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January 16, 2012

Egyptian writer Mansoura Ez Eldin sketches a bleak picture of post-revolutionary social conditions in her homeland, where she says women face political marginalization and are being robbed of their basic rights.


While soldiers on Qasr al-Aini Street in Cairo set about roughing up female Egyptian protesters last month, the Salafists in Suez were holding spirited celebrations to mark their victory in the second round of elections. They struck up religious hymns and chanted slogans like "the military and the people are one," "the Muslim Brotherhood and the Al Nour Party are one" and, above all, "God and the people are one." Women did not participate at all.

The "people" they are referring to are, of course, something different from the demonstrators. As far as the Salafists are concerned, "the people" refers exclusively to their own supporters.

As the Salafists rejoiced in song at their unity with the military, members of this very same army were beating, kicking and dragging around a defenseless woman on the ground out on the street and - as if that weren't enough - tearing off her clothes as well.

Neither this episode nor other sad examples of the abuse and killing of demonstrators while the protests were being broken up in front of the Council of Ministers' headquarters provoked the anger of the Islamists or other religious zealots, who invoke their own good morals day and night. Instead, they condemned the victim for leaving the house to demonstrate in the first place.

Mansoura Ez Eldin
Mansoura Ez Eldin's books have been translated into a number of languagesImage: DW/S.Grees

Their response fits right in with the publicly propagated, misogynistic views and behavior of the Salafists.

In an era when Egypt must tackle the many problems that have stacked up during 60 years of military dictatorship, these disciples of Islam (Salafists and Muslim Brothers in equal measure) view the body of a woman as the root of all evil. As a consequence, they see covering it up as their most pressing priority, all the while recklessly ignoring key issues such as repression, poverty, corruption and the decline in educational standards.

It would appear that the debate over the female body has in the meantime become a priority for all factions of the Egyptian political spectrum, to varying degrees. The Islamists want to forcibly command that body back into the house and exclude it from the public arena.

And while the Muslim Brotherhood calls for the female body to be covered up, the military lays it bare, beating and dragging it through the streets, or subjecting it to virginity tests in dark cells. Sections of the secular elite are narrowing the debate over women's rights down to just how much of her body a woman should be allowed to reveal. It's become a battle over face veils and bikinis.

Quite apart from this conflict, the revolutionary Egyptian woman (whether her head is bare or she is veiled) is conducting her very own battle: She is demonstrating on the streets and in the squares of the nation hand in hand with her male comrades for dignity and freedom - in defiance of all those who want to prevent her from leaving the house at all, who criticize her political commitment or doubt her morality, because she courageously opposes the unscrupulous repression and systematic torture by soldiers and officers.

In view of the current situation, the future for women may appear quite gloomy, but we must not forget that this is just one stage of a long and arduous path that Egyptian women have already made progress on in their campaign for better rights.

We can be guided by a rich heritage. It would therefore be unfitting, as though it were our destiny to repeatedly reinvent the wheel, to allow ourselves to be ensnared in the old battles and debates over trivialities.

Author: Mansoura Ez Eldin, Quantara.de
Editor: Holly Fox

Mansoura Ez Eldin was named as one of the best Arab-language authors under 40 in the year 2010. The same year, she was the only woman to be nominated for the "International Prize for Arabic Fiction." Her novel "Beyond Paradise" was published in English in 2009.

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