Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Women's rights are under attack in Egypt. We must support civil society in the face of attempts to restrict personal freedoms
"Having lived through revolutions in the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe, I should have known that revolutions are notoriously hard to predict. There is a messy chaos between the hope, euphoria and promise, and the stark reality of what comes after toppling a hated regime and before building a new future. What I saw on my week-long trip in Egypt in April was a revolution in need of intensive care.....
There is still a palpable sense of hope, enthusiasm, and a mushrooming of association and self-organisation, but no real sense of a vision for the endgame. The discourse is dominated by a social conservative agenda; Islamic ideologies seem to have become a force shaping this new history, using democracy as a pretext for introducing the "diktat of the majority" to restrict personal freedoms. Whether this agenda spills over into public life will be determined by who wins the religious state versus civil state argument.
All policies in Egypt seem to be under scrutiny with a risk of throwing the baby out with the bath water – women's rights seem to be the ones thrown out first. There are only eight women MPs in the parliament. Tellingly, the Freedom and Justice party has fielded a socially conservative woman as MP, who has come out publicly against women's freedoms. There is also a perception that policies imposed by Suzanne Mubarak have given women more rights than they "deserve", and the hardliner Salafist discourse under the disguise of Islam has triggered increased encroachments on women's rights – one example is the re-emergence of voices in support of female genital mutilation – a practice that is banned in Egypt......
The revolution in Egypt continues; it is far from over and may unfold in unpredictable ways. At the moment it is in need of intensive care to live through this dangerous, and yet immensely exciting, phase and fulfil its promise. We all want to be there with the people of Egypt, helping them to make it happen."