Russia & UAE: A big week for women in air and space

This week saw the 4th ever female cosmonaut go into space and the first ever United Arab Emirates female combat pilot go into action in Syria.

Russia’s Yelena Serova launched into space yesterday aboard a Soyuz flight from Kazakhstan and arrived overnight at the International Space Station. She is the first woman in Russia’s space program to go to space since Yelena V. Kondakova‘s space shuttle flight (STS-84, Atlantis) in May 1997, which went to the Mir station.

Kondakova, now a member of the Russian Duma (parliament) for the ruling party, went to space twice during her career as a cosmonaut, but was actually only the 3rd ever Soviet or Russian female cosmonaut — making Serova the 4th in the entire program’s history. The Soviet Union, notably, sent a woman into space two decades before the U.S. did the same, but failed to capitalize on that milestone (not even sending its second until 19 years later). This stands in contrast with the opportunities opened to many women in NASA and space programs around the world since then.

In another part of the world, the United Arab Emirates announced on U.S. television that their pioneering female combat pilot, Major Mariam Al Mansouri, led the UAE’s airstrikes on ISIS positions in Syria, as part of the US-led coalition:

[UAE Ambassador to the US] Al Otaiba also confirmed that Major Mariam Al Mansouri, 35, an F-16 pilot, will lead the air strike missions on ISIL.

“I can officially confirm that the UAE strike mission on Monday night was led by female fighter pilot Mariam Al Mansouri,” he said.

“She is a fully qualified, highly trained, combat-ready pilot and she is on a mission.”
Maj Al Mansouri has an undergraduate degree in English literature and is the first woman to join the Khalifa bin Zayed Air College, graduating in 2008.

She is expected to continue commanding the UAE’s missions in Syria in the coming days and weeks.

Ambassador Al Otaiba cited her as a positive example of how Arab states and Muslim societies can be more moderate and open than the stereotype, while retaining their identities. The example was offered in contrast to both ISIS and some of the Emirates’ neighboring countries. You can read more about Major Al Mansouri and her path to the skies here.

Cosmonaut Yelena Serova (via NASA/Wikimedia) and Maj. Mariam al-Mansouri (via WAM/The National)

Cosmonaut Yelena Serova (via NASA/Wikimedia) and Maj. Mariam al-Mansouri (via WAM/The National)

US suddenly surprised to find Mideast states acting unilaterally

A couple weeks ago, the United Arab Emirates Air Force struck targets in Libya’s capital in a surprise attack. According to the Pentagon, this secret operation attacked Islamist militias opposing the Zintan Brigade, which the UAE supports, and it was launched from Egyptian air bases. Both the UAE and Egyptian air forces — which are currently strongly opposed to political Islam and Islamic terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa regions — are trained and armed with American help, but the United States was not expecting or endorsing such an operation.

An Al Jazeera America headline blared an ominous warning: “UAE strikes on Libya stir US fears of a free-for-all in the Middle East”.

American unilateralism in the Middle East (particularly Iraq) combined with our arming and training these military forces to be self-sufficient was pretty much asking for that outcome. We provided the means and the model. They seized the opportunity. Why should we be surprised?

And as former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chas Freeman is quoted in there as saying, Israel’s been doing the same thing for years (unilateral force actions, against US wishes, with US military aid) in its immediate sphere, so why should these other countries restrain themselves against targets that can’t hit back?

“Gulf states and Egypt have seen many instances of Israel doing whatever it wants without us,” Freeman said. “They’re saying, if Israel can use U.S. weapons to defy the U.S. and pursue its own foreign policy objectives, why can’t they?”

Moreover, the US seems to have managed to systematically take out all the restraints and countermeasures that had been delicately balancing the Middle East/North Africa and Southwest Asia regions, without then having a plan for what to replace it with, except more weapons to even more diffused points. And then we’re shocked — just shocked! — to see the house of cards start to fold in on itself in slow-motion. Which is not to say the US should have continued supporting most of those status quo regimes — they are the reason we’re in such a mess of rampant radicalism — but the handling of it from 2001 to present has been catastrophic. There had to have been a better plan to unravel the system than figuratively and sometimes literally carpet-bombing it without a roadmap toward any sort of objective.
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