Monthly Archives: May 2012

Egypt election: Women still face political challenges in post-Tahrir world

Foreign Affairs Reporter
For Egyptian women, it was the most revolutionary image of all: male and female protesters spending days and nights together in Tahrir Square, bringing down a hated regime side by side — comrades in a country where women had long been plagued by masculine scorn and harassment.

More than a year later, in Egypt’s first free presidential election, the famously feisty women of the Arab Spring have vanished from the political horizon. Although millions turned out to vote, none were on the ballot. And in the parliamentary election in January, only 2 per cent of seats were won by female candidates after a quota system was dropped.

Where are the women? And why are they falling behind so dramatically after a promising start?

“The omission of equal participation for women brings us back to square one,” the Cairo-basedEgyptian Center for Women’s Rights, which monitors women’s political progress, said in a report earlier this year. “The low presence of women representatives is inconsistent with the principles of citizenship and equality.”

In the parliamentary election, more than 200 women were nominated on party lists — but political parties put them at the bottom, so candidates had less chance of being elected in a proportional vote. A misinformation campaign also claimed that some active female candidates had withdrawn.

In this week’s election — called the most significant in Egypt’s modern history — only one woman, former TV personality Bothaina Kamel, came close to registering as a candidate, and she failed to get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. Her foiled run infuriated some Islamist MPs, and she reportedly received death threats.

Thirteen men, though, made it to the first round, many of them holdovers from the Hosni Mubarak regime or long-repressed Islamists who believe their time has come.

The invisibility of women in the political arena is misleading, women’s advocates say: the strong female presence of Tahrir Square hasn’t vanished, but fanned out to civil society groups that are working diligently to build a new and more equal Egypt.

“Women are very much part of the revolutionary movement,” says Eileen Alma, program officer with the Ottawa-based International Development Research Centre, which works with Middle Eastern women’s groups. “It would be wrong to think they’ve disappeared. There is some disappointment that it hasn’t translated into meaningful gains, but they are active and engaged in many struggles at once.”

What holds women back most is the environment they are struggling against — the equivalent of political quicksand.

“Even if the Islamists are aggressive in their decisions regarding women’s rights, the military does not even see us,” feminist scholar Mozn Hassan told GlobalPost.

The powerful military establishment’s tone-deafness to women’s equality isn’t surprising, says Andrew McGregor of the Jamestown Foundation, author of A Military History of Modern Egypt.

“I don’t think they are under any pressure to change, because Egypt is still a very conservative society. Their attitude is not so different from the general attitude to women,” he said. “I think we spend too much time looking at what happens in the urban centres, where there is more turmoil. But 60 per cent of the population is living in a rural environment where the local sheikh is running the show.”

In spite of vocal protests, only six women were chosen by the Islamist-dominated parliament to join the 100-person assembly formed to draft the new constitution. And advocates fear that without constitutional guarantees, religion-based laws could be introduced to roll back women’s rights — such as lowering the marriage age to 13, and preventing women from suing for divorce.

Not all women shun the Islamist parties — in fact, most of the 10 female members of Parliament belong to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. But some activists see the growing influence of religion as a threat, in a country where women have enjoyed more rights and freedoms than many of Egypt’s Arab neighbours.

In the months ahead, much will also depend on the outcome of the presidential poll. Amr Moussa, one of the most liberal candidates, has promised to appoint a female vice-president if elected.

But those who try to impose traditional constraints on Egyptian women will face strong resistance, Alma says.

“There is a new generation coming up who might not be so willing to accept those conditions. We have got to this state in Egypt because of dissatisfied youth. There is huge potential for these young women — and huge risks.”–egypt-election-women-still-face-political-challenges-in-post-tahrir-world


Egypt’s women rise up

WEDNESDAY, MAY 23, 2012 2:27 PM UTC
Egypt’s women rise up
As the country chooses a president, female rights advocates target the ruling military and the rise of Islamism
This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

CAIRO — It was the middle of the night in Cairo when Ragia Omran, one of the country ’s most prominent human rights
lawy ers, rushed to C-28, Egypt’s notorious military court, where almost 300
civilian detainees were being held without lawyers. Omran, a self-described feminist and human rights
activist, was there attempting to legally represent the protesters, including 26 female detainees — one as young as 14-y ears old — all accused by the military prosecution of attacking military personnel.
But she was barred from entry , an insult added to injury by the military , a powerful
and patriarchal institution that has been accused of many violations, including the
sexual assault of its own female prisoners and aggressive indifference to the rights
of women on a wide scale.
“They were deny ing me entry because it was 2 a.m., with the excuse that I am a female so it is ‘too late’ for me
to enter the premises,” she told GlobalPost. “I stood there regardless and continued to demand to enter
because each detainee has the right to a lawy er.”
Fifteen months after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians head to the polls Wednesday and Thursday to
choose the country ’s first-ever civilian president. This election and the constitution to be framed in its
aftermath will set a course for Egypt’s fledgling democracy , and there is almost no one who has more at stake
than the country ’s women.
As the debate continues about how much power the new president will have relative to the Supreme Council
of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and how much influence the majority Islamist parliament will exert on society ,
women like Omran who were on the forefront of the revolution say they ’re now being pushed out of public
and political life, at best an afterthought to two rival and very male camps — Mubarak’s “old guard” and the
None of the presidential candidates — all men after former television presenter Bothaina Kamel failed to
qualify for the ballot — have demonstrated significant interest in women’s issues, advocates say , while many
women have been targeted for violence and intimidation by the ruling military . But many women are pushing24/05/2012 Print: » Egypt’s women rise up » Print – 2/5
back against this campaign of marginalization, fighting to secure a role in Egyptian society at a pivotal time in
the country ’s history .
“Not a single candidate made efforts to sit down with the female coalition’s movement during his campaign,
except for Amr Moussa,” said Fatma Emam, who is currently a researcher at Nazra for Feminist Studies and
an activist blogger.
Emam, an outspoken 29-y ear-old woman from Nubia in Southern Egypt, said she is disappointed by the
current front-runners, which include Moussa, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, Abdel Moniem
Aboul Fotouh and the Nasserite candidate Hamdeen Sabahy .
“What’s happening now in the elections shows that women’s rights are not a concern,” she said.
Emam believes economic and security concerns have trumped social issues — including women’s rights, fair
laws and education reform — in voters’ minds. Recent Pew Research Center polling confirms that 81
percent of Egyptians consider economic improvement to be “very important” in the election — more than
any other issue.
However, according to Egypt’s National Council for Women, 33 percent of Egyptian households are headed
by women.
“Up until recently , five y ears or so ago, women were not given tax cuts by the tax authority because they
were not considered heads of households, even though now at least 33 percent of women are breadwinners,”
Emam said.
Though women are currently a crucial part of the Egyptian economy , the society still lacks a fair legal sy stem
that would guarantee the rights of all citizens, according to Mozn Hassan, a self-described women rights
defender and head of Nazra for Feminist Studies.
From “virginity tests” allegedly administered by the army upon Samira Ibrahim and dozens of other women,
to excessive violence strategically targeting female protesters like the “girl in the blue bra,” the women’s
struggle has been closely tied to a larger movement against military rule in Egypt.
“A huge part of the idea of militarization in society involves targeting women,” said Hassan. “All of these
events, including the virginity tests, are a part of it all, [and] this won’t end with presidential elections.”
The Women’s Vote
While many Egyptians hope that significant change will come with a newly elected president, Egyptian
women say they must retrieve their rights themselves.
Dalia Ziada, one of the country ’s most active women’s rights advocates, is currently leading a study at the Ibn
Khaldun Center for Democratic Studies that focuses on the situation of women after the Arab Spring.
Ziada, director for the Ibn Khaldun in Egypt, will be working closely with the center’s researchers to monitor
this week’s elections in 22 governorates across the country , including Cairo, Alexandria and Upper Egypt.
As an Egyptian woman, Ziada believes that many of today ’s candidates have failed to address female voters,
which make up 52 percent of society .
“Although he is associated with remnants of the old regime and he may easily prolong military rule behind
the scenes, [Amr] Moussa, as a liberal, is the only candidate who has reasserted that women’s rights would be
a priority ,” she said.24/05/2012 Print: » Egypt’s women rise up » Print – 3/5
But Ziada believes even Moussa exhibits a chauvinism that is pervasive in Egyptian politics.
“When asked about the role of the first lady , all of the candidates said they do not want their wives to be
involved in politics,” said Ziada.
“If a president does not respect his wife and does not see that she can play a role in politics, then how will he
respect the average Egyptian woman?”
Women Taking Action
Shortly after Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in February 201 1 , a few hundred women marched on International
Women’s Day hoping to protest against sexual harassment, which has been a social epidemic in the Arab
world’s most populous country for y ears.
But the women were attacked and harassed by small groups of men in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the
country ’s uprising. The men y elled “now is not the time” for trivial demands.
Later in December 201 1 , images of soldiers slapping elderly women on the face, stripping young female
protesters, and dragging women by their hair quickly circulated.
Despite evidence of violence, many people brought blame on the women, criticizing their presence in the
streets and, in some cases, their “provocative” clothing.
This time, thousands of determined women of all ages and social backgrounds marched in unprecedented
numbers to protest the Egyptian army ’s excessive use of force and sexual harassment against pro-democracy
protesters. As the women marched, male protesters made a human cordon around them, fearing that the
women might be attacked again.
Meanwhile, the SCAF defended the soldiers’ actions, stating that they were acting “according to the
In March 2012, a court ruled against Samira Ibrahim, who accused a military doctor of forcefully
administering a virginity test after she was detained by the military while protesting against the SCAF’s
prolonged rule on March 9, 201 1 .
Although military generals had publicly admitted that the military conducts virginity tests as a safeguard
against allegations of sexual assault or rape in military confinement, the court stopped short of assigning
specific blame.
Many advocates see it as their role to denounce the autocratic regime, which is still “very much in place” and
without much female representation.
Just 10 women won seats in Egypt’s parliamentary elections earlier this y ear. Women’s representation in the
constituent assembly , which will be tasked with drafting Egypt’s new constitution, remains a contested issue.
“We have drafted a list of amendments in the constitution that need to be adjusted immediately , said Emam.
“The Egyptian Y oung Feminist Movement has also provided the speaker of parliament with a list of women
who are eligible to serve on the constituent assembly who can help draft a constitution, but all of these efforts
have been overlooked,” she added.
The Struggle with Legal Reform
With Islamists making up as much as 7 0 percent of the people’s assembly , Hassan fears that women’s voices
will continue to be stifled.24/05/2012 Print: » Egypt’s women rise up » Print – 4/5
“Till this day , the parliament has not passed a single progressive decision regarding the past incidents of
violence,” she said. “There is also no law till now that would protect women from domestic violence.”
As the country ’s ruling powers fail to hold accountable those responsible for such violence, society follows
“The Nadim Center [for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence] recently drafted a petition hoping to include a
law that would support victims of domestic violence, but only 2,000 citizens actually signed the petition,”
Emam said.
Parallel to legal reform, Emam strongly believes there must be societal and governmental restructuring so
that women can successfully work to achieve their rights.
“I hoped they would discuss these issues in parliament, but instead they discuss our age of marriage,” Hassan
said, referring to parliament’s controversial debates regarding a bill that would lower a woman’s legal age of
marriage from 16 to 14.
However, Hassan believes that while the current people’s assembly ignores women’s concerns, the military
institution does not even hear them.
“Even if Islamists are aggressive in their decisions regarding women’s rights, the military does not even see
us,” she said.
Despite these obstacles, however, Egyptian women are proving that they are doers, not victims.
“I’m against the idea of victimizing women,” Hassan stressed. “Y ou are in a patriarchal society , they already
see you as victims. But if we are subjected to violence, we are not looking to be consoled. We are aiming to
empower ourselves and to to be in positions that would allow us to put an end to these problems.”
Although they both work independently , Ziada from Ibn Khaldun shares Hassan’s sentiment when it comes to
the threat of rising extremism.
“The rising Islamism gave a justification for the patriarchal mentality ,” said Ziada. “Every thing in the past
was inappropriate for women to do; now it is not only inappropriate, it is haram, or a sin. Before, it was not
right to challenge society ; but now you can’t challenge God, according to Islamists.”
Taking matters into her own hands, Ziada is currently working with Ibn Khaldun on a program that aims to
empower women from Egypt, Y emen, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.
Still in the works, the program will choose women activists from the region and provide them with the tools
that would allow them to compete for positions of power.
“We are going to start this initiative in two or three months. It will take about a y ear, and we hope to recruit
women who have potential to lead in legal, religious, economic or political fields,” said Ziada.
By starting from the grassroots level and equipping Arab women with the skills of communication and
international relations, the project aims to give them the opportunity to be part of the decision-making
“Our aim is to empower young women. This is what will achieve real change,” she added.

Study: Social media and the Internet allowed young Arab women to play a central role in the Arab Spring

May 22nd, 2012 in Other Sciences / Social Sciences


Over the course of 2011’s momentous Arab Spring uprisings, young women in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain and Yemen used social media and cyberactivism to carve out central roles in the revolutionary struggles under way in their countries, according to a new study commissioned by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

The study, “Unveiling the Revolutionaries: Cyberactivism and Women’s Role in the Arab Uprisings,” explores the activism of several key figures, including Egypt’s Esraa Abdel Fattah, who became widely known as “Facebook girl,” as well Libya’s Danya Bashir, Bahrain’s Zeinab and Maryam al-Khawaja and Tunisia’s Lina Ben Mhenni, who became known as the uprising’s “Twitterati,” dubbed by influential media and pundits as “must-follows.”

The paper was written by Courtney Radsch, a doctoral candidate in international relations at American University and an internationally recognized expert on  and activism in the Middle East.

Exploring such contexts as political rights and elections, the public sphere,  against women as well as post-revolution developments, Radsch shows how these and other women transcended and broke with  and communication methods to help organize virtual protests as well as street demonstrations; these women also played bridging roles with the  and helped to ensure that the 24-hour news cycle always had a source at the ready.

“Not only have cyberactivism and social-media platforms shifted the power dynamics of authoritarian Arab governments and their citizenry, but it has also reconfigured power relations between the youth who make up the majority of the population and the older generation of political elite, who were overwhelmingly male and often implicated in the perpetuation of the status quo,” Radsch said.

“While women and men struggle valiantly to bring about political change, these women cyberactivists stand out for their use of new media technologies and access to platforms that transcended national boundaries and created bridges with transnational media and activist groups.”

Radsch cautions against viewing her findings outside of current developments in the Middle East; she points to widespread, post-revolution crackdowns on pro-reform activists in countries swept up by the Arab Spring. “The struggle to consolidate revolution and enact meaningful reforms remains a challenge that young women will continue to be involved in, and (they will) undoubtedly continue to use new media technologies to participate in and influence the future trajectory of their countries,” she said.

More information: “Unveiling the Revolutionaries: Cyberactivism and Women’s Role in the Arab Uprisings”: 
http://bakerinstit … n-051712.pdf

Provided by Rice University


“Study: Social media and the Internet allowed young Arab women to play a central role in the Arab Spring.” May 22nd, 2012.

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Online activists in the Middle East: Seeds of the Future

May 22nd 2012, 19:10 by B.C.| OSLO

AS PEOPLE watch to see what sort of country Egypt will become after this week’s elections, they should keep an eye on a shy-mannered but ruthlessly determined young man called Maikel Nabil. His views, boldly disseminated across cyber-space, are unlikely to win agreement from more than a handful of his compatriots. He is a self-declared atheist, a pacifist, a supporter of better relations with Israel and holds liberal opinions on social issues.

But the fate of people like Mr Nabil and his kind is a good bellwether for the atmosphere in the Middle East. He spent much of last year in prison, and some of that time on hunger-strike, because he was deemed to have insulted the army. Whether he remains free to proclaim his (in Egyptian terms, idiosyncratic) ideas will say a lot about the country’s new order.

At the very least, the advent of electronic and social media has vastly improved the ability of individuals like Mr Nabil to act as a catalyst for change in the Arab world, stimulating and galvanising people to think and act more freely, even if they disagree with his views. Earlier this month at the Oslo Freedom Forum—an ever-more important gathering for those who defy tyranny—the stars of the show were young Middle Eastern cyber-activists like him: some relishing the half-completed democratic change which they helped to bring about, others still labouring under regimes that wish they would disintegrate.

When half a dozen of them (including young veterans of cyber-protest from Morocco, Libya, Tunisia, and Bahrain) held a public debate, every word they said was tweeted within seconds by Sultan al-Qassemi, an Emirates-based activist, to his 110,000 or so followers. As a master of that medium, he played a significant role in last year’s uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, not least by providing an instant translation service between English and Arabic.

Later, the Norwegian gathering of activists (from former victims of sex-slavery in Indochina to critics of indentured labour in Nepal) listened spell-bound as Manal al-Sharif, a Saudi woman, described her campaign for the right of women in the kingdom to drive (she began by posting a film of herself at the wheel on Youtube, which duly went viral and earned her nine days in detention). She said the advent of the internet had freed her from the “small box” of rigid, rule-bound thinking imposed upon her as she was growing up.

On a lighter note, a puckish young Sudanese called Amir Ahmad Nasr used the Oslo gathering to announced the winding up of his popular blog “The Sudanese Thinker” tracing his adventures as a “sarcastic Afro-American goofy genius” whose philosophy evolved from conservative Islam to Sufism via atheism. Henceforth, he told his followers, his eager mind would be focusing on the study of Islam and social media.

Social media has proved a mixed blessing. As the Bahraini activist Maryam al-Khawaja (whose father, uncle, sister and boss are all in detention) put it, “using the social media can get you arrested or killed, but in some countries it can also be a protection.” The head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Nabeel Rajab, was probably detained, in part, because of the messages he was sending to at least 140,000 people via Twitter. But the sheer volume of his Twitter followers might also have made the authorities wary of mistreating him physically. Still, the motives of authoritarian regimes are difficult to decipher.

The wider influence of cyber-activists on Middle Eastern politics is also hard to quantify. In the Arab world, the penetration of the electronic media remains relatively low by Western standards but it is rising rapidly. About 1.3m Arabs use Twitter, while just over 40m are on Facebook,according to studies released this month. Facebook penetration ranges from nearly 40% of the population in the Emirates to 12% in Egypt and barely 5% in Iraq.

But Nasser Wedaddy, a Mauritanian-born activist, believes that young, tech-savvy activists have an importance that transcends statistics. “They are the seeds of a future civil society,” he reckons. Simply by disseminating facts that are both true and important (about protests, or the behaviour of regimes, or the fate of individuals) they have broken the monopoly over information which until recently a submissive, establishment media enjoyed. The effect of that change seems destined to grow and grow, however hard people try to stamp it out.

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Women dubbed ‘Twitterati’ of Arab Spring

Women dubbed ‘Twitterati’ of Arab Spring.

Posted By David Ruth-Rice On May 22, 2012 @ 4:30 pm In Society & Culture | No Comments

RICE (US) — During the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, young women in the region used social media and cyberactivism to carve out central roles in the revolutionary struggles underway in their countries.

Commissioned by the Baker Institute of Public Policy at Rice University [1], the paper [2] explores the activism of several key figures, including Egypt’s Esraa Abdel Fattah, who became widely known as “Facebook girl,” Libya’s Danya Bashir, Bahrain’s Zeinab and Maryam al-Khawaja, and Tunisia’s Lina Ben Mhenni, who became known as the uprising’s “Twitterati,” dubbed by influential media and pundits as “must-follows.”

“Unveiling the Revolutionaries: Cyberactivism and the Role of Women” is written by Courtney Radsch, a doctoral candidate in international relations at American University and an internationally recognized expert on social media, citizen journalism, and activism in the Middle East.

Straight from the Source

Read the original study [2]

Exploring such contexts as political rights and elections, the public sphere, sexual violence against women, and post-revolution developments, Radsch shows how these and other women transcended and broke with traditional gender roles and communication methods to help organize virtual protests as well as street demonstrations.

These women also played bridging roles with the mainstream media and helped to ensure that the 24-hour news cycle always had a source at the ready.

“Not only have cyberactivism and social-media platforms shifted the power dynamics of authoritarian Arab governments and their citizenry, but it has also reconfigured power relations between the youth who make up the majority of the population and the older generation of political elite, who were overwhelmingly male and often implicated in the perpetuation of the status quo,” Radsch says.

“While women and men struggle valiantly to bring about political change, these women cyberactivists stand out for their use of new media technologies and access to platforms that transcended national boundaries and created bridges with transnational media and activist groups.”

Radsch cautions against viewing her findings outside of current developments in the Middle East and points to widespread, post-revolution crackdowns on pro-reform activists in countries swept up by the Arab Spring.

“The struggle to consolidate revolution and enact meaningful reforms remains a challenge that young women will continue to be involved in, and (they will) undoubtedly continue to use new media technologies to participate in and influence the future trajectory of their countries.”

More news from Rice University: [3]

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[1] Rice University:

[2] paper:



In the Name of the Caliphate: What the “Islamic State” Seems to Mean for Muslim Women

In the Name of the Caliphate: What the “Islamic State” Seems to Mean for Muslim Women.

If you ever wondered about “Islamization” and the so-called return to the Caliphate, recent debates arising from a number of Muslim countries regarding the “Islamization” and the status of Muslim women bring important questions to the table. First of all, it raises the question of what really is the “Islamic state” and what describes it. Most of us have heard about “ideal” visions of Islamic statehood (herehere and here). Yet, I would dare to say that we have seen none in modern times.

Nonetheless, a return to ideal Islamic governance, and “Islamization,” concepts that could either be posed as opposites or could be conflated, has been raised numerous times in contemporary political movements.  In a recent piece by the Chronicle Herald, Egypt’sMuslim Brotherhood’s stance on “Islamization” was reviewed. The article emphasized the Muslim Brotherhood’s rhetoric referring to the implementation of Shari’ah and people’s support for “God’s law.”

“Islamization,” which is often described in the West through words such as jihad,extremismtotalitarianism and violations of human rights, and represented by dark-skinned men with big beards, is perhaps not the same concept for some Muslims, who may be referring to a “return to the Caliphate” when discussing Islam and the state. Visions of amodern caliphateits elements and viability have been broadly discussed in the past few years. The (theoretical) Caliphate could mean unity, individual and communal freedom, economic development, and political accountability.  Even so, in many instances, a state’s closeness to political Islam or Islamic governance is portrayed to mean the automatic violation of human and women’s rights; advocating for a state or community’s “Islamization,” such as Chechnya, poses a broader debate on issues relating to the status of women.

For instance, in the case of Egypt, “Islamization,” which is often framed as a real  possibility in view of the upcoming elections,  could mean not only the merging of politics, religion and the state, but also the revision of “secular” laws such as women’s right to divorce.  Similarly, a government’s preference for the so-called “Islamic” rule, has often meant, around the world, restrictions on women’s clothingambivalent stands on honor killingsnegligence of gender-based violence, and persecution of LGTBQ Muslims, among others.

Although Western media coverage often alarms readers by associating violation of women’s rights with Islam and proponents of the caliphate, it cannot be said that this is altogether unfounded. Even though there are a few countries that are officially Islamic, meaning that Islam is not only the religion of the majority of the population, but also the base of legal rule and the state (like Saudi Arabia, or Iran), other states and independent republics have endorsed their own ideas of what it means to be “Islamic.” In some instances, “Islamic” has served to justify ultra-conservative interpretations of Islam such as the Taliban rule. Debates surrounding the “Islamization” of law and government, in Muslim and Western sources,  do not necessarily explain what being an “Islamic” state entails other than the implementation of Shari’ah, which is often times consider static and unchanging. Beyond that, we are left to wonder what else is in there.

Tunisian women advocating in favour of an Islamic state. Image via Your Middle East.

Fatima Mernissi does an excellent job in looking at the historical developments of the caliphate, and to some degree political Islam, and their implications beyond shari’ah. In two of her books, The Veil and the Male Elite and The Forgotten Queens of Islam, Mernissi critiques the development of the different caliphates. For her, the historical and patriarchal aspects of the caliphate as institution, from the first Muslim caliphate, were troubling not only in political terms but also for their implications in matters of gender and sexuality. Similarly, following the developments of twentieth century political Islam, she warns readers against the realities of religious discourses in politics and their effects on gender relations and restrictions of sexuality.  Yet, she also acknowledges women’s own involvement in these movements and institutions. From early Muslim queens to figures like Benazir Bhutto, Mernissi describes women’s active participation in both the caliphate and political Islam. Interestingly, in some instances like in Tunisia, some women have argued for a new caliphate in search for guaranteed rights at the same time as in the West the “troubling” aspects of Islamizationand the spread of Islam are discussed.

Then, perhaps talks about a return to “real” Islam or Islamization (as some would call it), is not really about Islam, but rather about politics. Similarly, women’s involvement in these developments is political. Women can be harmed by the restrictions imposed to them by political Islam, oftentimes exercised by men, but they can also benefit from imposing those restrictions on others and perhaps even on themselves. This is not unique to Muslim women’s interactions with political Islam and the Islamic state. We, either way, also interact with the secular state and democracy, which can be as restrictive and gendered.

At the end of the day, when we refer to the “Islamization” of government, law or the state, we are not talking about spirituality or even theology. Rather, we are talking about a way in which “we” or “they” make politics. Islamization does not necessarily entail the violation of women’s rights, but it does require women’s participation as with any political and nationalist movement. And while we can refer to the patriarchal and gendered aspects of politics and law, we also find those paradoxical cases in which Muslim women call for the caliphate, Islamization, and what might even be considered the restriction of their own freedom.

Egyptian women feel excluded, despite the promise of the revolution

By  and Ingy Hassieb, Tuesday, May 22, 12:16 PM

CAIRO — After Egyptian women stood shoulder to shoulder with men in the protests that toppled Hosni Mubarak, many looked forward to a role in the revolution’s next steps. But 15 months later, as Egyptians prepare to vote for a new president this week, rights activists complain that women are being excluded from key decisions.

“At the time of the revolution, women were needed to fill out the numbers,” said Hoda Badran, head of the Egyptian Feminist Union, which was banned under Mubarak but reinstated last year. “Now, the decision-makers don’t need women, and we’re back to this idea that femininity is inferior and masculinity superior.”

Women hold just over 2 percent of the seats in Egypt’s new parliament, down from about 12 percent in the last elections held under Mubarak. The sharp decline followed the elimination of a quota to ensure women’s representation, which had been seen by many as a way to stack the body with members of Mubarak’s political party.

Military rulers did not include any women in the committee that wrote constitutional amendments adopted in a nationwide referendum last year. And there are no women among the 13 candidates who will be on the ballot Wednesday, when voting begins in the country’s first post-Mubarak presidential election.

Badran and other women’s rights activists are particularly worried that the well-organized Muslim Brotherhood will use its religious and charitable groups to encourage uneducated and poor women to vote for its candidate, Mohammed Morsi. Morsi opposes women being allowed to serve in the presidency. He has called for the implementation of Islamic law and, at campaign rallies, referred to Islam’s holy book, the Koran, as the constitution.

To counter the Brotherhood, Badran’s group has hired hundreds of buses to take women to the polls. It is also distributing pamphlets that encourage women to vote for a candidate who respects women, who doesn’t use religion to campaign and who doesn’t lie, Badran said. The group has not endorsed a candidate.

Among its Arab neighbors, Egypt boasts some of the strongest legal protections for women. Women here can sue for divorce. They are a significant part of the workforce, and they are not subject to an Islamic dress code. Egyptian women who are married to foreign men can pass on citizenship to their children, unlike in more socially liberal countries such as Lebanon, where they cannot.

But the Islamist-dominated parliament is discussing several proposals that could change women’s status here. They include lowering the legal age of marriage for girls from 18 to 13 and revoking divorced mothers’ custody of their boys at age 7 and girls at 9, rather than at 15, a move that would be in accordance with a strict interpretation of Islamic law.

The existing rules were projects of Suzanne Mubarak, the former first lady, a strong advocate of laws to protect women and children’s rights. But she was also accused of monopolizing the issue and putting laws on the books that were never implemented, while independent women’s groups were not allowed to flourish.

Of all of Egypt’s political blocs the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party has the most female lawmakers in parliament, though many women’s rights activists see them as part of a religious organization that traditionally has not allowed women full-fledged membership.

Azza el-Garf, a mother of seven and a member of parliament, has come under intense criticism from liberals and women’s right groups for advocating the revisiting of hard-won laws that women had thought were irreversible, such as the right for women to divorce their husbands and the age of marriage.

“When creating laws that concern the families, they need to be in line with Islamic law,” Garf said. But she insisted that the nine women elected to Egypt’s new parliament “gave a big push for the image of women in politics.” (Two other women were appointed to parliament, bringing the total to 11.)

At a weekend conference in Cairo, presidential hopefuls were invited to speak to thousands of female voters about their agendas and how they related to women’s rights. Only five candidates attended, with most of the leading candidates absent.

Ashraf Rasheed, a representative of Amr Moussa, the former Arab League chief and the liberal front-runner, said that if Moussa wins, he will appoint a female vice president. The audience burst into applause, though Rasheed was then asked to explain why Moussa himself had not attended.

Ghada Kamal, a young activist who said she was severely beaten and detained by military police during clashes outside the cabinet building this past winter, is more concerned about the loss of the revolution’s focus on dismantling Mubarak’s regime than about women’s rights. And she’s not sure whether she will vote.

“The Egyptian woman discovered she is strong, not weak or oppressed as she had imagined, and that she has a very important role to play, just like a man,” Kamal said. “I don’t think anything has changed for women or men in terms of human or social rights. If this had happened, we would have said that the revolution succeeded.” 

Real reform for women a must in Muslim world

IN the latest edition of Foreign Policy magazine, Muslim reformer Mona Eltahawy called for a genuine revolution in the Middle East. Unlike the Arab Spring, this one would release women from oppression. “First we stop pretending,” she said. “Call out the hate for what it is.”

Is misogyny prevalent and gaining traction in the Muslim world and why did most women vote for Islamists in Middle East elections?

Recently, Muhammad Morsi, a leading Egyptian presidential candidate and head of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, called for instituting sharia law and banning women from running for president.

Even women who observe Islamic dress codes are harassed in Cairo, and during last year’s demonstrations for freedom in Tahrir Square, women were molested and subjected to virginity tests.

In Tunisia, where women had the most freedom prior to the uprising, female academics and students have been pressured by Islamists to wear the hijab.

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Extremist militants harass Yemeni women for not wearing the veil, and underage marriage is justified under cover of religion in Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia, custodian of the holy Islamic sites, provides a relentless global campaign of extremist Wahhabi teaching. Saudi women are denied equal citizenship and punished for being raped, and although their lot has improved under King Abdullah, the next monarch could set the clock back.

When Kuwaiti women won the vote in 2005 and eventually won four seats in 2009, they were supported by the government, although opposed by Islamists, who accused them of being agents of the West and subverting religious, family and sexual values. In this year’s poll, no women were elected and the female members lost their seats.

Courageous “suffragettes” in Iran, who opposed discriminatory laws by taking part in peaceful rallies and the One Million Signatures Campaign, have been arrested and detained.

With the drawdown of foreign troops in Afghanistan and the Taliban pressing for victory, human rights for women will be up for barter again. In 2009, President Hamid Karzai brought in oppressive laws that sacrificed shia women’s rights, presumably for his political advantage.

Under coalition pressure, he ordered a review, but no similar restraints will apply after foreign troops leave.

In Turkey, the Justice Ministry figures showed that premeditated homicide against women had risen from 66 in 2002 to 953 in 2009, associated perhaps, with better reporting, but many local authorities have not implemented government reforms for charging perpetrators.

Women in other Muslim lands suffer increasing discrimination and violence. In northern Mali, there have been reports of rape by armed Islamist Tuareg groups, who are attempting to impose the veil and religious law. The Nigerian Islamist movement, Boko Haram, is engaged in a sustained brutal insurgency, with the aim of implementing a full Islamic state. Religious police in Aceh order women to wear headscarves, and they recently caned a couple for having premarital sex.

Fundamentalist governments have used women against women. In Iran, those demonstrating against unfair laws were beaten by a squad of women-only police, and female patrols have arrested young women for clothing violations.

Azza al-Jarf, a female FJP member of Egypt’s parliament, has reportedly called for laws to prevent women from seeking a divorce, and for fathers to ensure their daughters are circumcised.

Well-organised Islamists, who appeared more honest and promised jobs and other social improvements, easily appropriated the Arab Spring uprisings and put up women candidates who reflected their views. Their Islamist ideology that romanticises seventh-century and misogynist perspectives would push back women’s rights in the region and hasten its export into the wider Muslim world.

Veteran Saudi reformer Wajeha al-Huwaider believes Muslim women were oppressed for centuries and imprisoned “in the dungeons incorrectly referred to as ‘their homes’.” It is no easy task for captives to release themselves, and then only to confront a society preoccupied with patriarchal control of dress, choice of spouse, fertility, travel, education and so on. Moreover, in rural areas where religion holds sway, many women are illiterate, isolated from reformers, and unaware of any rights they may have.

Reformers attempt to expose cultural practice that cites tradition and religion to justify abuse of women. They also discredit men’s claims to honour and elevate women, pointing out the real agenda is a male-dominated society that fears and infantilises women and accords them second-class status.

Reformers demand change to gender discriminatory laws and they have a window of opportunity in the Arab Spring. However, their task will grow increasingly urgent and difficult if they have to face political Islam, expressed in state legislation, police, prisons and paramilitary militias.

The US administration has not supported women reformers, opting to deal mainly with Islamists, and Western feminists have also disregarded the dissidents. However, in the absence of real freedom for women, there will be no long-term peace, progress or people power in the region.

Considering their predicament, it is understandable that many women have internalised subjugation, accepted the views of their oppressors, and elected Islamists without critical evaluation.

Shirin Ebadi described the 1979 Islamic revolution as “a revolution of men against women”. Hopefully, the same will not apply to the Arab Spring.

Ida Lichter is author of Muslim Women Reformers: Inspiring Voices Against Oppression

Egypt and Islamic Sharia (section – Sharia and women)

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Nathan J. Brown Q&A, MAY 15, 2012

What does the Islamic sharia say about the rights of women?

In general, the Islamic sharia is not gender-neutral in matters of personal status but instead establishes a differentiated web of rights and obligations on husbands and wives and sons and daughters. Broadly, husbands are expected to provide material support and a healthy home environment (failure to provide support or abuse can be grounds for a woman seeking a divorce). And wives are expected to accept their husbands’ authority. A husband can unilaterally divorce his wife; a wife (in the sharia-based Egyptian legal order) cannot do so, but can petition the court to order a divorce in cases when the husband fails his obligations. Custom is laid on top of sharia-based law—for instance, a prospective bridegroom might be expected to pledge a significant sum of money that is due to his fiancé if he divorces her, sometimes making his divorce rights extremely expensive to exercise.

Rather than arguing for a civil law or a completely gender-neutral law, advocates of women’s rights—out of a blend of genuine religious convictions, acceptance of political realities, and realization that juridical equality in an inegalitarian society can actually weaken subordinate parties—have focused most of their attention on mobilizing constituencies in support of interpretations of the Islamic sharia that grant women a stronger position. For instance, they successfully lobbied for an amendment to the personal status law allowing women to petition a court for divorce if they were willing to abandon most of their material rights and claims in the settlement. In doing so, they were able to call on some religious scholars in support of their position.

Islamist movements have sometimes questioned particular interpretations pertaining to women’s rights, but they generally have engaged directly in the debate and accepted the parliamentary-based legislation as binding. The Brotherhood’s flexibility on the issue is hardly infinite. For instance, the Freedom and Justice Party has singled out the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women for particular criticism, because of the claim that its provisions violate sharia-based rules about guardianship in the case of divorce.

Debate in Egypt is likely to center around very specific provisions of the personal status law. This includes the circumstances under which a wife can ask a court for divorce, the age of guardianship, or the age of marriage. The debate will have Salafis (and their extreme textualism) on one side and advocates of women’s rights (seeking to push the law as far as possible in the direction of increasing legal protections for women) on the other, leaving many political forces caught somewhere in the middle.

Thus, placing discussions on women’s rights and personal status within a sharia-based framework has had some real effects on the nature of the debate but not directly dictated the outcome.


See also : Guide to Egypt’s Transition

Blog: The Frustrated Arab

Roqayah Chamseddine’s blog. American/Lebanese young journalist.