Egyptian Women Lay Claim to Revolutionary Role

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Women were leading some of the chants during the Feb. 1 protests in Cairo, Egypt.(WOMENSENEWS)–For Egyptian women in the March of a Million and other street protests to oust authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak, the sometimes deadly demonstrations have been a show of force.

“Women are key actors in this historical moment of Egypt,” Mozn Hassan, executive director of the Cairo-based Nazra for Feminist Studies, wrote Women’s eNews at 5 p.m. on Feb. 2, moments after the Egyptian army fired warning shots in Cairo in a bid to break up violent clashes. “Women are giving a statement that they are working closely with men to change Egypt.”

As a swelling opposition movement clamors for Mubarak’s departure by Friday, the protests have turned increasingly dangerous, with armed men on camels and horses tearing through demonstrations as pro- and anti-ruling regime rallies clashed.

On Wednesday, Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the U.N. nuclear agency who is providing the leading voice of the political uprising, expressed concern about a possible “bloodbath” by the armed forces of an increasingly desperate regime.

Rights activists have put Egypt’s death toll at over 300 people and the injured at around 500. Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday it had verified 80 deaths at two Cairo hospitals, another 36 in Alexandria and 13 in the port city of Suez, all protest flashpoints.

As authorities scrambled to shut out satellite news channel Al-Jazeera and unplug Internet and cell phone providers, men and women marched out again to the heart of Cairo yesterday morning, which marked the ninth day of continuous demonstrations.

Twitter’s Role in Revolution

Twitter has played a key role in helping demonstrators spread the word. Google Inc., the Mountain View, Calif.-based Internet services company partnered with Twitter, the real-time microblogging platform, according to press reports.

On Feb. 1 the two providers of Web-based communication launched a phone-to-tweet platform to help protestors work around the government’s tightening grip on media and cell phone communications.

The protest movement–powered by a mix of Islamists and pro-democracy activists from across the political spectrum–demands regime change and has rejected Mubarak’s bid to remain in office until the conclusion of his term in September.

While protesters have not produced a detailed agenda for the post-Mubarak era, Western and Israeli leaders have expressed concern over the potential role of an empowered Muslim Brotherhood, linking it to Iran’s theocracy and a loss of women’s rights.

The Muslim Brotherhood, an international Islamist movement and the best organized opposition to Mubarak’s regime, is formally banned in Egypt but some of its members, including women, have participated in local elections, running as independents.

Azza Soliman, at the Center for Egyptian Women Legal Assistance, is one of many activists underscoring the interreligious and national character of Egypt’s unrelenting pro-democracy rallies.

“I want you to know that during the past demonstrations not once has there been an Islamic slogan,” she said in a Feb. 2 email. “None of the opposition leaders would attribute this revolution to himself as we witness a popular uprising by the youth of Egypt, which are regular citizens oppressed by Mubarak’s regime for 30 years.”

Soliman added the movement’s leadership is aware and confident in putting together a national coalition to reform the Egyptian constitution and uphold the principles of citizenship and establish a civil state in Egypt.

Women’s stance at Tahrir (Liberation) Square in central Cairo and their presence in protests across the country is also making an online splash. Women of Egypt, a Facebook group, created a photo gallery to document women’s role at the historic hour.

Solidarity Protests Triggered

The uprising has spurred solidarity protests outside Egyptian embassy premises across the Middle East, with large showings in the capital cities of Jordan, Lebanon and Yemen, as well as the world.

There have been blackouts.

But the power of Egypt’s new tech-savvy generation is shining through and perhaps best captured by the image of a young girl in Cairo with a banner depicting a computer. An arrow sends a desktop icon in the image Mubarak’s face straight into the trash can.

The call for democracy not only crossed gender lines, it is also changing street conduct. Nazra for Feminist Studies’ Hassan highlighted that women had been able to protest freely without men to protect them and without confronting the usual sexual harassment rampant on Cairo’s streets.

“Egyptians citizens gave a message of civility,” she said. “During all the last days, no single sexual harassment incident occurred and people were aware of that.”

On Feb. 1 women were widely visible on TV; donning sunglasses, hijabs and burkas, wardrobes that mirror the colorful fabric of Egyptian society. Mothers betting on the movement’s success brought their daughters out to the streets hoping to witness the coming dawn of democracy.

While the protests have at times turned dangerous and deadly, the unified stance taken by men and women brought a sense of relief to Hibaaq Osman, founder and CEO of Karama (Dignity), a coalition of partners building a movement to end violence against women in the Middle East and North Africa.

In a blog post early on Feb. 2, she wrote proudly about the high turn out of women in the previous day’s demonstration.

“Amidst the chaos…we have seen people of all backgrounds, religions, and occupations come together. But more than this, we have watched as men and women dissolved the gender barrier that has long been held between them.”

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Dominique Soguel is Women’s eNews Arabic editor.

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3 thoughts on “Egyptian Women Lay Claim to Revolutionary Role

  1. Received yesterday from Dr. Iman Bibars,
    Director of Ashoka MENA in Cairo

    —–Original Message—–
    From: Tom Boone
    Sent: Wed, Feb 2, 2011 11:06 am
    Subject: WORD FROM INSIDE EGYPT : Please share

    Dear Friends and colleagues
    This is a letter to all of my friends and colleagues who sent warm and kind words of encouragement to me , my family and all of the Egyptians at these very tough times.
    What has happened in Egypt the last week or more is unprecedented and is a wonderful and revitalizing experience for all Egyptians who love this country. This is our first real people revolution and it is fueled by wonderful and great young men and women from all walks of Egypt. The liberation square has become a symbol for all our sufferings and also our victories. I cannot claim that I have suffered as many Egyptians did and many of the young revolutionaries asked me why am I supporting them although I have been benefiting (their words) or have not been harmed by the old regime. My only answer was that I loved Egypt and that to be loyal and patriotic to this country means that you want the best for her and you want her to be free and her people to be liberated and treated as humans. For me Egypt is a she, a her and the mother of all Egyptians and the matriarch that has kept us all in her bosom and nurtured us whether we were grateful or not. And what the regime of husni Mubarak and the security apparatus headed by the war criminal habib al adly have done to us and to the people of Egypt for 30 years is unparalleled in any other country. The humiliation and destruction of the Egyptian character and the spirit of the people in a calculated and organized way took place for 30 years in a relentless and very evil way. Egyptians stopped laughing or smiling from their hearts, you could see and touch helplessness and hopelessness among the old and the young. Phenomena such as sexual harassment, looting and predominance of thugs spread because they were encouraged by the security that wanted to break the pride and self respect of all Egyptians. The murdering and killing was not only of peoples bodies and lives but of their souls and spirits. Corruption and lack of ethical fiber and self respect became the norm, became the traits most respected.
    I am as you all know quite mature (i.e. old) and have been here since the 60s and I have worked with the people and in the streets and was naïve enough to try to enter politics believing that this country needed those who loved her and who would give more then they would take. I was burnt and burnt hard and not only from the government but from the pretenders or those who played the roles of defenders of human rights or of the people but who in many cases found it lucrative to play that role. My mistake was that I always followed my conscience and what I thought was right and was neither extreme left nor extreme right. What happened in Egypt during the last 5 years at least what I found out broke my heart and I started thinking and acting seriously to leave the country to go and live somewhere else. I did not feel there was any hope left.
    But then on the 25th and when I was home and discovering the internet world , face book and you tube for the first time in my life, I also rediscovered Egypt, the Egypt I have read about and dreamed about. The brave and noble youth of Egypt have resurrected our pride and soul. They have revived the real spirit and soul of Egypt. They have taken away our shame of being so spineless and useless for decades. They have and for the first time in our history carried a real people’s revolution at least during my life time.
    They managed to reveal the true face of our security and police forces, those traitors who abandoned their posts and allowed our children and families to die, be attacked and vandalized. Many of the looters and thugs were reported were associated one way or the other with the police. They did not mind that mothers, elders and children be terrorized in a an effort to abort the revolution and scare all of the liberation square heroes away from their main battle. They did not care and frankly this is what the last regime had shown over and over again, that they do not care for us, for the Egyptians or for Egypt. That is why they should not stay, they should go , they should not be allowed to rule or govern as they are in reality traitors who hate us. No one who loves his country and its people would have allowed the scandal and shameful behavior of the security forces not only in murdering and torturing the protesters but more so in terrorizing the kind people of Egypt by opening the prisons, and sending their own thugs to steal, loot and vandalize shops, homes and the nice and simple Egyptian families.
    Now at this moment and after the maneuvers of the state , a peaceful transition of power is becoming less of a reality and clashes between the youth of Egypt, the real revolutionaries and those pushed and prompted by the state and the NDP is going on now. I just learned that the liberation square is completely blocked and the army tanks are around it and also blocking any means to go in or out.
    The state TV is sending wrong images and stories and lying to the people of Egypt, the regime and its NDP are sending thugs and some paid youth to start fights with the heroes of the liberation square and our youth are in deep danger. They are being under siege now and are being attacked by disguised thugs and security forces, the army has blocked all inroads to the liberation square and the mercenaries of the regime are beating and attacking women, girls and young men whose only demand was freedom and liberty.
    If we can reach all Egyptians everywhere and tell them that the revolution is not and will not be over, I met several young people and they said that they are willing to die for Egypt in the liberation square but we do not want to sacrifice those clean souls. Please lets all see a way to save them and tell all of Egypt that the mercenaries of the regime are the ones taking to the street now and that no one should give up the demands for a better and more liberated and free Egypt. Please do not believe the state TV for there are no outside forces or traitors among the revolutionaries who wanted our pride and self worth and respect to return to us.

    Iman Bibars, PhD
    Leadership Team Member
    Vice President, Ashoka
    Regional Director, Ashoka Arab World
    93 Abdel Aziz Al Saud St., 7th floor, Apt 1
    Manial, Cairo, Egypt.
    Tel: (+202) 25328586 – 23655336 – 25314775 – 25314779
    Fax: (+202) 32654404
    Nominate a Fellow!

  2. Thank you for this excellent article. I have been frustrated with assumption that many in the west have made that this is a revolution of men for men. Having lived in Cairo for 7 years and having an on site account through my daughter who is living in Egypt I am well aware of the strength of women in this movement. I have attached a link to a blog post written by a friend that has a link to some amazing pictures taken of women at the protests.
    Thanks again
    Marilyn Gardner

  3. “…not once has there been an Islamic slogan”, quote from above. Mubarak has called the Islamic Brotherhood as one of the main groups with whom he has spoken this past week. Many of the women protesters seen on the streets are wearing a hijab. The Islamic presence is there, and needs to be observed carefully and impartially, to determine what part it actually is playing, and how this might cause a problem for women in Egypt when this all shakes out.