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Women in Egypt in the Post Revolutionary Period

Posted on the 25 April 2012 by Warigia
Dear readers 
This blog has been outspoken about its support for women, Egyptian women of all races creeds and colors. Folks, there is a lot of work to do.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro of NPR reported in January that "one group suffered a shocking disappointment in Egypt's parliamentary election-women." In Egypt's New Parliament Women will be Scarce (January 19, 2012).
As you know, I did my own counting of the women in Parliament, and I predicted that it was not going to be pretty. (See e.g. Names of Women in Egypt's Parliament and see also No Women Elected to Egypt's Parliament in First Round)
So, now that it is all over but the shouting, NPR reported that there were only likely to be about eight women elected out of the 508 seats, which is less than two percent of the seats in Parliament. As I wrote about in previous posts, women were generally placed far enough down the lists, that it reduced their probability of being elected.
This is just one symptom of the difficulties facing women in Egypt. Mona Eltahawy, herself an activist who was brutally beaten sexually assaulted and detained by the Egyptian Interior Ministry, has written a compelling piece in Foreign Policy recently, Why Do They Hate Us?   I guess the first question that I ask myself when reading the title is who is "they."?
She made some arguments that really resonated with me. First of all, she highlights the fact that 90 percent of ever-married women in Egypt have experienced female genital mutilation. One of my students in Egypt did a presentation on that, and it is a statistic that is hard to believe. It is also very difficult to verify. That being said, a young woman who lived below me in my building was only 17 and had experienced the cut. She was worried about how to protect her sisters. In my personal tribal tradition, the Kikuyu, women were circumcised. My grandfather protected my mother and her sisters from the cut, and educated them. Those decisions helped make me who I am. Thus, Mona, whose family went through a similar process, and I have much in common as African women, though countries apart.
When we talk about the "they" in Mona's article, it must be said that women are part of the they. Women, after all, perform the circumcision which so brutally erases women's femaleness, and often leads to horrible medical problems. Women parliamentarians, such as the woman who heads the womens' committee of the Muslim Brotherhood said that women should let their husbands and brothers march for them, it is more "dignified."
Mona writes that a quarter of the parliamentary seats in Egypt are held by Salafis, a fairly radical Islamic sect that is very strict, very fundamentalist, and unfortunately, anti-woman. Women are not to be seen or heard, writes Eltahawy. When I visited a Salafi neighborhood, I saw something I had never witnessed before. A woman wore a burka, covering her whole body in Black. Her head was covered, and her face as well, by a garment called a nekab, which only allows one's eyes to show. But over that covering, the woman wore yet another veil, so that her view of the world was obscured by a layer of thin cloth. Surely this dress leads one to never leave the house, lest one lose ones step. Further, it feels like a kind of self-disappearance, as though one is making oneself invisible through numerous shrouds.
I heard an interview with Mona on the radio with Steve Inskeep. Mona Eltahawy Explains Why Women are hated in the Middle East.  Ha ha. He asked the question that I had in my mind, who are "they"?
Mona states that "they" are the misogynists and partriarchs in the middle east. Some argue that Mona is playing into right wing stereotypes that lead to armed invasions of Middle Eastern countries.  Do Arabs Really Hate Women?  (I might add that I think Monica Marks comments that marginalize Mona Eltahawy as a mere "native informant" strike me as very arrogant, and situated in White, Western privilege. But, I believe Eltahawy has a compelling counter to this point. I like Mona's point that "we are going through a revolution. This is the time to shake everything." She also notes that she is fighting against both the Western right wing, and the Muslim right wing. She characterizes the Muslim Brotherhood as part of that Muslim Right Wing.
I love her point "that women are the vectors of religion and culture. Our wombs are the future, and if you don't control that future by controlling women's bodies, you've lost control generally." This point really resonates with me in the American context, where we face personhood amendments. I also love her point that we have to speak honestly about this. We really do. So let us start speaking about women's rights in Egypt, and keep speaking, and never, ever stop. . . 

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