Censoring Saint Valentine

On the eve of Valentines Day, the Pakistani government issued a staunch warning to its media to avoid reporting the “depraving, corrupting and injuring” holiday. It’s not banned in Pakistan, but Pakistan’s Electronic Media Regulatory Authority warned the press that a “large chunk” of its population are against Valentine’s Day celebrations on principal, with some Islamist groups protesting against the festivities. The Malaysian government has offered similar warnings to its Muslim population. In India, activists of the Shiv Sena Hindu right-wing group held protests against St Valentine.

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— An anti-Valentine’s Day demonstration held in Amritsar, India

Many Indonesian officials and clerics see Valentine’s Day as nothing more than an excuse for illicit pre-marital relations. The deputy mayor of Depok, Idris Abdul Somad, warned the public off celebrating and dismissed Valentines Day as a public holiday for sex and urged citizens to replace romance with religion by participating in Islamic activities. In Jambi, on Sumatra island, and Solo, in Central Java, hundreds of students held protests against Valentine’s Day on 13 February. In Aceh, the only Indonesian province living under Islamic law, authorities enforced a ban on novelty gifts.

In Iran, Valentine’s Day was banned in 2011 to avoid the spread of western culture. It didn’t stop some citizens from celebrating today though, as shoppers hunted for gifts, despite the regime banning the sale of cards or heart shaped novelties, with florists being threatened with closure should they sell red roses. In Saudi Arabia it’s a similar story; Pre-marital relations are met with staunch punishment. Valentine’s is viewed as a pagan holiday and activities are monitored and curbed by the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

The censorship of Valentine’s Day isn’t excluded to Islamic countries. In Florida, high-school goers learned the hard way that school is for learning, not for loving after two Orlando schools banned Valentine’s Day, promising to turn away deliveries of gifts that arrive at school to avoid distraction.

Regardless of sanctions, lovers will still exchange the whispers of sweet nothings and secretly bought gifts. This Valentines Day, whether it’s a Mills and Boon novel for one, or a supermarket meal deal for two, remember that it’s not forbidden — yet.

After Pharoah

The cars started flowing through downtown Cairo’s Tahrir Square again on Sunday. Most of the protesters, who had made the massive public space their revolutionary home since 28 January, departed willingly. They meticulously cleaned it before they left, and many already spoke of a growing sense of nostalgia for the utopian ethos that embodied the Republic of Tahrir.

When Mubarak’s resignation was announced on Friday — less than 24 hours after his final, disastrously tone-deaf speech to his people — Egyptians basically launched a three-day street party. I heard a lot of people making, “It’s like we won the World Cup” analogies; I even made one myself.

But looking back, this seems even bigger. This was a “Berlin Wall” moment; the euphoria and national pride that accompanies a huge football victory was mixed with a realization that everyone’s life would be different after today.

Even now, as normality largely returns to the city, there’s a valedictory mood. Friends who hadn’t met since before Friday are still greeting each other with “congratulations”.

It’s a time to recover and take stock.

Mubarak is apparently in his presidential palace in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh. Unconfirmed rumours abound regarding both his health and his potential exile destinations.

The Supreme Armed Forces Council, which now runs the country, has dissolved the parliament, suspended the constitution, offered new elections in September and pledged an orderly transition to an elected civilian government. They haven’t however lifted or repealed the notorious “emergency laws” and there’s concern that a current wave of post-resignation labour strikes will be banned or forcibly suppressed.

Journalists are shifting from breathless news reports to more investigative and exploratory work. A lot of journalistic effort is being spent meticulously recreating Mubarak’s final hours — leading up to and following his Thursday night non-resignation speech.

Some (including this reporter) are even planning to take long-suffering spouses out for an actual Valentine’s Day dinner.