This post is cross-posted at JWA
It’s an exciting, scary, and revolutionary time in Egypt right now. In spite of our opinions on the political implications of the anti-Mubarak and pro-Mubarak protests, I think we can all appreciate the large amount of Egyptian female revolutionaries with roles in the spotlight. I read an interesting article on this in the New York Times today that described the surprisingly large involvement of women in the protests in Egypt.
In particular, the article talked about a woman named Asmaa Mahfouz. Mahfouz is part of the April 6 Youth Movement, a group of young people who use the internet to organize people against Mubarak and his rule. She posted a video online a few weeks ago holding a sign that declared that she would protest against Mubarak, and that in order to have hope, people must take a strong and visible stance. Her video was seen as bold, both for its complete lack of anonymity, something that is not particularly prevalent in online activism (Mahfouz made popular something that Amr Ezz, another founder of the April 6 Movement calls “visual blogging”), and because she was a woman. In Egypt, women traditionally are expected to not take on radical and inflammatory roles, and her doing so was quite the big deal. But both elements of surprise seemed to work out for her–in response to her video, dozens of people posted videos with signs of their own, promising to go out and protest in the massive January 25 protests.
Despite her efforts, men still make up the majority of protesters–something that is not surprising in such a traditional country. However, one thing that I found interesting was this quote from Ezz in the article, explaining why men, perhaps even more than women, were motivated by Mahfouz: “The fact that a woman was able to do this made the men feel challenged, and they wanted to do the same.” According to Ezz, because men were so uncomfortable with seeing a woman in a prominent role, they felt the need to assert their authority once again by dedicating themselves to the movement: essentially, sexism, or at least traditionally repressive gender roles, helped Mahfouz’s message to affect men. The idea seems a little backwards and weird, but if true, has helped Mahfouz’s video to be quite effective.
Even though the protests are majority male, many women are participating. Women march down the streets with men and even lead groups of protesters. The aforementioned article highlights Mariam Soliman, a 28-year-old woman who led a group of both men and women in chants against Mubarak. Asked about her role, she responded:
“I am an Egyptian woman, a regular woman rejecting injustice and corruption in my country…women have to go down and participate and demand their rights, or is it going to be the men who fight for our rights?”
I find this quote to be very powerful, and something that women across the world can relate to–even if we’re not dealing with revolution, it’s important to remember that if we don’t speak up for things we believe in, we cannot expect anyone else to. Being a woman does not make us any less affected by national and international issues. I admire the female Egyptian protesters for taking the fate of their country into their own hands, even when it goes against much of what has been expected of them throughout their lives. We can’t be sure that this will affect gender roles after all of the turmoil has passed, as a lot of what happens will depend on what kind of government is in place. However, at least for now, women in Egypt are taking on new, exciting, and important roles, and it’s certainly something to celebrate.