In the tumult of the current affairs news cycle, the perspectives of minorities and marginalised groups rarely get aired. It is for this reason that Manara’s first issue of 2022, ‘Suffering, Perseverance, and Hope: Minority Voices from the Middle East and North Africa’, seeks to bring to light oft-overlooked stories about, and views from, minorities in the Middle East and North Africa.
Three major religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – originated in the Middle East, yet marginalisation of, and discrimination against, religious groups and sects abound across the region. Shivan Fazil examines the plight of ethnic and religious minorities in Iraqi politics (The Political Marginalisation of Ethnic and Religious Minorities in Iraq), while Peyman Asadzade explores the experiences and challenges of Sunnis in Iran (The Challenges and Advances of Iranian Sunnis). Professor Stephen Kaplan charts the successes and difficulties faced by Ethiopian Jews seeking acceptance and assimilation in Israel in In the Borderlines: the Status of Ethiopian Jews in Israel. Yet, navigating religion within the context of the state as a religious minority is nuanced, as Professor Paul S. Rowe observes: although Coptic institutions enjoy significant freedoms in Egypt, Copts as citizens do not (Copts, Church and State in Contemporary Egypt). Indeed, the experience of religious minorities can affect political allegiances, as Dr. Fiona McCallum Guiney argues in Understanding the Relationship Between Christian Communities and Authoritarian States in the Middle East.
Conflict is, tragically, a common occurrence in the Middle East and North Africa. It has had, and continues to have, devastating consequences for minority groups in the region. Zainab Mehdi examines the heinous crimes perpetrated by ISIS against the Yazidi community and the Yazidis’ ongoing stigmatisation in Iraqi society in Addressing the Challenges Facing Iraq’s Yazidi Community in 2022. Professor Dawn Chatty explores the experience of the Bedouin throughout the armed conflict in Syria, and explores other contemporary challenges they face, such as climate change (The Bedouin of Syria in Contemporary Perspective: Climate Change, and Armed Conflict).
Several of our contributors examined the role of the legal system in protecting – and failing to protect – minoritarian rights. Nora Noralla’s novel research into case law in Lebanon, Egypt, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates expounds the legal hurdles faced by transgender individuals in the MENA region to have their gender legally recognised (Confused Judiciary & Transgender Rights: Inside the MENA Region’s Case Law on Legal Gender Recognition). Dr. Lynn Rose provides insights on the shortcomings of the law while recognising how grassroots organisations have taken significant steps to protect disability rights in Iraqi-Kurdistan in Disability Rights as Human Rights in Sulaimani, Kurdistan-Iraq. Indeed, grassroots organisations play an important role in the safeguarding of, and advocacy for, minorities in the MENA region, as Dr. Fariba Parsa examines in relation to womens’ movements in Iran (Women’s Status in Iranian Politics and Governance: Past, Present, and Future).
Yet, we also wanted to present more unconventional interpretations of the topic of minorities in the MENA region. In Citizenship, Nationalism, and Heritage in Gulf States, Dr. Courtney Freer discusses the experience of native Gulf citizens as minorities in their own countries. Meanwhile, in an interview, Dr. Catherine Wihtol de Wenden provides insights into the experience of Maghrebi immigrants in France.
It is our hope that this issue, which brings together a diverse range of writers from academia, journalism, and government, will provide new and important insights into often neglected issues in the MENA region. We are also proud that the majority of our writers on this issue are female – another rarity in the scholarship on the Middle East and North Africa.
Naman Karl-Thomas Habtom