High time for a fly-in to Syria

 
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By Yovav Kalifon

Though risky, a civilian fly-in to Syria will send out a clear message that the world cannot stand idly by while ordinary people are slaughtered.

Friday 18 May 2012

I’ve been thinking a lot about Syria.

What started as an ‘Arab Spring’ wave of demonstrations in early 2011 has developed into a bloody civil war, with 10,000 civilians dead in over a year of fighting. We keep receiving video footage and eye-witness accounts from Syria portraying widespread atrocities, such as massacres, torture, rape, burying people alive, maiming adults and children, just to name a few.

Syrian hopes and calls for reform have turned into barbaric chaos, misery and death.

I won’t try to play the political analyst and tell you who is fighting whom and for what aim. For what I am about to suggest, it is not even necessary for us to agree on who’s the good guy and who is the bad guy in this story. Even if you subscribe to the theory that foreign agents are at play in Syria and that it’s not a real rebellion, you should keep reading. All we need to agree on at this point is that the situation in Syria is bad, that it is out of control, and that civilians are caught in the middle of it.

The other thing I hope you’ll agree with me on is that the situation in Syria has gone on for long enough. The UN, the Arab League, and Turkey in particular, have tried to exercise their influence over Syria, but to no avail. UN observers are having a hard time getting into the country and reaching the necessary places. Humanitarian aid is concentrated mostly outside the borders of Syria, where refugees find help only after they have already lost everything.

With the situation as complex as it is, there is no obvious solution that will satisfy all sides of the conflict. Still, the sounds and images coming out of Syria leave no room for doubt – there is an ongoing slaughter which must be stopped, and our governments are not up to the challenge.

Seeing how all other attempts end in failure, I would like to suggest a civilian, multinational, self-organised fly-in to Syria:

What does a fly-in mean exactly?

The idea is for groups and individuals to make plans to travel to Syria, by land, sea or by air, and arrive there within a set time frame. The aim is to make it clear that the international community is not merely monitoring the horrors from far away, but actually mobilising itself to arrive on Syrian soil, out of genuine sympathy and concern.

A fly-in by whom?

The people who will travel to Syria will mostly be ordinary civilians, people like me and you, as well as private groups and relevant NGOs. As unofficial representatives of the international community, it will be easier for us as volunteers to cross into Syria and to move around. So far, official governmental workers who are required to coordinate their actions with the Syrian authorities were not able to move around effectively enough, for the reason of being official representatives, bound by rules and regulations.

Why a fly-in and not something else?

Our governments and their organisations have had over a year, and there is no obvious sign of them having much influence over the events. Signing online petitions is a nice gesture, but Syria is so deep in blood that they probably don’t notice and care even less. Sending more field hospitals and humanitarian aid to help fleeing refugees is important, but tte ongoing slaughter is creating more refugees.

We all remember what usually happens when our governments intervene militarily in remote conflicts, such as what happened in Libya, for example. I believe most people will prefer not to resort to military means yet again, not in Syria, and not anywhere else. There is reason to give internal disputes a chance to resolve themselves, and when they don’t, there is reason to think of non-violent means of intervention, and to give them a chance to work.

The only non-violent intervention I can think of that will deliver humanitarian aid into Syria proper, inject hundreds of (unofficial) observers and reporters, and breathe hope into a desperate situation, is to stage an international civilian fly-in and cross-in directed at Syria.

What will volunteers do there?

Once in Syria, volunteers should make their presence clearly felt. This will send an important signal, one which will ripple in two opposite directions:

First, the signal to Syria will be that it’s unacceptable, in the 21st century, to slaughter civilians, when we can all see them calling out to us from Youtube, Twitter, FaceBook, etc.

Second, the signal to all the world’s nations will be that it’s unacceptable, in the 21st century, to stand idly by while civilians are being slaughtered, when we can all see them calling out to us from Youtube, Twitter, FaceBook, etc.

The most practical thing volunteers should do in Syria is exactly the work of UN observers, reporters, and humanitarian aid workers. As much as circumstances allow it, volunteers should shed light on the situation, deliver humanitarian aid as best they can, and call on others to join them.

For that to happen, volunteers should equip themselves with cameras, laptops, cellphones, medical aid and equipment. They will function as humanity’s eyes, ears, mouth and conscience.

Hopefully, as more trained individuals and specialised NGOs join the initiative, experts will get involved, specific guidance will be circulated, equipment will be obtained, funds will be raised, logistical support will grow, and the effect will be much greater. Some of the organisations I’d like to see getting behind this initiative are Doctors Without Borders, the Red Cross, Amnesty International.

What will be the effect?

Already in the preparation phases, as more and more people apply for visas to Syria and contact their consulates, their respective governments will notice the rising interest in Syria, and may start to wonder. This alone might lead some countries to rethink their attitude towards the crisis in Syria, and its affect on them.

Assuming the situation continues as it does and the fly-in gets under way, one can expect Syria and other states to interfere with the plan. The Syrian authorities are likely to arrest people whom they suspect to be activists, and then deport them. That is fine since it still gets the job done; it occupies the authorities, it mounts diplomatic pressure on Syria and the international community, it raises global awareness in general, and it sends a message of hope and solidarity to the embattled Syrians. Giving Syrian authorities something of this sort to worry about might lead them to lower the levels of hostilities from their side. Having our governments prevent us from travelling to Syria will similarly compel them to act more responsibly and decisively, knowing full-well their public is greatly concerned about what is happening to Syrians.

Assuming the fly-in eventually gets off the ground and volunteers spread throughout Syria, the presence of international civilians on Syrian soil should have a pacifying effect on all fighting sides. Realising they are being watched in person and in real-time, fighters will adjust their tactics and become less openly brutal. By the same token, and as a later consequence, conflicts in other parts of the world will be affected by the precedent set in Syria of an international civilian fly-in to calm a civil war down.

Of course, a civilian fly-in will only be the beginning of change. It will affect the way the crisis is perceived and addressed, leading to change in how it develops. As the situation calms down gradually, official, trained workers will be able to follow suit and deliver much needed professional aid to Syrian civilians.

But is it safe?

Absolutely not. Syria is not safe, not for you, not for me, not even for Syrians. If it were, I wouldn’t be talking about a fly-in. Drastic times call for drastic measures. When no-one is willing to take risks for what is right, people should expect to see more wrong. This initiative is not for amateurs, thrill seekers or anarchists. It is a serious matter of global concern, a matter of life or death, right and wrong. The fly-in requires commitment, audacity, hard work, confidence, and perseverance. Responsible people should think hard before committing themselves to it, accept responsibility for themselves, and take their stand. The riskiness can be reduced if professionals with experience in conflict zones got involved and organised support and training for inexperienced civilians, that ‘fly-in’ activists who make it to Syria arrive in large groups and ensure that they always have a connection with the outside world.

Why Syria?

It is true that civilians the world over are facing hardships. They too could use our attention and our immediate support. But we don’t have to deal with one single conflict at a time. That would take us forever. Devoting too much global attention to one conflict only will allow other conflicts to flare up and spin out of control, all the while remaining out of sight. Media consumers should insist on having access to a balanced coverage of various issues.

Personally, I feel Syria deserves a lot of media attention right now; resulting in more immediate action. This crisis is still relatively fresh, and should be treated before it becomes the normal situation in Syria. In the Middle East, disputes like the one we see in Syria can easily spill over to engulf other groups and states. They can develop into something much bigger that lasts much longer.

Setting a memorable precedent in Syria, such as conducting a massive fly-in, will have a positive effect on other countries in the region, and far beyond. A demonstration of that sort will advance human rights in an area where it is clearly needed. The Arab Spring happened for a reason, and as the results remain undecided in Syria, a fly-in seems necessary to get the process back on track.

 

Note: The Chronikler advises any civilians interested in taking part in such a fly-in to consider the risks involved carefully and to seek professional advice.

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The battle for the soul of the Arab man

 
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By Khaled Diab

The polarised debate over Arab women overlooks the fact that men can be victims of the patriarchy too and their identity is a cultural battlefield.

Friday 18 May 2012

‘Why do they hate us?’ was the controversial question posed by the Egyptian-American columnist Mona Eltahaway in the hotly debated May/June issue of Foreign Policy magazine. “Until the rage shifts from the oppressors in our presidential palaces to the oppressors on our streets and in our homes, our revolution has not even begun,” writes Eltahaway. “Name me an Arab country, and I’ll recite a litany of abuses fuelled by a toxic mix of culture and religion.”

Although Eltahawy’s essay is, sadly for Arab women, factually accurate and I agree with almost everything she says, I find myself differing with her about what she omits to say.

To borrow her own words, Eltahaway’s essay, despite the substantial space available to her, does not move beyond reciting a long “litany of abuses” without making any attempt to depict the complexity of the situation and highlight the grey areas. Largely missing from her analysis are the diverse shades of opinion and attitudes across the Arab world, and the very real gains made by Arab women in many countries, especially in the professional and educational spheres.

As a long-time admirer of Eltahawy’s journalism and activism, I find it hard to fathom why liberal, empowered Arab women who have challenged discrimination in every walk of life hardly feature in her article, though she does mention some who have resisted the abuse of “virginity tests” and forced marriage, or defied the Saudi ban on female driving.

Her loaded ‘why do they hate us’ question also turns a blind eye to a highly inconvenient reality for advocates of gender equality like myself: many Arab men and women do not regard traditional gender attitudes to be a sign of hatred, but rather of love and respect. In an interesting turning of the tables, conservative Arabs are reciprocating the Western interest in the subordinate position of Arab and Muslim women by setting up think tanks to examine the “oppressed” status of the Western woman.

Weird, you say? Yes, until you consider that many conservatives in the West hold similar views of their societies, as reflected by the recent so-called “war on sex” launched by many of the candidates in the Republican primaries. And I’m sure many Haredim women in Israel do not regard a “dignified” dress code or the erasure of women’s faces from billboards or de facto gender segregation on some buses, with women forced to sit in the back, as signs of their inferiority.

In fact, you could say that one major factor behind the patriarchal orders durability and longevity, which survives to some degree even in the more egalitarian West, is its ability to co-opt and condition certain women into accepting and even embracing the status quo and linking the status of some women to the oppression of others.

This brings me to another breed of Arab men completely absent from Eltahawy’s essay: those who believe in women’s rights and have stood shoulder to shoulder with women in their quest for (greater) equality. In fact, perhaps the first advocate for greater rights for women in Egypt was Qasim Amin who echoed Eltahawy more than a century ago in his The Liberation of Women (1899). “Throughout the generations our women have continued to be subordinate to the rule of the strong and are overcome by the powerful tyranny of men,” he wrote. “The inferior position of Muslim women is the greatest obstacle that prevents us from advancing toward what is beneficial for us.”

It would also seem that just as women have become a political football in the culture war between a hegemonic West and a defensive Arab world, it is my view that men have too. Western discourse, especially in conservative circles, tends to focus on the Arab man as a woman-hater or terrorist, ignoring the liberal breed of Arab men I mentioned above. Meanwhile, in a supposed bid to defend their culture against the onslaught of modernity, as well as to protect the patriarchal privileges they enjoy, conservative Arab elites talk up traditional gender roles and mock and demonise men who deviate from them either as weaklings or Western stooges.

Moreover, one factor behind the enduring presence of patriarchy in the Arab world is what the academic Deniz Kandiyoti called the “patriarchal bargain” in which the Ottomans, British and French bought the submission of men by offering them absolute power over women. Arab dictators like Mubarak have played similar tricks. As one Egyptian feminist put it to me: “If you can’t control your income, the fate of your family or the politics of your country, then you will try to control what you can, that is the private sphere.”

In addition, though women are the traditional patriarchy’s greatest victims, many men suffer too. After all, the patriarchal order is in place primarily to serve the interests of the top dogs, the alpha males, with the beta and gamma males often oppressed severely, as the beatings and rapes of young male protesters in Egypt clearly illustrate.

Traditional concepts of manhood can also hurt those men unwilling or unable to live by them. The gap between the regular Arab man, the “average Mo”, and the Arab myth of manhood is bound to breed feelings of inadequacy, because, in societies – where many women have become men’s equal and even surpassed them in schools, universities and the workplace – the chasm between fantasy and reality is a yawning one.

Moreover, it can leave impressionable men who hold no grudge against women and have no objections to living in equality with them unwilling to do so publicly to avoid mockery from their peers and superiors. As long as conservative circles continue successfully to equate female emancipation with male emaciation, capitulation to foreign powers and the loss of cultural authenticity, the quest for gender equality will stall.

What we need are mainstream, “average Mo” role models who demonstrate that believing in gender equality squares with being a man, and that empowering women also empowers men and society as a whole. And this is one lesson that the revolutionary youth in Egypt and Tunisia who have inspired the Arab world can teach over time.

This article first appeared in The Jerusalem Post on 15 May 2012.

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Egypt’s Nubians: damned by the dam

 
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By Khaled Diab

Half a century after the inundation, Nubians may finally gain recognition and redress for the loss of their homeland.

Monday 23 April 2012

Lower Nubia is modern Egypt’s very own lost Atlantis. This ancient land today lies mostly under the waters of Lake Nasser, a massive reservoir created by the Aswan High Dam.

Now, half a century after the inundation, Egyptian Nubians are finally being offered the prospect of decent compensation for the loss of their homeland in the 1960s. Following years of concerted campaigning by Nubian campaigners, and their active role in the revolution, Fayza Abul Naga, the minister for planning and international co-operation, announced that Nubians would soon be compensated with new farmland and villages.

Ever since Egypt’s controversial decision, taken soon after the 1952 revolution, to construct the High Dam, questions have persisted as to why Cairo was so cavalier with both the Nubian people and the priceless archaeology in which the region abounded.

Defenders and apologists insist that Nubia had to be dammed so that Egypt, one of the driest places on the planet and almost wholly dependent on the Nile for its water, would not be damned.

And despite its severe environmental impacts, which were foreseen long before its construction, the dam saved Egypt, in the 1980s, from the severe drought upstream in Ethiopia, where most of Egypt’s water originates. It has also played a major role in the modernisation, electrification and industrialisation of the country.

It has also been suggested that racism played a role too. However, I am not convinced that racial discrimination was a conscious factor in the decision to flood Nubia. As far as I understand it, the Nile had only one cataract in Egypt and this happened to lie near the ancestral lands of the Nubians.

Then, there is the question of regionalism and class. Egypt has long been run centrally from Cairo and the urban centres of the north, while the south, in general, has had little say in its own or the country’s future. That would explain why Upper Egyptian peasants were also uprooted by the dam. The sacredness of “national unity” has also played a role, with Nubia’s distinct culture and language often seen as a threat by the Cairo elites.

In addition, as elsewhere in the developing world at the time, development and modernity were a far more pressing imperative in the minds of Egypt’s central planners of the time than cultural preservation and tradition. That helps explain why the Egyptian government had not given much thought to the preservation of the unique archaeological heritage of the region, home to the ‘Black Pharaohs‘, until an international furor erupted.

The international community managed, under the auspices of UNESCO, to pull off perhaps the largest and most impressive archaeological rescue operation in human history which rehoused Nubia’s most significant monuments, such as the temple of Abu Simbel.

The Nubians themselves were not as fortunate, and no massive international aid was forthcoming to help them relocate. Some 50,000 Egyptian Nubians were forced to move from 45 villages and relocated to Aswan, which has become a Little Nubia renowned for its hospitality and the warmth of its people, and to the ill-thought out  New Nubia, near Kom Ombo.

Though New Nubia was supposed to mirror old Nubia, preserving its culture while introducing modern utilities, it was in reality a charmless development of small concrete housing which, unlike the lush Nubia they left behind, lay in the desert.

Dissatisfied with their new homes, a large proportion the inhabitants of New Nubia migrated to other parts of Egypt, though many dreamed of returning as near as possible to their ancestral homeland.

The reality of discrimination is reflected in the marginalisation that Nubians still endure. For instance, a disproportionate number of Nubians are employed in menial work, such as bawabs (janitors). In fact, in some parts of downtown Cairo, a cluster of poor Nubian communities exist on the rooftops.

Despite that, a few Nubians have made it to the very top of Egyptian society. Culturally, the Nubian singer Ahmed Mounib was the first to introduce mainstream Egypt to the mellow sounds of Nubia. His protege, Mohamed Mounir – himself a refugee from the Aswan dam – has managed not only to put Nubian music on the map, with his funky fusion of traditional Nubian with jazzy western sounds, but was also one of the very few mainstream artists to sing socially conscious lyrics before the revolution.

Interestingly, in spite of their general underrepresentation, Nubians have fared markedly better in the highest echelons of Egyptian political life, perhaps due to the fact that the army has been one of the few routes open for the advancement of the marginalised.

The country’s third president Anwar Sadat, although he grew up in the north of Egypt, was the son of Nubian parents, while the country’s current de facto leader, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, is also of Nubian origin.

In recent years, attitudes towards Nubians have been changing, and there is a growing recognition that the Nubian people were wronged. This process has gathered pace since the revolution erupted, and one can only hope that Nubians will be allowed to resettle in what’s left of their homeland and be treated as full equals elsewhere in the country.

 

This article first appeared in The Guardian‘s Comment is Free on 21 April 2012.

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Egypt needs fundamental, not fundamentalist rights

 
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By Osama Diab

 Egypt’s new constitution should focus on democracy, equality and human rights, not religious identity or military budgets.

Sunday 1 April 2012

“We don’t need a constitution or legislation. Egypt needs love, devotion and conscience,” says this Dervish-like protester. Photo: ©Khaled Diab

When millions of Egyptians took to the streets last year and chanted “the people want to bring down the regime,” they were clear about what they wanted the regime to do, but not about the kind of system they would like to replace it with. Since Hosni Mubarak’s downfall in February last year, debate over the country’s identity has been fierce amid a power vacuum characterised by no clear plan or time frame for a peaceful transition of power and to democracy.

The intensity of the dispute peaked this week following the appointment of the 100-member constitution-writing committee by the parliament – composed mostly of Islamists. The interim constitutional declaration grants the parliament the power to “elect a provisional assembly composed of 100 members which will prepare a new draft constitution”.

Exercising this right, the Islamist-dominated parliament allocated about two-thirds of the 100 seats to figures from an Islamist background. The committee, of which 50% are members of the parliament, met for the first time this week to plan their task – an expectedly difficult one with three powerful ideological and political groups having conflicting interests in the writing of the constitution.

Egypt’s military rulers, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), are looking to maintain and entrench their privileged position in the new constitution. SCAF wants to be independent of any elected body’s supervision and key to this would be no parliamentary oversight over its finances. A list of SCAF-sponsored supraconstitutional principles, issued by the deputy prime minister Ali al-Selmy last autumn, was rejected by liberals, Islamists and leftists amid concerns of constitutionally establishing a deep military state. Article 9 of the document explicitly states that SCAF is solely responsible for all matters concerning the armed forces. It also grants the military the right to approve all legislation pertaining to its affairs including its budget.

The second player is the Islamist parliamentary bloc, who argue that they are currently the only elected representative authority in the country and that their choice would be the most reflective of the people’s choice; not to mention that they have the constitutional power to elect and appoint a constitution-writing committee.

An Islamist-designed constitution raises concerns from the third group – minorities and non-religious political forces, including different shades of leftwing and liberal politics, that would like the constitution to secure social, political and personal freedoms and equality rather than emphasise Egypt’s religious identity and discuss the military budget. Their argument is that a “temporary” parliamentary majority, that will be gone in four years, should not have a monopoly right over drafting a “permanent” constitution that will govern Egypt for generations to come.

Despite possessing only minimal representation in parliament, the political left still exercise some degree of influence by dominating civil society, especially human rights organisations, while the liberals maintain control of the media and much of the economy.

There are also fears that a potential showdown between the military and the Brotherhood could have a devastating effect on the country’s transition to democracy in a repeat of the 1954 scenario when the Brotherhood clashed with the then military rulers over writing the constitution and the sharing of power, especially after a public exchange of aggressive statements a few days ago over the Brotherhood’s demands for the dissolution of the military-appointed government.

The constitution, however, is not the right place to debate these matters. The constitution’s role should be to tackle fundamental issues such as personal freedoms, equality before the law, citizenship and democracy. On top of this, it should organise the relationship between the executive, legislative and judicial powers while setting the stage for all the political powers to compete equally and freely. Issues that are fluid and prone to change, such as the military budget and religious identity, should not be entrenched in the document.

Risking even further Islamist domination, the strife and disappointment have caused many non-Islamist members to withdraw from the committee as a gesture of protest against the under-representation of many groups.

Ziad Bahaa al-Din, a lawyer and parliamentarian who withdrew from the committee, wrote in an article for al-Shorouk newspaper that was translated into English by the Arabist blog saying that “all of Egypt – including all its legal, constitutional and academic experts, labour leaders, NGOs, judges, intellectuals, and writers, men and women, Muslims and Christians, people young and old – […] will be represented in the Constituent Assembly by 50 people, while the MPs alone have reserved the remaining half for themselves.”

The Brotherhood and other Islamist groups should realise that in drafting a constitution, parliamentary representation should be irrelevant, not just because it is temporary, but also because bigger religious or political groups should not be able to grant themselves greater rights. Democracy, equality and human rights should be the backbone of the new constitution; the role of the constitution in a democracy should be to limit, not increase, power of the majority over the minority.

This article was published in The Guardian‘s Comment is Free on 31 March 2012.

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International Women’s Day: Empowering the average Mo

 
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By Khaled Diab

Arab men who do not fit the traditional ideal of manhood are often regarded as inferior, and this stereotype holds back the emancipation of women.

Thursday 8 March 2012

The feminist cause in the Arab world has generally progressed less than in the West, particularly in the last few decades of rapid Western emancipation.Last year, the egalitarian mass protests that marked the eruption of the Arab Spring looked like they might finally change all that. In Tunisia and Egypt, women from a wide range of backgrounds and walks of life stood shoulder to shoulder with men as equals in the battle against tyranny and for dignity and freedom. “Attitudes toward women are better among the young generation, particularly the middle class, to which most of the politically active women belong,” notes Egyptian feminist and activist Gihan Abou Zeid.

Although women are treated as relative equals by the revolutionary youth movement that has orchestrated the two revolutions, the Muslim conservatives that have made the greatest gains in parliamentary elections in Tunisia and Egypt do not share such enlightened views, although Tunisia Islamists are more progressive than their Egyptian counterparts. And in Egypt, the most troubling development for women has been the unexpected success of the ultra-conservative Salafists who tend to believe that women should neither be seen nor heard.

The reasons that the Arab Spring has not yet blossomed into a summer of gender equality are many and complex. They include the conservative Islamic current that has swept society in recent decades, the discrediting of the Arab model of secularism and suspicion of “Western imports”, and the fact that revolutionising deeply ingrained social attitudes takes far longer to take hold than instigating changes to the political structure.

In addition, one oft-overlooked cultural factor is that, in the bid to invent the new Arab woman, her complement, the new Arab man, has often flown beneath the radar. While independence-seeking Arab women often have clear and positive role models to aspire to in their quest for emancipation, the men in their lives are often left swimming against the tide of popular perception.

Over the years, I have met legions of Arab men who resist female emancipation not out of any abstract objection to gender equality but out of peer pressure and fear of what their families, workmates or neighbours will think of them. Where progressives have failed to capture the imagination of the masses, conservative myth-makers have worked tirelessly to idealise and idolise the vision of invincible, insurmountable manhood. With some brilliant exceptions, television soap operas tend to be the Arab world’s strongest bastion of traditionalism and overt, unsubtle moralising, particularly during the fasting and feasting month of Ramadan.

One hit series which took the Arab world by storm was the Syrian soap opera Bab el-Hara (Alleyway Gate). Set in French-mandate Syria between the two world wars, it paints a sentimental and nostalgic picture of a society peopled by brave and gallant men and their dutiful and obedient women. Director Bassam al-Malla said he intended to create nostalgia for “a world with values, honour, gallantry … and the revolutionary spirit”.

But the world Bab el-Hara attempts to recreate never existed in the first place. “The series conceals all those women who had a political and cultural presence in the Syrian street at that time,” writes Juhayina Khalidiya, in a feminist critique of the TV programme, published in as-Safir newspaper (in Arabic). She notes that expunging such revolutionary women from the narrative is, first and foremost, unfair to their legacy.

This same airbrushing of the heroic and pivotal role women have played in the transformation of society is occurring as we speak among the conservative forces, particularly Islamists, working to hijack the Arab Spring. “The attitude towards women has not been impacted by the historic victory,” says Marwa Rakha, and Egyptian author, broadcaster and blogger. “Men chanted slogans against them like: ‘Men want to topple feminists’ and ‘Since when did women have a voice?’ They were asked to go home and obey God. They were let down by the average Egyptian man and woman alike.”

In addition to the undoubted insult to women this denial of their role represents, the gap between the Arab man, the “average Mo”, and the Arab myth of manhood is bound to breed feelings of inadequacy, because the chasm between fantasy and reality is a yawning one. In the more secular Arab countries, women make up their fair share of the labour force, hold top professional and political positions, often perform better academically than their male peers and refuse the deferential role their grandmothers and great-grandmothers took for granted.

This gap between ideal and reality carries echoes of England from the 19th and up to the first half of the 20th century. In his book The English, Jeremy Paxman writes that British men were “uneasily aware of the injustice of denying women a full role in society”. As if commenting on Bab el-Hara, he notes that: “The stronger the challenge [to the male order], the more vociferous the evangelism about how the family was the cornerstone of the safe and ordered society.”

In contrast to the idealised “real men” of the past in Bab el-Hara, another hit Ramadan series distorts the contemporary reality by depicting the modern man as weak, indecisive and dominated by the women in his life. Yehia el-Fakharani, one of Egypt’s most accomplished actors, abandoned his normal roles of the sophisticated lawyer, MP or professor, to play that of a 60-year-old mummy’s boy in “Yetraba fi Ezzo”.

In the series, his character, Hamada Ezzo, is completely dependent on his mother for direction in every aspect of his life. “This kind of negative character is one of the causes of our falling behind the technologically advanced nations … We see his type frequently in our midsts as Egyptians and Arabs,” the London-based Arabic daily, al-Hayat, quoted el-Fakharani as saying.

He went on to express his belief that the coming generation had to be more hardworking and conscientious to keep up with the times and not depend on past glories. While it is hard to fault this sentiment, the choice of a man living under his mother’s thumb as a parable for the times is telling.

This soap is an odd way to inspire the young generation. If that was truly the writer’s aim, why not, instead of fixating on a nearly-retired man’s subservient relationship with his mother, challenge the rigid and stifling pecking order that keeps the young from reinventing society or the prejudices that keep the female half of the population from fulfilling their full potential?

In real life, Yehia el-Fakhrani is quite an admirable picture of the modern man, a middle-aged “metrosexual”, which makes his pandering to this warped view all the more confounding. He is gentle, caring, considerate and tolerant, while the women in his life are intelligent and successful. His wife, for instance, wrote a critically acclaimed TV drama chronicling the reign of King Farouq.

As long as conservative circles continue successfully to equate female emancipation with male emaciation, the quest for gender equality will stall. Although Arab cinema and literature have carried plenty of examples of modern, progressive men, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s, the problem is that these tend to be quite westernised, and hence alien to your average Arab man on the street.

What we need are mainstream, “average Mo” role models who demonstrate that believing in gender equality squares with being a man, and that empowering women also empowers men and society as a whole.

More articles on gender issues can be found here and here.

This is an updated version of a column which appeared in The Guardian’s Comment is Free on 26 October 2007. Read the related discussion.

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Detained Egyptian musician vows: “I will not be silenced” about police brutality

 
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Mohammed Jamal, the lead singer of the popular Egyptian indie band Salalem, tells The Chronikler his story about a night of hell in police custody.

Sunday 12 February 2012

 

I thought it over carefully before deciding to write about this humiliating incident – an incident that has no rhyme or reason to it, but reflects the reality that the police force still needs to be completely cleansed of the corrupt Mubarak-era officers who still think they are free to hurt the dignity of anyone they simply don’t like. My friend and band mate Walkman and I were victims of these immoral cops.

We were heading home one night after our concert at the Cairo Jazz Club, where we had performed with the Canadian singer NEeMA, when we approached an ordinary police checkpoint. The police signalled for us to pull over and politely asked to see my driving licence and our identification cards – which we handed over, also politely. They then asked to search the car and search us and, out of politeness, we let them. After they were done and had not found anything illegal or suspicious on us, they allowed us to continue on our way, and we did.

Shortly after I drove off, I realised that I hadn’t taken back my ID card from the police officer who had searched us. Just to be certain, we searched the car first for the card, and when we couldn’t find it, we decided to return to retrieve it.

Back at the checkpoint, we tried to find the policemen who had searched the car (it was busy and there were a lot of cars being checked over). When I found the officer in question, he insisted that he had given it back to me and then asked me to park because I was blocking the traffic and that he would come and search the car with me for it. Meanwhile, Walkman had wandered off to ask other if they have seen my ID. As I was searching the car with the officer, Walkman innocently asked another policeman about my ID, which he somehow took personally as an accusation of theft and proceeded, with a gang of other coppersm to kick and punch Walkman. When I came to Walkman’s aid, the police turned mercilessly on me too.

Our attempts to arrest the blows flying at us were futile. After a long session of beatings, we were dragged to a waiting police car. They confiscated my car and our phones. On the way to the police station, a police officer handed me my ID and told me, “Here you go, your card”. When we reached the station, we were already in complete shock and awe from what had just happened to us – something we had never experienced before. They walked us to a room in which there was a miserable, low-ranking officer from the remnants of the former regime. No one touched us in the police station but they were very generous with the swearing and insults.

By this stage, we were already so depressed and humiliated that the names they were calling us had no affect. We were also accompanied by a large number of serious criminals, many of whom seemed to be friends with the cops and they all had a laugh together.

The officer then approached us and said, “Fuck the revolution that made you think you could mistreat police officers. Why the fuck am I being drained on the streets all day. Isn’t it for you? What a fucking revolution.” He then sent his colleague off to write a police report to “screw us” with. The other officer then opened a drawer and got out a big knife, a bar of hashish, and some paper and left. About an hour later, he came back with a closed envelope, the big knife and a written paper. We later learnt that they hqd fabricated a police report accusing us of possessing two grams of hashish, a big knife, and attacking a police officer while on duty.

We were eventually taken to a middle-ranking police officer who was very respectful. He apologised to us when he heard the story and knew we were respectable people but he all he managed to do was to order the guard to keep us apart from the serious criminals until we were transferred in the morning to the prosecutor’s office. He allowed us to use our phones and to ask our families to hire a lawyer. First thing I did was to tweet because I didn’t know who to call at 6am. Walkman called his brother and asked him to come with a lawyer to the prosecutor’s office.

Handcuffed, we were taken to the prosecutor’s office in a police van full of criminals and our sense of humiliation was growing but we remained silent, thinking silence was the smart thing to do.

All we wanted at this stage was for the investigation to pass so that we would be released, whereupon we could think about how to regain our rights. A decent lawyer came to our aid and the prosecutor was also very respectful. He tried to explain that what had happened was because we looked “weird” and that our attitude as musicians might have provoked the officer. Unfortunately, that’s the mindset many in the police force have. We were released on LE400 bail and now Walkman and I are charged with three quite serious crimes.

Even though I am facing these serious charges, I will not be silenced, and neither will Walkman, until this officer is sacked. I will not be silenced and this is why I wrote this note and decided to post these pictures because no one should go through this and be silenced. The cleaning up of the police force might be a lengthy and difficult process but it is not an impossible one.

 

This text was originally written in Arabic. Translated by Osama Diab,.

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Egyptian football violence: Between hooliganism and state thuggery

 
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By Osama Diab

The deadly battle of Port Said may be another attempt to make a return to a police state the most attractive option for Egypt.

Friday 3 February 2012

Since the violence erupted in Port Said on Wednesday night, leaving more than 70 dead, debate in Egypt has centred on whether it was deliberately plotted by police to get back at the fans, or was simply a case of football hooliganism – the kind we see all over the world (as Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of the ruling military council, said in a TV interview after the tragedy).

It is probably a mix of both. In an atmosphere of brutal rivalry between the Cairo and Port Said fans, football violence comes as no surprise.

But the Ultras football fans, known for their anti-establishment behaviour, have taken part in many of the clashes with police in and around Tahrir Square during the last year. Young and excited, they always formed the front line and acted as protectors against the onslaught of security forces. They have also brought the revolution to football stadiums and turned its stands into a political battlefield.

So it is also very likely that the police didn’t think of the Ultras as worthy of their protection or interference. In the eyes of the police, they are the enemy, and a bunch or worthless teenage hooligans.

The Egyptian state is more than capable of successfully securing a football match given the vast size of the army and police forces. I have been to Egyptian stadiums dozens of times and, typically, heavy security is used to make it virtually impossible for opposing fans to clash, even outside the stadium, let alone invade the pitch.

Egypt’s security forces successfully maintained order during the tense parliamentary elections, in which almost 30 million voters participated, so how could they possibly fail to keep a football match with 20,000 fans under control? Clashes between Al-Ahly and Al-Masry in Port Said have turned violent before and extreme security measures are normally in place to prevent clashes from exploding.

On the other hand, most stadiums in Egypt have very poor or non-existent safety measures – with the result that if serious trouble does break out it can easily turn deadly.

This inefficiency of the security forces is a result of a police-state culture that lacks accountability: officers know they will not have to face any consequences for their actions.

Just one week after a partial lifting of the 30-year-old state of emergency, the Port Said violence raises many questions about the police. Are they unable to do their jobs without resorting to outright brutality, or are they virtually on an unspoken strike to blackmail the public into asking for the return of a police state?

The latest deaths are also seen as yet another attempt to turn people against the revolution: to make them believe that Egyptians are not ready for democracy, as former vice-president Omar Suleiman stated a few days before Hosni Mubarak stepped down. The president, too, had claimed that the choice was between himself and chaos. But we must realise that democracy is different from lawlessness. No society can function in a complete absence of law and order.

There is clearly more to the Port Said tragedy than everyday football hooliganism. It may pose the biggest threat so far to military rule in Egypt, or it may help the military to become even more entrenched. It could go either way, depending on how the struggle for democracy unfolds in the coming days and weeks.

 

This column first appeared in The Guardian‘s Comment is Free on Friday 3 February 2012. Read the related debate.

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Revolution@1: Sex and the citizen in Egypt and America

 
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Fundamentalists in America and Egypt are obsessed with “virtue “and “vice”. But the rise of Islamists threatens to bind Egyptian women in a moral vice.

Thursday 26 January 2012

Photo by Gigi Ibrahim

It is a longstanding marketing truism that sex sells. But it (well, hostility towards it) doesn’t just market products, it can also be marshalled to sell wholly unsexy politicians. This was amply demonstrated by what has been dubbed as the “War on Sex” during the Republican primaries, with candidates vying to outlaw birth control and promote abstinence, ban pornography and act against the “sin” of homosexuality. This has led some bloggers and journalists to compare Republican candidates, such as Rick Santorum, unfavourably to the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“If someone wants to ban pornography, make life as hard as possible for homosexuals, and stigmatize sex before marriage… exactly what is it about Sharia law they don’t like?” asks Front Toward Enemy  in the Daily Kos.

And for all their mutual loathing and belief in a clash of civilisations, in the form of a global “jihad” against Christianity or an international “crusade” against Islam, the Christian and Muslim religious right are fighting on the same side, albeit in different trenches, in what can be called their War against Modernity, especially when it comes to sexuality and gender equality.

Half a world away, Egypt’s first post-revolution parliamentary election was, thanks to the Islamists, dominated by similar issues. Egypt is facing a spate of urgent political, social and economic issues, such as mass youth unemployment, a tanking economy and a cabal of diehard generals who just refuse to call it quits.

But you wouldn’t know it from listening to the discourse of Islamists, particularly that of the hardline Salafist Nour party, who have focused excessive attention on issues of “morality”, including talk of banning booze (as if prohibition has ever worked or Islam ever actually stopped Muslims from drinking), prohibiting or restricting bikinis and censoring “sex scenes” in Egypt’s vibrant film industry, known as the Hollywood of the Middle East.

Although brave women from all walks of life have been at the forefront of the popular uprising and are treated as relative equals by the revolutionary youth movement which has orchestrated the revolution, the burden of this moralising, as is often the case, has fallen on the shoulders of women. This has led Egypt’s secular, liberal women and feminists to look to the immediate future with a mixture of apprehension and worry.

“When Egyptian media spends hours and hours discussing bikinis and alcohol with presidential candidates, it tells you where women are going,” says Marwa Rakha, an Egyptian writer, broadcaster and blogger. “After the revolution, we saw women exposed to humiliating virginity tests, fired at, beaten up, arrested, molested, and stripped naked by army officers. Why would I be optimistic?”

But why is Egypt’s Islamic right so obsessed with sex and women, and seems to view both as the root of all evil?

One reason could be that with all the apparently insurmountable problems facing Egypt, it is a cynical populist ploy. “They want attention, lights, and media presence. How else will they get there unless they talk about women and their evil bodies?” opines Rakha.

“These are issues that people can relate to on a personal level,” explains Karima Abedeen, a secular British-Egyptian living in Cairo. “They are also vague and not quantifiable and most of the people who use these issues as their platform haven’t a clue about how to solve any of the other, more urgent social and political issues.”

On a more ideological plain, Muslim conservatives have quite successfully painted sexual liberty and gender equality as a Western import designed to weaken Egypt’s Islamic identity and corrupt Egyptians, and it is only by embracing Islamic traditions and morals wholeheartedly that Egyptians can resist Western hegemony and recreate their past glory.

“Focusing on issues of morality sends a message to the community that parties like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis will protect our Islamic identity against the Western identity which liberals try to promote,” observes Gihan Abou Zeid, an Egyptian activist and feminist who is working on a book about the women who took part in the revolution. “Many Egyptians believe that following Islamic orders would fix many of the current challenges that Egypt is facing.”

In this, Islamists and their supporters are confusing the symptoms with the disease. In addition to complex international geopolitics, the reason Egypt has not made sufficient headway is not because it has veered too far from tradition, but because it has not embraced secular modernity enough and is suffering from the relative marginalisation not only of women but of young people too.

Moreover, similarly to Christian fundamentalists, Islamists and other social conservatives are alarmed by the corrosion of the traditional patriarchal order caused by the increasing emancipation of women. The loss of centuries of male privilege, especially in the public sphere, that this entails fuels the panicky public fixation on and obsession with what should be private issues, such as virginity and promiscuity. In this world view, strong, independent women are regarded with suspicion, as if they are carrying a volatile sex bomb that will explode upon contact with freedom and mushroom out to shred the fabric of society in its wake.

That said, despite the clear similarities between Egyptian Muslim and American Christian conservatives, the social context in which they operate is quite different. Egyptians on the whole may not necessarily be more religious than Americans, who seem far less inclined to abandon their faith than Europeans, but Egyptians interpret their faith far more traditionally.

Additionally, secularisation has progressed far more in America than in Egypt, where it has been partially discredited through its association both with Western neo-imperialism and the corruption and failure of Egypt’s secular dictatorships. In addition, American Christian fundamentalism is a strong movement founded on freedom and imperial swagger, whereas Egyptian Islamism is a reaction to weakness and decline, where people who have, for decades, been stripped of power in society focus on those few areas on which they can exercise control, i.e. “morality”.

Photo by Gigi Ibrahim

This means that, whereas religion is a fairly flexible and personal affair in America, in Egypt, by contrast, religion, or tradition, is more often than not about conformity and rigidity. And those who challenge this hegemonic view often suffer greatly for their “indiscretion”, as witnessed by the massive overreaction by Egyptian society pretty much in its entirety to the decision by a bold art student, Aliaa Elmahdy, to post naked images of herself on her blog to protest the growing Islamisation of society and demand her freedom of expression.

This traditionalist mindset could also partly explain the paradox that, although millions of Egyptian women have entered academia and the workforce, often outdoing and outperforming men, they have not become sexually freer but have had to compromise by stressing their “virtue” through such coping mechanisms as the hijab. As men lose control of women in the public sphere, they try harder to control them in the family, suggests Abou Zeid.

In fact, it would seem that, in Egypt, secularists, although they view women more as their equals, share the Islamists fear of female sexuality and their objectification of the female form. “The secularists and the conservatives are two faces of the same coin when it comes to women,” concludes Rakha. “Most of the politicians in both currents objectify women – one side wants to cover us and lock us up, while the other wants to strip us naked and show us off.”

Be that as it may, it would be a mistake to view the attitudes and agendas of secularists, many of whom believe in relative gender equality, and Islamists towards women as being identical. Moreover, even the Islamist camp is split between the right-of-centre and heterogenous Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and the “Tea Party” Salafis. For example, Abou Zeid points to the fact that the Brotherhood is not against women working, albeit within limits, but the Salafis want them to “return” to the home.

The Salafis, she also adds, want to force women to cover their faces, as demonstrated by their vigilante “morality police” which has been roaming rural areas of Egypt, though, fortunately, Egyptian women have been fighting back.

A version of this article appeared in Salon on 23 January 2012.

Some are even more equivocal. “The Salafis are mad. They represent the very, very dark ages. The Muslim Brotherhood are not all bad,” says Abedeen. “I think the fact that the Salafis exist should push the Muslim Brotherhood towards a less conservative approach.”

In addition to the likelihood that the FJP will align itself to liberal, albeit economically conservative, parties, the wind is not yet out of the sails of the secular revolutionaries who have so far spearheaded change in Egypt, as illustrated by the defiant “Revolution Continues” movement.

One consequence of the revolution is that it has empowered the previously marginalised, namely the young and women, and made them believe that they can be agents of their own destiny. “Attitudes towards women are better among the young generation, particularly the middle class, to which most of the politically active women belong,” notes Abou Zeid.

This is bound to widen the gap between the young generation and secularists, on the one hand, and older generations and traditionalists, on the other, leading to a more polarised social landscape. “I think that women’s attitudes towards themselves have changed,” observes Abedeen. “The new generation of women is much stronger than older generations and is much less willing to compromise.”

Abedeen also believes that, once Egyptians see what the Islamists are like in power, they will soon fall out of love with them. “I am trying to stay positive and tell myself that it is natural that people should gravitate towards a more conservative option, hoping that these people will not be corrupt,” she says. “I am hoping, down the road, that people will realise that is not the way forward for Egypt, but we will have to see.”

But when all is said and done, it will be largely up to Egyptian women to carve out their rightful place in society. “Looking at Egypt now, I see a lot of courageous defiant women, but I also see millions who realise how oppressed they are yet do nothing about it,” surveys Rakha. “It is up to each woman on her own, in her house, at her desk, in her car, on her way to and from places. This is an individual fight whose collective gains and losses will reflect on the status of Egyptian women.”

 

A version of this article was published by Salon on 23 January 2012. This article is part of a special Chronikler series to mark the first anniversary of the Egyptian revolution.

 

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التغلب على الخوف، الخطوة الاولى لنساء مصر

 
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بقلم جيهان ابوزيد

قبل الثورة لم يكن سهلا ان نتخيل نساءا تتحدى سلطة الاب او الزوج وتخرج للتظاهر لكننا وجدنا نساءا واجهن الموت والخوف ,وتلك هى الخطوة الاولى لمواجهة اى غبن  

الأربعاء ٢٥ يناير ٢٠١٢      

 لم يمر أسبوعا واحدا منذ إندلاع الثورة المصرية فى الخامس والعشرين من يناير إلا وأتلقى سؤالا أو أكثر حول موقع نساء مصر بعد الثورة دورهن فى قيادة المرحلة القادمة بعدما ساهمن فى إندلاع الثورة وفى حمايتها ,وبعدما دفعن الثمن دماءا وانتهاكا.مازالت عشرات النشيطات يعالجن فى المستشفيات,واضعافهن يتلقين العلاج فى المنازل ,ومازالت أسر الشهيدات تبكى . نعم مازال الواقع يتذكر أن النساء شاركن مناصفة فى تلك اللحظة التاريخية ,لكن ذلك الاعتراف لا يعنى تقديم الحقوق المتساوية على طبق من فضة هدية للنساء و إعترافا بدورهن. فالمراة المصرية كانت على مدى التاريخ فاعلة سياسيا ,ومشاركة فى كافة اشكال المقاومة وأكثرها عنفا, ففى عام 1957 شاركت الفتيات فى لجان المقاومة الشعبية فى مدن القناة ضد القوات الانجليزية و الفرنسية و الاسرائيلية. لكن ذلك لم يؤدى الى تغيير جذرى فى موقع النساء فى المجتمع.

الامر يشبه ما يحدث مع السيدة ” ليلى” وملايين مثلها ,فهى تعمل لأكثر من إثنى عشرة ساعة يوميا فى تنظيف المنازل لتعول اسرتها بعدما اصيب زوجها فى احدى قدميه و توقف عن العمل. تعود “ليلى” للمنزل يوميا فى حوالى العاشرة مساءا لترعى شئون منزلها و ابنائها,لكن حين تقدم لخطبة ابنتها شاب جيد رفض الزوج ,فهو فى نهاية الامر الرجل و متخذ القرار. ان تحمل ليلى المسئولية الاقتصادية منفرده واعالتها لاسرة مكونة من خمسة افراد لم يغير من موقعها السياسى داخل الاسرة ,وظل زوجها الذى يدخن من مالها صاحب الكلمة العليا. هناك نسخ متنوعة من ليلى,وكذلك من زوجها,فالنساء الائى خرجن للمشاركة فى الثورة المصرية ودفعن الثمن كما الرجال عدن الى موقعهن الاول,واستمر الرجال فى موقعهم ايضا .

ان مشاركة النساء فى الثورة المصرية اذن لن يغير تلقائيا من موقعهن السياسى, فتغيير موقع النساء سياسيا اواى فئة مهدرة الحقوق له شروط مختلفة . الشرط الاول: ان ترغب النساء فى تغيير موقعها و تجتهد للتحرك الرأسى,لكن الواقع يشير الى ان صوت المجموعات المنادية بحقوق النساء خافت مقارنة بالدعوات الاسلامية التى تدعو النساء للعودة للمنزل وترك ساحة العمل للرجال . الشرط الاخر هو: امتلاك بناء تنظيمى يعمل على حماية مصالح النساء. لقد حصلت المصريات على بناء تنظيمى له صلاحيات واسعة لكنه كان ابن شرعى للسيدة الاولى يعمل وفق رؤية النظام  و بما يخدم مصالحه,ولم تكن مصالح النساء ابدا ضمن اولويات النظام السابق ,لكنها كانت اداه لتجميل وجهه اذا تطلب الامر.وبالتالى فقد هذا الكيان التنظيمى شرعيته لدى جموع النساء بل صار مصدرا للسخط على المنظمات النسائية و عبئا عليها بعدما ارتبطت  حقوق النساء لدى المواطن البسيط بالسيدة الاولى ,او بالاحرى بالنظام .

الشرط الثالث ,هو وجود قنوات مشاركة تسمح للنساء ببناء قدراتها وبالتواصل مع المجتمع .لكن النظام السابق كان قد اغتال  كافة قنوات المشاركة ,فالاحزاب هرمت و غطى التراب اروقتها,والنقابات و الاتحادات الطلابية صارت فى اغلبها حكرا على جماعة الاخوان المسلمين.

من ناحية اخرى تمددت التيارات الدينية فى المجتمع و توغلت فى القرى و فى المدن,فضلا عن نجاحها فى تحقيق حضور مؤثر بين شرائح الطبقة الوسطى, اولى نتائج هذا التمدد الدينى تحصدها النساء بعدما بات عليهن البقاء فى المنزل و الانسحاب من منافسة الرجال فى سوق العمل,كما ان عليهن الالتزام بالزى الاسلامى حصدا لمكافأة الاخرة وحماية للرجال من الفتن ,فضلا عن الالتزام بطاعة الرجل لضمان تماسك الاسرة المصرية.

على انه يجدر الاشارة الى ان التيارات الدينية ليست هى المسئولة الوحيدة عن عزل النساء عن ساحة العمل العام ,فثقافة المجتمع ليست مرحبة بخروج النساء بصفة عامة,ومازالت اثار الاحتلال العثمانى باقية مستيقظة فى وعى المصرى ,ومازالت قصص الجاريات فى قصور الحاكم المملوكى تجد صداها فى الحس الشعبى ,ومازالت هوية الانثى معتمدة على الضعف و على الاغراء. كما ان ثقافة القبيلة مازالت حاضرة فى المجتمع المصرى,وهى الحاكمة لسكان صعيد مصرالذين يمثلون حوالى  40% من شعبه , لقد توغلت ثقافة القبيلة مع هجرة القبائل العربية من الجزيرة العربية و استقرارها فى شمال مصر,وقد حافظت القبائل العربية على تماسكها و هويتها,وبرغم احترام القبيلة للنساء ,الا ان الاحترام مرهون بتنازل النساء عن كافة اشكال السلطة وتقديم فروض الطاعة للرجال و لقوانين القبيلة.

ويبقى الشرط الرابع وهو تمكين النساء. هذا وتقع مسئولية تمكين النساء و كافة المواطنين على الدولة ,فهى المتحكمة فى العملية التعليمية بما تتضمنه من معارف و قيم ,واسلوب تعليم, كما انها المسئولة عن حرية التعبير و اتاحة مناخ نقد صحى يساهم فى البناء الفكرى للمواطنين ,والدولة هى المسئولة عن توفير كافة مصادر المعرفة واتاحتها للمواطنين بكافة شرائحهم, كما ان الدولة هى الصانعة لمنظومة القوانين التى من شأنها تعزيز علاقات منصفة بين المواطنين. وبنظرة سريعة على القوانين المصرية و خاصة قانون الاسرة, نجد ان النساء ضحية قوانين مصاغة لمصلحة الرجال بعيدة عن توفير حقوق عادلة للجنسين. الامر الذى يصبغ حياة النساء وكل النساء بالخوف. هذا و لايختلف الاعلام المصرى كثيرا عن الاعلام الدولى,فمازال الاعلام يكرس للمراة المفعول بها ,ويهتم باجساد النساء عوضا عن الاهتمام بحقوقهن , وكذلك التعليم –الحكومى- يكرس لعلاقة هرمية بين الرجال و النساء ,فضلا عن انه لا يمد المتعلمين بالمنهج الذى يمكنهم من نقد الواقع لتطويره .

تلك الشروط الاربع  لم تكن سرا خافيا يوما ما, لكنها لم تجد البيئة المواتية لتغير واقع النساء, و اندلاع ثورة يناير لا يعنى تحقق تلك الشروط تلقائيا ,انما يعنى قرع الجرس لوضع خطط تمكننا من تحقيق تلك الشروط , وبعد مرور عام على يناير 2011فقد صعدت تحديات جديدة امام النساء و امام كافة المدافعين عن حقوق متساوية بين الجنسين, لكن وكما صعدت تحديات فهناك ايضا مكاسب تحققت,فمشاركة النساء فى المظاهرات و فى كل الفعاليات لم تعد محل نقاش على الاقل بين التيارات الليبرالية,لقد صارت واقعا, كما خرجت و للمرة الاولى نساء المحافظات هؤلات المقيدات بثقافة تعدد انفاسهن, جبن شوارع المحافظات وخططن لمظاهرات اخرى ومازلن يبحثن عن دور فى مجتمعاتهن . قبل يناير 2011 لم يكن سهلا ان نتخيل نساءا تتحدى سلطة الاب او الزوج وتخرج للتظاهر والمبيت فى الميدان ,لكننا وجدنا نساءا واجهن هراوات العسكر وسلاحه , ووجدنا نساءا واجهن الموت , وكلهن جميعا واجهن الخوف ,وتلك هى الخطوة الاولى لمواجهة اى غبن.

This article is part of a series of special Chronikler articles to mark the first anniversary of the Egyptian revolution 

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Revolution@1: Egypt must learn from 1952

 
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By Osama Diab

 Like in 1952, the army is trying to silence opposition with the Muslim Brotherhood’s help. But can the Tahrir mentality stop history from repeating?

Friday 13 January 2012

In the final days of 2011, Egypt witnessed a crackdown on human rights organisations, while the ousted president Hosni Mubarak and his sons awaited a trial that seems more likely to be decided in the court of public opinion than through a fair trial. If you believe that history repeats itself, it might be time to revisit Egypt’s history to see what it can tell us about how the situation may unfold in 2012.

Attacks on a police station on 25 January 1952 ( a notable date, it seems) by the British forces in Ismailia sparked a popular uprising in the form of nationwide riots which set the stage for a military coup on 23 July, which became known as the1952 revolution. To commemorate the 50 police officers who died while resisting British occupation, 25th January was named Police Day and declared an official holiday in 2009. Fast-forward 59 years, where the once revered police has become a symbol of a corrupt and brutal ruling elite. On this 25 January 2011, people took to the streets not to defend the national police, but to protest against its brutality and corruption.

Despite the different motives for each uprising, the outcome was similar: a council of military officers took power to administer a transitional period. In 1952, a Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) of 14 middle-ranking military officers who conducted the coup took over running the country until 1956. Although the Free Officers had promised free and fair democratic elections, the RCC decided that they would be better able to run the transition if there were no political parties or a parliament. In 1953, they took the decision to dissolve all political parties including al-Wafd, which was the major political force for the three decades prior to 1952.

Today’s Ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) is unlikely to tighten its grip on power in the same way. Wide-scale nationalisation and the global rise of socialism allowed the RCC to gain economic and political power their contemporary equivalents are unlikely to hold, and the scale of organised popular protest in 1952 was far more limited than today. However, the armed forces still enjoys many of the economic advantages they gained in 1952  and continue to use similar techniques to crackdown on building a healthy democratic life that threatens not only their privileges, but their whole existence.

When the military police raided local and international human rights organisations that have been active in both pre- and post-revolution Egypt in uncovering and documenting government (and now military) human rights abuses, the army justified its actions with the same argument used to dissolve political parties on 16 January 1953: “suspicion” that these organisations received illegal foreign funds. And the reason: after political parties were tamed by successive regimes in Egypt, civil society represents the biggest challenge to Egypt’s authoritarian rulers.

Another striking similarity is that both the SCAF and the RCC have been intolerant of labour strikes, protests and sit-ins. Shortly after 1952, two 18-year-old labour activists were sentenced to death, less than three weeks after the armed forces took over power, for taking part in a strike in the delta city of Kafr al-Dawar before a military court. Even though no one was executed in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution, the SCAF has nevertheless passed a law to criminalise protests, strikes and sit-ins that “that interrupt private or state owned businesses or affect the economy in any way”.

The role of the Muslim Brotherhood in both transitions was also very similar: allying itself with the military ruling council, while ignoring the military crackdown on media, civil society and political organisations. In both revolutions, the Muslim Brotherhood has been employed to disengage protests and break up sit-ins. In 1953, the Muslim Brotherhood silently watched the dissolution of all “counter-revolutionary” political parties on 17 January because the Islamist group hoped to run the country or at least co-run Egypt with the RCC.

This time round, the Muslim Brotherhood is repeating the same timeworn trick. They have been cautious to criticise the SCAF’s actions and grave human rights violations. They have hardly taken part in any major demonstration called for by other political groups against military police brutality, and their reaction to the crackdown on human rights organisations has been mild.

The military-brotherhood honeymoon period ended shortly after the 1952 revolution when they clashed over Egypt’s new constitution, and the Brotherhood was itself dissolved on 29 October 1954 after the regime accused it of attempting to assassinate then President Gamal Abdul Nasser (which the Brotherhood would try to do on numerous occasions), and many of their leaders were either sentenced to death or put in jail for long sentences. They had fallen into a trap of their own making. They were a victim of the absolute power and authority they contributed to produce.

The army was aiming for an Arab socialist, secular constitution while the brotherhood obviously wanted more Islamic law in it. It is expected that a similar clash will emerge between the military council and Egypt’s Islamist forces. Early signs of this clash already emerged back in November when Islamist groups took to the street for the first time to oppose the SCAF’s supra-constitutional governing principles that aim to grant the military political powers many have defined as illegitimate.

The story of Abdel-Qader Ouda exemplifies how conspiring to share power and halting the democratic process is not the best idea, even for the conspirators involved. Ouda, a Muslim Brotherhood judge and jurist, was asked by the military rulers of the time to help disperse a large protest in front of the Abdeen presidential palace in March 1954. This judge who was used by the military regime to calm down angry protesters was sentenced to death by the same regime along with other Brotherhood members after being accused of the alleged attempt to assassinate Nasser a few months later.

However, despite the striking similarities, there are still a few major differences. Even though there is no reason to believe that the contemporary military junta are more well-intentioned or moderate, in the circumstances surrounding the new revolution, they face more pressure and challenges that will hinder them from committing such acts as executing political leaders and labour activists.

The SCAF, unlike the revolutionary RCC, is the established order and, hence, lacks the vision that can empower it to win the heart and minds of the Egyptian people despite its abuses. Unimaginatively, today’s generals only seem to have the obsolete argument of stability, whereas the RCC carried out almost immediate reform,  such as land redistribution and free education, and took considerable steps towards building a more equal society.

Armed with $1.3 billion in US military aid, Egypt’s SCAF seem to care more about its image abroad than did the RCC, which was quite clearly in a clash with the West anyway. For example, they immediately retreated after the US expressed “deep concern” over the recent crackdown on human rights organisation.

In addition, the emergence of the Tahrir mindset among the masses and the so-called “Facebook generation” of activists acting as a watchdog over the transitional process and who will not hesitate to take to the streets again if they sense any diversion from the path to democracy has severely restricted the army’s freedom of manoeuvre. This generation is equipped with tools its predecessors did not possess, such as online citizen journalism, and despite so many hurdles along the way, they don’t willing to give up on their battle any time soon. While the SCAF defines the revolution as the 18-day protest that ended with the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak, the youth of the revolution still believe it to be an ongoing struggle.

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