Category Archives: Women of Egypt

Are Women Their Own Worst Enemies?

–By– Alexandra Kinias

Misogyny, practiced for thousands of years in patriarchal societies is still widely spread in Islamic countries where women are viewed and treated inferior to men. In Egypt, a country with male dominance, misogyny is deeply embedded in the culture and forms the base for women oppression. Not only practiced by men for control, but also by women against their own kind and well being. Brainwashed from a young age that inferiority is their source of empowerment, some women advocate for their own submissiveness.

On a televised religious show where audiences ask live questions, Suad Salah, Islamic scholar from Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, explained that Allah granted Muslim men the permission to rape non-Muslim [infidel women], to “humiliate” them. She labeled women captured in legitimate wars as slaves. “To humiliate them, these women who are spoils of war become possessions of their captors who can enjoy them sexually.” She said.

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Suad Saleh

Instead of denouncing the outdated medieval practice, Saleh defined a legitimate war, in today’s world, as one that Egypt would fight against an enemy like Israel, and thus the Israeli captive women can be enslaved and raped by the Egyptian soldiers. Saleh’s shameful justification is the base upon which ISIS troops enslaved the Yazidi women they captured.

Saleh’s incident is not an isolated one. Women who have experienced submission are often the best advocates for misogyny. Azza Al Garf, a parliament member during the Islamic government of the MB, was also an advocate for female misogyny.

A faithful member of the MB since the age of 15, Al Garf was a live product of her religious cult. Head of the Muslim brotherhood women’s committee, Al Garf’s priorities were to revoke the meager rights that women had fiercely fought for. She voted to shut down the offices of the Egyptian National Women Council that had been fighting for women’s issues for decades, which were viewed as a threat to their own conservative values. She also supported the repeal of the Kulw law that gave women the right to divorce, the ban on female genital mutilation and a bill proposed by the Salafist MPs to decrease the minimum marriage age for girls to 14 instead of 18.  She refuted that women’s status in Egypt has degraded, especially in the political arena. And in spite of the official statistics that 98% of women are victims of sexual harassment, Al Garf denied to CNN that women in Egypt are subjected to harassment, and affirmed that such incidents, if occurred, are the fault of women for dressing indecently. Her enthusiasm to curb women’s rights only proves her loyalty to the rigid doctrine preached by the Brotherhood and not to her gender. Fortunately for the women of Egypt, the Islamic parliament was dissolved before any of their laws were drafted.

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Azza Al Garf

In 2005, years before the rise of MB to power, and amidst the struggles of women organizations to bring equality, rights, social and marital reforms to women, an anonymous Egyptian journalist Hayam Darbak launched “One woman is not enough,” a pro polygamy campaign.  Darbak called on women to allow their husbands to take another wife and accused those who denied their husbands this religious right of selfishness.  In an interview with Laha Magazine Online, on September 19, 2005, Darbak criticized women’s organizations fights over women’s rights since in her view women were already enjoying the rights granted to them by Islam.

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Hayam Darabok

“I’m calling for women’s rights: their right to get married even to a married man. Polygamy is a ‘license from God to stabilize society and solve its problems.’ Fighting the call for polygamy is a crime committed against women who missed their chance to marry. Polygamy is the answer to social injustice. It fights spinster-ship of other women.” She proceeded that God permitted men to remarry because He knows they needed more than one woman in their lives.

Darbak, an anonymous journalist, attracted wide attention to her name, by debating the issue on television. On the televised show she urged her husband to take another wife and claimed that she sought her son’s assistance to find a second wife for her husband who refused the idea entirely. She feared that with her busy schedule she was not properly attending to her husband’s needs.

Darbak claimed later that she was surprised that 95% of Egyptian women refused her initiative and labeled her as a house wrecker. But that didn’t deter her.  In fact, with the name recognition she gained, she wrote articles and appeared on various television shows to promote her notorious cause.

Appearing on television to gain publicity by promoting and defending polygamy was a crime that would not have been allowed in countries that respect women and their rights.  None-the-less, after gaining her moment of fame, the campaign died as suddenly as it started. Darbak vanished from sight to appear ten years later with another campaign to empower women and promote equality.

Many reasons drive women to practice misogyny against other women and unfortunately in societies where women are still struggling for their rights, this behavior further hinders their advancement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Islam and Women, Women of Egypt, Women Rights in Egypt, Women's rights in Egypt

How the Tribal Culture of Arabia is shaping the Political Life of Muslim Women

–By:Alexandra Kinias —

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Megawati Sukarnoputri served as President of Indonesia in 2001

Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world was ruled by a woman. Megawati Sukarnoputri served as President of Indonesia in 2001. Bangladesh, the third populace Muslim country, had been ruled as of 2016, for the past 25 years by women; Khaleda Zia and Sheikha Hassina Wajed, respectively, were both elected as prime ministers.

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KHALEDA ZIA, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, 1991 – 1996; 2001 – 2006

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SHEIKH HASINA, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, 1996 – 2001; 2009 – Present

The list of Muslim countries that were ruled by women includes Pakistan, Turkey, Senegal, Kyrgyzstan and Mali. Kosovo and Mauritius have female presidents. In Afghanistan, two female candidates ran for president against Hamid Karzai. Out of these eleven Muslim countries, none is an Arab, not even Egypt, the birthplace of Huda Sharawy, leader of the Egyptian suffragette movement and head of the Arab Women Union that influenced women movements across the Middle East. That raises the question of whether it is Islam or tribal culture that is hindering women’s advancement in the Middle East.

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TANSU ÇILLER, Prime Minister of Turkey, 1993-1996

Even though gender equality is stated in the Egyptian constitution, women still can’t run for presidency or be appointed as prime ministers because parallel to the civil law in Egypt, the sharia (Islamic law) has the final word in deciding matters concerning women.

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ROZA OTUNBAYEVA, President of Kyrgyzstan, 2010-2011

Because of the non-uniformity of Islam’s interpretations and implementations, women’s leadership is a debatable issue among religious scholars, depending where the religion is practiced. While the restriction on women’s leadership in many countries in Asia is limited to spiritual leadership (leading Muslims in prayers), it also includes political leadership in countries influenced by the tribal culture of Arabia. So not only women in Egypt and other Arab countries with Muslim majorities can’t run for presidency, but also in Lebanon, the only Arab country where only Christians can become presidents, no woman emerged as a political leader.

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MAME MADIOR BOYE, Prime Minister of Senegal, 2001-2002

Male dominance is deeply engrained in tribal culture and women oppression existed in societies that predated Islam. Since the realization that girls were a profitable commodity, women became bargaining chips for tribal negotiations and their rape and enslavement motivated and attracted warriors to the battlefields. This culture perpetuated over the centuries and mutated through the various interpretations of the Quran to become the ideology that governs the lives of billions.

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BENAZIR BHUTTO, Prime Minister of Pakistan, 1988 – 1990; 1993 – 1996

It is unrealistic though to throw the blame of women’s oppression entirely on this culture. Misogyny is a global social ailment and is practiced in societies where women’s rights are most advanced. However, as opposed to Muslim societies where misogyny is institutionalized, in western societies; laws that were drafted after fierce battles by women’s movements ensure gender equality before the law and criminalize the abuses against women. And while law enforcement turns a blind eye against domestic violence in the Middle East, the Islamic government of Indonesia is exerting extreme efforts to combat it by encouraging women to report such incidents. In Pakistan, however, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) drafted a bill in May 2016 recommending that men beat their wives to keep them in line. This bill came in response to a proposed law that would make it easier for women to report domestic violence. The CII opposed the law, and declared it un-Islamic.

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ATIFETE JAHJAGA, President of Kosovo, 2011-present

The tribal culture of Arabia that hijacked Islam left its fingerprints in countries thousands of miles away from its birthplace and molded the lives of its followers across the globe into its tribalization form. In these societies religious scholars play the role of tribal leaders, drafting and supervising laws that guarantee women’s oppression.

And while the laws in the west enforce the civility of the nations, in spite of the new culture that travels with the immigrants under the cover of Islam, this nomadic culture is fragmenting identities of the countries it dominates. Today, the Egyptian identity that has thrived and survived over the millennia is standing at crossroads. It has been overshadowed by the tribal culture imported from behind the sand dunes of Arabia and affecting both Christians and Muslims alike, and especially women.

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Cissé Mariam Kaïdama Sidibé – former prime minister of Mali

In Egypt, the women’s movement that reached its peak in the mid-fifties lost its momentum and witnessed a reversal over the past three decades with the surging influence of conservatism. In less than a year after Islamist Morsi came to power, the parliament had already proposed laws to reverse the ban on FGM (Female Genital Mutilation), to drop the age of marriage for girls below 16, and to abolish the law that gave women the right to divorce, thus ensuring women’s oppression. Luckily the Islamist parliament was dissolved before these laws were drafted.

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AMEENAH FAKIM, President of Mauritius, 2015 – Present

The threat by the Muslim Brotherhood galvanized millions of women to take the streets side by side men to topple the theocratic regime. Women realized their power and are demanding more rights. The new administration has also recognized their power and is bestowing them with more privileges. For the first time in the history of modern Egypt, ninety two women were sworn in as parliament members, eighty four of whom were freely elected. The efforts to empower women are evident. While empowering campaigns are launched across the country, more women are taking leading positions in the government and more of them are choosing to remove the veil.

The road is long and bumpy. The conservative voices are clashing with the civil onse empowering women, to maintain their grip and control over them. The next few years are crucial in determining the path to where both women and the country are heading. The ultimate proof for the civility of Egypt is by appointing a female prime minister or allowing women to freely run in the presidential race. Until then, women empowerment will remain an unfinished business.

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Filed under Islam and Women, Politics, Violence against women, Women of Egypt, Women's Rights, Women's rights in Egypt

A man in Egypt could be sent to three years in jail for slandering women

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Taymour El Sobki on a TV show

–By: Alexandra Kinias —

Slander, humiliation, and ridicule of women are the active ingredients for jokes and humor in Egypt, and the shortest way to fame and financial gains. In a society where misogynists thrive, the blend of these ingredients produced the notorious Facebook page “Diaries of a Suffering Man.” Founded and administrated by Taymour El Sobki, the page attracted more than one million followers. With no substantial material to offer, but jokes with sexual contents demeaning and ridiculing women, – the magic blend to attract followers in a conservative and male dominant society – Sobki’s fame surged. It brought him out of the virtual world to television screens and right into jail.

Ironic how television hosts, especially women, interested to attract laughs from viewers, don’t challenge or question his motives. The more controversy he creates, his fame escalates, producers enjoy their fat wallets, and for that, women’s honor and dignity may be sacrificed at the altar of the advertising companies.

He affirmed on a popular show that – according to statistics, that he failed to quote their source – 33% of women in the conservative south of Egypt are unfaithful, and 45% of women in Egypt expressed interest to cheat on their husbands, but waiting for encouragement. His controversial remarks generated uproar and subsequently he received multiple death threats from men offended by his remarks. The prosecutor general issued a warrant for his arrest after a number of accusations filed against him from citizens, from the South of Egypt, for publicly defaming their women. According to the Egyptian law, Sobky could be jailed for up to three years if convicted.

Sobki, a product of a society and culture that advocates misogyny, and like most men born and raised in such environment, he finds no offense in slandering women. He practiced the right granted to him by religious scholars who marginalized women’s role to breeding machines, disregarded their rights, labeled unveiled women promiscuous and blamed them for their own rape, and granted men the license to beat and humiliate them. Along with religious scholars, the media also plays a major role in promoting violence and abuse against women. For many decades, violence, slandering and marginalizing the role of women in society and the workforce, have been the common denominator in movies and television shows. And due to the changes in ideological and religious beliefs, misogyny that found the fertile soil to grow, had gained speedy momentum. Sobki chose the sugar coated misogyny that had mutated to variable forms wrapped in satirical cloaks, which women accept as part of the culture, often with a smile, unaware of the crime committed against her.

As his fame escalated, Sobky launched a pro-polygamy campaign in January 2015. Ignoring the uproar from women rights and feminists groups, he proceeded with his psychopathic idea and launched another page on FB, “Polygamy Campaign.”

He explained the objective of his campaign in an interview with the electronic publication “Algarida News”. With the monthly membership fees collected, the campaign that he hoped to eventually register as an NGO, would assist underprivileged married men to remarry a second wife. Should this campaign succeed in the future, he would form a political party with a representation in the parliament. He proceeded that once elected a parliament member, he would campaign to repeal the divorce law that grants women the right to divorce. He blamed the law for the escalating rates of divorce in Egypt and the social problems caused by it. For anyone who watched carefully the events as they unfolded in the last few years will notice the astounding similarity between his objective and that of the Muslim Brotherhood.

More than one hundred years after Qassim Amin launched his campaign to liberate women, improve their social status, abolish polygamy and grant them the right to divorce; El Sobki is shamefully campaigning to repeal some of the rights that women had fought for over a century to gain.

Basking in a misogynist society surrounded by rights and privileges, El Sobky’s arrest caught him by surprise. Whether his arrest was an isolated incident or  the first step for more to come, is early to predict. But whatever message was sent out, Sobki’s arrest was an eye opener for men that slandering women is a crime that the time has come to  pay for it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Struggles of Egyptian Women

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— By: Alexandra Kinias —

Women in Egypt live in perpetual struggle , both internal and external. To explain  the internal struggle she was going through, a young single woman borrowed the Cherokee tale of the two wolves to demonstrate her point.

The Tale of the Two Wolves

One evening, an elderly
Cherokee told his
grandson about a battle that
goes on inside people.
He said “my son, the battle is
between two ‘wolves’ inside us all.
One is evil. It is anger,
envy, jealousy, sorrow,
regret, greed, arrogance,
self-pity, guilt, and resentment.

The other is good.
It is joy, peace love, hope serenity,
humility, kindness, benevolence,
empathy, generosity,
truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson though about
it for a minute and then asked
his grandfather:”which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied,
“The one that you feed”

The young woman replaced the evil and good wolves in the Native American tale by Egyptian and Western ones. Similar to many other women her age, she was torn between the social, cultural and religious values she grew up with, and the western values imported to Egypt via satellite dishes, and which have influenced, shaped, and often distorted the perception of reality of how the west lives in the minds of many. None-the-less, exposure to the western pop culture has opened the eyes of many to a simpler, freer way of living where women are independent and where gender equality is practiced.

The Egyptian wolf living within this young woman, and many others, and that abide by the social rules and values, fought a continuous battle with the wolf that wants to live a westernized lifestyle, have a boyfriend, experience premarital sex, drinks, travels alone, or openly admitting their sexual orientations.

Because of the shame associated with imported western values alien to Middle Eastern societies, women don’t have enough courage to stand up to the social taboos, and as a result, lead a confused double standard life where  the battle between the two wolves becomes a part of it; it influences their views, decisions and mostly leaves them uncertain on which side they should stand. Despite their dreams of freedom and independence, breaking these taboos is challenging for some and impossible for many. Women are actually chained not only by social values, but also by religious ones.

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Religion plays a powerful role in shaping their identities, protecting their virtues and honors and guiding them through life. It is the voice of conscience that whispers “haram .. haram .. haram..,” a constant reminder that enjoying life’s pleasures according to the western values is forbidden by Islamic law. So, in addition to the identity crisis many suffer from, they are also living in continuous shame and guilt. And no matter how fierce the battle between the wolves is, the Egyptian wolf wins. At the end of the day, they are compelled to live by the social and religious standards that have been drilled in their minds since birth, and which have been passed from generation to the other.

And while the wolves are fighting within, women in Egypt encounter another external struggle that is manifested in the pressures they are exposed to, to fulfil the social roles expected from  them. In a society where marriage is glorified, girls grow up to believe that it is women’s ultimate dream. And when unmarried young women above the age of twenty five are pitied, mocked, gossiped about and labeled as spinsters, staying single is not a choice.

Many women marry, often incompatible partners, because of social, peer and family pressure. Once married, they are pressured to start a family or stay in dysfunctional marriages, which until less than two decades ago, had no right to terminate them, but most importantly because a divorcee in the Egyptian society is looked down upon.

Before the new divorce laws that were issued in 2000, which granted women the right to divorce and retain the house, if the kids are still underage, non-working women with no source of income stayed married for financial reasons and in fear to end up homeless. And with the loose alimony and child support laws, not all families were ready for the extra expenses of a divorced daughter and grandkids. The irony, however, was that even women who could afford a divorce, still couldn’t get one. It was a right granted only to men.  And while some women couldn’t get a divorce, others were divorced against their wishes.

Society stigmatized and alienated divorced women. Viewed by many as loose and unrespectable women, friends avoided them to protect their husbands and their own marriages. Parents restricted their freedoms to guard their tarnished reputation, in the eyes of the society.  The endless battles in courts over the alimonies, child support and custody dragged for years and costed fortunes. Divorced women were nothing but trouble, and families were happy to hand them over to another man to resume their responsibilities.

Add to that that women growing up in misogynist societies learn to cope with their husband’s polygamy and domestic violence; for they are permitted by Sharia, the Islamic law. In Egypt, unlike the civil laws the rule the land, family laws are derived from Sharia, favoring men’s interests over women, which adds more burden to women’s lives. So, while women’s struggle continues, meager changes for their status take effect, since such changes must be permitted by religious scholars, whom by doing so would be defying the Islamic law.

It is very stressful to be a woman in Egypt.

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