Egyptian Women In Tahrir Square

Photograph from the Internet: Men Bullying women in Tahrir square on the International day of Women

By: Alexandra Kinias

The jubilation of the demonstrators in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the Egyptian revolution, on the night of February 11th was phenomenal. That night, the thirty years of Mubarak’s reign ended when the people’s demands for him to step down were finally met.

The images fromTahrir Squarethat were viewed across the globe highlighted the vital role that women played, side by side with men as equal partners, to bring down the dictator. With full force, women had taken giant steps into the political limelight as a new dawn forEgyptwas crawling on the horizon. United by a common goal, Egyptian men and women shared in making history for their country foe eighteen days, and the future of the Egyptian women looked promising. One month later, I am not so sure. My optimism for a better future for the women ofEgypthas dwindled with every passing day. The celebrations in the streets were soon overshadowed by facts of life and the dreams for equality, social justice and political involvement crashed on the shores of reality. And soon my short lived dreams were replaced by a nightmare that filled me with negative vibes.

Women, from all walks of life, young and old, rich and poor, Christian and Muslim, veiled and non-veiled, rallied along their male partners. They carried banners, chanted slogans, shared the food, slept on the same cold sidewalks, were attacked by tear gas, and the bullets that ended the lives of many didn’t differentiate between their gender. The fearful voice of a twenty years old pleading on CNN for help in the early morning hours of January 29th is still echoing in my ears. Her trembling voice was interrupted by the sounds of the automatic weapons shot at the demonstrators, and the explosions of Molotov cocktails that the thugs of the regime were throwing few yards away from where they took shelter. The scene was more powerful than a Steven Spielberg movie. And when the right moment came, men and women breathed freedom together. Watching these women filled me with hope, pride and joy. Finally the voices of the Egyptian women were loud and clear.

Even before the dust had settled though, women found that their roles had ended with toppling of the regime and they were pushed aside to the bleachers once more. Women were neither asked to take part in the constitutional drafting committee nor were appointed to the new cabinet of ministers. There were bluntly excluded from participating in the political transition process.

Still energized by the momentum of the revolution and their important role in shaping it, women felt it was time to stand up for their rights after years of oppression and silence. Charged with optimism for a brighter future, they returned to the birth place of the revolution,Tahrir Square, to celebrate the International Day of Women and rally for more rights in the new era for the achievement of which they had equally fought.

Unfortunately, the revolution had not changed anything for the women ofEgypt. Their campaign for equal rights and more political involvement was sabotaged by male protestors who outnumbered them. Men gathered around the square for one purpose, to deny them their universal rights.

The counter demonstrations commenced with mockery and humiliation. The slogans chanted by women demanding more rights were overshadowed by louder chants asking the women to return back to their homes, where they belonged. At one point, a crowd of male counter protesters circled a woman wearing a niqab chanting, “This is an Egyptian woman!”

As the day progressed, the hostility escalated and the scenes became degrading. The verbal abuse turned into a physical one. Women were attacked, assaulted, groped and eventually chased away from the square while their predators waved their shoes at them and yelled “Happy Women’s Day”. The demonstrators were saved after the intervention of the army who fired shots in the air to dismantle the crowds.

It was a disgrace to see how women’s voices were silenced, as if men were settling a score with them. It is no secret that women empowerment is feared and, thus, fought by Islamic fundamentalists in the name of religion. For the purpose of control, men are brainwashed into believing in the superiority of their gender, while parallel efforts are exerted in brainwashing women that they are of inferior status and that their obedience and husband’s approval are their tickets to God’s approval.

What had happened was indeed disappointing and humiliating, but as the deplorable incident may have been shocking, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone. The social curse of sexual harassment that had infested the daily lives of women, for years with no efforts to curb it, had indeed unveiled its ugly face once more. It is clear now that the success of the political revolution didn’t necessarily mean that there would be a transformation in behavior or that the social illness was cured.

There cannot be a bright future as long as men believe in their superiority over women. Sustaining the status quo is a guarantee to maintain the artificial imbalance of power between the genders. Men will fight until their last breath not to allow women equal rights because a right given to a woman is one taken away from a man. Democracy can never be attainable anywhere when half of the society is denied equal rights.

Article was published in : Kalimat Magazine April’s issue. To view article go to page 30.

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