Egypt′s women insist on their rights | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 21.09.2012
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Egypt's women insist on their rights

Egypt's women played a crucial role in the country's 'Arab Spring' revolution. But, in the post-Mubarak era, they are finding that they have to keep fighting for their rights.

The largest demonstration in Egypt, in February 2011, that led to the fall of the Mubarak regime would have been unthinkable without the courageous and decisive involvement of women. Pictures went around the world of female activists, young and old, and side-by-side with male protesters, risking their lives for a better Egypt. Women were crucial in preparing the revolution - among them, Israa Abdel Fattah, the now world famous Internet activist and founder of the "April 6 Youth Movement."

The "April 6 Youth Movement" is considered the driving force behind the Egyptian uprising. The movement grew out of the workers' rights struggle in Mahala in the Nile delta in April 2008 and issued the first calls for protests - long before the iconic demonstrations on Tahrir square in Cairo.

Israa Abdel Fattah, co-founder of the April 6 Youth Movement Bilder: Ute Schaeffer

Women were side-by-side with men during the anti-Mubarak uprising, noted Abdel Fattah

Israa Abdel Fattah who, together with blogger Asmaa Mahfouz, had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for their roles in the revolution in Egypt, recall the beginning of the uprising.

"We turned this little private strike into a country-wide protest. It is important to know that the April 6 Youth Movement was founded as a grass roots movement and only later did other movements join - like Mohamed ElBaradei, or "We all are Khaled Said" movements, she told Deutsche Welle.

A break with traditional roles

Abdel Fattah also remembers the "Egyptian utopia" - those 18 days of revolution when the differences between men and women, between Christians and Muslims and Islamists and liberals became invisible. "We used to all think: Egyptians are uncivilized, all the time they harass women. But after the revolution we realized that all this bad behavior had gone away, as soon as the Mubarak regime was gone. His corrupt regime had turned people bad and made them corrupt. No women got harassed anymore."

No doubt: The dynamics of the youth uprising in 2011 has meant an unparalleled break with the previous authorities of Egyptian society in the past. "The revolution has changed many things. Before the revolution it was uncommon that women would participate in the first row - sleep in tents on Tahrir square, far away from their families. Our presence has transformed a lot," Abdel Fattah said.

Massive pressure

Egyptian author and women's rights activitst, Mansoura Ez-Eldin (1976).***Die Schriftstellerin hat mir das Foto per Mail geschickt und der DW erlaubt, es zu benutzen. Samir Grees

Since the uprising, women have become targets of conservatives and the military, said Ez-Eldin

In post-revolutionary Egypt, women were quickly exposed to pressure from several different sides. The military, which ruled until July 2012, initially and intentionally ignored them, while radical Salafists have massively attacked their activities.

Later, they became the target of brutal attacks by the military: "Women were in the first row on Tahrir square, but with the surge of the Salafists all of a sudden we were being told to go home." This position existed with the Islamists, the Salafists and the conservative military council. In December 2011, the women who were demonstrating were massively pressured, harassed and threatened with violence: Pictures of undressed women on Mohammad-Mahmoud street went around the world. Sexual harassment also was on the rise, but this time organized by the military council, explained author and women's rights activist Mansoura Ez-Eldin.

Women: the losers of the revolution?

Because of this situation and the setbacks which increasingly are pushing Egyptian women to the political fringes and taking away their fundamental rights, they often are described as the "losers of the revolution" - but this is too quick a conclusion.

Dalia Ziada, executive director of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies in Cairo Quelle: Wir haben die Erlaubnis von Frau Ziada persönlich via Mail, eines ihrer Bilder zu nutzen. Eingereicht von Kersten Knipp am 18.5.2012

We have taught society to respect us, said Dalia Ziada

According to Dalia Ziada, executive director of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies in Cairo and co-founder of the new Justic Party, Egypt's women have decided to fight for their freedom and equality in society. "We have taught this society to respect us. We see that people across the country have a strong will to implement changes and that we have overcome our fear. The limitations through fear - of the regime, of the police - are gone."

Ziada believes that the heart of the problem is that Egypt has no constitution that would ensure fundamental rights, like equality for all citizens. That's why "the fight for basic rights will continue. It will take time and I really hope there won't be any more violence. The constitution is a critical issue and we have to ensure that it will be written reasonably."

There is a simple message for the new political elite around President Morsi: "Democracy or leave!"

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