Youtube recently posted a video showcasing an injured, naked woman being dragged through Tahir Square in Cairo during the inauguration celebration of Egypt’s new President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Egypt has since demanded that Youtube take down the video. Police arrested seven men for sexually harassing and/or raping women after the video was filmed. In light of this breaking news, many liberals have criticized Sisi’s policy for the treatment of Egyptian females, as well as Egyptian female identity as a whole. Sisi himself has issued a public apology, and has spoken highly of the historical and political importance of women in the past. However, when it comes to the facts, the criticism is not unfounded. A Thomas Reuters Foundation survey found that, “Sexual harassment, high rates of female genital mutilation and a surge in violence after the Arab Spring have made Egypt the worst country in the Arab world to be a woman…”
Egyptian women have long fought for and paved the way for a type of feminism that can mesh with an Egyptian identity. There is a long history of Egyptian Feminism dating back as far as the 1920s. The Egyptian Feminist Union (EGU) is one of the first examples of Egyptian women politically engaging with their identity as Egyptian females. To speak out against sexism, the EGU openly identified as feminists, built international feminist networks, and removed their veils to protest their invisibility as females. In 1923, the EGU held a conference in Rome called the “International Women Suffrage Alliance Congress.” The EGU’s brand of feminism was closely linked to Egyptian nationalism. The image of an Egyptian peasant woman became a marker for the Egyptian Nationalist party as a symbol of freedom and equality.
In more recent years, Egyptian feminists have worked with the United Nations to create NGOs specifically designed to aid and speak for Egyptian women on their own terms. However, there has always been contention about creating a brand of feminism that can cohere with Islamist sentiments and way of life. In 2000, the National Council of Women (NCW) was formed with Egypt’s former first lady Suzanne Mubarak as its president. Mubarak’s public alliance with the NCW is paramount to an expression of state feminism in Egypt. The NCW’s agenda is different than former President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s usage of the term “state feminism” during his candidacy. Nassar successfully improved women’s education levels and inclusion in the labor force, but left private issues “of the home” alone.
Because of the establishment of the NCW, Egyptian women are now legally allowed to pass on their nationality to their biological children, as well as file for divorce. However, there is still a long way to go, as demonstrated by the horrific display during Sisi’s inauguration. Beyond this, there is contention about the inclusion western ideals in a largely anti-western country. It is hard to tell where Mubarak’s feminist brainchild will end up during Sisi’s reign. It is definitely clear that the NCW publicly condemned the assaults, calling them “barbaric.” The NCW remarked, “Such shameful and unethical behavior cannot stem from the honorable Egyptians who have revolted in January 2011 and on June 30 the past year.” The statement continued, “Egypt was packed with millions [of protesters] for days without witnessing a single case of sexual harassment.”
Diplomacy & Foreign Affairs