Mural Pays Homage to Cairo’s Garbage Collectors" -- I immediately wondered if foreign desk at The New York Times was going to nail down the obvious religion hook in this story. Yes, this story contains a powerful religion ghost.

The headline raises two questions right off, one very obvious and one not so obvious: Who are the garbage collectors of Cairo? The second question: The implication of this tribute is that there is some organized or even natural mass of people who collect garbage in one of the most important cities in the Muslim world. Why is this?

Sure enough, there is a strong hint at the religion content at the very top:

CAIRO -- The intricate mural took shape over the past few weeks, little noticed at first, spreading across a harried quarter of Cairo where Egypt’s garbage collectors live, amid overflowing bundles of this overcrowded city’s trash.
By the time the painting was finished two weeks ago, it stretched across more than 50 buildings, making it the largest public work of art here anyone can recall. The mural, a circle of orange, white and blue in Arabic calligraphy, quotes a third-century Coptic Christian bishop who said, “If one wants to see the light of the sun, he must wipe his eyes.”
When the first photographs of the mural circulated, reactions ranged from astonished delight to disbelief. Some people, struck by its seemingly impossible scale, seemed convinced that the images had been digitally altered, according to the man behind the project, a Tunisian-French artist known as eL Seed.

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There's more to Egypt's pain than secularism vs. religion

Many GetReligion readers have, I am sure, spent some time today following the urgent news bulletins out of Egypt, where some of the largest protests in the history of the world have been taking place.

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Syrian sniper offers thoughts on life, death and faith

Anyone who has been to the Middle East, or who has spent much time talking to natives of that troubled region, knows that there is much more to its conflicts than religion.

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'Moderate' Muslim Brotherhood's Egyptian power grab

Protests broke out in Egypt in recent days over President Mohamed Morsi’s unilateral decree assuming widespread powers that may not be challenged or questioned. The Associated Press carried a list of some of those powers, beginning with:

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Are Salafis the most orthodox among Muslims?

The New York Times published a riveting piece about Salafism in Tunisia. From the beginning, the reader is transported to Kairouan:

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Economist offers rare insights into Salafists

I have a friend who once worked for Time (actually, several people fit under that umbrella) who once made a very interesting observation about the state of foreign news in that newsweekly, which was once famous for its excellent, sweeping coverage of world affairs.

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