Egyptian Reem Wael argues women’s liberation has little chance to succeed in a nationalist struggle because, “national revolutions are inherently male, recognizing male efforts and contributions and reflecting male aspirations.”[i] Nationalism is “generally a masculine project which adopts masculine notions and masculine hopes.” Women are allowed to participate but not to feature feminist goals, told their issues will be considered after the revolution as Nehru and Gandhi told women involved in their liberation struggle. Exceptions are women’s movements developed at the same time as nationalist movements in Algeria, South Africa, Palestine and some Latin American countries.[ii]
The Egyptian struggle fought for bread, freedom and dignity, but women were not organized as a group to make demands for women’s rights. Wael said women were betrayed as soon as formal politics took over after Mubarak’s dethroning and women were told to go back home. When SCAF took control, no woman was appointed to the constitutional committee, no women were in negotiations between SCAF and political parties, the first cabinet included one woman, and parliamentary quotas for women were removed. Women voters could have organized to put pressure on the SCAF but didn’t.
Wael reported the “woman friendly” atmosphere in Tahrir changed the day that Mubarak resigned. Women were described as worthy of respect and protection only because of their relationship to a father, husband, or son and told to stay safely at home. The first time a specifically women’s event occurred, it was attacked. When a small group of women and men marched on International Women’s Day in 2011, mixed sex crowds followed them chanting Islamic slogans. Some of the marchers were assaulted by a group of men so the group had to leave Tahrir Square. Women’s marches, including March 11, surrounded themselves by a chain of men for protection. The violence continued as with the attack on the blue bra protester in November.
[i] Reem Wael, “Betrayal or Realistic Expectations? Egyptian Women Revolting,” Interface Journal, Vol. 6, No. 1, May 2014, pp. 478-491.
[ii] Lina Suneri, “Moving Beyond the Feminism Versus Nationalism Dichotomy,”
Canadian Women’s Studies, Vol 20, 2000, pp. 143-148.