Sunday, March 31, 2013

Troubling Times for Women At Egypt's Tahrir Square


Women on the Run: The Guardian writes: "A woman marches on the Muslim Brotherhood's
HQ in Cairo to protest at plans to reduce the legal age of marriage to 13."
Photo Credit: Gary Calton for the Observer
Source: The Guardian

An article, by Tracy McVeigh, in The Guardian says that women, who were at the vanguard of the Arab Revolution against the rule of former leader Hosni Mubarak, are now being treated as second-class citizens under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood. The new rulers have legislated changes that have made Egypt more restrictive for women, including lowering the age of marriage from 18 to 13. Liberal women who have taken to the streets in protest have been met with physical and sexual assaults.
Dozens of manned police vans remained parked a kilometre away. The only sirens came from ambulances that drove through the crowds and past burning vehicles to take some 40 injured people to hospital. One angry woman with a bleeding mouth and eyes streaming from the tear gas pulled off her headscarf and stood yelling at the other side, the supporters of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood: "You are not Islam! You are not Egypt! Where is my freedom?"
So go most Fridays in Cairo over the past few weeks as liberal Egyptians have shown their virulent opposition to the president, Mohamed Morsi, as he has awarded himself new powers and pushed through a deeply contentious new constitution. Several buildings of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group behind Morsi, have been burned. In post-Arab spring Egypt the revolution continues. But it's women of all classes who have found themselves most alienated – written out of the jostling for power and subjected to a skyrocketing number of sex assaults, rapes and harassment.
Women who stood shoulder to shoulder with men during the 2011 Tahrir Square protests that brought down Hosni Mubarak found their position in society undermined almost immediately. The parliamentary quota for women was removed without debate and a promised female vice-president failed to materialise, amid what political commentator Moushira Khattab called "a radical anti-feminist sentiment". Morsi threatened but stopped short of decriminalising Egypt's practice of female genital mutilation, carried out on almost three-quarters of Egyptian girls, making it clear he would not tackle an issue he called "a family matter".
The new constitution has swept away recognition of women's rights and left the door open to the legalisation of perhaps Egypt's most crippling social issue–underage marriage. Draft legislation that would allow the legal age of marriage to be lowered from 18 to 13 has been drawn up while clerics within the Muslim Brotherhood have indicated that marriage at the age of nine for girls is acceptable. 
"They see women as, number one, objects of sex and, number two, to clean their floors. This is what the Egyptian 'brotherhood' is all about," said Fatma, 24, an engineering graduate marching with her friends, some in burqas, some in headscarves. The women keep close together, arms linked and eyes alert for the men flying down the side of the demonstration on motorcycles grabbing and screaming at females. "They want to marry us at nine years old. Are these really the kind of men we want to run our country? Paedophiles?"
Political progress has been slow, with parliamentary elections scheduled for April now postponed with no new date. Frustrations have built.
Such is not surprising. Democracy is not normative for Arab nations; there is no history of it, thus such restrictions of individual liberty and expression, whether under a secular authoritarian regime or a religious one, is often the expected outcome. And yet, the current regime is going further, repressing the rights of women gained under the previous government. As one women in the article said, rather poignantly, I might add:
Now we have never been so far apart, men and women. In such a short time, such a gulf. Now we are fighting just for the right to walk down the street without being assaulted. It is so hard, so shocking. To see the rights we had being ripped away and lost in the power struggle. To see us go backwards.
Such is a betrayal of sorts. The women who had stood side-by-side with the men at Tahrir Square are seeing their hopes and dreams for a better more democratic future quickly turning into a nightmare—and so quickly after President Morsi took power. If things were bad under the authoritarian but secular rule of Mubarak, they are now worse under Morsi's desire to implement strict Sharia law in a nation where a significant part of the people don't desire it.


You can read the rest of the article at [The Guardian]