Monthly Archives: May 2012

Feminism according to Azza

By: Alexandra Kinias

Parliamentarian Azza al-Garf is among nine other women elected (out of 498 deputies) in the first parliamentary elections after the ousting of Mubarak’s regime. It is worth noting that her party, Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the Muslim Brotherhood‘s political arm that won by mudslide, neither played any role in the revolution nor supported it.

With the dominance of the Islamists in the Egyptian parliament the civility of the country and the rights of its women and minorities are at peril.
In the few interviews after she became a public figure, it became obvious that with her representation the future of the women in Egypt looks bleaker than ever, as the priorities on her agenda and that of Islamist lawmakers are to repeal the meager rights that women have earned.

Practicing misogyny against women is not justifiable, yet it is the trend of patriarchal societies in general and Islamic societies in particular. It has been practiced for thousands of years by men and it is what establishes the reasons for the oppression of females in male-dominant societies. It is disturbing though when women follow the lead of men in their hatred for their own kind. Garf, a product of years of brainwashing, is a living proof that misogyny is also practiced by women against women.

Egyptian liberals and the foreign press have labeled Garf the Michele Bachmann of Cairo for her conservative views on women, not much of a compliment for anyone, to say the least. Instead of protecting and promoting women’s rights, Garf is supporting the repeal of the laws that gave women the right to divorce and that ban female genital mutilation. She didn’t object to the bill that was proposed to decrease the minimum marriage age for girls to 14 instead of 18. She refutes that women’s status has degraded, especially in the political arena, disagrees that women in Egypt are subjected to sexual harassment, and affirms that such incidents, if occurred, are the fault of women who are indecently dressed. Garf who suggested that all women should take cooking classes, denied these allegations and accused the media for attacking her for expressing her wishes in applying the rules of sharia in the family law.

Her denial is mainly cosmetic since it is not a secret that legislating the sharia law is a top priority on the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood, once they take over the country, and resurrecting the Islamic renaissance, as they say. Her enthusiasm to curb women’s rights only proves that her loyalty is not to her gender, but to the rigid doctrine preached by the Brotherhood, a member of which she has been since she was 15 years old.

Garf doesn’t see that her views may cause hardships for women. She believes, like all members of the Brotherhood, that the establishment of a religious society, based on the rigid interpretation of Islam, is the solution to all its problems. Such society would be the nucleus for the re-establishment of the Islamic Caliphate, which Hassan El Banna, founder of Muslim Brotherhood, had called for when the organization was established in 1928.

A university graduate and a mother of seven, Garf has been serving faithfully in the Brotherhood’s women’s contingent, a group tasked with imbuing other women with the group’s conservative ideology. On the outside, she looks like she has great hopes for women, but the real motives are intricately woven within her statements. “I wish she [Egyptian woman] would be more insistent to take part in the political life — to make sure her vote is not rigged and her demands are not ignored. She should be developed in all aspects: health, economic, and education —- and most importantly taking care of her family. Our families are the future of our country.” Muslim Brotherhood members are discouraged to marry from outside the organization.

Garf and other women in the organization yet have a long way to go. Winning a seat in the parliament doesn’t mean that she can vote in the Brotherhood’s internal elections. She is hoping that when the Brotherhood takes Egypt towards stability and their Islamic society is instated, women within the organization will be given the right to choose their leader too.

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Is anyone listening to ‘These Girls’?

The movie poster

In the streets of Cairo, stray dogs often compete with the hungry homeless for scraps of food salvaged from the garbage, or for a spot to spend the night, let it be under a parked car, a construction site or a sidewalk. The phenomenon is not unique to the mega city, where many of its 18 million inhabitants live in expensive homes and mansions. However, what makes the picture gloomier in Cairo than elsewhere, is that a high percentage of its homeless are children under the age of ten. What is more tragic, though, than this heart breaking condition is that they are invisible to the masses who carry on with their daily lives as if these homeless children do not exist.

Tata prepares a bottle for Abeer’s baby. Abeer is sitting at the back.

In her daring documentary, “These Girls”, director Tahani Rashed’s camera follows the lives of a group of teenage homeless girls who have taken refuge in the streets, living in poverty among the filth and exposed to rape, violence, drugs, abuse, pregnancies, and often murder. As the film progresses, it becomes obvious that most of them are living in the streets voluntarily. They have homes to go back to, but none-the-less, there is nothing in these homes that demands their return. Many have run from broken homes to escape an abusive father or a stepparent. They are always on the run, from their fathers, policemen or their attackers. Many of their rapists are homeless, not much older than they are and not in any better shape, socially or mentally. They attack the girls and leave them with scarred faces and pregnant.

Maryam cuts her hair short to look like boys. She does it to protect herself from rape.

Without any narration, the film does not raise the question of why they ended up in the streets or how to salvage them. It merely documents their daily lives. However, in an interview Rashed, the Egyptian-Canadian director who spent six months with these girls prior to shooting the documentary, blames the social NGOs for neglecting their roles in taking care of them. “They need love which was never given to them,” Rashed said.

Movie director Tahani Rashed and her crew. She is talking with Maryam.

The film started with Tata, a tomboy, dodging the busy Cairo traffic on horseback. She was an expert in using white weapons, as she claimed later, and seemed to be in control of the situation. Tata said she wanted people to know about them and accepted to be the heroine of the film.

Donya, in the middle, admits to dealing in drugs.

As the camera rolled, the girls revealed their identities and backgrounds, and the grim details of their daily lives, with no restrains. Among them was Abeer, a pregnant girl, on the run from her father who was threatening to kill her. It felt like moments of catharsis when they told their stories, as if someone finally listened to them, to their misery and agony. They laughed and joked, but admitted that their joy was drug induced.

Reda smoking weed.

“I am a total loser.” Donya said. “A loser at home. A loser within. I have no self-confidence. But when I love, it’s for real.” Donya explained that they do drugs to escape their harsh reality and boost their depleted self-esteem.
The documentary delves into this human tragedy and brings to the surface the dire circumstances in which these girls live in. Tata and her clan introduce the audience to their world, which can only be described as a disgrace to humanity. In the streets they fight, steal, sell drugs, prostitute and beg to have enough money to sniff glue and smoke weed. Tata explained that drugs help them to cope with their surroundings and give them courage to fight their attackers.

Tata plays domino in a coffee shop.

The film reaches its climax when the girls break down in front of the camera and their heart breaking testimonials flow down with their tears. They are confused, vulnerable, desperate and fearful. Their hearts are loaded with pain and sadness. Their souls are lost. “I want to get off the streets. I don’t want to sniff [glue] or do drugs.” Tata said as she shed tears.

Eman, her face was scarred after she was raped by her attacker. She has two illegitimate kids.

Their simple words culminated their experiences as their haunting faces gazed at a hopeless future. They found solace and comfort in the sisterhood they have developed, their driving force is their solidarity, as they have no one but themselves to protect and support each other. Their destiny has already been written on the sidewalks where they live, and where they will eventually die. In their despair, they reach out for a helping hand, but there is no one out there listening to their cries.

Abeer and her new born son.

The world as people perceive it is invisible to these girls because they live in their own world. The documentary ends with the girls dancing in the street. A new member is born; another reminder that they are there to stay and breed more miserable souls. Abeer is happy that she gave birth to a boy and that another girl was spared the life she was living, yet she was still desperate. “All I want is a birth certificate [for my child], but I don’t know how to get one.” Abeer knew that without a birth certificate, her son’s future was doomed the moment his life started. The young mother was still on the run from her father who by then was threatening to both kill her and her son. She is aware of her inevitable future, but like the rest of them, she was living in the moment, for she had nothing else that she owned, but her existence in Cairo’s chaotic streets.

All photos are courteousy of the Documentary These Girls, directed by Tahani Rashed.

The documentary is available in 8 parts on youtube.

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