The only thing Aliaa did for women rights was protesting naked. She didn’t help women who are in need, for their real issues- Dina Porell
Dina Porell was born and grew up in Cairo, Egypt. She graduated from business school majoring in business administration and went on traveling and exploring the world.
Soon, she evolved as a unique writer, an expert cook of Egyptian food and her first two books are about Egypt, because she is passionate about her country. Today we are in conversation with this emerging feminist from Egypt on a variety of issues.
Saadia Haq: Dina, tell us how you did you evolve into writing, was it a combination of your personal experiences that promoted you? Has traveling been instrumental is your literary work?
Dina Porell: I’ve always wanted to be a writer, I used to write stories about our neighbors as a child. Also I’m a fan of black and white Egyptian movies, most of them had a message to society. And that what I wanted to do, to write a story that might help someone someday. Traveling helped me in every way. I met my husband and fell in love while traveling. I wrote three short stories about abused animals that I’ve met while traveling. And of course traveling made me smarter and stronger.
Saadia Haq: So far you have written four or five books. I would specifically like to talk about “Egyptian Street Culture That No One Will Tell You About.” It sounds thoroughly intriguing; please tell us what kind of topics do you cover through it?
Dina Porell: Actually I wrote five books on amazon and one short story on one of my blogs. Two books about Egyptian food. One book about Egyptian culture and three short stories about animal’s rights.
When the idea of Egyptian Street Culture That No One Will Tell You About came to my mind, I was an expat in Korea for about two years. I was struggling with my Korean and on occasions, when a Korean person said something, of course I didn’t know what it was. I recalled my own foreign friends in Cairo who were clueless most of the times in the streets of the big city, especially women. So I wanted to write a book that covered holistically aspects of what happens on streets of Egypt and also highlight the old and new culture. This books talks about cursing, stupid pick up lines, old proverbs and superstitions. Its bilingual in English and Arabic and has phonetic spellings, that would help expats and travelers understands the language use by locals in daily life.
Saadia Haq: What kind of reactions have you received on it? Has there been difference in feedback from Egyptians and westerners please specify.
Dina Porell: To westerners this book is a short guide to a new culture and new language, something to help them to have better understanding for what is happening around them. laundry. To Egyptians, the book is airing their dirty laundry publicly. One of the worst things we do in Egypt is denying what’s happening in the streets. For example, we have a serious problem with sexual harassment in the streets and some people deny it and say that the streets are very safe for women, which is a lie.
Saadia Haq: This book has touched on harassment issues faced by women in public spheres, do they reflect personal experiences too, and I will be interested to link it to hijab use. For instance you don’t wear the hijab and does this make you be more of a target?
Dina Porell: Women get harassed all the time in Egyptian streets and that has nothing to do with wearing hijab or not. I have a lot of friends and family members who wear hijab and they get harassed a lot. I don’t think there is a woman in Egypt who doesn’t get harassed.
Harassment comes in different types, with a touch, with a look, with a word. Even driving. When a woman drives, men cut her off, push her car over and sometimes curse her.
Saadia Haq: Since women came out in scores to protest and Egyptian women were on the forefront of Tahrir square protests but since then they have been pushed back during the turbulent democratic transition. As a feminist, what do you think about this?
Dina Porell: There have been a lot of setbacks for women’s rights in the last three years. After Mubarak stepped down, there was violence and chaos. During that time, rape cases increased 100%. And it got much worse for women when we had a Muslim brotherhood dictator as a President. During the one year of Morsi’s presidency there were a lot of recorded cases of female circumcision, which was illegal in Mubarak’s era. On June 30, 2013, when Egyptians protested against Morsi, I was in Egypt and I saw millions of women going out in the squares all around Egypt and protesting and their voices were heard. Muslim brotherhood thugs targeted women at those protests, raped them and stabbed their vaginas, but that didn’t stop women going out everyday. I think Egyptian women are smart, strong and capable of anything.
Saadia Haq: Do you believe that globally media portrays Arab women in a stereotypical manner. How do these portrayals harm women like you’re self that do not cover with hijab or the complete jilab.
Dina Porell: I think Western media always show Arab Muslim women in one way and it’s unfair. I met some people in Korea who think I’m not wearing hijab outside Egypt and when I go back I cover my hair, which is untrue. I don’t wear hijab in Egypt and it’s okay.
Also Western media show Arab Muslim women who wear hijab as weak women, or forced to live a type of life against their will, which is so untrue in the majority of cases. And the second stereotype is women who wear hijab are terrorists. A network like Fox News knows the harm and the damage they do and they don’t care, they get paid to spread hatred. Also, Western media always show Muslim women covered in black because they sell fear, they want people to be scared of Muslims. When I was in college I remember wearing hijab was very fashionable and they were available in a lot of beautiful bright colors, and there were countless ways to tie hijab.
Saadia Haq: Not veiling has been a personal choice with you? Did you have domestic conflicts upon your decision and what are you reasoning for not using the hijab.
Dina Porell: Yes, not wearing hijab was my choice, I tried it, it didn’t suit me and I took it off. My family never interfered with any of my decisions. Actually I have the best family in the world. They’ve always supported me, and they’ve never forced me to do anything that I didn’t want to do.
Saadia Haq: We will link the hijab use to the recent protests done in favor of Arab women throughout Europe by the group FEMEN. What is your position on Femen protestors including the young Egyptian Aliaa Elmahdy and others?
Dina Porell: I think FEMEN is a very hypocritical organization. I think they should help women who really need their help, not women who wear hijab. I’m not saying that there aren’t women who were forced to wear hijab, but then there are women who also choose to wear the hijab of their own free will. Those forced cases are rare, especially in Egypt. Abusive men are abusive because there is something wrong with their mind-sets and not because they are Muslims!
A while ago FEMEN protested naked in front of a mosque and the protesters wore towels on their heads. They were being offensive to millions of women who choose to wear hijab and to believe in God. I have one question to FEMEN: how are you a feminist group if you deny the rights of other women to cover their body or to choose to believe in God?
If FEMEN really believes that all Muslim women are forced to wear hijab, that is just very stupid of them. They don’t even do their homework to know that the majority of those women wanted to wear hijab. And it’s very ignorant of them not to admit their mistake. As for Aliaa El-Mahdy, she absolutely has the right to protest the way she wants. She protested naked, that’s okay. However, to call Aliaa a women’s rights activist makes me laugh. The only thing Aliaa did for women rights was protesting naked. She didn’t help women who are in need, for issues like domestic violence, women’s health, women in poverty, etc.
Aliaa protested naked in Europe and wrote on her body, “religion is slavery.” She has the right to be an atheist, but why is she offending other people? Calling millions of women slaves because of their beliefs is just wrong.
I’m a Muslim because I choose to be a Muslim and my religion has given me human rights, and I love my religion. I was raised as an equal to the men in my family. I’m well-educated, I’m a world traveler. And I’m not a slave.
What makes me sad is that some Arab women who do nothing to help women who are really in need, just post a naked photo of themselves and in the blink of an eye they become famous women’s rights activists. The media focus on the naked protesters not because their causes are worthy, but because naked women sell airtime and advertising time. Other causes that are more important than the hats people wear, but are not being supported in the loudest, racist way, aren’t talked about.
Saadia Haq: Do you think Muslim women or for that matter Arab women need saving or this is a classical white savior syndrome?
Dina Porell: As you are aware not all Arab women are Muslims. As an Egyptian woman, I lived most of my life in Egypt I can say women don’t need to be saved from their religion. Maybe other issues, but not the hijab. Also, I wish I could understand why the West wants to save Muslim women from wearing hijab while no one talks about saving Christian nuns from covering their hair and bodies and choosing to live that lifestyle. In Italy and Greece old women cover their hair, not for religious reasons but just tradition. So why not go and save the old ladies from their old traditions? Women all over the planet have the right to choose which god to believe in or even to not believe and they have the right to wear what they want.
Saadia Haq: Do you think protests like FEMEN will help the cause of Muslim women or it can be counter-productive?
Dina Porell: I think FEMEN should help themselves first by educating themselves, and know that it’s okay to have a different culture and different religion. And don’t deny anyone’s right to do what they want. Being a hypocrite doesn’t help anyone.
Saadia Haq: So before we end, Dina please tell us what is keeping you busy currently?
Dina Porell: I’m writing a short novel about Egypt in the 1940s. It’s a fiction story based on true events. Readers can also find her at http://theangryegyptiangirl.wordpress.com.
We wish you the very best in your future endeavors and a big thank you talking at The Human Lens Blog :)
Thank you for having me, I enjoyed talking to you!