The Yamout sisters are social workers who are experts in countering and preventing Islamist extremism in Lebanon. Maya + Nancy have an NGO called Rescue Me - and it’s for crime prevention in their community. They have worked in Roumieh Prison, Barbar al-Khazen Prison, mosques in Tripoli, slums in Beirut and valleys near the Syrian border for 9 years with men, women and children either affiliated or affected by violent extremism. This is for our PRX + Google Podcasts creator program.
The sister social workers (Rescue Me NGO), myself and a former victim held under ISIS (in Manbij for 3 years) went to Tripoli, Lebanon to a mosque known for its conservative Sunni believers. It is called Taqwa mosque and has been a site of a lot of violence. The women we surveyed today have husbands and sons inside Roumieh prison accused of fighting for ISIS, Nusra, Qaeda or Fateh al Islam. We want to know how these women feel about the extremist groups they are vulnerable to joining.
Today, I came to a protest in Saida, #Lebanon with sister social workers who run an NGO called Rescue Me. The protest is for Ahl A7dass Abra which consists of a lot of mothers and wives of men held in Roumieh prison for terror charges. These women protest the lack of due process and claim their loved ones are innocent. Obviously this isn’t always true and these men go in quite religiously charged, already angry at the system and are released even more committed to Sunni extremism.
Hay al-Gharbe is a slum in Beirut with undercover cells of Islamist extremists and Syrian refugees alike. While some of the residents here were held captive in Syria and tortured for years under ISIS, their neighbors can sometimes be secret supporters of the group. Nancy Yamout and her NGO, Rescue Me conduct wide ranging social work in communities affected and affiliated with Islamists. Many women in this region are change makers, unafraid of breaking the rules for their communities.
The LGBTQ+ community is strong and coordinated in Beirut, and it is full of revolutionaries making a push to create a more inclusive, freer Middle East. We are usually not allowed to photograph or video for safety reasons and because the police could always raid - but I asked the queens and the coordinator of the ball to make this vide. As the generations who came before us, it is clear that lesbians, transwomen and drag queens are at the helm of the Arab queer movement.
I met a guy named Ali Mhanna who used to play soccer for a National Lebanese team. He transformed family land bordering the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp into a soccer field for kids. It’s people like these men who are securing alternative spaces for the kids in the dilapidated and dangerous corners of the Middle East. Instead of getting mixed up with the drug, sex or human trafficking criminal trades these kids have somewhere to play.
How do we choose the memories of who we were in order to become what we want? For instance, the first belly dancers in Egypt were effeminate men. Or how old leaders are revised as the best leaders. Or how women used to be freer but in fact literacy among them was much lower. How religion was practiced versus how it is now? What do we remember and how does that bias how we build forward?
Underground Drag Queen Culture in Beirut
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