Positioning women within their individual economic situations, identities, families, and geographies, Women in the Middle East examines the experiences of women in the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, in Iran, and in all the Arab countries. Keddie discusses the interaction of a changing Islam with political, cultural, and socioeconomic developments. In doing so, she shows that, like other major religions, Islam incorporated ideas and practices of male superiority but also provoked challenges to them. Keddie breaks with notions of Middle Eastern women as faceless victims, and assesses their involvement in the rise of modern nationalist, socialist, and Islamist movements. While acknowledging that conservative trends are strong, she notes that there have been significant improvements in Middle Eastern women's suffrage, education, marital choice, and health.
Efrati revisits the British strategy of efficient rule, largely adopted by the Iraqi government they erected and the consequent gender policy that emerged. The attempt to control Iraq through "authentic leaders"—giving them legal and political powers—marginalized the interests of women and virtually sacrificed their well-being altogether. Iraqi women refused to resign themselves to this fate. From the state's early days, they drew attention to the biases of the Tribal Criminal and Civil Disputes Regulation (TCCDR) and the absence of state intervention in matters of personal status and resisted women's disenfranchisement. Following the coup of 1958, their criticism helped precipitate the dissolution of the TCCDR and the ratification of the Personal Status Law. A new government gender discourse shaped by these past battles arose, yet the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, rather than helping cement women's rights into law, reinstated the British approach. Pressured to secure order and reestablish a pro-Western Iraq, the Americans increasingly turned to the country's "authentic leaders" to maintain control while continuing to marginalize women. Efrati considers Iraqi women's efforts to preserve the progress they have made, utterly defeating the notion that they have been passive witnesses to history.
The book begins with an introduction that examines the pre-Islamic Middle East and North Africa. The balance of the chapters are organized thematically and provide detailed country studies for 19 nations. Chapters discuss work, law, religion, family, politics, and culture, exploring the changes women have undergone over a period of roughly 1,500 years.
Also exploring such images in the United States, Spain, the former Yugoslavia, Tunisia, Algeria, Lebanon, and Iraq, this collection offers a chorus of multidimensional voices that counter Islamophobia and destructive clichés. Encompassing the symbolic national and religious identities of Muslim women, this study goes beyond those facets to examine the realities of day-to-day existence in societies that seek scapegoats and do little to defend the victims of hate crimes. Enhancing their scholarly perspectives, many of the contributors (including the editor) have lived through the strife they analyze. This project taps into their firsthand experiences of war and deadly political oppression.