The Calendar and Irrigation

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 4th, 2013

Technology 101

(Originally published November 16th, 2011)

The Nile is a Sliver of Life-Sustaining Black Earth Carved through the Lifeless Red Earth of the Desert

The early Egyptians were a religious people.  They still are today.  Egypt is a special land.  A unique land.  Because the Nile River flows through it on its way to the Mediterranean Sea.

The Nile is the source of life.  For it was the Nile that allowed farming.  Because of fresh water.  And fertile soil.  Black earth.  The rich silt that the Nile washed down from on high.  Beyond the First Cataract.  All the way to its headwaters.  Where monsoons in the Ethiopian Plateau, around Lake Victoria and in the Ruwenzori mountains flowed into the Blue Nile and the White Nile.  That joined into the Nile and flowed down to the Mediterranean Sea.  Bringing with it the rich silt that flooded over the riverbanks.  And left behind some of the richest soil ever farmed.

The life from the Nile was a miracle.  A blessing for the Egyptians.  This sliver of life-sustaining black earth carved through the lifeless red earth of the desert.  So they prayed.  And they worshipped.  To placate the gods.  To keep the miracle of black earth returning harvest after harvest.  For when the gods favored them the flooding came.  On time.  And at just the right height.  But when the gods did not there was famine.

By Tracking a Regular Cycle of Natural Events they Knew When to Worship and What to Do in the Farming Cycle

If the gods favored them the flooding was predictable.  If Khnum favored them the First Cataract would bring on the floodwaters at the right time and in the right amount.  Thoth would foretell this in the form of white ibises returning from their southern migration.  A favorable omen of a good harvest.  Which began with the sowing.  The grain representing Osiris’ body.  A god killed by another god.  Seth.  Who embodied the lifeless red earth.  The new growth was the resurrection of Osiris.  At the harvest they praised Isis.  For the resurrection.  That was the harvest.

The Egyptians were a religious people.  Religious ceremonies and rituals occurred throughout the farming cycle.  It’s no surprise, then, that the Egyptians created one of the first calendars.  Which marked important religious ceremonies and rituals.  And the cycle of farming.

By being able to track this regular cycle of natural events they knew when to worship.  What to do in the farming cycle.  When to do it.  And they knew when something was wrong.  For one day the floods did not come.  The climate had changed.  And the water didn’t come to them from the river.  So they had to go to the water in the river.

When the Nile didn’t Flood when the Calendar said it Should we Created Irrigation

As agriculture developed so did our understanding of our environment.  And we developed a lot of this with our religious beliefs.  For our environment was the blessing of the gods.  And at times their curse.  But our observations grew.  As did our understanding.  We developed the calendar.  And when the Nile didn’t flood when the calendar said it should we created irrigation.  Expanding the lands under cultivation.  And grew even more food.  For even though the Nile didn’t flood the water and silt were still there.

Our initial religious beliefs may not have properly explained the flooding of the Nile.  But it was a first step in our critical thinking.  Trying to explain that which we didn’t understand.  We may have been wrong about the cause.  But we got a pretty good understanding of the seasons.  By studying our environment.  And learning how to change it to suit our needs.  And it’s this critical thinking that led the way to irrigation.  And, eventually, to the modern civilization.

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The Islamists, and Iran, win Big in Egypt, Surprise, Surprise, and will Write their New Constitution

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 22nd, 2012

Week in Review

Well the Egyptians have voted.  And now begins the winter of their discontent (see Islamists secure top spot in new Egypt parliament by Marwa Awad and Lin Noueihed, Reuters, posted 1/21/2012 on Yahoo! News).

The Muslim Brotherhood won by far the biggest share of seats allocated to party lists in Egypt’s first freely-elected parliament in decades, final results confirmed, giving it a major role in drafting the country’s new constitution.

Banned under former leader Hosni Mubarak and his predecessors, the Brotherhood has emerged as the winner from his overthrow. Islamists of various stripes have taken about two thirds of seats in the assembly, broadly in line with their own forecasts.

The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has promised all Egyptians will have a voice in the new parliament, but Islamists are now set to wield major influence over a new constitution to be drafted by a 100-strong body parliament will help pick…

The Revolution Continues coalition, dominated by youth groups at the forefront of the protests that toppled Mubarak, attracted less than a million votes and took just seven of the 498 seats up for grabs in the lower house…

Only one woman was among the appointees which is likely to further disappoint feminist groups after women won only a handful of seats in the elections. Mubarak had traditionally used the quota to boost the representation of women and Coptic Christians.

So, only 7 of the youth who overthrew Mubarak in hopes of a better future will have a say in the new government.  And only one of them is a woman.  Kind of like the Iranian Revolution.  When all those college students, men and women, overthrew the Shah.  And how did that turn out for them?  If you were a woman not good.  They lost their freedom.  That same freedom they once enjoyed while protesting the Shah of Iran.  Much like the women who brought down Hosni Mubarak will no doubt lose as well.  Based on the strong Islamist wins.

Who would have thought that all those who protested Mubarak and wanted a brighter future would have voted that very future away from themselves?  For with the Islamists writing the constitution you can bet that the new government will be very Islamist.  And much like Iran.  Which no protester said at the time they wanted.  In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood went out of their way saying that Egypt would not be like Iran.  Despite their own personal desire for it to be like Iran.

Funny how history repeats.

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The Calendar and Irrigation

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 16th, 2011

Technology 101

The Nile is a Sliver of Life-Sustaining Black Earth Carved through the Lifeless Red Earth of the Desert

The early Egyptians were a religious people.  They still are today.  Egypt is a special land.  A unique land.  Because the Nile River flows through it on its way to the Mediterranean Sea.

The Nile is the source of life.  For it was the Nile that allowed farming.  Because of fresh water.  And fertile soil.  Black earth.  The rich silt that the Nile washed down from on high.  Beyond the First Cataract.  All the way to its headwaters.  Where monsoons in the Ethiopian Plateau, around Lake Victoria and in the Ruwenzori mountains flowed into the Blue Nile and the White Nile.  That joined into the Nile and flowed down to the Mediterranean Sea.  Bringing with it the rich silt that flooded over the riverbanks.  And left behind some of the richest soil ever farmed.

The life from the Nile was a miracle.  A blessing for the Egyptians.  This sliver of life-sustaining black earth carved through the lifeless red earth of the desert.  So they prayed.  And they worshipped.  To placate the gods.  To keep the miracle of black earth returning harvest after harvest.  For when the gods favored them the flooding came.  On time.  And at just the right height.  But when the gods did not there was famine.

By Tracking a Regular Cycle of Natural Events they Knew When to Worship and What to Do in the Farming Cycle

If the gods favored them the flooding was predictable.  If Khnum favored them the First Cataract would bring on the floodwaters at the right time and in the right amount.  Thoth would foretell this in the form of white ibises returning from their southern migration.  A favorable omen of a good harvest.  Which began with the sowing.  The grain representing Osiris’ body.  A god killed by another god.  Seth.  Who embodied the lifeless red earth.  The new growth was the resurrection of Osiris.  At the harvest they praised Isis.  For the resurrection.  That was the harvest.

The Egyptians were a religious people.  Religious ceremonies and rituals occurred throughout the farming cycle.  It’s no surprise, then, that the Egyptians created one of the first calendars.  Which marked important religious ceremonies and rituals.  And the cycle of farming.

By being able to track this regular cycle of natural events they knew when to worship.  What to do in the farming cycle.  When to do it.  And they knew when something was wrong.  For one day the floods did not come.  The climate had changed.  And the water didn’t come to them from the river.  So they had to go to the water in the river.

When the Nile didn’t Flood when the Calendar said it Should we Created Irrigation

As agriculture developed so did our understanding of our environment.  And we developed a lot of this with our religious beliefs.  For our environment was the blessing of the gods.  And at times their curse.  But our observations grew.  As did our understanding.  We developed the calendar.  And when the Nile didn’t flood when the calendar said it should we created irrigation.  Expanding the lands under cultivation.  And grew even more food.  For even though the Nile didn’t flood the water and silt were still there.

Our initial religious beliefs may not have properly explained the flooding of the Nile.  But it was a first step in our critical thinking.  Trying to explain that which we didn’t understand.  We may have been wrong about the cause.  But we got a pretty good understanding of the seasons.  By studying our environment.  And learning how to change it to suit our needs.  And it’s this critical thinking that led the way to irrigation.  And, eventually, to the modern civilization.

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The Ten Year Anniversary of 9/11

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 10th, 2011

Why the Attack on America on 9/11? 

Sunday is the 10 year anniversary of 9/11.  Ten years is a long time.  And during those years it’s been safe in the U.S.  Which makes people complacent.  That’s what time does.  People tend to forget.

So what was it?  And why was it?  The attack on America on 9/11? 

The ‘what’ is simple to answer.  A group of Muslim men hijacked four jetliners.  They crashed two into the World Trade Center.  Crashed one into the Pentagon.  And the fourth?  The passengers fought back.  Having learned of the other hijackings.  They attacked the attackers.  Fought.  And died.  Bringing the fourth plane down in a field in the country.  Far from its intended target.  These were the first to fight back in the war on terror.  A war where Americans were dying before 2001.

The ‘why’ is a little more involved.  It’s because of the Jews.  In the Middle East.  Who now live on ancient Jewish land.  Israel.  Land that has changed hands a few times since the time of King David (born 11th Century B.C.).  And King Solomon (born 10th Century BC).  And the people that lived on this land before the Jews returned to their homeland?  Muslims.  Who wrested this land from Christians.  Who got the land when the Roman Empire became Christian.  Who took the land from the Jews.  When the Romans were still pagans.  And on and on it went.  Back in time.  Until you get to King David.  And his conquests to consolidate his kingdom.

Long Story Short, Jews and Muslims hate each other in the Middle East

The Muslims want it back.  Because they conquered that land.  And they believe this makes it their land.  But if they believe that he who conquers the land has claim to the land, they have a problem.  Because the British won that land in World War I.  When they defeated the Ottoman Empire.  A member of the Central Powers.  Who lost the war. 

World War II soon came along.  And the HolocaustAdolf Hitler hated Jews.  Tried to kill them all.  So when Nazi Germany lost the war, displaced Jews who survived the Holocaust went to British Palestine.  To their ancient homeland.  Shortly thereafter they declared themselves the State of Israel.  And asked the Palestinians to kindly leave.  And they did.  Into refugee camps surrounding the new State of Israel.  They lived in refugee camps because the surrounding countries didn’t want to take them in.  So in these camps they stayed.  Where they’ve lived with a simmering hatred since.

Anyway, long story short, Jews and Muslims hate each other in the Middle East.  Israel is a tiny Jewish island in an Arab sea.  The Arabs tried to take this land a few times but were beaten back.  Thanks to an assist from the U.S.  And they lost land to boot.  The Sinai Peninsula.  The West Bank.  The Golan Heights.  And the Muslim Arabs want those lands back, too.

Militant Muslims hate America with every Fiber in their Body

Eventually the Egyptians made peace with Israel.  Anwar Sadat formally recognized the State of Israel.  And fundamentalist Egyptian officers assassinated him because of it.  His successor honored the peace Sadat made.  Hosni Mubarak.  For some 30 years.  Got a lot of U.S. aide for helping America’s most important Middle East ally.  Until he was toppled from power during the Arab Spring.

So there’s some history in the Middle East.  The Muslim Arabs hate the Jews.  And want that land back.  And they hate the Egyptian government who made peace with Israel for all those years.  They hate the British for taking that land from the Ottoman Empire.  And perhaps most of all they hate America.  Who they blame for everything.  Had they not entered World War I, that war may have ended in a draw with no lost of Muslim land.  Had they not entered World War II, Hitler may have won that war.  Or at least killed more Jews.  If the Americans had not ‘bribed’ Sadat with aid he may never have recognize the State of Israel.  And had America not helped Israel during the Arab-Israeli wars, the Arabs may have won those wars.

So do militant Muslims hate America?  With every fiber in their body.  Can we get them to like us?  Not a chance in hell.  You see, defeating us is just step one in their grand plan.  Once upon a time Muslim power controlled the Middle East, North Africa and southern Europe.  And they want to again.  They want to restore the caliphate.  And spread Sharia Law.

Osama bin Laden led the War against America

So the radical Muslims, fundamentalists, Islamists, whatever you want to call them, waged war against the U.S.  Attacking U.S. nationals out of the country.  And planning and conducting attacks inside the country.  Osama bin Laden led the war against America.  With his al Qaeda getting bolder over time.  Leading up to September 11, 2001.

So far every subsequent plan has been foiled.  Or failed.  Like the underwear bomber on that Detroit bound plane.  And the Times Square bomber.  So it’s been relatively safe in America.  But there is unrest in the Middle East.  Which is very ominous.

Representative Democracies rarely break out Amidst Chaos

What happens in Egypt may very well tell us the future of the world.  Will they maintain their peace with Israel?  Or will they drift further into the Iranian orbit?  Further pressuring Israel.  Bordered in the north by Iranian client Hezbollah.  And in the south by Iranian client Hamas.  With an open border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.  It’s getting tense over there (see Israel, Egypt try to stem damage from embassy riot by Diaa Hadid, Associated Press, posted 9/10/2011 on the Toronto Star).

Israel and Egypt’s leadership tried Saturday to limit the damage in ties after protesters stormed Israel’s embassy in Cairo, trashing offices and prompting the evacuation of nearly the entire staff from Egypt in the worst crisis between the countries since their 1979 peace treaty.

The 13-hour rampage deepened Israel’s fears that it is growing increasingly isolated amid the Arab world’s uprisings and, in particular, that Egypt is turning steadily against it after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, the authoritarian leader who was a close ally…

Egypt’s new military rulers, in turn, appear caught between preserving key ties with Israel — which bring guarantee them billions in U.S. military aid — and pressure from the Egyptian public. Many Egyptians are demanding an end to what they see as too cosy a relationship under Mubarak, who they feel knuckled under to Israel and the U.S., doing nothing to pressure for concessions to the Palestinians.

The big question is who will succeed Mubarak.  The Muslim Brotherhood?  They have close Iranian ties, too.  So that wouldn’t be good.  But at this time they are probable the largest organized political force in Egypt.  Which carries a lot of weight following a civil war.  I mean, representative democracies rarely break out amidst chaos.  And if it did, it could even be worse.  For a lot of Egyptians don’t like Israel.  Or that peace treaty.  Which means if the people get their way, it could be bad for Jews.  And Christians.

On this Day of Remembrance, we should make sure that those who died did not die in Vain 

We need to be concerned with what’s happening in Egypt.  For if the wrong people get into power there will be no peace for Jews.  Christians.  Or for much of the Western World.

If Iran gains power and influence in the area there will be no peace for Jews.  Christians.  Or for much of the Western World.  This is even a greater concern.  Because they may soon have a nuclear weapon.  If they don’t already.

Ten years is a lot of time.  But we must not become complacent.  And not forget what happened on that day.  Because the threat to America is real.  And it won’t go away with diplomacy.  For you can’t talk sense to people who hijack jetliners full of innocent men, women and children.  To kill innocent men, women and children.

On this day of remembrance, we should make sure that those who died did not die in vain.  As in any war, some may die so that others may live.  So we must honor those who died.  By living.  And being strong.  Strong enough to deter any attack on our soil again.  To protect those they left behind.

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Can Feminism Survive in the Islamic Middle East?

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 19th, 2011

The Iranian Revolution and Feminism

The Shah of Iran modernized Iran.  And advanced women’s rights.  Did away with child marriage.  And outlawed having multiple wives.  Women may not have been fully equal but they were more equal than they had ever been before.  Or since.  And they had access to education.  In fact, they were so well educated that when they came out of college some could find no jobs.  At least none that called for such a higher education.  So there was a lot of unemployment during the 1970s.  A lot of highly educated people without jobs.  Both men and women.  And they protested.  Both men and women.  They overthrew the Shah.  Both men and women.  And how did that go?  Well, better for the men than it did for the women.

The Iranian Revolution in 1979 kind of came out of nowhere.  Stunned most of the world.  But many quickly welcomed this ‘democratic’ revolution.  Some people even welcomed that kindly, moderate, old man returning from exile.  Ayatollah Khomeini.  Even The New York Times said at last we will see a humane government in a third world country.  Of course, that didn’t happen.  The ‘democratic’ revolution soon became a theocratic revolution.  Khomeini ushered in Sharia law.  And a rather oppressive interpretation at that.  Everything the women gained under the Shah was gone.  Women were property again.  Second class citizens.  Not the kind of hope and change they were protesting about.  In fact, a lot of their daughters say today, “Thanks, Mom.”  And, “What were you thinking about!?!”  Under their breath, of course.

The Iranian Revolution started out as a democratic movement upset about rampant unemployment and abject poverty.  And they were angry at the Shah’s oppressive regime that exercised dictatorial power.  That shut down all opposition voices.  A lot like in Egypt.  But underneath this there was another element lurking in the background.  An Islamic element.  Angry at the Shah’s Westernization of Iran.  And eager to restore the old, Islamic ways.  And while the first revolutionaries talked about democratic reform, these other revolutionaries planned their theocracy.  Then they installed it.  And the rest is history.  A sad one for those women who had achieved so much under the Shah’s rule.

As in Iran, Men and Women Stood side by side during the Egyptian Revolution.  Will they after the Revolution?

So another revolution comes and goes in the Arab world.  It took only 18 days.  Things were pretty good in Egypt for women before the revolution.  But what will life be like after the revolution (see Egypt women stand for equality in the square by Kathy Lally posted 2/18/2011 on The Washington Post)?

Women are far better off in Egypt than some parts of the Arab world. There are no religious police enforcing dress codes as in Iran, or prohibitions against driving as in Saudi Arabia. But Egyptian women are greatly underrepresented in public life and inferior to men before the law. They hold cabinet posts, but no judgeships. They are members of parliament, but have few seats. They occupy many professions, but not all.

Divorces are difficult to obtain and favor men, as do property rights. Women are encouraged to marry and have children early: The legal age of marriage was only recently raised from 16 to 18.

And, every day as they walk down the street, they are reminded of their low status – until Tahrir Square. Egyptian women are sexually harassed to an astonishing degree, groped, ogled, followed by catcalls, behavior that no law forbids. In a 2008 survey, the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights in Cairo found that 83 percent of Egyptian women and 98 percent of foreign women had been harassed at some point.

And this in a ‘far better off’ country in the Arab world.  Makes one wonder what happened in the not so better off countries.  The question is, will this be the high water mark for feminism in Egypt?  Will they now retreat on the advancements made in women’s rights?

“We were equal partners in this revolution,” she said, “and we are respected as such. Now we have to use the moment effectively, to make sure women participate in daily political life, to make sure they are involved in the development of political parties and labor movements.”

That’s kind of what the women said in Iran.  Of course, once that theocracy took hold, all hopes for women being involved in political parties and movements were over.  Will this be Egypt’s fate?  Or the Middle East’s?  A common enemy can unite a people.  Even the sexes.  But what about tradition and culture?  And religion?  How heavily will they weigh on the new governments borne of revolution?

Tunisia and Egypt – Oppressors of the People but Defenders of Feminism

What do Tunisia and Egypt have in common?  They both just disposed hated dictators.  And they were both bastions of women’s rights (see Are the Mideast revolutions bad for women’s rights? by Isobel Coleman posted 2/20/2011 on The Washington Post).

Tunisia, in particular, has been a bastion of women’s rights in a region known for the opposite. Shortly after independence in 1956, President Habib Bourguiba, the country’s secular authoritarian leader, pushed through a Personal Status Code which was remarkably liberal for its time. It granted women equal divorce rights to men, abolished polygamy, set minimum marriage ages, allowed access to birth control and even some access to abortion. Bourguiba modeled himself on Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey’s founder who force-marched his country into the modern age through a painful process of secularization – “for the people, despite the people,” as he once quipped.

The result is that Tunisian women today enjoy relatively high literacy and have achieved broad gains in law, medicine, business, academia and media.

But things got bad.  And the Tunisians protested about the same things the Iranians and the Egyptians did.  And the big question is this.  Now that there is a power vacuum, who will fill it?  A modern, democratic power?  Or an old school, theocratic power?  Like, say, the Muslim Brotherhood?

In Egypt, democracy will also create important openings for Islamist groups, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. In a 2007 Gallup survey, 64 percent of Egyptians polled said that sharia should be the only source of law in the country; an additional 24 percent said it should be a source of legislation. (There was little variation by gender.)

Still, Egyptians’ desire for sharia is balanced by a strong demand for modernization and a distaste for theocracy. Women’s rights will be a litmus test for the new government – a sign of where the country is headed. The Muslim Brotherhood unleashed a sea of controversy in 2007 when it released its party platform excluding women (and non-Muslims) from the presidency, and calling for a group of Islamic scholars to review and veto legislation that does not conform to religious rules. These conservative positions confirmed critics’ worst fears of the Brotherhood, and led to some soul-searching within the organization itself, especially among younger members who disagreed with the hard-line positions of their elders.

Those younger members should read a page from the Iranian Revolution history.  The young in Iran today are not all happy with their parent’s revolution.  Especially the women.  And the girls.

The rise of Salafism, a particularly conservative form of the faith propagated by Saudi Arabia, should worry Egyptian women’s groups. In recent years, tensions between secularists and Salafis have been rising, with Salafis calling for full veiling of women and gender segregation in universities. The Salafis’ following is evident in the rising number of Egyptian women wearing the niqab, the face-covering veil, long black abayas and even gloves on their hands to avoid physical contact with men.

Wearing the veil has become popular in Tunisia and Egypt for a variety of reasons, including as an expression of religious identity, conforming to social pressures and as a statement against the secular authoritarianism of the government. (The irony is that Egypt is the birthplace of Arab feminism, which in the first half of the 20th century put much energy into unveiling women.)

With Hosni Mubarak gone, activists will now have to contend with hard-core politics in a way that has been missing from Egypt’s Potemkin parliament. Controversial legislation, like the equal right to divorce that was passed in 2000, will come under pressure from Islamist lawmakers who fiercely opposed the bill. (Tunisia is the only other Arab country that grants women the right.) Women’s groups can no longer fall back upon a sympathetic Mubarak regime, which often sided with their cause.

Ah, yes, the hated Hosni Mubarak.  Champion of feminism.  Who they ran out of the country.  Much like the Shah of Iran.  One can only hope that the women of Egypt don’t end up like the women of Iran.

Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan – Still not Bastions of Women’s Rights

Of course, being a woman in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan was no picnic.  Under their law, the sentence for many offences was death.  Even for not wearing the proper traditional garb.  But that was then.  We toppled the Taliban from power in Afghanistan.  And the Saudi’s are a stalwart ally.  So how are things there now (see Why American troops in Afghanistan shouldn’t have to wear headscarves by Martha McSally posted 2/18/2011 in The Washington Post)?

In 2001, I was an Air Force lieutenant colonel and A-10 fighter pilot stationed in Saudi Arabia, in charge of rescue operations for no-fly enforcement in Iraq and then in Afghanistan. Every time I went off base, I had to follow orders and put on a black Muslim abaya and head scarf. Military officials said this would show “cultural sensitivity” toward conservative Saudi leaders and guarantee “force protection” – this in a nation where women couldn’t drive, vote or dress as they pleased…

In Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001, the world saw the hallmark of Taliban oppression – women who failed to cover up risked death. Now, nine years after the fall of the Taliban government, Afghan women are still required to cover themselves and have hardly moved toward the equal rights and liberties we envisioned. In conjunction, U.S. military women are simply submitting to Muslim practices that symbolize the plight of Afghan women when they put on the scarf themselves.

American servicewomen will continue to be viewed as second-class warriors if leaders push them to take up the customs of countries where women are second-class citizens.

It’s pretty bad when they make your liberators adopt the custom of the previously oppressed women.  There’s a mixed message here.  Rise up and enjoy your freedom.  But be obedient.  They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  And as tradition, culture and religion go, they don’t come much older.  Talk about democratic movements all you want.  But there is a heavy undertow of Islamic Fundamentalism in the Middle East.  And it’s going to take an extraordinary effort to resist it.  

Will the women make it to shore and enjoy democracy?  Or will they be dragged back and disappear beneath the surface of theocracy?  Like in that democratic revolution in Iran?  Let’s pray that feminism wins the day.  For if theocracy does, it won’t be only the women in the Middle East that suffer.  We all will.

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