Egyptian-British journalist Alya Mooro’s search for ‘The Greater Freedom’

Mooro recognizes that her background makes it easier for her to pursue the ‘greater freedom’ she is advocating. (Supplied)
Updated 06 December 2019

Egyptian-British journalist Alya Mooro’s search for ‘The Greater Freedom’

  • The Egyptian-British writer’s first book explores identity, religion, beauty and more from Middle Eastern women’s viewpoints

DHAHRAN: Egyptian-British journalist and blogger Alya Mooro released her first book last month. “The Greater Freedom: Life as a Middle Eastern Woman Outside The Stereotypes” was selected as an editor’s pick on Amazon UK, reached number eight on the Amazon Kindle charts on release, and hit number one across a range of categories. Feedback has been tremendously positive, Mooro says — and not just from Arab women.

“It made me realize that this is a universal story,” she tells Arab News. “Women from all different cultures were able to relate and find that they have had shared experiences. What’s important is that we come together and share our experiences to overcome challenges, together.”

For Mooro, the ‘greater freedom’ lies in breaking free of social and cultural expectations and having the power to follow one’s own path. For the book, she drew on her own experiences, interviews with other Middle Eastern women, and statistics from various sources to explore identity, religion, politics, media narratives, relationships, beauty and appearance.

Mooro’s mother — like many immigrant parents — was afraid her children would assimilate completely into British culture, and in the process lose any connection to their Eastern heritage. “My mother would say: ‘We don’t do things like this,’ or ‘We don’t do that,’” Mooro says. “And I would always wonder, ‘Who are ‘they’ and why should ‘we’ be doing things a certain way?’”

She says she was chided for seemingly trivial freedoms like going out with her friends or wearing her naturally curly hair as it was (“reinforcing deeply-rooted beliefs about identity, beauty, and appearance,” she says). In chapter two of the book, headed “When you learn how you’re supposed to look,” Mooro cites other women, who — like herself — faced social situations that reinforced the belief that an Arab woman would never be as attractive as someone with fair hair and skin.

“For Middle Eastern women, many of these ideals go against what our biology naturally allows. These are the shapes our mothers gave us with one hand and, with the other, tried to change,” Mooro writes.

“The Greater Freedom” is Alya Mooro's first book. (Supplied)

She also addresses how, in the age of social media, women are under pressure to construct an alternate reality and use filters to hide flaws, while, on the other hand, they are also able to use the power of the platform to voice their opinions, create an identity, and empower other women. Prominent examples include British activist Jameela Jamil, who has been vocal about body positivity and Abeer Sinder, who has rejected conventional ideals of beauty (in the region) and gone on to become the first black beauty vlogger in Saudi Arabia. 

“When I grew up, similar restrictions and myths played out in my relationships and in the world around me,” Mooro writes.  In the same chapter, she talks about grappling with the intersection of identity in the current political climate. “Growing Islamophobia, Brexit, and the whole anti-immigrant stance came as shock — London is home, where do I go from here?”

“I felt ‘othered’ when people made assumptions about my religion and my identity,” she explains. It was the lack of positive narratives in mainstream media that prompted Mooro to write her book. “I felt I should provide an alternative narrative to the conversation; I have a bird’s eye view of both cultures and I am in a position to voice the opinions of family, friends, and other Middle Eastern women,” she says. “(It was) almost my duty to write this book.”

Mooro recognizes that her background makes it easier for her to pursue the ‘greater freedom’ she is advocating. “Coming from a liberal and supportive family, I have a privilege that I acknowledge; not all women have a choice to pursue what resonates with them and the greater freedom of making their own decisions,” she says.

However, she hopes to create real change by encouraging young girls and women to be brave and follow a path that serves them, as opposed to blindly following societal or cultural norms. “There might be pressure to fit in,” she says, “but have faith in yourself and trust your gut.”

Lebanese actress Nadine Njeim undergoes 6-hour surgery after Beirut explosion 

Updated 54 min 43 sec ago

Lebanese actress Nadine Njeim undergoes 6-hour surgery after Beirut explosion 

DUBAI: Lebanese actress Nadine Nassib Njeim revealed on Instagram that she underwent a six-hour surgery after a massive explosion ripped through Beirut on Tuesday, killing over 100 people and injuring thousands. 

“Half my face and my body were covered in blood,” said Njeim, who lives close to the port area where the explosion happened, captioning a video – shot by someone else – of her damaged apartment.

“I thank God first, who saved my life. The explosion was close, and the scenes you see do not do it justice. If you visit the house and see the blood everywhere, you would be surprised as to how we are still alive,” the star, who has two children, wrote captioning the clip that shows shattered glass, cracked walls and broken furniture strewn all over her living room.

According to her post, the star went down 22 floors, barefoot and covered in blood and sought help from a man who was in his car. 

“He dropped me to the nearest hospital, but they refused to admit me because they were packed with wounded people,” she said. “He dropped me to another hospital where they immediately took me in and I underwent a six-hour operation.” 

The 36-year-old actress said her children were not home and are “fine and safe.”

Multiple Lebanese celebrities have also taken to social media to share videos of their destroyed homes. 

Singer Haifa Wehbe shared, on her Instagram Stories, clips of the destruction that ravaged her home. “We are all okay thank God. My house is next to the explosion,” she wrote to her followers before asking them to keep her house helper, who got injured in her head and eyes, in their prayers.

Clips circulated on social media of Lebanese fashion designer Dalida Ayach, who is also the wife of singer Ramy Ayach, in the hospital being treated for her injuries. 

Singer Elissa, who recently released a new album, took to Twitter to share pictures of the aftermath of the explosion. “It affected the metals and the properties this time, but who will bring back the dead? Who will bring back Beirut?” the star wrote.

Singer Ragheb Alama’s house also got destroyed, but luckily, he and his family were on a trip outside the city.

The ateliers of renowned Lebanese designers have also been ruined, including Maison Rabih Kayrouz and Ralph Masri’s flagship stores.

Taking to his Stories, Kayrouz shared videos of the damage caused by the explosion to his atelier. “Our courageous team trying to save… what could be saved!” the designer captioned one clip of one of the atelier workers pulling out clothing from the debris.