“All of us were there, throwing stones, moving dead bodies. We did everything. There was no difference between men and women.” Asmaa Manfouz, Egyptian Activist (Economist, 11/15/2012)
In the eighteen days that led to toppling of Mubarak’s regime, men and women stood shoulder to shoulder in Tahrir Square. The unity of purpose was incredible – gender boundaries were defaced and the ‘humans’ in Tahrir were committed to see justice, dignity and freedom restored. They all faced death (some died), some lost their loved ones, they shared drinking water, they cried together, they faced police brutality together and they faced the lash of the whip together. According to the Guardian, the number of women peaked around 50% of the protesting crowd in the Square. The result was an end of an oppressive and repressive regime that had been in place for decades. The big overarching question that remained with the end of the regime was, were the demands of the minorities (subaltern) met?
What happened to the ‘United’ People?
How dispiriting it is to deal with this question in light of what happened to women who held up their umbrellas or served water to the men in the square. In this research, I will try to unravel some of the in depth failures of the new ‘emergent Egypt’ which continued to have women as underdogs, treating their demands as secondary. As a male with a great respect for mothers and daughters out there, this research is a sincere inquiry.
The Egyptian interim government (before Morsi) began clawing back rights that women had gained before the revolution. Before the revolution, women had managed to overturn unfair divorce laws, end female genital mutilation (FGM) and increased the age of marriage from 9 to 18. Among the 30-member committee of ‘wise men’ and advisory panel formed during the uprising, there was only one woman and this helped to sideline their demands. There have been no women appointed as governors and no woman was allowed in authoritative state council. Not to forget that the Egyptian new constitution does not allow women to ever vie for presidency.
One of the question that I asked as I read this was, how can a nation move forward to respect the ideals of democracy if it not ready to deal with inequalities. I have always believed, (at least in my utopian perspective) that the tenets of democracy is equal voice, equal representation and respect for the rule of just laws.
In the drafting of the new constitution, women were left out and the adopted national charter has well pronounced enshrined limitations on women. The Islamist figures are now setting up a ruling ideology which seeks to impose conservative religious values on all Egyptian society. For the women who were actively involved in the demonstrations, they have a lot of despairing episodes to look at. It is very disheartening to observe how the collective uprising ended up benefiting one group over another. Mosri’s regime is now trying to legitimize itself so it can be accepted across the board as a hegemonic power that has moral and ethical standards to rule. This relates to Gramci’s study on the subaltern and how different identities may be a setback to unity of the subaltern. Some muslim women do believe that they should be submissive to their husbands and these women became a huge setback as the progressive women received a lot of opposition from them. On the other hand, it is interesting how Morsi’s regime has been using very extreme conservative religious ideologies to legitimize its actions as a muslim country.