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What do we need to know about the MENA region today?

Zahia Smail Salhi
1 June 2011

For so many decades the region of MENA has been synonymous with religious extremism, oppression of women, dictatorial regimes and, at varying levels, high rates of illiteracy and backwardness.

In the last decade of the twentieth century the region has seen various political tumults including Islamic terrorism and its war against civilians in Algeria, civil war in Sudan, the continued Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the resulting intifadas, the Gulf wars followed by the occupation of Iraq…the list is rather long.

The 9/11 events brought MENA central stage as the bastion of terrorism that became a lingering threat to the safety of millions of citizens across the globe. This essentialist etiquette left many MENA citizens rather bitter about a situation for which their region should not take all the blame. Intellectuals from the region insist that the West, as much as MENA, contributed to its making and therefore shares the consequences.

The twenty-first century has seen radical shifts in the landscape of MENA. People are rising to remove dictatorial regimes and make new revolutions that, it is hoped, would lead to democratic states. It is of paramount importance to note, however, that without gender equality and the full participation of women in democratic processes there will be no democracy.

Zahia Smail Salhi

is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Leeds.

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A platform is a space for speaking in public. It is an opportunity to express ideas and thoughts. It also suggests the formal declaration of a stance or position on any given subject.

Unique to Ibraaz is a 'platform', a question put to writers, thinkers and artists about an issue relevant to the MENA region. This platform is sent to respondents both within and beyond the MENA region and contributions will be archived every 12 months.