Ortadoğu Kadınlardaki Statüsü: Gözlemler ve Engeller

I was given the opportunity to speak at a symposium organized by the International Relations Department Student Organization at my host university two weeks ago. Though very excited for the chance to talk about women’s status, I was more than a little intimidated at the prospect of doing so in Turkish. I wrote an original draft in English, then translated it into the best Turkish I could muster. Later, I sat for hours with a dedicated and diligent group of friends who helped me work the draft into a more professional and academic register, which was the resulting speech below. Clearly, I was struggling a little bit with the pronunciation in that more academic register (so many suffixes!) but I hope my audience was able to take something away from the talk. Because of the time restraints and the language barrier, my ideas are of course less fully formed and explicated in this presentation than in real life, but “what can I do sometimes?,” as my students would say. In an event, a transcript in Turkish and my intended messaging in English is below.

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Ortadoğu Kadınlardaki Statüsü: Gözlemler ve Engeller

Saygıdeğer öğretim üyesi arkadaşlarım değerli Kirikkale Üniversitei öğrencileri ve değeri misafir öğrencilerimiz- Yapacağım konuşma dünya üzerindeki kadınların statüsüne değinmek olacak,ve bu konulara değinirken istatistiksel verilerden ve hikayelerden çok gerçeklerden yola çıkacağım. Fakat, Ortadoğu’da yaşayan kadınlardan bahsedilmek istendiğinde nasil bahsedilebilir? Bu önemli bir sorudur. Ben Amerikan vatandaşıyım ve yaşadığım ülkedeki akademisyen arkadaşlarımla büyük bir mücadele içindeyiz. Politikacılar ve güçlü medya firmaları Amerikalılar’ın ortadoğu bölgesi ve İslam dünyası hakkinda çok az bilgiye sahip olduklarının farkındalar. Ayrıca onlar da bu konu hakkinda çok eksik bilgiye sahipler. Politikacılar ve medya birlikte çalişiyorlar. “Ortadoğudaki kadınlar mazlum, bağımlı” diye anlatıyorlar. “Zavallı kadınlar için uğraşacağız” diyorlar. Fakat sonra ne yapiyorlar? Savaşıyorlar, aynı zamanda diğer ülkere yaptırım gücü uygulatıyorlar. Bütün bunları yaptıktan sonra kadınların artik daha güvende olacaklarını, daha özgür olacaklarını, daha eğitimli olacaklarını ve daha rahat yaşayacaklarını idda ediyorlar. Amerikan halkı da aynı şeye inaniyor; fakat ben onlar gibi düşünmüyorum ve böyle bir vaatte bulunmayacağım. Çünkü; Hiçbirşey o kadar da basit değildir.

Dünyanın hiç bir yerindeki kadınlar ayrı koşullarda yaşamiyor. Sadece bir mahallede bile bu durum çeşitlilik gösterebilir. Yaşamları, maaşları, okuryazarlık durumları ve eğitim düzeyleri, medeni durumları, dinleri…. Aynı zamanda çevre faktörleri var. Köyde mi yoksa şehirde mi yaşıyor bu kadınlar? Isınma imkanlari, içme suları var mı? Bunlar çok önemli sorunlardır. Bu konu milletlerden ve mezheplerden daha önemli olabilir. Amerika’da yaşayan köylü bir kadınla kentli bir kadın,Türkiye’deki köylü bir kadınla kentli bir kadının ortak noktaları olabilir.

Zamanım kısıtlı olduğu için genel bir konuşma yapacağım. Şu konular üzerinde duracağım: şiddet ve savaş, eğitim, ve kadınların siyasi faaliyetleri.

Üzerinde konuşmak istediğim ilk konu şiddet. Şiddet birçok farklı türde olabilir; yapısal şiddet, ekonomik şiddet, duygusal şiddet… Bu şiddet türleri üzerinde tartışıp değerlendirme yapmamız çok önemli ama bugün ne yazıkki konumuzun odağı, bölgede kadınlara uygulanan, fiziksel şiddet. Suriye Irak ve Filistin şu anki açık örnekler. Suriye’de yedi binden fazla kadın şu anki savaş yüzünden öldü. Filistin’deki kadınlar çok kötü durumda yaşıyorlar. Bir askeri işgal altında yaşıyorlar,Gazze’de kuşatma altındalar ve sık sık şiddet görüyorlar. İnsanlar Gazze’nin açık hava hapishanesi gibi olduğunu söylüyorlar. Irak’taki kadınların durumu muhtemelen üçünün arasında en kötü olanı.  30 yıldır sürekli savaş ve işgal yaşadılar. Evrensel insan hakları bildirgesi şunu söyler: En önemli hakkımız yaşama hakkıdır. Eğer bu hak saygı görmüyorsa(bu hak tehdit ediliyorsa, eğer güvende değilseniz) diğer insan hakları korunamaz.

İkinci bir konumuz da eğitimdir. Eğitim için açılan sınıfların, kadınlarımızın mücadelesi açısından çok önemli bir yere sahip olacağına inaniyorum. Buna bir örnek olarak; Türkiye’deki kadınlarımızın bir çoğunun, eğitim seviyelerinin çok kısıtlı olması gösterilebilir. Bir çoğumuzun çevresinde bu tür kadınlarımız var öyle değil mi? Eğitimin eksik olduğu bir ortamda kadınsal değerlerin de arka plana atıldığını birliriz.Buna Türkiye bir örnekti sadece, fakat bunun yanısıra Irak, Süriye, ve Filistindeki okulların saldırıya uğraması, Ürdün ve Lübnan’da da eğitimin popüler olduğu halde pahalı  olması, çoğu yerde de ataerkil yapının hakim olması, gibi konular da  kadınlarımızın ikinci plana atılmasına sebep olarak gösterilebilir.demem o ki kadınlarımızın toplumda yer edenebilmesi, eğitimlerinin önünün açilması ve onların da söz sahibi olabilmesi için onlara her türlü firsatın verilmesi lazimdir.

Bugün Üçüncü ve son konum kadınların siyaset ve sivil toplum katılımcılığı . Geçen hafta birleşmiş Milletler’de uluslararası kadınler konferansı yüzüncü yildönümü  kutlandı ve bu yüzden bu konu Değılmek istedim. Kadın politikacilarimizdan çok örneğimiz var.mesela, Türkiyede bir dönem başbakan olarak Tansu Çiler vardı, fakat ABD’de, kadın olarak başkanı çıkmadı. ABD’de kongre üyesi olarak kadın oranı yüz’de ondokuzdur. Türkiye’de meclis üyesi olarak kadın oranı yüzde ondörtdür. Bana göre, kadınların siyasi ortamdaki yuzdelik oranının dahada artması, kadınların statülerini yukselticektir. Biz kadınlar için Filistinli kadınlar örnek olmalı çünkü orada devlet sistemi olmadığı halde kadınların siyaste atılım oranları çok yuksektir, bunlara örnek olarak Hanan Ashrawi, Leila Khaled, ve Haneen Zoabi verilebilir. Bunun yanısıra ortadoğu bölgesinde çok aktif politikacı kadınlar da var; sivil toplum kurumlarında çalişip ve yeni kurumların açilmasında öncülük ediyorlar.

Netice olarak kadınlarımızın statüsünün yukselmesi için başta şiddetsiz bir ortamın sağlanması ve eğitim düzeyinin yükseltilmesi gerekir. Bana yardimcı olan arkadaşlarım Sena, Kaan, ve Gülçin’a ve siz dinleyenlere teşekkür ederim.

Women’s Status in the Middle East: Observations and Obstacles  One of the most important things I have to say to you today is not a statistic or a story, but concerns the way we go about talking about the role of women in Middle Eastern societies in general. Where I come from in the United States academics are fighting a difficult battle to allow rays of insight to shoot through a bleak media and political landscape, one that capitalizes on the ignorance of policy makers and the public alike; one that allegedly seeks to empathize with and then liberate via occupation Muslim and middle eastern women who, we are led to believe, are oppressed, without agency, and without a voice. I do not intend to fall into that narrative today.

But no picture is ever as straightforward as either media nor politicians would have us believe. In every place, in every nation, the lives of women cannot be discussed as a monolith. Even within a single neighborhood, there may be numerous fractures in lived experience, such as age, education level, marital status, income or family earnings, literacy, health, religion, as well as numerous environmental factors. Is the space urban or rural? Is there access to clean water and other crucial utilities? These are important questions, the answers to which often shape the lives of women far more significantly than nationality or country of residence. Indeed, the values and lived experiences of relatively uneducated women in the rural United States and Turkey may be far more similar than either would expect. For women in opposite circumstances, the same may be true as well.

So rather than itemize the detailed statistics of women in each of the countries I’ll be touching on today I am instead going to draw out a couple themes and provide examples within those themes. Because time is short, I apologize, I will be speaking quite generally.

The first theme I want to speak on is that of violence. Violence can take many forms; there is structural violence, economic violence, emotional violence… These forms of violence are very important for us to discuss and critique but today, unfortunately, my focus is on physical violence, which is inflicted on women around the region. Unfortunately, Syria Iraq and Palestine are the current obvious examples. In Syria more than seven thousand women  have died due to the current war. Women in Palestine live in a very bad situation. They live under a military occupation and in Gaza they are under siege and experience frequent violence. People say Gaza is like an open air prison. The situation for women in Iraq is possibly the worst of the three. They have had 30 years of continuous war and occupation. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that the most important of our rights is the right to live. If this isn’t honored ( if that right is threatened, if you are not safe) the other human rights can’t be protected.

The second theme I want to discuss is education. The classroom is a very important place for the fight for women to unfold. Without education women are without the tools they need to improve their lives and their status. As an example, we can look to the situation of the women in our lives here in Turkey where, too often, especially in the past, their educations have been cut short. There are some obstacles to education. One of the biggest in the region is violence, as we discussed before. While literacy rates across the region are generally higher than they’ve been in the past, the education of millions of women has been disrupted in places like Iraq and Syria. Schools in Gaza and Syria have been under attack, making getting an education very difficult. In other places like Lebanon or Jordan, private education is both highly valued and prohibitively expensive. Patriarchy remains one of the biggest obstacles to education access. With access to safe, affordable, equitable education, women are better able to take their destinies into their own hands. Education for all is not a privilege, but a right.

This brings us to my third and final topic, which is women’s participation in politics and civil society. It is fitting that last week was the 100th anniversary celebration of the international women’s conference at the UN. There are many important examples of women serving in political offices across the Middle East. A point of important comparison/contrast between Turkey and the United States is political participation and empowerment. For example, Turkey has had a female prime minister (Tansu Ciler), but the US hasn’t had a female president yet. In Turkey, 14% of members of parliament are female, in the United States that rate is 19%. My view is that by actively participating in the socio-political process, women are able to make the changes our societies so badly need.We can look to the women of Palestine as an example, where, though stateless, they play important roles in  aspect of Palestinian civil society and political life, for example Hanan Ashrawi, Leila AbuKhaled, and Haneen Zoabi. This is also the case in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon where I have personally met women fighting for rights, representation, and a decent life.

We can conclude by saying that while the situation for some women in the Middle East is very positive, too many still live under threat of violence and without access to safe education. Despite obstacles, women across the region work in powerful positions and in grassroots movements to affect change in their communities. If we know one thing, it is that as long as violence persists, the status of women, and indeed of all people, cannot improve. The cessation of violence is the first and most crucial step on the road to the betterment of women’s status in the Middle East, and indeed, across the whole world.

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“This has to stop.”

As I prepare to leave for Turkey, and as I continue to absorb the onslaught of the news and reflect on this harrowing summer, the words of Rachel Corrie echo,* written in an e-mail to her mother from Rafah, Gaza three days before her death:

I’m having a hard time right now. Just feel sick to my stomach from being doted on very sweetly by people who are facing doom. I know that from the United States it all sounds like hyperbole. A lot of the time the kindness of the people here, coupled with the willful destruction of their lives, makes it seem unreal to me. I can’t believe that something like this can happen in the world without a bigger outcry. It hurts me again, like it has hurt me in the past, to witness how awful we can allow the world to be….

….It is my own selfishness and will to optimism that wants to believe that even people with a great deal of privilege don’t just sit idly by and watch. What we are paying for here is truly evil… Just want to tell my mom that I’m really scared, and questioning my fundamental belief in the goodness of human nature. This has to stop. I think it is a good idea for us to all drop everything and devote our lives to making this stop. I don’t think it’s an extremist thing to do anymore. I still really want to dance to Pat Benatar and have boyfriends and make comic books for my co-workers. But I also want this to stop. Disbelief and horror is what I feel. Disappointment. I am disappointed that this is the base reality of the world and that we, in fact, participate in it. This is not at all what I asked for when I came into this world. This is not at all what the people here asked for when they came into this world. This is not what they are asking for now. This is not the world you and Dad wanted me to come into when you decided to have me. This is not what I meant when I was two and looked at Captiol Lake and said, “This is the wide world and I’m coming into it.”

My ears ring and my heart implodes with Pochter’s letter as well:

I hope you will never stop your curiosity for the beautiful things in life. Go on hikes in canyons, forests and mountains, go fishing, research wildlife, and get out of the city if you can. Surround yourself with good friends who care about your future. Fall in love with someone. Get your heart broken. Then move on and fall in love again. Breathe life every day like it’s your first. Find something that you love to do and never stop doing that thing unless you find something you love more.

Don’t blame others for their mistakes. It makes you weak…. Speak with conviction and believe in yourself because your personal confidence is just as important as your education….

Try not to forget me.

You told me how proud you were, and so I’m not going to let you down. I’m going to learn a language and connect with real people. I’m going to eat regional foods and learn how to make them myself, with friends, in a kitchen.  I’m going to find the most beautiful mountain in Turkey and hike it and plant a tree for you there. I’m going to read, and ask questions, and write poetry, and I will never, ever forget you.

Egypt, Syria, Palestine and Israel, Lebanon, Iraq… my heart breaks and my resolve deepens. This has to stop.

*This quote is excerpted from My Name is Rachel Corrie, adapted by Alan Rickman and Katherine Viner.

Interview With Radiolab’s Jad Abumrad

I had the honor and pleasure of tag-teaming an interview of Jad Abumrad with Matt Haugen for AAI. The published interview appears below, and was originally posted on July 26, 2013 on AAI’s newsblog. 

Jad Abumrad is a musician, producer, and host and creator of WNYC’s wildly popular radio show and podcast, Radiolab.The show won the George Foster Peabody Award for broadcast excellence in 2010 and Jad was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship—often called the “Genius Grant”—in 2011. After listening to some of Radiolab’s programs on race and identity, and reading a superb interview with him by Discord Music Magazine, we reached out to chat with him about Radiolab, how he understands his identity, the interplay of music and storytelling, and Arabic food.

We began with a simple question: Do you identify as Arab American?

Jad: Yeah, I feel very strongly Lebanese and it’s sort of impossible for me not to. It informs every decision I make and yet informs none of the decisions I make, in some way. It’s just kind of the background of my life. It’s sort of like a fish in the ocean, you know? You don’t even notice the water if you’re a fish, I imagine, it just sort of is your world. My parents are both first generation immigrants…or would that be me? Well they both immigrated to the US shortly before I was born and they’re both from Lebanon, sorta kinda neighboring villages, both Christian Arab. There has always been a sense within my family that religious identity and sectarian identity are dangerous and my parents fully assimilated as scientists. And so for me, more than anything, growing up Lebanese, it was never explicitly a part of my upbringing. I remember more than anything, 1980, watching them watch the TV. And never being fully commented on, but seeing some kind of sadness and drama in the way that they were watching it, and when I got to be in college, I became very interested in Middle Eastern politics. I think like a lot of children of immigrants, I tried to reclaim my identity and I got really interest in Palestinian rights and doing that whole thing in the way that a lot of college kids do. Following that interest out of school I did a lot of radio at WBAI which was centered squarely on Middle Eastern politics, but the thing is that if you’re smart and not interested in simple answers, then you discover quite quickly with Lebanon and with the Middle East in general is that it’s so complicated and there are no longer any easy answers. I think Lebanon is the shining example of that. If I could sort of pick the high-altitude view of it now, I think that my Arab American background—particularly my Lebanese American background—gave me a heightened sensitivity for nuance and for the ways in which seemingly simple truths are never simple and the way in which binary realities are never binary. So that’s something that I hold very deeply and that I carry into every story that we do. To that degree, I think my upbringing is the vehicle for every one of the decisions that I make, you know, programmatically.

AAI: Has your perspective ever influenced a piece you’ve worked on? I know you’ve talked a little bit about it in the Race episode, but does your Lebanese heritage especially connect you to any of these stories?

Jad: I thought a lot about it during those episodes. I mean, you know in the Race episode—the first one that we did—it began almost as a stunt. Like: “Oh, let’s just test my DNA and see what happens.” But, once I had swabbed my cheek and put it in the envelope and sent it off, there’s like a two week period where you wait for the results—or maybe it was a month, I forget—during that time, I remember thinking: “Jeez, this is kinda weird. What does it mean to be from where I’m from?” There’s that sort of definitional weirdness that you get into, which is: what’s a race and what’s a sect and what’s a simple arbitrary cultural divide versus something that’s more etched into your physical being because you and your ancestors lived in that land. It got very confusing, you know? I remember as I was waiting for the results, because so often Arab culture is misidentified as Muslim culture, in a way, and so I thought a lot about that, that this is a moment where I might get an interesting answer to those larger questions of race, at least as it applies to me. I’m not sure I walked away with anything concluded, but it was certainly something that made me reflect on my upbringing and my quote “race”, whatever that means. It came up again, the latest short we did, I don’t know if my Arab-ness had anything to do with that story, but it certainly resonates with my own experience. You know, the history of Lebanon: it’s this country that’s been destroyed over, and over, and over, and over, and over again and hundreds of thousands of people killed during the civil war. So, I carry with me a sensitivity for that trauma: a sensitivity to the people we speak to who carry similar traumas with them. There have been some pieces we’ve recorded where we’ve talked to people who’ve suffered and I think about that through the lens of my own upbringing.

AAI: Do you think that radio and music and how you use those change how you interface with your identity?

Jad: To the degree that I sort of see my identity as not static. The sonic landscape of the show is about flux. It’s about things fading in and out, and comingling, and one thing transforming into another. On the level of craft, I freaking hate a music bed. A bed that just sits there. I can’t stand that. It has to change. It has to move from background to foreground. It has to evolve from something thick to something thin; from something rough to something smooth. That’s just sort of the landscape of the show. It’s all about movement and flux and never being able to put your finger on what you’re listening to, and I feel that way about my identity, you know? It’s hard for me to give you a one sentence description of my family history, because it’s very complicated, and it comes from a land that’s full of complicated people. And so I think I am playing in some neighboring dimension with these ideas when I’m working the sound. I wouldn’t say they’re directly related, but they’re certainly moving in parallel.

AAI: Was there any element of storytelling in your childhood—whether related to Arabic storytelling traditions or not—which drives your inspiration for Radiolab?

Jad: Hm, that’s an interesting question. I don’t know, let me think about that for a second. I didn’t have what you’re describing in my upbringing. I didn’t actually have a lot of storytellers around. I’d love to say I did, but I didn’t. Where does it come from? I don’t know. It was sort of reverse-engineered for me. I came in as a musician and I remember some things on the radio where the story leads you step by step by step by step to this feeling of suspension and of wonder and that was the feeling I loved. I remember hearing this one particular piece—I wanna say it was about Tennessee Williams from the Lost and Found Sound series, this was maybe 20 years ago at this point—and I had been driving to Oberlin and we might have been driving through this part of Ohio which is utterly flat and it was pitch-black dark and I remember hearing this thing on the radio and it’s like the mixture of voices and the kinetic energy of all different cuts going into each other and the story was kind of receding so carefully. Suddenly, it got to this moment where you heard something or somebody said something and you could hear the emotion in their voices and there was this sort of space and silence and music where you could just kind of sit with it. I remember being amazed at the feeling and having an early sense that the story is the architecture that leads you to that moment and it’s all about the moment. And that moment is a musical moment as much as it is anything. It’s like the feeling where the heart sings and the way that the heart sings when it hears a beautiful piece of music. Initially, I was more interested in that moment, in that feeling, and I had a sense that you couldn’t achieve that unless you seduce people and the way that you seduce people is through a story. It’s the path that you create, the bridge that you build, that allows people to come to that moment of wonder. So initially, I started to tell story simply for that reason: as a necessity. Then as you begin to understand how stories work, you become amazed at the story structures themselves and how you can monkey with them and how you can make the beginning the end and the end the beginning. So I got interested in it just as an aspect of this craft that I had fallen into. It never came out of the culture of storytelling that’s very strong in the Arab community, but somehow it was not strong in my family. My family is a bunch of introspective brooders. They communicate a lot with looks and with gestures, but not a lot with words. So that’s where it came out of for me.

AAI: We were curious if you have a favorite Arabic food?

Jad: Oh man, I have so many. My favorite Arabic food—which is only my favorite because it’s so hard to find done well, although I did find this Palestinian place in Bay Ridge called Tanoreen that is the only place outside of Lebanon where I’ve actually tasted it done well—mloukhieh. That’s my favorite because my grandmother in Jounieh, Lebanon, she used to grow the mloukhieh plant—I think it’s a specific plant—she used to have it right outside. The whole process, it’s such a freaking hard dish to make. I mean like you have to pick the plants and then you gotta mash them into this little goopy sauce and then you gotta cut the onions and bake the bread and then do the rice and there’s five other layers that I’m forgetting and you put them all in a specific order. It’s just such a heavy, heavy meal, but it’s delicious and I remember that somehow if I think about Lebanon and as the memories of being in Lebanon have faded for me—because I haven’t been back in a long time—somehow so much of it gets distilled into that dish. If I think about an afternoon where we ate mloukhieh, I can suddenly conjure everything else about Lebanon because somehow that dish draws it all in. So that would be my favorite. Well, that’s my narrative favorite. My actual favorite, just in terms of what taste the best, would probably be mana’eesh. You know, like my dad lives in Nashville now and he found this guy who does these fantastic mana’eesh and every time we go there we just eat far too many. There’s something about that taste I can’t get enough of. And kibbeh, I have a neighbor now who lives right down the street—one of whom is this Lebanese kid—and he makes incredible kibbeh. And now my wife makes it, she makes a ton of Lebanese food like way better than me. So she’s like more the Arab, at least culinarily, than me at this point.

Want to learn more about Jad and Radiolab? Visit their website here. Radiolab is also doing a live tour in cities across the US called Apocalypitcal focusing on the topic of endings. Find more info atwww.radiolab.org/live.

Ruins and Residences

This post is intended to highlight one of the great tensions and debates in contemporary Lebanon, and Beirut in particular. The question of historic preservation and architectural value haunts the city, and is a source of lively and constant debate which unfolds most prominently in Downtown and Central Beirut, where a company by the name of Solidere is tasked with re-developing Beirut post-war. Their controversial authority and ritzy ‘Disneyland’ style leave a sour taste in the mouths of some Lebanese. Their efforts are met with resistance by organizations like Save Beirut Heritage which deplore the rapidly dwindling number of historic buildings in the city.

Some beautifully restored homes in a historically preserved area of Mar Mikael, Beirut.

The entrance to the Baccus temple in the city of Baalbeck, where I attended a concert by Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila on the last night of the Baalbeck International Music Festival.

Morning in a residential section near Hamra, Beirut. Photo taken around 6 am at a farewell gathering before a friend’s early morning flight back to the States.

I was lucky enough to catch this shot on my way through the mountains en route to (near) Farayeh to have dinner at the home of Melek al Nimer. These roadside Roman ruins are totally abandoned and unmarked, but in amazing condition!

A lovely old residential building in the Mar Mikhail/ Mar Nicolas sector of Beirut.

The sun sets over the ruins of Baalbeck as I arrive for a concert.

ثورة

A Prayer by Naguib Mahfouz

from Echoes of an Autobiography, translated by Denys Johnson-Davies

I was less than seven years old when I said a prayer for the revolution. One morning I went to my primary school escorted by the maid. I walked like someone being led off to prison. In my hand was a copybook, in my eyes a look of dejection, in my heart a longing for anarchy. The cold air stung my half-naked legs below my shorts. We found the school closed, with the janitor saying in a stentorian voice, “Because of the revolution, there will be no school today.”

A wave of joy flowed over me and swept me to the shores of happiness.

From the depths of my heart I prayed to God that the revolution might last forever.

 

Eighteen months after uprisings began across the Arab world, hope and heartbreak coexist in struggles that indeed seem as though they may last forever. As bombs detonate in Damascus and Baghdad, as Libya churns in uncertainty, Bahrain trembles in brutally imposed silence, and Egypt debates its future, I pray for the realization of dreams of self-determination and for the safety and preservation of the dignity of the citizens of the region.