Sunday 29 May 2011

The Revolution Will Not Be Gender-Specific

When the Arab Spring began, I started following on Twitter several reporters and journalists -- many of them Arabs of various nations -- covering the news.

I've continued following most of them, including the wonderful Egyptian-American writer Mona Eltahawy. She retweets a lot and today she is retweeting a series from Leil-Zahra Mortada, who witnessed an outrageous act of, sadly, not at all unusual sexual street harassment of women in Egypt. Here's the story from another source.

The outrage stems from the occasion and the victim's identity. She is iconic actress Sherihan, who has been a part of the uprising all along. (Photos here if you're curious.)

The occasion was another demonstration in Tahrir Square yesterday. Islamists had said they would not participate, so people were anticipating a secular, progressive event.


If you haven't been following events in Egypt, you might think things are all rosy there. They're not. The army has turned out to be not such great fans of revolution. People are being arrested and detained for demonstrating and speaking up. 'Thugs' beat and harass people.

Progressives and the young people who started all this are pissed. Women in particular are pissed.

Hence, further demonstrations. Which the authorities are obviously trying to quell.

The assault did not happen in Tahrir Square but after Sherihan left. Leil-Zahra:
@monaeltahawy Plz spread, most Egyptian media is trying to taint Tahrir saying all happened in the square during the protest.

Tweeps are saying it was not the 'usual' sexual street harassment. Sherihan says she doesn't know who the men were, but calls them 'thugs'.

When Lara Logan was assaulted, the western media was alllll over it. And, of course, the usual nutbars got all shrieeky with their knee-jerk Muslim bashing and simultaneous 'Where are the feminists?' schtick. With the added frisson of victim-blaming, as in 'Well, what did a good looking blonde broad expect?'

I just searched for 'Sherihan' at Google News. This is what I got: *crickets*. (BTW, Sherihan is a pretty stunning looking brunette, i.e. media fodder.)

So, I'm a feminist and I'm here and I'm pissed. This reminds me of my young feminist/anti-war activist self. Just as now in Egypt and elsewhere, women were being told: 'Let's just get this war stopped/democracy going and then we'll get to your [teensy] concerns.'

Egyptian women are being targetted and used. They bloody well know it and are not going to stand for it. Here's Eltahawy again in a recent interview with Amy Goodman discussing Logan's experience.
You know, myself and every Egyptian woman I know have been subjected to groping or other kinds of street sexual harassment.
. . .
And, you know, what happened when Tahrir Square was opened was, those who didn’t join the revolution came out to Tahrir Square. So this kind of utopian atmosphere we had in Tahrir Square, you know, was ruined by people who came either from the Mubarak regime supporters or others who were not part of the revolution. So, women in Egypt and their male allies recognize that the revolution must continue not just politically, but also culturally and socially, as a way of ensuring that women’s rights do not disappear just because the Mubarak regime has been toppled and that women must continue this fight, along with their male allies.

Gonna be a long fight. But I'm counting on the courage and persistence of the people of the Arab Spring to get it done.

ADDED: Info (mostly Arabic) is being pooled on this Facebook page.


The Mound of Sound said...

Fern, I truly sympathize with your outrage but I think it's going to take years before Egypt is sorted out. Some Muslim countries like Turkey have been far more gender liberal than most. The Afghan state where we've been busy "nation building" for a decade remains among the most backward.

Our Judeo-Christian culture isn't nearly as misogynist as Islam but the advance of women's rights took an awful lot of time even for us and we're still not "there."

The presence of so many truly strong women in the Egyptian protest movement is encouraging because it gives hope but they'll probably be waging a heated battle for gender equality - political, social and economic - for the rest of their lives.

fern hill said...

No doubt there will be tough sledding and dark days ahead. And that brand of ugly and virulent misogyny is well-entrenched.

It will be years. But as people kept saying, 'Once you've beaten the fear, it's gone.'

The gang I really fear for is LGBT. That's a decades-long battle, I bet.

Námo Mandos said...

I'm sometimes truly astonished by the number of people who are shocked that the Arab Spring did not immediately turn on their schedule into some sort of progressive utopia. The worst are the conservatives who use that claim...but don't want the same progressiveness here.

These are societies with unresolved conflicts that have been submerged for some time. The Arab Spring is a necessary first step, not the end goal.

Poland *also* has theocratic impulses even now, as I understand it.

deBeauxOs said...

The Mound of Sound said... Some Muslim countries like Turkey have been far more gender liberal than most.

Sadly, Türkiye currently has a PM who is systematically eroding women's rights, through his under-handed efforts to de-secularize the country. Read more about Erdoğan here.

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