Egypt’s Women Kick Ass

There is a post on the Samira Ibrahim case that I have been working on for what feels like ages now and that has yet to see the light, but for now some musings on two news items that have caught my attention in the past days (I am still digging out the links to add them here), they definitely made me smile and have given rise to this rather quick post.

The first one is about how female patrons of a hairdresser/ beauty saloon in a peri-urban Cairo area (I believe it was Qalyubeya) kicked out and caned members of the highly controversial self-proclaimed “morality police” as those attempted to shut down the venue and dismiss its clients in accordance with their interpretation of “vice” – disclaimer: the source for this is a news website whose stories I tend to take with a grain of salt and which I generally verify with other sources; however, this one story didn’t strike me as too outlandish.

The other one – this from a mainstream media outlet (I’m finding those links) – is about how female passengers beat a man with their slippers and shoes before throwing him out of a women-only metro cart; the man had defiantly boarded the cart shouting: “the times of Suzanne [Mubarak] who was indulging you [women] are over”.

Oh, yes, the Mubarak times are indeed over (at least in theory for now). The crimes committed by his regime against this country and its people – rampant and institutionalized corruption, systematic distortion of mainstream morality by an unethical media machine, abhorrently low quality of education – have left their mark and poisoned every aspect of life in Egypt. The cries to purge are nothing short of justified.

However, those Mubarak times did also see some strident policy actions and legislations to champion the women’s cause in Egypt, most notably allowing an Egyptian mother to pass on her nationality to her children from a foreign husband, the “Family Law” – which regulates child custody and which some view as biased to or favoring the mothers – and “El Khol’e” – which allows a wife to divorce her husband (or facilitates the process) and regulates the entailed financial settlement. These actions may not be as progressive as banning polygamy (as is the case in Tunesia and Qaddhafi’s Lybia) or regulating inheritance in a way that does not discriminate against women – both sensitive subjects and seen as a direct interpretation of clear decrees of Allah’s law; yet, they still presented important milestones for women’s rights in Egypt.

Even during Mubarak’s times, these policies and laws have been derided as “Suzanne’s Laws” by conservative and hard-line islamists, they have been viewed as a vain attempt by the then First Lady to paint Egypt’s image with foreign modernity, as alien western trends incompatible with Egypt’s traditions and religious teachings, and even as part of the West’s ploy to destroy Egypt’s family tradition and emasculate the Egyptian man. After Mubarak’s ousting, there were some sporadic calls, again by conservative islamists, to repeal the unjust alien “Suzanne Laws” as  another aspect of the regime that needed purging. These calls were few and never quite made it to the foreground of public discourse. It remains to be seen what kind of reforms and policies an islamist conservative majority parliament will push forward (for instance, disappointingly, one of the first decisions by NRC was to reinstate polygamy in Lybia). While the mentioned laws may well remain untouched, there are still valid doubts and fears about the future of women’s rights and personal freedoms in general in post revolutionary Egypt.

The prospect of institutionalized discrimination and oppression is not to be taken lightly (especially when enacted in the name of Allah and his laws), but under the current circumstances, one can only bet on a mobilized society that will challenge every authority (including the “religious” one), despite the mixed signals, it doesn’t seem like a bad bet, at least in the long run. In all cases, throughout this revolution, and despite all of the attempts to marginalize, intimidate, and oppress them, Egyptian women’s stance has been the most consistent: Don’t trifle with our rights, we will fight for them, we kick ass – quite literally too.


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