Some of Egypt’s Women Still Await Their Own Revolution

Article Summary
Egyptian women had hoped the post-Mubarak government would address Egypt's rampant inequality and sexual harassment, writes Nawal el-Saadawi. While a number of women have sprung to prominence, most notably the president's wife, they aren't taking a stand for women's rights, which have increasingly deteriorated in the name of religion.

After the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) played a role in obstructing the efforts of the Egyptian Feminist Union, which was formed in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo on February 13, 2011. SCAF ordered the formation of the National Council for Women (NCW), which does not differ much from the Suzanne Mubarak Council in its submission to the ruling authorities. The NCW is led by the same figures that worked with Suzanne Mubarak, along with other women's organizations that were formed during the Mubarak regime.

After the Islamic movement came to power, a number of women — wearing headscarves and the full face veil — have sprung to prominence, most notably President Mohammed Morsi's wife. However, none of these women are taking a stand for women's rights, which have increasingly deteriorated in the name of religion and Islamic law. Furthermore, these women have reiterated the stance of the dominant political currents, saying that female circumcision and the veil are an intrinsic part of Egyptian Muslim women's identity. They attack those who fight for women's liberation, accusing them of blasphemy or national treason, or at the very least saying that they have adopted the inferior morals of Western women.

The liberation of women cannot be separated from the liberation of Egypt as a whole. For 60 years these women activists have drawn a connection between liberating Egypt from Western colonialism and liberating Egyptian men and women from an internal oppressive patriarchal system. Women's rights were supposed to have been a a major political, social and cultural issue following the January 2011 Egyptian revolution — which called for social justice, freedom and dignity for all men and women — after women stood alongside men during the revolution. However, current political issues are not based on the principle of justice for all, but rather revolve around power grabs following the revolution.

Women are not a part of current power circles. Most women are indoors, veiled and shackled by the absolute authority of patriarchal family law. Even if a woman leaves the home to work and provide for her family, she is still subject to the rule of her husband; he can seize her money, divorce her whenever he wants or take on another wife.

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Anyone who calls for the liberation of women is treated as though they are calling for the destruction of religion and the end of religious and national taboos. He or she is considered an agent of the West, for a foreigner is considered the enemy of God and the homeland. Despite a long struggle, Egyptian women (and Egyptian men of conscience) have failed to change the personal status law as a result of a chronic fear of "divine punishment."

The "virginity tests" that were carried out on women revolutionary activists were merely a ploy to spark fear among these women and their families, so that their parents would forbid them from going out to protest. They fear for their daughter’s virginity and want to protect the family's honor, which to the Egyptian people is just as important as the honor of the ruler.

Women's liberation becomes further complicated given the rise of internal and external right-wing capitalist forces and their allies, including religious political currents in Egypt and abroad. Moreover, political forces on the left — including socialists and communists who are fighting capitalism and class oppression of workers — do not care about the rights of women. They know that the liberation of women could destabilize the patriarchal system within the family, thus threatening the authoritarian interests of the husband and the father.

Although these left-wing forces may, in part, be enthusiastic about women's rights, it is only because they want to use these women in their revolts against the capitalist colonial right, imperialism, Zionism and the authoritarian Egyptian state. They support women's rights on the condition that women do not take it one step further and demand a change to family law, or demand full constitutional equality between fathers and mothers and husbands and wives.

All of the political forces in Egypt — including those from the left, right and center — which were tasked with preparing the new constitution, differed on all topics except one: maintaining the personal status law which is based on absolute male authority. A leftist revolutionary political leader recently published his party's platform, aimed at realizing the goals of the revolution — freedom, social justice and dignity — however the platform made no mention of women's rights or equality between men and women in the personal status law. According to the constitution, social justice only applies outside of the home. A patriarchal family system remains an unchangeable sanctity for the left and the right alike, including political religious currents on the right and socialists, communists,liberals and anti-colonialists on the left.

The Egyptian left failed to liberate workers, peasants and the laboring classes from poverty and illiteracy, and now it is the woman's responsibility to remain poor and illiterate. If she calls for women's liberation or an end to sexual assault they accuse her of "elitism." Men "turn their noses up" when a woman merely utters the phrase "women's liberation," saying that women's liberation is something imported from the US, or a demand limited to upper-class bourgeois women, something that does not interest poor working-class women. On the other hand, in their opinion a man's freedom is something respectable, poor men are just like upper-class men. The women's rights movement in Egypt has been caught in this vicious cycle for hundreds of years and it continues to this day.

The problem of women's rights will not be resolved until there are new generations of brave Egyptian women who do not listen to what their political male colleagues say, whether they be from from the left, right or center, whether bearded or not. Women will achieve liberation when Egyptian women respect their freedom and dignity in the same way that men respect their own.

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Found in: womens’ rights, patriarchy, harassment, gender equality, feminism, islamism, egypt
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