In 2011 at Tahrir Square, the Egyptian women stood side by side with men to protest against Mubarak who buckled under this forceful pressure. However, women found themselves to be sidelined and undermined almost immediately. This societal injustice has forced them to reappear on roads with newer protests.
The democratic transition has not really worked for the women. In reality, it has succeeded in oppressing the women. The removal of parliamentary quotas for women, broken promises of female vice-presidency and far more alarming legislation for underage marriages are tell-tale signs that in Egypt, women’s rights situation is in danger.
A grimmer today where the gulf between women and women widened and continues as we so speak. A homeland where the rights have being ripped away and equality is lost somewhere in the power struggle. Frustrations have built.
On a daily basis, women’s protests bring them into violent confrontations with government supporters, but this does not stop them. Frankly speaking, the Egyptian women have had enough and their message is clear. This is a fight they won’t give up. The lips bleed, the eyes tear, but they are united in showing the strength of their feelings against the government of President Morsi.
Today’s interview feature focuses on women right’s situation in turbulent Egypt. In order to do this, let’s meet one of their own.
A well-known media expert, Doctor.Naila Hamdy is an Assistant Professor of Mass Communication at the AUC. A former television journalist, she continues to make her mark in the media industry. Over the years, she has advanced her teaching and research into professional journalism, media development and communication technologies.
Additionally, she was the Immediate Past President for Arab-US Association for Communication Educators. Over the years, she has also worked as a media consultant for USAID, UNDP and is an expert on Arab media.
I spoke with Hamdy a few days ago about the unexpected directions and current situation of women; this is what she had to say.
Question 1: What do you think about the recent political turmoil in Egypt?
Answer: The political situation in Egypt is really uncertain and as I write it seems hardly likely that the country will be able to move on a democratic course. In the last few days alone, warrants have been issued for several prominent political activists and several media personalities. After having a revolution that called for freedom it is ironic that the new President and government are arresting all those who dare defy or criticize them. In addition, the economy is in shambles, and unless a miracle takes place this country will continue towards a path of bankruptcy. The country is divided political into two sides. The Islamists and Islamist leaning parties and their followers and the secular, leftist and Christian minority on the other side. In all of Egypt’s modern history there has never been such a division between its peoples. Finally, Egypt continues to be an unsafe and insecure country, where tourism industry and foreign investment is suffering. There is no easy fix towards the journey of stabilization within the country.
Question 2: Have you been affected by it? How has this impacted the Egyptian women’s lives?
Answer: I have been affected like all Egyptians regardless of gender as my day-to-day life continues to become more difficult. Having said that, I have not suffered because I am a woman in Egypt yet. The women’s resistance movement is in full-swing and we are fighting back.
Question 3: Coming back to newly established democracy, if you could elaborate on how things have changed, both positively and negatively?
Answer: The real setback came with the new constitution which has ignored women and put their needs on a back burner. It is not that women had it very easily before the revolution but after standing side by side with the men during the revolution they have become empowered. Rightly so. Once empowered, they are continuing to fight for their rights that are rapidly vanishing in the face of Muslim Brotherhood.
Question 4: Has it resulted in bringing more active participation from women within the current ‘democratic’ government or process?
Answer: Women have not become more active officially but there is a realization amongst women themselves that they need to protest specifically for their space and social positioning. There are significant women’s groups that emerged after declaration of a draft constitution last year. Much to the frustrations of anti-women segments, women have mobilized into large numbers to show their anger and demand rights that are being taken back. Many women’s rights groups are pushing back against some Islamists’ attempts to blame women for an upsurge in sexual harassment.This alone shows that women are not ready to be sidelined and will not sit back while all hell has broken loose over their heads!
Question 5: What about the effect this government has had on women rights is it for good or for worse?
Answer: If this government continues to ignore women rights or give it archaic interpretations then women rights will truly disappear from Egypt. There is a grave concern that the Brotherhood might lead Egypt in a more conservative and patriarchal direction. All in all, the country’s women forums feel that the Brotherhood doctrine also may reflect the views of most women in Egypt’s conservative, traditionalist culture.
Question 6: Generally societies indulge in stereotyping the Muslim cultures. More than often people react with feeling threatened when faced with opposites as it challenges the status quo or their generalizations. Do you think this applies to your own self as an Egyptian woman? In your observation, has there been an incident where you sensed the discrimination, dubious attitudes?
Answer: No I have never felt threatened outside of the region because I was a Muslim. At least not as an adult. This may be due to the fact that I am a professor so when I travel or work in the West I mostly deal with highly educated persons. In addition, most of the media scholars that I interact with have research interests in Arab media. Therefore, they understand and respect Islam and its people.
Perhaps the only time I ever felt a little uncomfortable was traveling to the US immediately after 9/11 where questioning at airports was out of the ordinary. But it wasn’t too bad and has improved since. In all other ordinary day-to-day interactions I rarely have a problem.
However, I am not veiled and most stereotypes of the Muslim culture places women in a certain mold that I do not fit.
The interview came to an end just in time for the Professor’s flight to the US where she’s attending the 2013’s Broadcast Educators Association (BEA). I, on the other hand am left with my mind-journey back in time in 2007, when I first met this truly amazing woman at Amman, Jordan; Hamdy was amongst the pool of media geniuses that took us through the interactive training course on the topic of leadership, media and democracy.
As Egypt continues to suffer since the revolution, right-based advocates argue that harassing and marginalizing half the population is not only unfair, it is something the country can ill afford. These challenges need to turn into opportunities for a better, prosperous and peaceful future.