Beware the Ides of March

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Men and women protesting side by side in the midst of the 18-day Revolution. More than 30 women are known to have been killed during the Revolution.

The ‘Million Women’s March’ that was organised and took place on March 8th was not the success that many Egyptians, both men and women, had hoped it would be. The March was intended to demonstrate that Egyptian women intended to and expected to play an equal role in the political, social, and economic landscape of a post-revolution Egypt. They demanded that a new constitution allow for women to be able to hold any office, including the Presidency. They demanded fairness and equality, and for an end to the gender- based discrimination that has plagued Egypt throughout its entire modern history. For a country that is meant to be heading forward in a progressive and democratic manner, these demands are necessary and significant.

Unfortunately, the March was marred by a counter-demonstration composed of men who both rejected these demands, solely on the basis of gender, and then harassed and groped the women until the military intervened. Some men did attempt to stand by the women, but they were assaulted and accused of being queer.

The events of the demonstration highlighted two important factors: 1) that women must play a part in a new Egypt, as part of an equal and just society, and 2) that ignorance remains a dark cloud hanging over Egypt.

The irony of the Women’s March being attacked in Midan el Tahrir, the focal point of a Revolution that overlooked differences between Egyptians in order to achieve the common goal of freedom, is shocking. As Egyptians of all creeds joined together to oust President Mubarak, they represented a future that would not be rife with social inequalities, but instead one in which a meritocracy would unfold, and each citizen would be viewed as an individual with potential rather than as a member of a particular group of people. The actions of March 8th represent a step backwards, and a view that while all Egyptians were represented in Liberation Square, only men would be endowed with liberty afterwards. And the question remains, what of the women who lost their lives for the message of freedom and equality? To ignore their sacrifice is beyond reason.

Women played an active role in the Revolution, and many have credited the restraint of violence on the part of the demonstrators to the fact that women were involved. Women played a huge role in providing aid to the injured, as well as reporting and blogging. Israa Abdel Fattah, Gigi Ibrahim, Asmaa Mahfouz, and countless others were involved in providing information to news agencies, raising awareness and helping those not present in Egypt to keep up with events. Sally Zahran was a demonstrator who made the ultimate sacrifice. Overall, at least more than 30 women are known to have died during the Revolution.

The issue at hand is not one of praise of the women who put themselves in danger for their country, although they no doubt should be. The issue if one of respect. If we cannot look past our fellow citizen’s gender, the most basic of differences, then how as a society will we look past differences in religion, political belief, wealth, and social status? If anything, the acceptance of women as equals should be a trigger to propel our nation forward.

A few factors need to be considered however, these mainly being the lack of education which fosters this ignorance, and the contemptuous attitude from religious authorities. Simply put, the education system in Egypt is a joke. State-run schools perform at woefully below-par levels compared to their counterparts not only in the West but even around the Middle East. And Cairo University, once a leading institution, has deteriorated dramatically. Many continue to forget that women have played huge roles in the development of the modern Egypt; Hoda Shaarawi and Doria Shafik are names that stand out. A lack of education, especially for Egypt’s poorer demographic will only lead to more ignorance about women’s rights, and about the ability of women to participate in a free society. The medieval gender roles of the occupational man and the brood-rearing woman remain entwined with Egyptian society, and this is unlikely to change without proper education.

The second and just as influential benefactor to this ignorance is the role that religion plays. While there are some who believe in equality, due to established social paradigms both Muslim and Coptic leaders are hesitant to voice any support for women’s rights. In a society where religion holds a primary role in daily life, this silence will only hinder women’s rights. Pre-conceived notions of religion that establish patriarchal and misogynist tendencies must be done away with. The Wahabbi interpretation of Islam must be recognised as incompatible with a modern Egypt, and the best place for this to done is through Al-Azhar, the world’s leading Muslim university. An entirely secular constitution would be the most beneficial for Egypt, as it would remove many of these pre-conceived notions from the governmental sphere. Finally, one should look at the broad jurisprudence of feminism regarding this subject.

If anyone thought that all of Egypt’s troubles would be solved the day after the Revolution, they could not be more wrong. This is a process that will take time, and will take the efforts of all Egyptians who want a truly free and just society, regardless of their gender.



Written by BraveNewEgypt

March 13, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Posted in Post-11.02.2011

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