A revolution by the people, for the people, is not about to go down without the steadfastness and courage of the Nisaa’ Mesr, the women of Egypt. Shattering Mubarak’s regime while also shattering the image of submissive and weak Arab women, victory belongs to them.
Slate Magazine, in its article, “Women Are a Substantial Part of Egyptian Protests,” highlights the overwhelming number of women that took to the streets in protest against President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. According to the piece, Ghada Shahbandar, “an activist with the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, estimated the crowd downtown to be 20 percent female. Other estimates were as high as 50 percent.” The numbers indicate a united front that men and women are holding in the movement for democracy.
Yet, it’s not about the numbers.
The overarching question in this piece is not “Why so many women?” but rather, “Why now?” The article indicates a combination of complete and utter disgust of what Mubarak and his cohorts have done or not done in the last thirty years, along with the beacon of hope that has been lit by the victory achieved in nearby Tunisia.
Therefore, the draw is the very real possibility that change is near, and hopefully a time when the country’s women will also be able to work and contribute to their homes and to society. This hope is what has the undivided attention of both men and women in Egypt.
One of the most inspiring individuals in this tremendous historical moment is activist Asmaa Mahfouz, through her video blog that took Facebook and Twitter by storm. Mahfouz has been mobilizing and posting messages through social networking sites, especially through her capacity as a founding member of the April 6 Youth Movement, which is a Facebook activist group that started in solidarity with workers in El-Mahalla El-Kubra, an industrial town in Egypt. This group has been a leading the way in social networking activism in Egypt, gaining coverage two years ago in the New York Times.
Mahfouz’s video blog itself is being called revolutionary because of her decision to directly connect, face-to-face, with the masses, instead of anonymously- anonymous in the sense that people have felt more comfortable posting revolutionary, radical or just new ideas behind screen names, usernames, and pennames. The internet allows those messages to circulate without being attached to a face and a name. Consequently, Mahfouz and those like her have begun a movement within a movement- face-to-face (and courageously so) social networking activism.
While Facebook and Twitter serve to gather the youth, the elders of the nation are certainly not left out of the square, literally (Tahrir Square). The bravery is awesome and overpowering, as they protest side-by-side with all of Egypt’s population. Nikolas Kristof observed two middle-aged sisters who boldly stood up to pro-Mubarak thugs as they yelled threats. The sisters retaliated with a more powerful weapon – a calm explanation about why they were against Mubarak’s regime.
Famous Egyptian activist, writer, physician and psychiatrist Nawal El-Saadawi, 79, who has been protesting on the ground with her fellow citizens, told Democracy Now, “We are calling for justice, freedom and equality, and real democracy and a new constitution, no discrimination between men and women, no discrimination between Muslims and Christians, to change the system … and to have a real democracy…”.
Global Egyptian female voices reinforce the narrative of the revolution. Award-winning journalist Mona Eltahawy, who was featured in a Jezebel piece entitled, “The Woman Who’s Explaining Egypt to the West,” has been dominating the airwaves with enthusiastic support of the people of Egypt, and according to the New York Times, asked CNN to change its terminology in referring to the situation: “I urge you to use the words ‘revolt’ and ‘uprising’ and ‘revolution’ and not ‘chaos’ and not ‘unrest, we are talking about a historic moment,” she said. Observers reported that the headline did indeed change from “chaos” to “uprising”- all thanks to Mona Eltahawey and the likes, who are changing the rhetoric of America.
Although it has been stated repeatedly by Egyptians and Middle Easterners all over the globe that the participation of Egyptian women is certainly not new to the public square, it is now being realized by onlookers from afar and chroniclers of society who until now had ignored the possibility of powerful and vociferous Arab women.
In another interview with Mona Eltahawy by Michel Martin with “Tell Me More” on NPR, Martin asked, “So, are there some names of people who we should be on the lookout for?” Eltahawy responded with a list of dynamic women, including Israa Abdell Fatteh, an activist, blogger and co-founder of the April 6 youth movement, and Dr. Aida Seif El Dawla, a human rights activist and co-founder of the Egyptian Association Against Torture- amongst many other women leaders on the scene.
Martin’s inquiry for specific names of women within the movement opens the door to a new narrative of female Arab heroism. This is heroism and leadership that has made an incredible impact on the world- and one that will characterize how this revolution is recorded in history, as well as how women of the Arab and Muslim world will be perceived from now on.
Shazia Kamal is Associate Editor of Altmuslimah