Thursday, March 8, 2012

Egypt: Revolution Loses Meaning As Women Denied Rights, Role in Society

photo by Fatma Naib

From Denny:  Egypt held so much hope for the world when the Arab Spring broke out last year, toppling the regime.  

Then reality set in.  The very women that protected the men who marched, the very women who gave medical aid and money to help the revolution, were turned upon and denied their respect and freedom.  

The protesters took it all and gave nothing in return by denying women a seat at the table while they restructured the national government.  The former male protesters and the Egyptian military council refused the concepts of generosity, kindness, partnership and equality.  To the women, the protesters and the military are no different than the regime:  all deny freedom and equal rights to women.

And the Egyptian military wonders why Americans want to pull out the $1 billion in foreign aid to them?  American women are furious at the treatment of Egyptian women and we don't want our tax dollars going to support such torture, unnecessary imprisonment, harassment, lack of protection from police and military, embarrassment, sexual groping in public, all without recourse or punishment of the men who are out of control with impunity.

The current Egyptian government, military and Arab Spring Revolution are all as much a world embarrassment as the old regime.  Nothing positive has changed for the status of women.  They had better get serious about real change if they want the respect of the world community.  Otherwise, Egypt will just slide back into the third world status of oblivion and no importance.  

The Arab Spring Revolution was the first real positive world reaction to Egypt in a long time.  Will the current male-dominated society chose to let this moment pass, denying Egypt an important place on the world stage?

In fact, to honor International Women's Day in Egypt, the call went out for one million women to gather in Tahrir Square.  The truth is that only a few hundred showed up to march, obviously intimidated by the public tactics of disgruntled men.  However, to contrast that there were a lot of men who showed up in solidarity with the women, both Egyptian and non-Egyptian, including Italian and French ex-pats.  

The chairwoman of the Egyptian Centre for Women's RightsNehad Abo Alomsan, organized the march.  Explaining the concept of what they were trying to achieve with this year's march, she stated, "We marked the celebration to salute all the martyrs, men and women, and to remind the society of the role the women played during the revolution.  Women stood shoulder to shoulder by the men, but post-revolution when it came to the decision-making process they were excluded.”

Nehad believes it is important for women to participate in the democratic process and this current government's transition.  She expressed disappointment at the lack of female experts excluded from the constitutional committee.

"We just want to draw the attention of the decision makers and appeal to the women that if they keep silent now then they will lose everything. The involvement of women is not a demand; it’s a principle.  We are reminding the society of the principle of the whole revolution, equality and human dignity." 

Many of the female demonstrators raised their voices against "the chronic sexual harassment in Egypt, the barriers women face in public life and the pervasive conservatism that curtails the freedom of women in society at large," states Jumanah Younis.  All they did was chant the same slogans used during the revolution calling for freedom, justice and equality.  And then along came the all-male counter-protest.

What started off well with many men in solidarity, soon began to deteriorate as men swelled the group of the anti-women group to drive out the female marchers.  The men started out with verbal abuse as to how the women were dressed and they should not be there.  Soon, small groups of men began to sexually molest the women, groping them in public as if it were their right to molest them without punishment.

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photo by Fatma Naib  

There were many brave men who stood as a buffer for the women as the hostile male crowd came near to attack, driving them back.  The men in the women's camp continued to say they supported women's rights and did not stop chanting pro-women's slogans.  Those are some real men, the kind that will bring change to the Middle East.  Societal change takes time and a lot of courage from all sides.

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