Egypt’s revolution was stolen from the women

The female voices that triggered the dawn of the revolution are being pushed out of Tahrir Square through violent repression.

November 30, 2011 21:42
3 minute read.
Egyptian women walk past Muslim Brotherhood poster

Egyptian women walk past a Muslim Brotherhood poster 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)


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When retrospectively examining the early days of the uprising in Egypt, it almost seems as if women were deceptively and paradoxically enlisted to the revolution in order to perpetuate the existing power structure.

Were women appropriated by powerful male actors that control every sphere of life in Egypt both to trigger the popular uprisings and to create the appearance of a genuinely democratic social protest movement, while being systematically distanced from positions of power? Was the revolution stolen out from under them? Since February 2011, the international community has watched the dramatic repression of popular uprisings against tyrannical Arab leaders that ripped through the Middle East following the deposal of Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak.

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Today, as the first round of elections have taken place and the transitional government is to be replaced by an elected parliament, it is safe to assume that the women’s voices heard in the early days have been silenced and expelled, for now, from the political playing field.

Unprecedented female participation was witnessed in the political movement that emerged in the weeks before Mubarak was removed from office. It is estimated that between 20 to 40 percent of the masses that gathered daily in Tahrir Square were women. This fact alone is stunning.

The general picture that emerged on Western TV screens was that a feminist agenda, calling for equality to all, was being voiced by the Egyptian masses.

With a Western, perhaps naïve approach, this was interpreted as a proof of the genuine democratic character of the demonstrations. This Western approach, however, as in other Middle Eastern scenarios, too easily ignored a long history of conservative political culture, gravitation towards Islamic tradition, and a classic preference for male leadership. These are the values storming Tahrir Square right now.

MUBARAK’S DEPOSAL created a leadership and ideological void, which new and old political actors rushed to fill. Some 50 political parties declared their intention to run for parliament. With a crumbling economy and almost half of Egypt’s population unemployed, naturally the people sought solid leadership that would change the political system dramatically enough to let people live in dignity and enjoy modest freedoms.

The two main political powers competing here are the Islamic-religious vs the secular-military.

But where are the women? They’re out of the game, used and abused.The female voices that not only participated, but triggered the dawn of the revolution, are being pushed out of Tahrir Square through violent repression.

The liberal elements that generated the initial movement, women included, exhibited genuinely democratic intentions, but failed to consolidate an organized political structure that could compete against established organizations that were already entrenched in the power hierarchy.

The secular military and the Islamic religious organizations share a similar attitude towards women. The easiest way for them to consolidate power is to distance women from the centers of power, and preserving power for men is a key element of their ideologies and identities.

The Islamists did not bother to wait to win the elections before deploying their new order in the streets of Cairo.

Following several assaults and violent arrests of female reporters and demonstrators, on November 25, Reporters Without Borders issued an official warning to female journalists to avoid the Tahrir Square area, the single most important point of interest for news agencies in Egypt. Arresting, abusing and humiliating women in order to discourage their presence in public life emerged as a clear policy.

US President Barack Obama stated that no country can fulfill its true potential when half of its population cannot fulfill its own potential. The prospect of meaningful change in the position of women in Egypt seems grim, and one has to wonder how bright the horizon is for Egyptians at the polling stations today.

The writer is the founder and executive director of the New Family organization.

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