Egypt: Closing the Rift

AUC Today

As a young Egyptian woman who participated in the revolution and who has been involved with several women’s groups and initiatives that have proliferated during the past two years, I do not wish to talk about how great the participation of Egyptian women was during the revolution, how they were marginalized afterward, or how they faced violence and a setback in political rights and freedoms despite their numerous contributions. These are all issues that I am sure can be addressed by experts in a more holistic and professional way.

My words here are addressed to our partners in the revolution -- male youth. Young men and women both constituted the power and driving force behind this revolution. I do not like to use the language of “us” and “them” because when we took to the streets on January 25, 2011, there was only “us” and our beloved Egypt. However, after the toppling of Mubarak’s regime and amid all the rapid and continuous changes that Egypt has witnessed, a rift began to unfold in the relationship between young women and men, and this is what I would like to shed light on here.

During the revolution, it was clear that Tahrir Square, as a symbol of the uprising, was a gender-neutral zone, free from stereotypical biases and discrimination. I, among many others, dreamed that this would last forever in our new Egypt. But, during the strikes that followed the revolution, young women were sometimes not allowed to participate in sit-ins after 10 pm, although women used to spend the night at Tahrir Square during the first 18 days of the revolution. At this point, the rift, which I believe was unintentional, appeared for the first time. Unfortunately, it continues until this day.

During one of the uprisings held against the Ministry of Interior, protestors held banners with the slogan, “The Ministry of Interior is a whore on any regime’s bed.” Not only did the banners show a picture of a naked woman, but protestors also held up female undergarments as a way of insulting the ministry. In actual fact, this is an insult to us, women, because it is deemed a direct offense to a woman’s body. It was very disappointing for many of us who longed to change such stereotypes after the revolution. The use of a woman’s body and undergarments in a political protest reinforces the notion of women’s objectification as symbols of beauty to attract attention and please males. Women are merely reduced to a body, or sex object, not an individual human being with her own rights, dignity and way of thinking. A women’s body should not be used to further any cause. Women should be appreciated for who they are, for their contributions and skills, for their intelligence and competence. They cannot continue to be seen as commodities or objects to be gazed at. When our personal and intellectual abilities are not appreciated or acknowledged by society, we feel alienated.

Another example of these discriminatory gender practices was in the anti-sexual harassment campaigns that actually intend to support women. Unfortunately, these campaigns have emerged from the very same masculine logic that views women as vulnerable and that a real man should protect, not harass, her. Many of these campaigns portray women as inferior to men, endorsing gender stereotypes and appealing to what people want to hear.

I am calling out for men to be more sensitive in their practices because without women, no revolution will succeed and a new world would not be possible. We, as women, will continue to make our voices heard and assert our worth in society, but we would much rather do that hand in hand with our revolutionary male partners, closing the rift rather than widening it.

Shaza Abdel-Lateef is a graduate student at AUC’s Cynthia Nelson Institute for Gender and Women’s Studies